Stuff to watch in Spring Training

The NRI Team
Burnett's importance to the 2011 Yankees
Waiting for today's workout. (Photo Credit: Yankees PR Dept.)

Spring Training is a bit of tease for baseball fans. Yeah, it’s great to watch and follow real live baseball, but the games don’t mean anything and the result certainly don’t matter at all. It can be hard to get a grasp on who’s really ahead in position battles and who’s simply working to improve an aspect of their game, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. Aside from the well-documented competitions for the fifth starter’s spot, the last bullpen, the last bench spot, etc., here’s a few things to keep your eye on throughout camp…

A.J. Burnett‘s Curveball

We’re all well aware that A.J.’s curveball deserted him last season, which is why his strikeout (6.99 K/9) and swing-and-miss (7.29%) rates plummeted to their lowest points in a decade. Burnett has waited until later in Spring Training to start throwing his curveball over the last few seasons, so I’m curious to see if he’ll break the routine and start toying with the pitch a little earlier than usual to avoid a repeat of 2010’s debacle.

Brett Gardner‘s Approach

Gardner was baseball’s best count-worker last season, though after taking that Clayton Kershaw pitch off his right wrist in June, he was noticeably passive down the stretch, almost hoping for a walk rather than looking for something to drive. He had offseason surgery to clean out some inflammation and get the wrist back to 100%, so let’s see if he start being a little more aggressive and swings at stuff in the zone rather than letting hittable pitches go by just for the sake of seeing pitches.

Curtis Granderson‘s Hacks

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Much has been made of Grandy’s mid-August turn around, but the fact remains that his torrid hitting lasted all of 192 plate appearances (230 if we count the postseason, which we should). Results don’t matter, but just pay attention to the kind of contact he’s making in March. Is he producing line drives and fly balls, or rolling over on pitches and hitting weak pop-ups?

Russell Martin‘s Mobility

The new starting catcher saw his 2010 season end in August after an awkward step on home plate resulted in a hairline fracture in his hip. His labrum was not damaged and he didn’t need surgery, but it’s still a very serious injury. Furthermore, Martin had surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in one of his knees back in December, and as recently as last week we heard that he still wasn’t 100%. Chances are he’ll take it easy during the first week or two (or three) of camp at the team’s behest, but once we get into the middle of March, we should see him moving around like a normal catcher.

Derek Jeter‘s Grounders

The Cap’n has always been a ground ball hitter, but last season he took it to the extreme. His 65.7% grounder rate was not just the highest in baseball in 2010, it was the highest by a non-Luis Castillo batter since the data started being recorded in 2002. Jeter had been at 57.7% grounders from 2006 through 2009, which is ideally where he’d be going forward. If he’s still (weakly) beating the ball into the ground close to seven times out of every ten balls in play late in camp, well that’s not a good sign.

What the deuce are you staring at? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Jesus Montero‘s Awesomeness

It’s not often that we get a chance to see our favorite prospects in the action, so Spring Training is a gold mine for minor league watchers. Sure, Montero will almost certainly be up at some point this season, but we have to wait until the club deems him ready. He’ll receive mostly regular playing time in March though, the best chance we have to see him before he heads to Scranton in a few weeks. A .444/.500/1.125 career hitter in Spring Training (4-for-9 with two doubles and a homer, that being a grand slam), Montero will make the last four innings of every game worth tuning into.

* * *

Again, Spring Training isn’t the best time to evaluate players, especially based on results, but there are definitely some things worth paying attention. Everything listed above is just the tip of the iceberg, we also need to pay attention to CC Sabathia‘s weight loss, Joba Chamberlain‘s weight gain, Phil Hughes‘ almighty changeup, Jorge Posada‘s adjustment to being a full-time designated hitter, Mark Teixeira‘s rebound from numerous nagging late-season injuries (broken toe, bruised thumb, popped hammy), and a ton more.

The NRI Team
Burnett's importance to the 2011 Yankees
  • Monteroisdinero

    Joba definitely took that 25 lbs from CC.

    • CU Tiger

      It also looks like he took his haircut from mid-season 2010 Phil Hughes.

      • MannyGee

        so he is going for a CC/Hughes hybrid, but just that bad shit from both of them. that should help his trade value.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        It worked for Hughes :D

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      I’m not really sure how you can tell.

    • steve s

      Probably more than 25. He should have come into spring training in the best shape of his life but instead he punched his ticket to Scranton. Joba being so out of shape and going back to the minors will be one of the bigger negative stories for this year’s camp.

      • pete

        If joba wound up in the minors, that would be some of the best yankees news I’ll have heard since last march

        • Alex C.

          Joba can’t go to the minors unless he goes through waivers.

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    What about Burnett’s change up? Doesn’t he need to work on that pitch more? Seems that he needs to add that to his repetoire to become more effective, especially when his curveball is not working, which leads to his getting shelled alot.

    • The Real JobaWockeeZ

      He could but I doubt his change will get good progress.

  • pete

    speaking of players looking svelte, wasn’t Jesus kinda chunky back in the day? He looks like he’s in really good shape in that picture, which would obviously be a great thing for a (hopeful) catcher

  • Monteroisdinero

    Who is #86 with the catcher’s mitt in the top pic?

    • CU Tiger

      Kyle Higashioka

  • bakekrukow412

    Anyone know if Yogi will be there as a guest instructor like he usually is? I hope he’s recoverd OK since his fall.

    • The Real JobaWockeeZ

      Yes he’s there.

  • The Captain

    “His 65.7% grounder rate was not just the highest in baseball in 2010, it was the highest by a non-Luis Castillo batter since the data started being recorded in 2002.”


  • Yank the Frank

    Going down to ST the 2nd week of March. Seeing the boys on the 8th, 10th & 11th. Can’t wait.

    • Monteroisdinero

      I’ll be there the 4th and have tix for the 5th and 7th. Feel the same.

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        10th-13th. Also catching a Pirate’s game…I like the minor leagues.

        • johnny

          28th and 29th, rays and tigers…and strip clubs.

  • camilo Gerardo


    • bakekrukow412


    • Kiersten


      *hopes someone gets it*

  • Mister Delaware

    Robinson Cano’s Laziness

    • mattdamonwayans

      All I am saying is we don’t know how Cano will play baseball without his good buddy Melky Cabrera.

  • Ac

    Got tickets for yanks/sox march 14 in primetime and yanks/twins on 27th. Like Bart Scott says “Can’t Wait”!!!!!’

  • CBean

    Mike, are you guys going down for any games?

    • Mike Axisa

      Not Florida, Arizona this year.