The Yankees open their spring training season in just over a week, where a number of intriguing storylines will take place. How will the Greg Bird/Luke Voit battle for first base turn out? Will Clint Frazier show a full return to health after battling with a concussion last season? How will new Yankee bats in Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu perform?
Despite all of these questions, it’s also important to remember that many of them won’t be answered in the Grapefruit League, considering how spring training has long been a poor predictor of regular season performance. To demonstrate, let’s look back on some of the Yankees’ top spring training campaigns in recent years, and see how they fared in the regular season that followed.
2018: Austin Romine
Which of the Yankees guaranteed a major league spot finished with the highest OPS last spring? That would be Romine, who posted a .993 OPS by ripping a team-high five doubles in 33 at-bats. Romine, certainly not known for his power, finished the spring with almost 40 percent of his hits going for extra bases, and given how badly Gary Sanchez struggled in 2018, the Yankees would have loved any kind of production like that from Romine in the regular season.
Unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case. Romine finished with a .674 OPS in April, and with a 91 wRC+ on the season.
2017: Greg Bird
This remains one of the most memorable spring performances for the Yanks, and unfortunately not in a good way. After missing all of 2016 following shoulder surgery, Bird took off in spring training when he returned, posting a ridiculous 1.654 OPS behind EIGHT home runs while drawing 12 walks. It was one of the most torrid spring stretches for a young Yankee, and fans were salivating at the thought of Bird making a full return.
Then, with one ball off of his foot at the close of spring training, everything changed. Bird tried to battle through the injury and finished with a wRC+ of 37 through the first month of the regular season before having surgery and beginning a long road back to the bigs. He did at least produce when he returned at the end of the season, and was one of the team’s best hitters in the postseason.
2016: Starlin Castro
Like Romine two years after, Castro led all Yankee roster locks with a .944 OPS through spring of 2016. Recording two hits in his first spring training game as a Yankee, Castro took off from there and left fans hopeful for the team’s newest infield acquisition.
Castro actually did carry over that hot hitting for a while, posting a 123 wRC+ in April, but that mark bottomed out to 55 in May and 80 in June, as the second baseman went on to finish with a 93 wRC+ on the season.
2015: Rob Refsnyder
Refsnyder was a prospect (wrongly) hyped up by the Yankees, and the hype looked to have some merit after his spring training in 2015, where he posted a 1.030 OPS with a homer and six doubles in 44 at-bats.
Refsnyder would arrive in the big leagues in July, but struggled in his debut, starting 2-for-15 at the plate, and returned in September when rosters expanded. He would actually go on to start in the Wild Card Game, which went about as well as you would expect.
2014: Francisco Cervelli
Cervelli posted numbers comparable to Bird’s 2017 spring in 2014, swatting four homers, a double and a triple en route to a 1.261 OPS. This was all while new Yankee Brian McCann struggled in spring training, so at least the Yankees had a decent backup option, right?
Actually, Cervelli didn’t have a bad 2014 season at all. It was solid, as he finished with a 127 OPS+ in just 49 games as the backup. But his hot spring certainly didn’t translate to the regular season right away, as Cervelli started the season 3-for-16, posting a wRC+ of 36 through the first month of the season.