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Matt Diaz, Eduardo Nunez, Kevin Youkilis Headline New York Yankees’ Spring Disappointments

Trio Not Coming Close to Meeting Expectations in Grapefruit League Play

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Matt Diaz, Eduardo Nunez, Kevin Youkilis Headline New York Yankees’ Spring Disappointments
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Kevin Youkilis has been a huge disappointment for the New York Yankees this spring, battling injuries …

COMMENTARY | When it comes to talking about the disappointments of spring training for the New York Yankees, the immediate reaction is to think about the rash of injuries the team has experienced.

From Curtis Granderson's broken arm to Mark Teixeira's inflamed wrist to Phil Hughes' sore back to the recovery efforts of Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera, much of the spring news from Tampa, Fla., has been health-related.

But there have been some good old-fashioned on-the-field disappointments as well. Here are the top three disappointments from Yankee camp so far this spring:

3. Matt Diaz

Matt Diaz didn't have huge expectations entering spring training. Instead, the 35-year-old outfielder was brought in on a minor-league contract last winter after being hampered last season by a wrist injury.

But there were expectations Diaz could provide a right-handed hitting alternative for New York's all-lefty-swinging starting outfield of Granderson, Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki.

Diaz struggled last season for the Atlanta Braves, hitting just .222/.280/.333 in 118 plate appearances. The hope was that Diaz could regain the form, particularly against left-handed pitching, that made him a career .291/.339/.431 hitter.

Alas, it appears that Diaz may be past his effectiveness. In 23 spring plate appearances, Diaz is hitting .190/.261/.190 with just two RBIs and no extra-base hits. Fortunately, for the Yankees, fellow non-roster invitee Juan Rivera is having a solid spring, hitting .346/.370/.500 in 26 at-bats.

2. Eduardo Nunez

Eduardo Nunez's career is squarely at the crossroads. The 25-year-old has shown some offensive promise in three tours with the Yankees from 2010-12 but hasn't been up to par defensively.

This spring, Nunez still can't field--he's made an error in 30 chances at shortstop--but at least he's not hitting, so he has that going for him.

In 30 plate appearances in Grapefruit League play, Nunez is hitting .154/.267/.192 with a double and one RBI. He's also been thrown out in his only stolen-base attempt, which means even that aspect of his game has been lagging. For his career, he has stolen 38 bases in 46 attempts.

Nunez is in a fight with non-roster invitee Jayson Nix for a spot on the Yankees' roster as a utility player, but Nix has the clear advantage at this point, even though the veteran is hitting just .222/.276/.222 and has made one error in 27 chances at third, second and shortstop.

1. Kevin Youkilis

Kevin Youkilis didn't engender a lot of love from Yankee fans when he declared early in spring training that he would "always be a Red Sox" (per The Associated Press).

Many fans understand that, as comedian Jerry Seinfeld once famously said (click here for video), we are rooting for laundry. We want our city's clothes to beat the heck out of every other city's clothes. But others take this stuff much more personally.

Youkilis spent the first eight-plus seasons of his nine-year career with Boston before being traded to the Chicago White Sox last June and signing with New York as a free agent over the winter.

But for a player whose batting numbers have dipped from .307/.411/.564 in 2010 to .258/.373/459 in 2011 to career-low levels of .235/.336/.409 last year, there were concerns about whether his bat speed was gone at age 33.

The .154/.250/.462 he's put up this spring, with a homer and two RBIs, in 16 plate appearances have done little to assuage those worries. And for those fans also concerned about his recent history of health woes, the fact he missed time this spring with an oblique injury was a reason for pause.

With Teixeira out until at least May because of his troublesome wrist, Youkilis has been seeing some time at first base. He was originally signed as a stop-gap at third base while Alex Rodriguez mends after hip surgery.

Regardless of which corner of the infield he is stationed, however, Youkilis needs to produce something approaching what he used to do in Boston. The .230-something hitter of 2012 won't cut it for a Yankee lineup that lost much of its pop over the offseason.

Phil Watson is a freelance sports journalist and commentator currently based in upper Michigan.

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