Yankees roster for MLB restart: Four things to know as New York prepares for 60-game baseball season


Now three seasons into their reemergence as a baseball powerhouse, the New York Yankees are still looking to get over the hump and win their first World Series championship since 2009. Their 2019 season ended in heartbreak, with Jose Altuve hitting a walk-off home run in Game 6 of the ALCS, and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the start to everyone’s 2020 campaign.

“I think we have a really talented group that is definitely focused on trying to be the best team in the game,” GM Brian Cashman told MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch in May. “I think our guys are hungry and regardless of the amount of games played. If put in the position to do so, they’re going to compete in the best of their ability because they want what they feel they’re capable of achieving, which is a championship.”

MLB has scheduled a 60-game season beginning next month — the Yankees are tentatively scheduled to open against the defending World Series champion Nationals in Washington D.C. on July 23 — so this season will be a sprint, not a marathon. On paper, the Yankees are on the short list of the best teams in baseball. Will it play out that way across 60 games? We’re going to find out. Let’s preview the shortened 2020 season in the Bronx.

Win total projection, odds

  • 2020 Sportsline projection: 37-23
  • World Series odds (via William Hill Sportsbook): +350
  • 2019 record: 103-59 (lost in ALCS)

Projected lineup

  1. 2B DJ LeMahieu
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. CF Aaron Hicks
  4. DH Giancarlo Stanton
  5. SS Gleyber Torres
  6. C Gary Sanchez
  7. 1B Luke Voit
  8. 3B Gio Urshela
  9. LF Brett Gardner

Bench: C Kyle Higashioka, IF Tyler Wade, IF/OF Miguel Andujar, OF Mike Tauchman

LeMahieu and Judge in the 1-2 spots were a staple last season and there’s no reason to believe manager Aaron Boone will change it up this year. The 3-7 spots are a little more up in the air. The Yankees like to squeeze a lefty hitter between Judge and Stanton, two strikeout-prone righties, and the switch-hitting Hicks is the natural fit with his strong on-base percentages. Generally speaking, the Yankees could list those players in the 3-7 spots in whatever order and it’d look pretty good. Even with a 30-man roster to begin the season, slugging first baseman Mike Ford and former top outfield prospect Clint Frazier get squeezed down onto the taxi squad. They’re the first wave of reinforcements.

Projected rotation

  1. RHP Gerrit Cole
  2. LHP James Paxton
  3. RHP Masahiro Tanaka
  4. LHP J.A. Happ
  5. LHP Jordan Montgomery

Luis Severino had Tommy John surgery in February and will miss the season. That clears a rotation spot for Montgomery, who was very good as a rookie in 2017, but missed most of 2018 and 2019 with his own Tommy John procedure. The Yankees used an opener several times last season and figure to do so again should a need arise this year. Michael King, Jonathan Loaisiga and top pitching prospects Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt are the depth starters behind the top five.

Projected bullpen

The Yankees have a very deep bullpen — Green and Kahnle would be the closer-setup man tandem for more than a few teams and they’re the fourth and fifth options in New York’s bullpen — and Boone uses it aggressively. Only seven teams got more innings from their bullpen last year, and the Yankees managed that while never once using a reliever three consecutive days during the regular season. Veterans Luis Avilan, David Hale and Dan Otero, and various youngsters (Garcia, King, Schmidt, etc.) are the depth arms.

The new ace

The Yankees and manager Aaron Boone have a new ace in Gerrit Cole.
USATSI

After handing out over $400 million in contract guarantees to Tanaka, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann during the 2013-14 offseason, the Yankees sat out the big money free-agent market for a few years. They passed on Zack Greinke and David Price years ago and Patrick Corbin, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado more recently. Their biggest free-agent splash from 2014-19 was bringing Chapman back on a five-year deal worth $86 million.

The Yankees went back to being the Yankees this past winter. They outbid the Angels and Dodgers for Cole, the 2019 AL Cy Young runner-up and the best starting pitcher to hit free agency since Max Scherzer in 2015. The cost: $324 million across nine years. It is the richest pitching contract in history by nearly $80 million, topping the $245 million deal the Nationals gave Stephen Strasburg only a few days earlier.

