Yankee News/Analysis: Yankees Face Challenges with Depleted Outfield


The New York Yankees’ outfield in Monday’s 14-1 victory over the visiting Kansas City Royals was not the outfield the Yankees expected or planned to have. The victories the past two days were a much-needed blow-out win for the Yankees who have been struggling of late losing 10 of 11 and enduring a sweep by the Texas Rangers over the weekend which culminated in a demoralizing loss on Sunday night in front of Yankee legends who were in attendance for Bernie Williams Day.

One day after honoring, Williams, one of the Yankees all-time best offensive center fielders, the team’s center fielder was rookie prospect Slade Heathcott and the right fielder was backup Garrett Jones.  The lone starter was left fielder Brett Gardner.  A knee injury to starting center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and second day of illness for everyday right fielder Carlos Beltran depleted two-thirds of the opening day outfield.

The Yankees currently find themselves one game above 500 with a 23-22 record.  The play from the outfielders has provided some of the season’s best play, but with injuries and an inconsistent play what can the Yankees expect?

Apr 2, 2015; Lakeland, FL, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Slade Heathcott (74) walks back to the bench after he was caught trying to steal 2nd base during the seventh inning of a spring training baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. The Tigers won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Left field has been the most consistent position. Gardner has started 37 games in left and started off incredibly hot,  batting over .300 for most of the young season. Currently he is at .283/.364/.438 with an OPS+ of 124 and 12 stolen bases. He has patrolled LF with excellent speed and range and in typical Gadnerian fashion has made zero errors. He has three outfield assists so far and has shown improved arm strength that has runners thinking twice before taking off on the gutty gritty left fielder. Gardner has been caught stealing and picked off too many times this season, something that needs to be curtailed.

Chris Young has been a competent replacement for Gardner when he has needed the occasional rest day. So far, of all the problems that the Yankees have had with offense and poor defensive fielding left field has been a bright spot. Young’s number on the year in all outfield position are in 40 games are .238/.294/.485.

Center field was the jewel in the Yankees crown when played by the now injured Ellsbury. In tandem with the speedy Gardner, Ellsbury provided an exciting lead off bat and was an inimitable pest on the base paths. Before injuring his knee and being placed on the 15-day DL Ellsbury was a scorching .324/.412/3.72 with an OPS+ of 124 and a league leading 14 stolen bases.  Like Gardner, he plays  an aggressive center field with enviable speed and range, often covering a center and ranging into right to help a defensively hampered Beltran. While his arm is not a strength he still has 2 outfield assists and his speed and range more than make up for a less than optimal throwing arm. Ellsbury is currently in a knee brace and undergoing treatment, but his return date is unknown at this time.

Ellsbury has been replaced by Young  and the rookie prospect Slade Heathcott.  Like his time in left, Young is a competent center fielder, but it the debut of the young Heathcott that may be is the most interesting aspect of all the outfielders. Heathcott was a highly touted draft pick in 2009, but was derailed by a series of injuries. His upside is tremendous and it is very exciting for fans and the organization to see what he will bring to the team.  Like Gardner and Ellsbury he has displayed great defensive skills in the minor leagues and a defensive outfield of Gardner, Ellsbury, and Heathcott  would instill fear into the hearts of opposing lineups. Heathcott has started three games and has played well with a .417/.417/730 in a very small sample size.

Overall, while Heathcott is an intriguing story, it is imperative that the Yankees get Ellsbury back healthy as soon as he is ready.

Right field is the tricky wicket in this bunch. The primary outfielder is Carlos Beltran who in his age 38 season has been showing signs of decline and playing very inconsistently. He began the season so cold offensively that many fans began to fear that it was just the ghost of Beltran past manning right field and called for him to be replaced by Young. Recently though, at least offensively, Beltran seems to have come alive. His ice-cold bat has heated up in May and he is batting .301 with three home runs this month. He has missed two games with the flu, and only played part of the game last night.

Beltran’s bat may have come alive in May, but his fielding abilities are still a question mark. He has limited range and at times he looks uncomfortable running or even really moving in the outfield.  He has been replaced in late innings for defense by Young. With Beltran out that leaves Young and Garrett Jones to play right field. Young started the season as blistering hot as Beltran was cold, but has since completely cooled off and is in a bit of slump.  Jones is an adequate fielder who has provided some offense, but  like Young, he is not really a viable everyday outfielder.

Overall, right field is the most interesting spot as Beltran’s defense is a liability, but with Alex Rodriguez .262/.363/.545 and 10 home runs occupying the designated hitter spot there are few options other than to relieve Beltran in late innings for defense and hope he maintains his offensive production and does not regress back to early spring form.

On Tuesday, the Yankees will once again be without Ellsbury and Beltran. The outfield will once again showcase only Brett Gardner as a tried and true everyday outfielder.  In a season where the Yankees have been hot and cold it would be beneficial if the outfield could provide some consistency. What outfield lineup would you like to see for the Yankees? Share in the comments below.

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