Spring is in the air! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the sounds of baseball are taking over Florida and Arizona. It’s time for Spring Training.
As the New York Yankees prepare for the upcoming season, here’s Overtime’s comprehensive season preview.
The 2016 season sure was a unique one for Yankee fans. The team missed the playoffs, but the big story for the year was the emergence of the Yankees’ young players climbing into the spotlight. Over the season’s last two months, kids such as Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and more invaded the Bronx and rejuvenated the fanbase.
The Yankees set out to supplement their youth with some veteran additions in the offseason. General Manager Brian Cashman made a smart signing in acquiring veteran outfielder/DH Matt Holliday, bolstered his bullpen with flamethrowing Aroldis Chapman, and picked up last year’s National League home run king, Chris Carter, for a paltry $3.5 million.
While it may not quite resemble the glory days of the Bronx Bombers, the 2017 Yankee lineup is much-improved over the 2016 version. Veteran outfielders Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury will likely remain atop the order, but Manager Joe Girardi has hinted that he will consider splitting the pair up if they cannot consistently get on base, as was the case last season. The Yankees need Gardner and Ellsbury to get on base and steal bags, creating RBI opportunities for the rest of the lineup.
The middle of the order has some much-needed right-handed power on tap this year. Gary Sanchez will catch and bat third, Matt Holliday can clean up as the DH, and a platoon of Greg Bird and Chris Carter provides Girardi with some options at first base. Sanchez’s development will be a crucial storyline this season. Almost every second-year player goes through some sort of sophomore slump, but the Yankees can ill-afford any type of stumble from Sanchez.
Behind them, the dynamic duo of Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius will slot into the lineup. Both players were pleasant surprises last year, as they both batted over .270 and hit over 20 home runs with 70 RBI each. The Yankees will need similar production this time around.
Even the bottom of the order has the potential to do big things this year. Dependable third baseman Chase Headley is always good for a .260 average, 12 homers, and a decent OBP out of the 8-slot, and either Aaron Judge or Aaron Hicks will play right field and bat ninth. The Yankees are hoping that Judge can take that next step and become a future cleanup hitter. His growth will be imperative to the Yankees’ success.
This is where things go downhill a bit for the Yankees. The team has a surefire ace in Masahiro Tanaka at its disposal, but everything behind him is a major question mark. CC Sabathia rebounded last year with his best season since 2012, but can he be expected to do it again at age 37? Michael Pineda has always been an enigma, but last year was his worst overall season. An impending free agent, the real “Big Mike” needs to stand up.
The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are still up for grabs, but they will be manned by a combination of young hurlers. Luis Severino struggled mightily last season, but he will likely get the first crack at straightening things out in the MLB this time around. Behind him, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell are the candidates for the last spot. They all have their own individual strengths and weaknesses, and they can all either start or relieve. Expect all four of these young pitchers to see a lot of time on the rubber this year.
Some people say that the best remedy for a suspect rotation is a dynamic bullpen. The Yankees have tried this philosophy over the past few years, with varying degrees of success. However, the band is back together again in 2017, led by re-acquired closer Aroldis Chapman. Regardless of what you think of Chapman off the field, there is no doubt that the Yankees are a better team with him closing out games. His appearances are can’t-miss baseball.
A combination of Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, and the versatile Adam Warren will set Chapman up. The toughest outs are often found in the 6-8th innings, and the Yankees have the guys at their disposal capable of getting those outs. Lefty options include Tommy Layne and Chasen Shreve, and you can be sure that the “losers” of the rotation competition will get lots of innings in the ‘pen as well.
The 2017 Yankees are one big question mark. They have the potential to seriously contend for a playoff spot, but they also have enough unknowns to possibly end up out of the postseason. In baseball, things rarely go according to plan 100 percent of the time, which is why I can’t quite say for sure that the Yankees are going to make the playoffs.
They’ll be in the wild card race all year long, but unless the Yankees get some bounceback seasons from key veterans and continued development from the prospects, the Yankees may miss the playoffs once again.