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Stacked Yanks have dark-horse roster hopefuls

Slugger Austin, infielders Espinosa, Wade, Peterson, lefty LeBlanc trying to make team
MLB.com @BryanHoch

TAMPA, Fla. -- The battle for spots on the Opening Day roster has grown tighter in the wake of this week's trade for infielder Brandon Drury, but manager Aaron Boone promises that there is "still a level of competition going on" as the Yankees prepare to open their Grapefruit League schedule.

While some players can use the spring to fine-tune their mechanics, beginning with Friday's 1:05 p.m. ET contest against the Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Boone and his coaches will be evaluating a bevy of hopefuls who are trying to impress.

TAMPA, Fla. -- The battle for spots on the Opening Day roster has grown tighter in the wake of this week's trade for infielder Brandon Drury, but manager Aaron Boone promises that there is "still a level of competition going on" as the Yankees prepare to open their Grapefruit League schedule.

While some players can use the spring to fine-tune their mechanics, beginning with Friday's 1:05 p.m. ET contest against the Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Boone and his coaches will be evaluating a bevy of hopefuls who are trying to impress.

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As part of MLB.com's around-the-league breakdown of dark-horse candidates, here are five Yankees whose exhibition stats could make or break their April:

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Tyler Austin, 1B/OF: After making history with Aaron Judge in 2016 by hitting back-to-back homers in their first big league at-bats, injuries limited Austin to 20 big league games in '17. Austin sat out the spring with a fractured left ankle and missed 37 team games with a right hamstring strain sustained in late June. With first-base depth thin behind Greg Bird, a big spring could send Austin to New York.

"Tyler Austin's had some freakish injuries happen to him," Boone said. "The power is real. I think there's a real opportunity because that depth is lacking a little bit. He's going to have a chance to prove that he belongs here."

Danny Espinosa, IF: Having hit .173 for the Angels, Mariners and Rays in 2017, Espinosa is hoping for a bounceback year as a non-roster invitee. He has played every infield position, and he hit a career-high 24 homers for the Nationals in 2016. The switch-hitter could be used as a starter or in the utility role that Ronald Torreyes filled in '17.

Video: Espinosa, Yankees agree to Minor League deal

"He's a really good defender," Boone said. "That's a big reason why we brought him in here. And even though he's 30 now, we feel like there's also potential upside offensively. He probably, for the first time in his career, made some significant adjustments in the winter with his swing and how he's holding his hands."

Wade LeBlanc, LHP: The veteran believes that he can stick in the back end of the bullpen, where he'd figure to be challenging Chasen Shreve. LeBlanc had a 4.50 ERA in 50 appearances for the Pirates last year, permitting 64 hits in 68 innings while walking 17 and striking out 54. His career numbers are better against righties (.742 OPS) than lefties (.872 OPS).

Video: PIT@CIN: LeBlanc notches a three-inning save

"A couple of crooked numbers as a reliever can be a season-ruiner," LeBlanc said. "It's not the smartest thing to sit back and look at ERA as a reliever to determine how your season went. I stayed healthy, remained in the big leagues and gave my team what they needed."

Jace Peterson, IF: Much like Espinosa, the left-handed Peterson is seeking a fresh start after hitting .215/.318/.317 in 89 games for the Braves last year. Peterson is a career .234 hitter in 383 big league games with Atlanta and San Diego, and he has appeared at every infield position plus the outfield corners.

Video: ATL@NYM: Peterson doubles home Swanson in 2nd

Tyler Wade, IF: A fourth-round Draft pick in 2013, Wade has been envisioned as the Yanks' version of Brock Holt or Ben Zobrist, bolstering his versatility by playing second base, shortstop and the outfield corners. Wade's expected to play some third base this spring, coming off a winter in which he trained with Angels slugger Albert Pujols in Newport Beach, Calif.

Video: NYY@CWS: Wade collects first hit and RBI in the 6th

"I hit with him about twice a week for two weeks," Wade said. "He asked me, 'Do you have trouble with the inside pitch?' I said, 'Sometimes,' and he goes, 'Open it up a little bit.' He made some swing suggestions with my hands and my [right] foot. It felt weird, but he was like, 'Dude, this is going to help you a lot.' I feel really good. Hopefully it plays."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Tyler Austin, Danny Espinosa, Wade LeBlanc, Jace Peterson, Tyler Wade