Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Arms Are a Way

               Last year's Spring Training for the Yankees was one nightmarish setback after another; leading off with Curtis Granderson's broken hand at the first exhibition game. 2014 has been a whole other story (up to this point) and highlighted by the very promising early results from the starting pitching staff - which was perhaps the biggest uncertainly going into this season. Big ticket import Masahiro Tanaka continues to mow down opponents and has shown no qualms about transitioning over to MLB...at least in the State of
Florida.

    

               Traditionally, pitchers are ahead of hitters during March and the first couple months of the season and are able to sneak their fastball past most bats. The positive sign about Tanaka is he has been getting swing and misses on his breaking pitches; namely the slider and his highly-regarded splitter. Basically as advertised, and with the clicks from Japanese cameramen occurring on every pitch, Tanaka's fastball reaches 93-94 mph, his slider about 85 mph, and that nasty splitter goes for about 85-87 mph and opposing hitters have given it praise. On the mound he looks calm and collective and you would think he's been playing in the Major Leagues for ten seasons already. For $155 million its looking like a wise investment that will pan out.

        

               Another major question concerning the starting rotation was who is gonna step up and take that open Number 5 spot. Early predictions pointed towards David Phelps, but in the results department Michael Pineda has taken lead with numerous dominant performances throughout the Spring. Finally back in the Yankee mix after last year's Tommy John surgery, Pineda has also drawn rave reviews for his 93 mph fastball and 87 mph slider; both which he throws from funky arm angles that has hitters off-balanced.

 

              The Yankee Coaching Staff feel Pineda's fastball will never return to the 97 mph level it was before they made the trade for him in 2012, but if he can bring any slither of dominance to the 5th starter's spot the way he's been dominating the Spring, then that trade really looks great because Jesus Montero has been an absolute bust for the Seattle Mariners. The once Yankee Crown Jewel of the farm system put on 40 pounds of Bartolo Colon and was mixed up in the Alex Rodriguez and Friends Biogenesis scandal which cost him a 50-game suspension in 2013. Even before that the Mariners had to send Montero down to the minors last season after he was barely able to maintain a .200 batting average.



              Speaking of whales, or former ones, the slimmed down version of CC Sabathia has also looked good in his past couple of outings. The lost weight hasn't brought about an increased fastball velocity as some may thought, but his control looks better, especially on the change-up and slider that made him successful in the early stages of his career. Ivan Nova is also coming around after getting thumped early on in Spring Training, and the prospect of having Nova-Pineda (two young hurlers with nasty stuff) at the back of that rotation, gives the Yankees the edge against almost any other team's 4-5 guys. The only concern in the starting department may be Kuroda, who hasn't looked good since after his first start of the Spring, but the fact he's a veteran and has been brilliant for the Yankees these past two years, there's really no sense of over-analyzing him at this stage.

   

               On the other side of the ball the position players seem to be coming along fine without any tears or breaks like in 2013. The Yankees are resting the sore calf of Jacoby Ellsbury, but he should be good to go by Opening Day. After a slow start, Derek Jeter has been getting some hits and covering his ground at shortstop. Mark Teixeira is also back at his old position and swinging the bat without any reports of pain, but both himself and the Yankee front office seem relegated to the fact he's going to have discomfort in that wrist the entire season. Perhaps Teixeira isn't going to have enough strength in the wrist to belt out 35 homers and drive in 120 RBIs, but being in a lineup that looks quite loaded with pop, he's gonna get his chances to drive in Ellsbury and Jeter. Based on how Girardi has been filling out the lineup cards during the Spring, it appears Kelly Johnson is going to see the bulk of the time at 3rd base. Girardi also should be happy with the way Ichiro has looked in 2014 - his bat has some life in it after dreadful 2013 in which he looked done. Perhaps motivated after a shameful 2013, or maybe energized by the arrival of his fellow-countryman in Tanaka, Ichiro can prove to be valuable since Carlos Beltran is going to need his days off in right field.

    

              The bullpen continues to be an open casting call and C├ęsar Cabral, who gave quality innings for the Yankees towards the end of last season, is likely to make the trip up north with the team as their second lefty behind Matt Thornton. Dellin Betances, another former crown jewel of the farm system, has also impressed in Spring (finally after all these years) and could be an option as a late-inning hard-thrower, alla Joba Chamberlain, to compliment Shawn Kelley and David Robertson. Brian Cashman and the rest of the front office probably still have the pipedream of Betances being a successful starter, so any appearance from him might not come until August/September. The bullpen is going be an ongoing transformation the entire season of Cashman finding guys from the scrap yard, calling up minors, or making trades. It will be quite interesting seeing a $155 million starter and $500 million offense lose games because of a weak pen, so the pressure is on there and no Mo to save them.



               Surprisingly enough, Alex Rodriguez might've finally "got it" by not showing up to Spring Training and creating a circus atmosphere for his teammates. Despite the suspension, he could've reported to Tampa, and even with the Yankees likely sending him to the Minor League portion of the complex, his presence would've still overshadowed the positive vibes of the new faces like Tanaka and McCaan, plus the warm sendoff tour for Derek Jeter. Probably for the first time since 2003, Yankee Spring Training is actually about a baseball team and not one player and the money he makes or the substances he takes. Rodriguez is finally doing right by remaining silent and taking his punishment. The amusing (or sad) part is that he never released the supposed information he and his lawyer claimed to have that was going to clear his name, so basically the confirmation is in; he looked everyone in the eyes......again - and lied.



                Fans are going to have to find someone new to boo in 2014......