The 2020 season was a strange one for sure. With no fans, new rules, and expanded postseason, it was a season unlike any other. For the New York Yankees especially, 2020 was a mix of very good and very bad. It featured the same injury bug that plagued the team in 2019. Additionally, the season featured a 10-game win streak as well as some interesting postseason decisions. All told, the 2021 season will be an important one for the Yankees as they look to keep their championship window open. The upcoming Yankees Spring Training will be key in providing insight on the state of the roster. Here are six players to keep an eye on this spring who all look to play a crucial role for the team in 2021.
Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt
For all intents are purposes, Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt are in the same place right now. Both are pitchers who made their big league debuts in 2020 yet could probably use more seasoning in Triple-A. Both are two of the club’s top-three prospects. Garcia made six starts in 2020, posting a 4.98 ERA along with a 4.15 FIP and 1.194 WHIP in 34 1/3 innings of work. His ERA was so high as a result of one very poor outing against the Boston Red Sox; six earned runs in three innings.
However, his high ERA underscores how well he actually performed. Garcia pitched six or more innings in four of his six starts, which is rare for a pitcher so young. He has a very solid four-pitch mix with good deception and a fastball that ranges between 91-94 mph. Garcia is only is only 21 and has only pitched 40 innings above Double-A in his career. Thus, his performance in Spring Training could be an indication as to whether he is ready or not to become a full-time member of the starting rotation for the Yankees.
Coming into his age-25 season, 2021 will be a crucial one for Schmidt. Like Garcia, he could definitely use more time in the minors to hone his skills and build up his arm. Due to injuries to the pitching staff, Schmidt made his debut in 2020 despite never pitching above Double-A. In 2019, Schmidt pitched 19 innings at Double-A and logged 90 2/3 innings overall in three different minor league levels. The talent and potential in Schmidt is obvious but he struggled mightily with his command in 2020. Similar to Garcia, Schmidt’s spring training performance can determine where he is at in his development.
Frazier seemed like a changed man in 2020. The growth, maturity, and progress both on and off the field made that very evident. His declaration to wear a mask at all time on the field from the start of summer camp was the first sign of his improved maturity. He posted career highs in nearly every statistical category. His 15.6% walk rate and .394 OBP were reflections of his vastly improved plate discipline. With a batting line of .267/.394/.511, .905 OPS and 149 OPS+, Frazier was one of the best Yankees hitters in 2020. Not only that, his 4 DRS and 2 OAA in right field made him one of the best defenders at his position, a stark contrast from 2019. Spring Training will be important for Frazier as he looks to further solidify his role and prove that he can be an everyday player for the Yankees.
For someone like Sanchez, Spring Training does not seem to be as important as for other players. Regardless though, with all the talk about his new catching stance and the uncertainty regarding his role with the team, this will be a big spring for him. The Yankees seem intent on giving him another shot as the starting catcher in 2021. This could be his last shot in New York as he only has one more year until free agency after 2021. Spring Training is typically when players say they are in the best shape of their lives. Well, Sanchez has to come in looking like it.
Considering this was the first real offseason with Tanner Swanson as the catching coach, Sanchez presumably had the time to work on his new catching stance. It is a stance that is focused on optimizing the catchers’ lower half to enable him to frame and block pitches better. Sanchez showed improved framing numbers in 2020, but was still below average in that category. He is a player who needs confidence to be successful. It is crucial he is able to have enough repetitions to build his confidence throughout Spring Training.
Along with Domingo German, Taillon is one of the biggest x-factors on the pitching staff. In his first Yankees Spring Training, his health is paramount. Having only pitched 37 1/3 innings since the start of 2019, the Yankees are not relying on Taillon to immediately be the ace of the staff. However, if his arm is healthy and stable, Taillon should again be a great pitcher. He has the potential to be the second best starter on the team this year. Spring Training will be the first look at him in nearly two years. It should provide a blueprint as to where he is at regarding his comeback development after undergoing his second career Tommy John surgery. Taillon has talked about how he has changed his delivery since his surgery to put less stress on his arm. If he can show anything close to the form he showed as the ace of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018, it is safe to say the Yankees and their fans will be very excited.
Gio Urshela has been one of the most durable and consistent position players of the past two years. However, he had surgery on his left elbow in December and is slated to miss the start of Spring Training. What happens if he has a slight setback or cannot start the season on time? Enter Miguel Andujar. Once one of the best young hitters in the lineup, Andujar has become an afterthought with no real position or value for the Yankees. The club tried to play him in left field in 2020, which was unsuccessful. He remains below average at third base and has struggled in his rare attempts to play first base. Considering his age and athleticism, Andujar should not be relegated to a DH-only role.
With that said, he figures to get a good amount of playing time at third base this spring. Whether at third or in left, all Andujar has to do is show any defensive improvement to be valuable. More playing time in Spring Training will mean consistent at-bats to prove his 2018 was the real deal. At the moment, his role in New York is very unclear. Thus, a great spring could help make Andujar’s future more clear.
There is a lot to like about this current Yankees ball club. With a deep lineup, good starting pitching depth and a great bullpen, the team should be very good in 2021. They have all the ingredients and talent to be a World Series champion by season’s end. Whether it is the readiness of Garcia and Schmidt, the form of Sanchez, or the health of Taillon, these are six players to keep an eye on this spring.
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