Yankees spring training is about to begin and while the 2024 team is going all-in on winning the World Series this season, the journey to the Fall Classic starts now.
GM Brian Cashman has re-tooled the roster a bit this offseason to fill some of the team’s gaping holes, especially in the outfield, but will it be enough? It’s been an interesting offseason where, as of the time of this writing, many superstars like Blake Snell and Cody Bellinger are still free agents.
Could the Yankees make a move for one of those names? Sure, but with the chances of that happening being very low, we’re here to look at the current team and see what we can glean from spring training.
Here are the five most intriguing Yankees storylines to watch for this spring training…
Which catchers will start the year with the Yankees?
The starting catcher for the Yankees in 2024 — barring an injury — will be Jose Trevino. That’s not in question. The former All-Star backstop will look to bounce back from an injury-shortened 2023 and lead the Yankees rotation to bigger and better things.
But who will back him up? The last few seasons saw Kyle Higashioka as the team’s backup but now that he’s in San Diego, who will take up that mantle? Ben Rortvedt, acquired in the Josh Donaldson deal in 2022, played some time last year in large part because he became Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher.
Unfortunately, Rortvedt’s offensive numbers left a lot to be desired. In 32 games, the 26-year-old had eight total hits, and only three went for extra bases.
The other option is prospect Austin Wells. The 24-year-old was called up in September and looked to get really comfortable at and behind the plate by the end of the regular season. Among Wells’ 10 extra-base hits, four were home runs — including three in the final five games.
It’ll be interesting to see if Wells can continue to show the offensive prowess he’s projected to have while also proving he can be a competent backstop.
Which young pitchers can become options down the line?
The Yankees rotation has a lot of question marks but Cashman and the organization has done a great job of assembling a lot of young arms in their farm system. Even after dealing a handful of them this offseason, the Yankees still have a number of potential pitchers who can make the team on Opening Day if not get called up during the season.
With the health of most of the rotation in question, it’s very likely a spot starter or two will need to be called upon and that’s where this spring training will come into play. Pitchers like Will Warren, Chase Hampton, Clayton Beeter and more will be at camp to show their stuff.
Can one or two prove they can be called upon when the time arrives? The Yankees have a great track record of using young pitchers successfully for spot starts like Luis Gil, Randy Vasquez and Jhony Brito. With Vasquez and Brito gone, who will fill that role this season? It’s something to keep an eye on.
What will the outfield look like?
Aaron Judge was the one outfield constant for the Yankees when the offseason began, but who would the team surround their captain with? Well, the trade for Juan Soto resolves one of those spots but there’s still the question of how will Aaron Boone deploy his outfield, defensively?
Judge can play both center and right field, but the organization would like to avoid their slugger putting too much strain on his legs manning center field. Unfortunately, a true everyday center fielder wasn’t addressed this offseason so it looks like Judge will be playing in center a lot of games this season.
What fans and the baseball world will want to keep an eye on will be how everyone else is used. Soto will likely play right field as it’s easier to man at Yankee Stadium while left field will see a combination of Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham out there.
Yankee fans should get used to an outfield of Verdugo, Judge and Soto but how often will we see Grisham start? And how about Giancarlo Stanton? Are his days playing the outfield over with the addition of Soto and Verdugo?
Can starters stay healthy?
The Yankees saw three potential starters from last season end up on different teams. Luis Severino signed with the Mets after hitting free agency, Michael King was traded to the Padres in the Soto deal and Domingo German was released.
Who did the Yanks get to fill their spots? Well, Marcus Stroman was the big pitching signing for New York this offseason and he’ll pitch in pinstripes for the first time this spring. Stroman is coming off an All-Star season, but his second half was marred by injuries. He said he pitched through his injuries last year, which affected his ability to pitch — and his numbers showed that — but can he stay healthy? He says he is completely healthy but his pitching this spring will go a long way to prove he is.
The same is the case for Carlos Rodon and Nestor Cortes. Rodon’s first year in the Bronx was not ideal. The lefty who signed a six-year, $162 million deal before the 2023 season had plenty of starts and stops last year. He started just 14 games and pitched to a 3-8 record and a 6.85 ERA. The 31-year-old was injured during spring training last year, and the Yanks hope he can get through February and March healthy so he can find that consistency out of the gate.
And then we have Cortes. The 29-year-old was able to make just 12 starts and while he was solid — pitching to a 5-2 record with a 4.97 ERA — he simply could not stay on the field. If the Yankees have any chance of getting far this season, they’ll need Cortes and the others to stay relatively healthy. It’s something to watch for.
Who is hitting where?
Much has been made of the Yankees lineup. Boone has said that the order is still “up in the air” but he envisions Soto hitting second in front of Judge. That lineup is subject to change based on the starter to keep it as balanced as possible with the righty Judge and lefty Soto shifting around.
There are so many possibilities as to how Boone can deploy his offense that it’ll be interesting to see where he finally lands. Expect a different variation of the lineup used in the early days of spring training as batters try to get used to hitting in different parts of the lineup. And then we’ll finally get to see the likely Opening Day lineup as we get closer and closer to March 28 when the Yanks travel to Houston to take on the Astros.
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