With the first spring training games in the books, a few headlines have emerged from Yankees camp. Aaron Judge has super-human power; Gleyber Torres is a natural hitting machine; the back-of-the-rotation candidates are all pitching well. As a team in transition, the immediate, albeit small sample size, success makes for some fanfare.
Buried beneath the shiny prospect production, however, is another story. It might not be as flashy, but it’s equally important. Over the course of the last few seasons, the Yankees got younger. Now there is an organizational effort to increase versatility, and that bodes well for the future on multiple levels.
Tyler Wade stands out as an example of this initiative. The Yankees first moved the longtime shortstop prospect to center field during the Arizona Fall League. The outfield experiment continues in spring training. With Didi Gregorius entrenched at shortstop, Wade’s fastest path to The Show would be as a utility player. He could come off of the bench as soon as late-2017, patrolling the outfield or covering Gregorius when he needs a day off.
Jorge Mateo also fits into the versatility category. After the Yankees acquired Gleyber Torres from the Cubs, Mateo slid over to second base. He also took reps in center field during instructional league, which makes sense given his speed. He could make a dynamic gloveman in the outfield.
The plan is to continue the center field experiment after spring training, giving him more time to master second base and shortstop. Having a player who could move around the up-the-middle positions would be a major asset. Mateo could give the Yankees quite the boost if his bat comes around.
There’s also the Yankees current utility infielder, Ronald Torreyes, who appears set to take on some extended responsibilities. Torreyes went wire-to-wire on the Yankees’ roster last season. Playing the outfield all but guarantees that he will make a similar run in 2017. His high contact rate would also allow him to play nearly every day without being exposed. As far as reserve players go, an outfield-roaming Torreyes is as quality as they come.
Insofar as long-term plans are concerned, the Yankees would benefit from this versatility by maximizing their roster construction. Joel Sherman recently speculated that the Yankees could follow the model established by the Cubs, having a number of players who could field different positions. This would ensure freshness and flexibility. “In the past, this would all be received with trepidation by players worried about being labeled utilitymen,” Sherman noted. “But the wave of the future is about versatility.”
The effects of the versatility movement could be seen as early as this season. The Yankees are trying Torreyes in the outfield, in part because the current roster needs flexibility. The signings of Matt Holliday and Chris Carter severely limits Joe Girardi’s defensive options. He will need to optimize each roster spot, and the bevy of utility players on the horizon will be a relief to the manager.
For years the Yankees have been known as an aging, one-dimensional club. Those perceptions are set to be shattered, however, as a wave of versatility is due to arrive. There will be growing pains, of course, but the club is in an enviable position. Not only do they have youth, but they have flexibility.