We're officially in the doldrums of the offseason. Most of the major moves have likely been made (unless a trade or two surprises us), and once we're inside of a month from pitchers and catchers reporting, I just start counting down the days in earnest. Despite some of the cynicism I exhibit about everyday events as I get older, I have never lost my child-like excitement as I anticipate Spring Training. I treat both the reporting date for pitchers and catchers and the first full-team workout like holidays, and I have certain traditions I observe for each. No matter what else is happening in my life, I typically wake up with a smile on my face when pitchers and catchers report, because it means baseball is near, and I enjoy life better when baseball in any form is part of it.
As I anticipate Spring Training, I find a smile on my face in recent days. I got a chuckle out of the Royals' signing of Aroldis Chapman last night (despite what the Spanish language tweet from someone in Chapman's circle would have you believe, no, the video does not show him sitting 96 MPH and touching 100 MPH...fastballs I saw in the video looked closer to low-mid 90s). And though it's partially a product of getting excited for the season, I'm beginning to think more positively about the Yankees' outlook for 2023. The rotation, even minus Montas, is set to be one of the best in baseball, and likely one of the best in my lifetime; the bullpen has plenty of talent; and I think our general pessimism about the end of last season obscures the fact that though the offense is flawed, there is still enough firepower to make it a good offense, even if it will almost certainly need a reinforcement or two during the season. I feel good about not just baseball, but Yankee baseball in 2023.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll talk about the impact of new rules on playing SS in 2023 and beyond, the bullpen, and Austin Wells! Let's get at it:
Fuster asks: a shortstop is traditionally a defender and a slap hitter, and always with foot speed and quick reaction time.
are rule changes going to re-emphasize a 'get' em on-get 'em over- get 'em in' aspect of the game and increased base stealing
and, if so,
will the Yankees continue their recent affinity for the stolen base and be looking to their shortstop to swipe bags as a supplement to limited power?
While the shortstop position might have traditionally been the home of slap hitters and premium defenders, that really hasn't been the case as a general rule in a very long time. Cal Ripken Jr. broke that mold as a large-bodied shortstop with pop, and really served as a trailblazer for guys like Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez to play and excel at the position (we'll leave defensive evaluations aside for the moment). In the next generation, guys like Troy Tulowitzki put up huge offensive numbers with large bodies for the position.
The shift has absolutely changed the way that teams view the shortstop position in the last 5-8 years. Teams know that if they can keep a guy at shortstop who has good hands and a good arm, with premium offense, at shortstop with the help of the shift, they'll have an all-star due to positional adjustment that is built into all value calculation systems. Guys like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager are prime examples of this. It was part of what drove the Yankees' thinking in trying to keep Gleyber Torres at shortstop. If the shift could help him be even a slightly below-average defensive shortstop while producing offense like he did in 2019 would make him one of the most valuable players in the sport (obviously, that didn't work). Big bodies with decent offense even at levels well beneath the Correas and Seagers of the world have been played at shortstop for years now because the shift enabled it.
That won't really be doable to the same extent anymore with the new shift rules. My theory is that you will see multiple players similar to Seager, in particular, moved off of shortstop in favor of significantly better defenders. Changes to base size and pickoff attempts will similarly encourage stolen base attempts, so I expect the Yankees to continue emphasizing stolen bases, much as they did in 2022.
All of this is by way of saying yes, I expect the Yankees to prioritize defense, on-base percentage, and speed at shortstop in the coming years. This is part of why they've held tight to Volpe and Peraza. Both guys project to fit that exact mold up the middle.
Brian asks: The Yankee bullpen projects to be good, but there is more uncertainty there than there has been in recent seasons. Do you think there is a prospect in the minor leagues today that could make an impact in the Yankee bullpen at some point in 2023?
If forced to choose one name, I'd say Clayton Beeter, who was a sneaky good return for Joey Gallo from the Dodgers. Many believe that he can be a good mid-rotation starter with excellent stuff; I'm not as bullish, as to me, he's a two-pitch pitcher with suspect command. I do, however, believe that he could be very effective out of the bullpen for 1-3 inning outings, which matches his pitch counts in most of his starts.
Beeter will likely advance to AAA early in 2023, which makes him viable at the big league level in short order if he were asked to pitch out of the bullpen. He has the stuff to be really good there.
Cary asks: What do you think about Wells? Possibly being a part-time left fielder?, Or possibly DH/ first? Baseman? He's got a very weak throwing arm due to surgeries early on in his career. That said, he's actually got pretty good foot speed for a catcher and probably average foot speed for an outfielder.
If he could DH 50% of the time, play the outfield a little bit and who knows what else, play wherever, he could make the team.
I have probably given the impression around here that I don't like Austin Wells much as a prospect, and that isn't really true. I think the bat is for real, but I think the Yankees are wasting valuable development time on insisting he's a catcher. I give Wells a lot of credit for working so hard to improve defensively, and it's true that he caught more base stealers in 2022 and dramatically cut the number of passed balls scored against him. Admittedly, it was one look, but I just don't see someone who is agile enough, with good enough hands or a good enough arm to be a below-average defensive catcher. I think his calling card will be his bat, and I think he's regained enough arm strength following amateur injuries to be viable in the outfield.
I think his agility is below-average in the outfield, but if he can learn to take good routes and reads, he'll be playable out there, and his bat (again) should blossom if he doesn't have to focus his work behind the plate. I think LF/DH/1B, and even a few games here and there as the 3rd catcher (as the Cubs did with Schwarber early on) could give him enough at bats in the 2nd half to make him a viable big leaguer. He has pop, bats from the left side, and has a good eye at the plate, so I expect him to be successful somewhere on the diamond, and he could definitely help the Yankees in the second half in 2023. I don't think he'll make the team out of camp, though.