Early April Thoughts
by Cary Greene
April 12, 2023
One Pleasing Thing and one that’s Concerning
April Thoughts, by Cary Greene
Experienced fans know that the first third of the season is a time for most team’s to assess what they’ve got. Then, as the MLB Trade Deadline approaches near the midpoint of the season, contending teams try to improve and non-contenders look to make deals that will help them in the future. From there, contending teams go about the business of engaging in pennant races and playoffs pushes and the non contending teams begin calling up prospects and getting them some big league reps.
The Yankees are in a very interesting place right now because they’ve elected to roll with Anthony Volpe at shortstop, while optioning the now seemingly tradable Oswald Peraza to the minors. There’s no secret about the partial youth movement the Yankees are engaging in and with an uber prospects like Jasson Dominguez forcing his way into the picture, and other pieces like Trey Sweeney, Austin Wells, Everson Pereira and the aforementioned Peraza all looking more and more like pieces the Yankees might count on as soon as some point this season or early next year. I don’t think Cashman will be hunting for star players to trade for this season.
Coming into the season, my biggest concern was the shortstop situation. I was ecstatic that the Yankees promoted Volpe and I think in time it will pan out to be a really good call. In the meantime, Yankees fans ought to give him some leeway and realize that the growing pains associated with his situation are something we’ll all just have to be patient with.
It’s true that out of the gate, Volpe looks a bit overmatched, thus far his wRC+ of 44, 34 plate appearances into his big league career shows a ton or room for growth (put kindly). I’m in favor of just giving him time. After two or three months, the Yankees can assess the situation. I’m confident that by then he’ll be starting to acclimate to big league pitching.
Am I pleased with what Volpe is doing so far? Obviously not, but it’s still incredibly early in what is effectively his first cup of big league coffee. Perhaps the Yankees will send him down for a spell at some point, it’s a possibility. But I’m absolutely willing to give more than enough time to round into form and I think the Yankees can easily afford to do that. Is Volpe Wander Franco right now? Of course not, but if he can translate his immense talent to what is baseball’s highest level, I have all the confidence in the world that he’ll be a great contributor.
Surprisingly, the Volpe promotion isn’t my biggest concern with the Yankees so far this season. My biggest concern actually involves injuries and in particular, I’m concerned about how much longer the Yankees will have to lean on the back two-thirds of their rotation, because if we set the impressive Jhony Brito aside, it’s tough to picture either Clarke Schmidt or Domingo German as being starters on a World Series team.
This season, the Yankees were supposed to have the most dominating starting rotation in MLB, but with Carlos Rodon (forearm strain) and Luis Severino (low grade right Lat strain) out for the time being and Frankie Montas (shoulder surgery) shelved indefinitely as well, the Yankees have been forced to turn to their internal depth to hold the fort in early April. The results have been mixed.
Granted, Jhony Brito has been pretty stellar, he’s made two starts and only allowed a single earned run over 10 innings of work. Yet, neither Clarke Schmidt or Domingo German have been impressive. Combined they’ve made three starts spanning 11.1 innings while allowing 11 earned runs - which has been good for a 8.74 ERA.
Anchoring the rotation, Garret Cole has opened the season throwing peas and complementing his power arsenal, the Yankees man of international mystery, Nestor Cortes JR has combined to toss 22.2 innings while allowing only 4 earned runs (1.59 ERA). I think you may know where I’m going with this – the front end of the Yankees rotation looks terrific, the middle has been both surprising and unexpected and the back end hasn't been good.
Once Rodon and Severino step in, the Yankees suddenly look great on paper, but being great on paper and translating that to actual on-field performance are often two very separate things with Cashman’s Yankees. My concern is, can the Yankees rotation hold itself together? I think it’s a valid concern. Rodon has missed 427 days and counting since 2016, which makes it fair to characterize him as an often injured pitcher who happened to stay mostly healthy over the past two seasons, for the first time in his entire career.
Meanwhile, Severino has missed 514 days over the same time span. The Yankees championship aspirations this season really require a contributing Severino and Rodon. It’s not remotely possible that the rotation, as presently filled in, can deliver a championship. The Yankees need at least two more quality starters, which both Severino and Rodon each are, when healthy.
One area I’m very happy with so far involves how well the Yankees are handling right-handed pitching. The splits are really encouraging so far, in the early going. Aaron Judge is not surprisingly sporting a gaudy 1.426 OPS against right-handers, but Franchy Cordero (1.417), Gleyber Torres (1.073), Anthony Rizzo (1.055) and Giancarlo Stanton (1.013) have all been terrific against righties. In fact, Kyle Higashioka (.953) and DJ LeMahieu (.929) have been pretty great themselves. With an .829 team OPS, the Yankees have overcome all of the “they don’t have enough balance” buzz that surrounded this year’s team in spring training. Here’s to hoping they can sustain the results!