Tomorrow afternoon the Yankees return to action with their first Grapefruit League game of the spring. Hooray for that. The game will air on both YES and MLB.tv. Prepare for all the small sample size analysis you can handle, even though we all know better. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this, the final day without baseball until November.
1. The best part of Spring Training games is the prospects, hands down. We’ll watch the veterans all summer. Spring Training will be our only chance to see most of the kids this year. Gleyber Torres figures to get some starts at shortstop when Didi Gregorius is away at the World Baseball Classic, and that’ll be cool. Jorge Mateo will run around center field and both James Kaprielian and Justus Sheffield will throw a few innings each as well. I’m most interested in seeing Clint Frazier, Chance Adams, and Jordan Montgomery, personally. Frazier in particular. Those three all have a chance to help the Yankees during the regular season — at least moreso than Torres, Mateo, Kaprielian, and Sheffield — and I haven’t seen much of them previously. Frazier has the talent to be an impact hitter, and while neither Adams nor Montgomery will be an ace, they can be useful big league starters, and gosh do the Yankees need some of those. I’m looking forward to getting some eyes on the near MLB ready kids.
2. The fourth and fifth starter competition officially begins tomorrow — Bryan Mitchell, Adam Warren, Luis Severino, Chad Green, and Luis Cessa are starting the first five Grapefruit League games in that order — and my official prediction is Severino and Cessa get the two rotation spots. Warren and Mitchell go to the bullpen and Green winds up in Triple-A. I’ll be pretty surprised if Severino doesn’t get a rotation spot, to be honest. He seems to have a leg up on everyone else simply because he’s the youngest and offers the most long-term upside. Severino becoming a capable big league starter would be a wonderful thing for the Yankees, and I’m guessing they’ll give him every opportunity to make it happen. Using Spring Training to settle position battles is sorta silly, though in this case I don’t think it’s a big deal. The rotation candidates all have MLB experience and odds are they’re all going to get a chance to start games this summer anyway. Whoever wins the rotation spots on Opening Day won’t automatically get to keep them all season.
3. A few weeks ago I mentioned the Yankees will face a severe 40-man roster crunch after the season, big enough that they have to consider trading some prospects just to avoid losing them for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft. The dream scenario is packaging three or four prospects together and trading them for one quality player, though that doesn’t happen often. There aren’t too many teams willing to take on three fringe players and commit 40-man roster spots like that. What about trading a prospect for a draft pick though? The 14 Competitive Balance picks are tradeable, you know. (Only during the regular season for whatever reason.) In my top 30 prospects post I mentioned Dustin Fowler as a possible trade candidate given the team’s outfield situation. Would you trade Fowler to, say, the center field needy Athletics for their Competitive Balance pick, the 33rd overall selection? That slot comes with nearly $2M worth of bonus pool money. It sounds like a neat idea, but you know what? I’d rather have Fowler, a two-way center fielder not far away from the big leagues, than the 33rd overall pick. This is just an idea I was kicking around. Dealing prospects for draft picks, rather than an actual player, to help clear up the 40-man logjam.
4. I have a weird feeling Carter Capps will be a Yankee at some point this season. They tried to get him from the Marlins at the trade deadline two years ago, presumably as a potential alternative to their proposed Mateo-for-Craig Kimbrel trade with the Padres. Capps is with the Padres now. He blew out his elbow last spring and had Tommy John surgery, then was traded to San Diego as part of the Andrew Cashner deal. The hard-tanking Padres bought low and are looking to get value out of him now, and it stands to reason Capps will be on the trade block at some point. Capps, in case you’ve forgotten, is the guy with the ridiculous yet somehow legal hop-step delivery:
5. Nothing has been officially announced, though earlier this week reports said MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to make intentional walks automatic this season. Rather than making the pitcher throw four wide ones, the manager gives a signal from the dugout and the batter goes straight to first. First of all, if the signal isn’t holding up a rubber chicken, then GTFO. Secondly, I don’t love the rule change, but it’s not the end of the world. Intentional walks are a competitive play and I feel the pitcher and catcher should have to execute. At the same time, intentional walks happen so infrequently — one every 46 innings in 2016! — that we’ll barely even notice. Also, the distribution of intentional walks is highly concentrated. Nearly 20% of all intentional walks last year were issued to the No. 8 hitter in the National League, the guy hitting in front of the pitcher. I wonder if we’ll see a slight uptick in the number of intentional walks this year because giving the signal is so much quicker than throwing the pitches. General rule of thumb: the easier something is, the more people will do it. More intentional walks means more baserunners, and that will inevitably lead to more runs. Could be cool.
6. Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters earlier this week MLB may unilaterally implement rule changes next season, specifically with regards to pace of play (i.e. a pitch clock) and the size of the strike zone, which is apparently something they’re allowed to do per the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Manfred complained the MLBPA keeps rejecting proposals. Unilaterally implementing rule changes won’t sit well with the players, and the last thing anyone wants is bad blood in labor relations. That said, MLBPA gave a ton of concessions with the current CBA — they’re fighting harder to protect pace of play than the bonuses of amateur players! — and they backed themselves into this corner. MLBPA chief Tony Clark is a really smart and nice guy from what I understand, but the union could really benefit from having an actual labor professional in charge. The union keeps giving concessions rather than pushing for a bigger piece of the revenue pie. Instead of trying to fix the revenue distribution problem, MLBPA essentially agreed to a salary cap. The new luxury tax penalties are so harsh that no team will exceed them. Not a great couple weeks and months for the union.