In just a couple of hours, the Yankees’ 2015 campaign starts in the Bronx. Much has happened since the end of last season, so let’s recap everything that went down this offseason and then dive in to the team’s outlook for this season.
Masahiro Tanaka was awesome last season. He’s looked pretty great this spring, despite some diminished velocity. There’s reason to be confident in Tanaka’s ability to dominate, but the question is for how long? Hopefully, Tanaka’s rehabbed UCL survives this season and beyond, similar to what happened to Adam Wainwright‘s elbow.
Michael Pineda is downright filthy. He’s got electric stuff that’s certainly going to give batters fits all season. But like Tanaka, it’s impossible to know if he can make it through the entire season. He missed a big chunk of 2014 with a shoulder strain, and he of course didn’t pitch in 2012 and 2013 because of shoulder surgery.
CC Sabathia is the veteran of the staff, entering his 15th season in the league and sixth with the Yankees. He saw his velocity tick up a bit in spring training, undoubtedly a good sign despite the blasé results. Realistically, it’s impossible to know what the Yankees are going to get out of a 34 year-old who missed much of last year after having knee surgery.
Nathan Eovaldi is a project. Armed with a blazing fastball, the Yankees acquired the 25 year-old dreaming on his upside. For what it’s worth, Nate dominated the Grapefruit League with a microscopic 1.93 ERA, 20 strikeouts, and three walks in 18.2 innings. Hopefully his work within Larry Rothschild can unlock some of that potential that once got him to 96th on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list.
Adam Warren wasn’t supposed to be in the rotation, but here he is. Chris Capuano‘s injury created a vacancy, and Warren snatched the opportunity. He should have a good month to show what he’s got before Capuano returns, but worst case scenario leaves him back in the bullpen where he was solid last season.
Nobody was worried about Dellin Betances until this spring rolled around. His results have been subpar, much unlike how he dominated last March to earn a spot on the team. The Yankees are counting on him to be a late inning force like last season, and I don’t think anything’s changed based on his struggles this past month. Like I previously wrote, talk to me if this continues through the first month of the regular season.
Andrew Miller effectively replaces the departing David Robertson, although he might not be the closer. The lanky lefty is effective against hitters from both sides of the plate, so Joe Girardi will deploy him any time he sees fit in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. Miller and Betances should be a pretty lethal late inning combo.
David Carpenter has drawn rave reviews this spring thanks to a splitter he’s worked on. He’ll get plenty of late inning work, and he has a track record of being pretty darn good in high leverage innings with Atlanta.
Like Miller, Justin Wilson is a southpaw who doesn’t have a major platoon split. In all likelihood, he’ll be used similarly to Carpenter late in games. Like many other Yankees’ relievers, he can bring the heat, averaging 95 MPH on his fastball last season.
Esmil Rogers lost out on the fifth starter job and fell into a role as the long man. He’s stretched out enough to go multiple innings and probably would step into the rotation if anything happens to Warren.
Chasen Shreve is the third lefty in the pen, and like the other two, he’s not limited to left-handed hitters. He probably won’t get many high leverage opportunities, at least to start the season.
Chris Martin was somewhat surprisingly taken north, but flashed some pretty good stuff this spring. His results weren’t great, but he’s got a lively fastball. Did I mention he’s 6-7? The Yankees love their tall pitchers.
Jacoby Ellsbury will presumably return to the lead off spot after spending a good amount of time in the three-hole last season. The center fielder dealt with a little oblique issue in mid-March, but made it back just in time to be ready for the opener. He’s going to be the catalyst in this year’s lineup.
Based on some of the lineups this spring, Brett Gardner should be seeing a lot of time batting second. Don’t expect the power output he displayed last year (17 HR), but he and Jacoby should be excellent table setters for the big boppers. Moreover, the two will cover a ton of ground in left and center field.
Carlos Beltran will still hit in the heart of the order based on reputation alone, but it’s hard to bank on him after an unhealthy 2014. Now 38, the odds are against him to stay on the field and still be a productive hitter. Expect him to spend a lot of time as the designated hitter too, as playing right field full-time isn’t a good mix with his aging body.
Brian McCann finished last season on a tear. Will it carry over? Better hope so, because McCann was pretty disappointing otherwise offensively. With the various questions in the lineup, McCann is the youngest of the power bats so he’s likely the guy that will be most relied upon. The defense and pitching staff management is taken for granted, but shouldn’t go unnoticed. It probably will, though, especially if the Yankees struggle to score runs again.
Mark Teixeira is past his prime and has also had a hard time keeping healthy. He changed his diet this offseason in order to hopefully stay on the field this year, but whether or not that will prove to be successful is a mystery. Teix prides himself on being a 30-100 guy every year, but we’ve now gone three full seasons without that kind of production. Don’t expect it to suddenly return this season, but I did argue that he could be a pleasant surprise this season.
