Current position breakdowns heading into next season

Going into 2017, the Yankees see themselves in a bit of uncharted territory. The gaudy contracts of the past that anchored aging stars in the starting lineup are all essentially gone, and a fleet of youngsters is chomping at the bit to make their mark during their first full season in the Bronx. Let's go position by position and predict who will be on the field for opening day.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement

Probable 2017 batting order
  1. Jacoby Ellsbury- CF
  2. Brett Gardner- LF*
  3. Gary Sanchez– C
  4. Matt Holliday- DH
  5. Greg Bird- 1B
  6. Starlin Castro– 2B
  7. Didi Gregorius– SS
  8. Aaron Judge- RF
  9. Chase Headley- 3B*
*Rumored in possible trade

First Base
This will be one of the more interesting position battles to monitor during spring training. The majority of the fans seem to want Greg Bird to win the starting job, but Tyler Austin had some impressive flashes in his short time on the team last year. His slash line of .241/.300/.458 doesn’t really do him justice as he started so miserably, that only an incredible hot streak, filled with a handful of clutch and game winning hits, brought those numbers back to respectability. On the other hand, everyone remembers the splash Bird made during his quarter of a season in the Bronx, to the tune of 11 home runs and a .261 batting average in 46 games. House money is Bird wins this job, but I would expect Austin to be kept as a valuable reserve even with Matt Holliday rumored to be seeing some time at first as well.

Prediction: Bird wins the starting job, but Austin will see his fair share of at-bats at first base as well as the OF/DH spots.

Shortstop & Second Base
I put these positions together because the starting situation and possible backups are one in the same. Barring a major catastrophe, you can pencil in Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius as the Yankees starting middle infield duo for 2017. Castro was solid in his first year in the Bronx, though he faded a bit down the stretch. But his .270 average and 21 home runs were a huge improvement at a position the Yankees got very little production out of the year before. Gregorius had a breakout year in pinstripes, compiling his best offensive season to date (.276/.304/.447). His solid defense solidified the Yankees infield. 
Photo Credit: Al Bello | Getty Images

My best guess at this point is that Ronald Torreyes and Rob Refsnyder will be the primary middle infield backups in 2017 which, for now, will work just fine. Both are still developing, but have proven to be capable of filling the backup positions both offensively and defensively. Yankee fans clamoring to see Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade, and Jorge Mateo make their Bronx debuts in 2017 should not hold their breath. As much as we all want to see their injection of youth, I can’t imagine Torres and Wade getting the call this year with Gregorius and Castro standing in their way. Barring a trade, Mateo will likely be a key reserve as a September call-up should the Yankees need some speed on the base paths, as he is on the 40-man roster. In the meantime, all three are better off getting at-bats in the minors instead of sitting on the bench. If the season takes a turn for the worst, this certainly can change.

Prediction: Gregorius and Castro start up the middle with Refsynder and Torreyes backing up. Torres, Wade, and Mateo spend most of the year in the minors developing. Something eventually has to give with the logjam of players and prospects up the middle. I could see Mateo, Wade, and Castro being shopped at some point.

Third Base
In possibly my most hated prediction of the day, Chase Headley will be your opening day starting third baseman. Headley has been nothing more than average during his time in the Bronx. Unfortunately, average is about as good as it gets for the Yankees at third base right now. Miguel Andujar is not ready to be the everyday starter but that may change as the season goes on, making Headley expendable. Cashman has already stated, the market for Headley wasn’t impressive during the winter meetings. So why get rid of Headley if there is no plans to bring someone else in and we can’t get much back for him? His contract will be off the books after 2018 when the Yankees are ready to (hopefully) open the checkbooks.

Prediction: Headley will start and Torreyes will backup. Andujar could push for more time by mid-season.

Catcher
I’m not going to spend more time here than I need to. Gary Sanchez is your catcher. Be happy Gary is on your team. Austin Romine will face competition in camp from Kyle Higashioka. Higashioka is a 26-year-old former seventh round draft pick in 2008. Last year was the first year he was able to stay healthy and it certainly paid off as Higashioka bashed 21 home runs and batted .276. If he is able to flash that kind of offensive ability, the Yankees will find a spot for him on the roster - just not as the starting catcher. I repeat, Gary Sanchez is the starting catcher.
Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

Prediction: Sanchez is the starter. Romine makes the roster as the back up, but Higashioka is likely to be called up at some point.

Designated Hitter
Matt Holliday was signed to be the everyday DH. Unfortunately, Holliday has had difficulties staying off the DL over the past few seasons. If the injury bug continues to bite, I would assume the Yankees rotate a plethora of guys at DH, mainly the backup outfielders which we will go over next. Higashioka could be the dark horse for DH at-bats if he is able to translate his minor league power to the majors.

Prediction: Holliday is the man at DH

OUTFIELD
Jacoby Ellsbury’s enormous contract and pedestrian statistics mean he is set to be the starting center fielder. Essentially, we just need to pray he stays healthy and produces like Cashman (and the rest of us) once envisioned. He’s not good enough to justify his hefty contract and no one is taking it on, ever. Brett Gardner has been a solid Yankee from day one, but his similarity to Ellsbury and more affordable contract may make him the off man out. Many around baseball are predicting that Gardner will not be on the opening day roster, although, I tend to think he will. I think a trio of Ellsbury, Gardner, and Aaron Judge will be the starting outfielders in 2017, at least to start. 
Photo Credit: John Munson | AP
Mason Williams, Aaron Hicks, and Tyler Austin will serve as the primary backups. In a perfect world, Clint Frazier will tear up triple-A and Gardner continues to be expendable on the big club. Then, around the trade deadline, when teams are a bit more desperate, the Yanks can flip Gardner for his highest possible value and replace him with Frazier. 

What can make the outfield situation interesting is Aaron Judge getting off to a slow start. In that case, all bets would be off. The Yankees could make the move for Frazier earlier in the year or hope that one of the backups step up to fill the void in right field. Judge’s power is impressive, but he was less than stellar in his time with the big league club last year. The alarming statistic for Judge was strikeouts. In 95 at bats in 2016, he struck out 42 times. 

His Achilles' heel is clearly the breaking ball, which will be overfed to him until he learns to do something with it. Some insiders think it’s a matter of changing his approach, which comes with experience. Others think he has trouble with pitch recognition, which would be a huge issue.  In the end, he’s had only 27 big leagues games and 95 at-bats, so it’s hard to say this is a make or break year for Judge. But if he starts slow again, I believe he may slide off that “off limits list” and the Yankees will entertain trades for him. If the Yankees are really serious about putting Bryce Harper in RF come 2019, they’d move Judge now while his value is at its peak. Also, don’t sleep on prospect Dustin Fowler. He absolutely tore up double-A last year and could certainly be a candidate for a late September call up.

Prediction: Ellsbury, Gardner, and Judge begin the year as the starters. Williams, Refsnyder, Hicks, Austin will compete for a roster and see playing time wherever they can, with at least one of them beginning the year in triple-A. My bold prediction is that Gardner is traded by midseason and is replaced with someone in house, with my money being on Hicks. My even bolder prediction is that Judge underperforms and will be the centerpiece of a midseason trade.

Conclusion
One of the reasons I love baseball is because the season is never over. With moves made everyday, everything just written could change in an instant. We’ll take another look at this before and after spring training. Until then, let me know what you think of my starting lineup and predictions for the year. I think one thing we can all agree on is pitchers and catchers reporting can’t come soon enough.

Article by: Jesse Bartley

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