TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees have been in training camp for about a month now, long enough to make a few judgments, and then again, not quite long enough to make every judgment.
We still haven't seen the Yankees' everyday lineup in a game, and the Panama trip, brief as it was, served as something of a disruption at a time in a camp when things like that are just starting to come together.
But from watching them up close just about every day since pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 12, here are five things I can say with a reasonable amount of confidence:
1. Masahiro Tanaka won't be overwhelmed: It's way too early to predict whether the Yankees' $155 million right-hander will turn out to be worth the money, but I can assure you he will not wilt under the spotlight, which is not the same thing as guaranteeing he will not fold under heavy pennant race or playoff pressure.
His easy-going demeanor, his businesslike way of going about his work, and his accessibility to the media and fans tell you this 25-year-old is not going to be frightened off by pitching in Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park or wherever else the Yankees are fervently loved or hated. Whether his stuff will play upon second and third viewings by the formidable hitters of the AL East remains to be seen, but if Tanaka fails, it will not be through a failure of nerve.
2. Yangervis Solarte and Ramon Flores are players: Unfortunately for one (Flores), the job has been filled several times over, since he is an outfielder and the Yankees are carrying an overload of those. But Solarte, whose average is "down" to .517 after the trip to Panama, could emerge as a candidate for one of the backup infield positions.
3. Brian McCann will work out just fine: Every pitcher I have spoken to about throwing to McCann has said the same thing: "He's great."
They love the low target he sets, the way he frames pitches, and I believe the fact that he is willing to put the extra time and effort into getting to know how each of them pitches. One other, vital, thing: Just from the first few times talking to him, I doubt he'll be throwing too many Yankees pitchers under the bus after a subpar outing, as some of his predecessors occasionally did. That's bad for those of us who interview him, great for those who are throwing to him.
4. Cesar Cabral should be the first lefty out of the bullpen: Yes, I know the Yankees signed Matt Thornton to a two-year, $7 million contract to assume the role formerly occupied by the departed Boone Logan, but Thornton has had a tough spring (seven hits and three runs allowed in 2 1/3 innings for an 11.57 ERA, and just one strikeout) while Cabral, who suffered a broken pitching elbow two years, has had an outstanding one with 7 1/3 scoreless innings, just two hits allowed and four strikeouts. True, he generally comes into a game late, when many of the starters have left, but a minuscule .087 BAA speaks for itself.
5. Dellin Betances could be the new Joba: And I mean that in a good way, the 2007 variety. The 6-foot-8 fireballer still looks a little gangly on the mound sometimes, and he didn't have a great ninth inning on Sunday against the Braves, but he's allowed just one run and three hits over nine innings, with eight strikeouts. With a fastball that touches 97 mph and Joba in Detroit, there might be a spot in the Yankees bullpen for Betances right away.
And five things I'm not so sure of:
1. Can this team stay healthy?: This question comes up every year because in baseball, anyone can get hurt at any time, and it's impossible to predict who, or when.
But the Yankees have several high-risk candidates: Derek Jeter, because he's about to turn 40 and hardly played at all last year; Jacoby Ellsbury, because he seems to suffer a serious injury every other season and he was mostly healthy in 2013; Brian Roberts, because he's 37 years old and hasn't been able to play a full season since 2009.
Already, Ellsbury is down with a "minor" calf injury, but the other two have held up OK under somewhat limited spring training duty.
Let's see what happens when the season starts and they have to play the field a minimum of five games a week.
2. Can CC Sabathia learn to win with low velo?: Notice I didn't ask if he will regain his lost velo, because the answer is probably not.
The question is can he make the adjustment from fireballer to pitcher? Early indications are Sabathia can do it; he has the ability and the smarts, and he had a superior outing against the Marlins in Panama (five no-hit, no-walk innings). But doing it over the long haul, against the beasts of the AL East, is another story entirely.
3. Can Mark Teixeira put up his 2011 numbers?: Tex seems to think he can; he remarked last week that even if he did not hit a home run all spring, he expected to hit 35 and knock in 100 runs in the regular season.
But he hasn't put up those kind of numbers (39-111) since the last time he was fully healthy, and Jose Bautista, who underwent a virtually identical wrist surgery in 2012, saw his HR production drop from one dinger every 11 at-bats in 2010-11 to about one every 16 at-bats in his comeback season last year. Teixeira will turn 34 in April. Will he ever again hit his age in home runs?
4. How much will this lineup miss Robinson Cano? The answer to this question might be linked to the answer to the above question, because if Teixeira returns to his 2011 form, the loss of Cano might hardly be noticeable -- especially if Ellsbury gets on and steals bases the way he did in his best seasons for Boston, and Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano perform the way they are capable of. But if Tex or any of the others has an off year, the Yankees lineup might be without one batter an opposing manager is afraid to pitch to.
And, honestly, you'll never know from spring training whether a pitcher, even one as talented as Robertson, is suited to get those crucial last three outs in a tight game, because the situation never comes up in the preseason. This is a question that can be answered only as the season goes along, and the games become more important. On the plus side, the Yankees don't need Robertson to put up 19 seasons of brilliance, as Mo did. Right now, they'll settle for one.