The Yankees' youth movement is in full swing. The club had no fewer than five players make significant contributions at the big league level for the first time in their careers during the 2017 season.
Aaron Judge reported to camp with an opportunity to win a job, but with no guarantees. He wound up finishing second in the MVP voting en route to winning Rookie of the Year after turning in one of the greatest debut campaigns in history.
Hopes were high but expectations were low for Luis Severino, who had bounced in and out of the rotation and up and down from the minors for a couple of years. He began spring training among a long list of pitchers competing for the final two spots in the rotation. Severino finished third in the Cy Young balloting and became the Yankees’ ace in the process.
Jordan Montgomery wasn't even on the list of rotation contenders, but he came out of nowhere to win the final spot. He made 29 starts for New York and ate up 155 plus innings. The lefty's 3.88 ERA ranked 13th in the league among hurlers throwing as many frames. Monty picked up some ROY votes for his efforts.
Chad Green was barely edged out for fifth starter spot. He joined the bullpen and proceeded to become a trusted weapon. 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.
Aaron Hicks lost the competition for the starting job in right field, but ended up getting regular playing time anyway after Jacoby Ellsbury was sidelined with an injury. Hicks produced a .372 on-base percentage and .847 OPS in 361 plate appearance. He surpassed Ellsbury on the depth chart and started in center field for the Bombers during the playoffs.
The breakout success of so many young players in the same year is unprecedented in Yankees history. Let's take a look at some of the top candidates to experience a breakthrough during the upcoming 2018 season.
Clint Frazier followed in Aaron Judge's footsteps by homering in his major league debut. Red Thunder tallied three bombs and eight runs batted in during his first seven games.
The rookie cooled considerably after that, finishing his 39-game debut effort with a .268 on-base percentage and .715 OPS. Still, he did an ample job filling in for the injured Aaron Hicks before being sidelined himself.
The young outfielder made his professional debut at the age of 18 in the Indians' system. He clubbed 62 homers in 490 minor league games across five minor league seasons, while maintaining a .354 on-base percentage and .806 OPS. He also has good speed on the bases, having swiped 52 bags in the minors.
Having just turned 23 years old, Frazier has an excellent chance of making New York's Opening Day roster. He could enter the season ahead of Ellsbury on the outfield depth chart, and would be in line to see increased playing time if there is an injury to a starter.
Gleyber Torres was the prized prospect coming to New York in the deal that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs at the 2016 trade deadline. The 20-year-old is currently MLB's number-two overall prospect.
General Manager Brian Cashman had previously announced that Torres will compete for the starting third base job in spring training. But the deal to send Starlin Castro to Miami as part of the package to acquire Giancarlo Stanton creates a path for Torres to become the team’s starting second baseman entering the 2018 season.
Although he was drafted as a shortstop and played there exclusively while in Chicago's minor league system, Torres has played 25 games at second and 15 at third since being acquired by the Yankees. The highly regarded prospect is known to have great hands and a plus arm, so he projects to be a top defensive infielder.
In 374 professional games, Torres batted .288/.368/.426 over 1,611 plate appearances. He rates high for his speed, and was successful in 64 of 102 steal attempts. His power has been developing, and he drilled three home runs in 11 Arizona Fall League games. Overall, he has 26 homers, 208 RBIs, and 218 runs scored at all professional levels.
Torres was only recently added to the 40-man roster in preparation of the Rule 5 Draft, so he has yet to appear in a big league game. A true breakout performance from the youngster could put him in the ROY conversation.
When Hal Steinbrenner recently spoke about the talented players in the Yankees system who are on the precipice of making an impact in the big leagues, he mentioned Miguel Andujar. Steinbrenner specifically pointed to Andujar's improved defense at third base.
This development could prove to be a big factor in the Yankees’ plans moving forward. Andujar contributed mightily to a New York win in his major league debut at the end of June, going 4-for-4 with a walk and four RBIs in five plate appearances. He was sent back down to Triple-A after the game as his defense at third was thought to be still needing improvement. The Yankees acquired Todd Frazier a month later to take over at the hot corner with Chase Headley shifting to first base.
With Headley back at third and in the final year of his contract, Andujar appears to be in line to succeed him. He turns 23 in March and could compete for the job in spring training.
Andujar has spent six years in the Yankees system, while also playing in the AFL and Winter League. In 652 games, he slashed .270/.320/.401 with 51 homers, 349 RBIs, and 318 runs scored.
Other players to watch out for
Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, Domingo German, and Luis Cessa all saw action for the Yankees last season and could be in line for increased roles this year. German and Cessa could be leading candidates to win the fifth starter job if the team doesn't go outside the organization to fill the slot.
Although still not on the 40-man roster, fans have been excited about the pending arrival of Chance Adams. He was 15-5 with a 2.45 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 27 minor league starts last year. The 23-year-old right-hander also averaged 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Adams could be a candidate to join the rotation at some point, and thus can be viewed as a potential impact player for the Yankees in 2018.
With so many young and talented players on the verge, odds are that at least one is bound to contribute to the Yankees in a big way next year. Who do you think it will be? Let us know in the comments section below.