Sanchez, Bird providing Yankees playoff hope
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird are providing hope that the New York Yankees can compete for the playoffs even during a season in which they're leaning toward a youth movement.
The pair of 24-year old sluggers is putting up big numbers in exhibition games, both hitting well over .300 with three homers apiece.
Boosted by the young Yankees, it's a positive sign as New York moves forward with its plan that combines the small-market philosophy of stocking a farm system with the big-money ability to fill holes by signing free agents.
''Now the biggest challenge lies ahead,'' Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said. ''Some of them already proved their worth last year but haven't played a full season yet. It feels like it's the first time in a number of years that we've been in this position. It's exciting.''
Sanchez was called up Aug. 3 last season to catch and put together a spectacular final two months. Despite playing in just 53 games, he ended up tied for the fourth-most homers ever by a Yankees rookie with 20 and was second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.
''I don't feel any pressure,'' Sanchez said through a translator. ''My mentality is to go out there and do what I do. I'm working hard to get better, offensively and defensively.''
Bird went deep 11 times over 46 games in 2015, but the first baseman missed all of last season due to right shoulder surgery.
Another 24-year old, Aaron Judge, is a top contender to win the right field job.
''It's a little different,'' said outfielder Brett Gardner, now the longest-tenured Yankees player. ''We've got a lot of youth in the room, a lot of young exciting players. It's up to me and the veteran guys to help these young guys feel comfortable and help them be successful.''
The Yankees' dynasty - four World Series titles from 1996-2000 - had similar roots.
Home-grown talent like Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams were the championship nucleus.
''To see the youth, it's exciting,'' said Pettitte, a Yankees' guest spring training coach. ''It's a good shot in the arm for the organization. It will be interesting to see how it all comes along and progress. Hopefully a handful of these guys will be the core group of guys over the next 10 or 15 years in this organization. That would be special to see.''
After slipping out of contention last summer, the Yankees were sellers at the trade deadline.
Out in trades were relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman.
In came prospects like infielder Gleyber Torres, pitcher Justus Sheffield and outfielders Clint Frazier and Billy McKinney. All could be in the next wave of youngsters that also includes pitcher James Kaprielian, possibly a bridge and portal to a big future.
Plus, the Yankees signed Chapman as a free agent.
''We've got a chance to have a real young club at the major league level in the coming years here and at the same time compete for championships,'' Yankees vice president of player development Gary Denbo said. We're looking forward to watching that.''
But there are bumps in the road.
The Yankees are giving Luis Severino, 23, every chance to claim a rotation spot behind Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda, but the results have been mixed.
Severino struggled with fastball command Wednesday, needing 51 pitches to get through two innings against Team Canada.
''It was not good,'' Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ''Fastball command is really, really important. Being down in the zone is important for him, and when he got up he got hurt.''
The Yankees, with two open rotation spots, could look outside for help.
The Chicago White Sox have scouted the Yankees extensively, fueling speculation that a deal for left-hander Jose Quintana is a possibility.
Even with the ''Baby Bombers'' era taking hold, the Yankees are not afraid to spend on free agency.
This offseason New York signed Chapman ($85 million, five years), designated hitter Matt Holliday ($13 million, one year) and first baseman Chris Carter ($3.5 million, one year).
''We've put together a team that we feel has a chance but there are some unknowns with the young players,'' Steinbrenner said. ''Whether or not people think we have a chance or don't have a chance, that's up to them. As far as these guys, they absolutely believe they have a chance and they're going to come to play.''