TAMPA — Alongside Aaron Judge in batting practice on Friday at Steinbrenner Field was a veteran slugger whose status with the Yankees is less clear.
Jay Bruce is in camp on a minor league deal, confident the health issues of the past two seasons are over and planning on providing some left-handed power.
With significant outfield depth, especially in the wake of Brett Gardner’s return — and with DJ LeMahieu and Mike Ford both able to back up Luke Voit at first base — Bruce may have his work cut out for him before he has a March 25 opt-out.
Still, he signed with the Yankees with one thing in mind: “I want to win a World Series.”
Bruce, who will turn 34 on April 3, has made the playoffs five times, but never has advanced beyond a Division Series.
He’ll be working at first base and both corner outfield spots, trying to show he’s healthy after two injury-plagued seasons. He was bothered last year by a left quad strain, and in 2019 spent time on the injured list with strained oblique and a left flexor strain.
Despite the injuries, Bruce can still provide power against right-handed pitching.
“If I’m healthy, I’m myself,’’ Bruce said. “If I’m on the field, my track record shows I am a viable option.”
Bruce could provide a left-handed bat off the bench, although he may need an injury from someone else to get that chance.
He signed with the Yankees before they brought back Gardner, but Bruce said Gardner’s presence wouldn’t have impacted his decision.
“I knew the whole time they wanted to sign Brett back,’’ Bruce said. “I assumed Brett would be back on a major league deal. I think there’s room for both of us on this team.”
Bruce nearly became a Yankee in 2017, when he thought he was going to be shipped across town by the Mets before he ultimately landed in Cleveland.
“I was basically told I was being traded and my understanding was I was being traded to the Yankees,’’ Bruce said. “A short time later, the deal was undone.’’
He hopes to make it to The Bronx this time around.
“I’ve accomplished a lot in my career, [but] I haven’t gotten to the top of the hill,’’ Bruce said. “If you’re looking to get there, the New York Yankees is the place to be.”