Mailbag: What awaits Damon in Boston?

Mailbag: What awaits Damon in Boston?

TAMPA, Fla. -- Johnny Damon's first spring with the Yankees has certainly been a strange one. He arrived at Legends Field, took part in some workouts, played in the exhibition opener and then took off for three weeks, joining Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and the rest of Team USA in Arizona.

The next couple of weeks will be interesting to watch for Yankees fans, as they'll get a look at some of the young prospects who will stand in for the World Baseball Classic participants.

While Jeter, A-Rod, Damon and Al Leiter represent the U.S. and Bernie Williams plays for his native Puerto Rico, the rest of the Yankees will continue preparing for the regular season with a slew of exhibition games.

Although things are on the slow side in camp, the e-mails continue to come in by the hundreds, so let's get to them. Keep 'em coming -- we'll try to get to the most popular topics of the week.

How do you think Damon's game will be affected playing at Fenway Park for the first time as the archnemesis of so many fans? Boston fans aren't likely to let him get away with some of the comments he made to the press directly following his transfer to the Bronx, so will fans' reactions have a stress-related effect on his game, especially considering he'll be first man up the first time the Yanks play in Boston?
-- Andi S., Oneonta, N.Y.

Damon has been around for a long time, so I doubt that a bunch of jeers would have any serious impact on his game. Yes, he's going to take some abuse in Boston, but I don't think it will be anything like Jason Giambi got when he went back to Oakland for the first time or when A-Rod went back to Texas.

Remember, Damon will always hold a special place in the hearts of Red Sox Nation, as he played an integral part of the 2004 World Series run. When a team with the history of the Red Sox breaks an 86-year-old curse like that, some goodwill has to remain even after a player is gone. Unlike Giambi and A-Rod, Damon helped deliver a title to his former town.

No, that goodwill may not show up this year -- or for the next four, for that matter -- but when Damon is retired and removed from the game, he will always be remembered fondly by the Fenway faithful.

I know I'm going to get a lot of e-mails from Boston fans, telling me how dreadfully wrong I am, but trust me on this one. Think back to the New York Rangers and their 1994 Stanley Cup. Players came and went after that championship season, but the guys who played a big part in snapping the team's 54-year curse have always received a warm reception when they return to Madison Square Garden.

The same will go for Damon. The Boston fans may not cheer him in pinstripes -- and rightfully so -- but when it's all said and done, he'll be remembered in a positive light by Sox fans. After all, Yankees fans still cheered David Cone when he wore a Sox uniform, and Sox fans gave Roger Clemens a huge ovation when he pitched what was believed to be his last game at Fenway in 2003. It's just the way these things work.

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Aaron Small exceeded everyone's expectations last year, including Brian Cashman's. Do you see him being a one-hit wonder or a valuable member of the 2006 staff?
-- Robert I., Newton, Mass.

Small should be able to contribute to this year's pitching staff in much the same way Ramiro Mendoza did during the Yankees' title years, as he can provide support in a number of ways.

The plan is for Small to start the season in the bullpen, where he will serve as a long reliever. But Small will also be able to give the Yankees a spot start when necessary, and he has shown in the past that he can pitch in short relief if the bullpen has been overworked.

Small's versatility -- not to mention his complete lack of ego -- makes him a very attractive pitcher to have on a staff. As long as he can locate the ball as well as he did a year ago and continue to keep his sinker down in the zone, he should have success in 2006. Maybe not another 10-0 season, but success nonetheless.

I have noticed that pitchers who have come from the National League to the American League in recent years -- Javier Vazquez, Carl Pavano and Matt Clement come to mind -- are having a rough time with the transition. Do you think that this will come into consideration the next time big money is given to one of these pitchers?
-- Frank M., Clearwater, Fla.

I don't think it's fair to characterize these guys in the same light, as they had very different first seasons in the AL.

Vazquez made an All-Star team in his first half-season with the Yankees, only to fall apart in the second half. He made a triumphant return to the NL last year, and is now back in the AL with the White Sox to give it another try.

Pavano battled injury for most of his first season with the Yankees and did not throw a single pitch after the All-Star break. He had some good games and some bad ones, but it's too early to say what kind of transition he'll make.

As did Vazquez, Clement started strong in his first year in the AL, going 10-2 with a 3.85 ERA before the break. Clement struggled in the second half, going 3-4 with a 5.72 ERA, but I'm not sure I can buy the AL-NL transition argument for his problems, since he didn't seem to have a rough transition in the first half.

There are also pitchers who made successful moves, including Shawn Chacon, Jon Lieber and Kevin Millwood, each of whom proved that it is possible to succeed in the AL after spending your entire career in the NL. I think a fellow named Pedro Martinez also had an easy time making the move to the AL a few years back.

This year will be another test for former NL hurlers, most notably Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett, major offseason acquisitions for Boston and Toronto, respectively.

Wouldn't it be nice for the Yankees to groom a young catcher at the Major League level? Jorge Posada is starting to decline, and if a young catcher could get 30 or so starts in a backup role, he could eventually step in. Is there anybody in the farm system?
-- Jules K., Brooklyn

Several Yankees coaches have been impressed with young Jose Gil in the early weeks of spring, but at the age of 19, he is still a few years away from making an impact at the big-league level. He was sent back to the Minor League camp on March 4, as his first big-league camp came to an early conclusion.

I know that Posada started his career as a backup to Joe Girardi, but with a veteran pitching staff like the Yankees have now, the team prefers a veteran backup catcher who can step in and handle the pitchers without a second thought.

Having a veteran such as Kelly Stinnett -- or, in recent years, John Flaherty -- is a good tool for the pitching staff. I'm not sure a young catcher would provide the same support on a club like this one.

Who knows if Gil will be the answer someday, but it doesn't appear that Wil Nieves will be. Let's not forget that the Yankees can always find a backstop on the free agent market. Bengie Molina will be out there again next winter, so you never know.

What about Mitch Jones? Everybody talks about these other prospects, but let's not forget about Jones. He had an awesome year last season, made it to the Triple-A All-Star Game and dominated during the Home Run Derby -- which he won. So where does he fit into the Yankees' plans? People act like he doesn't exist.
-- Jordan G., Orem, Utah

Jones is in camp as a non-roster invitee, but it's hard to call him a serious prospect. At 28, he looks more like a career Minor Leaguer who isn't likely to get a shot at a big-league job any time soon.

For those of you who don't know about Jones, he has been in the Yankees' farm system since 2000, playing last year at Triple-A Columbus. He posted solid numbers, hitting .268 with 27 homers and 79 RBIs, following a 2004 season at Double-A Trenton in which he hit 39 homers and drove in 97 runs.

Sounds great. Now let's get to the reason why he isn't ready for the Majors.

Last season, Jones struck out 174 times in 489 at-bats. In 2004, he whiffed 163 times in 538 at-bats. The year before that? He struck out 131 times in 463 at-bats.

In six Minor League seasons, Jones has struck out 799 times in 2,706 at-bats. That's once every 3.38 at-bats. That's an alarming rate in the Minors, so imagine what he would do in the Majors.

Mark Feinsand is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.