Results tagged ‘ American League East ’

A-Rod, Bullpen Spark Yankees Over Sloppy Mets

GAME 19

YANKEES 6, METS 4

When Yankees manager Joe Girardi takes out his starting pitcher holding a lead and brings in a reliever the opposing manager should just make plans for the next game because the one in which his team is playing is pretty much over.

And so it was on Sunday night for manager Terry Collins and the Mets.

Alex Rodriguez hit the 659th home run of his career and he added an RBI double, the Mets threw the ball around Yankee Stadium as if it was a hand grenade for four errors and the Yankees vaunted high-octane bullpen did the rest as the Yankees won the home portion of the Subway Series two games to one.

Left-hander Chasen Shreve (1-0), who came on in the fifth inning for right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, got credit for the victory and left-hander Andrew Miller pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his seventh save in seven chances.

All told, the bullpen crew of Shreve, Chris Martin, Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Miller shut out the Mets on no hits and one walk while they fanned four batters over the final 4 2/3 innings.

The Mets took an early lead on Eovaldi when Curtis Granderson hit Eovaldi’s ninth pitch for his first home run of the season to start the game. The Mets later added a run on a Juan Lagares single and a two-out double by Daniel Murphy.

Rodriguez halved the lead in the bottom of the first by lacing a 2-2 curveball onto the top of the wall in right-center and it bounced into the Yankees’ bullpen for Rodriguez’s fifth home run of the season and his first since April 19.

The Yankees then went double happy on left-hander Jonathan Niese (2-1) to take a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the game.

John Ryan Murphy doubled to left with one out and with two out the Yankees then strung together four straight RBI hits, two of them doubles.

Gregorio Petit doubled to left to score Murphy, Brett Gardner doubled to right to score Petit and Chris Young singled to right to plate Gardner.

Rodriguez then singled through the left side of the infield. But left-fielder Michael Cuddyer threw a lawn-dart that allowed Young to score and Rodriguez to take second. It took first baseman Lucas Duda’s retrieval of the slow rolling ball at shortstop to throw out Rodriguez at third with the second baseman, Murphy, covering to end the four-run inning.

The Mets added a pair of runs with two out in the third inning as Duda singled, Cuddyer doubled him in and he moved to third on a throwing error by Stephen Drew. Murphy then drove in Cuddyer with a single.

But when Girardi took out Eovaldi with one out and a runner on in the fifth, the Mets’ offense went perceptibly south immediately.

The Yankees got to Niese again in the fifth as Gardner reached on an disputed infield single. First-base umpire Adam Hamari had ruled that shortstop Wilmer Flores’ throw had beaten Gardner but it was challenged and overturned by replay.

Young then reached on a hard-hit ball that Murphy played into an error that allowed Gardner to advance to third. Rodriguez then hit what looked to be routine double-play grounder but Flores stepped on second to retire Young and then fired the relay to first base into the stands for the team’s fourth error of the night, which allowed Gardner to score.

Niese, who entered the game on a streak of six games of yielding two earned runs or less, was charged with six runs (four earned) on eight hits and one walk with three strikeouts in five innings.

Eovaldi struggled in his fourth start, surrendering four runs on seven hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 11-8 and they are tied with the Tampa Bay Rays in first place in the American League East. The Mets fell to 14-5, which remains the best record in baseball.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Rodriguez shook off a slump that had lasted more than a week to homer, double, drive in two runs and score one run. He hit the ball well in each of his four at-bats and he is now batting .267 with five homers and 13 RBIs.
  • Of the five relievers Girardi used, Betances was absolutely dominant in his one inning of work in the eighth. He struck out Lagares, Duda and Cuddyer in succession but his nasty curve broke so much it got past Murphy for a wild pitch so Cuddyer reached on a wild pitch. At that point, Betances had faced eight Mets batters in his career and he had struck out all eight of them. However, Daniel Murphy was able to ground out to second to break the string.
  • Very quietly John Ryan Murphy is developing into an excellent young catcher at age 23. Murphy, filling in for starter Brian McCann, was 2-for-3 with a double and he scored a run. With limited plate appearances, Murphy is batting .313 this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • After going eight games without making an error earlier in the week the Yankees committed two on Sunday and they were charged with four errors in the three-game series. Drew was charged with a throwing error in the third and Chase Headley also made an errant throw in the fifth. The Yankees need to clean up this sloppy play soon. They were lucky that the Mets were even worse.
  • Beltran is drawing a cascade of boos every time he makes an out. On Sunday, Beltran was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he also hit into a double play. The 38-year-old outfielder is now batting .161 with no homers and seven RBIs. After being benched on Saturday it looks as if Girardi’s patience with him is quickly running out.

BOMBER BANTER

Jacoby Ellsbury sat out Sunday’s game against the Mets with tightness in his right hip. The 31-year-old outfielder received treatment for the injury and Girardi told reporters that he hoped to have him back in the lineup on Monday. Ellsbury is batting .282 with a homers and two RBIs in 17 games.  . . .  The Yankees will recall right-hander Chase Whitley from Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre and he will start on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays to allow right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to have an extra day of rest between starts. Whitley, 25, is 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in three starts for the RailRiders.

ON DECK

The Yankees will begin a three-game home series against the Rays on Monday.

Right-hander Adam Warren (1-1, 5.40 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Warren gave up four runs on five hits and four walks with three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers to get his first victory on Wednesday.

Right-hander Nathan Karns (1-1, 5.32 ERA) will pitch for the Rays. Karns was pounded for five runs on seven hits and four walks with three strikeouts in six innings in a no-decison against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Tex Swats Two As Pineda, Yankees Humble Mets

GAME 17

YANKEES 6, METS 2

With both the Yankees and Mets in first place in their respective divisions and the Mets having won 11 games in a row, there was large groups of Mets fans lining the upper decks of Yankee Stadium on Friday. It is just too bad they came all way that for nothing.

Mark Teixeira slammed a pair of two-run homers and Jacoby Ellsbury added a solo shot of his own while Michael Pineda practically turned the Mets hitters into pretzels  –  soft pretzels at that  –  through 7 2/3 innings as New York struck the first blow of the 2015 version of the Subway Series by thrashing the interlopers from Queens, NY, in front of a national television audience and a paid crowd of 45,310.

Teixeira wasted no time against right-hander Jacob deGrom (2-2) when he connected for his sixth home run in the first inning with Brett Gardner on first and two out. Teixeira launched a 2-1 fastball into the second deck just down the right-field line to give the Yankees an early 2-0 edge.

Ellsbury jumped on deGrom’s second offering to lead off the third inning and lined a rocket shot into third row of the right-field bleachers.

With one out in the same inning, Alex Rodriguez drew a walk and Teixeira followed by swatting an almost identical high-arcing home run into the same second deck in right-field to extend the Yankees’ margin to 5-0.

Teixeira’s two home runs now give him four home runs in his past four starts and his seven home runs is only second to Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners, who leads Major League Baseball with eight.

The Yankees were not through with the obviously shell-shocked deGrom in the third inning. They managed to load the bases on a Brian McCann single, a Carlos Beltran walk and a hard ground single to right by Chase Headley.

Stephen Drew then lofted a sacrifice fly to deep center to score McCann and give the Yankees a 6-0 lead on the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year, who entered the game with a 0.93  ERA.

Meanwhile, Pineda (3-0) pitched his best game of the season in his fourth start.

The Mets’ lone run came in the sixth inning when former Yankee Curtis Granderson led off with an infield single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and reached third on a flyout off the bat of Juan Lagares.

Grandson then scored on a sacrifice fly by Lucas Duda.

Pineda was charged with one run on five hits and no walks while he struck out seven batters. Of the 100 pitches Pineda threw in the game, 78 of them were strikes. He also lowered his season ERA to 3.86.

The Mets’ right-hander deGrom yielded six runs on eight hits and two walks while he fanned two batters in five innings. In his previous 128 2/3 innings, deGrom had given up just two home runs. After the third inning the Yankees had tagged him for three.

With the victory the Yankees extended their winning streak to four games and they have now won seven of their past eight games. They are also tied with the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East with identical 10-7 records for both teams.

