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.” 


So, 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.  


“With Clint establishing himself a little last year, we’re looking to transfer Gardner to this awesome fourth outfield role, I could see him in all three positions, depending on where our most pressing defensive need is.”


In addition to the familiar names we’ve talked about, there are a few other names here that will factor into fifth outfielder/bench roles. Mike Tauchman 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 Tauchman 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 Tauchman, Wade and Mike Ford. Bruce and Dietrich would couple with Gardner and Kyle Higashioka for a four-man bench.  This would put Wade, Tauchman 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 Tauchman, 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 always we hope for health because if we get that, this group is gonna be a lot of fun to watch.  


Article by Matt Graziano

 

Comments

  1. Spot on article in all regards. Most of the bloggers were slow to catch on that Tyler Wade truly needed to earn his roster spot. Many articles had him listed as a lock to make the roster. Backing up Torres at shortstop is crucial and this Yankees team is thin in that department.

    However Wade is just not hitting and so we saw Urshela slide over to shortstop for an actual spring training start the other day. Writing on the wall!

    The naysayers believed that Urshela had only limited shortstop experience at the professional level but they weren't factoring in the shift and how many chances at SS that Urshela has actually had. He provides pretty darn good defense there and the numbers show that he's in line with Wade or Estrada -- at which point why carry Wade to open the season with as many off days as there are?

    Certainly Urshela would be used sparingly at SS to start the season, but taking advantage of Wade's option allows the Yankees some flexibility.

    That's where things get interesting. I'm assuming Jay Bruce has all but locked up a roster spot. He looks good, he's healthy and he has the track record, plus he provides a little insurance in case Voit needs a rest or gets injured. Not to mention he's that middle of the order left-handed bat that the Yankees have long needed so I would say he has a real spot on the team and he will get pretty substantial playing time based on matchups.

    One glance at the lineups Booney has rolled out this spring and you can see he really does like to space out the righties with a lefty here and there. People make a lot out of the fact that the Yankees have so many good right-handed hitters who hit right-handed pitching so well but if that's true then wide is Booney almost always balancing the lineup? The answer is that having some balance creates favorable matchups later in games and it makes it hard for teams to bring in right-handed flamethrowers who can sail through entire innings without being challenged.

    I think the real crunch is going to be between Tauchman & Deitrick. due to how thin the Yankees are at shortstop they're going to need a backup 3B & Deitrick gives the Yankees this. I honestly think Tauchman will be traded very soon.

    I really doubt the Yankees put him through the waiver process without extracting something in return.

    Tauchman could easily make most team's outfields, in fact I dare say he could probably start for many of them.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! Doesn't seem like my predictions are gonna come true at this point but I'm still really high on the 5 main outfielders we have. I think that group will be awesome this season!

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