In my latest for SI.com today, I take a look at some of the spring performances that I think are likely to carry over to the regular season. Among the seven hitters I isolate in the piece are two current Yankees and two former Yankees, all of which is good news for the 2011 Bombers. To wit:
Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees
.404/.451/.936, 47 ABs, 6 HRs
Now 35 years old, A-Rod has probably already had his last great season, but two years removed from hip surgery, he was able to focus entirely on his skills this spring, as opposed to his rehab, for the first time since 2008, a season in which he led the American League in slugging and the last in which he hit .300. Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt won his last National League MVP in 1986 at the age of 36. One wonders if, given his performance this spring, which has only improved as Opening Day draws closer, Rodriguez might just have one more MVP campaign in him.
Curtis Granderson, CF, Yankees
.385/.442/.795, 39 ABs
Though Granderson is currently nursing an oblique strain which could delay the start of his season by a few days, his spring performance is worth mentioning given that it comes in the wake of a late-2010 surge that followed an alteration of Granderson's hitting mechanics by Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long. After hitting .240/.307/.417 through August 9, Granderson posted a .273/.380/.567 line over the remainder of the regular season and playoffs with his new mechanics, including .286/.375/.500 against lefties during the regular season. That last is noteworthy because his inability to hit left-handers has been a significant shortcoming of Granderson's throughout his career. Those splits constitute small samples, but Granderson was still using his simplified, quieter swing this spring, and the power he showed down the stretch last year returned, which bodes well for his season to come.
Lance Berkman, RF, Cardinals
.200/.216/.280, 50 ABs
It probably shouldn't be a surprise that a player whose physique earned him the nickname "Fat Elvis" is fading in his mid-30s. Berkman's soft body and past surgeries on both knees finally seemed to catch up to him in 2010 as his power vanished at age 34. Berkman hadn't had an isolated power below .227 in any full major league season before seeing that figure drop to .166 last year while also posting career lows in most major offensive categories, including home runs (14) and all three slash stats (.248/.368/.413). Now with the Cardinals, he has moved from the homer-happy ballparks in Houston and the Bronx that he played in last year to one of the least-friendly parks for power hitters in the major leagues (yes, Albert Pujols is that good). Mix in the almost complete collapse of the switch-hitter's right-handed swing (.171/.261/.256 against lefties last year, continuing a downward trend in that split) and the fact that the Cardinals expect him to play the outfield, something he hasn't done full time since 2004 and at all since 2007, and Berkman could be headed for disaster this season.
Hideki Matsui, DH, A's
.125/.246/.179, 56 ABs
Save for a catastrophic wrist injury in 2006, Matsui has been a model of consistency since coming to the United States before the '03 season, but a decade-long games-played streak compiled on the hard artificial turf of the Tokyo Dome ravaged his knees, leading to more time missed in 2008 and a permanent move to designated hitter in 2009. Matsui still largely replicated his career major league rates with the Angels in 2010, but he'll turn 37 in June and will now play his home games at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, which according to the Bill James Handbook had a 2010 park factor for left-handed home runs of 50, meaning it was twice as hard for a lefty to get the ball out in Oakland as in a neutral major league park. The above spring line, of course, came not in the pitching-friendly Oakland Coliseum, but in the hitting-friendly heat of Arizona.
In other news, the Yankees and Rays are on the verge of being rained out today, while the Yankees have made two moves official: Pedro Feliciano will indeed start the season on the 15-day disabled list with triceps soreness in his pitching arm (for more on Feliciano, see the "Ouchies" section in Sunday's game capsule), and Eric Chavez has been signed to a major league contract and added to the 25-man roster.
Update: The game has indeed been rained out. Meanwhile, confirming a lot of what we suspected, Ramiro Peña has been optioned to Triple-A, handing the backup infield job to Eduardo Nuñez, Jesus Montero has been optioned to Triple-A and Austin Romine to Double-A, handing the backup catcher job to Gustavo Molina. Justin Maxwell has also been optioned to Triple-A, leaving Chris Dickerson as the lone remaining option should Curtis Granderson open the season on the disabled list (that seems increasingly unlikely, but with the rainout, Granderson only has one remaining spring game in which to test his strained oblique). Ronnie Belliard has been released, and Mark Prior is staying in Tampa for extended spring training, leaving Luis Ayala and Steve Garrison as the frontrunners for Feliciano's vacated spot in the bullpen.