The Mets, in having their 11-game winning streak snapped, are now 13-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Based on his early success it looks as if a lot of players may be converting to the gluten-free, sugar-free diet Teixeira embarked upon in the offseason. It is certainly doing wonders for his production. Though Teixeira is only batting .218, he leads the Yankees in homers (7) and RBIs (17). In addition, April is usually a slow month for Teixeira. But not this season.
  • If there were any doubts that the Yankees have a dynamic one-two pitching punch in Masahiro Tanaka and Pineda, they both pretty much ended those thoughts the way they pitched the past two days. Tanaka and Pineda combined to limit their opponents to two runs on eight hits and two walks while striking of 15 in 14 innings. If a case can be made for two better pitchers in the A.L. East I would like to hear someone prove it to me.
  • Ellsbury won the game on Thursday against the Tigers with his speed. He helped the Yankees win this one with his power. It was his first home run of the season and his 2-for-5 night raised his season average to .294. Since April 18, Ellsbury is 10-for-29 (.345) with a home run, two RBIs and seven runs scored. Ellsbury is showing he is much more comfortable and effective hitter in the leadoff spot rather than the when he was forced to bat third last season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Headley committed an error, but it was in the ninth inning and it was erased by a double play. Beltran was 0-for-3 with a walk and is now hitting a woeful .173. But you just can’t nitpick when the team is firing on all cylinders like this team is doing right now. It will be interesting to see what Joe Buck of FOX Sports says about them on Saturday. He can’t exactly rip them now. Or can he?

BOMBER BANTER

Former Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams finally made it official on Friday as he signed papers indicating that he is retired from baseball. Williams, who has not played since 2006, also was on hand to throw the first pitch of the game and he drew a huge ovation from the crowd. Though he was not part of the 2009 championship team as were the so-called “Core Four” of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, “To set the record straight, Bernie is part of the Fab Five.” Williams will have his No. 51 retired and will have a plaque in Monument Park dedicated to him on May 24.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue the home portion of the Subway Series with the Mets on Saturday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-3, 4.35 ERA) will start of the Yankees. Sabathia, 34, is coming off his best effort of the season even though he lost the game 2-1 to the Detroit Tigers on Monday. Sabathia was charged with two runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out five in eight innings.

The Mets will go to right-hander Matt Harvey (3-0, 3.50 ERA), who will be making his first start in Yankee Stadium. Harvey will be pitching with his sprained left ankle heavily taped. Harvey won his last start on Sunday against the Miami Marlins despite surrendering four runs on eight hits with seven strikeouts in six innings.

Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by FOX Sports 1 and locally by WPIX.

 

One Bad Inning Dooms CC As Jays Top Yankees

GAME 3

BLUE JAYS 6, YANKEES 3

The Blue Jays strung together four consecutive hits to open the second inning against CC Sabathia and all four runners later scored as Toronto went on to defeat New York on Thursday in front of a paid crowd of 32,152 at Yankee Stadium.

Sabathia (0-1), who making his first start since May 10 of last season, was touched for an opposite-field single by Edwin Encarnacion, a lined single to center by Josh Donaldson, a ground single by Danny Valencia that ticked off the glove of Sabathia and a lined single to left by Kevin Pillar that scored Encarnacion.

The Blue Jays added runs on consecutive RBI groundouts by Steve Tolleson and Devon Travis and completed the scoring with an RBI single by Jose Reyes.

Meanwhile, rookie left-hander Daniel Norris (1-0) yielded three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out five over 5 2/3 innings for his first major-league victory in only his second career start.

The Blue Jays added an unearned run off Sabathia in the fifth inning when Donaldson reached on a two-out infield single and then Valencia followed with a seeing-eye single that rolled past second baseman Gregorio Petit into right-field. Right-fielder Carlos Beltran’s throw to third base caromed off Donaldson and allowed him to score on the throwing error.

Sabathia was charged with five runs (four earned) on eight hits and no walks while he struck out eight in 5 2/3 innings.

The Yankees scored a run in the fifth on a leadoff double by John Ryan Murphy and a one-out RBI single by Didi Gregorius, however, Gregorius was picked off straying too far off first by Valencia.

Alex Rodriguez blasted his first home run since Sept. 20, 2013 and his first of the season off Norris to lead off the sixth inning and one batter later Mark Teixeira added his first of the season to draw the Yankees to within two runs at 5-3.

But Encarnacion connected for his second home run of the series with two out in the eighth inning off right-hander Esmil Rogers.

Twenty-year-old right-hander Miguel Castro, who was named the closer earlier in the day, pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first career save.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • I am not crazy for saying this but Sabathia actually pitched a lot better than the results showed. If you take away the O.B.I. (One Bad Inning), Sabathia yielded just one unearned run on three hits and no walks. One big surprise was the eight strikeouts. Two of those strikeouts were against Jose Bautista, who ended up 0-for-12 with eight strikeouts in the series. There is something for Sabathia to build upon in this game despite the defeat.
  • The Yankees managed only seven hits, which is nothing new when it comes to their weak offense. However, the backup catcher, Murphy, ended up with two of them and both were lined doubles. Much was made of the spring training battle between Murphy and Austin Romine for the backup job, but manager Joe Girardi obviously made the right choice in the 23-year-old Murphy.
  • It was nice to see A-Rod and Teixeira connect for their first home runs of the season. The Yankees will require both of them to put up a lot of them and drive in a lot of runs if they are to contend at all in the American League East. It would just be nice if the homers weren’t solo shots.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Fielding has been a bit of an issue and it hurt the Yankees badly in the four-run second inning. With Encarnacion on second and Donaldson at first, Valencia hit a ground ball that ticked off Sabathia’s glove for an infield single. If Sabathia had either fielded it cleanly or had let it get by to Gregorius at shortstop it would have been an easy double play and it would have changed the complexion of the game. Sabathia also failed to back up third on Beltran’s throw to nail Donaldson in the sixth and it cost the Yankees a run. When it comes to fielding, Sabathia is just plain lazy and Girardi needs to lay down the law by fining players for mental errors like this.
  • After Rodriguez and Teixeira homered and there were two out in the sixth, Chris Young drew a walk from Norris, which ended Norris’ outing. Murphy then doubled off right-hander Roberto Osuna to put the tying run in scoring position. Girardi sent Stephen Drew up to pinch-hit for Petit. On a 1-2 count, Drew got a good pitch to hit but he fouled it off. On the next pitch he struck out swinging. That at-bat really cost the Yankees dearly.
  • Gregorius drove in his first run of the season with his first hit of the season in the fifth. That is a good thing. However, Gregorius also killed the inning by roaming too far off first on Pillar’s throw home as Murphy scored. Valencia cut off the throw and Travis snuck in behind Gregorius at first to tag him out. In two instances in this series, Gregorius has been thrown out on base-running gaffes. Derek Jeter might have done that twice in his entire career. The young shortstop has a lot to learn.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play host to the evil scourge of the East in the Boston Red Sox on Friday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, 25, will make his debut as a starter with the Yankees. Eovaldi was obtained in the offseason from the Miami Marlins and he had an excellent spring with a 1-1 record and a 1.93 ERA in four starts.

The Red Sox will counter with left-hander Wade Miley, who was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Miley had no record with a 3.71 ERA in four spring appearances (three starts).

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by WPIX.

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

Pineda Looks Dominant As Yankees Down Tigers

GAME 13

YANKEES (SS) 4, TIGERS (SS) 1

There is an old saying that it hard to know what you missed until it is gone. When it comes to Michael Pineda the Yankees never want to find out again what they missed.

Pineda, 26, threw three dominant no-hit and scoreless innings as a New York split squad defeated a Detroit split squad on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

The 6-foot-7, 260-pound right-hander looked in complete control in striking out four and walking one in a 34-pitch outing in which he threw 24 of them for strikes. To cap off his outing, Pineda picked off Andrew Romine for the final out in the third inning after he had just walked him.

“My changeup and [other] pitches were working really good,” Pineda told reporters. “The command is still good. I was very happy.”

The Yankees opened the scoring in the third against left-hander Kyle Lobstein when Mason Williams led off with a triple and scored on Didi Gregorius’ sacrifice fly.

The Tigers tied it off Dellin Betances in the fourth when Rajai Davis led off with a ground-rule double. He advanced to third on a balk called on Betances and scored on a groundout by Josh Wilson.

The Yankees pulled ahead for good in the sixth against right-hander Rafael Dolis when Gregorius, Chase Headley and Stephen Drew all singled to load the bases and Mark Teixeira’s potential double-play grounder was botched when Dixon Machado threw wild to first and allowed Gregorius and Headley to score.

