Earlier this month, I wrote about why spring training may be more valuable than you may initially think. In this era of information, we are now capable of gleaning more insights from the spring than we did 10 years ago. It’s time for a pitcher to show off new pitches or make key adjustments. The same goes for hitters. It’s an opportunity to put their new swing or tweaks on display against real people in a competitive environment. You can figure out whether this thing you were trying out in the cage is viable in game, or if it’s something that will never see the light of day.
As we near the halfway point of spring, I’m here to tell you about some of these developments, and why they be sticky as we get closer and closer to Opening Day. There is no question that each of these developments could have entire articles dedicated to them, so I won’t go too deep into any single one. Instead, I’ll give you a nice guide to refer to as you watch the Yankees for the rest of the spring and wait to see how the Opening Day roster shakes out. I’ll start with the one that has already had an article of its own and has already been discussed on the broadcasts and by Aaron Boone.
Clarke Schmidt’s cutter
Peter Brody covered Schmidt’s new pitch in depth just last week, so I will be brief here. Schmidt’s arsenal is built around his lethal knuckle curve — a pitch that had the highest Stuff+ mark (151) out of all such offerings in 2022. It is a doozy for both lefties and righties because of its sharp break out of the zone. Last year, Schmidt began throwing his slider more often to take hitters off of the curve, and this year, his plan is to diversify even more. His cutter provides a new layer of velocity and movement to keep hitters honest. It’s a perfect addition for somebody who uses sink, sweep, and a gyro-heavy slider.
Deivi García’s resurgence
Alright, so let’s be blunt here. There isn’t a path back to top prospect status for Deivi, barring any insane developments. What will be ideal for him is to prove himself as a legitimate major leaguer who can serve as a swingman. In his first appearance of the spring, he was sitting between 96-98 mph and I was genuinely shocked.
One of García’s most valuable skills as a pitcher when he was successful was his ability to dot the lower border of the strike zone from his low, extended arm slot and catch hitters off guard with a sneaky mid-90s fastball. When his velocity regressed to the low-90s, that became a very easy pitch to hit. Now that it’s back up and he’s added a cutter to keep hitters honest, it’s looking like he may be a realistic bullpen option — even if it won’t be on Opening Day.
Wandy Peralta’s velocity increase
We knew that the pitch timer was going to benefit Wandy Peralta. His ability to work rapid fast is second to none. However, I didn’t see a velocity uptick coming for him. He has been throwing both his four-seamer and changeup about 1-1.5 mph harder than he did in 2022. While it may seem difficult to be better than what he was last year, a velocity increase is the best way for him to see that concrete improvement.
It’s possible that this might not last and is something that we see now with him getting more rest in between appearances than he typically does during the season. But if this does carry over, the Yankees may have themselves one of the best left-handed relievers in the game.
Aaron Judge’s heel tap
While I won’t rule it out, Joshua Diemert has already made a valid case for why we shouldn’t expect Aaron Judge to repeat his historic 2022 season. However, this doesn’t mean Judge won’t continue to put in the work to improve an area that he may consider a weakness. If there is one aspect of his game that isn’t elite, it’s his strikeout rate, even though he has improved it over time. Perhaps a step up there will raise his floor and allow him to not have a steep fall off from his MVP season.
Either way, it’s clear that Judge is trying to cut down the K’s. For the first time in his pro career, he is dabbling with a heel tap in two-strike counts in order to simplify his process while protecting. Give it a look:
The 1st HR of Spring for The Captain. pic.twitter.com/WgOoTZq1zp— New York Yankees (@Yankees) March 7, 2023
This is obviously the best-case scenario when you’re in a 1-2 count. Although it’s not going to happen every time, there is something to be said about Judge feeling confident enough to make this change even after last season. He could have simply run it back with the same mindset and swing and nobody would have complained, but like many athletes, Judge did not want to settle. We’ll need more data to come around as the year progresses to know for sure if this is helping, but for now I’ll decide to trust The Captain.
There are additional notable developments coming out of the spring, such as Anthony Volpe and Jasson Domínguez’s offensive performances in general, but these four topics are what I was talking about when I wrote that article last week. Sometimes, we may have a small sample of data and performance that tells us — and the team — valuable information that means something. We need time to see how this develops, but things are looking promising right now.