Well, spring training is over. A 45 day marathon that started with pitchers and catchers reporting - remember when we were counting down the days - concluded yesterday with exhibition game 34. It certainly felt like the purpose of the last month and a half has been to transition the fanbase from baseball-starved over the offseason to desperately wishing the games would start counting again. Of course, the real reason for spring is to help ease ballplayers back into the daily grind ahead of the ultramarathon of the regular season. It's also given major league ballclubs a chance to evaluate young talent and round out their 25-man rosters.
For a few players then, spring training counted. Adam Warren won himself a rotation spot, Chris Martin a place in the bullpen, and John Ryan Murphy the role of backup catcher. For the majority of the 25 players who will be lining up at 1pm tomorrow for the Yankees, as the opening day festivities begin, spring training was about getting in their work. It's probably not worth paying too much attention to the performances as a whole. However, seeing as spring training performance is all we have to pour over, for at least one more day, before we can start reading too much into the small sample sizes of the early regular season, it might be interesting to consider if there were any trends from the exhibition slate we can hope will carry over into the games that count.
Alex Rodriguez and Stephen Drew can still hit
Of the veterans who had their roster spots all but locked up, some had more to prove than others. There will be no inquest into the spring statistics of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, arguably the two most reliable hitters on the ballclub. If Alex Rodriguez and Stephen Drew had put up middling numbers though, there would be a lot of questions being asked about their places on the team at this point. Thankfully for a ballclub starved of offense last season, Rodriguez and Drew showed life in their bats, and it appears there might be two additional producers in the bottom third of the lineup this year.
Stephen Drew spent the second half of the year with the Yankees, but struggled all year in what must have felt like a lost season for the veteran. Alex Rodriguez is coming off an actual lost season. The Yankees could not have known what to expect from these two coming into spring, but so far as exhibition statistics can count both have shown reason for optimism. Three home runs each, a .267/.377/.489 line from Rodriguez and .259/.310/.481 triple slash from Drew. Considering these two are expected to hit seventh and eighth in the lineup, should either one, let alone both, produce at a similar clip in the regular season the Yankees will be in very good stead.
Nathan Eovaldi is striking hitters out
Even with his rough first inning from yesterday, Nathan Eovaldi has had a very good spring. More important than the gaudy 1.93 ERA though might be the 20 strikeouts in 18.2 innings. Eovaldi's strikeout numbers so far in his career haven't been quite where they might be expected, considering his impressive velocity; 321 strikeouts in 460 innings, 142 K's in 199.2 innings last year. There were questions about the Yankees bringing over a pitcher with a 4.37 ERA pitching in the National League East for Florida, but already there were reasons to believe his underlying performance was better than it appeared, as evidenced by his 3.37 FIP. The biggest draw though, might have been in seeing if Larry Rothschild could have helped further improve the young hurler. Eovaldi might have a relatively high floor for a 25 year old pitcher, as a fourth starter who will eat innings. If he keeps striking out better than a hitter-per-inning though, he could aim even higher than that.
The one word, that above all can define the Yankees 2015 season, through spring training there has been further cause for optimism in terms of health. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have stretched themselves out through spring training without incident, and while there have been question marks about Tanaka's velocity, the important thing is that he stays on the mound. A Tanaka that relies more on a two-seam fastball, and that throws with a more relaxed delivery could still go out and dominate hitters. Especially if he keeps the extra fastball ticks in reserve to dial up to where needed. Heading into the regular season, the twin aces of the Yankees have remained atop the rotation where they belong, not on the disabled list. Hopefully this remains the case all year.
The team has been healthy, for the most part, beyond the two main starters. CC Sabathia has stayed on schedule, even if his performances have brought some concern early. Veteran hitters Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran have remained on the field, and while Jacoby Ellsbury missed time with an oblique injury during spring he is healthy now. In the case of Tanaka, Sabathia and Beltran specifically, Joe Girardi eased them back into baseball activities this spring. It might mean lower pitch counts earlier for Tanaka and Sabathia, and a few extra off-days for Beltran, as they continue to get stretched out in April. If it means keeping the veterans healthy through the season though, it will certainly be a good tradeoff.
The Yankees might have some depth this season. Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova will open the year on the disabled list, but could come into play for when the Yankees inevitably need a sixth and seventh starter later in the year. Jose Pirela is healing from his concussion, and won't be rushed back, but when he is ready could play well as an infielder on the Yankee bench. Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores were promising in spring and could come into play as outfield options when needed. Robert Refsnyder could factor into the big league picture after more time at Triple-A to work on defense. Ideally though, the depth is available for use when wanted, and less so when needed due to another extended spell of injuries in 2015.
Are there any spring training trends you hope will carry forward into the regular season?