LAKELAND — Luke Voit doesn’t really give a shift. The Yankees slugger, who has had to evolve constantly over the years as a hitter, said that he doesn’t really think MLB should change the game too much, including limitations on the defensive shifts.
“In my opinion, you gotta adapt in this game. If you don’t adapt, you find your way out of it,” Voit said when asked about the rules that MLB will be testing out in the minor leagues this season. “And I think a lot of players have found the way out because of the shifting. It’s smart. If you’ve got to hit the ball to the opposite field or try to do something different with your approach, you change it. I think a lot of guys, get content and they find their way out the game.
“So I think guys need to adapt to the game. And I think it’s smart,” Voit said of the extreme shifting that MLB teams — including the Yankees — do. “Obviously, it’s worked for a lot of teams and helped a lot of teams that usually wouldn’t be around, be in the playoffs every year.”
On Thursday, MLB announced a bunch of experimental rule changes that will be tested in the minor leagues this year. The most notable was in Class AA: Teams will be required to “have a minimum of four players on the infield, each of whom must have both feet completely in front of the outer boundary of the infield dirt.”
That would mean teams like the Rays would not be able to use a fourth outfielder as they do against hitters like Kyle Higashioka from time to time. MLB also said that, based on first-half results, it may require teams to position two infielders on either side of second base during the second half of the AA season.
The experimentation is part of MLB’s on-going attempt to appeal to younger fans by addressing pace of play and creating more action on the field.
While he’s not a fan of just changing rules for the sake of entertainment, Aaron Boone recognizes why MLB wants to try new things.
“We’ve got to be mindful of what the younger generation does like and love, and we want it to be something that gets instilled in them at a young age that they love and grow up and can’t get rid of it,” the Yankees manager said. “We’re all charged with that.”
Among the other rules being tested out is larger bases in Triple-A, for safety reasons and to encourage more base stealing. In low-A ball they will try to limit pickoff attempts with a rule requiring pitchers to step off first, plus the automatic strike zone or robot umpire.
Not all these rules will make it to the big leagues, but several that were tested in the minors have become part of the game, like video replay. Last season, the seven-inning doubleheader and starting the extra-innings with a runner on second base were called up from testing in the minors to help in the shortened season.
After naming Clint Frazier their starting left fielder, the Yankees are looking to use Brett Gardner in a more versatile role. Friday, that included him playing in right field — a position he has one game of experience in.
“At this point, knock on wood anyway, health wise ... with Clint, kind of establishing himself a little bit last year, I’ve been looking to transfer Gardy to this kind of awesome fourth outfielder role where I could see him play in all three positions, depending on where the most pressing defensive need is,” Boone said. “Obviously, in that scenario, whether we’re healthy or not, Gardy’s going to play a lot. For him to be open to seeing what the right field looks in certain ballpark certain situations, I think it makes some sense. So it’s not something I’ll force out there. I mean, he still may end up just in left and center, but at least down here, while we have the time to work on this, I felt like it made some sense.”
Gardner made a nice, running, leaping catch on Willie Castro’s line drive in the fifth inning against the Tigers Friday.
DOTS ALL FOLKS
Jameson Taillon struggled with command, leaving with two on and to outs in the third inning. Addison Russ spared Taillon’s spring ERA, getting him out of the jam with one pitch. Taillon walked three and struck out four. ...Jay Bruce continued to force his way into the roster conversation with another single. The 33-year-old non-roster invitee is hitting .400 with two homers for the spring in seven games.