As we here at Pinstripe Alley continue our recap of the 2023 Yankees’ season, it’s time to look at the biggest surprises from this year. Ordinarily, when people talk about “surprises” in this context, they’re usually focusing on the good ones, the pleasant surprises.
However, let’s be honest, there wasn’t a ton of positives about this past season. Not to say there was nothing to enjoy, but the team was a tough watch at times. So as we look back at the top three surprises from this season, we aren’t going to wholly focus on the negatives, but we can’t exactly purely focus on the positive ones either. With that in mind, let’s look back through this season’s surprises.
3. Michael King
After a couple seasons in a swingman-ish role for the Yankees, King seemingly fully transitioned to the bullpen in 2022, and was quite impressive. However, late in 2023, with the Yankees dealing with injuries in the bullpen, they stretched him back out and gave him a starting role in August and September. King then rewarded the Yankees with a run that has him in line for a rotation role for next season and beyond.
King was plenty impressive this season out of the bullpen, with Aaron Boone often using him in a multi-inning role. On August 24th, he was given a start with the Yankees’ rotation in rough shape. He ended his season with eight consecutive starts, over which he put up a 1.88 ERA and a 2.47 FIP in 38.1 innings. The peak came on September 20th, when he struck out 13, allowing one run in seven innings against the Blue Jays.
King already would’ve been a lock for the 2024 roster even if he hadn’t started making starts, but now he has fans wondering just how prominent his role could be next year.
2. Carlos Rodón
While Aaron Judge’s re-signing was the biggest move of the offseason, the signing of Carlos Rodón was the biggest offseason addition for the 2023 Yankees. The pitcher inked a six-year deal with the Yankees coming of two excellent seasons, featuring two top six Cy Young finishes. On paper, him and Gerrit Cole seemingly formed a very formidable combination at the top of the rotation.
Unfortunately, that’s not how things played out, at least this year. Rodón went down injured in spring training, and ended up developing chronic back issues as he rehabbed, which could be a thing that affects him for the rest of his career. It wasn’t ideal considering that injury problems were the main concern surrounding him on the free agent market. As a result of the injuries, he didn’t end up making his Yankee debut until July, at which point he began to struggle.
In 64.1 innings across 14 starts in 2023, Rodón put up a 6.85 ERA and a 5.79 FIP. He gave up 15 home runs, which was the fifth most of any Yankee pitcher, with everyone ahead of him throwing at least 80 innings. Later in the season, he showed some signs of turning things around, striking out 19 total batters in his starts on September 12th and 17th. However, he ended his season by giving up eight runs on six hits to the Royals, failing to record an out.
Despite the struggles, Rodón still has talent. There’s still hope that with a full spring training and some better health luck that he could be a good pitcher for the Yankees, but his tenure in the Bronx couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start.
1. Jasson Domínguez
Not that you would’ve put “The Martian’s” chances of making it to the big leagues in 2023 at 0 percent, but it seemed incredibly unlikely. The highest level he had been at going into the season was Double-A, and that was for only five games in 2022. Beyond that, while he had shown plenty of promise and was still considered a top 100 prospect, he had never quite lit the minors on fire to the point where a (on paper) contending team like the Yankees would call him up at 20-years-old.
As it turned out, the Yankees weren’t a contending team in 2023. That, along with Domínguez’s play, led to them deciding to take a chance and see what he had in September. What emerged from that was almost certainly the most exciting stretch of the season.
After homering off Justin Verlander in his first career MLB at-bat, Domínguez showed off a lot of the tools that earned him such hype when he signed with the team as a 16-year old. In 33 plate appearances in eight games, he hit .358/.303/.677 with four home runs, and some solid defense in center field.
Unfortunately, he too got afflicted with 2023 Yankee disease in the worst possible way. On September 10th, it was announced that he had torn his UCL and would require Tommy John surgery. As a result, the earliest we’ll likely see him on the field again will be June-ish.
But prior to that, Jasson Domínguez was a surprise in the best possible way for the 2023 Yankees.