Yankees’ Youthful Reinforcements Are Failing Them
The Yankees have a bevy of veterans clogging up their roster and a wavelet of youthful components that aren’t ready to take over.
No one said it better than Joel Sherman in his piece about the team’s structure: It’s a flawed roster with a conflicting organizational philosophy that stretches to both compete now and build for the future.
Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, counted on to be middle-of-the-order power bats, have combined for a head-scratching .186 batting average with 10 homers scraped together through 31% of New York’s season. Both, having battled their respective injuries and demons at the plate, are a primary reason that the Yankees have wallowed at the .500 mark or worse since April 13.
Among other struggling players over the age of 30 and hitting less than .235 are Chase Headley, Brett Gardner, and after a hot start to the season, Brian McCann, who is mired in a 1-for-21 slump despite delivering a 2-run blast Monday night against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The exasperating inconsistencies of the misfiring offense have fans clamoring for youth and reformation, but I must ask a demanding question that’s facing a deadlocked Yankees’ system: Where would you find the improvements?
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Injuries have stolen many of Joe Girardi’s reserves in the minors and compliment players in the majors. First baseman Greg Bird is likely sidelined for the season after having a torn labrum surgically repaired over the offseason. After making the most of his 2015 rookie campaign, Bird would have been a viable option to fill-in at first for Teixeira, and more recently, Dustin Ackley–who suffered an injury similar to Bird and now faces the possibility of surgery–while they’ve ridden out their medical misfortunes.
Speaking of Ackley, before he suffered his injury in Sunday’s contest, the Yankees had much higher hopes than his .148/.243/.148 slash line. They had dreamed of similar results to their appetizer portion of the 2015 season after acquiring him from the Seattle Mariners, when he featured a .987 OPS in 23 games.
Instead, the organization is now staring at a black hole on their depth chart at first base, to the point that Girardi has entertained the idea of giving reps to evolving utility man Rob Refsnyder at the position to serve as a backup.
The team will also be moving forward for the near future without the security of prospect Gary Sanchez being stashed in Triple-A.
The catcher has been inactive since May 25. He was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture on his throwing-hand thumb from being struck by a stray foul tip. It’s an unfortunate scenario that has depleted an avenue for the Yankees if they were to require a thumping right-handed bat against a string of lefties.
Mishaps to Bryan Mitchell and darling draft pick James Kaprielian have delayed their potential to provide cavalry to the starting rotation. Mitchell landed on the 60-day DL in the final week of Spring Training, while Kaprielian was expected to take the fast track to the majors before being derailed by elbow soreness.
Even the “Strikeout Factory”, Jacob Lindgren, had only pitched six innings total this year for Class-A Tampa before being transferred to the minor-league DL with elbow soreness of his own. If he was healthy, the left-hander would likely be occupying the bullpen vacancy left by Chasen Shreve‘s trip to the 15-day DL, which instead has been appointed to Richard Bleier.
On top of injuries has been underperformance. 22-year-old Luis Severino and 27-year-old Michael Pineda have been a far cry from top-of-the-rotation arms, combining for 12 losses in 17 starts. Severino pitched himself out of the Yankees’ rotation–he was demoted to Triple-A prior to Monday’s ballgame–and Pineda would be in jeopardy of the same fate if there was a sure-fire replacement waiting in the wings.
Pineda is the worst among all qualified MLB starters with a 6.92 ERA. If he can’t solve his two-out, two-strike woes, the Yankees will be forced into executing a creative solution to absolve themselves of their pitcher’s maddening results.
Since arriving at Triple-A, outfielder Aaron Judge has struggled to find his plate approach against outside, off-speed pitches. I recently had the chance to observe the towering prospect in a game against the Norfolk Tides, and their pitchers hammered him with the put-away soft stuff to keep him whiffing, which has been an enormous problem for the Baby Bomber this year.
In parts of 2015 and 2016, Judge has cranked 15 home runs in Triple-A, but also sports a disappointing .231 average with a 27.2 K%.
On the major-league roster, Aaron Hicks has been a puzzle, as well. Brought in from the Minnesota Twins for his defensive superiority and flexibility, Hicks has shown questionable routes and mental lapses in the outfield during his time in New York, and is just below the Mendoza Line at the plate. The switch-hitter has yet to show his ability to mash left-handed pitchers, and actually has reverse splits from his expected output (.159 BA vs LHPs, .222 BA vs RHPs).
Fan-favorite Refsnyder has been suspended in minor-league purgatory because of his defensive inabilities, but he’s somehow accumulated the most service time among the Yankees’ positional prospects in the Bigs this year.
His high-contact bat has ramrodded him into the picture, but he remains below replacement value at most every defensive position that he patrols. Girardi and Brian Cashman keep throwing new positions Refsnyder’s way to try and increase his versatility (or trade value), but so far he hasn’t shown convincing promise outside of the batter’s box.
Now, it hasn’t been all bad for the Yankees’ youth. Speedy shortstop Jorge Mateo may be a few years away from big-league impact, but he’s tearing it up in High-A and is on the cusp of a promotion to Class-AA Trenton. Following a breakout 2015 season, outfielder Ben Gamel was brought up for his first bite of the majors this year before being reassigned to Triple-A, where teammate Jake Cave is currently succeeding alongside him (.301/.350/.548, five homers, 25 RBIs in 43 games split between Trenton and Scranton).
At the major-league level, the 6’8″ Dellin Betances remains a powerful adversary to opposing hitters with triple-digit heat and a knee-buckling bender. Trades from the past two offseasons have brought stability to the rotation in Nathan Eovaldi and a solid, young middle infield consisting of Didi Gregorious and Starlin Castro. Even Austin Romine has emerged as a well-rounded, productive backup to McCann, softening the blow of losing Sanchez to the DL.
But where the sun doesn’t shine on this disjointed roster concoction, one has to wonder where the Yankees will turn to for improvement.
With a constricted wallet in the front office, lack of imminent influential free agents, unwillingness to trade blue-chip prospects, and sub-par performances plaguing their veterans and reinforcements, how and when will this team manage to dig itself out of the grave and climb back into annual contention?