Spring Training baseball is filled with surprising developments and Yankees camp has been no different. Yet, we all know that some of what happens in is quickly dispelled as it progresses, or dissipates as teams head north to begin the regular season. With the Yankees off to a 9-3 start, which performances can the team confidently embrace?
One of the Yankees' biggest questions heading into spring training centered on Aaron Judge's ability to make the necessary adjustments to his swing and approach at the plate as he competes for the starting right field job. The common belief was if Judge, who turns 25 years old in April, failed to display significant improvement at the plate, he would find himself in Triple-A at the start of the season.
Judge's efforts this offseason to make adjustments to his swing have seemingly paid off. He added a pronounced leg kick as a timing mechanism, and his patience at the plate has been evident as well. In 21 plate appearances, Judge has struck out just three times and drawn three walks, going 7-for-18 with a mammoth home run. The plate discipline is a vast improvement over Judge's call-up stint last summer, in which he struck out 42 times in 95 plate appearances.
The sample size is small, but the visual difference from Judge at the plate is not. He has shown the ability to lay off pitches out of the strike zone and he has also demonstrated he can hit to the opposite field if the ball is not in his power zone.
One particular time at the plate this spring stood out and it was not the home run that hit the top of the Yankees' scoreboard. Sunday, Judge put together a 10-pitch walk in which he didn't bite on pitches he would have flailed at last season. The power is nothing new, but the maturity at the plate in that moment was.
Judge's mechanics might always be an issue because of his immense size, but if he's able to maintain a better eye at the plate, he'll endure shorter skids. Furthermore, better pitch selection will allow Judge to be able to work counts into his favor and facilitate the ability to display his power stroke. If the approach remains, the Yankees can begin to buy into Judge's transformation based on his propensity to work on rough starts upon promotions, and then succeed at the second time at a particular level of professional ball.
After Judge, the Yankees must be thrilled with what they have seen from first baseman Greg Bird. The left-handed swinging 24-year-old came to camp with plenty of questions after missing all of the 2016 regular season due to surgery to repair a labrum tear in his right shoulder.
Bird was rusty in his Arizona Fall League appearance and likely still gaining some strength back in his shoulder. However, he arrived in Tampa suggesting he felt strong and his performance thus far demonstrates he knows his body.
Bird is hitting .375 with three home runs and two doubles in 19 plate appearances this spring. He has shown opposite field power and many of his outs have also been drilled.
My feeling about Bird prior to Spring Training was that we might need to wait until deep into the regular season before seeing the power he displayed in 2015 (nine doubles, 11 home runs in 178 plate appearances). However, Bird's strength has been indisputable and seeing it in March provides the Yankees with a good deal of comfort at first base.
On the mound, the top storyline for the Yankees is the five-man competition for the final two rotation spots. To date, the results have been varied.
After the entire group went through the first cycle without allowing a run in their respective starts, each pitcher has since been reached for runs. While Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Luis Severino, and Adam Warren have had slight hiccups, Byran Mitchell was completely ineffective in Monday's start, in which he allowed four runs on six hits in 2 1/3 innings. Warren has produced the best complete effort among the five competitors, but the reality is he might be best served in the Yankees bullpen.
Even with Mitchell's poor performance, the Yankees should be satisfied with the efforts thus far from the rotation hopefuls. Each pitcher, including Mitchell before Monday's effort, has shown signs of being strong. And those working on ancillary pitches have seen positive results.
When decision time arrives, the Yankees would be pleased to have two pitchers pull away from the rest. However, if the entire contingent or even 80 percent of it continues to pitch well, the team can buy into the depth they provide the club this season as each of the hurlers has experienced big league success.
Four weeks remain in Spring Training, so some or all of this could change for the Yankees. However, based on more than just the small sample sizes, they could reap dividends from some early spring developments.