Beware of Aaron Judge, a Flamethrowing Bullpen and the Loaded New York Yankees

Last year ended in disappointment, but the Yankees are loaded and return as a World Series favorite.
Publish date:

2018 finish: 100–62, lost in ALDS to Red Sox

SI's 2019 prediction: 99–63, First in AL East

Key additions: SP James Paxton, SS Troy Tulowitzki, RP Adam Ottavino, INF D.J. LeMahieu, SP Gio Gonzalez, re-signed Zack Britton 

Key departures: SP Sonny Gray

Projected Lineup

1. CF Aaron Hicks

2. RF Aaron Judge

3. DH Giancarlo Stanton

4. C Gary Sanchez

5. 3B Miguel Andújar

6. 2B Gleyber Torres

7. 1B Luke Voit

8. SS Troy Tulowitzki

9. LF Brett Gardner


C Austin Romine

2B DJ LeMahieu

IF/OF Tyler Wade

Projected Rotation

RHP Masahiro Tanaka

LHP James Paxton

LHP J.A. Happ

RHP Domingo Germán


LHP Aroldis Chapman (closer)

RHP Dellin Betances

LHP Zack Britton

RHP Adam Ottavino

RHP Chad Green

RHP Jonathan Holder

RHP Tommy Kahnle

LHP Stephen Tarpley

RHP Luis Cessa

Injured list: RHP Luis Severino, LHP CC Sabathia, SS Didi Gregorius, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Aaron Hicks 

Movin’ On Up! Well, depending on your definition of a “breakout season” Aaron Hicks has already had his. The centerfielder finally put all the pieces together at the plate in an injury-marred half-season in 2017, and he matched this performance in an almost-but-not-quite-full-season in 2018. In 137 games last year, Hicks amassed 4.7 Baseball-Reference WAR, seventh-highest of any outfielder. If he can stay healthy for a full season in 2019, though? Watch out. Hicks just might be one of baseball’s best leadoff hitters, and an entire year of solid play can cement that.

Sell! Brett Gardner’s performance dipped last year after struggling to elevate the ball. The ensuing high groundball rate fueled his career-low 86 OPS+ over a full season. The 35-year-old should probably rebound some, but at this point, don’t expect too much.

Appreciate This Man! Adam Ottavino stepped into the spotlight with a dazzling 2018, striking out more than a third of batters and logging a 2.43 ERA. It was a remarkable breakthrough at the age of 32, but there’s reason to believe it’s sustainable: Ottavino ditched his fourseam fastball for a sinker, which was a heavy contributing factor in his sudden success. With Chapman, Betances, and Britton, this bullpen already had plenty of flash, but Ottavino’s January signing can be a true difference-maker. And, yes, he could definitely strike out Babe Ruth.

A Modest Proposal From Joe Sheehan: The Yankees spent the offseason bolstering their bench and their bullpen, so it was unfortunate that their first major injury of the season came to starting pitcher Luis Severino. Severino was shut down early in March with rotator cuff inflammation, and will be out until at least May. While the Yankees can fill his innings with any of Luis Cessa, Domingo Germán, and Jonathan Loáisiga, they don’t have anyone else on the roster or in the system who has Severino’s raw stuff or his upside. Severino is coming off the best two-year stretch of any homegrown Yankees starter since Chien-Ming Wang in 2006-07, and he was a top-ten starter in MLB over the past two years. Even going into the market for a free agent such as Dallas Keuchel wouldn’t be sufficient to replace Severino. He is the one irreplaceable Yankee, and until he’s healthy, this team is second to the Red Sox in the AL East. 

MLB.TV Rating: 9.2

You’ve got masterful slugging from Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, vibrant youth in Miguel Andújar and Gleyber Torres, and first-class pitching from Luis Severino and James Paxton. Just like last year’s Yankees, this club can be a bit hard to stomach for seasoned haters of the franchise: It’s a Yankees team that’s genuinely, seriously, undeniably likeable. They’re not just good. They’re fun, and that makes all the difference. Maybe you don’t have to like them, but it sure is hard to hate them.

