It's close now, real close. In less than a week the 2016 MLB regular season will officially be underway, and in a few hours more than a week the same will be true for the New York Yankees. The roster trimming continues, the speculation about who will and won't nab the last few Opening Day 25-man slots has intensified, and the anticipation of first pitch next Monday is rising. Here are some assorted thoughts on where the Yankees stand a week away from that first first pitch. - At the start of camp, I didn't think there was any way that Gary Sanchez wasn't coming out of ST as the backup catcher. I also didn't think there was any way that Rob Refsnyder would come out of camp with a big league roster spot. Two weeks ago, I completely flip-flopped on both of those thoughts and then Refs took a few ground balls off the dome and everything changed again. The Yankees have made a clear commitment to get younger and build from within over the last few seasons, but it's good to know that they still recognize when guys aren't quite ready and are willing to give them the time they need to be fully prepared to come up to the show and contribute. Sanchez has swung a cold bat all spring and Refsnyder needs more work at third base if he's truly going to be an option there for Joe. There's nothing wrong with letting them work on those things in the lower-pressure environment of Triple-A, especially when there are other options for their positions available.
- We already know who that other option is going to be at backup catcher. Now with Refs getting sent down yesterday, the question becomes who fills in for him as the final utility infielder. It's a 2-man race between Pete Kozma and Ronald Torreyes and I'm hoping with every fiber of my being that it ends up being Torreyes. If ST stats mean anything, he's been the much better hitter this spring (.313/.333/.375 in 32 ABs compared to .167/.231/.250 in 24 ABs for Kozma) and that should give him a leg up. He's also younger, he's been healthier in camp, and he can play the same mix of positions that Kozma can. I've said all along that I don't want Kozma on this team. He's basically a Brendan Ryan clone and I think using a roster spot on a player like that is a waste. Torreyes comes with a little bit of projectability thanks to his young age and his high-contact approach is a great fit for a part-time bench gig. If it comes down to these 2 for the last bench spot, Torreyes is the clear choice in my mind.
- I really like Aaron Hicks. He definitely needs work hitting from the left side of the plate, but he's shown that he can be the lefty crusher that Chris Young was last year and then some. The Yankees brought him in to be more than a standard 4th outfielder. They've said all along that he's going to play a lot and he's shown he's up to the task thus far in ST by leading the team in at-bats. If he carries this over into the regular season and JRM takes the next step in Minnesota, that trade could end up being one that works out well for both teams.
- Question, why isn't Bryan Mitchell being considered for the 5th starter spot? If the Yankee brass is going to play the old "the spot will go to the best man for the job" card, how can they not include Mitchell in that competition? He's been one of the best pitchers in camp all spring, demonstrably better than both Sabathia and Nova. He at least deserves a mention in the competition, no? Yes he's easily the best fit for a bullpen role out of the 3 and I think he's going to settle nicely into the vacated Adam Warren role, but even then he won't truly be replacing Warren. Whoever doesn't get the 5th starter job between CC and Nova will likely be penciled in as the 6th starter ahead of Mitchell. Warren held that role and a primary righty relief role last season, and if jobs are being assigned based on merit and performance it only seems right to me that Mitchell get the full Warren treatment. If Nova can't get outs and keep runs off the board consistently, let him pitch the mop-up innings.
- Am I a dope for completely missing how bad Mark Teixeira has been? I understand it given how much normal offseason time he missed, but 5-39 is especially brutal and it seems like he's hitting a lot of ground balls. It doesn't matter until it carries over into the regular season, and I'm willing to believe Teix is just using ST to get his timing back at the plate after the injury, but there's naturally going to be a little more worry when you're talking about an older player coming back from injury. Teix was legit MVP-caliber before he got hurt last year. Him falling way off this season would hurt the team even more than A-Rod or Beltran falling off.
- The rotation order is Luis Cessa today, CC tomorrow, and Masahiro Tanaka on Wednesday. That would line him up to pitch Opening Day on regular rest, and given the comments I read from Larry Rothschild after his last outing I think that could be for the best. The numbers show that Tanaka has been a better pitcher on regular rest or even short rest before, and if he's trying to be too fine with his mechanics it may be better to get him back out there quicker. If Roth thinks he needs to stop thinking so much and just pitch, well then get him out there so he can just pitch. Let him work out the kinks and get back to SOP and worry about extra rest later.
- Here's a bold prediction to chew on. Starlin Castro is going to be the starting second baseman for the American League in the All-Star Game this year.