Rookie right-hander Nick Rumbelow (1-0) pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn the victory. Jared Burton pitched tossed a perfect ninth inning to earn his second save. Doris took the loss.

The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 8-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • If starting pitching is indeed the key to success in the American League East the Yankees might have the best two starters in the division in a healthy Masahiro Tanaka and Pineda. It is still early but all indications are that this pair is primed for success in 2015. Pineda actually may look more dominant than Tanaka because he has pinpoint control and he is nearly impossible to hit.
  • Headley is having a very good spring. After his 3-for-3 day in Sarasota against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday he appears to be on a groove. In his past three games, Headley is 6-for-9 (.667). He was 2-for-3 on Saturday to raise his spring average to .368. Perhaps signing the third baseman to a four-year, $50 million deal this winter was a stroke of genius.
  • I have been on his rear end all spring for not hitting so I have to give kudos to Drew for his single in the sixth that loaded the bases. It was only Drew’s second hit of the spring and his first since March 6 against the Philadelphia Phillies. Drew was in 0-for-12 funk until that hit. He now is hitting .125 so he still has a ways to go. But at least it is encouraging.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Betances struggled for the first time this spring. He gave up ground-rule doubles to Davis and Nick Castellanos and committed a balk to allow Davis to score later. He also did not strike out a batter, which is even more indicative that he did not have his good stuff on Saturday.
  • Though he has had a decent spring, it was not a good day for Garrett Jones. He was 0-for-3 and he struck out twice. Jones has chance to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season and he is hitting .250 thus far.

The features Bronx Banter and On Deck will appear in my subsequent post.

Pineda, Eovaldi Sharp As Yankees Outshine Rays

GAME 8

YANKEES 4, RAYS 3

Right-handed starters Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi held Tampa Bay scoreless through five innings  –  combining to strike out seven batters  –  while Alex Rodriguez was 2-for-3 with his first RBI of spring as New York rolled to victory on Monday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Pineda, 26, made his first start of the spring and held the Rays to a first-inning single by Desmond Jennings and he fanned two in 25-pitch outing in which he threw 17 strikes.

Eovaldi, 25, entered in the third inning and yielded three hits with no walks and five strikeouts in his second outing in Grapefruit League play.

Pineda (1-0) got credit for the victory and reliever Chris Martin hurled a scoreless eighth inning while fanning two batters to earn a save. Rays starter Nathan Karns (0-1) was tagged for two runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk in three innings to take the loss.

With the victory the Yankees improved their spring record to 5-2.

FIELD FOCUS

Pineda’s major-league career has been a series of giant strides forward with periods of two steps back. He hopes 2015 just moves him forward after having his 2012 and 2013 seasons wiped away after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

Last season Pineda was supposed to be healthy and ready to show the Yankees for whom they had traded after Pineda’s rookie season in 2011, when he was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA with the Seattle Mariners.

After a promising 2-2 record with a 1.83 ERA in his first four starts last season, Pineda found himself suspended by Major League Baseball for 10 days after being ejected from a late April game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park with pine tar on his neck.

While Pineda was preparing to return from the suspension he severely tore the teres major muscle in his surgically repaired shoulder. He was shelved until the middle of August. Once again, Pineda showed the Yankees what they missed most of the year.

Pineda ended up 3-3 with a 1.91 ERA in those final nine starts. What sets Pineda apart from a lot of pitchers is that he can strike out a lot of batters (8.43 per nine innings) and at the same time his control is so precise (0.83 walks per nine innings). Both marks are Yankee records.

So 2015 begins with Pineda again primed for a big season and the Yankees are holding their breath that he can stay healthy enough to make 33 starts.

His first step on that road was Monday and Pineda looked very sharp in his first game action of the spring.

“This is what I want. I’m working hard everyday to be healthy and make it a good year, and help my team,” Pineda told reporters.

“I thought he looked great,” catcher Brian McCann told reporters. “The ball’s coming out with the same velocity, with some cut. He threw a couple of change-ups that were really nice that had some good action. His slider was there as well.”

So with his first test out of the way, Pineda can now look to take more small incremental steps throughout the rest of the spring. He hopes all is pointing forward because he refuses to takes any more steps back.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Seeing Pineda pitch well and watching Eovaldi record five strikeouts in his outing had to be encouraging for manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild. The pair are two important pieces in the Yankees’ rotation plans for the 2015 season. Pineda could pair with staff ace Masahiro Tanaka to form the best tandem in the American League East. Eovaldi somehow only struck out 142 batters in 199 2/3 innings despite having electric stuff. Seeing Eovaldi strike out five means that he is elevating pitches as Rothschild has urged him to do.
  • Rodriguez began his day getting rousing cheers from Yankee fans and derisive jeers from Rays fans as he stepped in for his first at-bat. By the end of the day, Rodriguez was 2-for-3 with an RBI. It was his RBI single in the second inning off Karns that opened the scoring for the Yankees. In the early going, A-Rod is 4-for-9 (.444) with two walks in four games. Though it remains unlikely that Rodriguez will win any job other than as the right-handed part of a platoon designated hitter situation, the 39-year-old three-time American League Most Valuable Player is playing as if he wants to push Girardi into giving him a larger role.
  • Hot-hitting first-base prospect Greg Bird, 22, and outfielder Slade Heathcott added RBI singles off right-hander Kirby Yates in the seventh inning to extend the Yankees lead to 4-1. Bird is 5-for-10 (.500) with three doubles, a homer and four RBIs. Both Bird and 22-year-old outfield Aaron Judge are serving notice to Girardi that they want to play in the majors and soon. Neither will make the team but both are making great impressions with the coaches and their teammates.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Right-hander Diego Moreno, 27, blew the shutout and yielded three runs on two hits and a walk in the eighth inning. Eugenio Velez and Jake Elmore each collected RBI singles in the inning.
  • Carlos Beltran, 37, extended his hitless string this spring after going 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout. Beltran is 0-for-7 overall and his swing looks slow and mechanical. The Yankees are counting on Beltran to produce power and production from the No. 3 spot in the order.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees trotted out a lineup that could be a preview of their starting lineup when the season opens. The lineup featured outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury (CF), Brett Gardner (LF) and Beltran (RF) in the top three spots with first baseman Mark Teixeira, McCann (C), Rodriguez (DH) and Chase Headley (3B). It also had Stephen Drew (2B) and Didi Gregorius (SS) in the bottom two spots.  . . .  Right-handed pitcher Luis Severino was diagnosed with strep throat on Monday. The 21-year-old No. 1 prospect in the organization struck out three batters in 1 1/3 innings of work on Saturday. On Sunday he complained of flu-like symptoms and was sent to a local hospital for tests. It is unclear if Severino will miss his next assignment.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Sarasota, FL, for their first meeting of the season with the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, will make his first start and his second appearance for the Yankees. Right-hander Esmil Rogers is also scheduled to pitch. The Yankees plan to send their starting infield of Teixeira, Drew, Gregorius and Headley.

The Orioles plan to counter with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis by MLB Network at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.

 

Yankees Open Spring Slate With Phils On Tuesday

The New York Yankees will begin their 2015 spring training season on Tuesday at 1:05 p.m. (EST) against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.

It will be the first of 34 scheduled games through April 4, including three split-squad dates.

The Yankees will open a slate of 17 home games at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, on Wednesday against the Phillies at 1:05 p.m.

As has been the custom of this blog, there will be live coverage for each of the 17 home games and from three road games: March 7 at the Houston Astros in Kissimmee, FL, March 18 at the Atlanta Braves in Lake Buena Vista, FL and March 29 at the Astros in Kissimmee.

In addition, the Yankees will have a number of games this spring televised by the MLB Network and ESPN. A majority of the rest of the games will be available through MLB Radio.

As a result, you will get the best coverage of the Yankees from this site because we will have eyes and ears on all the stories and the personalities from the team’s spring camp in Tampa.

Last spring, we were the first blog to tell you early that non-roster invitee Yangervis Solarte was on a path to making the team’s 25-man roster and he did. We also were the first blog to tell you that Dellin Betances was going to make the team as a reliever. We covered his meteoric rise from the beginning of spring.

