The 2017 season was supposed to be a year of transition for the New York Yankees as they began to shift to their younger players, such as Aaron Judge, Jordan Montgomery, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. Some were even referring to the 2017 season as a rebuilding year, and to the amazement of the organization, as well as their fans, were treated to a season full of surprises that included a trip to the American League Championship Series where they lost a hard-fought series to the Houston Astros in seven games.
The Astros who would go on to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series for their first title in franchise history. Despite the loss in the ALCS, Yankee fans were treated to several surprises during the 2017 season, most notably the 241 home runs which led all of Major League Baseball, thanks in large part to the 2017 A.L. Rookie of the Year, Aaron Judge, who hit an American League-leading 52. Also contributing to that total last season was the most productive catcher in the American League, and arguably the entire MLB, Gary Sanchez.
The young phenom behind the plate chipped in with 33 home runs while driving in 90 runs despite missing an entire month early in the season due to injury, which limited him to only 122 games played. Sanchez has 53 career home runs in just 175 games
New York Yankees 2018 Season Preview
The Yankees already featured a potent lineup before heading into the 2018 season, which is led by Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird respectively. But it’s the Yankees newest addition that will certainly cause opposing pitchers to lose sleep when looking at this lineup.
During the off-season, New York acquired the 2017 NL MVP, and former Miami Marlins superstar Giancarlo Stanton, in exchange for second baseman Starlin Castro and a couple of low-level prospects. Stanton led all of MLB in home runs (59) and RBI (132) while batting .281, and adds even more power to a team that led Major League Baseball in home runs last season. The Evil Empire is back.
The Yankees made the playoffs last season as a 91-win Wild Card team, but this season their eyes are on winning the AL East, as well as the World Series. For the Yankees to win the American League East, however, they will first have to get by the Boston Red Sox. In order to get past their biggest rival, they’ll need their starting pitching to stay healthy and for their bullpen to be as effective as it was in 2017 when New York finished fifth in the MLB for team ERA (3.72).
Age, health, and experience will play a vital role in the success or lack thereof in regards to the Yankees starting rotation. Both Masahiro Tanaka (13-12, 4.74) and C.C. Sabathia (14-5, 3.69) have dealt with injuries over the years, in particularly Tanaka who always seems to require a stint or two on the DL. Tanaka will be looking to rebound from an inconsistent season a year ago, despite being nearly unhittable in the postseason. As far as Sabathia, the once hefty-lefty is coming off a bounce-back season in 2017, where he too was incredible in the postseason, and will be looking to carry that success into this season. From him to do that, he’ll need his age (39) and ailing right knee to cooperate. Don’t be surprised if the Yankees new manager, Aaron Boone, goes to a six-man rotation at some point during the regular season.
One of the biggest surprises of the 2017 season was the emergence and redemption of Luis Severino. The potential future ace of the Yankees rotation entered the 2017 season coming off his worst season as a pro in 2016, when he went 0-8 as a starter with an ERA of 8.50. But Severino easily won the job as the Yankees number four starter behind Tanaka, Sabathia, and the now departed Michael Pineda. The young ace finished the 2017 season with a record of 14-6, with an ERA of 2.98, along with 194 strikeouts in 178.1 innings pitched. All of which were career highs for the young right-hander. Severino would falter a bit in the postseason, but youth and nerves played more of a role in that than the lack of talent. Severino will look to take the next step in his career this season as expectations for him to build on the success from a year ago will be a hot topic from the media in the Big Apple, as well as a constant reminder.
Rounding out the starting rotation will be Sonny Gray (10-12, 3.55), who the Yankees acquired at the trade deadline from the Oakland Athletics, and another pleasant surprise from last season, rookie left-hander Jordan Montgomery (9-7, 3.88). Both pitchers should provide stability in the backend of the rotation, which the Yankees didn’t have at this time last season.
