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Yankees spring training: The biggest questions heading into camp

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So many questions, so few answers

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Spring training has begun with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp on Tuesday. Now, as workouts begin to heat up, it’s time to look forward to the biggest storylines of Yankees spring training.

Can the Yankees build a full rotation?

The Yankees decided not to sign a starting pitcher this year, leaving Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia as the team’s only sure bets. As a result, we are going to see a full on competition over the next month between a handful of young players in order to determine which two pitchers will make it into the rotation to start the year.

One of the favorites will obviously be Luis Severino, however, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, and Adam Warren will all receive good, long looks this year. The biggest problem, of course, is that even if some differentiate themselves from the group, we still don’t know what any of them can do over an extended period of time. It will be a lot of hoping and praying that these guys can piece together a rotation for at least a few months.

New York has the benefit of a loaded farm system with several other promising pitchers likely to start the year in the minor leagues. Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, Dietrich Enns, and Ronald Herrera could all spend time in the Bronx this season.

Can Luis Severino make it work?

There’s no getting around the fact that Luis Severino was awful last season. He proved to be extremely hittable, his fastball was all over the place, and he hardly threw his changeup. This was not supposed to be the follow up to a promising debut season, but here we are, wondering if Severino will ever be able to start in the majors.

In order to correct what happened to him in 2016, the Yankees asked him to lose weight and work on his flexibility because they felt he had been too bulky last year. Severino also worked with Pedro Martinez in the offseason to tweak his mechanics and improve his changeup. Everything about these sessions seemed positive, so hopefully Pedro has instilled in him the ability to throw a change and keep his fastball near the zone.

Fans and the organization are going to want to see better results this spring, otherwise panic will likely ensue. A few bad outings and Yankees fans will start considering him a bust, while the team would have to fill two rotation spots with lesser prospects. At the very least, he should be able to play an important role as a reliever, but this team will need him as a starter.

Who will make the bullpen?

The Yankees went out of their way to sign Aroldis Chapman to an incredibly ridiculous free agent contract. They then went on to pinch pennies with Dellin Betances. their back three also includes Tyler Clippard, but who is going to help bridge the gap between the starters and the team’s top relievers, especially if many of those starters won’t be able to go deep into ballgames?

It seemed unlikely at first, but the Yankees are very high on Tommy Layne serving as their left-handed specialist. Prospects like Jonathan Holder and Ben Heller will also have a chance to prove they belong in the majors, even after weak MLB debuts. If Warren ends up back in the bullpen as the longman, that could be the group right there. Hopefully these guys can do a better job than the last bunch.

Will Aaron Judge make the team?

Currently, the Yankees do not have a starting right fielder, so a competition will surely brew up between Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks. No one wants Hicks to be a starter, but the team has to be absolutely sure that Judge is ready for the majors before they give him the job.

In the offseason, Judge has done some work to help cut down his strikeout rates, which were sky-high in his debut. We’re going to see what these changes have done for him and whether or not it is enough to get him the right field job to begin the year. Judge has shown a pattern of adjustment for each new level he reaches, but he’s going to need to make a statement in camp. Hopefully, he has made the necessary adjustments and will be able to hold his own in the majors this year.

Will Greg Bird be able to hold down first base?

After eight years holding down first base, Mark Teixeira is gone. While he wasn’t always as good as we wanted him to be, his glove and presence in the lineup was well established. It seemed like Greg Bird would have no trouble following him, but then a shoulder injury put everything in doubt. Bird should be healthy enough to play, however, it has yet to be seen what a year on the shelf means for him.

The Yankees clearly aren’t 100% sold on the idea of handing the position to Bird, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have picked up Chris Carter. Even if the organization has stated their confidence in the 24-year-old, Carter is still expected to take some at-bats against left-handed pitchers. Despite all this, Bird might just need to prove that he is healthy and can at least stand a chance against major league pitchers in order to keep the job. We’re not looking for dominance here (yet).

Where is Chris Carter going to play?

Speaking of Chris Carter, his presence on this roster remains a complete mystery at the moment. The Yankees saw Carter’s 41 home runs still sitting on the free agent market, and they decided to pounce, even if they really don’t have a defined role for him.

He’s likely to see playing time at first base and DH throughout spring training, but the way he is deployed will be the most telling. Who does he face, who does he get playing time over. We should also learn some things through interviews with Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi.

What does Matt Holliday have left in the tank?

At the age of 37, we have to start wondering what Holliday has left in the tank. He missed a good portion of the 2015 season to injury and then struggled in 2016, so he’s not coming in on a high note. The Yankees must think that less time spent in the outfield will help him stay on the field and be product, but we have to see.

This is the type of thing that is hard to judge in spring training. On one hand, you don’t want him to look old and bad in spring training, but on the other hand spring stats don’t mean much. Remember when Raul Ibanez looked done and then went on to have a productive season a few years back?

Instead of looking to his stat line, pay attention to how well he hits the ball, how often he makes content, and whether or not it is good contact. If he’s hitting everything on the ground, get worried, but if he hits long fly balls, he might still have something left.

Can Gary Sanchez keep it up?

The quick and easy answer is no, Gary Sanchez will not be a record-smashing Hall of Famer through the rest of his career. However, there is reason to believe he will continue to hit in 2017. He might need some time to get his bat going in spring training, but it’s important to remember that he doesn’t have much to prove at this point.

The Yankees have handed him the job by trading away Brian McCann, which is something they never do with young players. What we should be able to see is how he handles the pitching staff and his position defensively. It’s hard to really have questions about him right now.