With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to camp in about three weeks, spring training is somehow nearly upon us. Nearly all the top free agents are off the board, and the slate is nearly set for the coming season, pending a potential mega trade or two.
Most things are probably in place for the Yankees, so we can start to look forward to the biggest upcoming spring training battles. The fifth rotation spot isn’t set in stone, Tyler Wade will be facing off against Thairo Estrada for an infield role, and the last bullpen spot is still up for grabs as well. Each battle is small in terms of the impact it will have on the team, but they will all loom large for the particular players involved.
J.A. Happ will make $17 million this year and has been a mostly consistent starting pitcher since the 2009 season. His salary and veteran status will make him the front runner for the fifth starter spot, but multiple young pitchers will enter their names into the hat. Jordan Montgomery has returned from Tommy John Surgery, while promising prospects Deivi Garcia and Michael King could end up surprising both southpaws with additional competition.
After Happ pitched through a disappointing 2019, questions abound about his possible production, as well as his vesting option for 2021. If the veteran hurler doesn’t improve early this season, he could easily be moved to the bullpen to open the door for Montgomery, Garcia, or King, and also to keep his option from vesting.
Montgomery inserted himself into the 2017 rotation with his performance during spring training and featured a curveball that generated impressive numbers for a rookie campaign. While Garcia and King don’t have much experience in the major leagues, their accession through the minors has garnered the attention of the organization and it’s fans. Considering they are both young pitchers who can still work on their craft in the minors, they will most likely begin the season in Scranton, but they could push the envelope and create some tough decisions for the coaching staff with big springs.
Last Bullpen Spot
The bullpen configuration for the Yankees has been simple over the last few seasons, and for 2020, much hasn't changed. Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, are the elite one-inning performers, while Chad Green and Luis Cessa will be tasked with pitching multiple innings more often. With six spots taken, the Yankees will need one slot for the Scranton Shuttle, leaving one more permanent slot to be determined.
Jonathan Loaisiga, Jonathan Holder, and Ben Heller will essentially then be fighting for two slots. Considering Holder suffered an injury that made him miss every game after August 6th, and Ben Heller returned to the Yankees in September, Loaisiga will come in with the most significant sample of recent performance. Each pitcher does have minor-league options remaining, meaning the Yankees could theoretically use each of the last two bullpen spots as a sort of two-man Scranton Shuttle.
The Backup Infielder
This battle is projected to the be the thinnest of them all, with just two players going head-to-head. With a full 40-man roster, Wade and Estrada might not see much competition enter the middle infield soon, unless the Yankees come to terms on a minor-league contract with an available free agent.
Both Wade and Estrada will offer different qualities to the mix. Wade is a speed-first left-handed hitter who can cover infield and outfield positions. Estrada doesn’t offer as much speed but showed the ability to cover shortstop at the major league level during his short stint in 2019, and could provide more pop compared to Wade. Estrada is a right-handed hitter, and that could put him at a disadvantage to Wade given the Yankees’ reliance on right-handed hitters, but a month is a long time to prove who will deserve the middle infield backup spot.
Having such little depth in the middle infield could even lead to longer looks for Kyle Holder and Hoy Jun Park, who both have received spring training invitations the two previous seasons, and finished 2019 producing positive numbers for the Trenton Thunder. As they enter camp in 2020, they’re both long shots to make the club, but this will still be their best opportunity yet to stick around. They are both expected to play a significant amount of time in Scranton next season, but great spring training performances could linger in the back of the coaches minds, prompting a surprise mid-season call-up no one might have seen coming.