The Yankees Strength – The Bullpen
The Yankees bullpen finished last season with the third-lowest ERA (3.34), lowest average against (.204), and the highest strikeout rate (29.1%) in MLB. Which makes the Yankees bullpen one of the best in baseball, if not the best, heading into this season. The depth of their pen is astounding. It’s anchored by 30-year-olds Aroldis Chapman (4-3, 3.22, 22 saves) and Dellin Betances (3-6, 2.87, 10 saves). Both flame-throwers experienced rough patches last season, but thanks to a key trade with the Chicago White Sox at the trade deadline last season, they added depth and experience.
The two relievers acquired in the trade, David Robertson (5-0, 1.03, 1 save) and Tommy Kahnle (1-1, 2.70) were both former Yankees. Robertson brought experience in the form of three seasons of 30-plus saves, one of which was with the Yankees, and Kahnle added depth with the ability to come into the game at any point.
The two remaining relievers who played critical roles in the Yankees success last season are Adam Warren (3-2, 2.36, 1 save) and Chad Green (5-0, 1.83). Warren was used mainly as a long-reliever, while also being used as the setup man for Chapman and Betances from time-to-time, and is expected to fill the same role this season. As far as Green’s role is concerned, he’ll start Spring Training as a starter, but will most likely begin the season as New York’s middle-reliever. The same role he occupied last season where he had a strikeout rate of 13.4 per nine.
Watch Out For The Power
The Yankees hit 241 home runs a year ago, which led all of baseball, and that was without the reigning N.L. MVP and Major League leader in home runs in Giancarlo Stanton. The 1997 Seattle Mariners hold the MLB record for home runs in a season with 264. A number that doesn’t seem unrealistic to this group of Bronx Bombers.
The right-handed trio of Stanton (.281, 59, 132), Judge (.284, 52, 114), and Sanchez (.278, 33, 90) combined to hit a total of 144 home runs, and that was with Sanchez missing a month of action due to injury. Where Aaron Boone decides to bat the trio is still yet to be seen, but it’s safe to say that baseballs will be clearing the fences in bunches.
The left-handed bats of Greg Bird and Didi Gregorius should not be overlooked. Before Sanchez erupted on the scene in 2016, it was Bird who first opened up a lot eyes when he filled in for an injured Mark Teixeira in 2015. Bird was considered the best hitter in the Yankees organization in 2015, ahead of even Gary Sanchez. But unfortunately for Bird, he’s had to battle a number of injuries which has limited the number of games he played in. Bird has only played in 94 games since 2015, but has been extremely productive when he has played. Hitting a total of 20 home runs in only 304 at-bats, while driving in 59 runs.
When it comes to Didi’s ability at the plate, teams have been forced to take notice. Since taking over for Yankee legend Derek Jeter in 2015, the 27-year-old shortstop has seen his production at the plate get better year in and year out. Last season Gregorius set career-highs in batting average (.287), home runs (25), and runs batted in (87). He also continues to shine at shortstop with his defense. If there’s anything he’d like to improve on, it might be his base-running, but other than that minor detail, opposing pitchers will have to be careful when pitching to him.
Rookies in the Infield
Since the Yankees traded veteran infielders Chase Headley and Starlin Castro in the off-season, New York will have to go into Spring Training with rookies looking to make the Opening Day roster after failing to acquire a veteran or re-sign third baseman Todd Frazier.
The three rookies who will be vying for a spot on the Opening Day roster include the Yankees number one prospect Gleyber Torres (acquired from the Chicago Cubs in 2016), Miguel Andujar, and Tyler Wade. Both Andujar and Wade made their Major League debut last season, but Torres’ season was cut short after suffering a left elbow injury at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre that required season-ending Tommy John surgery. Otherwise, Torres would’ve made his Major League debut last season along with the other handful of top prospects who made their debut.
As of now, the Yankees expect to go with Andujar at third base and Torres at second with Wade coming off the bench. New York will most likely start Torres down at Triple-A to start the season so he can shake some rust off, as well as to push back his arbitration eligibility another season. The Yankees won’t have to rely solely on rookies at second and third base. They have Ronald Torreyes and Danny Espinosa, both of whom are savvy veterans that can play adequate defense in case either of the rookies struggles.
2018 Season Prediction: 95-67 (1st Place in AL East)
Embed from Getty Images