With Opening Day tomorrow, the Yankees 2017 roster has been pretty much set. It’s not very surprising, really…
(I’m gonna base this off of the depth chart from the Yankees website even though it’s not actually technically official.)
I’m not gonna go through every name, because I don’t think there’s much I have to say about the veterans that hasn’t already been said (and probably better) by other folks. We all pretty much know what we’re in for from guys like Holliday, Headley (no massive April slump this year plz), Gardner, and Ellsbury. Even CC and Pineda are more or less known quantities in terms of predictions.
However, there are still so many kids! And not just playing positions! There still isn’t a fifth starter! Whaaaaaaaaat?!
I’m not gonna say a lot here because everybody knows what El Gary is up to. In 53 games and 229 plate appearances in 2016 he hit .299/.376/.657 with 20 dingers, good for 171 wRC+. Is he gonna keep up that pace and hit 70+ homers this season? Smart money says no. But guess what?
I DON’T CARE. I WILL NOT TEMPER MY EXPECTATIONS, YOU TEMPER YOUR EXPECTATIONS, NERD.
The Bird is The Word. We saw that in 2015, even though he was getting beat by the high heat at the end there (not that he’s the only guy playing every day in the majors with that issue.) He’s come into 2017 by murdering all comers in Spring Training, slashing .451/.556/1.098. Of course, ST statlines don’t mean anything but look at that slugging line. He’s hit 8 home runs this spring, tied at #1 with Bryce Harper. Again, the numbers don’t mean anything per se. But the biggest question for Bird’s return this year was if his power had recovered from the shoulder surgery which has demonstrably sapped power for a season or more from the hitters who have gotten it previously.
As far as Bird in 2017 goes:
I think his power is intact.
It completely baffles me that the Yankees said the RF competition was so up in the air until the last minute. First of all, Aaron Hicks has played 370 major league games. He’s had 1289 plate appearances. His career line is .223/.299/.346 (77 wRC+). His “breakout” in 2015 was 97 G, 390 PA, and a .256/.323/.398 (96 wRC+) line. That’s a CF line, maybe. Now of course you can come at me with “Judge had a 44% K rate last year!” which is true. I would respond with the fact that it was his first exposure at the MLB level, and he has always, at every level, required an adjustment period. Yes Hicks is good defensively, but so is Judge. We’re not talking about running Beltran out there again.
And even more important, though, is the messaging behind all of this. If Judge isn’t the RF, what does that say about the Yankees plan this season and beyond? You play Hicks over Judge in a year where you are insistent that you “want to contend” and you’re casting a complete no-confidence vote for Judge. If the Yankees admit that they’re not expecting any October ball in 2017, then that’s even more egregious. There is no way you can say that Judge is a top prospect for the team, or part of the future core, and not play him this season. Period.
Not much to say here since his job as bench player was kind of assumed and he’s only starting because of Didi’s shoulder injury, but here’s my not-so-bold-but-also-kind-of-bold prediction: He will start the season well enough that people will start talking about him sticking as a starter. These people will be wrong, but I still bet it happens.
I’m gonna be honest, I’m still not entirely sold on Luis as the 4th starter. He has to throw a third pitch if he wants to be able to turn over lineups, that’s just a fact. However, there’s a similar case with Judge where the Yankees need to let him sink or swim with the big league club at a certain point. If they sent him down to AAA and mandated he throw X amount of changeups per outing, I would be OK with that. If he’s with the big-league club, I think the same thing needs to apply.
All of that said, he’s 23 years old and it’s not like he doesn’t have anything to work with up there on the mound as it is. I worry that Severino is going to get a leash just long enough to hurt the team, but not long enough for him to figure things out without being optioned back to AAA this year.
The Fifth Starter
Here’s where it really gets interesting. Let me first say that Eno Sarris is a man after my own heart and he wrote a lot about the guys in contention for the spot over at Fangraphs. Feel free to read that and skip this, honestly.
Still here? Ok thanks.
I was surprised that Luis Cessa was the first guy to be cut from contention, as he’s a four-pitch guy with good mechanics who didn’t spend any time on the DL last season. That said, he had and unacceptable 2.05 HR/9 and his ERA/FIP/SIERA weren’t exactly stunning.
It surprised me to see Brian Mitchell get assigned to the pen, given that he was fully penciled in as a starter in 2016 and his stuff hasn’t seen a decrease in quality in his starts this year. I fully assumed he might actually have had the inside track on 4th starter given that somebody like Ben Heller is available for relief work.
Chad Green’s stuff may be among the best in the entire group, but he ended last season on the DL with a flexor and UCL injury, so aside from the hope to bring him back slowly, he could also use a little more time to work on his pitches (see his blurb in Eno’s piece re: the splitter, etc.) Green was optioned to AA, but that is likely just to get his next start lined up in case he wins the 5th starter job.
The other guy in the minors who is still in the mix for last starter job is Jordan Montgomery. He was optioned to AAA, and his start lines up with Green’s. Montgomery isn’t even on the 40-man, but he’s clearly impressed the Yankee brass this spring, and while I would say he’s behind Green on the list, the fact that he was sent to AAA may mean otherwise? I would love to see him get the job even if just because his pitching motion and arm slot are crazy. His arm is straight up-and-down.
This is actually an omission from the roster, but the most notable one for me. He only pitched 7 innings in 2016 and was clearly nervy, but he has a serious fastball/slider combo that should make him a potent threat out of the pen sooner rather than later. I’m definitely expecting him to be called up pretty early this season.