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Saturday, February 12, 2011

A look at the Yankees by position: Infield

As we near Spring Training I will be starting a five part series that breaks down the Yankees by each position and I will ask key questions about each player at that respective position. I will even talk about non-roster invitees that don’t have much of a shot to make the bigs. In this edition I will break down every Yankees infielder, excluding catchers, from superstars like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, to non-roster guys like Eric Chavez and Ronnie Belliard.

1B. Mark Teixeira: Big Tex had a down year last year batting just .256, struck out 122 times and brought in only 108 RBIs. He also sustained a hamstring injury in the ALCS to close out his 2010 campaign. Teixeira will need to have a bounce back year if the Yankees want to make the playoffs. The key question for Teixeira is can he get off to a better start so he doesn't have to dig out of a deep hole once May and June come around?

2B. Robinson Cano: Cano had a great season last year batting .319 while hitting a career high 29 HRs, and driving a career high 109 RBIs in his first year in the number five spot in the order. Cano also committed just three errors on defense, because of this Cano earned his second All-Star appearance while collecting a Gold Glove and his second Silver Slugger. He could have easily won the AL MVP, but he ended up finishing third in the voting. Cano was also great last year in the postseason; he batted .343, hit four homeruns while having an OPS of 1.132. The key question for Cano is can he keep up his MVP type caliber status? With players like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada all past their respective peak years Cano will have to be a consistent force in the lineup to keep the Yankees as an offensive power.

SS. Derek Jeter: Like Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter had a down year. The Yankee captain hit a career low .270 and hit just 10 HRs and did not produce clutch hits, especially with the bases loaded. With 20 at bats and with the bases loaded Jeter had only one, count 'em, one hit. He does have six RBIS in those situations with two of them coming on a walk, but the killer is Jeter struck out seven of the 20 times in these situations. That will have to improve. Another thing Jeter will have to improve on is his defense. Yes, Jeter won a Gold Glove while just making a small handful of errors, but his range has dropped dramatically. Not to mention he had all the drama in this off season with trying to work out a deal to stay a Yankee. He eventually signed a three year pact with a possibility for a fourth. The key question for Jeter is can he rebound? That may sound like a dumb and simple question, but it is true. He'll eventually turn 36 by the middle of the season, and the myth in baseball is once you turn 35 years old your career goes downhill quickly. That myth is looking more like a fact and Jeter could fall into that trap if he doesn't have a bounce back year.

3B. Alex Rodriguez: A-Rod, like Jeter, batted .270 on the season. But unlike the Yankee captain, Rodriguez missed nearly 30 games with an injury, yet he had 30 HRs and 125 RBIs, the most since his 2007 MVP season where he had a ridiculous 156 RBI’s that year. But in the 2010 campaign his average wasn't that high, thus he didn't get many hits. Yet when he did get those hits he made the most of them which is an important thing he'll have to continue. Let’s not kid ourselves Alex Rodriguez is going to be closer to the 2009 and 2010 Alex and not the 2005 and 2007 Alex where he won those MVP awards with the Yankees. The key question for A-Rod is how will he adjust? How will he adjust to getting older? He's now approaching 35 years of age. Like I said with Jeter, it’s the myth in baseball that players, especially elite players, fall down hard once they reach 35. Alex Rodriguez isn't the 45 homerun, 140 RBI guy with a .320 average anymore, instead he’s closer to a .275-.290 guy with 30, maybe 35 homeruns max, to go along with 125 RBI, tops. He has also struggled with injury problems over the years missing about two months’ worth of games those past two years. Is he pushing himself too much? We all know Alex is a very hard worker, probably the hardest working guy on the team. Will he have to tone it down a bit? It should be an interesting watch, and like always the spotlight will be on him.

Infield. Eduardo Nunuez: You can say what you want about Nunez having a very good glove, and about him having a pretty good bat, but what you can't say about Eduardo Nunez is that he'll have a spot in the lineup sooner rather than later. You're dead wrong if you even fathom that. Now this isn't a bash Eduardo Nunez post here. All I’m saying is there isn't a spot for him really if you think about it. Nunez was a starting infielder in the minor leagues. He has a tremendous glove and a very good bat. He should be a good young starting shortstop for a building team, but not for the Yankees. In Eduardo's limited time with the Yankees he had a solid .280 average in 30 games with 50 at bats where he belted one homerun and drove in seven. He also stole five bases in limited time, which is very good. On the defensive side he committed one error in 83 chances as a third baseman, and at short he didn’t commit an error in 39.1 innings of work. The question for Nunez is if he makes the big league roster can he handle being a backup? It’s very difficult to be a starter in the minor leagues but then once you hit the bigs you find yourself on the bench.

Infield. Ramiro Pena: Although he’s had a relatively short career it seems as though Pena has been around for a while. Pena is a lot like his team, a member of the 2009 World Series Champion Yankee team, batted .287 with 115 at bats. On defense he committed five errors at mostly shortstop and third base in over 200 innings of work. In 2010 he fell off when he batted .227 with 154 at bats. The question for Pena is the same, how will he do coming off the bench? He may be used to it more than Nunez because this will be his third season at it, if he makes the club. His bat is a glaring weakness, and with some of the roster moves by General Manager Brian Cashman there will be some competition this spring. Girardi isn't putting in Pena's name in pen on the 25 man roster, that you can count on.

Infield. Eric Chavez: Chavez has been plagued by injuries for most of his career; he hasn't played a full season since 2006. In fact in the last four seasons combined Chavez has played a grand total of 154 games. His injury issues have been a major concern, but when he is healthy he can produce. When Chavez was starting games for the A's in the early to mid 2000's he had at least 20 homeruns in each of those years to go along with at least 70 RBIs during the year 2000-2006. Also, Chavez earned six gold gloves for his outstanding efforts at the hot corner. If he makes the team he won't be a starter by any stretch, he'll be used all over the infield and maybe as a DH here and there but by no means will he see significant playing time, barring injury. There are two questions for Chavez, but the second question can only happen if the first question is a yes. The first questions is can he stay healthy? Like I said before Chavez has played just 154 games the past four seasons. He’s proven he can be a nice power bat off the bench with a very good glove, especially at third. The second question is like Nunez, Chavez has been a starter for a long time so how will he react to being a bench player if he makes the 25 man roster? Also, a bonus question, how will Chavez react to not getting a sure spot on the roster this time around? The Yankees signed Chavez to a non-roster invitee deal, thus getting an invitation to spring training. Will he be able to step up and stay healthy?

Infielder. Ronnie Belliard: Like Eric Chavez, Ronnie Belliard is a non-roster invitee. Last year with the Dodgers, he batted just .216 in 162 at bats and just a .295 OBP. But the year before in 2009, he joined the Dodgers midseason after being traded from the Washington Nationals. Belliard was on fire with his time in LA that season batting .351 with a .398 OBP in just 24 games with the Dodgers. He eventually took over second base previously filled by Orlando Hudson, aka the "O-Dog". If Belliard makes the Yankees Opening Day roster he'll be a bench player and he'll have to be a guy who can play all four spots on the infield. So the question for Belliard is, will he be able to play multiple positions in the infield and will he be able to do it effectively? The Yankees didn't get him for his .216 average last year. They're looking more for the 2009 Belliard, but more in a pinch.

There you have it. Those are the infielders the Yankees have who are competing for a shot at making the big leagues. In my next edition I'll be examining the Yankees outfield. Stay tuned!

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