The Yankees have redemption on their minds in 2023.
That’s because despite 99 wins and winning the AL East last year, the Yankees sure didn’t look like it towards the end. Playing .500 ball in July and going 10-18 in August. Barely defeating the Cleveland Guardians in the ALDS before being swept by the eventual champion Astros in the ALCS.
Injuries had a lot to do with the Yankees’ troubles, especially losing DJ LeMahieu to his nagging toe injury. The bullpen was tired and some just played poorly down the stretch.
All signs point to the Yankees running it back in 2023, and they’ll need all hands on deck. Don’t be surprised if this small group of players put in some extra effort from the get-go.
Clay Holmes. The All-Star closer probably has the least to prove out of anyone on this list, at least amongst the pitchers. Holmes had 20 saves and a 2.54 ERA in his first year as the Yankees’ fireman and also had a 1.02 WHIP.
Holmes’ greater issue was his 4.84 second half ERA compared to his 1.31 mark before the All-Star Break. Late season back and shoulder injuries were probably due to fatigue. He looks healthy and prepared in spring training and would love nothing more than to prove his All-Star season was no fluke. At this point, the closer’s job is his to lose.
Giancarlo Stanton. Like Holmes, Stanton doesn’t have a ton to prove. All he’s really guilty of is coming to New York after an historical MVP season and putting up good-but-not-great numbers since. Stanton has also been an injured list regular, but the Yankees knew that when they acquired him from the Marlins in 2017.
Thankfully, Stanton should climb out of his hole easily. There’s no way he’ll hit worse than last year’s career-low .211. He also hit 31 home runs in 110 games in 2022, so we know his power hasn’t deserted him. Nobody’s readier for a bounce-back year than him.
Clarke Schmidt. We’re still not sure whether Schmidt or his teammate Domingo German will be the Yankees’ No. 5 starter come Opening Day. Unfortunately for Schmidt, he’s struggled to an 8.10 ERA in three spring games (two starts). German, meanwhile, has been effective in three starts with improved control.
Schmidt has still made clear adjustments despite the fact that he’ll probably start the year in the minors. He carries himself differently on the mound and has a more commanding presence. At 27, he’s ready to prove he can be a major league starting pitcher on the Yankees or any other team.
Josh Donaldson. We’ve already covered what this season means for Donaldson. It doesn’t matter how great his defense was at third base. The former MVP’s best skill is his power bat and it hasn’t delivered in New York.
The difference now is unlike last year, Donaldson has several Yankees teammates challenging him for playing time. Batting an uninspired .200 in spring training with no home runs doesn’t inspire much confidence. Donaldson simply has no choice but to right himself before Opening Day and come out swinging a hot bat.
Deivi Garcia. Here’s a name we haven’t heard in a while and probably wrote off a while ago. It’s not a shock considering Garcia again struggled with control and pitch selection in the minors last year and pitched to an unsightly 6.89 ERA. The Deivi Garcia that’s arrived in spring training, by comparison, is more similar to when he made his MLB debut in 2020.
Garcia has strictly worked out of the bullpen this year and has a 2.45 ERA in three games. A report from MLB.com’s CJ Haddad points to a new pitch mix and a more aggressive attitude on the mound as the reasons for the youngster’s improvement. Garcia is also still just 23 and under team control for six years. He should absolutely get a chance to start the year in the Yankees bullpen. Especially with Tommy Kahnle and Lou Trivino injured.
Aaron Hicks. It’s now or never for Hicks in 2023 and he knows it. Thankfully for him, he showed up ready to compete in left field and is batting a round .250 in spring training. The issue is that he has nine strikeouts in 24 plate appearances through nine games and hasn’t drawn a single walk.
Fans can complain all they want but Hicks is getting yet another chance because the Yankees are just that invested in him. He’s owed nearly $30 million the next three years. Like his teammate Donaldson, Hicks’ future with the Yankees depends on playing well early. Hopefully, the new shift restrictions help him do a better job putting the ball in play instead of just trying to launch it into the stands.
DJ LeMahieu. No Yankee really needs a big season more than their former batting champion. LeMahieu signed a six-year deal after the 2020 season and batting .336 over his first two years in pinstripes. He’s since batted a more modest .265, mostly due to injuries.
LeMahieu says he’s now 100 percent and ready to go. He’s determined to play well in 2023 and put the last two years behind him. Batting .286 in spring training is a good start and his gap power should come back once he settles into playing regularly. Remember, LeMahieu hit .344 in July before suffering the injury.
Granted, nobody is expecting LeMahieu to return to full batting champ form. Coors Field is no longer his home ballpark and juiced baseballs aren’t a factor anymore. Regardless, he’s a strong bat-to-ball hitter who’s ready to come back full force. Not only do the Yankees need a good season from LeMahieu, but he probably does too just for himself after not even making the playoff roster last year.
Follow ESNY on Twitter @elitesportsny