This year’s Yankees spring training has been defined by two position battles at shortstop and in left field.
The shortstop competition is self-explanatory. It’s Oswald Peraza’s to lose and whomever wins out is really just keeping No. 1 prospect Anthony Volpe’s seat warm. Oswaldo Cabrera is more useful as a Swiss Army knife and Isiah Kiner-Falefa is already an afterthought.
Left field, on the other hand, is anybody’s guess. Four players are competing for the everyday job: Cabrera, Aaron Hicks, Willie Calhoun, and Rafael Ortega. Jasson Dominguez has had a good spring too, but he needs a season at Triple-A first. That means the left field job comes down to these four, all of whom are having strong springs.
Let’s take a look at each and see where they stand.
Aaron Hicks. Hicks isn’t just playing for a starting job, but maybe his future with the Yankees and in baseball as a whole. His horrific 2022 season is behind him and now is the time to prove he’s worth the three years and almost $30 million left on his contract.
Early signs indicate Hicks is on the right track, Monday’s botched fly ball aside. He’s batting an impressive .385 with a home run and a 1.077 OPS. He’s making more consistent hard contact and the lack of the shift means he isn’t overcompensating for power. The job should be his so long as he keeps hitting well as the pitching matchups get tougher.
Willie Calhoun. The former Rangers outfielder has also proven a good fit for the Yankees in spring training. Calhoun has hit .571 with a home run and impressing 1.482 OPS. He has not struck out once in 13 plate appearances.
What’s working against Calhoun is his fielding. His career defensive runs saved (DRS) and outs above average (OAA) are both -14. But is general manager Brian Cashman really going to let such strong bat-to-ball skills sit in the minors or sign with another team? If Calhoun keeps hitting well, he should absolutely be considered for the Opening Day roster as a lefty depth bat, maybe in Matt Carpenter’s role from last year.
Oswaldo Cabrera. One way or another, Cabrera is making the Opening Day roster. His defensive versatility gives manager Aaron Boone options if fellow super utility man DJ LeMahieu needs a day off. The young switch-hitter is hitting .294 with a pair of home runs early, plus a .980 OPS and seven RBI.
Even so, it’s hard to envision Cabrera as winning the left field job outright. Again, he can play multiple positions already and is about to get reps in center field. Unless he blows the roof off the competition the rest of the way, plans for him should stay the same.
Rafael Ortega. How do you solve a problem like Ortega, a 31-year-old veteran who spent the last two years with the Cubs? It’s hard to say. Ortega has also gotten off to a good start this spring, hitting .333 with two home runs and a 1.760 OPS. And yet, he seems the one who’ll have to fight the hardest for the left fielder’s job.
Ortega is a better fielder than Calhoun, but not by much. That means his best chance is probably make the roster in a Carpenter-like role. Yet, unlike Calhoun, Ortega is prone to strikeouts. Between Hicks, Cabrera, and Calhoun, his path to Opening Day might the toughest.
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