Yankees spring training is here and with it comes six weeks of anticipation. How will the latest lineup of Bronx Bombers look in the quest for their 28th World Series championship?
Needless to say, New York’s expectations for 2023 are sky high. The Yankees won 99 games and the AL East before being swept out of the ALCS by the rival Astros. This year truly does feel like World Series or bust, and they re-signed new team captain Aaron Judge to a record contract to prove it.
But spring training is also a time for scouting some new faces. This could be anyone from prospects to new free agents to even non-roster invitees. In typical Yankees fashion, the team has plenty of fun young and veteran talent to watch in spring camp.
Anthony Volpe. Let’s start with the man of the hour and most obvious name on the lips of everyone in Yankeeland. It’s not a matter of if Volpe is the Yankees’ shortstop of the future, but when. The New Jersey native hit 21 home runs and stole 50 bases across Double and Triple-A in 2022.
It doesn’t matter that he’ll all but certainly start the year at Triple-A for service time reasons. He is very much in the mix for the starting shortstop’s job in spring training.
Willie Calhoun. Don’t be surprised if Calhoun finds himself in the Yankees’ starting left fielder conversation. The former top prospect signed a minor league deal at the end of last year and hopes to revive his career in New York. If he does, it will be with his bat and not the glove that’s managed a -14 career defensive runs saved (DRS). Rather, the Yankees like Calhoun for his low strikeout numbers and high bat-to-ball potential.
In all likelihood, Calhoun probably doesn’t make the team out of spring training and gets the chance to prove himself in Scranton. But if he hits well in camp and separates himself from the rest of the outfield pack, perhaps he could crack the Opening Day roster as a fourth outfielder.
Jhony Brito. You can’t talk about Yankees spring training without discussing which pitchers will stand out this year, especially now that Nestor Cortes is injured. Brito is someone who could break out enough in spring training to steal a roster spot.
The righty turns 25 on Saturday and posted a 2.96 ERA across Double and Triple-A last year. He pitched more to contact as a starter, but just posted 11.7 K/9 as a reliever in four Dominican Winter League games. Throw in his low walks, and he can easily break camp as either a part-time starter or bullpen arm.
Greg Weissert. Keeping with pitching, let’s talk about the Yankees long-lauded bullpen. This is the first year in a while where we’re not quite sure how it will look. Clay Holmes and Jonathan Loaisiga are probably the favorites for the closer’s job and Tommy Kahnle is also back. Michael King is returning from injury but otherwise, it’s anyone’s guess.
Thus, this could wind up being an opportunity for Weissert to earn a full-time role. He posted a 5.56 ERA in 12 games last year, but only a 4.17 FIP. His biting slider also produced a 13.1 K/9 in the minors last year, so expect Matt Blake and Mike Harkey to give Weissert a closer look this spring.
Austin Wells. Those who don’t see Wells as a long-term catcher might be making a mistake. Chris Kirschner of The Athletic wrote last month of the Yankees’ No. 4 prospect’s remarkable improvement behind the plate. Perhaps he isn’t an outfielder or DH waiting to happen after all.
Gold Glover Jose Trevino means the Yankees aren’t anxious for Wells’ powerful lefty swing to arrive in the Bronx just yet. However, shining in his spring training appearances could mean his MLB debut is indeed on the horizon.
Ben Rortvedt. Remember Rortvedt? It’s okay, most Yankees fans probably don’t either, but he came over from the Twins in last year’s Josh Donaldson trade. Michael Kay made a point of saying on Yankees Hot Stove that while management likes Austin Wells, they “really like [Ben] Rortvedt.”
The problem is in his first year in the organization, Rortvedt lost most of the season to injuries. He hit just .218 in 48 games across three minor league levels. However, Rortvedt still managed seven home runs and 21 RBI and grades out as a strong glove. Kyle Higashioka is aging out of the backup catcher’s role and is an expiring contract, so Rortvedt should easily supplant him if he performs well.
Follow ESNY on Twitter @elitesportsny