Baseball fans are used to the drill. Each winter, while trying to piece together their expectations for their team the following spring, summer, and hopefully fall, they examine the roster with the most optimistic of views. If so-and-so does this, if this guy does that. It's all pointless, clearly, but it sure beats the hell out of shoveling.
With the start of the 2015 season drawing near, the Yankees have a number of "so-and-so's" that could potentially turn the club into a real contender if they can bounce back from disappointing seasons a year ago. Between down years and a return from injuries, close a dozen Pinstripers (if not more) could fall into the category of "bounce-back candidates." Which of them seem most likely to return to form?
McCann's case is tricky as a result of statistics not always telling the truth. In 2014, McCann hit more home runs (23) and drove in more runs (75) than he had in any season since 2010. Not bad for a catcher in his age-30 season. However, McCann's average plummeted 45 points below his career average, his on-base percentage was a career worse, and his OPS+ was 94, indicating he was a below-average league hitter, and far from what the team had invested in the offseason prior.
A lot is being asked of McCann this year. With no clear clubhouse leader on this team, many are looking to the Georgia native as a potential candidate. On the field, McCann showed last year that he still has the ability to hit the ball out of the park, so his production in that category figures to remain level. However, McCann's drop in average and on-base percentage could be corrected by hitting around the defensive shifts opposing teams favored using against him so often in 2014. Last year, when McCann hit the ball the other way, albeit not frequently, he managed to hit .333. If he can adapt that approach more regularly this year, the shifts mights stop, and his natural inclination to the pull the ball could go back to working into McCann's advantage.
Like McCann, Teixeira must improve on his 2014 if New York has any shot at playoff contention this year. The first baseman posted the worst year of his career--by far--with at least 100 games played last year. While Tex was never averse to the strikeout (he's had nine seasons with triple-digit K's), consider this: Teixeira struck out 109 times last year in 508 plate appearances. Four years prior, while stepping to the plate 204 more times, he struck out just 122 times. It might be unfair to hold any player, let alone one entering his age-35 season, to the same standards as an election cycle before, but it depicts what kind of drop-off we've seen him him recently.
It appears, however, as if Tex is determined to reverse course on the downtrend. This offseason, Teixeira adopted what he referred to as a "no-fun" diet, resulting in a drop in body fat percentage. Now, this is not to say that every hitter that says they're entering the season in the #BestShapeOfHisLife is a guaranteed success story--far from it. But it can't hurt, right? Teixeira has been very vocal about his unwillingness to try to hit the ball to the opposite field, so it remains to be seen if the "no-fun" diet can beat defensive shifts. He has, on a number of occasions, talked about his reputation as a 30 homer, 100 RBI player. That seems a bit much in terms of projections for Teixeira in 2015, but is .250/.340/.450 too much to ask?
Eovaldi might constitute somewhat of a mystery to many Yankee fans. In 2013, the right-hander, then 23, turned in a performance with Miami that had him pegged as a potential breakout player for the following season. Well, last season has come and gone without that pronounced breakout from Eovaldi. He allowed the most hits in the National League (admittedly a flukey stat, but not a good figure regardless), and continued to post surprisingly low strikeout rates despite a fastball that routinely flirts with 100 MPH.
Now entering his age-25 season, Eovaldi has been working with Yankees' pitching coach Larry Rothschild on developing a splitter that can compliment his fastball and help strike out more hitters. The sky is the limit for Eovaldi if his punchouts can take a leap, as he already shows a great ability to command the strike zone. In 199.2 IP last year, the Houston native walked just 43 hitters, computing out to a 3.30 K-to-walk ratio. Should Rothschild's input be as valuable as Eovaldi has made it sound, that ratio could be one of the league's best this year. Eovaldi provides durability and promise, two attributes the Yankees' 2015 rotation needs badly. Many Yankee fans were upset with dealing Martin Prado for Eovaldi (and Garret Jones) in December, but it has potential to be a winner--just like the righty.
P.S. The exclusion of CC Sabathia on this list doesn't mean he can't--or shouldn't be expected--to improve in a big way from 2014 for the Yankees to have a shot of snapping their postseason drought. He just simply has a much bigger uphill battle than McCann, Teixeira, or Eovaldi do. The weight gain Sabathia underwent over the winter should help, but after a tough past two years, it is okay to wonder how many bullets the southpaw has left in the chamber.
P.S.S. Stephen Drew isn't on this list, but that's because if he doesn't "bounce back" from his dreadful performance a year ago, he'll be looking for a new career path. It's hard to look worse as a professional baseball player than Drew did last year, but you already knew that.