After playing third, second and first last season, DJ LeMahieu is back full-time at second, the position where he won three Gold Gloves with the Rockies. COVID-19 permitting, of course. LeMahieu tested positive for the virus before spring training restarted, significantly limiting the amount of work he could get done before the regular season. If he’s not quite ready, expect Tyler Wade to get most of the reps before LeMahieu can get up to speed. Gleyber Torres is back at his natural position of short after Didi Gregorius signed with the Phillies. Torres committed five errors there in the spring but the Yankees will put up with the occasional miscue so long as the 23-year-old, who hit 38 homers last season, continues what has been a potent start to his career at the plate.
GRADE: A- (assuming LeMahieu plays most of the season)
Third baseman Gio Urshela had a breakthrough 2019, hitting .314/.355/.534 with 21 homers and 74 RBIs in 132 games, all career bests and all of which locked the 28-year-old into the starting job ahead of Miguel Andujar entering 2020. But the slick-fielding Urshela did struggle down the stretch, hitting .207/.258/.397 the last 18 games, a slump that continued in the postseason. Andujar could push him for time if that continues. Luke Voit, who struggled in the second half last year dealing with a lingering abdominal strain, should be solid at first but could find himself threatened by the lefty-hitting Mike Ford if his health and/or performance becomes an issue.
The COVID-19 shutdown provided more time for Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge, both of whom would have missed the March 26 opener, to get healthy. Now the season-opening alignment likely will be Brett Gardner in left, Hicks in center and Judge in right. Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier and Andujar should see time in the outfield, as should Giancarlo Stanton, though the latter will likely be the primary DH.
The implementation of the 26-man roster (30 at the start of the season) should give the Yankees plenty of options at a variety of positions. The Yankees love Andujar’s bat so he’ll see time at third, in the outfield and at DH. The club likes Wade’s speed and position flexibility and Thairo Estrada’s athleticism and baseball smarts. Matt Duffy, signed just before camp, could provide infield depth.
While not a position of outright concern for the Yankees, at the same time catcher has more uncertainty attached to it than it has in a few years. The oft-criticized Gary Sanchez has been limited to a combined 195 games the last two seasons because of various injuries and that seems to have impacted his considerable abilities with the bat. The organization has been high on backup Kyle Higashioka for years and, after letting longtime backup Austin Romine go via free agency, the 28-year-old now gets his chance.
Yankees relivers had a 4.08 ERA last season, ninth-lowest in the majors but their highest since posting a 4.37 ERA in 2007. Still, the relief corps ranked fifth in strikeouts (750), just three short of the franchise record set in 2018. Put another way, the bullpen struck out 26.4 percent of the batters it faced, the third-highest percentage in the big-leagues. Though Aroldis Chapman tested positive for COVID-19, there is still plenty here, with Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Chad Green headlining that group. Expect high strikeout numbers again and the ERA to drop a notch.