The New York Yankees currently have the higher ground in their coveted quest for 28. With new ace Gerrit Cole now donning pinstripes, fans and players alike are excited. Their pitching staff looks vastly improved, and their lineup is the stuff of opposing pitchers’ nightmares. However, as cemented as things may seem for the Bronx Bombers, there are still a few question marks to be addressed going into the season as the Yankees look to get deeper into October baseball.
With Spring Training right around the corner and an off-season filled with controversy, the Yankees look to focus inward. Let’s dive right into the first question many fans and pundits would like to know: what will the infield look like?
With Didi Gregorius signing with Philadelphia, it looks like Gleyber Torres will be playing shortstop, opening up second base for super utility man DJ LeMahieu. That leaves two infield positions that need to be filled among three names — Luke Voit, Miguel Andujar and Gio Urshela — to compete for the starting roles.
When the Yankees traded Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos for Luke Voit, a huge right-handed batter with a lot of power, it wasn’t exactly a trade that grabbed headlines. However, New York baseball fans quickly learned why they should get excited about the acquired Bronx Bomber when he mashed to a tune of 14 home runs, 33 runs batted in and a .333 batting average in just 39 games. What the stats don’t tell you is how clutch he was down the stretch for the playoff-bound 2018 Yankees, seamlessly filling the void at first base while the often-injured Greg Bird was back on the shelf. If you had told me then that he and Miguel Andujar may be competing for starts in 2020, I’m not sure I would have believed you. Unfortunately, injuries got the best of Voit the next season, and while the power numbers still were solid, you must wonder if he’s the red-hot all-around hitter we saw in 2018 or the inconsistent power hitter of 2019. My guess is he’ll land somewhere in between.
Throughout 2018, Andujar knocked the cover off the ball and eventually came in second in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Los Angeles Angels pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani. Andujar comes into spring training ready to compete at both first base and third base. While he’s a third baseman by trade, Aaron Boone reportedly has said that he’d like Andujar to get his reps in at first base and even the outfield. There is no doubt that he can hit. He has A+ bat speed and power to all sides of the field. However, his defense was a bit suspect at times, and he was placed on the IL for almost the entire 2019 season. Still though, Yankee fans who remember how good he was in 2018 would like to see him have his shot in the upcoming season, and it is quite possible a move to first base would help him defensively because he wouldn’t have to make as many tough throws across the diamond.
That leaves us with Gio Urshela, who was the unsung hero of 2019 and quite possibly the glue that helped keep the team rolling despite all of their injuries. Equipped with a phenomenal glove and a much-improved bat, Urshela did it all last year. Not only did he make game-saving plays at third base on almost a daily basis, but he was clutch with the bat as well. Even with a regression expected, he has shown that he can be both durable and valuable.
The Yankees have a beautiful problem on their hands: too many good players and not enough positions for them all to get playing time. Urshela undoubtedly has earned his spot at the hot corner, as it remains to be seen how Luke Voit and Miguel Andujar will hold up after their previous season filled with woe and injury.
Another embarrassment of riches the Yankees face is in the outfield. With Aaron Hicks likely out of commission for the beginning of the season, Brett Gardner was re-signed and is expected to get the bulk of the starts in centerfield. Something refreshing Gardner brings to the lineup is the fact that he is a lefty. He is the only lefty batter expected to crack the opening-day lineup.
With Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton locking up the corner outfield positions, we’re left to wonder what will come of Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier.
Another lefty, Tauchman was just what the doctor ordered down the stretch last season. With the AL East champions decimated by injuries all season long, Tauchman displayed great presence of mind on defense and timely hitting on offense. I fully expect to see him not only on the 26-man roster heading into the season, but even pressing for playing time, possibly moving Stanton to designated hitter often and taking more playing time away from Andujar.
Meanwhile, Frazier, who set the house on fire when he first came up in 2019, eventually came back down to earth later in the season. While filling in for injured Yankees, he basically carried the weight of the team on his shoulders in May. However, over time, pitchers adjusted how they pitched to him, and, like Andujar, he left a lot on the table defensively. Once considered a top prospect, Frazier still has all the potential in the world. He has lightning quick bat speed and plays hard, but his struggles on defense along with his inept ability to handle the New York media suggests he may be most valuable to the Yankees as trade bait. Perhaps they can swing something for Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies. That surely would end the third base competition early. More on that later …
One more competition to pay attention to during spring training is who will back up catcher Gary Sanchez? It may not seem important, but “Scary” Gary, while always improving, has made quite a few trips to the IL during the past three seasons. Austin Romine was as good a backup as you could ask for, but because he has recently signed with the Detroit Tigers, the Yankees will have to look elsewhere. Kyle Higashioka seemed the most likely to take over the role because he has seen time with the big-league club over the past three seasons, but it doesn’t look like the Yankees are ready to commit to him as a major league catcher now that they have signed Erik Kratz, Chris Iannetta and, most recently, Josh Thole to minor league deals.
