Cashman eager to see position battles play out

Yankees have many young players vying for starting spots in 2017

Cashman eager to see position battles play out

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Yankees have already seen Greg Bird, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino produce glimpses of success on the big league stage, and if that trio can deliver on their promise this spring, the club's decision-making process could become a whole lot easier.

General manager Brian Cashman acknowledges that "Bird is a guy that we kind of hope takes first base," based on his potential and their roster situation, but the organization is vowing not to play favorites as battles at first base, right field and several pitching spots are set to begin.

"May the best man win; whatever's going to make us the best team," Cashman said at Publix Field, the renovated spring home of the Tigers. "We're not going to force something that isn't there, but we believe guys have done enough to put themselves in a position to compete for a spot. Whether they win it right now out of the gate or not remains to be seen."

Cashman made an afternoon drive to Lakeland to participate in the Grapefruit League media day, which gathered Commissioner Rob Manfred in the same room along with several Florida-based general managers. Cashman said that he is pleased with how the first two days of camp have gone back in Tampa, Fla., and is looking forward to seeing competition ramp up.

Bird was expected to face competition from Chris Carter and Tyler Austin at first base, but the Yankees announced Friday that Austin fractured his left foot and will be out at least six weeks. The mound may be where the real battles are, though. After attempting to trade for a starting pitcher all winter, the Yankees are instead looking to Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Severino and Adam Warren to settle their final two rotation slots.

Fantasy effects of Carter deal

The Yanks' chances would jump significantly if Severino can recapture the feel of his changeup and replicate what he did at the end of 2015, when he was 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 11 starts. Severino was 0-8 with an 8.50 ERA in 11 starts last year, and recently sought assistance from Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez.

"Which is the real [Severino]? We hope the one that possesses three above-average pitches, an explosive fastball, a devastating slider and a wicked changeup," Cashman said. "That's not what we got in 2016, so tear up 2016, throw it out the door.

"He muscled up, we felt, when he showed up for spring last year. [Pitching coach] Larry [Rothschild] communicated to him -- less bulk and more flexibility. He looks great. It's clear by how he looks that he did do that. He's got a fresh start."

While the same could be said of Bird and Judge, so, too, does Aaron Hicks, one year after the former first-round Draft pick struggled to adjust to a part-time role in New York's outfield. Hicks managed just a .217/.281/.336 slash line in 327 at-bats, though his performance seemed to improve when he received regular playing time late in the year.

Baby Bombers take BP in Tampa

Cashman said that he sees Hicks coming in "with something to prove" this spring, and since Judge struck out 42 times in 84 at-bats last season and still has Minor League options, there's a scenario where Hicks could grab the starting right-field job with a good spring -- especially if he shows the coaching staff that he can succeed playing every day.

"First, it's hard just to establish yourself at the highest level in baseball in the world. Then to do it in a sporadic way is even that much harder," Cashman said. "Sometimes there's a transition of adjustment that needs to take place. It's harder for younger players to do that than veterans."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.