Vegas currently has the over/under for the Yankees season win total set at 82.5 games. It has literally been decades since expectations were so low in the Bronx. 1992 was the last time the New York Yankees failed to win at least 83 games in a non-strike-shortened season. To put that in perspective, in 1992 Derek Jeter was a student at Kalamazoo High School in Michigan.
Three weeks ago I would have agreed with Las Vegas’ assessment of mediocrity. The batting lineup featured too many injury-prone veterans on bloated contracts. The pitching rotation had too many question marks to reasonably predict the Yankees as a playoff contender. Once the team arrived in Tampa and starting playing games however, my expectations changed.
Perhaps I am putting too much stock in meaningless March baseball. It is possible that I’m just a homer fan drinking the Kool Aid. That said, I feel a lot better about this team and the future of the franchise in general than I did last month. I’ll outline three major reasons for the Yankee fan to be optimistic.
Everyone is Healthy (At least so far)
I’m knocking on my wooden desk as I type this, but thus far all the important players seem to be in good health. The only injuries in camp have come to end of the roster types such as Brendan Ryan and Chris Capuano who are imminently replaceable. The Yankees are counting on their veteran bats such as Texiera, Beltran, and A-Rod returning to something close to their pre-injury form. So far all three seem be in good health and good spirits. A lot can happen over the next three weeks, but thankfully there have been no Yu Darvish caliber injuries to report.
Potential for a Dominant Rotation
Tanaka looked like Tanaka in his spring debut. It was 19 only pitches over 2 perfect innings, but the Japanese ace looked to be in mid-season form. He carried himself with a poise and confidence. Nothing in his demeanor suggested concern with the elbow injury that cost him most of the second half of 2014.
Equally impressive have been Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi. The two tall right handers have flashed the type of swing and miss stuff that could place them at the top of a rotation. We have yet to see CC Sabathia, but he can provide value to the Yankees even it is only as a veteran, middle of the rotation innings eater. Adam Warren or Esmil Rodgers should be fine to hold a place as a 5th starter until Nova returns or Severino potentially gets called up late in the season.
The Kids are in the Picture
The top three Yankee prospects have done nothing to disappoint this March. 21-year-old Dominican starter Luis Severino has been compared by some scouts to his idol Pedro Martinez. While it will certainly be difficult to live up to those lofty comparisons, he has displayed an electric right arm.
6'7" right fielder Aaron Judge is an impressive athlete with unlimited power. Despite being only 22-years-old he has looked comfortable with the big club, hitting a game tying 9th inning, 3 run homer in an early Spring game.
Greg Bird looks to be the heir apparent to Mark Texiera at first base. He has continued to hit well this Spring after being named the MVP of the Arizona Fall League. GM Brian Cashman went as far as to call Bird "by far the best hitter (among prospects) in the organization".
Add in hot hitting infielders Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder and the Yankees seem to have a group of prospects that could develop into a core that sustains the long term success of the franchise, The days where 90 plus wins were automatic for the Yankees are over, but this Spring has given fans reason to believe that the future could still be bright.