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Yankees Making the Team Meter: Week Four

Luis Severino’s injury raises new questions at the last second, while the shortstop battle concludes.

MLB: MAR 24 Spring Training - Twins at Yankees Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The end is near! Opening Day is upon us! In just a few short days, the Yankees and Giants will take the field in the Bronx to kickstart the 2023 season at last. With that in mind, it’s time for our fourth and final round of this year’s Making the Team Meter!

Over the course of this past week, we’ve had some questions answered, as Anthony Volpe was named the starting shortstop yesterday afternoon. That being said, the pitching staff continued to take a beating: the team announced that Luis Severino has a lat strain and would join Carlos Rodón, Tommy Kahnle, and Lou Trivino on the injured list to start the season. Because of this, the rotation battle — once thought to be concluded — has returned for one last round.

In case you need it, here’s the key. Once again, players who had been cut prior to last Tuesday are not included in order to keep things streamlined, while players cut in the past week are included.

As always, let’s start with the pitchers.

Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Clarke Schmidt, and Domingo Germán are all that remain on the mound out of the deep rotation that the Yankees opened the spring with. While the organization is confident that Rodón and Severino shouldn’t miss too much time, their injuries nonetheless force the team to tap into the upper minors to fill out the Opening Day rotation. Barring an unforeseen move, Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez, a pair of pitchers recalled from the minor league camp after being cut back on March 11th, are the team’s two choices for the No. 5 spot. At the moment, Brito appears to have the upper hand — not only did he start yesterday in place of Severino (a start in which he set down all 16 batters he faced), he was the first player mentioned by manager Aaron Boone as an option. The 25-year-old made 18 appearances with Scranton last year (15 starts), and was a dark horse candidate for a bullpen spot heading into the spring. While the team seems high on Vásquez long-term, he has yet to play above Double-A.

The bullpen, on the other hand, seems pretty set. Clay Holmes, Wandy Peralta, Michael King, and Jonathan Loáisiga represent the high-leverage guys, Ron Marinaccio and Albert Abreu the tier below that. Earlier this week, Aaron Boone confirmed that Jimmy Cordero had played himself into a bullpen spot, leaving Greg Weissert and Ian Hamilton competing for the final spot. Randy Miller of thinks Hamilton will get the nod, although honestly, at this point it’s anybody’s guess.

Next up, we look to the backstops:

Yep, nothing has changed all spring. It’s Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka. That was the plan heading into the offseason, that was the plan heading into the spring, and that will be the plan heading into the season.

Last, but not least, the position players:

Day by day, cut by cut, the active roster has become ever more clear. With Harrison Bader’s injury, the Opening Day outfield will probably come from some combination of Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, and Oswaldo Cabrera. The infield will be some combination of Anthony Rizzo, Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Volpe, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Josh Donaldson. That leaves the Yankees with one spot left to fill. We know that Oswald Peraza, the runner-up in the shortstop competition, won’t receive it, as he was demoted to Triple-A Scranton yesterday afternoon, so it’s clear the Yankees are looking for an outfielder. Let’s run through the options.

Willie Calhoun: At present, the Yankees bench projects to have Oswaldo Cabrera, IKF, Kyle Higashioka, and whichever one of the “10 starters” is getting the day off. Although there is some pop on that bench, it leans towards a focus on defense. Willie Calhoun is not known for his defense, but the 28-year-old has showcased some of the power that made him a top prospect with the Dodgers this spring; heading into action on Saturday, he was slashing .279/.367/.395 with a home run and two doubles, all while working six walks and striking out just three times in 49 plate appearances.

Rafael Ortega: It seems like a match made in heaven. At present, the Yankees have just three lefties on the roster — Anthony Rizzo and switch hitters Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Cabrera. Over the course of his career, Rafael Ortega has slashed .260/.329/.385 against righties, but just .179/.273/.187 against lefties. Combined with his ability to play all three outfield positions, and it’s easy to see why Ortega was given by onlookers more than an outside chance at cracking the Yankees roster. After a strong start to the spring, however, Ortega has largely looked lost at the plate: although he has four extra-base hits, he has just five total. Still, the Yankees often prefer process over results when it comes to long-term planning, and he’s still in camp for a reason. If the team feels that his numbers don’t reflect his performance, they still could bring him north.

Estevan Florial: The former top prospect has seen a long fall from grace, and at this point in the spring, I’m pretty sure the only reason he has not been optioned to Triple-A is because he is out of options. Will that be enough to earn him a spot on the roster despite a .184/.295/.289 slash line, an injury history a mile wide, and a number of top outfield prospects in the upper minors?

Judging from the Yankees’ lineup choices in recent days, I’d be very surprised to see Florial, who batted ninth in the first half of Friday’s doubleheader (behind the recently-cut Wilmer Difo), or Ortega, who has been consistently batting behind Calhoun lately. While analyzing batting orders like this isn’t foolproof, it does give a bit of a sense as to how the team considers bottom-of-the-order guys in relation to each other.

How will these roster conundrums be solved? We’ll find out this week. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.