Grading the 2023 Yankees position groups as they currently stand

yankees, gleyber torres, aaron judge

This Yankees team may not look a whole lot different than last year’s, based on the acquisitions that the team has made, but I assure you that is not the case. With a vastly different lineup, as well as new position battles to keep an eye on, the 2023 Yanks should be even better than they were in 2022. I know everyone is going to immediately single out the postseason performance and how they fell off a cliff when it mattered most, but fortunately, there are 162 games to get through before we have to worry about that. Below I will grade out each of the positions, as well as who I think sees time at the MLB in said positions.

Grading the Yankees’ position groups:

Catcher: B+

  • Jose Trevino
  • Kyle Higashioka
  • Austin Wells
  • Ben Rortvedt

Last year, Trevino was truly the best acquisition Cashman made all year, and it happened before the season even started. When Trevi was acquired for Albert Abreu — who was traded because he had no minor league options left, many believed that it was nothing more than a depth move. In fact, in the first month or so of the year, Higgy was the starting catcher. Needless to say, Trevino took the reins and didn’t look back. His platinum glove-level defense makes him easily the best defender in the league at the position.

Trevi led the league in the following categories: Catcher Framing Runs (16), Strike Rate % (53.9%), Catcher DRS (21), Fangraphs FRM (19.0 — second closest was Rutschman at 9.1), and Strikezone Runs Saved “rSZ” (12). To put it plainly, he was levels above the rest of the pack.

As for the backup options, I think Higgy still has a grasp on the job as of right now, though both Wells and Rortvedt should see playtime this upcoming season. Higgy struggled immensely to start the year, but in the second half, he posted a .801 OPS to pair with a 127 wRC+. With Trevino not being very good offensively, it’s imperative that the squad can get some sort of production out of the other options that’ll supplement him on off-days, or platoon situations.

The only reason this grade isn’t higher is simply because the position will likely generate below-average offense. With that being said, the Catcher position has changed drastically over the years, where defense is all the rave. I could see Trevi posting a better wRC+ than he did last year (91), but that could be wishful thinking. As a group, the Yanks’ catchers accumulated 5.4 fWAR last season, which was good for 4th in baseball. I feel a B+ grade is fair.

First Base: A-

  • Anthony Rizzo
  • DJ LeMahieu
  • Oswaldo Cabrera

The first base position is one of the more intriguing positions to grade for this team, as, of course, Anthony Rizzo is still one of the best in baseball. His defense took a slight step backward last season, but that can also be attributed to having to constantly clean up IKF’s messes. With a changing of the guard at shortstop, as I’ll address later on, it could lead to Rizzo being even better with his scoops and plays over at first. On the offensive side of things, Rizzo had one of the strangest years in his career, as he basically sold out entirely for power.

He dominated the short porch, and with no shift this season (shifted against 89.5% of the time), he should see a massive improvement in both his batting average (.224) and his OBP (.338). Additionally, with no shift, he should be able to rack up more base hits, which will allow him to press less at the plate, meaning his strikeout numbers should come back down as well.

DJ will certainly see some time at first base this year, and Oswaldo Cabrera could also see a few games over there. The team made sure to teach him how to play the position and funny enough, he’s currently listed as a “1B” on the Yankees’ 40-man roster. DJ is one of the true stars of this team, even as he gets older, and should he stay healthy, it’ll be great to supplement Rizzo on some off days, keeping him fresh for the important part of the season. I’ll talk more about DJ when we get to 3B, as well as how he’ll be used at 2B, he truly is this team’s Super UTIL.

Rizzo may not be the same superstar first baseman he was during his prime with the Cubs, but assuming his triple slash comes back to earth, a 130 wRC+ and 3.0 fWAR seem to be well within the cards. Only worry I do have is that his back may act up again, but other than that, I can see him being very solid over the course of the 162-game season. Therefore, a A- seems reasonable for this group.

