Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Yes, obviously it's tough the judge a player or team by what they do in spring training, especially the very first week of games. But there was a few things that caught my eye, and figured I would use this also as an update on how things are going for the club.

* Yankees catchers have been very impressive at the plate so far. The Yankees got almost not production from the catcher position last season, with just eight homeruns coming from the backstop. Brian McCann has been swinging the bat well, and not that he's getting hits in every at-bat -- he is 4-for-8, though -- but he's making hard contact on everything, which is only going to help with the short-porch in right field at Yankee Stadium.

The backup catcher race has been looking pretty competitive. Francisco Cervelli and John Ryan Murphy have both been swinging the bat well, too. Cervelli has four hits in seven at-bats and is also hitting balls hard. Murphy has four RBIs, three coming on a three-run homerun the other day, and has been showing off the potential that many underrate.

At this point, I still think that Cervelli is still the front-runner to win the backup job behind McCann. Cervy, as Joe Girardi calls him, is practically built to be a backup catcher in the big leagues. He gives you some very good defense behind the dish, and is a better hitter than, say, Austin Romine, who is more about defense.

I read an interesting thought from Chad Jennings of Lohud this morning that ties into Cervelli being the back. Jennings pondered the idea that the Yankees might be setting up Cervelli to be Masahiro Tanaka's personal catcher this season.

When the Yankees held their team bonding pool tournament earlier this spring, Tanaka's partner was Cervelli, who also caught him in his spring debut against the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday. While McCann has to learn the entire pitching staff because he is new, Cervelli already know most of the pitchers very well, and would be able to spend more time with Tanaka, and get to know him much better.

While that's not something the Yankees will come out and say during the spring, it'll be something to watch for as the games go on, especially this Thursday when Tanaka starts against the Phillies again, we'll see who is behind the plate.

One last note on the catchers: The Yankees have used a catcher at the DH position in almost all of their games this spring, meaning they've had two catchers in the lineup. Many speculate that the Yanks are trying to showcase their catching depth for a possible trade to acquire an infielder. The Arizona Diamondbacks are looking to add a young catcher, and are willing to give up one of their middle infielder. In that case, a trade could very much work out for both teams involved.

* Though it's too early to call him a legit roster spot contender, Yangervis Solarte has been very impressive this spring, both at the plate and in the field. Solarte currently has the highest batting average on the team after playing in just four games -- he's 6-for-7 with two homeruns and five RBIs.

If he continues to play well at this pace, it'll very possible that eh does get his name thrown into consideration when Girardi is deciding who he wants on his bench to start the season. Solarte could be a lot like a Eduardo Nunez-type player for the Yankees, and so far, he's been this springs Ronnier Mustelier, who played well enough to make the squad last year, but suffered an injury at the end of camp, hurting his Opening Day chances.

* Another thing tough to judge after just one week is how the starting pitchers have performed, because they've all been impressive. CC Sabathia, low velocity and all, Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka combined for six scoreless innings on Saturday. Ivan Nova looked very sharp yesterday against the Washington Nationals, striking out four in three innings. And Vidal Nuno has looked good as one of the fifth starter candidate.

David Phelps and Adam Warren also pitched well in their first starts of the spring; Michael Pineda is the only fifth starter candidate that has yet to pitch, but we'll him in action on Friday for the first time. The word on the street with Pineda, though, is that he's been throwing the ball well, and his arm strength is coming back.

Dellin Betances and Cesar Cabral -- two young pitchers with good chances to break camp in the bullpen -- have been solid and impressive during games. Betances has given up just one hit in almost four innings of work, while making his case to be an important piece in the Bronx this year. Preston Claiborne has even thrown two scoreless innings with four strikeouts. He, too, can be important in the bullpen for Girardi this season.

* Derek Jeter looks healthy, and that's big. The infield is, without a doubt, the most questioned part of their roster. There are a handful of roles that will have to be defined as the spring goes on, but a healthy Jeter can help a lot.

Jeter says that he wants to play as much as possible yesterday, but we all know that he's not going to play shortstop everyday; he'll get a good amount of time in as the DH, and the Yankees will have to use Brendan Ryan, with a mix of either Dean Anna, Nunez or Solarte to also play shortstop, while also filling in at second base for Brian Roberts, who you need to keep healthy, and Mark Teixeira, who will need time off a couple days a week.


Gavin Ewbank is the Lead Writer of Yanks Beat Blog


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