We’ve finally reached that time of year: New York Yankees Opening Day is just three days away. But before the club takes on the Tampa Bay Rays to kick off the season, the Yankees have to sort out the final roster. Obviously, the Opening Day roster is subject to change and will never be the same roster any team ends with, but the Opening Day roster can say a lot about a team’s goals for the upcoming season.
Here’s Overtime’s breakdown of the Yankees’ Opening Day roster.
Catcher (2): Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine
There’s nothing unexpected here, especially with the Yankees officially sending Kyle Higashioka back to AAA. Sanchez has picked up right where he left off as a rookie this Spring, hitting .348 with 4 homers and throwing out 60% of potential base stealers. Romine will reprise his role as the steady backup.
Infield (6): Greg Bird, Starlin Castro, Ronald Torreyes, Chase Headley, Chris Carter, Pete Kozma
The Yankees have settled on Ronald Torreyes as the fill-in at shortstop for the injured Didi Gregorius. While Torreyes isn’t a threat with the bat, he is a good defender and won’t get many critical at-bats as the ninth hitter. Bird officially won the starting first baseman’s job earlier this week and promptly clubbed three more home runs, bringing his total to an MLB-best 7. Bird has strived to improve his performance against lefties, but Chris Carter will likely handle some of the tough southpaws in the AL East at first.
Castro and Headley are running through the motions as unquestioned starters, but the final bench spot has been a competition all Spring long. Tyler Wade forced the Yankees’ hand, outlasting veterans like Donovan Solano and Ruben Tejada, but the Yankees confirmed he will begin the season in AAA, a level he has never played at before. Wade will receive some valuable reps as he hopes to climb up the depth chart.
That left Pete Kozma and Rob Refsnyder. Neither had impressive Springs, but Kozma’s ability to play shortstop (and at a high level) gave him a huge edge over Refsnyder, who was demoted to AAA today. Refsnyder is the more appealing option to fans, but the Yankees really seem to prefer Kozma’s experience and defensive prowess over Refsnyder’s inconsistent nature. He won’t hit much of anything, but Kozma can help out defensively while Gregorius gets healthy.
Outfield (4): Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks
Today, Joe Girardi confirmed that Aaron Judge will be the Yankees’ Opening Day right fielder, ending the battle between Judge and Hicks for the starting right field position. Hicks had a nice Spring, but there was just no way the Yankees could justify benching Judge. He got the most at-bats of any Yankee in Spring Training, and boy did he deliver: he batted .345, clubbed 3 home runs, cut down on his strikeouts, flashed his powerful arm, and got on base over 40% of the time. Hicks will still have a role with the Yankees as an extremely active fourth outfielder, and the Yankees hope to see continued improvement from the 27-year-old this season.
As for left and center field, we knew that Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury would be the starters, but we did not know where they would slot in the lineup. However, Girardi seemed to confirm that he is splitting up his speedy lefty outfielders from their familiar spots atop the lineup. Girardi is touting a lineup with Gardner leading off and Ellsbury batting fifth, a spot he has never started at.
Fifth could have a potential spot for Didi Gregorius, who is injured. In his place, Girardi chose to put Ellsbury there, which seems curious at first but may actually make some sense. Ellsbury hit .298 with an .814 OPS with runners in scoring position last year, numbers significantly higher than his stats batting first or second. It seems odd at first, but batting Ellsbury fifth may actually be a wise move as the Yankees try to get him back on track.
Designated Hitter (1): Matt Holliday
There was no real competition here for Holliday, who will open the season as the cleanup batter and designated hitter. His excellent Spring (.313 avg, 4 homers, 11 RBI) has quelled any doubts that he is washed-up, and Holliday looks ready to play a large role in the Yankee lineup this year. Chris Carter, the reigning NL home run king, can provide support in this role as well.
Rotation (4): Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino
Yes, the Yankees are really going to open the season with just four starters. But there is a method to this madness! The Yankees will have the ability to skip the fifth starter’s slot for the first two turns of the rotation, allowing them more time to evaluate who deserves to be the fifth starter.
Tanaka allowed just one run in 23.2 innings this Spring, affirming his status as the club’s ace. He will start on Opening Day, against Chris Archer. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will follow him in the rotation as they both enter contract seasons. The Yankees will need them to provide 30 starts and mentor the young pitchers as the veterans on staff. Luis Severino will return to the rotation as the fourth starter following a successful run as a reliever last season.
As for the to-be-determined fifth starter, Jordan Montgomery, Bryan Mitchell, and Chad Green are the favorites for the gig. Montgomery has dominated in Spring Training, and has the inside track on the job in my opinion. Mitchell and Green will see their share of action over the course of the season as well.
Bullpen (8): Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, Adam Warren, Tommy Layne, Bryan Mitchell, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve
With New York electing to carry only four starters to begin the season, the Yankees had an extra bullpen spot to play with. We knew that Chapman, Betances, Clippard, and Warren would handle the set-up innings with Layne functioning as a lefty specialist, but the final spots were up for grabs. Mitchell’s stuff translates to the bullpen well, Holder has impressed in Spring, and Shreve provides Girardi with another lefty that he knows well. Other bullpenners to keep note of during the season include Ben Heller, Luis Cessa (who could also start), J.R. Graham, and J.P. Feyereisen.
The Yankees will start the season with an extremely young and exciting roster. For the first time in a long time, Joe Girardi has lots of new toys to play with, and he couldn’t be more excited to craft the perfect lineup out of his group of young guns. We know that Girardi can manage, but now it’s up to the players to show that they are ready to take that next step forward in their development.