Keep an Eye Out for... The injuries to Severino and Sabathia—projected to return in mid-April and early May, respectively—have left the back of the rotation with holes to fill for the start of the season. Luis Cessa’s strong spring has made him the frontrunner for a spot here after getting a brief showing in the big leagues in each of the last three seasons, mostly in the bullpen. But there are a few other options. There’s Jonathan Loáisiga, considered one of the organization’s top prospects, who showcased a strong breaking ball last season. Or maybe it's Domingo Germán, who’s shown promise but is probably better suited for a role in the ‘pen, given his struggle to develop a third pitch. As for some names to know with potential for a smaller impact? Reliever Danny Farquhar is trying to make his back as an NRI after he collapsed in the dugout last summer with an aneurysm. He was assigned to minor league camp in mid-March, but if he can make it out, the game might not have a better feel-good story. And Gio Urshela likely isn’t going to earn a spot on this roster, but, man, the third baseman’s glove sure is beautiful—if others’ injury or underperformance get him bumped up for a chance in the majors, check out the defense.

Scout's Takes

A rival scout analyzes the New York Yankees heading into the 2019 MLB season. 

What is the key question surrounding this team in 2019?

Starting pitching consistency would be the one big concern. CC Sabathia is 38, J.A. Happ is 36. James Paxton is a great acquisition if he stays healthy. Can Luis Severino repeat what he did last year?

Who is the most overrated player on the team?

Gary Sánchez. When I heard they wouldn't trade him for J.T. Realmuto, I was shocked, because Sanchez just seems to have lapses of focus defensively and gets into funks offensively. He's got an incredible tool package, but there's a lack of consistency. Second place is Giancarlo Stanton. He's an Adonis, but there are a lot of holes and a lot of streaks where there are some really, really bad at-bats. But when it's all said and done, on a club like that, his numbers fit really nicely.

Who is the most underrated player on the team?

Dellin Betances. When you dig into the numbers, he's been unhittable for four years now. He'll go two weeks without having five balls put in play hard. The other guy, on the offensive side, is Didi Gregorius. He brings so much positive energy. That's something that will be missed this year.

What young player(s) is/are on the cusp of stardom?

They've got three for me: Miguel AndújarGleyber Torres and Severino. Andújar has some glitches defensively which he's been working hard on. Severino's stuff is unhittable at times, but he gets into some funks. Torres I’d put a little bit ahead because he’s the whole package. He was pretty consistent all year, plus his defense is so attractive. His power keeps getting better and his maturity at the plate will continue to get better.

What young player(s) is/are the biggest bust candidate(s)?

This is a guy I really like, but Greg Bird is kind of a shadow of what you thought he might be. I'm not seeing it. He's probably close to a thousand at-bats behind where he should be because of all of his injuries. He just doesn't seem to have the same rhythm or swing. It's a different look when you watch him now. Maybe the other would be Clint Frazier. I'm not a big fan of his. I think he's going to be an everyday guy, but not an impact guy.

Who gets the most out of his talent?

I have a man crush on Aaron Judge. He's my new hero. It’s about how he handles himself. He’s talented, and he has a quiet leadership style where he does the right thing all the time. I think everybody on that team recognizes that. He's so big and strong. You want to rock the boat with that? I'm a huge fan of his.

Who gets the least out of his talent?

Sánchez. A lot of it is laziness and focus. He went and had a huge first year, and then all of a sudden, you saw the lazy, complacent guy.

Who has the nastiest stuff on the team?

Betances and Severino. When they're on, they can be unhittable. You can't get the barrel to the ball. It's high-octane velocity with late movement, hard breaking balls with late depth. It's tough to get the barrel to the ball when those two guys are on.  

Who has the best baseball instincts/IQ?

Brett Gardner. He's a little grinder who's gotten so much out of his ability and continues to contribute. He's not afraid to hit with two strikes, he can steal a base, he can play centerfield still. I think that's why they re-signed him so quickly. He's a great leader; he's accountable for what he does everyday. I saw him coming through the minor leagues and I got him right, because he wasn't the most gifted guy, but I had him as at least an everyday guy whose makeup may make him an impact guy.

