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Yankees spring training surprises from seasons past

As the Yankees move forward with spring training for the 2017 season, it seems like a good time to remember some of the surprises, standouts, and head-scratchers from seasons past. Over the course of the past few seasons, the Yankees have made some decisions that were applauded by fans and analysts, and some that made them say, What the…?.

Because the team is rebuilding and devoting much of their time and energy to selecting the right starters — while developing some stand-out prospects — we’re likely going to see some of the same types of surprises that we’ve seen at camp over the past few seasons. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest surprise moments from the past few seasons.

2014 Spring Training

The start of the 2014 pre-season was a rough one in many respects, as there were a fair amount of injuries and underwhelming performances by many prospects and seasoned players alike. Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter were both causes for concern heading into spring; Teixeira was on the mend with an elbow injury and Jeter with an ankle issue.

One of the biggest surprises was Yangervis Solarte, who had spent eight seasons in the minors before hitting his way onto the 2014 Yankees roster. That spring, Solarte had a hit in 11 of 14 games and struck out just four times in 29 at-bats. He went onto slash .254/.337/.381 in 75 games with the Yankees before being shipped to the Padres in a deal that brought Chase Headley to the Bronx. Solarte, who came out of nowhere, has had two and a half surprisingly productive seasons in San Diego, driving in 151 runs to Headley’s 130 over that time.

A major spring training disappointment that year was John Ryan Murphy, who had only two hits and five RBIs in 24 at-bats — an .083 BA. Despite his spring struggles, Murphy managed a .284 BA in 32 major league games for the Yankees that season and impressed enough people in the Twins organization for them to send outfielder Aaron Hicks to New York following the 2015 season in exchange for the catcher.

2015 Spring Training

At spring training in 2015, Greg Bird impressed by slashing .353/.421/.706. The first baseman came out of camp as one of the leading hitters for the team but fell to .261/.343/.529 overall during the 2015 season. Bird actually started the 2015 season with double-A Trenton before being promoted to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was then called up to the Major Leagues when Teixeira went down with an injury in August. As you know, Bird was sidelined in 2016 due to a shoulder injury but is expected to be the starting first baseman in 2017.

Slade Heathcott left spring ’15 just behind Bird in the stats department. Heathcott slashed .333/.450/.545 in 23 games, including an impressive 12 runs and 11 hits in 40 plate appearances. Heathcott was originally drafted by the Yankees in 2009 but was released in May 2016.

Arguably, one of the biggest disappointments of 2015 spring training was CC Sabathia, who posted a 0-3 record with an 8.10 ERA (10 IP). He allowed 14 total hits and nine runs, with nine strikeouts. The veteran pitcher left analysts scratching their heads and wondering if his value to the team would be worth his salary.

2016 Spring Training

2016 marked the beginning of an end to the 2009 Yankee era, with Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez considering — and ultimately pursuing — retirement. Both Tex and A-Rod were pillars of the Yankees organization, and despite fresh talent being developed in the minors, fans wondered who would fill their shoes.

One of the names generating a lot of buzz in 2016 was Starlin Castro, who came to the Yankees from the Cubs as part of a trade that sent both Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan to Chicago. Castro was a 26-year-old three-time All-Star who was known as a consistent hitter. In spring training, Castro went on to hit .367/.373/.571 in 49 at-bats (19 games). He managed two home runs, 11 RBIs, and just five strikeouts overall.

Another big name on the roster, shortstop Didi Gregorius, was acquired by the Yankees at the end of 2014. Gregorious originally struggled in early 2015, but by the end of the season, had managed to hit .265/.318/.370. The Yankees hoped that Gregorious would solidify his hitting and continue to try to fill the legendary shoes of Jeter. In 2016 spring training, Gregorious left some critics saying I told you so by hitting just .234/.280/.298. Defensively, Gregorious recorded 14 PO (55 TC) in 19 games started. Gregorious is again a hot topic of conversation in 2017, with fans and coaches alike hoping he can continue to build on his game.

2017 and Beyond

2017 spring training is already proving to be interesting, with some young up-and-coming non-roster players trying to make a name for themselves. As the Yankees move away from the “dynasty” era and break new ground with the youth movement, fans are eagerly awaiting the emergence of new stars who will wear the pinstripes proudly and continue to build on the already stellar heritage that the club possesses.