The first day of spring is officially in one day, but spring training is in full swing for the New York Yankees. Fresh off of their first playoff appearance in 2 years, the Yankees are looking to continue their winning ways in 2016.
The roster has many of the same components as last year’s squad, but there are many new faces that will play large roles in 2016 and beyond. Here’s Overtime’s comprehensive guide to the 2016 New York Yankees.
This year’s Opening Day lineup will look much like the one that manager Joe Girardi fielded last year. Speedsters Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are set to lead the way at the top of the lineup. Both battled injuries and tailed off a bit in the second half last season, but their contributions will be imperative to the Yankees’ success this season.
Ellsbury and Gardner only combined for 41 steals last year, but they’ll be looking to surpass 50 total this year if they remain in good health.
The middle of the order is still fear-inducing for opposing pitchers, with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran settling in some arrangement. The quartet tallied a combined 109 home runs last year, but each have some major question marks coming into 2016.
For Rodriguez and Beltran, age has to merely just be a number in their age-41 and -39 seasons, respectively. McCann must show that he can mash at both home and on the road (.857 OPS at Yankee Stadium, .663 OPS in opposing ballparks). And perhaps the Yankees’ best hitter, Teixeria, needs to stay healthy after missing a cumulative 43% of games over the past 4 seasons.
The bottom third of the lineup will be the best that it’s been in years in 2016. Chase Headley looks for more consistency and power in 2016 after an up-and-down 2015, Didi Gregorius will continue to grow at shortstop, and new acquisition Starlin Castro could have star potential at second base.
It is often said that World Series are won based on who you have on your bench. If that’s the case, the Yankees are in good shape, as they’re boasting their best crop of bench players in years.
Outfielder Aaron Hicks, acquired from Minnesota, will play more often than the typical fourth outfielder as he rests the Yankees’ injury-prone outfielders. Hicks, a switch-hitter, has a very strong throwing arm and can play all 3 outfield positions.
Dustin Ackley, a trade deadline acquisition, had a very strong start to his Yankee career last year. He hit .288 with 4 homers and a .988 OPS in limited time as a utility man. He can play second base, first base, or any outfield position.
Last year’s backup catcher, John Ryan Murphy, was traded for Hicks, and the competition between Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez for Murphy’s old job has been fierce. I anticipate the Yankees letting Sanchez mature in AAA until at least May to postpone his free agency by one year. This would allow the veteran Romine one last chance at a big league job.
The last spot on the roster seems to belong to Rob Refsnyder as of now. The second base prospect has also learned to play third base, and his hitting is anything but a question mark. Refsnyder could be a fun player to watch in 2016.
The biggest asterisk on the Yankees’ 2016 season is the rotation. If everything goes according to plan, the starting pitchers will be more than serviceable. However, injuries depth concerns could exploit a weak unit.
Ace Masahiro Tanaka is money in almost every start that he makes, and the worries about his partially-torn elbow are beginning to disappear. Tanaka struggled a bit with the home run ball last year, but he has excellent control, stuff, and clutch. The Yankees will go as far as Tanaka can take them.
Michael “Big Mike” Pineda will be counted on again by the Yankees, and he will look to settle in after his first full season in 3 years. Pineda has fantastic stuff and control, but he can sometimes succumb to the “one big inning” and give up too much contact. Pineda’s progression will be key for the Yankees this year.
Young Luis Severino is the Yankees’ most exciting homegrown starting pitcher since Andy Pettitte, and the power righty could be in for an exceptional first full season. He dominated in the bigs last year (2.89 ERA, 8.09 K/9, .705 OPS against), and the 22-year-old is hungry for more.
“Nasty” Nate Eovaldi showed flashes of improvement as 2015 wore on, and he could emerge as the team’s most consistent hurler. He can throw 100 mph, has a solid slider and splitter, and allows few home runs. The key for him though will be to limit opponent’s contact.
CC Sabathia will likely break camp as the team’s 5th starter, a role that he could succeed in. The power lefty has lost his velocity and his mojo, but a limited role and some hard work could turn him into a league-average 5th starter. Sabathia demonstrated some signs of being able to adapt last year, but also got hit hard often. His transformation will be critical for the Yankees’ success.
Ivan Nova may begin the season as the team’s long reliever, but he will most likely make 20 or so starts over the course of the season, and young Bryan Mitchell offers another depth option.
The Yankees’ bullpen was perhaps their biggest strength last season, and it got even better this year. The acquisition of fireballing southpaw Aroldis Chapman makes the bullpen look unstoppable, but Chapman will not be eligible to pitch until May 9 due to a suspension for domestic violence.
In his stead, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances will more than pick up the slack. Miller converted 36 out of 38 save opportunities and was generally unhittable for much of the season. And Betances was just as filthy, hitting 99 mph on the gun with his fastball and making hitters weak at the knees with his slurve, racking up 131 strikeouts in the process.
Behind them, lefty Chasen Shreve will likely have a spot. Shreve was dominant for much of last season, but fell apart miserably in September. The Yankees are counting on a comeback. Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, and James Pazos will fight for three remaining spots, and all four will probably spend much of 2016 rotating up and down between the Yankees and AAA affiliate Scranton.
The Yankees definitely have a solid team on hand this year. If they can remain healthy, they have a good shot at a playoff spot. But an old team like themselves could find it hard to keep up with some young blood like the Houston Astros or Boston Red Sox in the wild card hunt. Still, the Yankees have the savvy, the prospects, and the clutch to earn at least a playoff spot in 2016.