Look for more of the same this spring as we go behind the trivial “I am just here to make the team” statements to give you a sense of what is really going on. In my previous previews of the positions on the team I already laid out the backdrop for what will unfold on the field.

There also will be a slight change in game reports this season.

There will be just a brief synopsis of the result, the winning and losing pitcher and the game-winning or key play. But the emphasis of the report will shift to mostly look at the big picture. How the team is looking as a whole and perhaps a feature on a key player from that day.

We hope that you enjoy the change and will stay with us as we try to bring you every important story out of spring training through April 4 to get you ready for the 2015 season.

In addition, don’t miss our analysis of the American League East due to publish on April 3, which will also predict where the five teams will end up at season’s end.

Do not miss any of it. I also invite your feedback. Please like my posts and send me your comments. I do this for you, the fan.

Thank you very much for your support!

 

Yankees’ Starters Talented But Health Big Issue

With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.

STARTING ROTATION

No. 1 – Masahiro Tanaka, 26 (13-5, 2.77 ERA in 20 starts)

No. 2 – Michael Pineda, 26 (5-5, 1.89 ERA in 13 starts)

No. 3 – CC Sabathia, 34 (3-4, 5.28 ERA in 8 starts)

No. 4 – Nathan Eovaldi, 25 (6-14, 4.37 ERA in 33 starts)

No. 5 – Chris Capuano, 36 (2-3, 4.25 in 12 starts)

The Yankees began the 2014 season with a rotation of Tanaka, Pineda, Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova. At one point last season, Kuroda was the only one of the five still pitching.

In fact, the then-39-year-old veteran made 32 starts and was 11-9 with a 3.71 ERA for a team that struggled to finish six games over .500. Unfortunately, after pitching three seasons with the Yankees, Kuroda elected to exit Major League Baseball and go back to his native Japan to finish up his career.

That leaves a 2015 rotation steeped in talent and great possibilities. However, it also is a quintet laden with big question marks.

The Yankees made quite a splash last season with the signing of the Japanese star right-hander Tanaka to a seven-year, $155-million contract on Jan. 23. Tanaka was coming off a dream season in Japan where he was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013.

The Yankees saw Tanaka as a potential ace and they were hoping that his eight-pitch assortment including a world-class strikeout pitch in his split-finger fastball would translate to the American game.

After a spring training in which he was 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in five games, Tanaka hit the ground running and never really stopped. On June 17, Tanaka was 11-1 with a sparkling 1.99 ERA.

Ther was talk of a Cy Young Award and a Rookie of the Year Award buzzing around him until . . .

After losing three of his next three starts, Tanaka complained of pain in his valuable right elbow. Because Tanaka came to the United States after logging 1,315 innings since the age of 18 in Japan, he did come to the Yankees with some very inherent risks.

The Yankees discovered he had a partial tear in ulnar collateral ligament and left the choice to Tanaka whether to have surgery to repair it and likely miss two full seasons or rehab the small tear and hope that it healed on its own.

Tanaka chose the latter and came back to make two starts in September. Despite the fact he was shelled for seven runs (five earned) in 1 2/3 innings in his final start, Tanaka and the Yankees were encouraged enough to stay committed on not having Tommy John surgery.

So with two spring bullpen sessions under his belt, Tanaka has assured the Yankees and the media that his elbow is fine and he expects no further problems. To outside observers, however, Tanaka’s elbow is a ticking time bomb that can explode at any moment, especially for a pitcher who throws a splitter with so much torque on his elbow.

But the Yankees are willing to take that chance so that they can have their ace on the mound for 2015.

If he is right and he remains healthy the Yankees will have one of the best pitchers in the major leagues. Tanaka has proven to be the consummate pitcher capable of even changing his game plan if pitches are not working or batters change their approach.

Last season, pitching against the Twins at Target Field, Tanaka noticed that the Twins were laying off his split-finger pitch and it was causing him to get into some deep counts. So Tanaka switched gears and went to his slider, a pitch that he could throw for strikes. Tanaka ended up winning the game.

So Tanaka is far from just a thrower and his cerebral approach along with his stuff make him a very formidable foe for hitters. If the Yankees are to make any noise in the American League East they will need Tanaka at the top of the rotation pitching just as he did in 2014.

If patience is a virtue than the Yankees have it spades when it comes to Pineda.

The 6-foot-7, 290-pound right-hander was obtained in a much ballyhooed deal between the Yankees and Seattle in 2012 that sent the Yankees No. 1 prospect, catcher Jesus Montero, to the Mariners.

However, in his final start of the spring in 2012, Pineda complained of shoulder pain. He ended up undergoing season-ending surgery on the shoulder and he was only was able to make 10 minor-league rehab starts in 2013.

So the Yankees wanted to see what a healthy Pineda could do in 2014. Very quickly they learned he could do quite a lot. In spring training, Pineda was 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA in four games with 16 Ks in 15 innings.

The Yankees could not wait to see what he could do with a full season. However, after going 2-1 with a 1.00 ERA in his first three starts, Pineda decided to tempt fate once too many times by placing a glob of pine tar on his neck in a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 23.

He was ejected from the game in the second inning and he was suspended for 10 days by Major League Baseball. In what only could be called “Pineda Luck,” while preparing for his first start after the suspension, Pineda strained the teres major muscle behind his right shoulder and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list. He would not return to the Yankees until Sept. 5.

In his final five starts, Pineda was 2-2 with an even more sparkling 1.62 ERA. So the Yankees open spring camp thinking they have a second top-drawer starter in Pineda IF ONLY he can stay healthy and off suspension.

It is obvious the talent is there. Pineda exhibits absolutely spotless control: He walked only seven batters in 76 1/3 innings and he only gave up 56 hits. How he lost five games is amazing but very understandable considering how weak the Yankees offense was last season.

With a full season under his belt in 2015, Pineda may take the next step into the elite class of pitchers and he forms a very tough one-two pitching punch with Tanaka.

At this point, the rest of the rotation takes a decided turn to the worse.

Sabathia, the team’s former ace, is coming off two consecutive very bad seasons.

In 2013, Sabathia saw his record slip from 15-6 in 2012 to 14-13 and his ERA exploded from 3.28 to 4.78. After pitching 200-plus innings for six consecutive seasons since 2007, Sabathia discovered he was losing velocity, which negated the effectiveness of his change-up.

He vowed to be better in 2014. He would somehow transition into a finesse pitcher capable of winning on guile instead on pure power as he had throughout his career.

He was 3-1 with 1.29 ERA in five spring starts so the early results looked encouraging. But when the regular season started the whole thing came crashing down on Sabathia.

He was 3-3 with a 5.11 ERA in April. He then made two very poor starts in May and that was all for Sabathia for the rest of the season. Swelling in his right knee forced him to the disabled list and after breaking down in a second rehab start on July 2, Sabathia finally called 2014 quits.

Yankee team doctors discovered that Sabathia had a degenerative condition in his right knee and underwent arthroscopic debridement surgery in July. Doctors also shaved out a bone spur.

Though Sabathia dodged a more invasive and career-threatening microfracture surgery, he will always have some pain in the knee because he has no cartilage between the bones. So Sabathia enters 2015 as one big fat question mark, literally.

Sabathia, claiming that he was too light the past two seasons, elected to come to camp 10 pounds heavier this spring. Sabathia said he expects to pitch this season between 295 and 305 pounds. Last season, he reported weighing 275 pounds.

It would seem to be counterintuitive for a pitcher coming off knee surgery with no cartilage in his knee would add weight. But Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the Yankees’ team physician, cleared him for the weight and manager Joe Girardi said it will not be an issue in camp.

Sabathia vows he wants to make at least 30 starts in 2015 and after his first bullpen session he said he already feels stronger than he has the past two seasons. But the jury on Sabathia remains out.

Just two seasons ago the Yankees provided Sabathia a six-year, $142 million deal. In retrospect, that deal is looking pretty disastrous now because it is doubtful that Sabathia will ever reclaim his status as the team’s ace.

The even larger question is can he adapt and become a the finesse pitcher he thinks he can? The left-hander sounds all the right chords but the results so far have be awful. So no one on the Yankees’ staff has more to prove that Sabathia in 2015.

With Kuroda unavailable the Yankees could have gone in a lot of different directions to replace him in 2015.

