The Yankees still have their share of old timers on the roster for 2016, but a clear shift in offseason strategy the past two winters has resulted in a healthy crop of young players that will also get significant playing time. There are five players in particular who have shown flashes of brilliance at the major league level, are still in their mid-20's, and would surprise no one if they had a breakout campaign this summer.
Seemingly the only thing standing in the way between Pineda and stardom is his ability to stay on the mound. As a 22-year old rookie for the Mariners in 2011 he was named an All-Star and displayed ace potential. After a trade to the Yankees prior to the 2012 season, arm injuries derailed his career until 2014. While his 12-10 record and 4.37 ERA over 27 starts in 2015 might not look impressive, his strikeout and walk rates were the best among Yankees starters and his FIP was nearly a full run better than that ERA. At just 27 years old with a clean bill of health, Pineda could make some serious noise in 2016.
In his early career with the Dodgers and Marlins, Eovaldi failed to impress. Still, thanks to his high-90's fastball, he's not the type of pitcher that major league teams will give up on easily. The Yankees acquired him last year with the hopes that Larry Rothschild would be the key tounlock his potential. Most would consider the experiment a success. Under Rothschild's tutelage, Eovaldi added a splitter to his repertoire that led to the most success he's seen in the major leagues. He posted the highest strikeout rate of his career with no corresponding increase in walk rate and was the Yankees' most reliable starter before elbow inflammation ended his season early. Entering his prime years, the Yankees hope that Eovaldi's live arm is now the lethal weapon it should be.
Entering 2015, Severino was the best pitching prospect in the Yankees' system. With impressive performances at both double-A Trenton and triple-A Scranton, he lived up to the hype and was called up to the majors just after the trade deadline. In 11 starts with the Yankees he showed no signs of slowing down as he posted a 2.89 ERA with a 5-3 record. His 4.37 FIP was far more pedestrian, but it's hard to argue that it was a sign of good things to come for the 22-year old. The Yankees' rotation is still without a true number one starter, so he will likely be given the opportunity to stake that claim in 2016.
The 14th overall pick of the 2008 draft has never been a full-time starter since breaking into the major leagues with the Twins three seasons ago. As it stands now, he's not penciled in to have an everyday role with the Yankees either. However, he's the fourth outfielder behind a trio that is injury prone and certainly not getting any younger. As Chris Young proved last year, that role can turn into an everyday gig pretty quickly. With his ability to switch-hit and play any outfield position, Hicks could find himself getting over 400 plate appearances for the first time in his career. Like Eovaldi, he's also entering his prime years so now is the perfect time for such an opportunity.
It's hard to say that someone who had appeared in three All-Star games by the age of 24 could truly "break out" at age 26, so for Castro we might call this a resurgence. After a quick rise to stardom, things went south even faster for him in 2015 with the Cubs. By August, his poor performance earned him a spot on the bench in favor of prized shortstop Addison Russell. He later returned to the lineup as their starting second baseman, but was ultimately deemed expendable when they sent him to the Yankees this winter. Now that he's in a situation with a team that clearly wants him around with a clear role defined for him, he may find himself back on the star track that he appeared to be on just a few years ago.