Mailbag: Who will make the team?
Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers fans' questions
One by one, players are beginning to filter across the street to the Yankees' Minor League complex on Himes Ave. in Tampa, which can only mean one thing -- Grapefruit League games are being racked up, and the competition is getting fiercer for roster spots.
While you can't put too much stock into wins and losses (and yes, ties) during the exhibition schedule, there's plenty you can learn from reading between the lines. Certain players have taken leaps forward, while others are already showing that Triple-A could be in their future. Let's take another look into what you're thinking and asking:
As Spring Training begins to wind down, what have we learned so far? Who has the upper hand for first base? Where will we see Joba Chamberlain? Will Phil Hughes really dominate the way he has so far and make everyone forget Johan Santana?
-- James V., Middletown, N.Y.
Well, I've learned that in the Florida sunshine, sunscreen is worth its weight in gold.
Seriously, the Yankees have been compiling valuable information all spring long. One key issue they've been able to gather some reads on is Jason Giambi's defense at first base. If he keeps up this pace, I may owe him an apology on March 31, because it didn't look like he could pick it in the field anymore at times last season.
But his defensive work has been impressive, and, after reporting to camp trimmer and without the painful foot injury that has slowed him in the past, he's a bit more nimble than a lot of people gave him credit for. He hasn't hurt the Yankees defensively so far, and is convincing some that they can win games with Giambi at first base.
The answer regarding Chamberlain is that you'll see him definitely in the bullpen at some point, but probably in the rotation, as well. Brian Cashman said that Chamberlain can't pitch six months in the rotation without reaching his pre-set innings limit (believed to be around 140), so they'll have to get creative and ask him to fill more than one role in '08.
As far as Hughes goes, he's looked as good as advertised. Getting down to Tampa early helped to put him a few weeks ahead of the rest of the starters and he once again looks like the top-flight prospect that many predict will be a big winner in the Major Leagues. He's been the most impressive player in camp, and it wouldn't surprise me if Hughes won 15 games this season.
Has there been any Carl Pavano sighting in camp yet? Is he even with the team anymore?
-- Hunt J., Bloomfield, Conn.
I usually try to stay away from talking about Pavano in the Mailbag just because there's nothing new to report, but a lot of fans wrote in this week asking similar questions to this one.
Pavano is in camp with the Yankees because he's on the 40-man roster, but he's not currently pitching. Coming off Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, the best-case scenario for Pavano to pitch competitively would be some time in June or July, and that's if he heals quickly. He's playing catch and working in fielding drills with the other injured pitchers, like Andrew Brackman and Humberto Sanchez.
Will Pavano pitch another big league inning for the Yankees? I tend to think you might see him in September, but who knows? The Yankees have learned by now that nothing is a certainty when it comes to Pavano, who's due to earn $10 million this year. He'll be placed on the 60-day disabled list when the season starts and we can all play the guessing game from there.
I was watching a Spring Training game and noticed Morgan Ensberg wearing No. 21. No one has worn that number since Paul O'Neill. Does this mean it won't be retired?
-- Tom G., Dumont, N.J.
The best answer I've been able to gather is that the Yankees held O'Neill's No. 21 out of circulation for six years as a quiet tribute for his contributions, but, at the present time, there are no plans to officially retire it. At some point, the Yankees were going to have to put No. 21 on someone's back just because there are so few low numbers to go around.
What can you tell me about this Billy Traber character?
-- Sean S., New Britain, Conn.
Traber is an interesting option if the Yankees choose to carry a left-handed reliever. Eight years ago, Traber was a first-round pick of the Mets, but his career has been derailed somewhat by injury. So far, he's looked the best of the Yankees' candidates for that role (Sean Henn, Kei Igawa and Heath Phillips being the others) and has shown an ability to get left-handed hitters out. The Yankees will continue to put all the candidates in situations that challenge them, but, three innings in, Traber is being noticed.
Shelley Duncan is having a great spring. Will his performance force Joe Girardi to give him playing time early and often? His hometown fans want to know!
-- Tony S., Tucson, Ari.
Girardi called Duncan "a ball of energy"; he loves his enthusiasm. Duncan adds a little bit of versatility, since he can also play a corner outfield position if needed. Off the bench, Duncan provides a power threat that Girardi calls valuable, and he's a right-handed bat to help balance out a lefty-laden order. He's been impacting the baseball all spring and that certainly can't hurt his case.
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We hear a ton about "The Big Three," but where do Darrell Rasner and Jeff Karstens fit in this season? Also, do you see Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson both in the Triple-A outfield? Is either ready to contribute yet?
-- Michael M., Mamaroneck, N.Y.
For Karstens and Rasner, their likely roles with the Yankees would be as a long reliever and spot starter, depending on which one makes the team. So far, Karstens has looked better in camp than Rasner.
Gardner will be in the Triple-A outfield if he doesn't make the team out of camp as an extra outfielder, which remains a distinct possibility. His hard-nosed speed game fits right into what Girardi would want off the bench. Jackson is probably the best athlete in the organization but he needs to see Double-A pitching. They'll continue to challenge him, and he could see Triple-A (and possibly a September call-up to New York) by year's end.
After Jorge Posada's great season in 2007, is he still expected to play as much, or will Jose Molina see more time as catcher?
-- Brian V., Richmond, N.H.
Tony Pena was saying recently that the reason Posada stayed fresh so late last year was that, instead of preparing himself to play 150 or even 162 games, Posada put the number 180 in his mind.
It's an interesting thought, and it paid off, because the Yankees didn't seem to want to use Wil Nieves all that much in the first half. Once Molina came on board, Posada got a few more breathers. Then again, if you see Molina catching more than twice a week, something might be wrong.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.