Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The biggest surprise of Yankees’ camp is…

Alex Rodriguez.

The New York Yankees might have expected a circus and a completely overmatched player. They saw the former thanks to the mainstream media (not A-Rod) and they witnessed something completely different from a player performance standpoint – competence.

Throughout the first few days of camp it was difficult to stay away from the condescending and unnecessary tone of some beat reporters and their constant tweets about Rodriguez's performance during batting practice. They had already soaked up enough ink detailing for days on end what it was going to be like when the "circus came to town," and in fact the circus did not arrive until the beat and national baseball media did.

Rodriguez stayed above the fray, worked out, played baseball and was accessible to the media.

Rodriguez has melded into the clubhouse, reaped praise from teammates, been suggested as a mentor by others and has yet to allow the press to make a news story out of anything he has said. That aspect of Rodriguez not bringing a larger focus to him than is already present is a welcomed change and certainly was not something to be anticipated. Assumed maybe; because why would he shine a brighter light on himself? But not necessarily expected since he has done exactly that in the past.

Rodriguez has been able to push aside the many questions of his return; those coming from the area of performance-enhancing drugs and those concerning his chances of making the team, by working hard and performing well enough to be anointed the everyday designated hitter. He might even get some time at third and first base if absolutely necessary.

Those of you who have read my work or follow me on social media know by now that I do not condone Rodriguez's indiscretions or subsequent actions to hide them, and I was also very suspect of his abilities to play this season after missing 17 months of professional baseball. Rodriguez has paid for the mistakes, and he seems to be handling the bat well enough right now to be a factor for the club. Right now, all he needs to be judged on is his performance at the plate.

Now, I cannot say for certain Rodriguez will be productive through an entire season. Can he continue to put up solid power numbers when he is facing Major League pitching on a regular basis and in critical parts of games that actually count? I'm still a bit apprehensive about his chances to succeed long term, but I'm no longer willing to say that he cannot be a positive factor for the offense.

Besides giving the Yankees a better chance to win, Rodriguez's level of production is important because it will dictate how the press and fans treat him. How will he handle the failures that will inevitably come? Even if A-Rod is having decent plate appearances as a whole, he will have a slide or slump of some sort mixed in. At that point, he will invariably get bombarded with questions about his ability to play the game at the level necessary, and how he deals with that line of questioning will go a long way toward how he is treated going forward.

Rodriguez is smart enough to know that he has to stay on an even keel, just as he has demonstrated he can thus far in Spring Training. He has to keep focused on the game, and not allow himself to get sucked into the narratives surrounding his past regardless of how often he is reminded.

All Rodriguez can do now is perform to the best of his abilities. If he cannot produce over the long haul, he and the Yankees will have to consider what his baseball future holds. But it has to be Rodriguez's bat that dictates the expectations, not the tone of the press or the fans, or a poor response he gives to a ridiculous question that will surely be posited at some point.

There have been plenty of nice surprises in Yankees camp – the young players have shown they can play with the big boys and the injuries have been minimal – but Alex Rodriguez has been the biggest surprise because he's kept quiet and played good baseball. Can he do it for 162 games?

Photo of Alex Rodriguez courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors' Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.