After all they did have young pitchers such as David Phelps, Adam Warren and Shane Greene on the roster. In addition, Brandon McCarthy pitched well for the team after he was acquired from the Diamondbacks last July.

However, the Yankees did not opt for Plan A, Plan B, Plan C or Plan D. They dealt Phelps and Greene away in separate trades and they allowed McCarthy to sign a four-year, $48 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

They are now on Plan E as in Eovaldi, who the Yankees obtained along with infielder/outfielder Garrett Jones for infielder Martin Prado and Phelps.

The right-hander features a sizzling fastball that averages 95.7 mph. However, even with that hard fastball Eovaldi led the National League in hits allowed (223) and he recorded only 142 strikeouts.

The problem according to the Yankees: He needs to develop his secondary pitches  –  his splitter, slider and change-up. The thought is that if Eovaldi does that the sky is the limit for him as a pitcher.

“We’ve talked about developing his repertoire and having him establish confidence in all his pitches in all the counts,” Girardi told reporters. “It’s one thing to have three or four pitches, but it’s another thing to have the confidence to throw them at any time.”

So spring training will be an opportunity for pitching coach Larry Rothschild to refine the diamond in the ruff in Eovaldi and 2015 will be a proving ground to see how the pupil progresses with the lessons he is taught.

Eovaldi did throw 199 2/3 innings last season for a very weak Marlins team. Perhaps some improved offense from the Yankees combined with the refinements Eovaldi is making will translate into success for him in 2015.

The Yankees opted to bring back the veteran left-hander Capuano after he made 12 starts with the team last season.

Capuano was designated for assignment by the Boston Red Sox on July 25 and he was signed to a minor-league contract on July 4 by the Colorado Rockies. After making two minor-league starts, the Yankees acquired him from the Rockies in exchange for cash considerations.

Capuano debuted on July 28 and he finished with a 2-3 mark with a 4.25 ERA.

Having a second left-hander in the rotation is advantageous for the Yankees, particularly at home with so many teams wanting to load up on left-handed batters to exploit the short right-field porch in Yankee Stadium.

The problem is left-handers hit .321 with a .942 OPS against Capuano last season. So he is going to have to work on that this spring.

Capuano has not started 33 games in a season since 2012, But if he can keep his ERA to his career mark of 4.28 the Yankees will be satisfied.

The Yankees also enter 2015 with a bit of a problem. The Yankees have a stretch at the end of April and the beginning of May where they are scheduled to play 30 games in 31 days.

In addition, they have Tanaka, Pineda and Sabathia coming off injury-shortened seasons n 2014. So Giradi and Rothschild are planning to use a six-man rotation this spring and they may extend it into the regular season to ease the strain on their staff through that 30-game stretch in May.

As a result right-hander Warren, 27, looks to be in the best position to fill that role for the Yankees. Warren was 3-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 69 games last season, all of them in relief.

But Warren has been a starter throughout his minor-league career and he is well-suited to slip back into the bullpen when he is no longer needed.

Warren was one of the strengths of the bullpen last season and he seems to have settled into the role Phelps once held.

It would not be the Yankees unless they entered a season with one of their starting  pitchers rehabbing something and that is the case with the 28-year-old right-hander Nova, who ended up on the disabled list after four starts after he suffered a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament on his right elbow.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 29 last year, Nova will be unavailable to the Yankees until late May or early June, barring any unforeseen setbacks. However, it is unclear how effective Nova can be.

The Merriam-Webster definition of the word nova is “a star that suddenly increases its light output tremendously and then fades away to its former obscurity in a few months or years.” That could apply to the veteran from the Dominican Republic.

Nova burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2011 with a 16-4 record and a 3.70 ERA. However, in 2012, Nova regressed and finished 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA with 28 home runs allowed in 170 1/3 innings.

He then bounced back from an injury in 2013 to become the Yankees’ best pitcher down the stretch. He ended the season 9-6 with an excellent 3.10 ERA.

So 2014 was supposed to be Nova’s chance to build as a starter. But it ended early after the elbow flared up with a 2-2 record and a 8.27 ERA.

The Yankees are hopeful that Nova will be able to step into the rotation in late May or so. The reality is that it usually takes pitchers some time to find the feel for the pitches and trust that the repaired elbow will hold up.

Nova had developed a devastating curveball that just had batters shaking their heads. He also was able to throw his fastball in the mid-90s with good control. If that Nova is able to contribute to the Yankees in 2015 they may be able to shift Capuano to the bullpen and the rotation will look a lot better.

But Nova remains a big question mark for now.

The Yankees have options beyond these seven starters but there is a huge drop in quality also.

Chase Whitley, 25, made 12 starts for the Yankees last season. After going 3-0 with a 2.56 ERA in his first seven starts he collapsed. He was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in his last five starts.

However, he did pitch six innings of shutout baseball on seven hits on July 22 at home against Texas in his final start but still was shifted to the bullpen, where he ended the season.

It is unlikely that Whitley will start once the season opens but he could be a valuable swing man in the bullpen who is available to make a spot start if needed. Whitley has very good numbers as a reliever in the minors and the Yankees feel he is going to be an integral part of their revamped bullpen.

There also is Esmil Rogers, a 29-year-old right-hander signed as a free agent after he was designated for assignment by the Toronto Blue Jays on July 27. He made his debut with the Yankees on Aug. 4 and finished 2-0 with a 4.66 ERA.

Rogers was a failed starter with the Blue Jays before being shifted to the bullpen in 2014 and he seems more suited for that role. But he struggled with the Yankees in September with a 7.84 ERA.

Blessed with immense talent, Rogers just has not been able to put it all together yet at the major-league level and time is beginning to run out.

Another starter candidate is right-hander Bryan Mitchell, 23, who came up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in August and pitched in three games, one of them as a starter.

Mitchell was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings. He was a combined 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA at Double-A Trenton and Scranton.

Yankee insiders compare Mitchell’s build and stuff to that of A.J. Burnett because he possesses a power fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a power curveball that hits at 84 mph. Mitchell has also added a cutter but his change-up needs work.

If Mitchell can harness the command of his pitches he could be something special. He is ranked as the team’s No. 20 prospect.

If the Yankees have one pitcher coming to camp as a non-roster player that I can’t wait to see it is 21-year-old right-hander Luis Severino, the team’s top rated prospect in 2015.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2012, Severino began 2013 as a complete unknown quantity and finished it as the top right-handed pitching prospect in the system.

Though only 6-feet and 195 pounds, Severino showed uncommon strength to post a 4-2 record with a 2.45 ERA and 53 Ks in 44 innings between two rookie league teams.

He topped that in 2014 by sailing through three different teams, making it all the way to Trenton and he did not look overmatched at any of those stops.

After posting a 3-2 record with a 2.79 ERA at Class-A Charleston (SC) in 14 starts, Severino was promoted to Class-A Tampa. All he did there was go 1-1 with a sparkling 1.31 ERA in four starts.

So the Yankees sent him on to Trenton, where he was 2-2 with a 2.52 ERA in six starts. Over the course of 113 1/3 innings in his three stops, Severino punched out 127 batters.

To say he looks like the real deal is putting it mildly. He was chosen to participate in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and he has become the organization’s No. 1 prospect, period.

Severino’s fastball reaches up to 98 mph and has a natural sink at the low end of his velocity (94 mph). Severino also features a hard slider and a change-up that both have the potential to be big weapons for him.

The Yankees would love to see what he can do this spring but they are going to be deliberate and cautious with his development. But there is no doubt that Severino is on a fast-track to the major leagues and he could be in the rotation as regularly as soon as 2016.

Book it: Severino is a star in the making!

Just behind Severino is left-hander Ian Clarkin, 20, who was selected in the first round (33rd pick) by the Yankees in 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

Clarkin recorded a 4-3 mark with a 3.13 ERA in stops at Charleston and Tampa using his 90-94 mph fastball mixed in with a 12-to-6 curveball and a change-up. The youngster also shows a lot of polish for a prep pitcher and the Yankees hope to have him ready for the majors by 2017.

He is ranked as the team’s fourth best prospect.

The Yankees also have very high hopes for No. 7 prospect Domingo German, 22, another player signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Miami Marlins in 2009.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-hander posted a breakout season in 2014 at Class-A Greensboro, going 9-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 25 starts. He also was selected to pitch in the SiriusXM Futures Game and then the Marlins packaged him with Eovaldi and Jones in the deal for Prado and Phelps.

