TAMPA — Tim Locastro was just nine games into his Yankees career last summer when Alex Verdugo hit a fly ball to left field that would end the outfielder’s season.
Locastro made the leaping catch up against the wall in foul territory at Yankee Stadium, but hit his right knee awkwardly, with tests later revealing he had torn his ACL.
Eight and half months later, Locastro is feeling “100 percent” while trying to make his case to get back to The Bronx as part of the club’s Opening Day roster. Depending on whether the Yankees carry a three or four-man bench, Locastro has a shot to break camp with the team as its true backup outfielder and best speed threat.
“To be able to come back here and try to redeem myself a little bit, that’s very exciting,” Locastro, who signed a major league deal to rejoin the Yankees shortly after the lockout ended, said Friday at Steinbrenner Field.
Though manager Aaron Boone said the Yankees could possibly take 16 pitchers on their 28-man roster, to accommodate for the shortened spring training, he would “love” a four-man bench. If that is the case, it would figure to include a spare outfielder to back up a starting outfield of Joey Gallo, Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge, with Giancarlo Stanton also set to play the field a few times a week.
Marwin Gonzalez, who is expected to make the team as a super-utilityman, also can play the corner outfield spots, but the Yankees could use some insurance in center field behind Hicks, occasionally Judge and even Gallo — who started there Friday against the Tigers.
Former Gold Glove winner Ender Inciarte is also in camp fighting to make the team, but Locastro could have the upper hand because he is already on the 40-man roster.
“Both guys, I feel like, could serve that role,” Boone said. “We’ll see.”
For the 29-year-old Locastro, who grew up a die-hard Yankees fan in upstate Auburn, making the 28-man roster would be extra meaningful given his rehab back from surgery last July.
So far in spring training, Locastro has checked some boxes he wanted to, both physically and mentally: he has stolen three bases, made some catches against the wall and gone first to third on a single. He believes he is fully recovered from the knee injury, and the Yankees could certainly use his speed of old — last season, his average sprint speed was 30.7 feet per second, according to Baseball Savant, which tied Trea Turner for the best in MLB.
“I’d be happy not only for myself, but for my family and fans that they’re able to experience it with me as well,” Locastro said. “They’ve been my support system throughout the whole injury, physically and mentally. So for them to see that, that’d be great.”
— Additional reporting by Dan Martin in Lakeland, Fla.