Incredibly, the first Yankees spring training games are right around the corner. The schedule has been tweaked in an attempt to limit travel to the geographic area near Tampa. All the clubs the Yankees will play are located within roughly a one-hour radius, as seen in the below map (thanks to MLB.com for the map, but you can blame me for the hastily-placed logos)
The Yankees will face the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates this spring. Who are the key players to watch and the biggest storylines for these respective clubs?
Toronto Blue Jays – Dunedin, FL
The Yankees’ first contest will be a home game in Tampa against the Jays this Sunday. Over the preseason, they’ll face Toronto seven times. With the Blue Jays set to play this regular season out of Dunedin, it’ll be good for the Bombers to get acclimated to TD Ballpark.
The Blue Jays are a dangerous young squad hungry for more after a brief postseason appearance in 2020. They didn’t mess around this offseason either, signing ex-Astro George Springer to a six-year, $150 million contract. They also acquired Marcus Semien, Steven Matz and Kirby Yates to add veteran depth.
A key player to watch this spring will be top pitching prospect Nate Pearson, who had a cup of coffee last year but saw his first MLB trial derailed by injury. The flamethrowing lefty is looking to stake his claim in the starting rotation. Of course, all of the Jays’ next-generation infielders, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette, are all budding offensive stars as well.
Baltimore Orioles – Sarasota, FL
The Bombers will play three games against another AL East foe, the Baltimore Orioles. Unlike the Blue Jays, the Orioles don’t have much going on right now. Spring training is probably the most interesting time to see them, given the chance to see prospects like Adley Rutschman, the 2019 No. 1 overall pick, and Yusniel Diaz, the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade.
As for the MLB roster, Trey Mancini is making his remarkable comeback from stage 3 colon cancer, and the team is giving Félix Hernández and Matt Harvey chances to make the team on minor league contracts. If all goes right for the O’s, they’ll be a big-time comeback story in 2021.
Detroit Tigers – Lakeland, FL
The Yankees may get familiar with some of the Tigers’ top prospects over their seven games vs. Detroit this spring. 2020 first overall pick Spencer Torkelson is in camp, as is 2018 top pick Casey Mize after a rough MLB audition last year. Top 10 organizational prospects Riley Greene and Dillon Dingler are also on the spring roster.
The Tigers scooped up some MLB depth this winter too, signing Robbie Grossman, Nomar Mazara, Jonathan Schoop, Wilson Ramos, José Ureña and Julio Teherán. Like the Orioles, they have very little Major League talent, but their prospect presence will make them an interesting watch this spring.
Philadelphia Phillies – Clearwater, FL
The Yankees will see the Phillies more than any other team this spring, as is custom. The close proximity between Tampa and Clearwater will see the two clubs square off eight times this preseason.
After hiring Dave Dombrowski to run baseball operations, the Phillies’ biggest moves were re-signing top catcher J.T. Realmuto and Yankees fan favorite Didi Gregorius. He also signed Matt Moore and Archie Bradley to help the team’s maligned pitching, and traded for José Alvarado.
The question is, did the Phillies improve enough this winter? After spending over $850 million the last four offseasons, Philadelphia still has nothing to show for it. A core with Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Alec Bohm, Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler looks good, but manager Joe Girardi will need more from the periphery of the roster, especially after operating the worst bullpen in MLB history last season.
Pittsburgh Pirates – Bradenton, FL
The final team the Yankees will see this spring, the Pirates are another team in transition. They moved Jameson Taillon to the Yankees, traded Josh Bell to the Nationals and dealt Joe Musgrove to San Diego in Ben Cherington’s second offseason as general manager. The Pirates didn’t receive any MLB players in return, but completely restocked their young core with several players who were top-10 prospects in their prior organizations.
Familiar faces Todd Frazier and Miguel Yajure are on the Pirates’ spring roster, while the Yankees have a few ex-Pirates in their camp in Gerrit Cole, Justin Wilson and the aforementioned Taillon.