“If you’re going to do it, it needs to be a guy like this,” chairman Hal Steinbrenner said about giving Cole a record-setting contract back in December. “He’s a special human being. So many good qualities about him. It’s going to be a great nine years, I think.”

Cole, 29, is on the short list of the game’s best pitchers. He led the American League in ERA (2.50), ERA+ (185) and FIP (2.64) last season. His 326 strikeouts were the most by a right-handed pitcher since Nolan Ryan struck out 341 batters in 1977, and his 39.9 percent strikeout rate is the highest in history among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. The Yankees imported a no-doubt ace in his prime.

They also took Cole away from the Astros, the team that beat them in two of the last three ALCS’s and knocked them out of the postseason three times in the last five years. Cole bumps everyone in the rotation down a peg — Paxton slots in nicely as the No. 2 rather than the No. 1, etc. — and everyone knows why he was signed. It’s about getting over the hump and winning a World Series with a core that has been close, and is as ready to win as it’s going to get.

“We have an incredible team right here, right now. What happens three years from now, you can never predict,” Steinbrenner said in December. “Clearly I felt it was time to strike to really get that final big piece that can make a difference with the way things have been going. … We need to win some world championships and I believe we’re going to do that, sooner than later. I believe that. Plural.”

Will they stay healthy?

The Yankees sent an MLB record 30 different players to the injured list last season and their 3,154 man games lost to injury were not only the most in baseball (by more than 800), they were the most by any team in at least four years. Severino made three starts, Stanton was limited to 18 games, Andujar didn’t play after May, and on and on it went. Still, the Yankees won 103 games and the AL East title. Their ability to dig up surprise contributors (Urshela, Cameron Maybin, etc.) is unrivaled.

The 2019 injury bug carried over to 2020 before the shutdown. Severino blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery. Hicks had Tommy John surgery last October and was due to miss the first half of the year. Paxton had back surgery in February and was expected to miss eight weeks. Stanton tweaked his calf in camp. Most troubling, Judge was still dealing with what was eventually diagnosed as a rib fracture when he reported to spring training. The injury happened when he dove for a ball last September.

Had the 2020 season started as scheduled on March 26, the Yankees would’ve been without Hicks, Judge, Paxton, Severino and Stanton. That won’t be the case now. Paxton is recovered. Stanton is recovered. Hicks has continued to progress with his rehab and is taking full batting practice, indicating he’ll be ready to go for spring training 2.0.

Judge’s injury has continued to linger but there was a positive update last week. Erik Boland of Newsday reported Judge resumed hitting at the team’s spring training complex recently — “Didn’t seem to be holding anything back,” Boland’s source said — and while it was only tee work, it was a step in the right direction after weeks of rest and recovery. Severino will miss the season, but there’s a pretty good chance the Yankees will have Hicks, Judge, Paxton and Stanton on their Opening Day active roster next month.

The question now: Will they stay healthy? Getting healthy and staying healthy are two different things. The Yankees overhauled their training staff over the winter and brought in Eric Cressey to oversee their player performance division. Cressey is highly regarded within the industry for his new school, data driving training methods. Countless pro athletes train at his facilities (Cressey Sports Performance in Massachusetts and Florida) and the hire was universally praised when it was announced.

Every game in a 60-game season carries added weight, and the longer you can keep your best players on the field, the better your chances to reach the postseason and contend for a championship. COVID-19 presents a unique challenge. From a baseball injury standpoint, the Yankees fared about as poorly as possible last season. They showed they can weather the storm, but, in a short season, they don’t want to push their luck again. The Yankees need their best players to stay on the field in 2020.

Torres is moving to shortstop

Somewhat surprisingly, the Yankees let Didi Gregorius leave as a free agent this past offseason. Gregorius thrived as Derek Jeter’s replacement and was a fan favorite during his five good-to-great years in pinstripes. That said, Sir Didi missed almost half of last season with Tommy John surgery and had a .276 on-base percentage when he did play. The Yankees decided it was time to turn the page and hand the shortstop reins to Torres.

