Friday, March 22, 2019

Predicting the Opening Day Roster

Every year I get excited about the start of Spring Training, as it marks the beginning of baseball for the year. Sure, at times the offseason can be exciting to think and talk about, but for the most part it's boring and I can't wait for it to be over with.

Also, every year, the excitement for Spring Training quickly wears off and I'm left counting down the days to the real start of the baseball season... Opening Day. No longer am I going to watch a Yankees' game only to ask myself "who is that guy?" when a player enters a game.

Don't get me wrong, it's fun to see the prospects play, but I'd much rather watch guys like Aaron Judge and Miguel Andujar play in a real game rather than Francisco Diaz or Trey Amburgey in a glorified scrimmage.

Thankfully we're just a week away from Opening Day. Sadly, due to the Yankees seemingly suffering an injury every day, the Opening Day roster is not going to look like I'd originally hoped. But that hasn't stopped me from thinking about what it will look like, and to be honest it'll be much more interesting to see how things shake out now.

Speaking of injuries, I wanted to start by pointing out the players that would have been on the Opening Day roster if it wasn't for being injured...

Aaron Hicks - OF
Didi Gregorius - SS
Luis Severino - SP
CC Sabathia - SP (although he may be healthy, he'll at least miss time due to suspsension)
Jordan Montgomery - SP (J.A. Happ may not even be on the team if not for Jordan's Tommy John surgery)
Dellin Betances - RP

While I wasn't counting on Jacoby Ellsbury to be on the Opening Day roster like those previous six players above, due to Aaron Hicks being out he could have been included.

I'm going to begin my predictions for the roster with the starting rotation. We all know the first three starters (Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ), but I believe that Luis Cessa and Domingo German will get at least a start or two in the early going.

Cessa has thrown the most innings (17) and has been very impressive (0.53 ERA), while German has thrown 11.1 innings with only a 1.54 ERA. Neither man has a ton of fans, but I think they've both earned rotation spots.

I've heard good things about how Gio Gonzalez has looked so far, and while I don't expect him to be on the Opening Day roster, he'll be right there should one of Cessa or German look bad or suffer an injury.

Four of the eight bullpen spots are no-brainers. Aroldis Chapman will be the closer, with Zack Britton setting him up. Chad Green and Adam Ottavino will also be available for any important innings between the time the starter is taken out and Aaron Boone can hand the ball to Britton.

Jonathan Holder may not have been a "lock" to be in the bullpen, but he's certainly earned a spot there after looking good last season along with 10.1 innings during Spring Training with a 0.87 ERA. Tommy Kahnle has looked pretty good in Spring Training as well, throwing 7.1 innings with nine strikeouts and no walks, and since I think the Yankees want to see if he can be effective again now's as good a time as any to see.

The final two bullpen spots were a little harder to predict. Under the new rule limiting September call-ups Stephen Tarpley may not have even been on the Yankees' radar, but not only did he do well upon being called up last year he's also had a nice spring having not given up a run in 10.1 innings. Besides Britton and Chapman, who are set in their roles, the team could also use a left-handed reliever for the middle innings. The last spot is hardly a no-brainer, but Joe Harvey's ten strikeouts in 6.1 innings along with having a nice year between AA and AAA in 2018 makes me lean his way.

Moving onto the run production side of the team I'm going to start with the bench.

Austin Romine is one of the better backup catchers in the entire league. That's not to say I'd be okay if he were the team's regular starter, but he's a very capable backup.

If it weren't for Jacoby Ellsbury not being ready by Opening Day he'd likely take this spot on the bench, but instead that will go to Tyler Wade. Wade is very versatile, and like Kahnle the Yankees likely feel it's now or never for Tyler. If it wasn't for Wade's ability to play the outfield, though, I'd probably be talking about someone else.

The last spot is tough only because I'd rather see him starting at second base instead, but unfortunately the Yankees seem set on giving Troy Tulowitski the starting role at shortstop. Therefore, D.J. LeMahieu will be watching the game from the bench on Opening Day.

Finally we come to the starters. Due to the thing about Tulowitski that I already mentioned, and the rash of injuries the team has suffered this spring, there really aren't any surprises here.

The outfield will consist of Aaron Judge in right, Brett Gardner in center, and Giancarlo Stanton in left. While it's not a surprise to see Stanton in the outfield instead of DH, I can't help but feel the offense is better off this way as it opens up the DH spot for someone else. Plus it would be that "someone else" over Tyler Wade as a starter, which is clearly the right choice.

Miguel Andujar will be at third base, the aforementioned Troy Tulowitski at shortstop, Gleyber Torres at second, and due to him being the better defender Greg Bird will be at first. Gary Sanchez will take his rightful place behind the plate.

The designated hitter will be Luke Voit. Luke killed it when he came over from St. Louis last year, and this spring he's been hitting very well too. No matter the injury situation the Yankees were in, it would be very hard to keep Voit out of the Opening Day lineup.

There was just one other player I wanted to bring up before ending things, and that's Clint Frazier. Even before the offseason began I expected Clint to begin this season in AAA to make sure his head is clear and to get back to game speed, so I'm hardly surprised here. It's true I was rooting for him in Spring Training to come out guns blazing, but it just hasn't happened. So let the guy get going in AAA and push his way back to MLB.

When I read people predict the Red Sox to win the American League East again, at first, I get upset. I mean, no real Yankees fan ever wants to see anything good happen to Boston. But one thing I like about it is less expectations, and therefore less pressure, on the Yankees. Kind of like how things were in 2017. Sure, there's more to expect from this team, but at least it's not like last year when they were coming off a season in which they were one win away from the World Series.

One thing's for sure, this squad will give us plenty to talk about during the season. And I fully expect to have a lot of fun.

I'll leave you with a simple list of the Yankees' Opening Day roster...

C-Gary Sanchez
1B-Greg Bird
2B-Gleyber Torres
SS-Troy Tulowitzki
3B-Miguel Andujar
LF-Giancarlo Stanton
CF-Brett Gardner
RF-Aaron Judge
DH-Luke Voit

D.J. LeMahieu
Tyler Wade
Austin Romine

Starting Rotation:
Masahiro Tanaka
James Paxton
J.A. Happ
Luis Cessa
Domingo German

Aroldis Chapman
Zack Britton
Chad Green
Adam Ottavino
Jonathan Holder
Tommy Kahnle
Stephen Tarpley
Joe Harvey