Second Base: B+

  • Gleyber Torres
  • DJ LeMahieu
  • Anthony Volpe
  • Oswaldo Cabrera

The Yankees fanbase has clearly done a complete 180 on how they feel about Gleyber Torres, whether it be deserved or not. I still believe in Gleybae, and feel that his 2022 was just what he needed to build on it going forward. He was a shell of himself during the 2021 season, and that can be attributed both to manning SS almost entirely, as well as him trying to play “more like DJ” in his approach at the plate. Gleyber’s aggressive approach when up to bat, where he jumps on pitches early and doesn’t let the pitcher establish a rhythm, is what makes him so dangerous. Not to mention, his defense at 2B was substantially better than any year at short.

He accumulated 9 DRS, with a dead-even 0 OAA, but he was also able to make fantastic plays every time the ball came toward him. Offensively, if he can even replicate his 2022 year (.761 OPS, 115 wRC+, 24 HR), he should once more be amongst the Top 5 for his position in baseball. Oh, and take away his August, where he OPS’d .484, and he was a .830 OPS 2B with a 125 wRC+, which would have likely seen him finish the year around a 3.5 fWAR.

DJ will see a fair amount of time at 2B, even if he’s become a fantastic 3B. With the front office still believing in Donaldson, I can see DJ being fit in the lineup more at 2B over the course of the season. DJ is still who I have as the OD 3B, especially after it was revealed that he is healthy and ready to rock for Spring Training. However, as for Volpe, he is truly the biggest wildcard. I’m not sure if the organization is looking for him to play SS or 2B, or maybe even some 3B, but regardless, he’ll surely get the call at some point this year. Oswaldo will also supplement and fill in, as his multi-positional ability to play superb defense anywhere truly makes him quite valuable.

A B+ may seem a bit low, but if Gleyber is able to play like he did in September for the whole season more or less, it’ll easily soar up to an A.

Third Base: B

  • DJ LeMahieu
  • Josh Donaldson
  • IKF
  • Oswaldo Cabrera
  • Anthony Volpe

As mentioned, DJ LeMahieu is who the Yankees should roll with come Opening Day. I know Donaldson is making $21M this season, but that shouldn’t be the reason he gets the bulk of the playtime. JD fell off a proverbial cliff last year at the plate, as he posted a sub-100 wRC+ for the first time since 2012, and his OPS didn’t even crack .700 (.682). However, he was fantastic on the defensive end, with 7 DRS and 7 OAA at the hot corner. I do believe he’ll bounce back a tad next year, as someone with his pedigree and desire to work with his swing leads me to believe that he can post a .730 or so OPS and a wRC+ more around the 105-110 benchmark.

DJ is the starter, and up until his toe injury last year, he was on pace for his best season in pinstripes. He is fantastic at putting the bat to the baseball and was one of the few guys that teams simply couldn’t shift against because of his spray chart and ability to hit the ball to all parts of the field. He also posted 7 DRS at 3B (in 530 fewer innings) to pair with 4 OAA. He’s not as good of a defender at 2B but will likely see time there as well. If I were a betting man, I’d say DJ and JD split time at 3B, with IKF seeing more time at his natural spot.

IKF is the biggest “what do we do with you” on this squad right now. He was not very good at SS last year, specifically defensively on baseballs hit right at him (-11 OAA), but as a whole, he is certainly a decent depth piece. The Yanks could still be looking to move him, as realistically speaking, he should not be starting for this team, and he also still has some value. Everyone remembers that he won a GG at 3B, so the organization will likely give him some more reps there, opposed to running him out at SS every day. Once more, Oswaldo and Volpe will likely factor in as the year goes on.

A B may seem a bit generous or perhaps even harsh to some, which is why I think it’s the best grade for the group.

Shortstop: B-

  • Oswald Peraza
  • IKF
  • Anthony Volpe

As of this very moment, shortstop is Oswald Peraza’s job to lose. He is truly the best of the options currently, as Volpe will likely need more than his cup of coffee at AAA to start the 2023 season. As previously mentioned, IKF should certainly not be handed the keys to the position, and Peraza made his limited showing in the MLB last year count as best as he could. In just 18 games on the squad, he posted a 146 wRC+, hit his first HR vs Texas, and paired that with a .832 OPS — plus, he walked 10.5% of the time whilst only striking out 15.8%.

