TAMPA, Fla. -- Five days ago, general manager Brian Cashman loaded his rental car with snacks to motor across the state of Florida for what would prove to be the Yankees’ final exhibition games of the spring, blasting a Fleetwood Mac-heavy playlist along 189 miles of sun-splashed highway.
“Today,” Cashman said, “is radically different than where we were in West Palm Beach.”
Up to the moment baseball shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, Cashman’s Yankees had been going through the paces of a relatively normal Spring Training, albeit one with more injury news than would have been preferred. As players wait for the all-clear to resume camp, here are five things that we learned since pitchers and catchers reported to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Feb. 12:
All aboard the Cole train
For the most part, Gerrit Cole was as advertised during his first spring in a Yankees uniform, touching 100 mph twice during his most recent outing and recording 13 strikeouts against two walks over nine Grapefruit League innings. The Tigers roughed up Cole on a windy day in Lakeland, Fla., when Travis Demeritte and Miguel Cabrera hit a back-to-back homers twice, but otherwise Cole was dominant. The celebrated free-agent signing also seemed to fit seamlessly into the clubhouse scene.
“A lot of times, pitchers just want to talk to pitchers or position players want to talk to position players,” veteran outfielder Brett Gardner said. “Outside of his work ethic and his focus, I like his ability to interact with everybody and talk with pitchers and hitters alike. He's a guy who I've really enjoyed talking to and getting to know. Obviously, we're all happy and thrilled to have him here on our side and leading our rotation, but I also think that behind the scenes, and the way that he works and carries himself, is a good example for a lot of the younger guys we have in the room.”
Gumby sure wasn’t pokey
Jordan Montgomery had the inside track to secure the No. 4 spot in the rotation, appearing to be back to form following June 2018 Tommy John surgery. The left-hander’s spring ERA (4.09) was inflated by a March 5 outing in which he served up four homers to the Tigers on that same windy day in Lakeland, Fla., but a better indication of his command and polish came on March 10 against the Blue Jays, when he struck out five without a walk over four scoreless, hitless innings.
“We've been really excited from the get-go with him, from the bullpens to his uptick in velocity,” manager Aaron Boone said that day. “There's a lot there to be excited about with Monty. … I think he had a great winter of workouts, and the way he's training now, I feel like from a body standpoint, he's in a better place physically than I've ever seen him. I think it's apparent when you just visually check him out. I think he's more physically imposing now, and it's showing with the velo.”
Come on, get healthy
Injuries were the theme of the “Next Man Up” 2019 season, and the Yanks appeared to be headed for a sequel, absorbing significant spring hits to Aaron Judge (stress fracture in right rib), James Paxton (back surgery), Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery) and Giancarlo Stanton (right calf strain). Severino will miss all of '20 and potentially all of ’21, but the shutdown may provide Judge and Stanton with enough time to be ready for a rescheduled Opening Day. Paxton has said that his best-case scenario would be pitching big league games by the middle of May.
“I feel like I might be ahead of schedule,” Judge said last week. “I'm trying to push the timeline and I want to come back healthy and strong. "I don't want to come back and rush it. I'll be ready for games in October and the rest of the season, but I'm going to be smart about it and get back to my team when I can.”
Gettin’ Miggy with it
During an offseason trip to the Dominican Republic, Boone told Miguel Andújar that he believed expanding the infielder’s versatility would be his ticket to securing a spot on the Opening Day roster. Andújar surprised the manager, telling him that he had already started taking reps in left field and at first base. With Andújar’s right shoulder healed enough to exhibit his powerful helicopter swing, the Yankees were especially impressed by Andújar’s progress in the outfield, believing that his athleticism translated enough there to be a regular-season option.
“I felt good out there,” Andújar said through an interpreter. “The last time I played the outfield, I was a kid, I was like 11 or 12. I've been with the Yankees for a long time now and I’ve only played third base. Everything worked out fine, everything we've been practicing and all the drills and everything. The progress has been there.”
Boone frequently said how he was excited by not just the top pitchers in camp -- those who were being considered for the 13 slots on the Opening Day roster -- but also by Nos. 15-30. As we saw this spring, the Yankees have exciting young arms on the come: Deivi Garcia, Luis Gil, Michael King, Nick Nelson and Clarke Schmidt, among others, all took turns lighting up radar guns and opening eyes. Schmidt was arguably the most impressive, muscling into the fifth-starter conversation while showcasing a polished four-pitch mix that produced a 2.57 ERA over seven innings.
“This guy [Schmidt] is pretty much ready to go in the big leagues, from a stuff standpoint,” reliever Zack Britton said. “Everyone here throws hard, the young guys, but it's more the execution of the offspeed pitches. Being able to command those in any count, and then his poise out there for a guy in his first Major League camp -- to watch him go about his business and picking guys' brains and learning is refreshing.”