The uniform numbers that players are assigned in Spring Training usually tell you about the chance that a player has to make the big league team. (The lower the number means the better their chances.) Let’s look at who is wearing what number down in Tampa (for the Yankees) at this moment.
Click on the following thumbnail to enlarge the view:
Those guys to the right (above) with uni-numbers greater than 56, well, they’re probably not making the Yankees opening day roster – barring something unexpected happening over the next 4 weeks.
Let’s look at the group of players towards the far left of the chart.
The players in blue are the everyday starters and the players in orange are the pitchers who should make the team without question. The players in yellow are the expected bench players. In total, the blue/orange/yellow group count out to 22 players.
The players on the far left in rose-shading are three pitchers fighting for the last two spots on the pitching staff.
Why can’t all three rose-pitchers make the team since there are only 22 of the 25 spots taken by blue/orange/yellow guys? The answer is simple – because one of those players in the small box above (with players in green and yellow) should make the team as well (and because there’s little reason to expect the Yankees to carry 13 pitchers to start the season).
So, getting away from colors, it boils down to this:
Bruney, Britton and Villone are battling to see which of the three does not make the team that comes North. Phillips and Phelps are fighting it out to see who will be the back-up 1B on the roster. And, I suppose that you could say that Pratt and Nieves have a contest, to some extent, to see who will be the back-up catcher.
I have a feeling, knowing Torre, that Villone is going to make the team. Therefore, this assumption allows us to bring it to this level – the roster battles in camp this year are:
Bruney vs. Britton
Phillips vs. Phelps
Pratt vs. Nieves
Unless Pratt falls completely on his face, that last match-up is almost no contest – expect Pratt to be the back-up catcher.
Given Bruney’s injury concerns in the past and this spring, plus his control issues (at times), I think the last pitching spot is Britton’s to lose.
What about Phillips vs. Phelps? This is a tough one. The Yankees will lose whichever one does not make it – because Phillips is out of options and Phelps would have to be offered back to the O’s.
Phelps probably offers you more stick than Phillips. However, Phillips offers you more options with the glove because he can play 2B and 3B in emergency situations as well. Unless Phelps rips the cover off the ball this spring, I can see Phillips winning this one – because of Torre “knowing the player” (like in the case of Villone) and because versatility is probably more handy than a bat from the last man on the bench. Think about it – when two outfielders go down in a game for the Yankees, now, Miggy Cairo is your second back-up OF. Therefore you need another guy on the bench who can cover you – like Phillips – at some of the non-1B infield positions (just in case).
As a result, this is what I predict the Yankees Opening Day roster will look like:
Is this squad much better than last year?
The starting pitching should be a little better. And, the overall team defense should be a little better as well. But, it’s not as if the 2007 Yankees are a whole lot different than the 2006 Yankees, are they?