The Yankees began the 2022 season with more than a few known stars, none brighter than Aaron Judge.
The hulking slugger has dominated the news cycle lately with his historic home run chase and attempt at a Triple Crown. Such production, especially in a contract year, was unforeseen, even if Judge was already an MVP-caliber player when the year began.
But a few Yankees had no such reputation – or much of a reputation at all – before becoming key contributors in 2022. Even with Judge’s monstrous season and plenty of other household names, the Yankees likely wouldn’t have clinched the American League East last week without the help of these surprising success stories.
7 Unexpected Performances That Led the Yankees to a Division Title in 2022
Despite a stellar 93 innings in 2021, few predicted Cortes, a 2013 36th-round draft pick on his third stint with the Yankees, would become a legitimate top of the rotation pitcher. But the southpaw has put together an All-Star season worthy of down-ballot Cy Young votes, recording a 2.56 ERA over 151 innings entering his Saturday start against Baltimore. With a 3.3 fWAR, Cortes leads all Yankees pitchers, including ace Gerrit Cole (3.1).
After a rough end to his Cardinals career and a brief minor league stint with the Rangers, Carpenter appeared finished. But the Yankees took a chance on the veteran and were rewarded with resurgent production. Carpenter slashed .305/.412/.727 with 15 homers and 37 RBI over 47 games before fouling a ball off his foot and breaking it in early August. The Yankees are hoping to have his left-handed bat back in the lineup before the regular season ends next week.
When the Yankees traded for Trevino, the assumption was that he and Kyle Higashioka would form a defensively sound and offensively ineffective platoon at catcher. But Trevino did enough with his bat – while cementing himself as baseball’s best receiver – to earn an All-Star nod and the majority of New York’s starts behind the plate. Trevino has also been incredibly clutch, hitting .359 with runners in scoring position.
Holmes, another unexpected All-Star, has had some rough stretches since a 31.1-inning scoreless streak that vaulted him into the closer’s role. But the righty still has a sub-3.00 ERA, and his early-season success stabilized New York’s bullpen when Aroldis Chapman struggled and landed on the injured list. The Yankees still have some relief questions to answer – Holmes has been shut down for the rest of the regular season with a rotator cuff injury – but he certainly exceeded expectations, if nothing else.
Cabrera joined the Yankees when they were flailing over the summer and injected some life into the team. The rookie’s ability to skillfully play just about any position masked his early woes at the plate, but his bat has caught up more recently. Cabrera is hitting .328/.414/.656 with five doubles, five home runs and 14 RBI since Sept. 10; he’s positioned himself to make a serious impact on New York’s postseason roster.
Another rookie, Marinaccio has earned some trust in New York’s bullpen. The right-handed Toms River native has a 2.09 ERA over his first 39 games in the majors. Now the local product could find himself pitching in high-leverage situations during the postseason.
King has not pitched since July 22 after suffering a stress fracture in his throwing elbow. But the righty was such a pivotal part of New York’s first-half success that members of the bullpen and other teammates FaceTimed King during the Yankees’ division-clinching celebration. Even though King underwent season-ending surgery months ago, he is still among MLB’s top-10 relievers in fWAR after recording a 2.29 ERA over 51 innings. Fortunately for him, he does not need Tommy John surgery and thinks he can avoid missing time in 2023.
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