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What to watch for at Yankees summer camp

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With baseball back, for now, we look over some of the most important storylines facing the Yankees.

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

To borrow from the great Tom Ziller: Good morning. Let’s baseball.

Exactly 111 days ago, Major League Baseball shut down operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, the league described the interruption as a minimum two-week pause. Three months later and baseball is back.

If they haven’t already, the Yankees will report to summer camp at Yankee Stadium today. For the next three weeks, they’ll undergo a crash course to get back up to speed before ringing in Opening Day against the Nationals on July 23.

To get ready for the weeks ahead, let’s go over the big talking points that will come up during summer camp.

1. Is Aaron Judge ready?

On September 18, 2019, Aaron Judge attempted to make a diving catch against an Albert Pujols single. He crashed hard and appeared to jam his shoulder in the process. While Judge missed the next game, he played down the stretch and appeared in the postseason.

It turns out that he didn’t jam his shoulder on the dive, or that was the least of his problems. He also collapsed his lung and fractured his first right rib. As a result, the right fielder didn’t swing a bat at all in spring training, and he appeared headed for a lengthy stint on the injured list should the season have opened on schedule.

Now, though, there’s reason for cautious optimism.

Translation: The Yankees think Judge can appear in the Opening Day lineup.

It will be worth keeping an eye on how Judge progresses through camp, whether they let him take the training wheels off and play up to his full potential, or if they slowly move him along. I’d also be interested in seeing if Brian Cashman continues to speak like it’s the 18th century.

2. How about the other injured Yankees?

If the season opened on schedule, Judge would have company on the injured list. James Paxton, Aaron Hicks, and Giancarlo Stanton would have joined him. The same goes for Luis Severino, but he has no chance of returning in 2020 because of Tommy John surgery.

Now, though, it looks like all three have a good chance of making the Opening Day roster. Cashman noted that Paxton “appears game ready”, meaning he will join the rotation right away (via Joel Sherman). Hicks remains on track to become the first player in baseball history to have Tommy John and not miss a game, as the GM has “no concerns” with the center fielder’s health (Bryan Hoch). He very well could play on Opening Day.

When it comes to Stanton, the conversation gets a little murky. Cashman said of the slugger, “I think if you’re shooting for the DH role, he could be game-ready” (Lindsey Adler). Stanton suffered a Grade 1 calf strain during spring training, and from the sounds of it, he isn’t ready to go full speed in the outfield.

I get this is frustrating for fans who already have a low patience threshold with Stanton, but consider two points:

  1. Cashman talked about how Stanton hasn’t taken outfield drills since. This doesn’t count as a setback, just taking time to get back into shape. The Yankees also have a bit of an outfield logjam, especially with a healthy Hicks. Keeping Stanton at DH could help the Yankees from that perspective.
  2. Leg injuries are extremely annoying. They take forever to heal. And, just when you think they’re better, you work out, aggravate it, and end up needing a minimum of two full weeks off just to get back to where you were before re-injuring it. I’m okay with the Yankees and Stanton taking it slow here.

3. Will there actually be a season?

The coronavirus continues to run unchecked throughout the United States. As of this writing, 31 states saw increases in cases reported this week. States like California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida—homes to one third of the entire league—are experiencing critical outbreaks.

If you’re pessimistic about a season returning, you’re not alone.

Buster Olney thinks there’s just a five percent chance MLB gets the season off the ground, and no way it finishes. Cashman said that trades would prove difficult to swing because of the lingering threat of another shutdown (Sherman). No Yankees have opted out, but other players across the league have, indicating the seriousness of the threat.

The league has safety plans in place, but can you expect them to control a virus that spreads so easily?

4. What else? In rapid-fire format!

  • Who will make the Opening Day, 30-man roster? Fringe players like Rosell Herrera and Clint Frazier, who probably wouldn’t have made a 26-man roster, now have a chance to break camp with the Yankees.
  • How long will it take to build up starting pitchers? Cashman said that Gerrit Cole wants to be turned loose, but will they actually let him?
  • Will players take the social distancing guidelines seriously? This has been a problem in other sports. Just look at Novak Djokovic, the Orlando Pride, or WWE talent. Teams will have to trust their players to make smart choices. If they don’t, the entire operation (tenuous enough in the first place) goes out the window.