In just a few days pitchers and catchers will convene at Steinbrenner field much to the delight of Yankee fans everywhere. Soon after we'll get our first taste of real live baseball in 2015 which will offer up some delicious competition between Yankee holdovers and a full stock of newcomers poised to make their mark on the team. Here's a look at four of the most important battles that will be fought this spring. The results of which could be the difference between another lousy season and one that brings the Yankees back to relevance.
The battle for a spot in the rotation
Of the 21 pitchers on the Yankees 40-man roster, 12 of them are either starters by trade or have started a major league game as recently as 2013. The four mainstays expected to anchor the rotation are CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and Nathan Eovaldi. As last year proved, however, one or more of those arms is likely to hit the DL within the first few weeks of the season. Whoever impresses the most this spring from the rest of the pack could be the next man up when that happens. On the strength of quality spring starts, a minor league journeyman like Bryan Mitchell or Jose De Paula could make the team as a reliever but find themselves starting by May. The fifth spot in the rotation should also be up for grabs at this point with Chris Capuano and Adam Warren as the front-runners.
The battle to lock down the keystone
It looked as though Martin Prado would start at second base until he was suddenly traded for pitching and bench depth just before Christmas. By default, second base would then go to either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder, two guys who raked at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year. While not known for their fielding prowess, the Yankees were hoping that one of the two would hit well enough that it wouldn't matter. The potential competition became a little less important when they brought back Stephen Drew, seemingly to get the first crack at the open second base job. Even if Drew impresses in spring training though, the winner of the Pirela vs. Refsnyder audition could still see significant playing time this year. Which brings us to the next battle.
The battle for Derek Jeter's shadow
In desperate need of a shortstop to replace the retired Captain, the Yankees swung a deal with the Diamondbacks in December to land Didi Gregorius. All reports indicate that he'll be expected to be the starting shortstop in 2015. However, in his brief major league career so far he's proven to be nothing more than an average player at best with both the bat and glove. With the aforementioned Stephen Drew back in the fold, the Yankees have another option at short should Gregorius struggle through the spring and into April so there could be some healthy competition right out of the gate. Brendan Ryan is also still under contract this year but his place will and should be the bench.
The battle for the ninth inning
Last year David Robertson did an admirable job taking over the closer role from the greatest ever, Mariano Rivera. The Yankees didn't think as much as they let him skip town without even offering him a contract this winter. Luckily, Dellin Betances got his career back on track in 2014 by putting up one of the most remarkable seasons ever seen by a rookie relief pitcher. He comes into 2015 the clear cut favorite to take over as closer but just to stir things up, Brian Cashman has also acquired Andrew Miller, the best left-handed reliever on the market. Since neither pitcher has any experience as a full-time closer, whoever instills the most confidence with their spring save chances could get the job when camp breaks. Either way, the Yankees should again have of the the best one-two punches in baseball to finish games out.
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