The New York Yankees enter the 2016 MLB season as underdogs in the American League East. For the first time since money was printed, the front office declined to sign a single free agent in the offseason, separating the club from the likes of Boston, Arizona, Los Angeles, and every other team in the game. Strange as it seems, these are your small-market Yankees.
So are the Yankees punting the 2016 season? That would be a simplistic view. Three offseason trades added depth and injected youth into the roster. In addition, promising youngsters who made their debuts in 2015 are getting more pronounced roles. As a result, you have a younger Yankees team than we have seen in years, and it has been on display in Tampa. Here are five very good omens we saw at the club’s Spring Training camp.
1. Dellin Betances is dealing
In 2015, the closer role was basically up for grabs, and Dellin Betances’s poor spring training made the choice of Andrew Miller an easy one for Joe Girardi. This season, Aroldis Chapman will miss the first 30 games of the season, making late-inning relief an early season concern without Justin Wilson available in the ‘pen.
Betances is letting Girardi put his concentration elsewhere with his dominant spring performance in 2016. In 3.1 IP (4 G), Betances has struck out six batters and allowed just a single hit. His breaking pitches and heater are already in midseason form.
2. The rotation is healthy
The key to the Yankees 2016 season is keeping the club healthy, and the onus is on the rotation to set the tone. Every starter missed huge chunks of time last year, which forced the offense to carry the load. By season’s end, there was nothing left in the tank for most of the club’s position players. So far this spring, we’ve seen Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Nathan Eovaldi healthy and pitching well through several rotation turns.
Most people believe the Yankees bullpen will be lights-out at the end of the game. If Girardi can get six strong innings from starters, the Yankees offense should be able to put runs on the board and make the AL East a dogfight from Opening Day forward.
3. Luis Severino looks like an ace
New York has to be encouraged by the work of both Pineda (1.00 ERA, 11 SO in 9.0 IP) and Nova (2.00 ERA, 6 SO in 9.0 IP) this spring, but Luis Severino looks like the ace of the ballclub. The 22-year-old right-hander who kept the club in contention down the stretch last season has picked up right where he left off in October.
Following a rough first outing, Severino has thrown 10.2 IP of scoreless ball, striking out 12 and walking none along the way. On top of his dominance on the mound, he has flashed brilliant fielding skills off the mound. When Girardi compared the young hurler to Greg Maddux, he cited Severino’s poise. The comparison applies to his glove work, too.
4. Castro looks like an All Star
The winter trade of Starlin Castro for Adam Warren got polite applause from the press but little more. Through the first month of training camp, Castro has shown why it could be the steal of the offseason. On top the power he’s flashed (.761 slugging) and .444 average through 10 games, the ex-Cub has given Girardi another option at shortstop, making him a huge upgrade over Stephen Drew.
For a team that struggled against lefties in 2015, Castro and Aaron Hicks (acquired in the J.R. Murphy trade) provide considerable protection for the middle of the order this season. Though it is something we missed in earlier posts, the Yankees got younger and added pop while sacrificing a few role players in exchange.
5. The kids are all right
While there haven’t been any breakout spring performances from the club’s top prospects, several Baby Bombers have caught management’s eye, beginning with Rob Refsnyder. Pegged as a candidate for the second base job before Castro was acquired, the 24-year-old converted outfielder has impressed Girardi and his coaching staff playing third base this spring. Look for Refsnyder to seize the club’s final roster spot because of his power right-hand bat.
Otherwise, Gary Sanchez has delivered on his defensive promise though he has yet to flash the power he showcased in the Arizona Fall League. As for the position players in the pipeline, Aaron Judge and Jorge Mateo both made some waves before joining minor league camp. For the first time in a long while, multiple Yankees prospects have the potential to grab starting jobs within the next 12 months.
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Statistics courtesy of MLB.com