Whose batting practice makes your jaw drop?

It's must-see with Stanton, Judge and Sánchez. You go out there in Yankee Stadium, about 500 feet away [from home plate], and you might get hit.

Name two guys on this team that you would immediately trade for.

Judge and Severino.

Name the guy (or guys) on this team you would never want in your clubhouse.

Sánchez and Aroldis Chapman. He's very talented, but every year he gets into funks where he can't throw strikes. I guess he helped the Cubs win the World Series, but I don't know how much he really did. And he's had the off-fieldissues. He's good, but I wouldn't want him.

Whose effort could use a jolt?


Who do you want at-bat or on the mound in a season-defining moment?

Aaron Judge. You're going to have to get him out, he's not going to get himself out. He does have some holes: his swing can get long at times and he can get into funks, but he's pretty patient. I was amazed at how good each at-bat was in the playoffs against Boston.

On the mound, probably Severino. Don't ask me why, because he s--- the bed pretty bad the one year in the playoffs [the 2017 AL wild-card game], but he bounced back from that, and from everything I've heard about him, he has a tremendous focus to be great. I think with maturity, he's got a chance to be like Max Scherzer, that warrior guy, because he doesn't want to come out of games. A lot of starters now will happily give the ball to their manager. You can tell he's pissed when he's gonna come out.

Who don't you want in that situation?

On the mound it’s Betances because of some of his funks. I think he's great in that seventh-inning bridge role where he's unhittable, but the later you get in the game, he might get excited. I hate to nail him on that, but I just don't think he's ever going to be a closer. With the way the game is now, though, he still has tremendous value. Their bullpen with him, a healthy Zack Britton, Chapman, Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle is going to be lights out this year.

On the hitter side, it'd be Sánchez. He gets himself out sometimes. You saw a lot of that last year. It was a tossup between him and Stanton. Stanton at times can give you some of the ugliest at-bats. He can just wave at three pitches like he doesn't even give a s---.

Which under-the-radar prospect/non-roster invitee could make a splash this season?

Jonathan Loaisiga is a guy who can come up if somebody gets hurt and be pretty dominant. He's fun to watch. He's got a plus curveball, a plus fastball, and he throws strikes.

Is the current manager one you would hire to run your club?

I'm an Aaron Boone fan, and I would hire him. I like him. I like the relationship he has with his players. He protects his guys. He's a baseball lifer. I think he's only going to get better the more he manages. He's still making mistakes, but I think he's going to learn from them and become more confident.

What is the ceiling for this team this year? What about the next three years?

Deep playoffs, possible World Series, times three. They've done a great job as an organization, they have depth to trade from, they have money to sign. They're in a great place.

Emptying the notebook: 

Aaron Hicks, two or three springs ago, it's like the lightbulb went off. You would see the flashes, but all of a sudden, I started seeing consistency in at-bats and he wasn’t chasing pitches. All of the sudden you're going ‘this guy's figured some s--- out here.’... Troy Tulowitzki has lost a step, but I think a lot of that is trying to play under more control. He's been a very pleasant surprise. His swing looks better, and I really think he's got a f*** you Toronto, I'll show you I can still play' vibe about him ... They signed a great makeup kid in DJ LeMahieu, who's going to help them win a bunch of games. He's outstanding at third base, and he's 6'4", so I can see him playing at first, second and third and DH'ing ... James Paxton has top-of-the-rotation stuff that can be unhittable at times ... Masahiro Tanaka is a great pitcher who really competes well. He pitches offspeed but still has enough of a fastball to keep you honest. His splitter can still be wipeout. He's going to win 13–14 games and have a couple of stinkers ... J.A. Happ's sum has always been greater than his individual parts. When you look at him analytically, there's deception, hitters don't see the ball real well. He's developed a good changeup and pitches inside really well. He really knows what he's doing. ... Adam Ottavino has got a lot of working parts in his delivery, which he figured out on his own with the Rapsodo machine, where he reshaped his pitches and figured out where his hands had to be.