TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees expect to have most of their pressing decisions ironed out by the time they head north following Monday’s Grapefruit League finale, with manager Aaron Boone saying that he expects to be “very close to finalizing” the 26-man Opening Day roster when the team’s charter flight leaves the runway.
“There could be some things that alternate in the final moments and hours, but I think we’ll have a pretty good idea,” Boone said on Sunday. “As I sit here right now, I feel like I have a pretty good idea.”
Boone has said that he would like to carry a 13-man pitching staff to begin the year, giving him 13 position players to mix and match. As we enter the final innings of the spring, here is an updated attempt at predicting the Yankees’ 26-man Opening Day roster:
Catcher (2): Gary Sánchez, Kyle Higashioka
The Yankees intend to open the season with Sánchez as their starting catcher, despite a frustrating 2020 in which he batted just .147. Sánchez has vowed that he’ll be a different player in 2021, having re-tooled his swing to be shorter to the ball and keep more weight on his right leg at the plate. Higashioka started five of the club’s seven postseason games, and he would be ready to step in if needed.
First base (1): Jay Bruce
With Luke Voit set to miss at least the first month of the regular season following surgery to address a torn meniscus in his left knee, Bruce will serve as the starting first baseman. A three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger, Bruce hit .198/.252/.469 (90 OPS+) with six homers and 14 RBIs in 32 games for the Phillies last season. In 2019 he batted .216/.261/.523 (101 OPS+) with 26 homers and 59 RBIs in 98 games for the Mariners and Phillies.
Second base (1): DJ LeMahieu
The Bombers’ most valuable player two years running, LeMahieu signed a six-year, $90 million deal with New York in January. He is coming off a season in which he led the American League with a .364 batting average, a .421 on-base percentage and a 1.011 OPS, also pacing the circuit with a 177 OPS+.
Third base (1): Gio Urshela
Urshela completed his second year in New York as a Gold Glove Award candidate, supplementing his stellar defense at the hot corner by slashing .298/.368/.490 with six homers and 30 RBIs in 43 games (136 OPS+). Urshela underwent surgery in October to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, but he is playing in games and will be ready for Opening Day.
Shortstop (1): Gleyber Torres
An All-Star in each of his first two seasons, Torres took a step back in 2020, struggling to make the most of an opportunity to play shortstop full-time. Torres’ nine regular-season errors were the most in the Majors, coming as he batted .243/.356/.368 with three homers and 16 RBIs in 42 games. The Yanks have been encouraged by his physical fitness and work on both sides of the ball in camp.
Outfield (5): Clint Frazier, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner, Mike Tauchman
The outfield projects to feature Frazier, Hicks and Judge from left to right, with Gardner in line as a reserve. Frazier was one of the team’s bright spots in 2020, posting a .905 OPS (149 OPS+) in 39 games while earning recognition as a Gold Glove finalist in right field. Tauchman can play all three outfield spots and appears healthier than he did last year, when an injured right shoulder sapped his power.
Designated hitter (1): Giancarlo Stanton
Coming off an impressive postseason performance, the Yankees are prepared to enter 2021 with Stanton as a full-time DH. Cashman said that would be the “safe bet,” considering Stanton’s numerous injuries over the past two years. Stanton recently said that he expects to play some outfield this season, but it will not happen during Spring Training.
Utility (1): Tyler Wade
Wade continues to have a good shot to make the roster as a jack of all trades, boasting the best speed on the roster as well as the ability to play most positions. His ability to serve as a backup shortstop is a valuable asset, though Boone said that there could still be “more things in play,” raising the possibility that general manager Brian Cashman may have a surprise move.
Starting pitchers (5): Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Domingo Germán, Jordan Montgomery, Jameson Taillon
With Germán having outpitched Deivi García for a rotation slot, Boone set his rotation through the first six games of the regular season. Cole, Kluber and Germán will face the Blue Jays in the season-opening series, with Montgomery, Cole and Taillon then lined up against the Orioles, taking advantage of an off-day and allowing the club to slow-play Taillon coming off Tommy John surgery.
Relievers (8): Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Darren O'Day, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, Michael King, Nick Nelson, Lucas Luetge
Though Justin Wilson is set to resume tossing from a mound on Monday, it may be too close for him to be ready on Opening Day. Nelson boasts a four-pitch mix that the Yankees see helping them either as a starter or reliever, and he’s likely to win a spot in the bullpen. Luetge hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2015 and isn’t on the 40-man roster, but the Yanks will find it difficult to argue with his excellent spring stats -- plus, he would add another lefty to the ‘pen. King could add some length to the ‘pen until Wilson is ready.