It's mid-February, and you know what that means? Yes, technically Valentine's Day, but much more importantly, it's time for Spring Training and the return of the greatest sport in the world, baseball.
At this point, most people think the Yankees have had a rather dull winter, as the team has done little besides trading for Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks, and Aroldis Chapman. Granted, those three trades were relatively major trades and added major pieces to the roster, but besides that, the Yankees have been completely absent from the headlines. Even so, the spring is never without intrigue, and you can never anticipate what crazy stories that will define the 2016 season.
That said, it's still a lot of fun to try, so without further ado, here's my bold predictions for Spring Training, 2016 Edition:
1. The Yankees OF will not enter the season unscathed, with one member starting on the DL. OK, so you might be saying, I thought you said these predictions were "bold," and this is pretty much as guaranteed as anything. Carlos Beltran is going to be 39 by the end of the season and has two bad knees, and both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have been plagued by injuries throughout their careers. So at some point, this is going to happen, almost certainly. But I still have to put it here, because for number 2...
2. Robert Refsnyder will be this year's Yangervis Solarte. Everybody loves the story of Yangervis Solarte in 2014, the minor league free agent who hit so well throughout spring training that he forced his way onto the Opening Day roster, into regular playing time, and then finally into becoming a major piece in a trade for Chase Headley; he is currently a fairly regular and productive player for the San Diego Padres. In limited action last season, he put together a .302/.348/.512 line with 13 hits, including 2 HR, and although his defense was unspectacular, he demonstrated enough potential with his bat to show why he has managed to stick around despite his defensive woes. Look at him to put it all together this spring and force the Yankees to find a spot to get his bat in the lineup, even if that means putting him back in RF from time to time.
3. Chase Headley's bat will disappear. When the Yankees traded for (and then subsequently re-signed) Chase Headley in 2014, they expected to get one of the league's best defenders at the hot corner with a good enough bat to hit .260 with 20 HR. What they got in 2015 was a mildly-productive (albeit unspectacular) bat (.693 OPS) with defense that gave you heart attacks on a regular basis - although he made all the spectacular plays, throwing the ball to first base became a major challenge for Headley. He had a career-high 23 errors, with many more saved by first baseman Mark Teixeira. I predict Headley will be so focused on preventing this from happening again that it will be mid-June before his bat finally starts to come around.
4. Jorge Mateo will be the team's most consistent hitter. Yankees SS prospect Jorge Mateo has quickly risen to the top of prospect rankings within the Yankees organization, joining Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Greg Bird as "the untouchables" when it comes to trade talks, and it's easy to see why. At just 20 years old, Mateo's game has always been built around his elite speed (he had 82 SB between A and High-A last season), but he really began to put it together at the plate last season, posting a .737 OPS; in fact, his hitting even improved when he made the jump to High-A Tampa late in the season. Expect him to start there, although with a strong spring, he might find himself in Double-A Trenton before long.
5. The #5 spot in the rotation isn't decided until the final week. In truth, there are only two true positions up for grabs on the Yankees roster (pending injuries, of course) - the #5 starter and the final spot in the bullpen. Of these, the latter is likely to be utilized by the revolving door of AAA relievers we saw last year, affectionately known as the "Scranton shuttle;" although it takes some roster-building gymnastics, it makes use of having a glut of young relievers with options remaining to effectively use a roster larger than 25 men. The other one, however, comes down to who will be the Yankees' #5 starter, beleaguered vet CC Sabathia or Ivan Nova, with the loser of the competition becoming the swingman/mid-reliever hybrid - the role that Adam Warren has served the last couple of seasons. And, given CC Sabathia's strong finish on the field last season and with Ivan Nova now in his second season returning from Tommy John surgery, this is bound to be one intense competition.
And so these are my five predictions for Spring Training. Tell us yours in the comments below!