Predicting the Yankees' Opening Day roster
Veteran outfielder Ellsbury will vie with Frazier for outfield role
As he prepares for his second season as the Yankees' manager, Aaron Boone believes that he has a complete team at his disposal, excited by the promise that he senses while surveying the potential 25-man roster that could go north for the March 28 season opener against the Orioles.
"You look at the moves we've made this winter, it's hard to deny that we haven't significantly improved our club," Boone said. "We feel like we have a team capable of hopefully going out and competing for a championship."
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With pitchers and catchers set to report to Spring Training on Wednesday, here is MLB.com's early prediction for the Yankees' Opening Day roster:
Catcher (2):Gary Sánchez, Austin Romine
The Yankees have doubled and tripled down on Sanchez's future, refusing to believe that his underwhelming 2018 was representative of his talent. General manager Brian Cashman believes that Sanchez's performance will improve following left shoulder surgery performed in November. Romine provides a capable defender who contributed big knocks early in the season.
First base (1): Luke Voit
The hulking Voit is said to have a leg up over challenger Greg Bird coming into camp, by virtue of a terrific second half in which he hit an American League-high 14 homers from Aug. 24 through the end of the season. Only Christian Yelich, the eventual National League Most Valuable Player Award winner, homered more over that span. Bird needs to shake the injury bug and reclaim the form that thrilled the Bronx at the end of the 2015 season.
Second base (1): Gleyber Torres
Torres will continue to carry big expectations as he enters his second big league season, having ranked second among Major League rookies with 77 RBIs and fourth with 24 homers, good for third in the AL Rookie of the Year Award race. His numbers would have been even more impressive had he not missed most of July due to injury. A natural shortstop, the 22-year-old will be available to play on that side of the bag as well.
Third base (1): Miguel Andújar
One of the Yanks' most consistent performers from wire to wire, Andujar finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year Award voting, hitting .297 with 47 doubles, 27 homers and 92 RBIs. He led all big league rookies in hits (170), doubles, RBIs, extra-base hits (76) and multi-hit games (53). Although he struggled defensively, registering a Defensive Runs Saved of -25, there is belief that Andujar can develop into a solid defender at the hot corner.
Shortstop (1): Troy Tulowitzki
The Yanks promised Tulowitzki an opportunity to serve as their shortstop while they wait for Didi Gregorius to return this summer, so if Tulowitzki can make it through the spring healthy, he is the odds-on favorite to play regularly. That is not a given, as Tulowitzki has not played in a big league game since July 2017 due to ankle and foot injuries, though his athleticism impressed the club at a recent showcase.
Outfield (5): Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton
Cashman recently said that if the season was underway, he'd envision Gardner in left field, Hicks in center field and Judge in right field, with Stanton serving as the primary designated hitter. That leaves a reserve spot up for grabs, and it could go to Ellsbury, assuming he makes a full return from left hip surgery performed in August. If Ellsbury is not ready or can be traded, Clint Frazier has said that he intends to steal playing time from Gardner.
Utility (1): DJ LeMahieu
Boone has said that he wants to use LeMahieu as a super sub, seeing time at second base, third base and shortstop, with first base also a possibility. LeMahieu offers Gold Glove-caliber defense at second base, so in the event that Tulowitzki is unavailable, the Yanks could present a tight middle infield by sliding Torres to shortstop and using LeMahieu at second base. Tyler Wade's chances of making the roster would then improve.
Starting pitchers (5): Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia.
Though the order can change, the Yankees' starting five appears to be set, barring injuries. The greatest concern will be Sabathia, who is coming off right knee surgery and an angioplasty as he prepares for his final big league season. Sabathia will also begin the year serving a five-game suspension for his actions in a game against the Rays last September, so the Yanks will likely carry an extra arm in the bullpen until the southpaw is reinstated.
Relief pitchers (8): Dellin Betances, Zack Britton, Luis Cessa, Aroldis Chapman, Domingo Germán, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Adam Ottavino
No bullpen ever recorded a higher strikeout-per-nine-innings ratio than the 2018 Yankees, who fanned 11.4 batters per nine innings. In fact, the Yanks have led the Majors in bullpen in that each of the last five seasons. This year promises to be no different after re-signing Britton and importing Ottavino to join Betances, Green and Holder in setting up for Chapman. German could fit as a long reliever, with Cessa (who is out of Minor League options) providing early-season depth due to Sabathia's suspension. Chance Adams, Tommy Kahnle and Jonathan Loaisiga are among those who could make this list with strong springs.
Aware of the ongoing clamor for the Yankees to add Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has advised fans to "keep an open mind that I'm never done until I'm done, and that's usually not until Opening Day." Barring a splash of that magnitude, the team still believes that it has upgraded over the squad that reached the 100-win mark in 2018.
Aroldis Chapman (closer)
Didi Gregorius, SS
Ben Heller, RHP
Jordan Montgomery, LHP