I don’t believe he will be a .830 OPS-level guy, but I would love to be proven wrong. Additionally, clearly, the organization likes his defense and feels as though he made the jump smoothly, as they elected to run him out there on numerous occasions in the ALCS. IKF could be a very formidable backup, and his ability to run the bases quite well, paired with some decent defense overall, makes me believe that he will see some time at shortstop as well.

The wildcard of all wildcards is Anthony Volpe and what the team decides to do with him. We’ve seen countless organizations fully commit to their elite shortstop prospects; Houston with Peña, Atlanta with Grissom, and even the Rays a bit back with Wander Franco. Perhaps the Yankees will join the bunch and hand the job over to Volpe sooner than later, but I also believe the organization likes him at 2B or 3B more for his career.

This position is one of the few toss-ups at this moment, even if it should be Peraza’s job to start. Hence a B-.

Left Field: C+

  • Oswaldo Cabrera
  • Aaron Hicks
  • Rafael Ortega
  • Willie Calhoun
  • Everson Pereira
  • Elijah Dunham

Now, LF is the biggest question mark of this Yankees team heading into this season. Though many fans believe that Oswaldo Cabrera can handle it full-time, I still have some reservations. His biggest strength is his “Swiss Army Knife” value, where he can be used at numerous positions and play them all at a high level. He only saw 70.0 innings in LF and didn’t accumulate any DRS or OAA, but what makes him so talented is his baseball IQ. He mans every position quite well, and while he may not be a true left fielder, he could easily do the job. In just 44 games, he posted a 1.5 fWAR to go with a 111 wRC+, and that’s with him starting off 3-23 to kick off his MLB career. Once he settled in, he never looked back.

Hicks is still on this roster and could see a bit more luck fall his way with the shift being eliminated, as he was shifted against more than any player on the team (92.2%). While Hicks is certainly not anyone’s favorite player, he is still an average defender with elite plate discipline. The downside is that he can’t hit for any power due to his wrist injury, and there remains questions about his motivation and drive to play at a high level. As of right now, Hicks could still platoon with Ozzie C, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if he’s moved before the season starts.

The rest of the group, Ortega, Calhoun, Pereira, and Dunham, are guys that will likely be fighting for a spot on the OD roster — though the latter two will probably start in AAA to begin the season. Ortega was brought in because he really is a quality player, as the lefty posted a 122 wRC+ in 103 games back in 2021. Willie Calhoun was once a top prospect and clubbed 21 HR in just 83 games, though that is likely due to the juiced balls. He is not good defensively but could see time if he gets rolling and is on a hot streak. For all I know, it could be the year of resurgence for him.

Certainly, the Yanks’ weakest position, a C+ seems all too fair for the group of options.

Center Field: A

  • Harrison Bader
  • Aaron Judge
  • God forbid, Aaron Hicks

Harrison Bader is one of the premier defenders in all of baseball and has been ever since he was called up. His ability to cover ground, get excellent reads, and jumps on balls that seem nearly impossible to get to, as well as a great arm to boot, truly rounds him off as one of the best for his position. Many are perhaps unrealistically high on his offensive play, thanks to his postseason Bonds run of form, but if he can even be a 105 wRC+ bat, he will easily accumulate 4+ fWAR over the course of, say, 130 games. His health still remains a question, but with his exceptional defense, it will easily translate over the course of the season.

Judge can play CF, though not as well as RF where his true talent shines through. He did so last season thanks to the incompetence of Hicks, as well as simply out of a dire need that the team needed to address. With a full season of Bader, in theory, Judge shouldn’t see tons of time in CF, but when he does, he will be just fine enough for the team to get by. Hicks shouldn’t see any playtime in center field, as he is no longer cut out for it. His -4 DRS and -1 OAA make me believe that his days manning the vast unknown are long behind him.

Bader will be a stud, and the Yankees may even be looking to extend him for the foreseeable future, which could be a reason as to why they let Benintendi sign with the White Sox (even if it was an overpay).

CF is one of the most critical positions in baseball, and the Yanks have it very well covered. An A may be a bit on the higher side of positivity, but Bader does bring exceptional value the Yanks haven’t had in a long time out there.

