Happy New Year, Yankees fans! 2020 is finally behind us and now we can look forward to what we hope is a better year ahead. Not only was 2020 a rotten year in general, it was also a lousy year for the Bronx Bombers — one in which they were riddled by injuries and underperforming players. However, the Yankees should take comfort in the fact that a certain trio will more than likely make a far greater impact on the team than they did last season. Who are those players you ask? Gary Sánchez, Gleyber Torres, and Deivi García.
I know many of you are rolling your eyes at the thought of another season of expecting Sánchez to have a productive year, only to see him do the exact opposite. El Kraken just finished a season in which he hit a mere .147 with a 69 wRC+ in 49 games, and even earned a spot on the bench in the postseason. So why should we have any optimism for him in 2021? Well, there are a few reasons.
To start, Gary hits the ball very hard. His average exit velocity of 91.8 mph last year was in the 89th percentile among all major leaguers. His hard-hit percentage was 50 percent, which placed him in the top 92 percent, and his barrel percentage sitting in the top 97 percent. I am aware that Sánchez struck out in 36 percent of his at-bats, but when he made contact, he hit it hard. For 2021, working on finding gaps (and the seats) when barreling one up the ball, and reducing his “Ks” will propel his play more than you think.
There’s also the simple fact that just one season ago, Sánchez was an All-Star who mashed 34 homers with a 116 wRC+ in 446 plate appearances — far more than double the paltry sample that the COVID-shortened 2020 could possibly indicate. A more legitimate season could have given Sánchez’s stats the time to course correct. And if Sánchez’s performance in the Dominican Winter League is any sign of how he’ll play next year, he is more than capable of returning to the efficient catcher he once was.
The now 24-year-old shortstop had a rough 2020 season. It was a year in which many thought he could make the jump towards an MVP-caliber season, but the idea of that fell flat on its face as Torres hit .243 with only three homers and a 0.2 fWAR over 42 games. In fact, Brian Cashman believes that Torres was out of shape once the season started in July.
Brian Cashman talks about Gleyber Torres’ year at SS, says he’s a better 2B but that Gleyber is “more than capable” of playing SS too. That’s tonight on “Yankees Hot Stove” on YES. pic.twitter.com/XMrxKYrohn— Brendan Kuty (@BrendanKutyNJ) December 10, 2020
Whether he was ready to go, or was indeed out of shape, Gleyber Torres did not play like the Gleyber Torres the Yankees are accustomed to seeing. He was merely adequate on offense and far worse with his glove.
2021 may tell a different story, though. It’s no secret that the Yankees aren’t pleased with how Torres has played at short, so that should light a fire under him and force him to improve. Obviously, just because there is room to improve doesn’t mean a player will, but it’s hard to get much worse than -9 DRS over 320 innings. If you look closer into his numbers at the dish, he saw the ball pretty well. He walked at an elite clip and recorded his lowest rate of strikeouts in his three-year career. As Tom recently wrote, Torres’ newfound plate discipline may have made Torres a little too patient at the plate, as he wasn’t jumping on the pitches he normally would have pursued in years prior. Getting back into game-ready shape and getting back to putting the ball in the stands, he could be one of the most important pieces to this team in 2021.
Speaking of young players, the 21-year-old flamethrower Deivi García seems to be in position to have a much bigger role in the starting rotation for the Yankees in 2021. He only started six games last season, but with the uncertainty of Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton actually wearing pinstripes again, García could be propelled into the top four in the rotation and work his way up.
After Gerrit Cole, the rotation is really up for grabs. Luis Severino won’t return until the summer, which leaves the rest of the spots to García, Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Loaisiga, and maybe Domingo Germán. I’m sure the Yankees will add more pitchers to those names, but until then, it’s García who could make the biggest leap. He showed his lively fastball and ability to throw his curveball as well. After a year in which he threw 34 innings with a 4.98 ERA, the Yankees will need more from him, and he is set up with a good chance to deliver.