DJ finds hitting groove but Yankees’ infielder problem persists

Manager Aaron Boone of the Yankees at Tampa in March 2024.
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Michael Bennington
Saturday March 9, 2024

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DJ LeMahieu shook off a sluggish start to spring training with an impressive performance for the Yankees against the Toronto Blue Jays. After going just 1-for-12 in his initial at-bats, LeMahieu looked like his usual self on both sides of the ball. However, notwithstanding his efforts to come back, the Yankees infield looks in shambles.

Facing starting pitcher Chris Bassitt in his first two plate appearances, the veteran Yankees infielder ripped a single and a run-scoring double – both sharply hit to the opposite field. This display of power and opposite-field hitting is a hallmark of LeMahieu’s approach. He wasn’t done there, though, as he further impressed with a smooth barehanded play at third base, showcasing his defensive versatility.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone expressed his satisfaction with LeMahieu’s well-rounded performance. Boone noted that LeMahieu looked sharp throughout the game, generating high-quality at-bats and reminding everyone of the impact he brings to the lineup.

Yankees infield clouded with issues

Spring training stats can often be misleading, but a look at the Yankees’ depth infielders paints a picture of a group yet to find their rhythm.

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Charles Wenzelberg/NYP

With Opening Day just three weeks away, the competition for the Yankees’ backup infield spot has become wide open due to a recent injury and lackluster performances from other contenders.

Oswald Peraza, a former top prospect, has suffered a setback with his shoulder injury. The recurring discomfort, which previously sidelined him for a week during Grapefruit League games, has resurfaced. Peraza underwent imaging tests on Thursday, and the results will determine the severity of the issue and a potential timeline for his return.

Regardless of the test results, Peraza’s chances of starting the season on the Yankees’ active roster seem slim. Even if he recovers quickly, the team might opt to send him down to Triple-A for further development.

This development creates a significant opportunity for another player to claim the coveted backup infielder role. With the other reserve infielders failing to make a substantial impact so far in spring training, the competition for this crucial roster spot has intensified in the final stretch before the regular season begins.

Oswaldo Cabrera, a player vying for a roster spot, has only managed one hit in 21 at-bats with five strikeouts. Non-roster invitees Josh VanMeter and Jose Rojas haven’t fared much better. VanMeter remains hitless in 14 at-bats with six strikeouts, while Rojas has just three hits in 17 at-bats, including a solo home run. Adding to the team’s concerns, former top prospect Oswald Peraza, also in the mix for a backup infield role, has yet to record a hit in seven at-bats.

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Jeter Downs, another contender for the spot, offered a glimpse of promise with three hits in 13 at-bats before being reassigned to the minor leagues earlier this week.

A lone bright spot has emerged in the form of Jahmai Jones, recently claimed off waivers by the Yankees. He’s shown some pop at the plate, going 3-for-6 with a double in his limited opportunities. However, Jones primarily plays second base, lacking the versatility to fill multiple infield positions unlike the other contenders vying for a roster spot.

Yankees’ backup infield battle heats up as stars struggle

With Opening Day approaching, the competition for the backup infield role is intensifying. The underwhelming performances from most of the candidates leave the door open for someone to step up and claim the coveted spot in the final weeks of spring training.

While Jorbit Vivas is an intriguing prospect for the Yankees, the team anticipates him starting the season at Triple-A as their starting second baseman. This indicates he’s not quite major league-ready yet.

Manager Aaron Boone stressed that spring training performance is just one piece of the puzzle when determining roster spots. The Yankees also consider the quality of at-bats, defensive abilities, work ethic, and other factors that might not show up on a stat sheet.

Jorbit Vivas celebrates after hitting a homer during Yankees 22-10 win over the Tigers at Tampa spring training facility.
NYYPlayerDev

The Yankees’ quest to fill their backup infield vacancy has taken them down several paths. According to the New York Post, the team expressed interest in former Mets shortstop Amed Rosario, who ultimately signed with the Tampa Bay Rays. They also reportedly held discussions with Kiké Hernández, who ultimately opted to re-sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

With their preferred options off the board, the Yankees are left scouring a thinner pool of free agents. One possibility is Donovan Solano, a veteran infielder still looking for a landing spot.

For Tyler Wade to solidify his claim on the backup infield role, showcasing competence at shortstop is critical. Currently, with Peraza sidelined by injury, Wade and Oswaldo Cabrera are the only viable options on the bench who can play the position. However, the Yankees might prefer Cabrera to gain further seasoning and refine his hitting skills in Triple-A. This scenario could leave the door open for Wade to begin the season as the primary backup for starting shortstop Anthony Volpe.

Smith explained that he takes pride in his defensive capabilities and enjoys contributing positively across various positions. He expressed satisfaction in preventing runs and assisting pitchers.

Boone is aware of Smith’s potential to make an impact with his hitting despite his career batting average of .173 in the major leagues.

Boone noted that Smith has experienced some success with his hitting and possesses power from the right side. He added that Smith is perhaps the most versatile among the group, given his ability to play shortstop.

The upcoming fortnight holds the key. Barring any new acquisitions or deals, any of those infielders could secure a spot on the Opening Day roster if they excel and make an impression in the remaining time.

That’s Smith’s approach. Focus on making plays, dedicate yourself to the grind, and allow the outcomes to unfold naturally.

He stated that his goal was to demonstrate his best performance on the field, showing the coaching staff and organization that he could contribute in the specific ways they were seeking, regardless of the position or opportunity presented.

What do you think? leave your comment below.

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