Right Field: A+

  • Aaron Judge
  • Giancarlo Stanton
  • Oswaldo Cabrera
  • Everson Pereira
  • Elijah Dunham

Well, this is probably the easiest one to explain, as one can simply look at Aaron Judge’s 2022 year and see why this is an A+. He is the best right fielder in baseball and should be for the next few seasons. His dominant play en route to the AL-record 62 bombs he mashed paved the way for him to sign the 9-year $360 million contract that he inked in December. Though Judge should see some regression (he literally posted the best season since Barry Bonds), it isn’t going to be drastic enough that it drops this position down. Even if he hits 45 or so HR, as well as seeing his wRC+ drop back down to earth from the absurd 207 it was last year to even 160 or so, that’s still likely the best for his position in the league.

Judge was the MVP, and is looking to go back-to-back, so that could be used as some extra motivation for the first Yankee captain since Derek Jeter ultimately hung it up. Giancarlo Stanton will see some time in RF, and Boone himself said he could see Big G getting reps out there on days when Judge is DHing. Stanton is still a good enough defender to where he’ll be fine out there in the limited time he sees.

Cabrera should be the go-to backup for Judge, as his 9 DRS and 1 OAA lead me to believe that of the two corner spots, he’s better suited in RF. We saw him make a few stellar plays out there, and he will certainly see a handful of games in that spot. Once more, that is where his value will be primarily accrued, as he is so versatile that it makes it, so the team won’t have any issue fitting him in the lineup. Pereira and Dunham could see some time there as well, as that was Dunham’s natural position during his breakout year in AA Somerset.

Right field is covered, quite swimmingly, as Judge looks to repeat his dominance now that he has his bag secured… easy A+.

Designated Hitter: A

  • Giancarlo Stanton
  • Anthony Rizzo
  • Aaron Judge
  • Josh Donaldson
  • DJ LeMahieu

Giancarlo Stanton is coming off the worst season he’s had in nearly a decade. Whenever he does poorly, take 2016, he follows it up with a phenomenal campaign — a la his ’17 MVP season. The biggest worry is that he won’t be able to suit up for say, 40+ games, but that is something that he himself needs to work on. If Stanton is healthy, he could very easily hit 40-50 HR, and he most definitely won’t bat .211 this year. His BABIP and wOBA were both astronomically low, and this season he is ready to silence the naysayers. Even in a down year, he still mashed 31 HR and posted a 115 wRC+, and I feel confident in saying both those figures should see a rise in the ’23 season. Big G is one of the crucial parts of this lineup, and with him healthy and in the middle of a hot streak, there are few hitters that are more dangerous.

Rizzo will see more DH days this season, if I had to guess, as the organization likely wants to mitigate any possibility of that back acting up again. With DJ and Oswaldo being able to play 1B as well, it should help shoulder some of the responsibility throughout the season. DJ played a pretty solid 1B, with 2 OAA and 2 DRS last year in just 265.0 innings, and I believe that he’ll see roughly 30 or so games there. He should also get a handful of DH days, though Donaldson will surely see more.

Donaldson and Judge could both be in line for some DH duties throughout the year in an effort to keep both guys fresh and allow their bats to stay in the lineup whilst giving them a “rest day” as well. Donaldson isn’t the same player he was, but when he barrels up the baseball, he still hits it as hard as the best of ’em (he finished in the 79th percentile for Max Exit Velo and the 81st percentile for Average Exit Velo). If the Yankees want to play DJ at 3B more, which they should, as well as potentially giving IKF more reps, that’ll mean JD sees more time as a DH this upcoming season.

The DH position rides on Stanton’s shoulders. If he’s healthy, he’s still one of the premier bats in baseball, and could easily help lead the Yankees to a fantastic season. Solid A for this position.

The Yankees have one of the most put-together rosters in baseball, and the chase to beat Houston remains the penultimate goal before reaching the grand stage. Though the Astros may have the better lineup 1-9, the Yanks’ strength can come from their depth. If a few key guys put it together and are able to stay on the field, the ceiling is very high for the talent they have.

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