At this time last year, Greg Bird was a few weeks into his promotion from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton. Yesterday he was batting 5th and starting at first base in the Yankees' Major League lineup, and hitting 2 2-run home runs to propel the Bombers to a series sweep of the Twins. At this time last year, Luis Severino was also with the Trenton Thunder and was in the process of returning from the DL and making a few short starts before the end of the Minor League season. This year he's already a key part of the Major League rotation after getting called up 2 weeks ago, and in his last start on Sunday he mostly held the best offense in baseball down for 6 innings using only his fastball.
For years Yankee fans have called for the team to re-commit to player development and build the franchise from within. The game has changed since the late 90s-early 2000s heyday of using big free agent signings and blockbuster trade deadline deals to build a winning team, and the Yankees were among the last teams to recognize that and get with the times. It's been a slow and seemingly fruitless process over the last few years as the front office has tweaked its MiL development approach, but this season has been the first big harvest from this current crop of prospects and what a harvest it's been.
Bird and Severino are just the latest and highest profile prospects in a long and continuous line that's fed up to the 25-man roster this year. We've seen Mason Williams and Ramon Flores come up and look more than capable in small injury replacement sample sizes. We've seen Slade Heathcott come up and dazzle for a few games after Ellsbury went down before falling victim to another injury of his own. Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder have gotten looks in the infield as the Yankees searched for an upgrade over their entrenched-below-the-Mendoza-Line second baseman. John Ryan Murphy has established himself as a legitimate Major League backup catcher and in some respects may already be a better defensive catcher than Brian McCann. And let's not forget about the Triple-A bullpen carousel. The Yankees have had an endless supply of high-velocity relief arms to fortify the back end of the 'pen and they've used that supply brilliantly.
Some of those players are in the typical mid-20s rookie age range where guys either get the call or settle into life as a Quad-A regular, so in their cases it's been the natural progression of moving through the minors. But that's not the case with Bird and Severino. Bird is only 22 years old and Severino is only 21. They were already young for Triple-A before they got called up and they're even younger for their level now that they're in the show. A few years ago, it would have been crazy to think about the Yankees promoting young players this quickly and calling them up to be regular contributors in the lineup. This year it's not only common practice, it's been the right decision. Bird and Severino aren't young pups who are in over their heads. They're polished, mature, confident, good baseball players. They've shown in small samples that they're capable of hanging at this level and producing in the midst of a playoff run, and the Yankee front office and MiL development team deserve a lot of credit for having confidence in them and choosing to use them to help their playoff charge rather than trade them away for a more "proven" player.
And it's not just this massive batch of rookies. The younger players the Yankees traded for this past offseason have blossomed. 25-year-old Didi Gregorius has been one of the best shortstops in baseball for the last month or so. 25-year-old Nathan Eovaldi has been one of the rotation's most consistent and reliable pitchers for the past few months and looked spectacular yesterday. 25-year-old Chasen Shreve has been a vital piece of Joe's bullpen, and the rest of the pitching staff features 27-year-old Dellin Betances, 27-year-old Adam Warren, 26-year-old Masahiro Tanaka, and 25-year-old Michael Pineda.
Bird and Severino are the latest and brightest examples, but this transition away from the recent Yankee way of building teams and the influx of more young talent has been in the works for a while. The Yankees said they wanted to get younger while also staying competitive, and that's exactly what they've done this season. They haven't panicked when guys have gotten hurt, they didn't overspend at the trade deadline and ship a package of prospects away for a big name arm. They've stuck with their guys, trusted the talent they've seen in the upper levels of their farm system, and gone to that talent pool when the team needed help. Now they've got a couple of young blue chippers playing and producing in a division race, gaining valuable experience, and setting the stage for their eventual transition into key everyday roles with the big league club.
The Yankees took some heat for not making a big move at the deadline, but they've gotten just as much from Severino and Bird as they could have from almost any potential trade acquisition. It was a new kind of decision for the braintrust to make and it's a decision that should pay off for the team in the immediate, the short-term future, and the long-term future. The Yankees have started to build their next generation of potential stars and franchise cornerstones and there are more on the way. At long last, the future has finally arrived.