Chase Headley might be the Yankees’ best position player. He’s at least right up there with Ellsbury. Headley’s defense at the hot corner is excellent, and his offense isn’t too shabby either. He can take a big step forward at the plate if he can add some power, but outside of his marvelous 2012, he hasn’t been able to do that. He’ll still be an above average hitter, but a season as an offensive force is likely out of the question.
The regular season hasn’t started yet, but Alex Rodriguez might have already beaten expectations. He hit well this spring, belting three homers while hitting .267/.387/.489. The defense at third doesn’t look good, but that’s not important because he’ll be the primary DH. His experiment at first base was successful, perhaps giving him a chance to spell Teixeira occasionally. Despite his solid March, the regular season is another animal. He hasn’t played since 2013 and it’s hard to remember when he last stayed healthy for an extended period of time. Regardless, I’m pretty pumped up to see him back.
The starting second baseman is Stephen Drew, for now. Given the way Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela look offensively, Drew must be serviceable in the batters’ box to keep his job. He does have one advantage over the two prospects: defense, by a wide margin. So if the rest of the lineup is chugging, he might have a longer leash. If not, he could be benched in a month or two.
Didi Gregorius‘ defense is fantastic. He made some jaw-dropping plays at shortstop this spring, and even hit a little too. His bat is definitely a question, but if he continues his greatness with the glove, it might not matter too much. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on his left wrist in the first couple weeks after spraining it late in camp. Hopefully the injury didn’t stunt any progress he seemed to be making on his swing.
Garrett Jones should see some time as a first baseman, right fielder, and DH. He seems like a good candidate to benefit from the right field porch at Yankee Stadium. It seemed likely that Jones was going to be the everyday DH, but A-Rod’s spring basically put that to bed. He could claim the job later in the season, but for now, we may only see him start a game or two a week.
Chris Young will get reps at all three outfield spots, but probably the majority of those will come in right field as Beltran will need a fair amount of rest. If Young is anything like he was last September, he’ll be a really solid role player.
John Ryan Murphy is the backup catcher. Aside from giving McCann regular rest, he might also got some additional opportunities against southpaws that would give the lefty-swinging McCann fits. Murphy’s shown flashes in the past couple of seasons and might have a future as a starter, so expect to hear his name brought up in trade rumors this season.
Prospects who might have an impact
First and foremost, take a look at our top 100 Yankees’ prospects put together by Chris. It blends Chris’ projection system, KATOH, with Kiley McDaniel’s scouting grades. We’ve been churning out prospect profiles too, which are linked within the prospect list. Here are a few guys that might play at the major league level this year, in order of our ranking (in parentheses):
Luis Severino (1) is on the fast track. He went from Single-A Charleston to High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton all in one season last year, and assuming he starts back in Trenton, he has a chance to push himself to the precipice of the majors. If the Yankees’ rotation desperately needs an infusion of talent, maybe Severino gets the call in the late summer.
Jacob Lindgren (2) almost made the Yankees out of camp, so we’ll certainly see him in the bigs very soon. Last year’s top pick is a southpaw that can mow down lefties and righties, generating a lot of strikeouts and grounders. He could be a key piece to the late innings quickly.
If things go south for Drew, Rob Refsnyder (7) is a good of a choice as anyone to take over at second base. The kid can hit, no question, but is he good enough to handle the position defensively? He had an ugly spring with the glove, but he’s also relatively inexperienced at the position so growing pains are expected. His bat looks ready for the major league level, so if Drew is really a drag on the lineup, the Yanks may decide that they need to infuse some offense into the lineup with Refsnyder.
The rotation is filled with questions as previously noted, so Bryan Mitchell (9) is almost certain to get a handful of starts this year. He’s got good stuff, but tends to be a bit wild. He’s got just over 40 career innings at Triple-A, so a little more seasoning might do him some good, but he could probably be tolerable over a few major league starts right now.
Ramon Flores (15) seems to be the consensus choice as the first man up from Triple-A if the Yankees need outfield help. He doesn’t have a lot of upside, but he does have a high floor. As you can tell from his spring training at bats, he has a pretty good approach at the plate. His minor league numbers are pretty solid, too.
If Jose Ramirez (17) can stay healthy, he could get some chances in the Yankees’ bullpen this season. He can run his fastball to the mid-90s and has a superb changeup to boot. He still needs to hone his command an keep off the disabled list, but there’s upside here if the Yankees need relief help.
Nick Rumbelow (18) is in the same boat as Ramirez in terms of being a mid-season bullpen help option. He was pretty impressive in camp, and if you can’t tell by now, the Yankees are clearly pretty deep when it comes to relievers.
The prospects above are the guys I anticipate getting the most time at the major league level, although there are a few guys who might make mid-year cameos and/or be September call-ups: Gary Sanchez (13), Tyler Austin (19), Slade Heathcott (27), Danny Burawa (30), Tyler Webb (34), Branden Pinder (45), and James Pazos (52).
