Yanks hope to find answers at SS, LF in camp

February 9th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The trucks have been unloaded at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., awaiting the arrival of Yankees pitchers and catchers this coming week.

As Aaron Judge prepares for his first spring as the team’s new captain, there are several important storylines we’ll be tracking as the team prepares for Opening Day, which will be on March 30 against the Giants at Yankee Stadium:

1. A short story

Youth could be served this spring, with prospects Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe both in camp and expected to receive considerable playing time at the shortstop position. Peraza and Volpe will challenge Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who made 131 starts at shortstop last season but endured defensive struggles that prompted manager Aaron Boone to leave him out of the starting lineup for four of the club’s nine postseason games.

Peraza, 22, impressed last September when he batted .306 (15-for-49) with three doubles, one homer, two RBIs and two stolen bases in 18 games; Boone trusted Peraza enough to draw a start in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros. This will be the first big league Spring Training for the 21-year-old Volpe, rated as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 5 prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline.

The sense is that the Yankees would love to see Peraza resoundingly win the job this spring, which would allow them to shift Kiner-Falefa into more of a utility role and provide Volpe with additional development time. Volpe logged just 99 plate appearances at Triple-A last season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him begin the year with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and be in the mix for a midseason callup.

2. Left turns

The Yankees made several moves over the offseason to retain or import talent, including re-signing Judge and Anthony Rizzo, inking free-agent starter Carlos Rodón and bringing reliever Tommy Kahnle back to the Bronx. But the left-field picture remains much the same as it was during the playoffs, with Andrew Benintendi (who didn’t play after Sept. 2) having departed to join the White Sox.

That leaves Oswaldo Cabrera and Aaron Hicks as the likeliest candidates to draw playing time at the position, with Harrison Bader in center field and Judge in right. Giancarlo Stanton could also see a smattering of defensive innings, but Boone has said he’d prefer not to play Stanton in Yankee Stadium’s spacious left field, instead looking to him to play right field on days when Judge serves as the designated hitter.

Hicks endured a difficult season in 2022, but general manager Brian Cashman has said that he suspects Hicks will win the job (Hicks has three years and $30 million remaining on his contract). Cabrera could force a different decision with a strong spring. The Yanks view him as a useful jack-of-all-trades; he played every position but center field, pitcher and catcher after being called up in mid-August.

Cashman has said that he recognizes left field is an area where the Yankees can upgrade. A trade is still possible between now and Opening Day; remember, last spring the Yanks reported to camp with Gary Sánchez as their starting catcher and Gio Urshela in the infield.

3. The starting five

Boone has said that the envisioned starting rotation is likely his best since taking over the managerial reins in 2018, with Gerrit Cole and Rodón at the top. Cole is coming off a ’22 performance in which he shattered Ron Guidry’s single-season franchise record for strikeouts with 257, while Rodón fanned 237 batters in 178 innings for the Giants, posting a 14-8 record with a 2.88 ERA. Rodón’s 12 strikeouts per nine innings represented the Majors’ best mark.

Luis Severino and Nestor Cortes are in line as the Nos. 3 and 4 starters. The Yankees recently declined Severino’s request to pitch in the World Baseball Classic, with Cashman explaining that the club wanted to protect the righty after missing considerable time due to injuries over the past several years. Cortes, a 2022 AL All-Star, was granted permission to pitch for Team USA in the upcoming tournament.

Frankie Montas had been slotted as the likely No. 5 starter, but the righty continues to experience inflammation in his pitching shoulder and is said to be eight to 10 weeks behind in his offseason training. That figures to open the door for a spring competition between Domingo Germán and Clarke Schmidt, with Randy Vásquez, Matt Krook and Jhony Brito also among those in the mix.