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Locks and battles: Yanks 25-man roster predictions

March 16, 2017

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- One month has passed since we took a stab at the 25-man roster that will appear on the third-base line on April 2, when the Yankees open the 2017 season against the Rays at Tropicana Field.With 20 Grapefruit League games -- and 15 victories -- now in

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- One month has passed since we took a stab at the 25-man roster that will appear on the third-base line on April 2, when the Yankees open the 2017 season against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
With 20 Grapefruit League games -- and 15 victories -- now in the books, the Yankees have a wealth of observations to go over in the closed-door meetings that are occurring with more frequency at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Some of the decisions that manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman will be making have gained clarity, while other jobs still seem up for grabs. Here is an updated educated guess at where the battles stand in Yankees camp:
Catcher (2):Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine. Girardi said on Thursday that Romine "had a leg up" on Kyle Higashioka for the backup role coming into camp, and though both catchers have played well, "Romine is probably going to be the guy." Higashioka would then begin the year back at Triple-A.

First baseman (2):Greg Bird and Chris Carter. Bird's left-handed stroke has looked sweet, producing a .452 average (14-for-31) with five doubles, a triple, four homers and six RBIs. Carter will be on the roster, though at-bats may be hard to come by, especially if Bird has some early success against left-handers.
Second baseman (1):Starlin Castro. There's not much guesswork here. Castro hit his second spring homer on Thursday against the Blue Jays, coming off a year in which he led the Yankees in hits (156), multihit games (41) and games with at least three hits (12) last season, while tying for the team lead in RBIs (70).

Third baseman (1):Chase Headley. The Yankees will give Headley every opportunity to avoid the miserable start that dented his numbers last April, as there is no clear challenger to steal playing time from the switch-hitter. He's hitting .185 (5-for-27) with a double, a homer and five RBIs this spring.
Shortstop (1): Didi Gregorius. Gregorius logged just five at-bats for the Yankees before departing to represent the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, cracking some big hits for the Dutch squad. Girardi said that Gregorius will return in plenty of time to reset his clock.
Utility (1): Ronald Torreyes. Girardi seems inclined to stick with Torreyes, who saw time at second base, third base, shortstop and right field last year. Asked about the battle on Thursday, Girardi said, "To's another guy that did a very good job in that situation. A lot of times, you don't want to make too much out of a Spring Training one way or another."

Outfield (4): Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge. Gardner and Ellsbury are still locks in left and center field, and Judge's improved contact rate has drawn attention, as he's hit .265 (9-for-34) with a triple, two homers, three RBIs and nine strikeouts. Hicks is making it a battle, hitting his second spring homer on Thursday and carrying a .286 average (8-for-28)  with two doubles, a triple and three RBIs. Girardi said that numbers can be deceiving in short samples, "so you have to look at their at-bats and what they do defensively, and what they do on the basepaths."
Designated hitter (1): Matthew Holliday. The veteran has been putting on some impressive shows in batting practice. That thunder has carried over to game action, where he is hitting .321 (9-for-28) with three doubles, two homers and six RBIs.
Starting pitchers (5): Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Carsten Sabathia, Luis Severino, Bryan Mitchell. The first three spots are locks, and the Yankees are giving Severino (3.68 ERA in 7 1/3 IP, 3 BB, 9 K) every opportunity to bounce back from his dismal showing in the rotation last year. Mitchell (3.77 ERA in 14 1/3 IP, 3 BB, 12 K) looks close to where he was at the end of camp last year, and that may be enough to win the job.

Bullpen (7): Dellin Betances, Albertin Chapman, Tyler Clippard, Chad Green, Ben Heller, Tommy Layne, Adam Warren. Chapman, Betances and Clippard are locks, and the Yankees would like to keep some of their rotation contenders stretched out at Triple-A, which could ticket Luis Cessa (7.04 ERA in 7 2/3 IP) there to start the year. Green (2.08 ERA in 8 2/3 IP) and Heller (1.04 ERA in 8 2/3 IP) have looked sharp after getting tastes of the bigs last year. A wild card could be lefty Jonathon Niese, who joined the team late in camp but is being thought of both in short and long roles.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.