The Yankees have a lot of work to do in Tampa if they want to be a contender in 2017

There are some open spots in the Yankees line-up they hope to fill this spring

Ten days from today the New York Yankees will take the field for their first spring training game of 2017 in Tampa against the Philadelphia Phillies at Steinbrenner Field. This is a key year for the Yankees because general manager Brian Cashman, manager Joe Girardi and the coaches are in the final years of contracts.

This is a year when there is more young Yankees needed to come through than two decades and it will be in Tampa where they will try to put together a contender. This team needs help from young star catcher Gary Sanchez, the great potential of outfielder Aaron Judge and pitcher Luis Severino.

Every Yankees fan hopes that Sanchez becomes the kind of impactful catcher that the San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey was when he got his first full season behind the plate in 2010.

Judge wants to find a spot in the Yankees outfield and at this point he in an all-out battle with Aaron Hicks for the right field spot. Right now unless one of these guys has a breakout spring it looks like both will share time in right field. Judge has the big bat that they could use and it might take a little more time than the spring to get his stroke down.

The 22-year-old Severino, a right hander who had a promising 2016 season but his overall grade would be an incomplete. He’s averaged nine strikeouts per nine innings with a 31-12 record and 2.51 ERA over 401 minor league frames, however, and has the stuff to be a front-line starter.  The Yankees scouts all think that while he is young that he will leave Tampa be the number three or four starter on the big club.

There is an opening at first base now that Mark Teixeira has retired and that opens yet another key position. As of now first base looks like that Greg Bird is the frontrunner, but that’s no sure bet.

Bird debuted with the Yankees in 2015 and slashed .261/.343/.529 with 11 home runs in 46 games, but missed all of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Yankees fans will not soon forget Tyler Austin made his MLB debut last season who started his Pinstripe career with a homerun in his first at-bat. His season ended with a quite .241/.300/.458 slash line in 31 games but he and Bird will be in a battle for the job at first base.

We know that Chase Headley will be at third base and the centerfield spot belongs to Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees are strong at the the shortstop and second base positions.

Didi Gregorius at short and second baseman Starlin Castro were each buy-low trade acquisitions, and they tied for the team lead with 70 RBIs apiece last season. Gregorius has proven that he can be a very strong defender, and he’s made significant offensive improvements against left-handed pitching. Castro was erratic in his first year with the Yankees, but he reached a career-high with 21 home runs while getting used to the second base position. The Yankees’ minor-league system has considerable middle-infield depth, but most of that talent is at least a year or two away.

The bullpen remains a strong point for the Yankees. Many fans were upset when New York traded closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for a boatload of prospects. Five months later, they brought him back on a five-year, $86 million contract. With Chapman back as closer, Dellin Betances will step back into the setup role that made him an All-Star each of his three big-league seasons. The steady rubber arm of Tyler Clippard is also returning as a third late-inning option, making the Yankees’ bullpen a continued strength even without Andrew Miller.

While the Yankees have been impressed by left-handed specialist Tommy Layne, the left side of the bullpen is a relative weakness. The team will once again count on a series of young relievers to shuttle back and forth to plug the bullpen gaps. September call-up Jonathan Holder was among the top relief pitchers in the minors last season and could get an early opportunity.

Whether the Yankees are a playoff team in 2017 will depend on the performance of young hitters in the middle of the order and young pitchers at the back of the rotation. The team has integrated younger talent in recent years, but never have the Yankees been this reliant on unproven players.

Yankees fans in Tampa will get to see how all of the drama will work out and if this team has what it takes to be a contender when they break camp at the end of March.

Video from the Yes Network and be sure to follow the Yankees all season long on Sports Talk Florida and WHBO AM 1040. The Tampa home of Yankees baseball.  

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