It’s hard to believe but New York Yankees pitchers and catchers arrive at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, for spring training today.

It feels like it was just yesterday — at least to me — that the Chicago Cubs completed a historic rally to win their first World Series since 1908. That game began on Nov. 2, exactly one month when the Yankees’ season ended. Either way you look at it, it feels like the offseason keeps getting shorter and shorter.

Keeping in mind that this is the first official day of spring training, I will uphold an annual tradition of this blog. Over the next five days, I’ll examine who potentially will be on the RailRiders’ roster when they open defense of their Governors’ Cup championship April 6 at Buffalo. This will be pretty similar to what you probably grew accustomed to seeing from former beat writer and current Times-Tribune columnist Donnie Collins over the years.

One more note before we get started: It’s still only Feb. 14. A lot can happen over the next six or seven weeks. Things will happen along the way (injuries, more free-agent signings, trades, the World Baseball Classic, etc.) that will affect the Yankees and their roster plans, which in turn will obviously affect the RailRiders.

So with that, we’ll start this five-part series with the starting pitchers.

The Candidates

  • Chance Adams
  • Daniel Camarena
  • Nestor Cortes
  • Luis Cessa*
  • Dietrich Enns*
  • Domingo German*
  • Chad Green*
  • Kyle Haynes
  • Ronald Herrera*
  • James Kaprielian
  • Brady Lail
  • Bryan Mitchell*
  • Jordan Montgomery
  • Yefrey Ramirez*
  • Luis Severino*
  • Justus Sheffield

* Indicates player is on 40-man roster

A lot of familiar names on this list. Eleven of the 16 have pitched for the RailRiders and five have major league experience. This isn’t your typical candidates list where a few journeymen veterans brought in on minor league contracts would most likely grab a spot or two. Basically, this list is all young talent. But with only five spots available at Triple-A and just two up for grabs in New York, more than half of these candidates will start the year at Double-A Trenton or below.

So once again keeping in mind that things can (and probably will change), let’s figure out this rotation.

Probably Out From The Start

  • Domingo German
  • James Kaprielian
  • Yefrey Ramirez

With these three pitchers, it’s really quite simple: None have pitched above the High-A level.

The big name is Kaprielian, the hard-throwing right-hander who the Yankees drafted 16th overall in the 2015 draft. A year ago, it seemed unfathomable that Kaprielian would not have advanced past High-A. There were even some who thought he could be a candidate for a late-season call up to the Bronx. And based off his first three starts when he went 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 18 innings for the T-Yanks, he appeared poised for a breakthrough season.

Unfortunately, that never happened. The 22-year-old suffered an elbow injury that was later diagnosed as a flexor tendon strain and spent the rest of the season on the disabled list. Kaprielian returned to the mound in October and he made seven starts for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. While he finished with a 4.33 ERA and struck out just 26 in 27 innings, Kaprielian came away feeling good and commanding his fastball in the mid-90s. Really, those are the only things that matter.

Despite the lost season, Kaprielian is still highly-regarded. Baseball America ranks him as the Yankees’ No. 5 prospect and he earned a non-roster invite to big league camp for the second straight season. No matter how he performs in camp, Kaprielian in all likelihood will stay in Tampa once camp breaks. My reasoning? It wouldn’t make sense to send him up to the colder climates of Trenton or Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. However, if all goes well early and he stays healthy, it’s fair to expect to see Kaprielian in a RailRiders uniform at some point.

German also is probably a safe bet to start in Tampa. He missed nearly the first three months of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery. German, who the Yankees acquired along with Nathan Eovaldi from Miami in December 2014, finally made his organizational debut at Low-A Charleston in late June. The 24-year-old righty made 11 appearances (10 starts) between Charleston and Tampa and didn’t pitch more than six innings in any outing. But if he’s able to stay healthy, he could make his Triple-A debut later this year.

Ramirez is interesting in that he was taken in the minor league phase of the 2015 Rule 5 draft and less than a year later, the Yankees put him on their 40-man roster. Still, having split his 22 starts in 2016 equally between Charleston and Tampa, it just doesn’t seem plausible that he skips a level and goes right to Triple-A. Ramriez turned 23 in November so don’t rule out the possibility of seeing him in Moosic at some point this summer.

Probably not ready

  • Nestor Cortes
  • Justus Sheffield

The only reason I included Cortes as a candidate is because he made a spot start for the RailRiders late last season. The southpaw actually made the most of his opportunity, firing 5 2/3 no-hit innings with four strikeouts before departing. Despite that unblemished line, Cortes returned to Tampa the next day. His only other game above High-A came in late June when he picked up a four-inning save for Trenton. 2016 was his first season above Rookie ball and there’s no reason to think he’s ready to face Triple-A hitters on a consistent basis.

The same can be said about Sheffield, the 5-foot-10 southpaw who came over from Cleveland in the Andrew Miller deal in July. He’s not the most imposing figure by any means but he’s got a fastball that sits in the low 90s and is complimented with a mid-80s slider and changeup. Sheffield spent the majority of the last two seasons in Class A but wound up making his Double-A debut for Trenton in September. He pitched just four innings but struck out nine and allowed only two hits and one unearned run.¬†Because the Thunder made the playoffs, Sheffield got two more starts but they were forgettable. In those starts (both Trenton losses), he combined to pitch 8 2/3 innings, gave up 10 hits, seven runs (all earned) and six walks to go along with eight strikeouts and a 7.56 ERA.

No reason to panic, though. He’s only 20 years old, rated as the Yankees’ No. 7 prospect and got a non-roster invite to camp. Expect to see him pitch the majority — if not all — of the year back at Trenton.