In a mildly surprising move, Chase Whitley was optioned to Triple-A. Based on performance, he certainly earned a spot in the big league bullpen as a long reliever, but the Yankees didn’t feel a need with Esmil Rogers already in tow. Plus, sending him to Scranton will allow him to stay stretched out and get regular turns in the rotation. He’ll be up in the Bronx at some point this year as a swing man, but likely in multiple stints.
Eddy Rodriguez is the club’s third catcher. There’s nothing exciting about him, just keep his name in mind if anything happens to McCann or Murphy.
Andrew Bailey is starting the year with the Yankees’ Tampa affiliate in order to avoid the cool weather. He’s attempting to come back from serious shoulder surgery, but has looked decent in camp and could be a bullpen piece in a month or two.
Chris Capuano was slated to be the fifth starter until he strained his quad while covering first in a Grapefruit League game. He could be back by May, but if Warren is effective, Capuano will probably go to the bullpen.
Brendan Ryan didn’t get much action in camp. First, his back kept him out of the first few weeks of spring training. Then, shortly after returning to play, he strained his calf on a grounder up the middle. He could be out up to eight weeks. He’s with the Yankees to be a defensive wizard in the infield, but it seems like there’s always something hurting him.
A concussion prematurely ended Jose Pirela‘s excellent showing in camp. He’s slowing working himself back into shape, and hopefully will be ready to return by mid-April. I’d assume once healthy he’d take Petit’s roster spot. Aside from being a utility guy, Pirela could see some time as the starting second baseman if Drew struggles out of the gate.
Below are a few things to pay attention to, although this list isn’t wholly inclusive:
1. Health is by far the most important driver of this year’s Yankees team. Of course, many other clubs can say the same thing, but it seems like the Yankees have an inordinate amount of murky situations with player’s well-being. Can Tanaka’s elbow stay in tact? What about Pineda’s shoulder? Sabathia’s knee? Beltran’s…everything? The list goes on.
2. Offense is down in the big leagues, and the Yankees scored the 20th-most runs in the league last season. They didn’t really do anything to bolster the offense, although maybe a full season of Headley will help. A lot is riding on the performances of Beltran, McCann, and Teixeira, which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
3. A-Rod, as always. He’s going to get an incredible amount of attention from the media, as we’ve already seen this spring. He’s really not that important to the team’s standing this year as the club is really penciling his performance in as a mystery. He’s look pretty darn good in camp, nonetheless, so anything he provides would be a huge unexpected boost to the offense.
4. Some of the Yankees bigger prospects are making their way to the higher levels of the minors. Players like Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, and Greg Bird could all be near major league ready if all goes well this season, a crop the Yankees haven’t had in seemingly a long time. It’ll be fun to follow that trio along with other prospects like Jorge Mateo this summer.
5. I touched on this before: Stephen Drew is the second baseman, for now. Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela are breathing down his neck, and considering the way Drew performed last season, don’t expect him to have a long leash.
6. Nobody was expecting this to be a story before camp, but it’s certainly grown to one. Dellin Betances had a bad spring, results-wise. He’s being counted on as a fireman, and really needs a strong start to the year to quell any concerns. Hopefully, we all look back on this as a silly thing in a couple months.
The division looks to be up for grabs, with no one team standing out. Here’s a quick synopsis of each team:
Last year’s division winners, the Baltimore Orioles, didn’t do anything to really get better this spring. The pitching is a bit thin and virtually unchanged from 2014, and offensively, they lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. J.J. Hardy opening the year on the disabled list is bad news, too. Nonetheless, they still should be formidable offensively with Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Steve Pearce, and Manny Machado, but I’m expecting a step back this season. They should still contend, but won’t have it easy like last year when they won the division by 12 games.
The Red Sox made the most splashes this offseason, bringing in Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and Rick Porcello amongst others. They’re going to hit the snot out of the ball, no doubt. Like Baltimore, though, they’re pitching isn’t too deep. I’m a Porcello fan, but he’s backed up by enigmas like Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson. Boston does have prospects on their side, so if the pitching really is just unacceptable, they can go out and make a deal for someone like Cole Hamels. Regardless, the offense is deep enough to keep them in the hunt all season.
Toronto had a nice offseason, too, adding Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. Still, this organization has had a tough time moving up even after other years with monster winter moves. Adding Donaldson and Martin to a lineup with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion is nice, but they’re also really thin at first base, second base, and left field. The pitching isn’t spectacular either, especially after losing Marcus Stroman.
Tampa Bay is pretty clearly the runt of the group. It’s somewhat of a transitional phase for the team, subtracting players like Ben Zobrist and Wil Myers while placing bets on unproven guys like Steve Souza. I don’t think they’ll be buried in the standings in a couple months, but I find it unlikely that they sniff a playoff spot down the final stretch.