TAMPA, Fla. — Five days before the Yankees’ first full-squad workout of spring training, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner couldn’t contain his, well, excitement.
Twelve times in an impromptu 8-minute, 30-second meeting with reporters, Steinbrenner used a form of the word “excited” while discussing 2017 and the amount of young talent accumulated by the franchise.
It’s not a stretch to say that once the games started, his enthusiasm only increased.
It wasn’t so much the Yankees bolting to an 18-6 start in Grapefruit League play en route to finishing 24-8.
It was that most, if not all, of the players whom the franchise spent the better part of a year publicizing honored that praise.
At the midway point of spring training, general manager Brian Cashman called it “a great camp,” though he has been around long enough to throw in the truism of March success.
“I’m happy about it, but again, you have to keep it all in perspective,” Cashman said. “March is March. There’s a lot of volatility to March.”
Still, when it comes to the young players performing well, “you’d rather it be that way than any other way,” he said.
Some of the volatility Cashman spoke of struck a week later when shortstop Didi Gregorius was sent home from the World Baseball Classic with a shoulder injury that could keep him out until May, if not longer.
Still, it was an overall healthy month for the Yankees, who spent much of camp carrying themselves with a quiet confidence.
Questions about Gary Sanchez (how motivated would he be to become great?) and Greg Bird (would there be lingering issues with his surgically repaired shoulder?) were overwhelmingly answered with positives.
And many, if not most, of what Joe Girardi has referred to as the “next wave” of prospects in the system enjoyed standout moments. Among them: infielders Jorge Mateo, Miguel Andujar and Tyler Wade, outfielders Dustin Fowler, Billy McKinney and Clint Frazier and pitchers Justus Sheffield, James Kaprielian and Chance Adams. And that’s only a partial list.
And, of course, there was shortstop Gleyber Torres, rated as one of the sport’s top prospects, who toward the end of camp had fans clamoring for the Yankees to find a spot for the 20-year-old on the 25-man roster. Instead, Torres, who produced a 1.400 OPS in 19 games before getting shipped to minor league camp, will start the season with Double-A Trenton with the thought — from the Yankees and opposing team scouts — that he very well could elevate himself to the majors at some point in 2017.
“It’s [the talent pool] been better than what I’d heard,” Girardi said during camp. “I wanted to see it with my own two eyes. I didn’t realize how deep it really was.”
All that doesn’t mean camp went perfectly, of course.
Though Masahiro Tanaka looked like a Cy Young candidate and Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia produced more reasons to be optimistic about their seasons than not, the battle for the fourth and fifth spots in the starting rotation took longer to sort out than the Yankees would have liked. That resulted in more uncertainty there, not less.
Aaron Judge never could lock down the starting job in right, opening the door for Aaron Hicks. And while veterans Matt Holliday and Starlin Castro were mostly solid, veterans Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Chase Headley mostly were not.
Of course, that trio wouldn’t be the first group of experienced players to stagger through spring training. Slow April starts by them, or anyone else for that matter, must be taken with a grain of salt. Same goes for hot starts.
Regardless, what promises to be a fascinating season one way or the other is about to commence. It’s a season that more than a few opposing team talent evaluators believe could be better for the Yankees than some think.
And the Yankees themselves?
“We are in a transition, but we’re not waving any white flag while we’re transitioning,” Cashman said during camp. “That’s the balancing act we’re taking, and we’ll see where it takes us. 2017 has a chance to be a pretty interesting year for us.”