The New York Yankees, in the midst of a championship window, should not base their roster-building strategy around young players hopefully being ready to contribute two years down the line — at which point newer, younger players will have already replaced them in the dream pecking order.
That said, the left field vacancy for 2023 did not need to be filled with another five-year contract, and it certainly didn’t need to be filled with a five-year contract awarded to Andrew Benintendi (at the expense of signing Carlos Rodón).
As long as the 2023 patchwork looks a lot more like Oswaldo Cabrera/additional help at the deadline and a lot less like Aaron Hicks, the Yankees will probably be fine waiting to determine their long-term solution at the position, considering Jasson Dominguez, Everson Pereira and 2022 first-round pick Spencer Jones are all currently rising quickly.
Unless Harrison Bader is extended after 2023 (or before the season ends), there will only be two outfield vacancies in the Bronx at any point in the next decade. That means healthy competition, sprinkled with a dose of optimism for the leaps and bounds we’ve seen made already.
Though Jones, still just 21 years old and freshly drafted, might feel like the odd man out and the prospect who needs the most seasoning, his downright freakish start to his pro career has the Yankees dreaming about a skill set that might translate in a matter of minutes.
Yankees first-round pick Spencer Jones could be another Aaron Judge-like unicorn
Jones, a 6-7 titan known for premium exit velocity at Vanderbilt, resembles Judge in both stature and production, but not in the route he took to get here. Judge was viewed as an anomaly whose disjointed swing and size would eventually catch up to him; he worked tremendously hard to fix that and reverse course. Jones, on the other hand, comes from a baseball factory.
The Yankees knew they were getting a player with some swing and miss and Judgian size concerns, but the most important thing to them was knowing whether he could maintain his standout exit velo at the pro level. Once that was established, they could move onto other concerns.
Though Jones’ 25-game sample size at High-A Tampa was obviously short, the velocity data was there, proving his trademark skill transcended the metal bats of college baseball, a decades-long cheat code for power. As detailed by Pinstripe Alley:
"His line of .344/.425/.538 doesn’t even tell the whole exciting story of his pro debut. First, he cut his strikeout rate to just over 18 percent, down from 23.5 percent during his college season. The primary concern for hitters Jones’ size, and perhaps a factor in his lasting to the 25th overall pick in the draft, is a swing full of holes that will be exploited by better pitching, so seeing a young player capable of making adjustments to get the ball in play is encouraging.It would be less encouraging if those tweaks came with the sacrifice of power, but Jones also hit four home runs and six doubles in his time at Tampa, with one of those homers launched at 111.3 mph. Top-of-the-chart exit velocity was on Jones’ scouting report before the draft, and it continued when he switched to wood bats as a pro."
Ideally, Jones cutting his strikeout rate was a sustainable change, but there’s no real way of knowing after such a short cameo. A bad week against the Bradenton Marauders could bang that stat line with a hammer and knock it off kilter.
But, under all the pomp and circumstance of his debut month, his natural talent remained. Putting up top-of-the-charts exit velocity numbers, with so many changes around Jones, is extremely impressive (and High-A isn’t rookie ball).
He might not arrive in 2023, but the Yankees caught a glimpse of the player they were dreaming on last fall. No matter what roadblocks come next, they can always default to what happens when Jones connects.