2016: Year of the New York Yankees Crossroads as a Franchise

If you didn’t already see it, Aaron Judge and Julio Mateo are forcing your eyelids open. The New York Yankees have a wave of young talent arriving from the farm system and it’s either going to make or break the franchise for years to come. It took 20 years for talent to stay relevant into the upper levels and within the organization through the entire process and roughly 10 years of New York actively paying attention to its farm system, but the future has arrived and everyone from Hal Steinbrenner to Brian Cashman to Joe Girardi has their futures on the line.

Four games into March we now understand why these players are being hyped to be the next “core”. And contrary to what your friends in New Hampshire may tell you, it’s not overreacting or wishful thinking. There’s a good chance prospects fail, there’s a better chance these guys can form a core assuming they stay healthy.

Greg Bird and Luis Severino have already backed up fantastic minor league numbers with successful major league debuts.

Gary Sanchez has hit everywhere he’s gone and made the adjustments on defense.

Now Julio Mateo, two games into spring, has hit a triple to left because he jogged halfway to first and homered off the first knuckle ball pitcher he’s ever seen in his first at bat.

Aaron JudgeAaron Judge went opposite field with his first home run of this spring.

And for none of those reasons, should you take these guys seriously unlike the many failed Yankees’ prospects before them.

It’s because Severino and Bird made it to the majors, acted like they belonged to some Hall of Fame veterans with a quiet confidence and then showed up ready to put in the work this winter (obviously Bird is out for the year, which is a setback for him).

It’s because Mateo, after making the mistake of jogging out of the box on what turned out not to be a home run, made sure he ran full speed almost to second on what turned out to be a ball he sent off the scoreboard in left. He faced his mistake, he listened and he corrected it. He’s coachable, hungry, and he wants to be great.

Mateo’s attitude is as special as his foot speed, a player who could have easily had an inside the park home run on a fly ball to left field with no odd bounces. He’s the fastest Yankees’ player I’ve ever seen at full speed and he has 82 stolen bases in A ball in a single season to back it up.

It’s because Judge has the same quiet confidence, the desire to soak in veteran advice, particularly from Carlos Beltran. It’s because he spent all winter agonizing over what gave him his first taste of adversity at a professional level when he struggled in AAA. And it’s also because when he gets a hold of a ball, it sounds like the ball will land somewhere in orbit when it makes contact with his bat. He’s country strong. He has the strength of someone who is 6’7, 275, or in other words, someone who could be Frank Thomas‘ larger brother.

All of these guys have challenges left not including a resume at the major league level. Severino needs to throw 200 innings. Sanchez needs to show he belongs behind the plate. Judge needs to be more selective and walk more and strike out less. Bird needs to stay healthy. Mateo needs to hit at AA.

But if things strike right for these five guys, you have four of them on the roster in 2017 and a 21-year-old prospect knocking on the door after a likely September call up as a pinch-runner this season.

And that’s a wave of youth with 4-6 years of control we haven’t seen in a few decades coinciding with over $100 million dollars coming off of the payroll.

It would make the Yankees a juggernaut whereas these guys not panning out would shoot the farm system back into barren territory at a time when every high level player is headed out the door or into retirement.

By the end of 2018, there is no in-between. The Yankees will either be great or they will be American League fodder.

The big name prospects you are watching this spring will decide that direction.

 

 

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