Yankees Spring Training: 10 storylines for 2018
Pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training and are ready to kick off another season of Bronx Bombers baseball. Position players will follow on Feb. 18, with the first Grapefruit League game on Feb. 23, and by the time the groundhog's six-week timeline expires, the Yankees will be less than two weeks away from the beginning of the 2018 regular season.
As always, a new season brings with it a plethora of storylines to watch, and this year, the excitement surrounding a team coming off an ALCS run is magnified by the arrival of new manager Aaron Boone and a revamped coaching staff.
The faces may change, but the "Chase for 28" is a universal goal, and with that in mind, here are 10 of the most intriguing storylines for the New York Yankees entering the new year:
1) Who will take over at second base and third base?
The Yankees opened two infield spots by dealing Starlin Castro to Miami and Chase Headley to San Diego during the Winter Meetings, and top prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar have prime opportunities to take those jobs. But will Torres have any rust to shake off after missing half of 2017 due to Tommy John surgery, and can Andujar silence any questions about his defensive prowess? The Yankees have super utility men Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade, new 40-man roster addition Thairo Estrada, non-roster invitees Kyle Holder and Nick Solak, and minor-league signings Jace Peterson and Danny Espinosa in camp as well, and any one of those players could force their way into the mix.
2) Will the Judge's Chambers be relocated?
The Yankees have both the reigning AL Rookie of the Year in Aaron Judge and the reigning NL MVP in Giancarlo Stanton, but both can't play right field at the same time. The DH spot being open means the easy route would be to have one hit and one play right on any given day, but both men are likely to see plenty of action in left field this spring, too, to gauge the feasibility of having the two sluggers bookend the outfield. Brett Gardner is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, so don't sleep on the idea that either Judge or Stanton looks so good in left they make themselves the left fielder of the future.
3) Who follows Brett Gardner or Aaron Hicks?
You can pencil in one of Gardner or Hicks to be the Yankees' leadoff hitter virtually every day, but then what? Will Judge and Stanton hit back-to-back, and if so, where? How does Gary Sanchez fit in, and what about lefties Greg Bird and Didi Gregorius to break the right-handed stack? Outside of selecting new starters at second and third, new manager Aaron Boone's biggest spring decision might just be how to fill out his lineup card every day.
4) What's Aaron Judge's encore?
Judge went from battling for a job in March to unanimous Rookie of the Year in November, but he was more like a "Rookie for the Ages" after setting MLB freshman records for home runs and slugging percentage. The sky might not be a high enough limit for his talent, but he's no longer an unknown quantity to the league, and between the specter of a sophomore slump and the shoulder surgery he had this winter, Judge will be worth watching this spring for more than just his prodigious power.
5) What becomes of Jacoby Ellsbury?
With Judge, Stanton, Gardner, and Hicks, Ellsbury looks to be the odd man out of the ideal outfield rotation. It never works out that way of course, but what will Ellsbury's path be to start? Will the Yankees find a deal that is suitable to them, and that Ellsbury will waive his no-trade clause for? Will some positional flexibility - perhaps first base? - be worked into either Ellsbury's or someone else's spring? Or, could he simply play so well that he forces his way into the lineup somewhere?
6) Is Luis Severino for real?
Like Judge, Severino was seemingly battling for a job last spring but ended up near the top of his class, finishing third in the AL Cy Young Award voting. Severino was dominant as a true rookie in 2015, struggled quite a bit in 2016, and then turned it on last season, but coming off his largest workload ever, can Sevy keep that roller coaster at the top of the hill and continue his evolution into a bona fide ace?
7) Just how good can the Yankees' power bullpen be?
With Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle, the Yankees could realistically have a different but equally-dangerous 1-2 punch in the final innings every night. Add in jack-of-all-trades Adam Warren, potentially Chad Green, and a bevy of up-and-down arms that all throw gas, and the Yankees might not just have the best bullpen top-to-bottom in the league - no, this one might be a relief corps for all-time.
8) Which Baby Bombers will graduate into major-leaguers?
The 2017 Yankees saw 12 players make their major-league debuts, and that's not counting Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge or a few others who had 2016 cameos. The farm is still quite fertile, and while Gleyber Torres and Chance Adams are seemingly the first two in line to make an impact in 2018, the Yankees have four players on the 40-man roster - Domingo Acevedo, Jake Cave, Billy McKinney, and Thairo Estrada - that finished 2017 at Double-A or higher, and top prospects like Justus Sheffield and Albert Abreu not far behind. There's sure to be an under-the-radar name in the bunch, too, and if you don't believe it, just ask Jordan Montgomery, who was barely in MLB.com's Top 20 Yankees prospects and had less than 50 innings of Triple-A experience when he was named the Yankees' fifth starter last April.
9) Who will be this year's non-roster darling?
Yangervis Solarte parlayed his minor-league invite into a starting role in 2014, Luis Severino and Greg Bird went emerging prospects to key contributors down the stretch in 2015, Richard Bleier became one of the Yankees' most effective relievers in 2016, and last year, Montgomery seemingly came out of nowhere to win one of the Yankees' two open rotation spots. There are 20 non-roster players looking to make the same leaps in 2018, and it's almost certain at least one will become a key contributor. Will Espinosa or Peterson take an infield job and run with it? Will one of the top mound prospects graduate to rotation stalwart? You never know, and that's why every inning this spring is a must watch.
10) What will new leadership bring?
The Yankees' first Grapefruit League game on Feb. 23 will be the first time new manager Aaron Boone suits up in uniform as a coach of any kind, and all eyes this season will be on the 2003 ALCS hero as he adjusts to life on the bench as Yankees skipper. But in addition to Boone, the Yankees have a new mix of coaches to get used to, with some returning (Larry Rothschild, Marcus Thames, Mike Harkey), some moving up in the system (Reggie Willits, P.J. Pilittere, Carlos Mendoza), and some brand-new to the organization (Phil Nevin, Josh Bard). It's a nearly even mix of new school, old school, and people who've been around the school, and the players quickly gelling with a different philosophy will be one of the big keys to the team's success in 2018.