German excels at command and scouts rave about his touch already on his breaking pitches. He features a power sinking fastball along with a above-average change-up. Right now his slider needs more break but he is developing it.

The Yankees also expect to see him around 2017.

These three gems have Yankee fans very excited and with good reason.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: AVERAGE

Though I truly believe that Tanaka and Pineda will not only be healthy all season but they will actually be among the best starters in the American League, the other three spots in the rotation have some question marks.

Even after surgery, Sabathia’s right knee could be a recurring problem for him and I fail to see the added weight will help it. But if Sabathia can remain healthy all season, eat innings and keep his ERA in 4.25 area the Yankees could settle for that.

Eovaldi was a real gamble. His arm, no doubt, is a good one. The question is can he finally put it all together to become a winning pitcher? Rothschild has had some success grooming young pitchers and if he gets Eovaldi untracked he should have his salary doubled.

The veteran left-hander Capuano is up there in age and he obviously is a placeholder while Nova rehabs his surgically repaired elbow. The problem with Capuano is can he pitch well enough to keep the Yankees in games.

Years ago the Yankees scoured the scrap heap for Freddy Garcia. Now it is Capuano in the same role. Let’s hope it works out.

The Yankees also have Warren if they need a sixth starter in the early part of the season. Warren has been excellent as a reliever so there is no reason to believe he can’t be successful as a starter.

The Yankees hope to get Nova back and they also have Whitley, Rogers and Mitchell who are capable of starting. Mitchell has the most upside of the bunch because Whitley is more suited to relief and Rogers has been too inconsistent to be considered much of a help at this point.

The future of the Yankees’ starting rotation is looking quite bright with Severino, Clarkin and German coming off sparkling 2014 campaigns. This is one area the team that looks much stronger.

The temptation is for Yankee fans to want Severino on the roster this season. But the Yankees are taking a very careful approach with him and it is going to pay off of them next season.

NEXT: BULLPEN

 

Beltran’s Health Key To Yankees’ 2015 Outfield

With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.

OUTFIELD

RIGHT-FIELD: Carlos Beltran, 37, (.233, 15 HRs, 49 RBIs, 109 games)

CENTER-FIELD: Jacoby Ellsbury, 31, (.271, 16 HRs, 70 RBIs, 39 SBs, 149 games)

LEFT-FIELD: Brett Gardner, 31, (.256, 17 HRs, 58 RBIs, 21 SBs, 148 games)

In the Yankees’ 2009 championship season they featured at outfield of Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher that combined to hit 81 home runs. The 2014 edition of the Yankees only managed 48.

That tells you a lot about a team that limped to a 84-78 record and finished a distant second to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

The Yankees had envisioned a speedy and defensive outfield that also featured some power from Beltran and Ellsbury. Instead, Gardner wound up out-homering the group and doesn’t that say a lot on how bad things were last season?

Beltran was a major disappointment but it was not through any fault of his own. In late April, Beltran was suffering through a very painful bone spur in his right elbow. It was easy to see how it affected his offense, too.

On April 23, Beltran was batting .307 with five homers and 13 RBIs in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup. From that point until he was placed on the disabled list on May 13, he hit .132 with no homers and two RBIs.

The Yankees can be faulted for signing the aging outfielder to a three-year contract. However, general manager Brian Cashman felt compelled to give in to Beltran’s demands for a third year after Robinson Cano left the team in a huff after the signing of Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153-million deal. The Yankees needed to find a solid No. 3 hitter and Beltran was the choice.

Beltran did return to the Yankees in June after attempting to rehab the elbow rather than have season-ending surgery. But he never was really the same hitter the rest of the season, batting .208 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs.

Beltran was basically playing with one arm and it showed. Even though he did return, he was unable to play the outfield until very late in the season because the bone spur in his elbow did not allow him to throw freely.

So Beltran decided to have surgery to remove the spur in September. He reported to training camp healthy and ready to prove himself as the player who hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs for the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.

So heading into 2015 the Yankees are counting on the switch-hitting Beltran to bat third and put up big home run and RBI numbers. As a player who has hit 373 career homers and driven in 1,376 runs while batting .281 over 16 major-league seasons, Beltran is certainly capable of doing that if . . .

Yep, there is that big if. The big if is can he remain healthy throughout the season? Beltran and the Yankees are anxious to find out.

“I trained hard, I did everything that I did in the past,” Beltran told reporters. “I want to be out there, no doubt.”

The Yankees are counting on Beltran, Mark Teixiera and Brian McCann to post numbers that will prevent the Yankees from ending up with the third-fewest runs scored in the American League as they did last season.

Much was also expected of Ellsbury after he signed that big contract to leave the Boston Red Sox.

For the most part, Ellsbury did deliver what was expected of him except when Beltran and Teixeira succumbed to injuries and Ellsbury was taken out of his comfortable leadoff spot and placed in the third spot in the batting order.

Ellsbury did not produce the runs the Yankees would have expected and his bat cooled off considerably as the season wore on. He ended up batting .155 in September and he did not even get close to the .298 average he put up in 2013 with the Red Sox.

By virtue of batting third, Ellsbury also did not get as many opportunities to steal bases, ending up with 13 less from his major-league-leading total of 52 in 2013.

The bottom line is that Ellsbury still led in the team in hits (156), doubles (27) and stolen bases while posting his best home run and RBI totals since 2011. He was, by all accounts, the Yankees’ most consistent hitter in 2014.

“Ellsbury is Ellsbury,” Cashman told reporters. “I thought he was basically right where he was when he left Boston. I thought he was terrific last year.”

There were moments last season that Gardner appeared to be on the verge of having a breakout season.

On June 20, Gardner was batting .290 with six homers, 28 RBIs and 15 SBs. For a club struggling with offense, Gardner was providing opportunities to score by getting on base.

But as the season wore on, a core muscle injury in his abdomen dragged Gardner down. He hit a terrible .218 with eight homers and 21 RBIs after the All-Star break. It ruined what looked to be what would easily be Gardner’s best in the majors.

After Gardner underwent surgery in October to correct the problem, he is reporting to camp at 100 percent.

With his return to health the Yankees would like for him to be more aggressive on the bases. After stealing 47 bases in 2010 and 49 in 2011, Gardner has regressed to just 24 steals in 2013 and 21 last season.

Manager Joe Girardi must also decide how to deploy Ellsbury and Gardner in the batting order. At this point, it appears Ellsbury will resume his leadoff role and Gardner will bat second. But Girardi likely will flip the two throughout the spring to get a feel how best to bat them.

One thing is clear, however. Both Ellsbury and Gardner give the Yankees excellent defense in the outfield. It stands to reason since they are both legitimate center-fielders.

Ellsbury won a Gold Glove with the Red Sox in 2011 and his fielding in 2014 was just as superlative. He committed only one error all season and playing the wide-open spaces of center in Yankee Stadium is not an easy assignment.

Gardner has never won a Gold Glove but he should have. Last season, Gardner committed just two errors and he was able to blend well with Ellsbury. Between the two of them it takes a lot to get a ball past them in left-center.

Beltran won three Gold Gloves with the New York Mets from 2006 through 2008. However, he will not be winning anymore of them. Knee problems have robbed Beltran of the range he used to have as a center-fielder.

He was charged with three errors in 31 starts in the outfield last season. But the good news is that right-field does not have as much ground to cover so the Yankees will only ask Beltran to catch what he can reach.

Though the Yankees realized his best days were behind him they will still miss the defensive prowess of Ichiro Suzuki in right-field. Suzuki has moved on to the Miami Marlins.

The Yankees have some depth in the outfield with a pair of players who have a lot of experience.

Garrett Jones was obtained in trade with the Marlins and is slated to have some important roles with the team this season.

Jones, 33, batted .246 with 15 homers and 53 RBIs in 146 games with the Marlins last season, primarily as a first baseman.

The Yankees would like the lefty-swinging Jones to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season because his swing is perfect for the short dimensions in right-field. In addition, Jones will back up Teixeira at first base and Beltran in right-field.

Jones is not a great fielder at first base (13 errors in 129 games in 2014) but he holds his own in the outfield. He does not have much range but he can make the plays. The Yankees feel they now have a serviceable backup for both Teixeira and Beltran and they are glad to have him.

