With pitchers and catchers just five weeks away from reporting to spring training, fans of the New York Yankees have plenty of reasons for optimism, but key questions remain to be answered for the upcoming season.
Comprising a steady mix of up-and-coming youngsters and seasoned veterans, including notable Yankees free agent acquisitions Aroldis Chapman and Matt Holliday, the team will look to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish.
Until camps open in mid-February, I will address a burning question each week that is likely on the mind of the team’s fans. Let’s take a look ahead at the five topics:
Yankees Question #1: What can the Yankees expect from its veteran position players?
The Yankees lineup features four veteran hitters in Holliday (36), Jacoby Ellsbury (33), Brett Gardner (33) and Chase Headley (32). Aside from helping the Yankees young core of players develop, those four hitters need to perform up to their potential for the Yankees to make the playoffs.
Gardner’s Gold Glove campaign and sneakily impressive offensive performance in 2016 prompted the Yankees to retain him this offseason. By contrast, Ellsbury (.263 AVG/9 HR/56 RBI) and Headley (.253 AVG/14 HR/51 RBI) posted average seasons at the plate (at best).
Holliday, who signed a 1-year $17 million deal to play in the Bronx, saw his productive 2016 season – in which he hit .246 with 20 home runs and 62 RBI’s – end abruptly on August 11 after a fastball from Mike Montgomery fractured his thumb.
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Yankees Question #2: What can the Yankees expect from its returning young stars?
Gary Sanchez caught the attention of baseball fans nationwide in his rookie season, as he produced a remarkable line of .299 AVG/.376 OBP/.657 SLG with 20 home runs and 42 RBIs. Despite playing in only 53 games (201 at-bats), Sanchez earned a second-place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Will Sanchez continue to put up Ruthian numbers at the plate in 2017, such as his 10.05 at-bats per home run?
Additionally, Greg Bird will look to be the team’s everyday first basemen in 2017 after missing all of the last season. Will Bird immediately regain the flashes of brilliance he showed at the end of the 2015 season when he swatted 11 home runs in his first 46 MLB games? Or he could he turn into a modern-day Kevin Maas?
Finally, while Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge initially made a big splash by hitting home runs back-to-back in their first MLB at-bats, the pair endured growing pains the remainder of the season. Hopefully getting significant playing time at the end of the 2016 season eased their transitions to the MLB, as the expectation is that the two of them will man the majority of playing time in right field this season.
Yankees Question #3: Which of Yankees’ elite prospects will make contributions in the majors?
Clint Frazier, the team’s top prospect according to MLB.com, hit .263 with 16 home runs and 55 RBIs in 119 games split between the Yankees and Cleveland Indians AA and AAA affiliates. However, Frazier struggled after the team assigned him to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRaiders. In 25 games, he hit just .228 AVG/ .278 OBP/ .396 SLG with 3 home runs and 7 RBIs.
Other young standouts such as 2016 Arizona League-MVP Gleyber Torres, Jorge Mateo and Justus Sheffield aren’t expected to break into the majors until 2018, but if any of the three perform up to their potential, they could certainly force their way into the majors this coming year.
While the Yankees starting rotation is undoubtedly the team’s greatest area of weakness, the Yankees have starting pitchers ranking in their top-20 prospects who are expected to join the big league team this season. What can we expect, if anything, out of James Kaprielian, Dillon Tate, Chance Adams and/or Jordan Montgomery in 2017?
Yankees Question #4: Can the Yankees starting rotation suffice for 2017?
Where to begin? With the team’s rotation featuring only one above average starter in Masahiro Tanaka, we could be seeing plenty of home runs by the visitors sail over the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium this season.
The rest of the rotation looks to be composed of CC Sabathia, a former ace at the end of his career, Jekyll and Hyde Michael Pineda, and a rotation of unproven youngsters such as Chad Green, Luis Severino, Bryan Mitchell or Luis Cessa.
Should the Yankees pursue a free agent arm such as Tyson Ross, or do they realistically have a chance to win with this rotation?
Yankees Question #5: Can Gregorius and Castro solidify themselves as one of baseball’s best middle infield tandems?
In Gregorius and Castro’s first season playing up the middle together, the two dazzled on both sides of the field. For the first time in Yankees-history, both of their middle infielders hit 20+ home runs. Through Gregorius’s first three MLB seasons, he never eclipsed nine home runs, but found his power stroke in 2016 with 20 long balls. The Amsterdam-native posted career highs in several offensive categories including AVG (.276), SLG (.447), OPS (.751), RBI (70), hits (155) and doubles (32).
While Castro’s .270 AVG in 2016 was 10 points below his career average, 2016 was his best season from a power standpoint. Castro hit a career-high 21 home runs to go along with 70 RBIs and a .270 AVG/.300 OBP/.433 SLG line.
The two also posted elite seasons defensively, as Castro produced a career-high .980 fielding percentage, and Gregorius nearly matched him with a .974 clip of his own.
Those are the burning questions as I see them going into spring training. Tweet at us or leave us a comment with any other issues or concerns you may have about the team heading into spring training.