Over the last few years, my love for baseball has declined significantly from its peak in my youth. I was a huge New York Yankees fan as a kid, obsessed with the likes of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. For the longest time, those legends carried the Yankees to postseason success. Eventually, father time caught up with each of them and the Yankees’ dynasty was pretty much over. Around the same time, I stopped playing recreational baseball and my days of watching full baseball games on television were long gone.
That is, until this past season. The Yankees’ management finally got the message that it was time to rebuild, for real. Just before the trade deadline, general manager Brian Cashman dealt star relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman and got major prospects in return, such as outfielder Clint Frazier, shortstop Gleyber Torres and pitcher Justus Sheffield. While the losses of Miller and Chapman hurt the Yankees’ stellar bullpen, it had to be done to give the team hope for the future.
The result? Within a matter of a few days and a few trades, the Bronx Bombers re-loaded their prospect pool and skyrocketed up the MLB farm system rankings. Additionally, young minor league players including Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin and Gary Sanchez were each called up in August 2016 and given chances to shine at the major league level.
Sanchez exploded onto the scene in his first few weeks in the bigs, becoming the first player in MLB history with 11 home runs and 31 hits in his first 23 games. Both Judge and Austin played well in their own right, each contributing to a potential playoff run when everyone thought the Yankees were a rebuilding team.
Although they didn’t make the playoffs in 2016, the late run fueled by a young core gave me and other Yankees fans hope that this team would be in better playoff contention in 2017. Coupled with the return of Chapman through free agency and prospects waiting to be called up from the minors, things were looking up.
Then the season started. Five games in, the Bronx Bombers of the last few years looked like they were back again for another disappointing season after starting 1-4. Austin and Sanchez were both hurt early on (Austin is on the 60-day DL with a foot fracture, Sanchez battled through a biceps injury), but the young Yankees have since won nine of their last 10 games and showed that they might still be a playoff team, if not a real World Series contender.
The Yankees’ young talent has been a huge part of that. The human skyscraper Judge, standing at 6-foot-7, has been a big part of the offense in the midst of the injuries to Austin and Sanchez, leading the team with five home runs and 12 RBI. Starlin Castro, who is still relatively young at the age of 27, leads the team with 21 hits and is batting .368 with three home runs and 10 RBI. Add in the fact that Sanchez could return to his 2016 form – or anything even close to that – when fully healthy and the Yankees may very well have a fantastic season ahead of them.
Currently tied with the Baltimore Orioles for the AL East lead, the Yankees are also a half-game ahead of their arch-rival Boston Red Sox, something very few would’ve expected at the start of the season. As the young core players continue to develop for the Yanks and the prospects continue to move up through the ranks, things may only get better from here. Frazier is one injury away from a call-up to the majors and might get promoted around the trade deadline anyway to add another solid player to the young lineup.
The most important aspect in all of this is that the new young core of batters has reinvigorated the fan base and have brought back an energy that was lost after the retirements of the Yankees’ previous core. It is the type of energy and enthusiasm that the team plays with that makes baseball fun for me to watch again. The winning helps, too, and I don’t expect it to stop any time soon because this young lineup is the real deal. Just wait until October and you’ll find out too.