The Yankees also have 31-year-old veteran Chris Young back after an impressive late-season audition with the team in 2014.

Young was cut loose by the Mets in early August and the Yankees signed him to a minor-league deal on Aug. 27. In the final month of the season, Young batted .282 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 23 games.

On that basis the Yankees elected to re-sign the veteran to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He will be the team’s fourth outfielder and as a right-handed hitter he can give Gardner or Ellsbury a rest against a tough-left-handed pitcher.

Young is a power hitter who hit 20 or more home runs in four of five seasons between 2007 and 2011, including 32 in 2007. However, Young has never batted above .257 in any of his eight major-league seasons and he enters 2015 as a career .234 hitter.

Young still has some speed. He has 130 career steals and eight in limited play last season.

The former 2010 National League All-Star also can play all three outfield spots and he is an above average defender.

The additions of Jones and Young give manager Joe Girardi some flexibility in making out lineups and they are solid insurance policies should someone land on the disabled list.

One of the biggest failings of Cashman and the scouting department has been the inability of the Yankees to develop minor-league outfielders who can contribute to the Yankees. It seems that whatever prospects have been in the system are languishing and they aren’t progressing.

Zoilo Almonte, 25, has been up and down with the Yankees the past two seasons and has a .211 batting average in 47 games to show for it. The Yankees elected to let him go as a minor-league free agent and Almonte has since signed with the Atlanta Braves.

The other prospect names are virtually the same from last season: Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores. Further behind them is Slade Heathcott.

They all will get another look this spring but they all will not make the roster unless there are some injuries.

Williams, 23, was once considered one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ system but he has slid to No. 16 this season after batting a horrible .223 with five homers and 40 RBIs in 128 games at Double-A Trenton.

Williams is a gifted athlete and he is sensational defensive outfielder. But at the plate he has become more of a slap hitter and it is obvious that he not making enough contact. Williams’ hustle has also been questioned and he was arrested on a DUI in 2013.

Austin, 23, also dropped as a prospect to No. 15. But he was a bit better at Trenton. He batted .275 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games last season. But after he batted .322 with 17 homers and 80 RBIs in 2012, Austin has been dogged a persistent sprained right thumb.

The Yankees still have hope that he can he can develop. The Yankees think he can become a high-average power hitter. Austin is mainly a corner outfielder and likely would figure in as a right-fielder in the majors.

Flores, 22, is ranked as the team’s 14th best prospect after he batted a .247 with seven homers and 23 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. A high-ankle sprain kept him from progressing as the Yankees would have liked.

Right now Flores is pegged as all-fields hitter who lacks power. It’s that reason why he is beginning to look like more of a fourth outfielder than a starter. Though he can play all three spots he works out best as a left-fielder because he lacks speed.

Heathcott, 24, was a former first-round pick of the Yankees in 2009 and he was not tendered a contract offer by the Yankees in December. Yet the Yankees re-signed him and invited him to camp as a non-roster player.

Though Heathcott has great talent, his all-out style of play has landed him on the minor-league disabled list many times. In 2013, it was a knee injury that required surgery.

He played only nine games at Trenton in 2014 before re-injuring the knee and missing the rest of the season. It looks like the Yankees are offering Heathcott one last make-or-break attempt because he is 24 and he has not advanced past Double-A.

One non-roster player that the Yankees can’t wait to check out is 6-foot-7, 230-pound Aaron Judge, who was a first-round selection by the Yankees in 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

Judge, 22, has a resemblance to NBA forward Blake Griffin and because of his size he has drawn comparisons to Dave Winfield and Giancarlo Stanton. But Judge does not just look the part.

In 131 games in two Class-A stops in 2014, Judge batted .308 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs. His right-hand power stroke is awesome to see. Scouts say he does not just hit balls; he crushes them.

With his long swing he is prone to fail to make contact and strike out a lot. But the Yankees see him fitting nicely into right-field because for a big man Judge can move pretty well and he is a decent outfielder defensively.

He is rated as the No. 5 prospect in the organization and the Yankees can’t wait to see what he can do this spring.

The No. 8 prospect is 22-year-old Jake Cave, who hit a combined .294 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs between Class-A Tampa and Trenton.

Cave hits consistently from the left side. Not a big power threat, he mostly is a gap hitter. Cave is a above-average outfielder and as a former pitcher he has a great arm in center-field. He has good but not great speed but scouts love his max effort.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: GOOD

The Yankees have been snakebit for the past two seasons with injuries and the one to Beltran really derailed the outfield and caused a significant drop in run production in 2014. It is easy to say that Beltran, Ellsbury and Gardner are an excellent mix of speed, power, run production and defense but they all have to stay healthy.

The fact that Beltran has not missed a lot of time in the past indicates the odds he will be able to play a full season and he should be able to provide some power (20 plus homers) and 90 or more RBIs. The Yankees will need that from him in the No. 3 spot in the order.

Ellsbury and Gardner combined for 60 stolen bases but they should steal a whole lot more this season.

The shift of Ellsbury to the third spot cut his steals to 39 and Gardner has seemed more and more reluctant to run the last two seasons. It is hard to figure out why.

But the Yankees need both of them to get on base, advance and score runs if the team is going to succeed. There is not as much power on this team as there once was and that is why Ellsbury and Gardner will have to make the engine go.

The fact the two combined to hit 33 home runs was a bonus. The Yankees would love to have a repeat of those numbers in 2015.

The Yankees are blessed to have two backup outfielders capable of hitting double-digit homers in Young and Jones.

Young can play all three positions and Jones is a corner outfielder. But Jones likely will get more work as the team’s primary DH and as the backup to Teixeira at first base.

But Jones could also end up as a starter in right-field if Beltran goes down for any length of time.

Most of the Yankees’ most advanced outfield prospects have been major disappointments. Williams, Austin, Flores and Heathcott have all been highly touted prospects but they have flamed out so far.

Of that group, only Austin appears capable of turning it around if he can overcome his injury problems.

The best news on the farm is that Judge appears to the man-mountain power threat he appears to be. The Yankees just have to hope he can keep the strikeouts in check and keep his average up. The Yankees would like to have Judge be more like Winfield rather than Dave Kingman.

He is worth watching this spring.

NEXT: STARTING PITCHERS

2015 Yanks Likely Will Extend Playoff Drought

Welcome back to one of the best New York Yankees team blogs available on the web. Because of some circumstances beyond our control this site was non-operational for the past eight months. There was a thought of suspending the site entirely. But because of some 52 years devoted to the best franchise in sports history we felt we owed our fans the ability to stay up to date with the team on a daily basis. It is with that renewed commitment we will embark at looking at the team’s prospects for 2015.

The New York Yankees have faced two significant championship droughts in their most recent history.

The first was the end of the so-called Mickey Mantle Era in 1965 that lasted until Billy Martin managed the team to a loss to the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. The 10 intervening years saw the team flounder with players such as Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Horace Clarke and Mel Stottlemyre.

George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973 and he immediately rebuilt the front office with general manager Gabe Paul, who wrangled trades for players such as Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss and Mickey Rivers. The Steinbrenner money brought in free agents such as Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, which was added to a minor-league system that had already produced Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry.

The teams of 1977 and 1978 battled to consecutive World Series titles over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, restoring the Yankees back to the pinnacle of baseball’s elite that they had not experienced since 1962. But this success proved to be short-lived.

During the strike-shortened 1981 season the Yankees qualified for the playoffs and faced the Dodgers again in the World Series. But they lost and the team soon again drifted into mediocrity. The team was unable to make the playoffs again until 1996 – a playoff drought of an astounding 15 years.

Through a parade of managers and general managers and an even longer list of failed free agents and personnel mistakes the Yankees rebuilt in the early 1990s through a farm system that very quickly produced Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.

Meanwhile the team was bolstered by the trade of Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for Paul O’Neill, the acquisition of first baseman Tino Martinez from the Seattle Mariners and the signings of players like Wade Boggs, David Cone, David Wells and Cuban star Orlando Hernandez.

Steinbrenner fired manager Buck Showalter after a very painful 1995 loss to the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series and hired Joe Torre. The rest was history as the Yankees managed to win four World Series over the next five seasons, a run of titles that has been unmatched in the modern era of baseball. In fact, Torre took the Yankees to the playoffs from 1996 until his firing after the 2007 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.

