Spring training draws ever closer, as just 10 days separate us from the full Yankees roster reporting to camp. Last week we began to look over the changes over the course of the past year on the Bombers roster beginning with the bullpen, and this time we’ll take a look at the position players. Like the bullpen, many of the fielders for the Yankees changed in both the names wearing the jersey as well as the status of the player entering 2019.
The biggest positive change in position players for New York undoubtedly came from the sensational rookie campaigns the team got out of Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. The pair finished second and third respectively in Rookie of the Year voting, providing pop at the bottom of the Yankees’ batting order that turned their lineup into one of the most lethal in the league. Both were a part of camp in 2018, but neither opened the season with the big-league squad. Prior to their call-ups, the Yankees had Brandon Drury and Neil Walker slated as the starters in their spots. Safe to say, they made the right call promoting them.
Center field was another spot the Yankees improved on in the past year, but they didn’t make any personnel changes to do so. Aaron Hicks simply showed us that the Yankees brass was right to bet on him when they acquired him in a trade back in 2016. After breaking out in 2017 but only playing 88 games due to injury, Hicks put up a career-best 4.7 bWAR and cemented himself at the top of the lineup.
Unfortunately, not everything rolled the Yankees’ way for the lineup. First base continued to be a void for most of the year, as Greg Bird struggled to stay on the field, and stay productive while he was there. The Yankees did get a surge when they traded for Luke Voit at the trade deadline, and his hot streak to end the year propelled the Yankees’ overall OPS at first base to 15th in the league at .762. Voit will now get a chance to compete for the full-time job against Bird, and see what he can do in a full season in the big leagues.
The other major step-back came from Gary Sanchez. Sanchez came into 2018 with high expectations but turned in an abysmal year. He put up career-lows in home runs (18), batting average (.186), and OPS (.697), and battled injuries along the way. His defense remained polarizing, as Sanchez led the league with 18 passed balls. There are parts of Sanchez’s defense that make him exceptional, such as his arm strength or his framing, but his receiving undoubtedly was rough and will be a focus going forward.
The rest of the roster more or less played to expectations. Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees biggest acquisition of the offseason, didn’t put up a repeat of his 59-homer season in his last year with the Marlins but did end up as one of the Yankees most consistent threats in the lineup. He particularly carried the offense for a portion of the season when Judge went down due to being plunked on his hand. Speaking of Judge, the big baseball boy didn’t get a chance to match his 52-homer season a year ago either, but remained the linchpin of the Yankee offense and the defacto leader of the team. Didi Gregorius put up his second consecutive 20-homer, 80-RBI season and solidified his role as one of baseball’s top-tier shortstops.
Gregorius will have a tough time matching that production for a third year in a row, having undergone Tommy John surgery in the offseason. Subsequently, the two newcomers to the Yankees’ offense will have some sizable expectations on their shoulders. Troy Tulowitzki, who regrettably isn’t the Tulo of old anymore, is set to be the Yankees’ stopgap shortstop in Gregorius’ place, and DJ LeMahieu will play a utility role around the infield.
While Tulowitzki is a definite downgrade from a full season of Gregorius, LeMahieu is an interesting case. The Yankees didn’t deploy a super-utility player last year, and thus didn’t envision having one in last season’s camp either, but the closest comparison to last year’s roster would be someone like Ronald Torreyes. That’s a definite upgrade, and if LeMahieu can successfully handle positions other than second base, this could work out favorably for the Yankees.
Lastly, left field stands out as a bit of a point of contention. Brett Gardner is the incumbent, having held down the spot for most of the past decade, but age is catching up to him, and he lost the job toward the end of the year. Clint Frazier, who looked to be challenging for this role last year, will get a second shot at things after a turbulent 2018 health-wise.
In some sense, a lot has changed for the Yankees, and yet plenty has stayed the same from a macro-perspective. They will still boast one of the strongest lineups in the American League, with the chance to be the best. Their defense will be shaky at spots, but good enough to overlook for the most part. A few keys spots, however, and where exactly players slide in the batting order could look drastically different by the end of the season than they do now.