New York Yankees 2020: Reasons for Optimism

What happened in 2019?
For the first time since 2012, the Yankees ended the season as AL East Champions with a 103-59 record, also beating the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS, but the season was ultimately to end in abject disappointment in the ALCS to the ‘insert asterix here’ Houston Astros. Despite the ridiculously-long injury list, the Yankees roster did amazingly well, but anything less than a World Series appearance was going to be a disappointment after another record-breaking year, leading MLB with 943 runs. To lose to the Astros again was heartbreaking, especially so with the off-season revelations about trash-cans and – allegedly – ‘buzzers’.

The MLB London Series was an undoubted highlight. It was incredible to see Major League Baseball on these shores and those who saw those games will remember them forever. Not just for the sheer length of the games, but the whole spectacle. It turns out the London Stadium looked pretty good as a baseball stadium. Nothing was going to replace a built-for-purpose baseball field, but after all the apprehension about sight lines and ticket prices, the stadium looked absolutely beautiful. It was tear-jerking (for me anyway! Editor – you weren’t alone) to see the flags of both countries and hear both national anthems played – even Prince Harry and Meghan put in an appearance.

Game 1 was memorable in lots of ways. An hour for the first innings?! It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. For both starting pitchers to be knocked out by the end of the first was also ridiculous – and that was just the start. Three minutes off being the longest game in MLB history, four long hours and 42 minutes, and the Yankees ran away with it, winning 17-13. The Freeze lost to a fan, something that almost never happens and Freddie Mercury won the mascot race. The game was a great advert for the game, with home runs galore from both sides.

Game 2 was almost as long as the first. This time the Red Sox were the first to bust out, with four runs at the bottom of the first, but the Yankees went crazy with nine runs in the seventh and completed a mini-sweep by winning 12-8. Order was restored when the Freeze beat the fan this time round. Both games were well-attended and despite my fears that the Yankees would be out-numbered by the Red Sox, numbers were fairly even and it was fantastic to see fans of every baseball club in attendance. The Cubs and Cardinals have a lot to live up to this year.

You have to wonder what would have happened if the Yanks stayed healthy. Thirty players had injuries of one kind or another, eclipsing the Dodgers’ previous record. The ‘Savages in the Box’ brought a whole new meaning to ‘Next Man Up”, with seemingly an unending list of players who stepped up and surpassed expectations. DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres had monster seasons, though honourable mentions must also go to Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman and Cameron Maybin, who were expected to be fringe players at best and ended up making big contributions.

Mariano Rivera also went into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a unanimous vote – richly deserved for the best closer in baseball.

Moves & shakes
IN: Gerrit Cole.
OUT: Didi Gregorius (signed from free agency by the Philadelphia Phillies), CC Sabathia (retired), Jacoby Ellsbury (released), Dellin Betances (signed from free agency by the New York Mets), Cameron Maybin, Austin Romine (both signed from free agency by the Detroit Tigers).

One to watch

We are indebted to NY Yankees France @FrYankees for the suggestion of Deivi Garcia. Follow them on Twitter

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Deivi Garcia is one of the most-hyped pitchers in the Yankees farm system of the last few years. In three years, he has progressed swiftly from the Pulaski Yankees (Advanced Rookie) ending last season at Scranton-Wilkes Barre Railriders (Triple A). He is expected to make his Major League debut this year and is a long-shot to make the Yankees rotation, competing with Jordan Montgomery, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga for the last place, replacing the injured James Paxton. Although he struggled at the Railriders last year, Garcia is still very young, only 20. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen ranked Garcia as the game’s 42nd-best prospect last week, he commented that the 20-year-old is  “a diminutive firecracker righty with a beautiful curveball.”
I actually saw Deivi Garcia pitch at the Charleston Riverdogs in 2018, on a roadtrip of minor league teams in the Deep South. He had a rough outing that night, struggling with control, but had an amazing fastball, which could be deadly if he can keep progressing.

Five reasons for optimism in 2020
(1) The signing of Gerrit Cole means that the rotation is the most exciting it has been for some years. Even with the news of an early-season injury to James Paxton has not lessened the excitement. Gerrit Cole got a standing ovation on his first outing at Spring Training and it is only going to get better from here. The Yankees have been crying out for a pitcher like him for years. The onset of Spring Training has only increased the hype further – one outing with 2Ks, a pop out, 20 pitches and 12 strikes. Enthusiastic Yankee fans have already declared him the AL Cy Young winner.

(2) Having Luis Severino back, without the pressure of being the ace, is also a source of optimism. You have to think Severino is going to develop even further and get back to throwing those insane fastballs.
Let’s scrap that bit of enthusiasm – Luis Severino is now slated for Tommy John surgery and his season is over. I’m going to be enthusiastic instead about the return of Jordan Montgomery – he was out all last season after his own TJ surgery and has earned rave reviews about his fastball in sim games and an outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The radar gun hit 94mph, which is faster than he used to be, and so I hope he can continue to come back and be a vital part of the rotation. We Yankees fans loved this guy before his injury and it’s great to see him playing in the team.

(3) Surely, fingers crossed, we can’t possibly have as many injuries in 2020? The Yankees have made big changes to their Player Health and Performance staff on the back of their long 2019 injury list and will be hoping for less injuries this time round. Even though we’ve had some early season injuries already – Judge, Severino and Paxton – the addition of Eric Cressey, who has worked with many baseball players, including Corey Kluber, on their off-season workouts and Brett McCabe, who spent years with the Toronto Blue Jays, shows that the Yankees were clearly not happy with the amount of injuries or how some of those injuries were treated. Long-serving trainer Steve Donohue has been moved to an ‘upstairs’ role as Director of Medical Services.

(4) Both the Red Sox and Astros are weakened this year, on and off the field. Enough said on this.

(5) This lineup just keeps getting better and better. From one to nine, the Yankees look strong all over the field, should they stay healthy. Could they improve on a 103-win season, if they do? The addition of an extra man to the rosters means that the likes of Tyler Wade and Clint Frazier have a good chance of backing up the team. The farm system, even though it has been weakened over the last year or so, is a gift which keeps on giving. Jasson Dominguez, a 17-year-old switch hitter, is causing great excitement but is a long way off the team yet. Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt now look more likely to see action this year. Thairo Estrada and Estevan Florial have fallen from the MLB Top 100 prospect lists, but are still reasons for optimism. Our bullpen remains one of, if not the very best in baseball. If the offense can break out early in games, you have to think that Britton, Ottavino, Green, Kahnle and Chapman can hold on for a high percentage of wins.

Sarah Briggs is part of the team covering the New York Yankees for Bat Flips and Nerds in 2020. Follow her on Twitter @sarah2572

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