Robbie Cano is entering his age-27 season, the heart of his (historically speaking) prime. We've seen a Cano that makes us want to scream and another that surprises us he doesn't hit .400. Cano can be good enough to hit third for the $200 million New York Yankees but hasn't shown enough run-producing ability to warrant that. Now I know batting average w/ RISP is laden with problems (like small sample sizes and year to year vicissitudes), but Cano has never once, in his five-year career, hit better w/ RISP than without. And he's often hit significantly worse (an average of .50 worse, .306 career vs. .256 w/ RISP).
There's no way he'll be the #3 hitter with Tex in the mix now, but he could still step up and be an excellent #5 hitter. To do that, he'll have to hit better than .206 (his 2009 BA w/ RISP) and .256 (career BA w/ RISP).
Is it something psychological with him, or is it really just bad luck in RBI opportunities? His BABIP is .267 w/ RISP (vs. .346 with nobody on), so there certainly seems to be an element of luck, but my eyes tell me he presses and either gets too aggressive or too passive (the real test, line drive rate w/ RISP, does not seem to exist on the interweb). Fortunately for Robbie, he's not counted on to fill the run-producing five-hole. That will likely fall to Posada, Swisher or Granderson (at least against RHP). But if Cano is ever going to turn into the perennial All-Star we think he can be (rather than the guy who never lived up to his potential), this would be a fine year to start.
Gutty, gritty Brett Gardner will also feel the pressure this season. He'll likely be handed a full-time position out of Spring Training since the Yankees felt comfortable enough to trade away last year's starting centerfielder, Melky Cabrera. If he can merely reproduce last year's offensive output (.270/.345/.379, 26 SB, 5 CS, 107 wRC+), he'll be an asset. Whether he can do that over 500 PA (vs. 284 last year) is another story: can he survive starting for a full season? Will he get exposed playing everyday? Is he the long-term solution in centerfield? We'll likely have an answer at season's end. If Gardner can hit at an average-ish level, his baserunning and defense will make him an above-average player.
Curtis Granderson was acquired to play good defense and make the team younger. He'll feel the heat since he's declined each of the last two years, required two top prospects to get him, and is filling in for a beloved Yankee who made an indelible mark on postseason lore with a historic double-steal. Of the three candidates, Grandy has the most room for improvement from last year, which was well out of line with his career norms. But if anyone can handle the heat of New York, it's Granderson: if you've seen or heard interviews with him, you'll know he's down-to-earth and has his head on perfectly straight.