Torres, a natural shortstop, played second base in deference to Gregorius in 2018 and again when he returned in 2019. He played shortstop while Gregorius was out and he looks more natural there. The defensive metrics say it is his better position, too:

  • Second base: minus-7 defensive runs saved (minus-12.0 ultimate zone rating)
  • Shortstop: minus-3 defensive runs saved (minus-4.7 ultimate zone rating)

Statcast data says when Torres was positioned on the shortstop side of second base last year (i.e. not including when he is the shortstop but positioned on the second base side in the shift), he saved zero outs above average. Exactly league average. On the second base side of the bag, he was five outs below average. The eye test and the numbers test suggest he’s more comfortable at shortstop and that makes sense seeing how he came up through the minors at short (only 197 career games at second).

Torres at shortstop frees up second base for LeMahieu, who split his time between the three non-shortstop infield positions last year. LeMahieu is an excellent defender. Gleyber at short and LeMahieu at second is quite possibly a defensive upgrade over Gregorius at short and Torres at second. Now there’s no safety net, though. Should Torres prove unable to play short on an everyday basis, the Yankees don’t have a viable backup plan.

The bet here is Torres will be fine at shortstop. He probably won’t contend for a Gold Glove, but he’ll make the plays he’s expected to make, and settle in as the Yankees’ long-term fixture at the position. They are taking a risk here, though, because Gregorius is a good player and the more good players you have, the better. In a short 60-game season, the Yankees will need Torres to settle in at shortstop quickly. There’s no time for an extended adjustment period.

Can Urshela do it again?

Gio Urshela is looking to prove his 2019 was no fluke.
USATSI

Urshela really saved the Yankees last year. Andujar hurt his shoulder diving back into third base on a pickoff play in the third game of the season and needed season-ending surgery soon thereafter. Urshela, a career .225/.274/.315 hitter in 499 big league plate appearances prior to 2019, stepped in and hit .315/.355/.534 with 21 homers in 476 plate appearances. He was also a big upgrade defensively at the hot corner.

Surely at least some of Urshela’s success can be attributed to the juiced ball. There are also tangible reasons to believe he is an improved hitter. Urshela has credited Phil Plantier, his Triple-A hitting coach with the Yankees in 2018, for helping him incorporate his legs into his swing more. Here’s what Yankees hitting coach March Thames told NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty last May:

“In spring training, he had some really good at-bats,” Thames said. “Since last year when we got him, he really focused on staying in his legs a little bit more. He did that work with [hitting coach] Phil Plantier at Triple-A and he brought it into winter ball and into the spring. He hasn’t skipped a beat, man. And he plays a hell of a third base. What we’re getting out of the bat right now is great.

“When I saw him in spring training, he hit a couple long home runs, but his BP is gap-to-gap and I never really saw it like that. You can hear that. It’s a different sound.”

The adjustment with Plantier seemingly helped Urshela unlock some power and hit the ball harder in general. He was a banjo hitter earlier in his career. Rarely did he drive the ball with authority. Last season, Urshela really started stinging the baseball:

  • 2015-18: 86.9 mph average exit velocity and 31.5 percent hard-hit rate
  • 2019: 90.5 mph average exit velocity and 40.6 percent hard-hit rate

Based on exit velocity and launch angle, Statcast says Urshela was expected to hit .247 with a .363 slugging percentage from 2015-18. Last year it was .294 with a .505 slugging percentage. Urshela turned only 28 in October, so he’s at the age when players can have their peak seasons. It’s not unusual for a player to break out at his age.

Hitting .315 is really hard and I’m not sure anyone realistically expects Urshela to do it again in 2020. There are reasons to believe his improvement is legitimate, though, and not small sample size or juiced ball fluke. This was going to be an important season for Urshela no matter what. He wants to show he’s legit and establish himself as a bona fide big league third baseman. The shortened season gives him less time to do that, and could push the Yankees to go back to Andujar quickly should Urshela start slow.





Source link

0 Reviews

Write a Review

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *