The Post’s Yankees beat writer George A. King III breaks down all the angles as the Bombers get set to open spring training.
Best position battle
Until James Paxton underwent back surgery on Wednesday, third base was the only position where a legitimate competition was going to be held, between Gio Urshela and Miguel Andujar.
Now, with Paxton out possibly through May, there is a rotation spot to be won, and the field is deep. Jordan Montgomery is the early favorite, but he will be pushed by Jonathan Loaisiga, Luis Cessa and Mike King. Top pitching prospect Deivi Garcia is in his first big league camp, but is a long shot to start the season in the big leagues.
Most intriguing minor leaguer
Despite an injury-filled past two seasons, center fielder Estevan Florial remains intriguing to many because of his ceiling. The 20-year-old Garcia, however, is the pick here after dominating at Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton before scuffling at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. The 5-foot-9, 163 pound right-hander is a big part of the future — since Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and Paxton will be eligible for free agency after the upcoming season.
Story to watch develop
Gleyber Torres evolved into a stud minor league prospect as a shortstop in the Cubs’ organization and switched to second base when acquired by the Yankees, who had Didi Gregorius at short.
With Gregorius in Philadelphia, the Yankees are moving Torres, an All-Star in his first two big league seasons at second, to short. That will provide the Yankees with a potent bat at the position, but in the 77 games (73 starts) Torres played at short last year, there were several scouts who noticed a need for better footwork from him at the position.
Also, it will be interesting to see if Andujar, who missed most of last season due to shoulder surgery, can unseat Urshela as the starting third baseman. Andujar can be optioned to the minor leagues, but Urshela is out of options.
Manager’s toughest challenges
Aaron Boone deciding who the No. 5 starter will be is atop this category — because if it isn’t Montgomery, there is a chance he opens the season in Triple-A and pitches regularly. Ditto for King, who has one big league inning of experience. Loaisiga and Cessa would work in relief if not in the rotation.
Boone had veteran Larry Rothschild as the pitching coach in his first two years. Rothschild was let go with a year remaining on his contract and was replaced by Matt Blake, who has no experience in that role, but does inherit a veteran staff fronted by stud Gerrit Cole.
Boone will also have to manage the off-the-charts expectations for a Yankees team that hasn’t won a World Series since 2009.
Most intriguing newcomer
Get ready to overdose on Cole, since every move he makes in his first Yankees camp will be followed and dissected after he signed a nine-year, $324 million free agent contract in December. Cole’s first camp will remind folks of Roger Clemens joining the Yankees in 1999 and dominating the news coverage. At least Cole has been a Yankee almost three months, whereas Clemens was acquired the night before camp opened.
Most notable absence
Gregorius said the Yankees didn’t show a lot of interest in bringing him back, and he signed a one-year deal with the Phillies. Gregorius’ season didn’t start until June 7 due to recovering from Tommy John surgery. Torres takes Gregorius’ place at short, where he won’t be the slick fielder Gregorius was.
Catcher Austin Romine will be missed after signing a one-year deal with the Tigers. Romine was a quality backup for Gary Sanchez, who has been on the IL twice in each of the past two seasons. That leaves Kyle Higashioka as the leading candidate to be Sanchez’s backup.
Don’t be surprised if it becomes an issue
Considering the staggering amount of injuries to key players a year ago and that Paxton recently underwent back surgery, health will be the main issue surrounding the Yankees.
Aaron Hicks suffered a lower back injury last spring training and didn’t debut until May 15. Luis Severino and Dellin Betances got hurt in camp. Severino didn’t pitch in the big leagues until September, and Betances worked an inning in September and suffered an Achilles tendon injury.
Giancarlo Stanton was limited to 18 games last year due to multiple injuries. The Yankees don’t need him to hit 50 homers and drive in 140 runs. What they do need is for the 30-year-old outfielder/DH to replicate his first season with the club in 2018, when he hit 38 homers, drove in 100 runs and, most importantly, played in 158 games.
All of that is for the regular season. What the Yankees can’t afford is Stanton getting injured under the palm trees.