Yankees Spring Training Brings Highs and Lows

Yankees spring training
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The New York Yankees entered spring training with high expectations. For a franchise that hasn’t appeared in the World Series in 13 years, they enter the season with a World Series or bust mentality. Their offseason moves reflect that as well. The Yankees re-signed Aaron Judge, the reigning American League MVP, as well as Anthony Rizzo while also signing starting pitcher Carlos Rodon.

Spring training is in full swing and the Yankees, like the rest of the league, are powering through it. Spring training is a rocky road as teams start to deal with injuries while seeing only small sample sizes from their starters, and also seeing flashes from their prospects. The Yankees have had some rough patches, particularly, ones that raise concerns about the season ahead.

Yankees Pitching Injuries

Rodon, the prize offseason addition, is already out with a mild forearm strain. He joined the Yankees with an injury history, specifically, a shoulder injury in 2017 and it was unclear how he’d fare long-term in the rotation. The recent injury isn’t related to the shoulder injury and it’s a light setback, but still a concern considering he was supposed to be the second ace of the pitching staff.

Along with Rodon missing time, Frankie Montas will miss at least a month with shoulder inflammation while Nestor Cortes has missed spring training, and will miss a few weeks of the regular season. Montas needed surgery, and is finally recovering from it over the offseason and Cortes is hoping his hamstring will be fully healed by April.

Three of the five projected starters in the Yankees’ rotation could possibly miss the first week of the season. Suddenly, the pitching staff can be a weak link for the team. So, who is left? For starters, the Yankees still have Gerrit Cole, one of the best pitchers in the American League. Along with being the unquestioned ace of the staff, Cole has pitched 200 or more innings in five of the last eight seasons. He is elite and durable, and can carry the starting pitching. Luis Severino and Domingo German are backend starters, but can step up. Both German and Severino can optimize their pitching arsenals and return to the top of the rotation, making the recent injuries an opportunity for both starters.

The bottom line is that the Yankees rotation isn’t doomed, but it is in trouble. This offseason, they bet on pitchers with an injury history to remain healthy. So far, they have lost the bet. It’s a long season, but inept pitching can easily be the Yankees’ downfall.

Harrison Bader Deals with Setback

Harrison Bader suffered an oblique injury and will miss at least six weeks. He started to impact the roster in September of last season but has proved he is a reliable part of the team, both in the field and at the plate. His absence creates a glaring weakness in the center field while depriving the lineup of a much-needed contact hitter.

It’s possible that Aaron Hicks takes on the fielding responsibilities, but he has been a letdown at the plate. He slashed .216/.330/.313 last year and at 33 years old, is declining as a hitter. Likewise, Oswaldo Cabrera can play the outfield, giving the Yankees a great run-preventing outfield. However, he also lacks power at the plate. While Judge, Rizzo, and Giancarlo Stanton provide the power, making a contact hitter like Cabrera an intriguing option, he would create a void in the back half of the lineup. In the second half of last season, the lineup struggled, largely because of the lack of power at the end of the batting order.

Yankees Young Stars Impress

The two prospects everyone has their eyes on are Anthony Volpe and Jasson Dominguez. Dominguez has a high ceiling and can become another powerful hitter in the majors, adding to the history of the Bronx Bombers. However, he is at least a year away from taking that big step. He still needs to work out the minor details in his game, and will be sent down to the minor leagues as a result. While some players have made the leap from Double-A ball or lower to the majors, it’s unlikely he will.

Volpe meanwhile looks like a star. He is turning into the elite shortstop that many hoped he’d become. Volpe is a remarkable fielder, and has the plate discipline. He also has the swing to emerge as a valuable bat in the lineup. The spring training has only further proved that he will be an impactful player in the majors.

If he is ready to join the major league roster, the question is what happens to the other Yankees shortstops? Specifically, what does Volpe’s emergence mean for Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Oswaldo Peraza? Kiner-Falefa has a high floor as a shortstop. He is a stopgap option that can play if everyone else is injured. Peraza is a great fielder, and can be a utility player throughout the season. Even if Volpe is the starting shortstop, he will find playing time in the field.

The Offseason Significance of Volpe’s Rise

Volpe’s rise through the ranks and in spring training has been the bright spot. In particular, it allows the Yankees’ front office to take a victory lap in their offseason decision-making. In recent off-seasons, they had the opportunity to sign elite shortstops including Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, and Corey Seager. They signed none of them. Instead, they signaled confidence in Volpe. Based on the early showings, the decision has paid off for the Yankees in spring training

 

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Mike Fink

Mike Fink

Mike Fink joined Sport Relay in December 2022 and covers the New York Yankees. In addition to covering the Yankees, Fink has also covered the New York Islanders since 2020 for The Hockey Writers and has been writing about sports at large. Mike also likes to travel but has found Baltimore and Chicago are the only two cities that come close to New York City.

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