Monday, December 22, 2014

What a Difference a Year Makes

That picture shows the players with the most time at each position for the 2014 Yankees. Looking back on that it's hard to believe that I had any hope for a successful season. 

Ichiro Suzuki had a decent batting average the previous three seasons, but things went downhill from there. His on-base percentage over the last three years was a very sad .305, and Ichiro's slugging percentage was also a cringe-worthy .356. While he was still stealing a respectable amount of bases, he wasn't nearly the threat on the basepaths that he once was. And lastly, he was 40 years old, so it's not as though we should expect any sort of rebound.

Brian Roberts shouldn't have made us feel any better about things, although I tried my best. Not only did Roberts play just 133 games between 2011 and 2013, but he didn't do much of anything in them. His triple-slash during those seasons was a pathetic .231/.289/.344. And, like Ichiro, he wasn't a youngster that could see a bounce-back (Roberts turned 36 before the season started). 

Yangervis Solarte started his career in the Minnesota Twins system before spending the 2012 and 2013 seasons with the Texas Rangers' AAA club. Solarte didn't set the World on fire in the Pacific Coast League, hitting .276/.323/.403 in 2013. So while it was great watching Yangervis kill it early in the 2014 season (.303/.404/.461 in March/April), it came as no surprise when things turned sour later (.164/.282/.213 in June). 

Then we come to Derek Jeter. While his 2012 season was really good, it ended with a broken left ankle at the end of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series versus the Detroit Tigers. Even after Jeter's ankle had healed, Derek suffered more injuries to his right leg, making him miss all but 17 games in the 2013 season. So heading into his final season in 2014, while Yankees fans hoped for the best, expectations were low for the Captain. And a batting line of .256/.304/.313 was hard to watch, especially in the final year of his storybook career.

Besides poor numbers in 2014, those four players have something else in common.... none of them are still around. You all know about the trade for Didi Gregorius, the signing of Chase Headley, and the trade that sent Martin Prado to Arizona (thus opening the door for either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder to start at 2B). But let's take a look at the expected starters for the 2015 Yankees...

While there are still questions here, I'm a hell of a lot more excited this time around. And unlike last year, I'm not going to fool myself into thinking the 2015 Yankees are going to be great.

Carlos Beltran is going to need to bounce-back in a big way next year, which isn't going to be easy for a guy that will turn 38 in April. It shouldn't be tough considering he hit .233/.301/.402, with just 15 home runs, last season.

Alex Rodriguez is currently slated to be the regular DH, but the addition of Garrett Jones and the needs of guys like Beltran and Teixeira to get DH days, means ARod could amount to very little for the Yankees this coming season.

It's unlikely that Chase Headley makes anybody say "wow" after the 2015 season, but slick fielding, a good OBP, and around 15 home runs, will be enough to make Yankees fans glad he was around.

But here's what makes me excited seeing that lineup...

Didi Gregorius is not going to earn MVP votes, but he's about to turn just 25 years old in February. So while guys like the aforementioned Ichiro and Roberts were well into the downsides of their careers, Didi could very well be on the way up.

Yankees' fans have been clamoring for Jose Pirela and/or Rob Refsnyder to get a shot in the big leagues, and now it looks like that opportunity has finally arrived. Pirela just turned 25, while Refsnyder will be 24 in March. Both of them had stellar seasons at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014 (Refsnyder actually spent part of the year at AA Trenton).

That's three guys that the Yankees seem serious about when it comes to giving kids a chance. But that's not all.

The team could have very well gone with a lineup with Martin Prado in it, giving them another veteran whose had a pretty good MLB career. But they traded him away to get a two young pitchers in Nathan Eovaldi and Domingo German (24 and 22 years old, respectively). Eovaldi will likely join the rotation next season, alongside 26 year old Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka.

All that means that the Yankees will have five regulars on the active roster that will be under 27 years old when the 2015 season gets under way. Not just five guys on the roster, some of which will see limited time on the field, but five guys that are slated to contribute quite a bit.

I don't mean to say that those youngsters make me believe the Yankees could compete for the World Series in 2015, which gets me excited. No, I'm excited that, while the Yankees could be a solid team next year, the future of the club is finally something that is being taken seriously. On top of those kids that will be around the Yankees next season, the minor leagues have a few guys that could be difference makers in the not-so-distant future. Guys like Lius Severino, Aaron Judge, Jacob Lindgren, Ian Clarkin, and Eric Jagielo.

Those fans that want the team to be like the 1998 Yankees are again in for a disappointment, but the Yankees look to be building a club that could be very competitive year in and year out again soon.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)