Health has become a major concern for a number of key players in the Yankees organization. DJ LeMahieu missed the playoffs due to an injury last year, and he has shown signs of age since earning a contract extension with the Yankees in 2021. LeMahieu might not be the batting average machine he was in his early Yankee years, but he is still a vital member of the Yankees lineup.
He is one of the few consistent contact hitters on the team who exercises plate discipline and long at-bats, on top of being a Gold Glover in the field . Not only that, but the soft-spoken infielder has made a habit out of leading by example with his demeanor and consistency. Aaron Boone recently told the Talkin Yanks podcast, “DJ [LeMahieu], whenever I give him a day off, he’s like cleats on, batting gloves on 15 minutes before the game, beating all the regulars out there still.”
Meanwhile, Giancarlo Stanton has struggled with injuries constantly throughout his Yankees tenure. At times, Stanton has shown stretches of sheer dominance, particularly in the Yankees disappointing 2021 campaign that saw them lose to the Red Sox in the Wild Card round. Stanton can still hit lasers into the bleachers unlike anyone in baseball, but he needs to be healthy for the Yankees to have a chance to make a run in the playoffs.
Harrison Bader was injured when the Yankees traded for him last year, and now he has started the season on the IL yet again. Bader is one of the best center fielders in baseball, and his speed on the base paths is invaluable as well. He demonstrated some impressive power last postseason as well. All he needs to do is stay healthy and the Yankees will have on of the deadliest defensive outfields in baseball, while mitigating injury risk to Judge and Stanton thanks to Bader’s presence in center.
Luis Severino and Carlos Rodon are also essential pieces to the Yankees’ World Series hopes. When healthy, they could join Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes to form the deadliest rotation in baseball. Health has already emerged as a concern for both players, as they have started the season on the IL. The hope is that the Yankees are simply exercising an abundance of caution, and those two stars can join the rotation sooner than later.
Jonathan Loaisiga and Micheal King are two essential members of the bullpen that need to remain healthy as well, along with Tommy Kahnle who returned on “unfinished business” this offseason. Truth be told, injuries have become far too common in recent years, leading many fans to criticize the Yankees training staff. If the Yankees can make it into October with a relatively healthy roster, they can beat anyone they come across.
Develop Anthony Volpe
All eyes in the Bronx have honed in on Yankees’ rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe. A New Jersey native who grew up idolizing Derek Jeter, Volpe possesses all the makings of a fan favorite. Volpe showcased a deadly mix of speed, power, and contact in the Minors. Volpe has the potential to develop into a five-tool player. He has not quite figured it out at the dish but has shown flashes of plate discipline, speed, and elite defensive play. Last year, Astros’ rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña was absolutely crucial to their World Series run, even winning World Series MVP.
Yankees fans have been clamoring for Volpe to join the roster, hopeful that he could offer a similar spark to a team that has lacked a true shortstop for years. Volpe started his career with some impressive discipline, earning walks and swiping three steals in three games to uproarious approval from the Yankee faithful. However, Volpe has become a bit swing happy in recent games, which is not all-too concerning for a 21-year-old getting his first big league at-bats. If Volpe can get settled at the plate, it could do wonders for a Yankee lineup in dire need of another solid contact hitter.
It is no secret that the modern Yankees have loaded up on players who possess plenty of power, but lack plate discipline. Josh Donaldson, Joey Gallo, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and even Isiah Kiner-Falefa have gone through cringe-inducing swing-happy stretches. Each of those players ranked well above the league average in swing rate in 2021, and well through 2022.
This year, Gleyber Torres has looked like a new player, walking at a higher rate and hitting at a phenomenal .371 batting average, adding five stolen bases to that impressive stat line. His OBP currently sits at a ridiculous .522, and his OPS stands at 1.179. Those numbers are obviously not sustainable over 162 games, but Torres can certainly become a top-tier second baseman if he continues to combine contact and a high-walk rate with his impressive power.
Joey Gallo is off the team, so there is no use worrying about him. Isiah Kiner Falefa and Aaron Hicks have been relegated to bench roles, but have already seen solid playing time in 2023. The hope is that by October, the Yankees have a solid lineup of players from 5-9, that can support the stars at the top of the batting order. Ideally, the Yankees’ would see Torres, LeMahieu, Volpe, young do-it-all outfielder Oswaldo Cabrera, and Gold Glover Harrison Bader earn everyday roles by the end of the season.
No More Punt Lineups
Aaron Boone has caught a lot of heat in recent years for the lack of consistency in lineup decisions in the regular season. Last year, the Yankees began the season at a scorching hot pace, sitting at 64-28 in the first half of the season. They finished the season 35-35, stumbling into the playoffs and allowing the Astros to swipe home-field advantage from under their noses.
The Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles all figure to improve on their 2022 campaigns, and the Astros are still the elephant in the room in the AL. The Yankees cannot afford to punt games against seemingly inferior opponents. Granted injuries played a part last year, as the Yankees bullpen was bleeding at the tail end of the season, but that is no excuse for some of the lineups Boone put out there.
The Yankees traded Jordan Montgomery for an injured Harrison Bader, and they placed Luis Severino on IL in order to be cautious with him and save him for the playoffs. This left the starting rotation thin, supported by an already injured bullpen, making it difficult for the Yankees to dominate the way they did in early 2022.
It is a long season, and I understand the strategy to depend on your depth in order to gear up for a playoff run. However, Boone also needs to worry about winning the AL and ensure that the Yankees find synergy and rhythm heading into the playoffs this year. The AL East will certainly not roll over and allow the Yankees to surge to another division championship without a fight in 2023.
Find a Closer
Last year, it seemed the Yankees had found a gem in Clay Holmes as their closer. Through June, he led all relievers with a fantastic 82.7 ground ball percentage, well above anyone else in the majors. His sinker was seemingly unhittable, and his whiff rate was respectable, making him the best closer in baseball for that early stretch. Before the All-Star break, he pitched to a 1.31 ERA and earned an All-Star bid.
However, his July ERA was well above 7.00, lowlighted by an embarrassing collapse against the league-worst Reds that left Yankees fans wondering what had happened to their diamond in the rough. As the Yankees pushed nearer to the playoffs, the closer role became a revolving door, with Clay Holmes seeing an IL stint, Jonathan Loaisiga improving on a rocky start, and Aroldis Chapman showing some flashes.
This year, Holmes has earned the closer role to start the year and has looked respectable so far. With Aroldis Chapman signing with the Royals, Tommy Kahnle and Loaisiga on IL, and Michael King locked in as the set-up man; Holmes will have to prove that he can play at an elite level for the entire year.