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With Spring Training Halfway Over, Who Has The Edge In Yankees’ Position Battles?
- Updated: March 13, 2017
There have been 17 Spring Training games played thus far. With 17 games to go, the New York Yankees already have an idea of how the team will shape up for the upcoming season. Heading into Spring Training, there were four battles for spots on the main roster: first base, right field, and the two starting rotation spots. For the pitching spots, there are five roster members who have been actively competing for those two spots. Meanwhile, each batting position has been battled out between two players. First base was initially going to be a three-way battle, but Tyler Austin’s injury reduced it to two. Though there are 17 games left this spring, each battle has a clear player who is separating himself from the field.
As mentioned earlier, the battle for first base was supposed to be between Chris Carter, Greg Bird, and Tyler Austin. Austin’s injury set up a head to head battle between Carter and Bird. Even though it was assumed that both players would platoon the position (since Carter is right-handed and Bird is a lefty), there is still a battle between the two to be the main first basemen. Bird, who was called up in 2015, is attempting to win the position after spending the entire 2016 injured. In 2015, Bird batted .261/.343/.529 with 11 home runs and 31 RBIs in 178 plate appearances. Back then, Bird looked poised to take over for Mark Teixeira at first. Meanwhile, Chris Carter boasts impressive power. In 2016, Carter blasted an NL-leading 41 home runs. However, Carter led the NL with 206 strikeouts.
Thinking of Platoon
Even though Carter was signed to a $3.5 million deal right before Spring Training, Greg Bird was considered the favorite to land the Opening Day starting spot at first. Bird is a homegrown talent that demonstrated his ability to hit MLB pitching. A platoon against left-handed pitching was assumed with the signing of Carter (though Tyler Austin could have had the same role). Heading into Spring Training, the safe bet was that Carter and Bird would flip flop at first based on who is starting. Even Matt Holliday was considered to be part of a platoon over at first on the occasion.
Edge: Greg Bird
At this moment, Greg Bird is batting .400 in Spring Training games with 3 home runs. Bird has been so impressive thus far into Spring Training that the thought of him being platooned in the regular season is baffling. In 25 at-bats, Bird has 7 extra base hits while only striking out 6 times. Bird has demonstrated that he is not dealing with any nagging setbacks from the injury.
Meanwhile, Chris Carter has struggled. In the same amount of at-bats as Bird, Carter has struck out 13 times, owns a .160 batting average with one home run. The massive upside to Carter is his power, but his downside is showing through this spring. More than half of Carter’s spring at-bats are ending with a strikeout. Carter’s upside might find himself getting the occasional start at first or DH, but his regular season at-bats are dwindling rapidly with Bird’s success.
Related: Early Trade Deadline Predictions
With the departure of Carlos Beltran at last season’s trade deadline, the Yankees got to try out prospect Aaron Judge in right field. Though an injury cut his season short, Judge demonstrated something clear in his MLB experience: he struggled to make contact. Last season, Judge had 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats. Half of his at-bats ended in strikeouts, which is an alarming statistic. He did smack 4 home runs, but his .179 batting average counters that heavily. Meanwhile, Aaron Hicks was acquired in the offseason last year as a fourth outfielder. Full of potential talent, Hicks had a disappointing season with the Yankees. Hicks’ slash line was .217/.281/.336 in 123 games. Out of those 123, Hicks started in 92 of them, where he was a tick better with a slash of .223/.287/.364.
Two Young Players, Massive Pressure
Heading into Spring Training, this position battle was a true toss up. While Hal Steinbrenner might have stated that Judge was his starting right fielder, manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman were careful not to have a statement that declared one side over the other. The preference within the organization has to be Judge, who will be 25 this season. If Judge cannot answer the bell, then the Yankees will have to move him out of the way for other prospects such as Clint Frazier and Blaker Rutherford (or an infield prospect turned outfielder). Hicks also has to prove his talent potential. Both players are in a make-or-break situation with the talent that is currently in the minors.
Related: Aaron Hicks’ Last Chance
Edge: Aaron Judge
Two days ago, New York Post writer George A. King III wrote an article that discussed Aaron Hicks winning the job. It is an interesting take on this position battle, however, I disagree. Aaron Judge has looked more impressive this spring compared to Hicks. Despite the fact that Judge seems to strikeout every team (he has 7 strikeouts in 29 at-bats), he looks to have an improved approach at the plate than last season. Hicks has been no slouch either, but Judge looks more prepared for an MLB run this year.
Comparing the statistics, Judge is slashing .310/.394/.586 while Hicks is slashing .250/.357/.542. Judge has the slight edge in OBP and slugging percentage while collecting three more hits than Hicks. Judge has played one more game than Hicks this spring (12 to 11). This position battle might not be decided until a week before Spring Training concludes, but Aaron Judge looks to have the slight edge of Hicks.
Five pitchers are a part of the competition for the final two spots in the rotation. As of right now, there has been no trade to acquire another starter so it is down to Luis Severino, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green, Aaron Warren, and Luisa Cessa. Battling for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, these five pitchers all have received at least one start thus far in Spring Training. Other than Warren, each pitcher received some starting pitching experience last season. Out of those four, Bryan Mitchell was the only one who put up respectable numbers as a starter (a 3.24 ERA in five starts).
The five pitchers who are competing are not alike. Not every one of these players is a prized prospect who fans have been excited for their MLB time. Severino is the only one who fits that mold. Mitchell is a homegrown talent, but he is not considered a top prospect. Meanwhile, Chad Green and Luis Cessa were fill-ins last year for a depleted rotation. Adam Warren had been casted off by the Yankees in a trade only to return in a different one. These five pitchers have found different paths to this position battle.
Edge: Luis Severino & Chad Green
During Spring Training it is difficult to determine who has an edge based on statistics. For many managers, pitching statistics do not factor too heavily into a decision. It more so depends on how the pitchers look. Out of the five competing, Luis Severino has looked the most impressive. His fastball has had great life while his changeup development has improved drastically. Though his ERA is 4.15, that is only 2 runs given up in 4.1 innings. It would be very surprising to see Severino not be named a starter at this point.
For the other spot, I was very tempted to say Bryan Mitchell. His stuff has been electric for the most part and he has worked the most innings. However, his last start against the Pirates B-lineup (most of their starters are off to the World Baseball Classic) was dreadful. Not simply because he gave up 4 runs in that start, but more so because of all the pitches he left over the middle of the plate.
Related: Yankees Struggle Against Pirates
Since Mitchell had that rough outing, that has given the second edge to Adam Warren. Though I expect Warren to be placed in the bullpen, his work thus far into Spring Training is downright impressive. In 8 innings of work, Warren has given up 3 runs. However, the impactful statistic for Warren is his .179 opponents batting average. Warren is being stingy in regards to giving up runners, as his WHIP is .88.
The Home Stretch for Position Battles
Other than first base, every position battle will come down to the last week or so of Spring Training. Do not expect a right fielder, the last bench spot, final bullpen pieces, and starting rotation to be named until late March. Joe Girardi has some tough decisions to make. Only Greg Bird has made his job easy. This is why Yankees Spring Training was exciting heading into it.