Though the Yankees returned to prominence under manager Joe Girardi in the 2009 season with a World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the team has steadily declined. Age forced the retirements of all the “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera) and the performance declined from such former stars as CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

The team that enters the 2015 season is one that has age, long-term money commitments to fading players and a new mix of players that had to be procured on the cheap because of those commitments. The farm system has not produced a regular starter since Brett Gardner came up six years ago. The pitching staff has question marks all over the starting staff and the bullpen has lost its closer from from the past three seasons: 2012 (Rafael Soriano), 2013 (Rivera) and 2014 (David Robertson).

How did this happen?

Well, one reason is the declining health and eventual death of Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ran this club with a tough determination to make the franchise a jewel of Major League Baseball. The team had to win or managers or general managers went. Players had to perform or they would be discarded for better players. It was not always a successful process but the Yankees largely have been contenders for so long it is hard for fans to remember the bad stretches that began in 1965 and 1982.

The 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 American League Division Series may have marked an end of another chapter of success and the beginning of another long series of bad seasons.

It appears that the 2013 season may be one of those years like 1965 and 1982 and 2015 could be an extension of that futility. Transition with the Yankees is never pretty.

Another reason the Yankees are in this position is because Steinbrenner’s hand-picked successor Steve Swindal got caught up in a messy DUI incident in 2008 and then later a divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. Swindal was bought out from the team and Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal took the reins.

There was a very good reason that the elder Steinbrenner had selected Swindal instead of his own sons to run the team. Swindal was the most knowledgeable baseball man and conformed to Steinbrenner’s desire for excellence at all costs. The Steinbrenner sons did not have that same ability and the result has been obvious after the 2009 season.

After the team had invested millions in free agents such as Teixeira, Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the team decided to hold general manager Brian Cashman to an austere budget to pare the Yankees payroll under the MLB’s salary cap limit that forced the Yankees to have to pay a tax.

From 2010 through the 2013 free-agent signing seasons the Yankees allowed all major free agents to go without much of an effort. Even Cuban and Japanese imports such as Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish barely got a cursory look. The team was determined to either trade, use farm talent or sign cheap free-agent bargains. The team has fallen under the heft of its expensive guaranteed contracts and there is one in particular that has weighed on this team like an albatross.

That was the misguided decision in 2007 to re-sign then free-agent third baseman Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. The team still owes Rodriguez $60 million over the next three seasons despite the fact that age 39 he has not played more than 137 games in a season since 2007. Injuries, controversies and dabbling with performance enhancing drugs has basically reduced A-Rod to a mere shell of what he once was.

The Yankees have to hope he can regain some semblance of that magic because they are on the hook for his contract for three more seasons. Though Rodriguez may be planning to apologize to Yankee fans for his season-long suspension in 2014, he owes the fans an awful lot more.

If this team really does perform as badly as it looks as if they will in 2015 it will mostly be the fault of the Steinbrenner brothers, Cashman and him. It hard to see the sense of providing 10 years of big guaranteed money to someone who has always felt he is above baseball and the rules that govern it.

But here the Yankees are and no one expects Rodriguez to retire with $60 million coming his way. He will gladly hit .210 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs as long as those paychecks keep rolling in. His presence also poisons the clubhouse for the other 24 players on the roster. It is pretty obvious that A-Rod will not be out having beers with Sabathia or Teixiera. More likely he and his entourage will move in its own circles.

It is shame that a fine manager like Girardi will likely lose his job if this team plummets in the standings because none of this is his fault. For the past two seasons he has been patching this lineup with duct tape when it lost players like Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter and Sabathia for long stretches of time. It is miracle the team has contended at all the past two seasons given their weakened roster.

Though Girardi is virtually blameless the same can’t be said for Cashman, who is the longest serving GM in Yankee history.

He was given permission to sign free agents last season even at the risk of busting past the salary cap limits. But the whole key to Yankees 2014 season was the re-signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, who was the heir apparent to Jeter’s mantle as team leader and was the best player on this aging team. But Cashman chose to play hardball with Cano instead of treating him as a respected player.

When the Dodgers and Detroit Tigers looked elsewhere for help at second base last winter, Cashman figured that the market for Cano had dried up. So instead of negotiating Cano off his 10-year, $325 million request he went out an signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $275 million deal. Cano was livid because placing his numbers next to Ellsbury’s was an obvious mismatch weighted towards Cano. He felt he was easily worth $325 million in comparison.

He also was right. Ellsbury is a fine player but he is not in the same league with Cano.

So Cano shopped himself to the Mariners and they felt he was worth the price.

Cashman’s answer to Cano’s signing: He opted to cave in to Carlos Betran’s demand for a three-year deal and he filled Cano’s spot at second with former Baltimore Orioles star Brian Roberts.

The result was very ugly. The 37-year-old Beltran developed a painful bone spur in his right elbow in spring training and he ended up playing 109 games, hitting .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Roberts played in 91 games and never could get even close to what he used to be. He ended up being released in midseason after hitting a woeful .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs.

Cano, meanwhile, hit .314 for  a Mariners club that nearly made the playoffs.

Cashman’s miscalculation has placed the Yankees in a position where they enter the 2015 season with 31-year-old Stephen Drew as their starting second baseman after he hit .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs with the Yankees and Red Sox last season.

So when the Yankees begin their complete fall off the cliff in 2015 it actually should be Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner who go and not Girardi. But I am not sure that is the way it likely will play out. I can see Steinbrenner firing Girardi and keeping Cashman. That is how those long championship droughts are born. Bad choices and bad luck equal bad results. (Did Casey Stengel say that?)

There will be some bright spots on this team. After all, the team is not completely devoid of talent.

It appears that Dellin Betances could be the real deal if he can maintain his control as a full-time closer. The signing of left-hander Andrew Miller gives the Yankees a second option as a closer and fills the void the team felt when they let Boone Logan walk in 2014.

The signing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka proved to be a very good decision. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be in the United States until a small ligament tear was found in his right elbow in July. The Yankees are hoping rest and rehabilitation will prevent him from a more serious tear that will basically shelve him for two seasons. They are rolling the dice on it anyway.

It also was apparent that if Michael Pineda had not missed most of the season with a shoulder muscle injury that he would have established himself as a rising young right-hander.

But the rest of the rotation is a litany of question marks, hopes and prayers. The bullpen has been completely reshuffled and it is not clear what pitchers Girardi will have pitching ahead of Miller and Betances.

The offense? Don’t ask.

Recently a composite ranking of fantasy baseball players came out. Ellsbury was ranked No. 22, which makes him a third-round selection. The next highest Yankee position player on that list was Gardner at 109, which is an 11th-round choice. That is an grim indicator of how much the Yankees offense has fallen on hard times.

They require bounce back seasons from Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran as well as for second-year starting catcher Brian McCann, who stumbled his way through a 2014 season in which he batted .232 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs.

The biggest news of all is that for the first time since the 1995 season the Yankees will be without Jeter at shortstop. Because there was no one in the system groomed to replace him (Cashman again), the Yankees acquired 25-year-old Didi Gregorius.

His reputation is that he has a great glove, great range and a developing bat. His big weakness is left-hand pitching so he likely will have to share the position with great-field and no-hit Brendan Ryan, yet another player over 30.

The Yankees also have to hope Drew can recapture his magic at the plate and that third baseman Chase Headley is better than a .243 hitter that he was with the Padres and Yankees last season.

The bench has some veterans, of course.

Former Pirate Garrett Jones has been added as a backup first baseman, right-fielder and designated hitter. The Yankees also retained Chris Young, who is a poor man’s version of Alfonso Soriano with even more strikeouts.

If you think this sounds bad I am actually trying to sugarcoat some of it.

But, hey, the Kansas City Royals made the World Series last season and who could have predicted that? Of course, they did it with a team full of young players and an exceptional bullpen. They Yankees currently have neither of those two ingredients.

But I can say that Girardi will select the best 25 players this spring. He also will put out the best lineup he can on a daily basis. You can also count on him getting the team to outperform expectations as they have the past two seasons.

Whether it will be enough to win the American League East or qualify as a wild card is an open question.

In the coming days I will examine the players more in depth and take a look forward at spring training to go over who the Yankees will likely keep on the roster and what young players are poised to make a splash for the team in coming years.

I hope you enjoy the analysis. All I can say is I am glad to be back and let’s get ready to play ball!

 

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