While Yankees pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Tampa, Fl. in just a matter of days, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman will also be making a trip this spring — into uncharted territory.
The 49-year-old will superintend a roster that’s in the midst of a pseudo-rebuild. For a franchise like the Yankees, renowned for its achievements and opulence, the situation is unorthodox — some may call it sacrilegious. But Cashman is aware of what the future has in store, and it doesn’t necessarily require a competitive product in 2017.
“We’re assembling a crew of talent that some [Yankees fans] know, but some they don’t know,” Cashman told New York Post columnist Steve Serby in a Q&A session. “And some of the unknowns have pretty exciting upside. And hopefully some of that upside will start arriving in a consistent manner as early as ’17.
“We’re going in the right direction. Better days are ahead. I like the trajectory that we are on, and I think we’re going in the right direction. It doesn’t mean there’s gonna be tough times ahead regardless, but I like the direction that we’re taking and I thought the decision-making in the summer was vitally important for this franchise and I think we’ll be better for it all going forward.”
New York’s success will be contingent on the progress of its rising stars, which includes the likes of catcher Gary Sanchez, pitcher Luis Severino, outfielders Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier, and first basemen Greg Bird and Tyler Austin.
Here’s what Cashman said in regard to all six players:
“Gary was born to hit — that is his calling card. He had to work extremely hard to translate his tools to work as an above-average catcher on the defensive side. He made that commitment and now he has a chance to hopefully hold this position for quite some time. He is just an exciting young middle-of-the-order talent. If he stays healthy, I think an encore is just establishing himself not for two months but for six months as an above-average player on both sides of the ball at his position.”
“Our hope is that he re-establishes himself as one of the top young starters in the game. He had that label and value until last year’s performance, which I’m sure was a learning experience for him. So I’m looking forward to him re-establishing that pedigree.”
“I think if Judge can win the competition, he’s certainly capable of hitting 30 home runs. He’s got big-time power. He does strikeout. He’s gonna give you above-average defense, he’s got a good arm. And on the offensive side, you’re gonna trade the strikeouts for home runs. I think if you give him 500 plate appearances, he’s gonna hit a lot of homers. But again, can he limit the strikeouts in his maiden voyage? But first he’s gonna have to win out a competition between first and foremost Aaron Hicks, and a Tyler Austin, Rob Refsnyder’s gonna want to push himself into the mix. … And got young guys knocking on the door like Clint Frazier, so who knows? But the more realistic combination is gonna be Judge versus Hicks.”
“He’s a very confident lad. He’s just someone who’s gonna get his uniform dirty, there’s no doubt about that. He’s got power and he’s got speed and he’s got confidence. He’s conquered every level thus far on his pro career, but he’s yet to conquer Triple-A, got exposed to that the second half last year. He’s got to establish himself at Triple-A and dominate that league for a period of time before I think he’d get serious consideration at the big league level, but I know he’s a man on a mission and he’s looking to find a way to open everybody’s eyes. This will be his first big-league camp in his career. He never went to big-league camp with the Indians.”
“I just remind people two years ago he was our No. 1 prospect in a system that included Gary Sanchez, who was one of our top prospects at the time. Bird was the guy that sat on the highest spot on our listings, and he’s got a beautiful swing from the left side. Yankee fans got the chance to see a little bit of his capability when [Mark Teixeira] went down in 2015. I just want him to turn the clock back and get back to where he was prior to that [shoulder] surgery. We believe and know he’s healthy now, and so now it’s about knocking the rust off and how soon can that be done? If he can hit the ground running and turn the clock back, then I think we’ve got a very exciting, young talented first baseman that will be manning that position for years.”
“Obviously the Chris Carter acquisition is gonna compromise his initial efforts, so to speak, because he’s gonna be on the club, and the first-base playing situation, he’ll still be competing, but he’s hitting from the same side as Carter, so he’ll try to compete in right field with Judge and Hicks. He’s capable of a lot, there’s no doubt about that, it’s just he’s not as good a defender in the outfield, his best position is first base. So I’m not sure right now what to expect from Tyler. I know he’s gonna compete, and he’ll either find a way to make our 25-man roster or he’ll go to Triple-A and be waiting in the wings.”
It’s yet to be determined whether Cashman will be a part of the Yankees’ process following 2017, as his contract with the club expires next winter. But the common fear of failure has never phased him, nor will it this season, considering the positive strides he’s already witnessed.
“I think [rebuilding] is just what we need to do,” Cashman said. “I think you try to approach every year with a game plan. You gotta have an honest estimate of where you are and what you are, and then react to that. And this is just a natural reaction to the reality of where we currently sit. And if you approach it that way, I guess if you’re out sailing and you see a storm on the horizon, you adjust. You adjust the sails and plan accordingly. That’s what we’re doing.
“We’ve had a lot of success, we had some failure. That old adage what’s up must come down, what’s down must come up. We’re looking for that rebound for our franchise to get back to where we were. But there’s a process that you need to take to get there, and we’re just trying to approach it based on the reality on what we are right now.”
So, is it a stretch to say “Trust the prosPects?”