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Rival talent evaluators, executives believe Yankees have edge, even in a shortened season

Gerrit Cole of the Yankees delivers a pitch

Gerrit Cole of the Yankees delivers a pitch in the first inning during a spring training against the Pirates at Steinbrenner Field on Feb. 24 in Tampa, Fla. Credit: Getty Images/Mark Brown

Those inside the sport have a go-to phrase in describing the marathon that is the 162-game Major League Baseball regular-season schedule spread over six months:

“The grind.”

In 2020, the grind gets replaced by the sprint — 60 games over 66 days, with Opening Day slated for July 23 or 24.

So does such a shortened schedule favor any kind of team in particular?

A cross-section of rival talent evaluators and executives didn’t settle on one answer, but agreed on this point: Teams, and the Yankees are firmly in this category, who went into spring training as a favorite should still be considered as such.  

“Talent is talent. It’s going to play over two months as it would [over] six,” one NL executive said. “There will be teams that surprise, teams where much isn’t expected and they get out of the gate hot. But I’ll still take my shot with a rotation that has Gerrit Cole [atop it], an infield with [DJ] LeMahieu and [Gleyber] Torres, an outfield with, I assume at some point, Aaron Judge. And then there’s that bullpen, too.”

One AL talent evaluator, citing no minor-league season and the 60-player pool teams will have to draw from, said clubs with organizational depth “at the upper levels of their minor-league system will benefit.”

The evaluator continued: “I think that having quality players to fill in when the inevitable injuries, or positive COVID cases,happen due to this crazy schedule, which puts everyone off their normal routines, is going to be huge.”

An NL scout also mentioned depth, specifically in terms of overall arms, and referenced the Yankees as having an edge.

“All you see [top to bottom] in their system is quality arms,” he said, mentioning close-to-big-league ready prospects such as Clarke Schmidt, Mike King, Nick Nelson and Deivi Garcia who could give a boost to either the rotation or bullpen, depending on need.

And the 60-game sprint, several insiders said, likely will be almost entirely about the number of quality arms teams can trot out.

Because injuries, a storyline more and more each season it seems, are likely to become even more of one in 2020, especially with pitchers.

“If you think the injury rate was high [in previous seasons], wait until this year,” one AL executive said.

The reason is the sudden restart expected next week when clubs open Spring Training II with players who will be coming off a three-month period in which, because of widespread shutdowns during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they were severely limited in what they could do in terms of staying in baseball shape.

“The coronavirus pandemic may greatly compound and exaggerate the risk factors associated with the spring Tommy John surgery spike,” Yankees team physician Christopher Ahmad wrote in a May article in Medium. “The enthusiasm to get back to baseball right now is simply enormous. Players and their families have been understandably craving baseball for months at this point and are growing impatient . . . That translates to maximum effort throwing.”

The Yankees, of course, are quite familiar with the injury bug, placing a record 30 players on the injury list last season — including a fair number of frontline players such as Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez, etc. But they thrived, going 103-59 and coasting to the AL East title. That was accomplished in large part because of the organization’s depth — provided not only by prospects such as Thairo Estrada and Mike Ford but also by unheralded pickups such as Mike Tauchman and Gio Urshela.  

“It’s going to be a crapshoot,” another AL talent evaluator said of the shortened season, “but some teams are better equipped for that than others. No reason to think they [the Yankees] won’t be one of them.”

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