These five New York Yankees need to perform well in spring training to ensure themselves a bright Bronx future.
The New York Yankees have begun spring training and all is right in the world.
Players are enjoying some time in sunny Florida before the grind of the long regular season kicks off. The Yankees are also the World Series favorites after scooping up righty ace Gerrit Cole in free agency. In terms of getting back into the swing of things, the Bronx Bombers can look forward to most of their key players taking reps ahead of Opening Day.
Some Yankees, however, do not have that luxury. On top of those competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster, some are playing for their future with the organization. If they don’t perform well in spring training, it may be an ominous sign indeed.
If these five Yankees perform well in camp, however, they will be able to breathe a little easier.
No. 5: Jordan Montgomery
In fairness, Jordan Montgomery’s roster spot is all but locked down. Between injuries to James Paxton and, more recently, Luis Severino, a spot in the starting rotation is his to lose. The man they call “Gumby” posted a 3.84 ERA in 35 starts before needing Tommy John surgery in 2018. Yankees management knows he can pitch.
But the fact remains that the Yankees’ pitching rotation, when healthy, is still crowded. Cole is the unquestioned ace and Masahiro Tanaka isn’t far behind. If Severino’s tests in New York this week don’t add cause for alarm, Montgomery’s road becomes rockier.
This is because of top prospects like Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia, and Michael King also being in the mix. Assuming Severino is healthy, Montgomery is competing with all of them for the fifth spot in the rotation.
Regardless of Severino’s fate, spring dominance would go a long way towards cementing his spot in the rotation indefinitely. He doesn’t need to be perfect, but strong and consistent performances will give him a major edge.
No. 4: Jonathan Holder
Something happened to Jonathan Holder last season, and nothing good. The 26-year-old righty posted a 3.56 ERA for his career entering last season before the wheels fell off. Holder just couldn’t find his rhythm, posting a 6.31 ERA for 2019, and he was even sent down to the minors at one point.
This brings the conversation to one of the key strengths of the Yankees: the bullpen. Aroldis Chapman is the hands-down closer. Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, and Tommy Kahnle are locks to make the team. Chad Green also figures to be a prominent member of the relief corps.
Holder, meanwhile, will have to make like Tommy Tucker and sing for his supper in spring training. He has a lot to prove after a rough 2019 and a spot in the back end of the bullpen is far from guaranteed. If he doesn’t make the team, a move to a different organization could be in his future.
No. 3: Miguel Andujar
Miguel Andujar may be in the middle of this list, but he would do well to have the spring training of his life in 2020. The 2018 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up missed most of 2019 with a tear in his shoulder. During his recovery, Gio Urshela and his superior defense locked down the starting third baseman’s job.
As a result, Andujar will see time at multiple positions in spring training. This includes not only third base, but also first base and left field.
This is where Andujar’s path grows complicated. On top of showing his repaired shoulder won’t rob him of the bat that slugged 76 extra-base hits as a rookie, he has to outperform several players across the board. Luke Voit is penciled in at first base and is in great shape after offseason core surgery. Barring major struggles at the plate for Voit, Andujar won’t usurp him on the depth chart.
Left field, however, is even more fraught for Andujar. Brett Gardner will man center while Aaron Hicks recovers from Tommy John surgery and New York has outfielders aplenty. Here, Andujar must separate himself from Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Tauchman, and even Clint Frazier. Not even Pat Sajak would want to spin this wheel and see where it lands.
Jokes aside, the Yankees know Andujar can hit and probably just want to see how his defense fares at these new positions. If he struggles with his bat, however, he could see himself go from former top prospect to top trade chip.
No. 2: Clint Frazier
Speaking of Clint Frazier, he too is someone the New York Yankees are watching this spring. Frazier has shown flashes of promise since being acquired from Cleveland in 2016 and hit .267 with 12 home runs and 38 RBIs in 69 games in 2019.
However, Frazier’s outfield defense leaves a lot to be desired, so much that he was demoted to the minors last season. Frazier also didn’t make any new friends in the media when he refused to address them after making two critical errors in a game.
The good news for Frazier is that his bat speaks for itself and Boone says he’s “pleased” with his efforts on defense. He is indeed a dark horse to win the starting left fielder’s job out of spring training.
But the fact remains that a lot more needs to go wrong for several players than needs to go right for Frazier. Unless he outperforms some teammates by a wide margin, he’ll find himself back at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and with no clear path to everyday at-bats with the main roster.
No. 1: Estevan Florial
This is because hand and wrist injuries have plagued the southpaw-swinging outfielder each of the last two years. Florial last played in over 100 games in 2017 and has combined for just 158 games in the last two years.
Now, let me be clear. Florial is not competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster. He hasn’t ever played above High-A Tampa and needs much more seasoning in the minors.
Just the same, Florial saw his batting average dip to .237 in 74 games in 2019 after batting .283 in 84 in 2018. The 2019 season was also his first full year at High-A Tampa. That’s a big dip for someone still in their early 20s.
And even though Florial likely won’t put on a New York Yankees uniform in 2020, he is still at a crossroads in his development. Hicks signed a seven-year extension last offseason, so the pressure is mounting.
He already has a reputation as injury-prone. If Florial doesn’t at least put on a small show in spring training, he too could see himself go from blue-chip prospect to trade chip.