Five Players to Watch This Spring
What’s up Yankee fans?
The date is February 15, 2010.
As for news around the sports world, the NFL Super Bowl is over. The great Peyton Manning fell to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in what was (in my opinion) the best Super Bowl game since the New York Giants upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
The winter Olympics are in full swing in Vancouver and at press time the U.S.A. has claimed six medals.
The NBA is at their All-Star point and Nate Robinson of the New York Knicks became the only player in history to win the Slam Dunk Contest three times.
And last but never-the-least, MLB pitchers and catchers report to camp this week. We now know that baseball is almost back. Almost back, but we’re not quite there yet.
The Yankees obviously made a number of moves in the off season, bidding farewell to players like Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera, and Chien-Ming Wang.
But they welcomed in new (and old) players like Curtis Granderson, Randy Winn, Javier Vazquez, and Nick Johnson.
Some of these moves haven’t been very popular among Yankee fans, but it remains to be seen how these players will perform. The best time to find out how well each player might do in the season is obviously in spring training.
With that being said, here are my five players to keep an eye on in March:
5) Javier Vazquez
At first, I was completely against the Javier Vazquez deal and part of me still is. I never liked him during his first stint with the Yankees in 2004. The only lasting image I have of him was that meatball he served up that Johnny Damon clobbered for a grand slam in the 2004 ALCS–a bomb that solidified the Yankees’ Game Seven collapse.
But I suppose I’ll give him a second chance as the number four starter in 2010.
Everyone keeps talking about how Vazquez had a very low ERA these past few seasons, so who knows. He may surprise us. After all, I thought Hideki Matsui was going to have a horrible season in 2009. He went on to win the World Series MVP.
I have decided to give Vazquez until July 15–if he has decent numbers then, I’ll approve of the trade. But if he is basically hanging on by a thread with an inflated ERA and a record of .500, then I’ll stand by my initial thought: what are the Yankees thinking?!
I realize the Vazquez trade was a panic move to counter the Red Sox signing John Lackey. But the Yanks could have figured out another way to get a pitcher without having to give up a promising outfielder (Cabrera) for a one-year rental (Vazquez).
We’ll see how he does. But without question, he’ll be under the microscope in Tampa.
4) Jesus Montero
I have heard a lot of great things about this kid. I get the feeling he’ll one day be a star, but he’s just too young right now. Nonetheless, non-roster invitee Jesus Montero will be a player to watch this spring.
At 20 years old, Montero has been named the Yanks’ best prospect and the fifth best player by Baseball America. In his 2008 minor league season with the Charleston River Dogs, Montero batted .326 with 17 homers and 87 RBIs. He only stole two bases, but hey…he’s a catcher, we cannot expect a ton of steals from him.
The highest level he’s played at is AA Trenton Thunder, but mark my words; he’ll probably make it to the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees in 2010.
With Jose Molina leaving the Yankees, it’ll most likely be Francisco Cervelli backing up Jorge Posada. So in all likelihood, we won’t see Montero in the show this year. In 2011, he’ll more than likely be on the Major League squad.
But Montero will undoubtedly be on the field this spring. This is his chance to show Yankee Universe what he’s made of and for us to get a feel for what he is about.
3) Brett Gardner
Brett Gardner has given the Yankees something they haven’t had in recent times–speed. And I’m not talking about just a decent pair of wheels. I’m talking the Flash/Sonic the Hedgehog type horse power here.
I mean, if he sprinted on the highway, he’d probably get a speeding ticket.
Gardner has also offered a great deal of defense in the outfield. With the departure of Melky Cabrera, the Yankees are obviously putting a lot of stock in him. Gardner can run and he can play some unbelievable defense. But he needs to get on base and become a better offensive player.
In 2009, Gardner had 67 hits in 248 at-bats, which translates to a .270 average–not too shabby. He drew 26 walks and stole 26 bases, which again, are decent stats.
But centerfield is a position that requires power; you need to have some pop coming from that spot on the field. Gardner only hit three home runs last year, two of which left the park (and yes, it was pretty sweet watching that inside-the-park home run on May 15…it was even sweeter because I saw it in-person!)
This spring, the Yankees will be trying out a number of different outfielders. There’s even talk that if Gardner is good enough, recent acquisition Curtis Granderson might play left field and Gardner will man center.
Well, that scenario remains to be seen, but in any event, Gardner has to take his game up to the next level. We’ll see how he responds next month.
2) Robinson Cano
Boy has this young man come a long way. I can remember the day he was called up to the big leagues in 2005 and how nervous he looked. He would make frequent errors and he looked so uneasy at the plate.
But Robinson Cano worked his game up to a Major League level, finishing in the top three in the 2006 batting title race. He was even compared to the incomparable Rod Carew. And from there, the rest is basically history. In my opinion, he’s unlike any other second baseman in the American League–and that’s a good thing.
He plays defense so well, gliding across the infield and making spectacular plays. I still believe he should have won a Gold Glove Award this past year. His hitting has certainly improved, as well. In 2009 he set a career-high in home runs with 25 and averaged .320 at the dish.
I have to say, of the younger players who are currently on the Yankees, Cano is my favorite. You can mention Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and all the legendary players of the so-called “core four,” but (for me) Cano has been the most exciting Yankee these past couple of seasons.
But some philosophize that Cano only performed so well for so long because of the presence of his best friend Melky Cabrera. The two became bosom buddies in 2007 and since then, both have played very well in each other’s friendship.
But Cabrera is now an Atlanta Brave and Cano is on his own.
I am anxious to see how Cano is going to perform in the absence of his best friend. I still feel he can play the same way he has these last few years. However, the only minor concern I have is how Cano played in 2008 without Cabrera; when his buddy was sent down to the minors because of a nasty slump, Cano struggled a little bit and fell into a funk of his own.
Hopefully nothing like that will happen to him this upcoming year. But if Cano gets off to a slow start and cannot find his rhythm, I might have to side with those philosophers.
1) Joba Chamberlain
It’s no secret that Joba Chamberlain had a rough 2009. It started back when he was arrested for a DUI after the 2008 campaign. Then he was put back on the “Joba Rules,” only being allowed to toss a certain amount of innings according to the Yankees’ discretion.
He had some forgetful starts and some brilliant starts in ’09, posting a record of 9-6 with a 4.75 ERA. If that wasn’t enough, the 24 year-old flamethrower was sent to the bullpen for the playoffs and World Series as the Bronx Bombers chose to go with a three-man rotation. In relief, he posted an ERA of 2.84 and was 1-0 with one save and seven strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings pitched.
Not too bad, if you ask me. Chamberlain seems to excel when he knows his role.
There’s a lot of speculation on which pitcher will land the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Chamberlain seems to be the logical choice, unless they either opt to pull Phil Hughes from his spot in the bullpen or allow Sergio Mitre or Chad Gaudin the opportunity.
It all depends on who is performing at the highest level in spring training. If we see Chamberlain in a dominant form next month, it could be him. But if he is going to be that fifth pitcher, the Yankees NEED to take him off the “Joba Rules.”
Chamberlain will have his growing pains, all young players do. But if they do not take the leash off, the only thing he’ll ever be is a caged animal.
I understand that the Yankees are not trying to wreck his arm because it’s happened to too many young pitchers (Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez…etc.) But the Yanks should not tell him exactly how many innings they want him to throw. I think that can upset the balance of his psyche.
So who will be that fifth starter? We’ll know when we see what they all bring to Tampa.