Position Preview: Infield
The countdown to April 1 is officially on. The Yankees have made some excellent headway in their Spring Training games, with a record of 13-6 in the Grapefruit League. Opening Day roster predictions are coming in quickly. Some decisions have been affirmed with some degree of certainty, while others have not.
|Photo credit: SpringTrainingConnection.com|
While we’ve already covered probable rosters on the outfield and pitching side of things here at the BBB, we have yet to address the infield. Again, there are a few “givens,” but “given” (see what I did there…) the Yankees’ recent #NextManUp history, anything is truly possible -- and the injuries have already started in Spring Training because of course they have.
But let’s get to the members of the Yanks’ roster that we know are locks:
At this point, we can expect DJ LeMahieu at 2B, Gleyber Torres at SS and Gio Urshela at 3B. LeMahieu’s signing allowed us all to breathe huge sighs of relief.
Word on the street is that Torres is spending a great deal of his spring learning from LeMachine.
“That first year, DJ was a man of few words,” Torres told Yankees beat reporter Bryan Hoch. “Now he’s really open with me. I feel like he’s my older brother. I feel really confident right now playing with him.” The report also indicates that the Torres-LeMahieu combination at 2B and SS is leading to a “Yankees double-play combination that is growing closer than ever.”
“He mentioned to me this spring that he wanted to pick my brain a little bit,” LeMahieu told Hoch. “Just kind of, ‘let’s work together this spring more.’ He’s working hard and he’s doing really good, so I’m excited to see him finding his legs in his routine.” Well, we are too, DJ. We are too.
With regard to Luke Voit, prior to March 27, we assumed that we’ll see even more of his legendary power in 2021 that we came to rely upon so heavily in 2020 right out of the gate. As of March 23, MLB’s power rankings lists Voit at No.7 among all 1B. “Voit leveraged [his] ability to its fullest by being more aggressive at the plate and becoming more of a pull-hitter than in the past,” the FanGraphs report writes. “In doing so, he accomplished something that’s quite difficult to achieve: while offering at more pitches, he also improved his contact rate. After 2020, Voit enters… with a firm grip on the position.”
However, Yankees Twitter got the bad news in the morning of March 27 that Voit requires surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his left knee. According to Aaron Boone, Voit had been experiencing discomfort and swelling in the knee the past few days before an MRI revealed the torn meniscus, and Voit "decided to get it cleaned up," that "calendar-wise, he felt it best to get it over with and taken care of for the bulk of the season." If all goes well, Voit will only be sidelined for about three weeks before he can begin rehab. This turn of events leaves the first base bag open for Jay Bruce, whom the Yankees acquired in the offseason.
Bruce's place on the Yankees' roster was in question prior to March 27 -- which, in an ironic twist of fate, was the deadline for the Yankees to inform Bruce whether or not he earned a roster spot. If not offered a roster spot, free agency was an option, but the decision was made for the Yankees. In 2020, Bruce hit .198, with six home runs and 14 RBIs over 32 game appearances. In spite of those low numbers, Boone is optimistic about Bruce's place on the squad. "[Bruce] has impacted a number of balls" during his at-bats, Boone told MLB.com. He's hit two home runs on 13 game appearances. Boone went on to state that Bruce "certainly looked the part."
Moving over to 3B, we went into spring training with a hope for a Miguel Andujar/Gio Urshela platoon (well, at least I did). Miggy, seemingly, has been robbed of what appeared to be a promising career during the 2018 season -- during which he bat .297, with 27 home runs and 92 RBIs. But, like numerous other Yankees, injuries abounded, and Miggy just couldn’t find his footing in his limited appearances in 2019 and 2020, his 2019 robbed by a torn labrum in his shoulder early in the year. So, enter Urshela, who came in as a #NextManUp, but ended up providing better all-around performance than Andujar. Anyone who has followed the Yankees over the past three years is well aware of the issues in Miggy’s defensive game… and Urshela was a 2020 Gold Glove Finalist. In addition to his fielding prowess, Urshela hit .298 with six home runs and 30 RBIs in 2020, and that’s with an injury. Unless Gio experiences any reoccurance of the bone spur issue that forced him to undergo surgery in the offseason, he will be ready to roll at 3B.
Finally, we round the bases back behind the plate. The Gary Sanchez question was a necessary one at the time that spring training kicked off. That Gary wasn’t scary in 2020; he hit a dismal .147 but did add ten home runs and 24 RBIs. He struck out 64 times, walked only 18 times and recorded a whopping 23 hits. Not to mention, he was eventually passed over for Kyle Higashioka with each Gerrit Cole start, and passed balls were a growing problem.
However, a Scary Gary resurgence came in spring training, but appeared to have faded away as quickly as it started. Gary has, however, recorded three hits in his last six at-bats this spring, so maybe he's starting to find his footing again. “Sanchez’s recent performance at the plate in spring training has [Boone] sounding much like he did last year in defending his catcher,” the New York Post reported. “After a hot start to Grapefruit League play and some monster home runs, Sanchez is now 6-for-34 -- including one hit in his last 21 at-bats, with 10 strikeouts.” Regardless, Sanchez is slated to catch Cole on Opening Day, implying that he’ll still be a factor in the 2021 season. The Yankees front office has also made it clear that Sanchez is still among the Yankee elite.
Higashioka is still in the mix, of course; after a breakout 2020, we love to see it. A brief spring training side injury did not keep him out of the lineup for long. With Robinson Chirinos sidelined due to a wrist fracture in early March and released from his minor-league contract just this morning, a backup catcher is all the more necessary to the roster.
If everyone remains healthy and plays to their potential, and Voit returns to the lineup in less than two months as predicted, the Yankees’ infield will remain a force of right-handed smart hitters, with a mostly combined high caliber of defensive play. A combination of Voit-LeMahieu-Torres-Urshela-Sanchez has the potential for greatness.