It was a big week for the Yankees. It capped off an even bigger season that left the team only five wins shy of their 28th World Series championship.
Aaron Judge was the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year. Jordan Montgomery received votes and placed sixth. Luis Severino finished third in the Cy Young balloting, while Judge came in second in the MVP voting.
Judge produced one of the greatest rookie campaigns in baseball history. The Yankees’ right fielder led the league in homers (52), runs scored (128), and walks (127). He was second in RBI (114), on-base percentage (.422), slugging average (.627), and OPS (1.049). He led all of baseball with 8.2 WAR according to FanGraphs, while Baseball Reference's formula calculated him at 8.1 WAR and second behind Jose Altuve.
In the process, Judge broke Mark McGwire's 1987 rookie home run record. He also broke the rookie walk record set by Ted Williams in 1939. All Rise won the Silver Slugger Award and was a Gold Glove finalist. His incredible year comes on the heels of another fabulous rookie campaign.
Despite not receiving a call up until early August, Gary Sanchez clubbed 20 homers, knocked in 42 runs, and compiled a 1.032 OPS in only 229 plate appearances. The Kraken eclipsed Willie McCovey's famous 1959 debut season, previously regarded as the gold standard for second-half call-ups. Sanchez finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Sanchez followed up by breaking the Yankees single-season home run record. He belted 33 homers, drove in 90 runs, and finished 2017 with a .278/.345/.531 slash line.
After struggling to stick in the rotation, while bouncing back and forth to the minors, Luis Severino had a breakout year. His 2.98 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and .603 OPS, placed him third among AL starters behind Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and runner-up Chris Sale. Severino reported to camp hoping to win a spot in the rotation. He finished the year having ascended to become the staff ace.
Jordan Montgomery came out of nowhere to win the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation. He made 29 starts, pitching to a 3.88 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, while eating up 155 plus innings. Monty did everything you could ask from a bottom-of-the-rotation starter. He took the ball every fifth day and gave the team a chance to win. Statistically, he actually outperformed many front-line starters. His ERA ranked 13th in the league among pitchers who completed a minimum of 150 innings.
Greg Bird stepped in to replace an injured Mark Teixeira during the 2015 playoff push. He hit 11 homers, drove in 31 runs, scored 26 times, and slashed .343/.529/.871 in 46 games. His contributions were critical to the Yankees securing a Wild Card berth, but was soon hobbled by injuries that caused him to miss the entire 2016 season and most of 2017.
Many were surprised when Bird was not only added to the playoff roster this year, but that he started every game at first base. The left-handed hitter delivered, big time. His .938 OPS led the team in the playoffs. He hit three homers and drove in six runs. Bird had the game winning RBI in three of the Yankees seven postseason wins. That includes his solo home run in Game Three of the ALDS to give the Yankees a 1-0 victory, easily one of the biggest hits of the entire year for the Bombers.
What do Judge, Sanchez, Severino, Montgomery, and Bird have in common? They are all 25-years-old or younger.
The last time the Bombers won a championship featuring three players in the starting lineup and two members of the rotation that young was in 1961. Youngsters Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, and Clete Boyer joined veteran Moose Skowron to fill out the infield, while Ralph Terry, Bill Stafford, and Rollie Sheldon combined to make 73 starts. The only other occurrence in Yankees history was 1956. The team has never won a World Series during a season where four members of the starting lineup were aged 25 or younger.
The franchise may have an opportunity to accomplish the feat next year. Brian Cashman already announced that Gleyber Torres will compete for the starting third base job in spring training. The 20-year-old is MLB's number-two overall prospect.
Hal Steinbrenner also spoke about the talented players in the Yankees system who are on the precipice of making an impact in the big leagues. He specifically mentioned Torres, Chance Adams, Domingo German, Miguel Andujar, and Arizona Fall League standouts Estevan Florial and Albert Abreu.
While Steinbrenner mentioned his defensive improvements at third base, Andujar carries a big bat and could crack the lineup as the designated hitter in 2018. The right-handed hitter has a career .850 OPS in 125 minor league games.
Fans have been excited about the potential arrival of Chance Adams for some time. He was 15-5 with a 2.45 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 27 minor league starts last year. The 23-year-old righty also averaged 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
Domingo German already had a cup of coffee in the majors last season, while Clint Frazier had an opportunity to play every day. Red Thunder homered in his first big league game and did an ample job filling in for the injured Aaron Hicks before being sidelined himself. We could see Frazier take a step forward in 2018 as well.
Common sense would dictate that not all of these prospects will become stars as Judge, Sanchez, and Severino have done. Or does it? Montgomery was unheralded "organizational depth" before breaking out. So was Chad Green. If the club was able to coax such standout performances from off-the-radar prospects, what can we reasonably expect to see from the top-rated ones?
After being edged out by Montgomery for the final rotation spot, Green joined the bullpen and quickly rose up the depth chart. By mid-season, he had become one of the team’s most potent weapons. Pitching primarily in the fireman role in the middle innings, he came through time and time again in high-leverage situations.
Green was so effective that he ended up pitching himself onto the historical single-season leader boards. His 0.72 WHIP and .440 OPS rank ninth, his 1.53 FIP is eighth, and .143 bating average against is seventh in the live-ball era among pitchers hurling at least 65 innings. Consider for a moment how many guys have pitched since 1920. That Green places in the top ten in so many categories is nothing short of inspirational. It was a phenomenal breakout performance. Green turned 26 during the 2017 season.
Add to this group a pair of 27-year-olds who form the club's keystone combination, and you have the makings of a young, championship caliber team that is poised to compete for many years to come. Second baseman Starlin Castro made his fourth All-Star team in 2017, while Didi Gregorius broke the franchise single-season home run mark by a shortstop when he swatted 25 longballs. Sir Didi has steadily improved since coming over from Arizona to replace the retired Derek Jeter, and he has become a trusted middle-of-the-order bat in the process.
The organization has already raised the bar with the current youth movement. For the first time in franchise history, the club had five players over a four year span receive ROY votes. Dellin Betances finished third in 2014, while Masahiro Tanaka placed fifth.
We also just witnessed a pair of Yankees finishing in the top two for ROY in consecutive years for the first time since 1957-58. This represents an important breakthrough for a minor league system that has recently failed to produce as much top-tier talent as many rivals.
The Yankees have a rich history of developing homegrown superstars. But we may be witnessing something unprecedented by seeing so many blossom at the same time.
The '90s dynasty saw the emergence of the Core Four. They sprang up to fill the gaps on a veteran team that was built mostly through trades and free agency and was already on the cusp. Don't forget, the Yankees had the best record in baseball in 1994 before the strike ended the season.
The '70s dynasty was built on a single homegrown player, Thurman Munson, who was later joined by Ron Guidry. The rest of the team was filled out through shrewd trades and free agent signings.
From 1921 through 1964, the Yankees were the pride of baseball. Gehrig played with Ruth, and later with DiMaggio. The Yankee Clipper's career overlapped by one year with Mickey Mantle’s. Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto played with both center fielders. It was an unbroken lineage that lasted nearly a half-century. There was always a core group of veteran champions in place to welcome the next young prospect who came up to fill a void left by an aging star.
Sure, a pair of veteran links to the club's most recent championship remain in Brett Gardner and David Robertson, but New York's next title will be built on the foundation of youth. Will it come next season, or will we have to wait a little bit longer? No one can be predict that. But it will come.
Which prospect are you most excited about seeing in 2018? Do you think any of them will contend for next year's Rookie of the Year Award? Who do you think is poised for a breakout? Let us know in the comments section below.