Injuries have struck early and often for the Yankees this spring. Even though Aaron Boone continues to say that Giancarlo Stanton will not be out for the long term and Aaron Judge could be ready to play with two weeks of rest, it is hard to believe those timelines after last season. Luckily for the organization, they are able to tap into their depth, and while there will be some defensive unknowns with Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar, the Yankees’ outfield offense could still be the best in the American League East if they can approach their recent production.
Teams should not be able to count on their outfield to produce offensively when they lose players like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton won the National League MVP in 2017 and has a career wRC+ of 142. For those unfamiliar with the stat of wRC+, 100 is league average, and that means that for his career Stanton is 42% above the league average for offense. Aaron Judge’s shoulder and pectoral discomfort was finally diagnosed yesterday afternoon, and the news was not promising as a stress fracture will sideline Judge and his career 152 wRC+ into the early part of the season.
With these two offensive forces out, the Yankees will lean on a foursome that produced very well last season, or in the case of Miguel Andujar, during his last healthy season in 2018. Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier, and Brett Gardner all put together solid seasons in 2018 and if they can approach or match their production the Yankees’ lineup will remain among the deepest in baseball.
Gardner had a resurgent year offensively as he recorded a 115 wRC+ and found his power stroke with 28 home runs. Mike Tauchman’s impressive 128 wRC+ was a revelation coming from a player acquired at the end of spring training for a Double-A relief pitcher. Clint Frazier was on fire early in the season, and carried a 117 wRC+ through his first 209 plate appearances before being sent back to Triple-A Scranton. Late season struggles brought his final number down to 108 wRC+. Miguel Andujar is perhaps the most interesting outfield candidate, as his season was cut short by injuries in 2019. The last time we saw him healthy, the doubles machine raked to the tune of a 130 wRC+ in 2018 as he nearly won Rookie of the Year.
Austin Meadows may be the best offensive outfielder in the division this season if he can match his outstanding 2019 season where he produced a 142 wRC+. Tampa, who figures to be close to the Yankees in the standings all season, has invested heavily in outfield defense beyond Meadows. The combination of Kevin Kiermaier, Hunter Renfroe, and Manuel Margot can all go get the ball on defense but all of them are coming off seasons where they created below average offense. Jose Martinez has a career 122 wRC+, but was expendable from St. Louis coming off a down year, and burdened with heavy right - left splits. Martinez will likely only see significant action against left-handed pitchers this coming season.
The Boston outfield is deeply affected by the loss of Mookie Betts. J.D. Martinez has been the prime offensive force in the Red Sox lineup alongside Betts over the last several seasons. The defensively limited Martinez will see more time in the outfield this season compared to his 39 games last season operating as the regular designated hitter. Alex Verdugo was brought in as part of the Betts trade and will be looked at to soften the blow that comes from losing a perennial MVP candidate, but he has yet to play a game this spring as he deals with a back injury dating to last season. When healthy last season, Verdugo recorded a very solid 115 wRC+ in 2019. Andrew Benintendi has been up and down over his major league career, peaking with a 122 wRC+ during the 2018 season, but finishing at exactly league average last year. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Pillar will likely see time in the outfield for Boston, and both have routinely been below average offensive players in recent years.
Toronto figures to be an improved team this coming season, but their hottest hitting prospects will be manning the infield. In the outfield they will see a majority of their innings split between players like Randal Grichuk, Derek Fisher, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Teoscar Hernandez. Last season Gurriel Jr. broke out with a 124 wRC+ in 84 games as he bounced between the majors and minors. Numerous scouts have been waiting on Grichuk and Fisher to become stars since before they joined the Blue Jays’ organization.
While most of Baltimore’s problems over the past few season have stemmed from an incapable pitching staff, their outfield offense does not appear to be the solution this coming season. Trey Mancini is a solid bat raking to a 132 wRC+, something he seems more than capable of duplicating. He also played a significant amount of first base this past season and will probably see less time in the outfield since the franchise has several prospects getting ready for longer looks at the big league level. Anthony Santander is a solid bat, but Austin Hays has battled injuries over the past couple of seasons, only seeing 21 games in the majors this past season. He has shown promise as a hitter at times as he was well above average for that short stretch in the majors.
The Yankees’ outfield is still capable of being the best offensive unit in the division. Offense is not everything in this game, and the Yankees will be looking to lean on the outstanding defensive abilities of Gardner and Tauchman early in the season. The ability of Frazier and Andujar to potentially fill in with above average bats helps the Yankees remain one of the deepest in the game.