Monday, March 28, 2011

What was good (and not so good) about Yankees camp

Spring training is mercifully reaching its conclusion.

Maybe it's just me, but Yankees camp felt especially long this year. I'm guessing many of the veterans feel the same way. Except Nick Swisher, that dude loved spring training. Then again, Swish could find something to love about an asteroid crashing into Wisconsin. Swishalicious loves life.

The team is heading up north on Tuesday, so here are few good (and not so good) things I took from Tampa.


A-Rod looks like A-Rod - It's not just that Alex Rodriguez led the Yankees in home runs and RBIs this spring, it's how he did it. Last weekend, he drove a fastball over the Steinbrenner Field batter's eye in center field. The eye is more than 408-feet away from home plate and standing as high as the Green Monster. His hot spring has led to some unfair questions about whether he's about to return to to the 50-homer, 150-RBI form of his 2007 MVP season. That seems to be asking a lot, but a healthy A-Rod is a dangerous A-Rod.

Money quote: "There's just more explosion that I feel." -- Rodriguez on his swing (or possibly Cameron Diaz.)


Injury bug strikes - Don't underestimate the power of a spring training injury. If you're lucky, it's just a blip on the radar of a long season. But sometimes these things can have lasting effects. Entering last month, I thought Curtis Granderson was an under-the-radar guy to have a big bounce-back season.His oblique injury clouds that promise, however, and the Yankees' tight-lipped treatment of it makes you wonder if it's a more serious injury than initially believed. Meanwhile, Francisco Cervelli (broken foot) and Pedro Feliciano (sore elbow) will both begin the season on the DL. Veteran teams are going to have injuries. Let's just hope the Yankees don't become the 2011 version of the 2010 Red Sox.

Money quote: "I just think (injuries are) part of the rigors of spring training. Every year there seems to be one thing in one camp." -- Joe Girardi


The Killer B's - The Yankees are desperately thin in their starting rotation, but that may not be a long-term problem for the franchise. Uber-prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances had fans salivating this month with their huge potential. (The rabies outbreak in the Tampa area may explain this, but still). Banuelos, in particular, looked like a young version of Johan Santana in both style and delivery. They obviously won't break camp with the team, but the future appears bright.

Money quote: “He has as good stuff as I’ve seen. I compare it to [Clayton] Kershaw or even more polished than Kershaw, which is pretty good.” -- Russell Martin on Banuelos


Catching concerns - Remember the heady times of winter when the Yankees appeared to have an embarrassment of riches behind the plate? Well, that was before Francisco Cervelli busted his foot and Jesus Montero and Austine Romine crapped the bed in their audition for the backup job behind Russell Martin. Now it appears Gustavo Molina will break camp as backup. That's right, the league's fourth-best catcher named Molina will be at the Stadium on Thursday. This is like getting Frank Stallone to star in Cobra 2: Crime Remains A Disease And I'm Struggling To Find The Cure.

(Probably uttered) Money quote: "Gustavo freaking Molina? Somebody kill me." -- Jorge Posada


The starting rotation - Brian Cashman properly played the months after the Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte cold shoulders. He knew he was backed into a corner, but he also knew a panic trade would exacerbate an already big problem. So he played a more conservative card; collecting a cast of MLB misfit toys (Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Kevin Millwood) and banked that one of them could be halfway decent. Well, both Garcia and Colon pitched well enough to win a rotation spot (Garcia was given the role with Colon going to the 'pen) and no Yankees pitcher looked better than Ivan Nova this spring. There's room for some cautious optimism here.

Money quote: “I don’t know if he can help us or not, but I’m willing to put a no-risk, possible-reward option that’s been on the table the whole time." -- Cashman on the Millwood signing


The starting rotation - Yeah, I know. Kind of a cop out. Sue me. But as a diehard baseball fan for more than two decades, I know that teams don't win without quality starting pitching. What worries me the most is how easily Joe Girardi appears to have put his faith back in A.J. Burnett. He announced the erratic right-hander as the team's No. 2 starter on Sunday, this despite Burnett coming off the worst statistical season of a starter in franchise history. And don't even get me started on Nova, who I'm supposed to believe is going to step right into the No. 4 job. Isn't this the same guy who feared the fifth inning last year the way Charlie Sheen's publicist fears every ring of his cell phone?

Money quote (via translator): "Hey guys, remember me?" -- Kei Igawa

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

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