By Sweeny Murti
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Let the games begin!

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Allen Iverson didn’t care much for PRACTICE! Neither do I actually. We love baseball games and now its time for at least some of those, even if they are practice games.

Don’t be too alarmed if there isn’t much offense in these first few games. Remember, as we always say, that the pitchers are ahead of the hitters this time of year. Besides, as one coach pointed out to me, the first exhibition game is being played less than a week after the position players reported to camp. Spring training is a little shorter than normal, so that’s why the games have come up a little faster. That should impact the hitters more than it does the pitchers.

There are some burning questions around the Yankees, but the only one that’s sure to be answered during the next five weeks is who the Yankees 4th an 5th starters will be.

I still believe those spots are Ivan Nova’s and Freddy Garcia’s to lose. Bartolo Colon gets the ball first on Saturday, and even though he was impressive enough in Winter Ball for the Yankees to bring him to camp, he’s gone the longest of all the candidates since pitching in a major league game (2009). Add that to the 25 extra pounds Colon is already toting around and that’s some heavy baggage to overcome.

Derek Jeter’s new swing will be on display, but the results will show very little until the games truly begin. Alex Rodriguez will also be trying to prove that age isn’t getting the best of him, again something that won’t be known in February and March. Jorge Posada will have some time to get used to the DH role, but the early results will mean very little.

So who exactly should you pay attention to this spring? Start with Jesus Montero.

The 21-year old is the consensus pick as the best prospect in the Yankee organization and is among the top 5 in all of baseball on nearly any list you find. Montero will get plenty innings behind the plate this spring to see if he’s advanced as much as the Yankees think he has. Everyone seems to think he can hit at the big league level right now. If he hits good enough this spring, Montero might force the Yankees to find a seat for him on the plane to New York at the end of March.

Austin Romine is the organization’s other almost-ready-for-prime-time catcher. At 22-years old, Romine is considered the better defensive catcher. Two years ago Romine was the Florida State League (A) Player of the Year and last season was an Eastern League (AA) All-Star. Another must-see this spring.

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Of course, you will want to see the Killer B’s.

Manny Banuelos is as polished a 19-year-old as you will ever see. A smooth lefty delivery, he’s opened eyes with his stuff and his poise. Banuelos is “either knocking on the door or just about ready,” according to Billy Eppler, Yankees Senior Director of Pro Personnel.

Dellin Betances is a 22-year old right-hander from Brooklyn who shook off early career injuries and made the jump to AA last season, reaching 98 on the radar gun. At 6’8” and 260 pounds he’s a pitcher in a power forward’s body and is on the rise.

Andrew Brackman has found his control. In 2009 the 6-10 former basketball player walked 76 batters, hit 10 more, and threw 26 wild pitches in 106.2 innings at low-A Charleston. In 2010, Brackman pitched at two levels and finished at AA-Trenton, walking only 39 in 140.2 innings, with 7 hit batters and 12 wild pitches. He’s 25 and moving faster than ever. Set back slightly this spring by a groin injury, but definitely worth watching.

Banuelos, Betances, and Brackman. Much more to come on these three.

After that, here are three guys that would get a lot more attention if their names started with a B. Hector Noesi, David Phelps, and Adam Warren are all projected for the AAA-Scranton rotation, which means get a look at them now and don’t be surprised if they turn up in the Bronx at various points during the year based on need.

Finally, here are three position players that probably won’t have a place on the big league roster real soon, but names you’ll likely hear more about in the future. Bradley Suttle is a 25-year-old switch-hitting third baseman from the University of Texas, a former 4th round pick who sat out the 2009 season with injuries before becoming a Florida State League All-Star in 2010. Melky Mesa, a sleek and athletic 24-year old centerfielder who was the Florida State League Player of the Year in 2010, voted Best Athlete and Best Outfield Arm in the Yankee organization by Baseball America. And Brandon Laird, a 23-year-old RBI machine, Eastern League Player of the Year in 2010 when he hit 23 home runs and drove in 90 runs in 107 games for AA-Trenton.

The next phase of spring training is here. Opening Day is now less than five weeks away. Baseball is back. It’s a great time of year, isn’t it?

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Sweeny Murti