Besides the obvious competitiveness and the experience, Winter Ball is usually seen as a good developmental step in a prospect’s career. Playing in front of fiery fans, having a platform to showcase/develop their skills and/or put some adjustments into practice are only a small sample of the benefits of playing during this time of the year.
However, playing Winter Ball can also be beneficial for rehabbing major leaguers who didn’t log enough playing time or innings, for whatever reason. The competition helps them regain some rhythm and shake off the rust caused by the inactivity in a lot of cases.
The Yankees have several players — some of them expected to occupy major roles on the roster — who need playing time at the moment, or might be well-served by resuming baseball activity. Here are some of them:
After nearly two months of mediocre results (.194/.294/.333 slash line with 4 home runs, 14 RBI, and 13 runs scored in 32 games), it was announced that Hicks had a wrist injury that required season-ending surgery. It was performed in late May and just like that, he vanished out of fans’ minds for 2021.
The procedure to repair a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist indeed kept Hicks out for the rest of the year, but the outfielder is expected to resume full baseball activities by December or January and hopes to be ready by the time spring training rolls.
Hicks told Lindsey Adler of The Athletic a few weeks ago that he hopes to play some Winter Ball, and on Tuesday, GM Brian Cashman confirmed that the possibility is still on the table. It is a great idea in his specific case: Hicks hasn’t played since May, and, after making sure he is 100 percent healed, wants to regain some timing and test his wrist in competitive game action before embarking in a crucial spring training for him.
For Hicks, Winter Ball will not be about the stats or results. Instead, it will be about testing his hand and making sure he can lift, grip, and swing a bat comfortably. He needs to have a good season with the Yankees next year to make sure he gets regular playing time. Remember, he had a 112 OPS+ with 20 doubles and 18 homers in 113 games between 2019-20, Hicks can still be a difference-maker in the Yankees lineup if he can rebound from that lost 2021.
Some may argue that the Yankees are better off leaving Severino alone. He could rest for the whole offseason after his long road back from Tommy John surgery last spring, and then slowly but surely work his way back as a starter next February. And that’s OK!
However, I do think he can benefit from a few innings in the Dominican Winter League (LIDOM). Again, stat lines won’t matter (although it would be nice to see him dominate), and the focus should be on him feeling good about getting back to his routine as a starter.
Sevy hasn’t logged a full starter’s workload in MLB since an All-Star 2018, when he notched a 3.39 ERA and 220 strikeouts in 191.1 frames. Then, his issues with injuries started, and the Yankees hope the setbacks he suffered on his road back from Tommy John are now behind him.
Andújar’s place in the Yankees’ organization for the future is in serious danger. Injuries and underperformance have taken the luster off his very good 2018 rookie season, but the truth is that he hasn’t looked like a Major Leaguer for a consistent, sustained period of time ever since.
A the MLB level in 2021, Andújar hit .253/.284/.383 with an 81 wRC+ in 162 plate appearances. Before that, he played Winter Ball with Toros del Este in the Dominican Republic, but he didn’t see the field much. He had a .300 average and a .733 OPS in 40 at-bats, with no homers.
If Andújar is serious about returning to the Yankees’ plans (or even that of another future team), impressing in Winter Ball could go a long way. Showing some power and newfound plate discipline would be ideal, since his defense seems to be a lost cause. However, as of now, there haven’t been any indications that he will participate with Toros in 2021. That could change, though.