Aaron Judge
AP Photo/Kathy Willens

The New York Yankees have plenty of calm, cautious optimism with their roster as Opening Day 2021 is now here.

Baseball is back! Stadium capacity will vary from city to city, but fans can look forward to a full 162-game season for 2021. For what it’s worth, your favorite baseball writer is PSYCHED.


And though the New York Yankees too are glad to have a normal season, their excitement is instead more cautious optimism. Even with Opening Day marking the start of a clean slate, the shortened 2020 season was a wake-up call. This team has trouble staying healthy and could be a perennial also-ran without full seasons from certain players.

It’s also worth noting this year’s Opening Day roster is vastly different from years past. The pitching staff has undergone a complete makeover, both in the rotation and bullpen. Once some key players return, the Yankees will indeed have a fully operational Death Star even though their look is more the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Anyway, now that you’ve got the image of Brett Gardner as Rocket Raccoon in your head, let’s do a quick rundown of the New York Yankees’ 2021 Opening Day roster.

gary sanchez
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Catcher: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

There’s only one storyline with the New York Yankees and catching this year: can Gary Sanchez turn it around? The Kraken looked strong early in spring training before tailing off, but it’s clear he’s immensely improved his focus.

New York fans are fickle and have high standards, so they’ll be expecting a full return to 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBI. In reality, Sanchez just needs to hit at or about .240 and prove he can hit for power consistently despite the strikeouts. If not, Kyle Higashioka is prepared to step up as he did in the postseason last year.

First base: Use the Force, Bruce!

This is where the injury bug hurt the New York Yankees the worst in spring training, as reigning home run champion Luke Voit is out until May after having knee surgery. Instead of longtime prospect Mike Ford, veteran and former All-Star Jay Bruce will start at first.

Bruce is a complete liability in the field and strikes out way more than he walks, but we all saw him in spring training. There’s still some life in that bat so he’s getting a chance. If he struggles, he’s signed for cheap enough that he can be let go and Ford can step in until Voit’s return.

Second base: Welcome to The Machine

Music, please!

DJ LeMahieu is back on a six-year deal and ready to be a force at the top of the New York Yankees lineup. The reigning AL batting champion is a .336 career hitter in pinstripes and a Gold Glove second baseman.

Throw in some scattered appearances at both corner infield spots, and 2021 should be business as usual for the man they call The Machine.

Shortstop: Happy Gleyber Day!

Gleyber Torres is a man on a mission and we saw how towards the end of spring training. The 23-year-old phenom smashed five home runs in Tampa and is ready to put up elite numbers.

He was out of shape in 2020 and is out to prove he can not only be a top hitter, but a strong defensive shortstop. Don’t be surprised if he sneaks into the MVP conversation.

New York Yankees Gio Urshela
(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Third base: A Gio-ful noise

2021 could prove a definitive season for Gio Urshela, one that determines his overall future with the New York Yankees. He showed up out of nowhere in 2019 and hit .314, albeit with a .349 BABIP, and then hit .298 last year after a slow start.

Urshela is also a supreme fielder at the hot corner and even saw some time at shortstop in spring training. If he can continue to prove the hitting is here to stay along with his defense, not to mention stay healthy, he could wind up playing in the Bronx for a while.

Outfield: Unbroken bashers

The New York Yankees have a great outfield, but it’s often too injured all at once to operate at full strength. This year hopes to bring different results that could strike fear into the hearts of opposing teams.

Clint Frazier has Gold Glove potential in left field. Aaron Hicks is an excellent centerfielder and probably the best player in baseball who nobody even knows exists. Aaron Judge has 50-homer potential when he isn’t on the trainer’s table.

Throw in Giancarlo Stanton at both DH and some spot starts in the outfield, and this is a group that could easily hit over 100 home runs as a unite.

Pitching: Brand new faces, same old Yankees

Let the Gerrit Cole era begin. The lifelong Yankee fan is now the unquestioned and official leader of New York’s pitching staff. Even better, he brought some of his buddies with him.

Jameson Taillon, Cole’s longtime friend from their days with the Pirates, is back from a second Tommy John surgery. He looks the strongest he’s been in his whole career and should finally benefit from some proper coaching. Two-time Cy Young-winner Corey Kluber, meanwhile, should slot behind Cole as the No. 2 as he too comes back from injuries.

Jordan Montgomery is primed for a breakout, and Domingo German won the fifth starter’s battle. Even the bullpen looks strong despite Zack Britton recovering from minor elbow surgery. He’ll be back in May or June, and Darren O’Day and Chad Green will pick up the slack ahead of Aroldis Chapman’s turn in the ninth.

Oh, and did we mention Deivi Garcia is still waiting in the wings. There’s a lot of “What if” with this pitching staff, but just watch. If they’re all healthy, the potential is higher than 1 World Trade’s summit.

Bench: Black pinstriped aces

Thanks to the 2019 season and the “next man up” philosophy, the New York Yankees have depth for days at every position. This season, three familiar faces will occupy the reserve roles.

Tyler Wade will be the utility infielder and could see some outfield reps in an emergency. His bat will continue to be frustrating, but his versatility combined with speed and defense are enough reasons to keep him around.

Mike Tauchman is back as a reserve outfielder, but so is another beloved Yankee: Brett Gardner. Everyone’s favorite bat-banger is back for (maybe) one last run, and his reputation as a leader speaks for itself. Both he and Tauchman have lots to prove after slumping at the plate in 2020 and if both struggle, Gardner won’t be the one out the door.

Either way, the New York Yankees have a bench unit that is far from just being more automatic outs. If anyone, Baseball Gods forbid, should get hurt, they’ll be in a better position than most teams.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.