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Who should be the Yankees’ leadoff hitter in 2024?

The choices are many, but the position is still up in the air.

MLB: SEP 26 Yankees at Blue Jays Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Fresh off acquiring superstar Juan Soto, the Yankees have an exciting campaign in store for 2024. Yet already, one question that has emerged centers on who exactly will bat first for this fascinating lineup on Opening Day against the Astros.

No matter how Aaron Boone organizes his batting order, the Yankees manager will get a much-improved offense than he had to work with last season. Soto and Aaron Judge will form the scariest duo in the American League and one of the scariest in the entire sport. There are other important pieces besides those two, but the offense will run through them.

In an ideal world, Anthony Rizzo reverts to his early 2023 form, Gleyber Torres builds on a strong second half in 2023, and Volpe takes steps forward after a mostly disappointing rookie campaign at the plate.

Amidst assumptions and expectations, the Yankees do not necessarily have a clear-cut choice to bat leadoff in 2024. There are many options, but each candidacy has pros and cons. In this day and age, the prototypical leadoff man of two decades ago is but a memory and most fans will acknowledge you don’t need one individual confined to that spot, instead being able to mix and match.

With that being said, you still want some consistency and reliability up front. Let’s take a look at each of the top options to bat first in the Yankee order, and the pros and cons for each.

Gleyber Torres — Building off a strong second half

The Yankees’ second baseman upgraded on its last two years, and had the second-highest walk rate in a single season of his career, with a 10-percent mark in 2023.

Torres had an .878 OPS in the second half of 2023, really showcasing an extra gear to what we’ve seen from him since 2020. He might not fully return to the outrageous upside he demonstrated during his first two campaigns, the peak Juiced Ball Years, but even still, that figure was better than the .849 OPS he posted from 2018-19.

Strictly off what we saw in 2023, Torres might be the one who showed the most to take over this role, bolstering an above-average walk rate and solid numbers across the board. One of the points that work against him is that Torres might be the most reliable middle-of-the-order bat to work in between, or after, Soto and Judge. As much as you need men on for those two, you also need protection in the order.

With Rizzo, there is a hope that he can rebound to the form he showed in the first couple months of 2023, but until we see it coming to fruition, that’s all it is. Concussions are just tricky that way.

Anthony Volpe — The ideal scenario

Boone already tried Volpe in the leadoff role quite a few times last season, and if he had fulfilled expectations, he would have remained there for all of 2023. Sadly, and also somewhat understandably, as this happens frequently, the first taste of the bigs proved a bit too much for the 22-year-old.

Going off his prospect profile, with a good hit tool and plenty of speed, if he can take steps forward, Volpe should grow into that role. However, the best bet may be to let that naturally play out, not having him start the season there, necessarily. He deserves credit for slugging 21 bombs from the shortstop position, but at least to start 2023, they need someone at leadoff who has a career OPS higher than .666.

One of the boosts of improving this lineup is taking some pressure away from Volpe. Last year, it felt like the Yankees needed him to be his best version already in a rookie campaign. With the spotlight on Soto, Judge, and company, Volpe could flourish.

Aaron Judge — The outside-the-box choice

For a lack of a standout name, the Yankees have gone to Judge in the leadoff role in the past, including 34 times during his MVP-winning 2022 campaign. So it’s an alternative worth considering in 2024.

Say Giancarlo Stanton is healthy and balling in the middle of the order. Yes, this is the absolute best-case scenario, but it’s worth considering for at least a moment. You could theoretically come up with something like:

  1. Judge
  2. Soto
  3. Torres
  4. Rizzo
  5. Stanton

The big downside here is that in an ideal world, you want more opportunities with Judge hitting with men on base, something not maximized with him leading off.

We’d be remiss in saying that DJ LeMahieu is also a distinct possibility at leadoff since he hit there the most in 2023 with 58 starts. But I don’t think that’s the best strategy. Beyond Soto and Judge, you have at least three, possibly more, better hitters than him in the lineup. You would rather not move all of those guys back one spot, just to get an underwhelming leadoff option in there.

One could speculate on DJ LeMahieu defying Father Time as he did for parts of the second half, but it’d be just that. Anything around what he produced in 2022 (110 OPS+) would be a plus for the Yankees. It’d be a better gamble to roll with one of Torres, Judge, or even the promising Volpe.