In 2019 from a position player perspective, everything the Yankees touched turned to gold.
Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, Didi Gregorius, and Miguel Andujar all missed pretty significant time during the season, yet the team still had one of the best offenses in baseball. They also broke or challenged all sorts of records in the process.
That’s because they managed to get legitimately good, unexpected contributions from the likes of Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, Cameron Maybin, and Mike Ford. Prior to them getting the called up, all four are players you would’ve only expected to get on the 25-man roster if the Yankees ran into the worst-case scenario. That happened, but either by luck, incredible scouting, or some combination of the two (probably that one), it didn’t end up hurting much at all.
The unexpected nature of the production the Yankees got was most evident in Urshela. In just under 500 plate appearances prior to his Yankee career, he had hit .225/.274/.315 with eight home runs. In just under 500 plate appearances as a Yankee, his numbers were .314/.355/.534 with 21 home runs. Those numbers were better than what he did in Triple-A in 2018.
Now, let’s look to 2020.
On Monday, the Yankees released their list of non-roster invites for spring training. While it’s unlikely that the Yankees will suffer quite as many injuries as they did last year, you would assume at least a couple of those guys will end up in the Bronx at some point this season. Presuming the Yankees still have some of 2019’s pixie dust around, let’s look at best case scenario (and I mean the best case) for 2020.
One player going to spring training is outfielder Zack Granite. The 27-year old, who is real and not just an unlicensed video game version of Zack Greinke, signed as a minor-league free agent back in November. He spent last season in the Rangers’ organization, but previously had been with the Twins, with whom he played in the majors for back in 2017.
In 40 games that season, Granite hit .237/.321/.290, which was good for a 66 OPS+. Those numbers aren’t terribly far off the .222/.344/.296 (60 OPS+) that a debuting Tauchman put up for the Rockies. If Granite’s 2017 was six percent better than Tauchman’s 2017, then Granite should be six percent better than Tauchman was for the Yankees in 2019. Therefore, congrats on your 134 OPS+, Mr. Granite.
In some ways, Erik Kratz was the beginning of the Yankees’ random call ups putting up big numbers, albeit on a, um, slightly smaller scale. Kratz is still tied for the Yankees’ all-time best batting average at 1.000, thanks to his play in four games at the end of September 2017.
Obviously, it would be unreasonable for him to keep that up, even more so considering that he’s going to turn 40 in June. However, sprinkle some 2019 pixie dust on him, and maybe he could put up a 128 OPS+, the career line of his former teammate Buster Posey.
Dan Otero was one of the recent additions to this list, with the Yankees only just announcing his signing on Monday. He was once a very good reliever for the 2016 Indians that went right down to the final inning with the Cubs in the World Series. His numbers were good, but a bit down the next year, and really fell off a cliff the past two seasons.
While the 2019 magic seemed more confined to hitters than pitchers, if it does work for Otero he could potentially pitch to a 1.28 ERA, the average of the two traded Yankees relievers in the 2016 World Series, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller.
Another catcher among the invites is Josh Thole. He has spent most of his major league career being R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher. He played with the knuckleballer in both New York and Toronto, even going with him in the trade between the two. He hasn’t played in the majors since 2016, almost definitely because Dickey left Toronto and the Braves didn’t bring Thole along.
Thole’s never been much of a power hitter, as just 65 of his 323 career hits went for extra-bases. Hit him with that 2019 magic, and he could slug .545 aka Mike Piazza’s career total, because honestly why not?
Also, please note the “just for fun” tab at the top of the article and don’t @ me.