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5 spring predictions for title-chasing Yanks

@BryanHoch
February 15, 2020

TAMPA, Fla. -- As Aaron Boone patrols the outfield grass of the George M. Steinbrenner Field complex, fungo bat in hand to return any stray balls toward home plate, the Yankees manager can sense the excitement of the season ahead and says he understands what has been placed upon his

TAMPA, Fla. -- As Aaron Boone patrols the outfield grass of the George M. Steinbrenner Field complex, fungo bat in hand to return any stray balls toward home plate, the Yankees manager can sense the excitement of the season ahead and says he understands what has been placed upon his shoulders.

This is not the lovable “Baby Bombers” squad of 2017, which exceeded expectations and reached the American League Championship Series in what was viewed widely as a rebuilding year. Nor is it '18 or ’19, Boone’s first two seasons, when the initial objective was a division title. Nothing short of a World Series will do in '20, and Boone is fine with that challenge.

“We have obviously big expectations, and we embrace those expectations,” Boone said on Thursday. “We look forward to the long process now of trying to chase a championship. … Frankly, it's exciting. I got a good feeling of why we're so excited today from a lot of our guys.”

With camp underway, here are five predictions that may or may not materialize before the Yankees head north in late March:

Giancarlo Stanton will have a monster spring
A segment of Yankees fans still hasn’t completely warmed up to Stanton, and the doubters were out in force last year when injuries limited the slugger to 18 regular-season games and impacted his postseason. To borrow a line from Reggie Jackson: “As long as you have a bat in your hands, you can change the story.” In his third season in pinstripes, Stanton will look to prove that he can be counted on as a force in the heart of the lineup, splitting his time between the outfield and a designated hitter role.

Boone said that he anticipates Stanton will be completely healthy when position players report, as the Grade 2 quadriceps strain that impacted him during the ALCS has had plenty of time to heal. Stanton led the Yanks with 38 homers and 100 RBIs in 2018, coming off a National League MVP Award-winning season with the Marlins in which he led the Majors with 59 homers and 132 RBIs. Based upon his Instagram workout videos (was he really bench-pressing supermodel Adriana Lima?), Stanton will be adding a few new dents to the Steinbrenner Field scoreboard this spring.

Young talent will have scouts buzzing
Scanning the list of invited pitchers to camp, Boone said that “people are going to start knowing these names,” with right-hander Deivi Garcia likely to generate his fair share of the conversation. Rated as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect by MLB Pipeline, the whip-armed hurler won’t turn 21 until May but is already considered to be an outside contender to serve as the No. 5 starter.

While the Yanks would prefer to be cautious, it may prove difficult to hold Garcia back for long. He rocketed through the Minor League system and reached Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, and a strong spring could convince talent evaluators to keep him on that accelerated path toward The Show. Other young pitchers worth keeping eyes on include Albert Abreu, Michael King, Brooks Kriske, Luis Medina, Nick Nelson, Chris Clarke, Alexander Vizcaino and Miguel Yajure.

Gleyber Torres' glovework will impress
Torres was solid -- if not spectacular -- as the Yanks’ fill-in shortstop early last year while Didi Gregorius recovered from Tommy John surgery. That defensive performance should improve as Torres returns full-time to his natural position, receiving the benefit of a full spring there without having to also focus on second base. The fact that Gold Glove Award winner DJ LeMahieu can slide in as the other half of the double play combination figures to further tighten the middle of New York’s infield, and Torres’ potent bat would earn a place in any lineup.

Jordan Montgomery takes the fifth
The Yankees did not expect to see Montgomery at the Major League level last year, but the left-hander returned from Tommy John surgery in time to appear in two September games. That provided an important confidence boost, as Montgomery now enters Spring Training as a front-runner to claim the rotation spot vacated by James Paxton, who will miss time with a back injury.

Though general manager Brian Cashman has said that he sees an open competition between Paxton, Luis Cessa, Garcia, Jonathan Loaisiga and King, both Cashman and Boone have pointed to Montgomery’s 2017-18 performance as evidence that he is proven at the big league level. Boone said that the Yanks will tell Montgomery that he doesn’t need to “win the Cy Young his first start in February,” a reminder that he should take things slowly and aim for the regular season.

Miguel Andújar's bat will win a spot
Any winter hand-wringing about Andújar’s future in pinstripes will be erased as he returns from a full offseason of training to blast balls in the Grapefruit League. Though third base remains Gio Urshela's position to lose, Andújar understands that versatility will be a helpful ingredient toward securing a place on the 26-man roster, and the Yankees were pleased to see him take on expanded duties at first base and in the outfield.

The most important thing that Andújar can show, however, is that his right shoulder has recovered and his bat is back to where it was in 2018, when he finished second to Shohei Ohtani in the AL Rookie of the Year Award chase. A subpar spring would make it an easy call to have Andújar begin the year in Triple-A, but here’s a vote of confidence that he will hit his way onto the Opening Day roster.

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