Yanks primed to bring 'a little grit', edge to 2024 mix

March 28th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch's Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

HOUSTON -- When you ask Aaron Judge what he likes about these 2024 Yankees, the captain does not hesitate.

After a winter and spring highlighted by Juan Soto’s arrival, Judge said he sees a group that is primed to bring “a little grit” and “a little edge” into the new season.

“I think that’s what I’ve noticed so far from a lot of these guys; it’s just a lot of gamers,” Judge said at the end of Spring Training. “I look around this room, and you see a guy like [Juan] Soto, man. He’s going to go out and play every single day, and battle through things. He’s going to be a gamer. He’s going to work at-bats. He’s going to be tough.”

Judge felt that grind-it-out quality was lacking in certain areas of the 2023 roster, and he is pleased to have seen it addressed.

With Soto set to make his Yankees debut in Thursday’s season opener against the Astros at Minute Maid Park, manager Aaron Boone believes that the 25-year-old star already fits in well within a universe where the most prominent voices belong to veterans like Judge, Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton.

“My message to him is, it’s his clubhouse, too,” Boone said on Wednesday. “We want to learn and grow from you, and want you to feel empowered to say and do whatever you feel like you need to do.”

There was a glimpse of that during the last week of camp, when Soto nixed his name from the travel roster for a two-game exhibition series in Mexico City. Soto had been looking forward to the trip, including an opportunity to link with Robinson Cano, one of his childhood heroes.

But after a robust start to the Grapefruit League slate, Soto’s offensive production had cooled. As he told Boone, Soto believed it would be more beneficial to remain behind in Tampa, Fla., using the club’s facilities there to fine-tune his swing.

"Every hitter goes through little lulls at different points in the season, so [I’m] hoping he got that out of the way here, but I think he's ready to roll,” Boone said. “He's in a great mental state, and I can't wait to watch him go out and tear up the Bronx."

Cano, by the way, agrees that Soto is built to succeed in New York.

“Juan is a guy that you don’t have to tell that much,” Cano said. “The guy, you never see him out or anything like that. He’s always with his family. I would tell him one thing: 'Be you, keep working hard and don’t try to do too much.'

“A lot of guys, when they get to New York, they [feel] a lot of pressure. At the end of the day, you’ve got to focus on yourself and not the outside of the game. I think he will love it there. He’s going to notice the difference there and in other organizations.”

The Yanks’ second baseman said he sensed new additions like Soto, Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham “fit in really fast.”

“They felt at home from the first day,” Gleyber Torres said. “We have a special group. I can’t wait for the start of the season, and to show what we can do.”

Rizzo added that he senses a “loose and energetic” clubhouse, noting his teammates have also prepared with necessary focus and intensity throughout the spring.

“Guys understand what they need to do and are ready to go,” Rizzo said. “Our lineup’s really deep, the bullpen’s strong, the starting pitching is strong. We have guys who are at different points in their careers, and it’s just exciting.

“We have a whole lot of talent up here. There’s an opportunity for guys to step up. It’s about winning baseball games. It doesn’t really matter what we like. It’s about winning.”