The Yankees are three games and one rainout into their Grapefruit League season and, so far, no one has gotten hurt. That’s the most important thing. It’s good to have baseball back. Baseball is much more fun to talk about than the hot stove. Here are some thoughts on the first few spring games.
1. It was one game and only a handful of innings, I know, but Troy Tulowitzki’s mobility at shortstop was pleasantly surprising. I’m not focused too much on the bat right now — seeing him drive an outside pitch into the Tampa short porch was certainly cool — because even the game’s best hitters are still working to find their swing in late-February, and Tulowitzki hasn’t played in so long that some level of rust is inevitable. The offensive numbers will be whatever. I’m not sweating them. We’ve been hearing Tulowitzki looks great during infield workouts for weeks now though, basically since the Yankees signed him, and that’s something we should see right away. Sure enough, Tulowitzki did this …
2. Luis Severino will throw a simulated game tomorrow and make his Grapefruit League debut early next week, likely Monday or Tuesday. The Yankees have taken it easy on Severino this spring, which makes sense given his age (25), his workload the last two years (407.2 innings, postseason included), and the fact the Yankees just signed him to a four-year extension. This is an arm worth protecting. “When you are at the finish line and you feel like you need a little bit more than five days to be ready, you know that something’s going on,” said Severino to Coley Harvey two weeks ago, referring to being fatigued late last year. So yeah, it’s smart to ease him into things. Anyway, Severino making his Grapefruit League debut Monday or Tuesday lines him up perfectly to start Opening Day. He’d make four spring starts with extra rest between each of them. The current spring rotation schedule lines up James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and J.A. Happ to follow Severino in that order. That’s kinda what I’ve assumed the rotation order would be all winter. The Yankees haven’t announced the Opening Day rotation order yet because almost no team announces their Opening Day rotation order in February. Generally speaking though, it’s easy to pick up on the pitching plan early in the camp. The Yankees have Severino, Paxton, Tanaka, and Happ lined up as their first four starting pitchers for the regular season at this moment. Things can of course change over the next few weeks, but there you go. That’s the tentatively scheduled regular season rotation order.
3. Didn’t expect to see Tyler Wade flash some opposite field power this spring. He doubled twice to left field Sunday and I thought both had a chance to carry over the fence. Here’s the first one and here’s the second one. They came against actual big leaguers Tyler Glasnow and Yonny Chirinos too. Wade hitting two balls the other way with authority is notable. Here’s his 2013-18 minor league spray chart:
I count maybe a dozen balls hit deep to left field and left-center field in the six years worth of batted balls in that spray chart. Then two in two innings, against big leaguers? Even in Spring Training, I can’t say I saw that coming. During Monday’s broadcast Jack Curry said vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring told him the Yankees see Wade as a “starting player in the Major Leagues for a contending team.” Maybe that’s just a team official talking up his own player — the Yankees did sign two veteran infielders to push Wade down the depth chart this offseason, after all — and, even if it’s not, the Yankees don’t have a starting spot for Wade. I think he’s the favorite to get the final bench spot because he can run like hell and play both the infield and outfield, which are good traits for the 12th and final position player on the 25-man roster. To me, Wade needs a fresh start with a new team. He is capital-B Blocked with the Yankees and, unless they let Didi Gregorius walk and move Miguel Andujar to first base (or left field), there is no obvious starting spot for Wade going forward. A fresh start with a new team is the best thing for him. The Marlins, Orioles, Tigers, and White Sox stand out as clubs that could roll the dice and be patient while a young middle infielder finds his way at the MLB level. For the Yankees, hanging on to Wade as a depth utility guy who can be shuttled up and down makes all the sense in the world. Wade will play the entire 2019 season at age 24 and maybe those two opposite field doubles are a sign the bat is coming around. Almost certainly not, but hey, who knows. I didn’t expect to see him drive the ball the other way like that, that’s for sure.
4. Greg Bird looks noticeably thicker this spring. He looks stronger throughout his chest and arms. Aaron Boone said Bird added 20 pounds of “good weight” over the winter — “Not super intentional, I ate and worked out. After the New Year I started lifting. If I am heavier and can move, I know I am in a good place,” said Bird to George King a few days ago — and you can see it. In theory, a little more upper body strength could help Bird get his bat through the zone quicker, which was a major issue last year. It’s not like he’s out there with a bodybuilder’s physique. He didn’t bulk up so much that his quickness and agility will suffer. All he did was add a little muscle and strength, which countless players do each offseason. In Bird’s case, it’s easy to see. I’ve been doing this long enough to know these “best shape of his life” stories are little more than early spring filler that almost always amount to nothing. He’ll have to do a lot more than add some weight and look stronger to win a roster spot — Bird slammed an opposite field double in the Grapefruit League opener only to have Luke Voit show him up with a long home run onto the roof of the concession stand the next day — but I see this as a good thing. His exit velocity (89.7 mph in 2017 and 86.9 mph in 2018) and hard-hit rate (41.1% in 2017 and 33.3% in 2018) were both way down last year. The added strength could help get Bird back on track. I hope it will, anyway.
5. Random minor leaguer who stood out to me: Daniel Alvarez. The 22-year-old right-hander threw scoreless seventh and eighth innings Sunday. Yes, he was facing minor leaguers, but the results are whatever. More importantly, the stuff looked good. Hitters didn’t get good wood on the fastball, the breaking ball looked spiffy, and Alvarez did a good job hitting the mitt for late-February.
6. What’s everyone think about the pitch clock so far? You can barely even tell it’s in use, right? I mean, the clock itself is visible behind the plate at George M. Steinbrenner Field …
… but it’s not intrusive, and I imagine the same will be true at Yankee Stadium and big league parks. It’s good to have that information on the screen but I don’t think MLB or the individual teams want to shove it down our throats either. We’ll see what happens once more big leaguers start appearing in Grapefruit League games — Tanaka is one of the slowest workers in baseball, so I was looking to forward to seeing him with the pitch clock yesterday, but alas, the game was rained out — but so far, it seems to be business as usual, albeit with a little less standing around. That’s a good thing. That’s the entire point! The pitch clock outrage was always disproportionate to the pitch clock impact. You can hardly tell it’s there and the reduction in downtime adds up.
Update: Someone just pointed out to me the old YES Network score bug is back. You can see it in the pitch clock screen grab above. Thank goodness for that. I hope this is permanent and not just a Spring Training thing.