TAMPA, Fla. — First Brett Gardner and then Aaron Judge gave voice to what rival scouts and talent evaluators have said about the potential of the Yankees’ 2019 offense.
Basically, look out.
“We’re going to hit more this year,” Gardner said Sunday after homering twice against the Tigers in a split-squad game.
The “more” is homers, of course. The Yankees hit a single-season record 267 last season, surpassing the 1997 Mariners, who hit 264 (the Yankees’ single-season record had been the 245 homers they hit in 2012).
Can they do even better in 2019? “Oh, definitely,” said Judge, who also went deep twice Sunday. “With this whole team healthy, we’re going to crush the record that we set last year. We’ve got a good team, a lot of guys that can make a lot of solid contact, a lot of big boys who can make solid contact and make it go. We’re a team that’s primed and ready to do that.”
A dissenting opinion from opposing team scouts who were sampled, and who typically don’t engage in spring training hype, could not be found.
“They should feel that way,” one National League scout said. “I do.”
An American League talent evaluator added: “It’s not a stretch. It might sound crazy to say 275 or more is possible … Then you look at it [the numbers] from last year, the injuries and some down years like [Gary] Sanchez [had], and you say it really is.”
Sanchez, coming off a 2017 season in which he hit 33 home runs, battled injuries and a season-long slump and hit 18 in 2018.
After a 52-homer rookie season in 2017, Judge last year became only the fourth Yankee to hit 25 homers before the All-Star break in two different seasons. But after getting hit by a pitch, he spent July 27-Sept. 13 on the disabled list with a chip fracture of the right wrist and finished with 27 homers, one of four Yankees to reach that number (Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks were the others).
After hitting 59 homers in his MVP season with the Marlins in 2017, Giancarlo Stanton hit 38 in his first season with the Yankees.
With Stanton more acclimated to the American League and the experience of playing for a New York team, if he and Judge can stay healthy, they could come a lot closer to the 111 home runs they hit in 2017 than the 65 they hit last year. And if Sanchez can have a bounce-back year, the 83 the trio hit could become . . . fill in the number. 120? 130? 140?
Luke Voit surprised many by hitting 14 homers in 114 at-bats after taking the everyday first-base duties from Greg Bird on Aug. 24. Bird finished with 11 homers in 272 at-bats in a poor season. Either could be capable of hitting more.
The Yankees set a record by having 12 players hit at last 10 homers in the same season. Six players hit at least 20 homers and, according to Elias, the Yankees became the first team in big-league history to hit at least 20 homers from all nine batting spots: No. 1 (27 homers), No. 2 (39), No. 3 (27), No. 4 (44), No. 5 (35), No. 6 (26), No. 7 (23), No. 8 (26), No 9 (20).
A third talent evaluator, while not throwing cold water on the offense’s potential, did offer a slight cautionary note. “You have two rookies who have to show [they can do it] two years in a row,” he said. “And Voit [too].”
Andujar’s 27 homers tied him for the lead among MLB rookies. Gleyber Torres, who was not called up until April 22, was fourth with 24.
Many frustrated Yankees fans will point out the offense’s shortcomings from last season, primarily the struggles that occurred at times with runners in scoring position. The Yankees hit .253 with a .784 OPS with runners in scoring position and .239 with a .765 OPS with runners in scoring position and two outs.
There indeed is room for improvement, even for a team that finished second in the majors (behind Boston) in runs scored (851).
“I just think that we’re capable of being better than we were last year overall as an offense,” Gardner said. “Collectively as a unit, I expect us to have a better offense and score more runs.”