(Jordan Montgomery made his Triple-A debut in August and ended the RailRiders' historic 2016 season as their ace. It won't take him nearly that long to arrive in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season. Jason Farmer / Times-Tribune Photographer)

(Jordan Montgomery made his Triple-A debut in August and ended the RailRiders’ historic 2016 season as their ace. It won’t take him nearly that long to arrive in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season. Jason Farmer / Times-Tribune Photographer)

Pencil Them In

  • Jordan Montgomery
  • Chance Adams

Barring something unforeseen, these two should be locks in the rotation. They arguably were the most impressive pitchers in the Yankees’ farm system in 2016. Montgomery joined the RailRiders in early August and all he did was establish himself as the ace of the best pitching staff — statistically — in franchise history. The 6-foot-6 southpaw set a franchise record by tossing 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings over a stretch of five starts and finished 5-1 with a 0.97 ERA and 37 strikeouts over six regular-season starts (37 innings). That came after he went 9-4 with a 2.55 ERA in 19 starts (102 1/3) innings with Trenton.

Adams, a 2015 fifth-round pick from Dallas Baptist University and the Yankees’ No. 8 prospect, is on the fast track that many presumed Kaprielian would be on. He began last year in Tampa but got promoted to Trenton in the middle of June and dominated, going 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings.

(Dietrich Enns was one of the many standouts in the RailRiders' 2016 rotation but he finished the season in the bullpen because he reached his innings limit. Will it be a permanent move for 2017? Jason Farmer / Times-Tribune Photographer)

(Dietrich Enns was one of the many standouts in the RailRiders’ 2016 rotation but he finished the season in the bullpen because he reached his innings limit. Will it be a permanent move for 2017? Jason Farmer / Times-Tribune Photographer)

The Wild Card

  • Dietrich Enns

You can also throw Enns in the conversation for the organization’s most impressive pitcher of 2016. Less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Enns had the best season of his career, going 14-4 with a 1.73 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 26 appearances between Trenton and the RailRiders. The Yankees took notice and added him to their 40-man roster in November.

So why is he the wild card? Well, we simply don’t know if Enns will continue to be a starter. Late last season, the Yankees moved him out of the RailRiders’ rotation and into the bullpen because of an innings limit. His last four regular-season appearances came in relief and he finished with 135 innings. His previous high? 82 2/3 back in 2013, his first full professional season.

I don’t envision a scenario where Enns makes the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. If he were to do so, it would come as a reliever. Even if he doesn’t, the Yankees still could decide to make Enns’ transition to the bullpen a permanent one with the RailRiders, thus opening the door for someone else to get a rotation spot.

Fallout from New York

  • Luis Cessa
  • Chad Green
  • Bryan Mitchell
  • Luis Severino

The Yankees enter spring training with two spots open in their rotation. Masahiro Tanaka is the unquestioned ace, while CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda‘s spots also are secured — at least for now. All offseason, general manager Brian Cashman has maintained his position that those spots will go to their young pitchers. And apparently, he was serious, seeing how the Yankees have not traded for or signed a big-name pitcher — at least for now.

By all indications, the four listed above appear to be the strongest contenders for those spots. Cashman also has said that Adam Warren will be considered but I just don’t see it. Even if he does compete and loses out, he’ll wind up in the Yankees’ bullpen, which is why he’s not listed above. If Cessa, Green, Mitchell or Severino don’t make the rotation, the possibility of them coming to Scranton is very real.

The Prediction

  • Jordan Montgomery
  • Chance Adams
  • Dietrich Enns
  • Chad Green
  • Ronald Herrera

A year ago at this time, nobody was entertaining the thought of Severino pitching for the RailRiders in 2016 other than maybe on a rehab assignment. They also weren’t thinking about him pitching for the RailRiders in 2017. But now, that very well could happen.

Severino’s well-documented 2016 season was disastrous. It was supposed to be a year in which he established himself as one of the Yankees’ top pitchers. Instead, it included stints in the bullpen and three options to the RailRiders. Now, he’s in a situation where if he doesn’t win a rotation spot out of camp, he could begin the year at Triple-A. I still believe in Severino — he only turns 23 on Monday, after all. I think he still can be an effective major league starter. Gut feeling is that he wins one of the spots.

Based off what I saw last year, I think Cessa wins the other spot. So where does that leave Mitchell and Green. Well, the Yankees could theoretically carry both of them in their bullpen. After all, Mitchell was going to make the Opening Day roster last year before suffering a toe injury that kept him out four months on the second-to-last day of camp. I think the Yankees would strongly consider putting Mitchell back in that role this year.

As for Green, he had his share of struggles in New York but was nearly untouchable with the RailRiders, posting a 1.52 ERA over 16 starts. His season also ended prematurely with an elbow injury in the first week of September. I don’t think it would be a bad thing for him to begin this year back at Triple-A to continue his development.

I think that the Yankees also decide to leave Enns in the rotation. More than likely, he’s going to be needed as a reliever and it wouldn’t hurt to have him stretched out for when that time comes.

That leaves one more spot and I’m giving that to Herrera, who the Yankees acquired in the Jose Pirela trade in November, 2015. The 21-year-old made had a very impressive 2016 at Double-A Trenton, going 10-7 with a 3.75 ERA and 123 strikeouts. He even made a spot start with the RailRiders in mid-April and tied a then-career-high with eight strikeouts. The Yankees put him on their 40-man in November, which to me is a sign that they’ll want him in Triple-A this season.

That doesn’t bode well for Daniel Camarena and Brady Lail, both of whom received non-roster invites to camp. Lail has pitched parts of the last two seasons with the RailRiders and was the winner in Game 3 of the Governors’ Cup finals against Gwinnett, while Camarena won the title-clinching Game 4 but has appeared in just two regular-season games with the RailRiders. If both of them along with Kyle Haynes are going to stick with the organization in 2017, it most likely means a return to Trenton to start.