Position Preview: Outfield
It’s been a long winter but opening day is approaching fast. We are most of the way through spring training at this point and because of that, we’re getting to the point where we can probably make some solid predictions about roster decisions that will be made soon. While the Yankees outfield on paper seems pretty set, this is a group that has not been easy to predict the last few seasons. Injuries have played a big role in determining playing time with this group and while that will remain a concern until it is proven to not be an issue anymore, there is real reason for optimism heading into this season. Let's take a look at how the Yankees might line up their outfielders this season.
|Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Wiliiams Jr.|
Coming into spring training, we knew of two spots in the outfield that would be set. Those are center and right field, with Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge being firmly locked into those spots. Left field has been a little more complicated over the past few seasons. Brett Gardner has been a long timer out in left but as he has gotten older, coupled with the arrivals of Giancarlo Stanton and Clint Frazier, we figured Gardy’s playing time might be reduced. Well as they say, the best ability is availability and Gardy has been tremendously reliable in that department. Stanton and Judge as we know have both battled injuries often the past two seasons and Frazier has had his battles with health as well as inconsistent play and concerns about his fielding ability. A reason for cautious optimism is that both Judge and Stanton have changed their offseason training program to focus more on durability and flexibility rather than lifting heavy and getting huge. Needless to say, it is incredibly important that they Yankees keep these two healthy. While he might not be as good in the field as Judge and while his future might mostly be at DH, Stanton has been a good outfielder for his career and the Yankees still feel he could play a role for them in the field. Aaron Boone did not rule it out.
“I don’t want to be completely resigned to him being a full-time DH, if he can continue to stay athletic and be an option on defense, I don’t think it’s out of the question.”
while we might see Big G in the outfield from time to time, the majority of the playing time in left field this season will be split between Frazier and Gardner although the split this season will likely be different than past seasons. Gardy is the longest tenured Yankee and has been the starter in left field for the last decade. We’ve been anticipating the end of that run since Frazier arrived in the organization in 2016, but it hasn’t been an easy road for Frazier to get to this point. He has heard concerns about his attitude since he arrived and has battled the very real concerns about his defense in the outfield. While Brian Cashman glowed about his “legendary bat speed”, it never quite came together for his until last season. We saw flashes and stretches and displays of that bat speed, but an untimely injury or those fielding concerns kept getting in the way until and extended stretch in the minors in 2019 seemed to get him going in the right direction.
|Credit: Newday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.|
Since then, it has been all uphill for Frazier. In 2020 he received regular playing time, slashed .267/.394/.511 and was also a Gold Glove finalist in right field. Heading into this spring, Aaron Boone made it clear that while Gardy will be back and will play regularly, he expects Clint Frazier to be his starting left fielder. We’ve been waiting for the chance to see what Frazier will do when he gets a full time shot and it looks like that’s exactly what will happen this season. While the Yankees might have their starters penciled in, their roster will afford them a lot of flexibility as the seasons progresses. While Frazier has played both corner spots, Giancarlo Stanton can do so as well. Aaron Judge is a tremendous right fielder and has also played center field in a pinch. In addition to all of that, the Yankees have done something new this spring that we might see from time to time, Gardy has played right field. While we have mainly seen him as a center or left fielder, Gardy is a very capable fielder and still has great speed. He will get regular playing time and Boone even seemed to indicate that they will be strategic with how they line up their outfield based on certain matchups.
In addition to the familiar we’ve talked about, there are a few other names here that will factor into fifth outfielder/bench roles. Mike has been with the team for a few years now and while he had a nice season in 2019, he was not good last season. He does provide speed and defense off the bench, but the Yankees have brought people to camp that might have his job in jeopardy. Jay Bruce and Derek Dietrich are both veterans and have received regular playing time this spring. Bruce has over 1500 career games in the outfield to his name, and while he is likely more of an option at 1B/DH at this point, he does offer an emergency option in that area.
Dietrich is a very interesting piece and he seems to be getting strong consideration. He has not hit well this spring but he is a career .250 hitter and has a few hundred career games to his name at both infield and outfield spots. He is a utility player in the mold of what the Yankees have attempted to turn Tyler Wade into but with a more capable bat. He would offer versatility and power off the bench that and Wade don’t offer quite as much of. If we’re reading tea leaves, I would say right now, the Yankees are leaning towards keeping Dietrich and Bruce over more familiar names like , Wade and Mike Ford. Bruce and Dietrich would couple with Gardner and Kyle for a four-man bench. This would put Wade, and Ford on the outside looking in, but all of them have failed to perform consistently in bench roles, plus Wade and Ford still have options left. While this might cost them a decent depth player in , Brian Cashman has been able to find bodies when the need arises. Outside of these decisions, you can expect to see the Yankees usual cast manning the outfield spots this season. As we hope for health because if we get that, this group is be a lot of fun to watch.
Article by Matt Graziano