It's an old baseball cliche to say that every team has an equal chance at the beginning of spring training. It is a time when players and fans hold the most optimism about their respective teams and how they will perform during the upcoming season.
As another spring training (finally) approaches, we will explore the potential good and the bad that the 2016 season could have in store for the Yankees. Let's begin with reasons why 2016 will be a good one for the Yankees.
1) The first full big league season for Luis Severino
It's been nearly a decade since the Yankees started a season with a young stud pitcher with the potential to stick in the majors for a full season. It was Phil Hughes in 2007. In 2016, it's Luis Severino's turn.
Severino certainly impressed in his eleven game debut last season, pitching to a 2.89 ERA and striking out 56 in 62.1 innings. With his electric repertoire of pitches, the soon to be 22-year-old has a chance to prove why Brian Cashman refused to include him in any trade for David Price last summer. As with any young pitcher, there will be some growing pains, but having him in the majors all season is the first step in the build-from-within plan.
2) The bullpen's three-headed monster
While they look like temperatures in Phoenix for the opening of spring training next week, those three numbers represent the average 2015 fastball velocity of Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman. Those three are the best trio of relievers in one bullpen heading into the season.
The addition of Chapman isn't without controversy. Despite charges not being filed, there's still no word yet on the length of a potential suspension for his alleged domestic violence incident. However, the addition of his other-worldly fastball to a bullpen that already featured two of the most dominant relievers in baseball over the past two seasons certainly will be a main reason for optimism in 2016.
Since the emergence of the Kansas City Royals' trio of ace relievers (Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Greg Holland) in 2014, it seems many teams are trying to follow suit by building super bullpens. The Yankees' version of a Big Three will likely provide near-shutdown relief in the backend of games, giving them a distinct advantage over many teams (even considering the increase in the quality of relief pitching over the past several years).
For the first time in quite some time, the Yankees look like they will actually have some flexibility on the big league roster.
Beyond the three likely everyday outfielders (Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner), the Yankees will have plenty of options to turn to when one of them needs rest or any of them miss a significant amount of time due to injury. Switch-hitting Aaron Hicks should be able to pretty regular at-bats, especially against left-handers (who he hit .307/.375/.495 off of last year). The Yankees also have many upper-level minor league options in the outfield such as Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams who might be able to provide support off the bench.
In the infield, the Yankees again have options. Though Starlin Castro was acquired to be the starting second baseman, he likely can be used to spell Didi Gregorius at shortstop every so often, and although he's never played there, he may even see some action at third base behind Chase Headley. If Castro can adequately handle three of the four infield spots, that leaves a bit of wiggle room for the last spot on the bench as the team can use it for any number of players such as an extra outfielder or a corner infielder.
Then there's Dustin Ackley. The 2015 trade deadline acquisition will likely play all over the field this season, as he has experience in the outfield and at second base. While he isn't the greatest defender in the world, his ability to play multiple positions and his offensive numbers in his brief stint in pinstripes (.288/.333/.654 with four home runs in 23 games) may hint at the makings of an extremely valuable utility man in 2016.
After watching the past several seasons, we've all realized how important having a versatile roster is, especially when the core of the team is full of aging veterans. Hopefully, this newfound versatility keeps several of those older players fresh.
What are your reasons to be optimistic about the 2016 Yankees? The final seasons of a couple big contracts? The potential of top prospect promotions? Let us know what you think below.
Check back later today for the second part of this mini-series that looks at the reasons to be pessimistic about the 2016 Yankees.