With injuries and departures leaving the 2013 Yankees looking pretty different from last season's version, the players who remain in pinstripes are going to have to pick up some of the slack. For some like Robinson Cano, that means still contributing at the same high level, but other players will need to improve upon their previous season to help the team make it to the postseason. Where are those improvements likely to come from on this team?
Brett Gardner - The Yankees' star defender missed all but sixteen games a year ago with an elbow injury, and the team will need him to pull his weight offensively and on the bases. Gardner's 2010 season was extremely successful, and that's the kind of season everyone would like to see out of him again in 2013. If Gardner can stay healthy, his plate patience, speed on the bases, and defense will be big boosts for the team.
Kevin Youkilis - With the Red Sox and White Sox last season, Youkilis had the worst year of his career by wRC+. It's difficult to blame him too much, because working under Bobby Valentine seemed to be a toxic environment for anyone, but with the uncertainty surrounding Alex Rodriguez's future, Youkilis is going to be heavily relied upon in the Yankees' lineup. His WAR has been declining steadily, but there is reason to believe that he won't be as bad as he was a year ago. Youk came to Spring Training with a new batting stance after working with Kevin Long, and his results were pretty positive. Hopefully that carries over into the season.
Ivan Nova - Nova's sophomore season was spoiled by his inability to stop giving up hits that went for extra bases. It seems unlikely that he'd be able to do that poorly again, just because of how utterly awful it was for nearly the entire season. Even in the midst of all that, Nova was able to improve his strikeout numbers from 5.33 per nine in 2011 to 8.08 per nine last season. If he can keep the ball from going for extra bases at such a high clip while keeping his strikeouts up, Nova should have a nice bounce back season.
Francisco Cervelli - No, he is not anyone's idea of the ideal catcher for the Yankees, but there's reason to believe he won't be completely dreadful either. Last year, he lost his backup job to Chris Stewart hours before the team left Tampa for New York, and his numbers in Triple-A showed that the decision was clearly getting to him. Cervelli admitted that he moped for a while about being demoted until his parents visited and he started to turn things around. His defense looked much improved in Spring Training and we all know that's what matters most to the Yankees at the catcher position. Cervelli definitely has the ability to be a pleasant surprise.
Ichiro Suzuki - Ichiro's last couple of seasons playing half his games in Safeco Field did not go well; but after he was traded to the Yankees mid-season last year, things seemed to turn around for the veteran. His numbers as a Yankee were reminiscent of the numbers everyone has come to expect of Ichiro throughout his career. Hopefully his success in New York is a sign that the change in scenery will help him improve over where he had been in Seattle, but for an entire season this time. He's chasing down the 3,000 hits in America milestone; and if he can put together a whole year like he did in the second half of last year, he'll be quite a bit closer to that goal.
Which Yankees players do you think are most likely to see an improvement in their performance from last year?