We're over two weeks into Spring Training now, and over a week into the game schedule. Pitchers still aren't stretched out long enough to throw a full outing, and position players are still only playing half a game at most, but there's been just enough baseball activity to start noticing some trends in players' performance. While the majority of the media focus so far has been on the trends of the rotation candidates, and with good reason since that part of the team still has the most unanswered questions right now, there have been other players putting up headline-worthy performances. Of course this comes with the obligatory small sample size warning, but quite frankly, I'm bored to tears reading and hearing about the $189 million budget and I want to talk about some damn baseball. Even in small sample sizes, the following guys are looking good early on this spring.
Alex Rodriguez- Another year, another offseason training program for The Horse prior to 2012 camp, this time incorporating some plasma treatment therapy, and early returns are positive. A-Rod is 5-13 so far, with 4 XBH, 4 RBI, 2 BB, and a very impressive opposite-field home run off of Roy Halladay in his first real at-bat of the spring. He's also feeling really good physically, as evidenced by him hustling around the bases on one of his doubles and reportedly getting in some extra fielding work after at least one of his games. It's still very early, and we won't know how well he'll hold up until the regular season grind kicks in, but seeing A-Rod go this hard and test himself in Spring Training, and come out of it with no issues, is an encouraging sign.
Curtis Granderson- C-Grand might not be off to the fastest start at the plate this spring, with 4 hits in his first 16 at-bats after last night's game. But of those 4 hits, 3 of them have been for extra bases, including a home run off of a lefty pitcher. From a power standpoint, Curtis is picking up right where he left off in 2011 and he's doing it while reportedly still not being totally happy with where his swing is, which shows just how comfortable and in tune Curtis has gotten with his rebuilt swing mechanics. It could be bad news for the rest of the AL when he finally does get his swing where he wants it to be, and could stem some of the regression talk surrounding Granderson this spring.
Clay Rapada- His career numbers didn't scream "legit bullpen option" coming into camp, especially with proven guys like Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima also on the invite list, but with Okajima failing his Yankee physical and Delcarmen out with a lat strain, Rapada has made the most of his opportunity to impress the coaches. He's the current strikeout leader amongst all pitchers in camp with 6 (4 vs. lefties), and he has only allowed 2 total baserunners (1 H, 1 BB) in his 3.1 IP over 3 appearances, looking equally solid against lefties and righties. A second LOOGY probably isn't a high priority for the Yankees when filling out their bullpen, but Rapada's performance so far has been just as good, if not better, than every other candidate fighting for that last spot.
Zoilo Almonte- He put himself on a lot of people's radars with his .298/.373/.522 performance at High-A Tampa last season, and Zoilo has kept the momentum going this spring and made the Yankees look very smart for adding him to the 40-man. He's 4-9 with 3 RBI in games against Major League teams, 6-11 with 7 RBI if you count his big day against South Florida in the ST opener. He's impressed Joe at the plate, in the field, and running the bases, and has done a lot to strengthen his position as the best internal candidate to replace one of the current outfielders should the Yankees choose not to bring them back.
Brett Marshall- Marshall had no chance of making the team coming into camp, but he's likely opened some eyes with what he's done so far this spring, and possibly got himself on the fast track for a promotion if he continues to pitch like this in Double-A. Marshall has thrown 3.2 innings in his 2 appearances, and has yet to allow a hit in either of them (he also threw a 1-2-3 inning against USF). He has walked 3 batters, but has also struck out 4 and flashed the type of high-ceiling stuff that's been his prospect calling card all along. Yes, his outings haven't been against full Major League or even Triple-A-level competition, but Marshall has still handled himself better on the hill than many of the other young pitchers the Yankees have in camp.
Other guys having good starts to their spring:
Manny Banuelos- 0 R allowed in 4 IP over 2 appearances. Dazzled everybody with his fastball and curveball command in his most recent outing last Friday, striking out 3 in the process.
Boone Logan- Practically matching Rapada K-for-K so far. 0 R and 0 BB through his first 3 appearances with 5 K are all encouraging signs after an inconsistent 2011.
Justin Maxwell- 4-13 with 2 2B, 3 R scored, 2 BB, and 1 SB so far. He's also flashing the speed and athleticism in the field that inspired the Yankees to trade for him in the first place.