Higashioka has been a familiar face during the past few years backing up the backup Romine, and it looked like he would be a shoe-in for reserve duties behind Sanchez this year. He’s homegrown, a good defensive player, and he knows the Yankees system. While he does have some pop in his bat, his offensive numbers are a bit lackluster, and it looks like the Yankees may want a little more consistency on that front out of their backup catcher. I’m not sure they’ll find it within the other three they signed, but we’ll see how things go this spring.
Erik Kratz, a career .205 hitter, has been a major league catcher since 2010. He has the experience, but I’m not sure he’s much of an upgrade to Higashioka, who will have first dibs on the job.
Once upon a time, Chris Iannetta was a stud catcher for the Colorado Rockies, hitting .264 with 18 bombs back in 2008, which are exciting numbers. Since then, he’s been on the decline and bounced around the league both as a starter and a backup. Offensively, he may be the best of this bunch. He also has the experience and managed to stay relatively healthy during a long career at a position that is the toughest on the body in all non-contact sports. He may be the biggest threat to Higashioka cracking the roster.
Lastly, we have recently signed Josh Thole, officially making this an all-out brawl for the second catcher spot. While he doesn’t possess a ton of power, he seems to have the best contact skills. The former Met will get his fair shake at the job, but likely will be starting the year in AAA.
I like the Yankees thinking here. They’re clearly not 100 percent sold on their catcher situation, and, as last season demonstrated, you never can have too much depth. Good for them for being proactive instead of reactive.
Here is the projected Yankees lineup and batting order:
- 2B, DJ LeMahieu
- RF, Aaron Judge
- SS, Gleyber Torres
- LF, Giancarlo Stanton
- C, Gary Sanchez
- 1B, Luke Voit
- DH, Miguel Andujar
- CF, Brett Gardner
- 3B, Gio Urshela
The Yankees are poised for a monster season. If there is one thing that isn’t perfect about this lineup, it’s the number of right-handed hitters in a left-handed ballpark. A lot of these righties do like to go to the opposite field, but it’s definitely always a nice option for Aaron Boone to have balance within a lineup. With Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford likely to make the cut as bench options, in addition to the fact that relief pitchers now have to face a minimum of three batters, that should help the cause a lot. This offense is projected to break records, assuming, of course, they can stay healthy as fans prepare for what is primed to be a historic season.
One thing this team has lacked during the past few years is a consistent starting rotation. That has been addressed with flying colors in a very exciting way. Last season, the Yankees made a trade for James Paxton who finished as one of the best pitchers in baseball down the stretch. This year, they’ve signed bona-fide ace Gerrit Cole. Added to the enthusiasm of obtaining a pitcher of Cole’s caliber, is taking him away from the Houston Astros, who have been an undeniable thorn in the Yankees’ side the past three seasons (sign-stealing scandal or not). Put these two pieces together with Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, and the club’s only real flaw, their starting pitching, now is arguably the best in baseball. General Manager Brian Cashman has all but assured that J.A. Happ will be the fifth starter, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jordan Montgomery compete for the spot, coming off Tommy John surgery. Later in the year, Domingo German also will be a factor once he comes off league suspension. When you consider the bullpen has been top 5 perennially and there haven’t been too many changes in that regard, it’s clear that the Yankees are in very good shape in every facet of the pitching squad.
Cashman has made it clear that he is content with the roster going into the season. But because he is an aggressive GM, I have a hard time believing he’s done making moves. Even though the Yankees have so many solid players up and down the roster, it’s not hard to see them making one more big-time move before the season, possibly selling a few pieces for one more all-star player. Arenado has made it abundantly clear that he is no longer happy in Colorado. While both Andujar and Urshela have impressed, Arenado is elite both offensively and defensively, not only as far as third basemen go, but in all of baseball. Depth is very important as proven last year, but the addition of Arenado would basically make the New York Yankees an all-star team.
Yankees fans absolutely should be delighted with the current state of the team as we look forward to another chase for 28.