TAMPA, Fla. -- Aaron Boone made history last year, becoming the first manager in Major League history to win 100 or more regular-season games in each of his first two seasons. That accomplishment lost luster in his eyes, however, since the Yankees were unable to be the final team standing at the end of the World Series.
With Yankees pitchers and catchers having officially reported to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday, opening the club’s 25th spring at the facility, expectations are high for Boone to pilot a loaded squad deep into October.
Boone held his introductory news conference following the day’s activities, and here are five takeaways from his time in front of the media.
Cole’s impact goes beyond the mound
Boone and a group of coaches listened intently near the bullpen mounds as Gerrit Cole broke down his 25-pitch session, animatedly going into detail about the shape of his changeup and arm action. Boone said that Cole’s focus seemed similar to what he exhibited during a December meeting in Newport Beach, Calif., when Cole asked smart questions of general manager Brian Cashman and Boone about how he would best fit into the Yankees’ universe.
“He’s that anchor at the top,” Boone said. “When you have an ace, it's not only the greatness that they obviously provide on that day, but it's because usually they're guys that are eating up a lot of innings and pitching deep into the game. It has that trickle-down effect of hopefully making a great bullpen even better, because you're preserving them and using them in roles that they should be in more often. We're just really excited to have him, and it's exciting to see him come in here, knowing this is where he absolutely wants to be. He feels like there was a little bit of destiny to get here.”
Sánchez trying something new
Gary Sánchez’s defense has been a hot-button issue for years, and as the Yankees welcome their third catching instructor in four seasons, the All-Star is following instructions to showcase a different setup behind home plate. New catching coach Tanner Swanson has suggested that Sánchez receive pitches with his right knee lower to the ground, with the goal of improving Sánchez’s ability to receive pitches that are low in the strike zone.
“I say there's still a lot of meat on that bone,” Boone said. “He's improved, I feel like a lot, over the last couple of years. We feel like with Tanner coming in and the work they've already begun, we feel like there's more there to be had. With [Sánchez] being open to it and continuing to work hard at that craft, I'm confident we'll see the those results as the season unfolds.”
Open season for the No. 5 slot
In the wake of James Paxton’s back injury, the first four places in the rotation are spoken for, with Cole, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ promised slots. Cashman sees an open competition for the fifth starter, having listed Luis Cessa, Deivi Garcia, Jonathan Loaisiga, Michael King and Jordan Montgomery as his leading candidates. Montgomery has been viewed as the front-runner in most circles.
“Monty’s in a good place. He’s worked really hard this winter,” Boone said. “I think him coming back at the end of last season was important for him to gain a little bit of momentum and for his mindset heading into the winter. He’s proven himself at this level, so we know he is certainly capable. We are also very excited about a lot of our young pitchers. … People are going to start knowing these names. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to see one or more of those guys impact our rotation, our bullpen, whatever it may be. We’ve got a lot of good options.”
Big bats in the field
Miguel Andújar has been working out at the Yankees’ Minor League complex, taking reps at first base, third base and in left field. Boone recently told Andújar that versatility could be his key to securing a place on the 26-man roster, and he was pleased to hear Andújar say that he is excited about the challenge. In fact, Andújar had already started working out at those new positions on his own.
“We feel like he has the athletic ability to move around and hopefully add to his versatility,” Boone said. “With the quality and the depth of our roster, it could be something that’s important not only for him but potentially for us to have those moving parts. Part of this is out of need, because we have a lot of really good players that are capable. I know Miggy’s going to work his tail off at it, and hopefully it’s something that can add to his value, because there’s no denying what a special bat he is.”
Boone added that although Giancarlo Stanton is expected to report to camp healthy after being limited to 15 regular-season games last year, the Yankees have not yet determined how much they intend to play Stanton in the outfield. He played 72 of 158 games there during the 2018 season, his first with the Yankees. If Stanton sees extensive time as a designated hitter, Mike Tauchman or Clint Frazier would be the next most likely options in left field.
“I’m confident he’s healthy,” Boone said. “I do think there’ll be a fair amount of DH dates for Giancarlo, probably even best-case scenario if everything is working out. We have a lot of good people to put in the field, but we certainly feel good about him playing the outfield and feel like he’ll be healthy enough to do that on a regular basis.”
Turning the page
Boone has spent time over the last several weeks replaying the 2018 and 2019 postseasons in his mind, wondering if the Astros and Red Sox used any high-tech devices that may have altered the outcomes of series that sent the Yankees home. Boone said that while he still considers dismissed managers Alex Cora and AJ Hinch to be friends (he has texted with Hinch, but isn’t ready to have a conversation), he believes Major League Baseball’s response was appropriate and will serve to discourage teams from attempting similar practices in the future.
“The range of emotions has been huge. You're mad, frustrated, disappointed,” he said. “But you also know there's a time to move on. I don't really dwell on the things that I’m not really able to control. I look at it now as, it's time to move on and look forward. We have a great team in that room, and we know the sky's the limit for that team. We have championship aspirations. As we kick things off in earnest [on Thursday], the focus is on eliminating distractions and making sure we're in a position to start laying the foundation to be a champion.”