During their 2019 season, the New York Yankees broke a new MLB record that many of their fans were not expecting: After third baseman Gio Urshela was diagnosed with a left groin injury last August, the Yankees became the first team ever to have 29 different players land on the IL in one season. As shocking as it sounds, the Yankees were still able to produce remarkably well and made a deep run into the postseason, coming up short against the Houston Astros in a 4-2 ALCS series defeat.
But ever since the World Series ended, Yankee fans knew they could build their excitement for next season, knowing that their star players would be back strong and healthy for a big year. However, this feeling was somewhat short lived, as yet again, a handful of Yankee stars have wound up back on the injury list with the start of the 2020 season nearing closer. Although their list of injuries is by no means as extensive as last season, the Yankees will be without Giancarlo Stanton for approximately a month due to a calf strain, without Aaron Judge for 1-3 months, depending if he needs surgery for a stress fracture on his first right rib, and without Aaron Hicks, who’s aiming to make his return around mid-July after having Tommy John surgery on his elbow last year (MLB). Not only are these three of the best offensive weapons the Yankees have, but they also consist of three of their best outfielders as well, leaving them with not much depth in the position.
However, if you watched the Yankees play last season, it’s hard not to forget the players that really stepped up and made an impact, generating results that many didn’t anticipate. Second-stringers like Mike Tauchman, Brett Gardner and Clint Frazier, are all coming off career-high performances last season, showing Yankee fans that they can be resilient, regular starters day in and day out (ESPN). Although the Yankees won’t have Judge, Stanton, and Hicks, their outfield looks a lot more promising than you may think. These backups have proven more than capable of providing the talent, athleticism, and offense that the Yankees will need in order to jumpstart their 2020 season with a dominant winning record.
After Stanton was sidelined last season with injuries along with Judge constantly on and off the field as well, the Yankees needed a safety net in right and decided that the man for the job was Mike Tauchman. Despite coming off two straight seasons with the Colorado Rockies where a) he didn’t get much playing time and b) didn’t muster much offensively with the playing time he received, the Yankees surprisingly took a liking for Tauchman and saw something in him (ESPN). And last season, he decided to show everyone exactly what that was and why the Yankees made the right investment. After putting up hardly any numbers in 21 games with only 32 at-bats in Colorado two years ago, Tauchman seized upon the opportunity when the Yankees threw him into their starting lineup last year, pelting 13 HRs with 47 RBIs on 260 at-bats and posting an impressive .277 average with a .361 OBP (ESPN). The leap he made was unreal; no one expected such a huge transformation from a player that not only lacked the statistical credentials but was also brand-new to New York. Moreover, Tauchman plays great defense as well, putting that on full display when he robbed a home run last August against the Orioles. At the young age of 29, it’s hard to imagine that 2019 was some sort of fluky coincidence. But with Judge and Stanton’s injury setbacks, Tauchman will get to show everyone once again how valuable of an asset he remains to be.
With Tauchman in right, that leaves Gardner commanding centerfield in the absence of Aaron Hicks. And at age 36, Gardner left Yankee fans speechless last season as he set a new career-high in HRs and RBIs (ESPN). Every Yankee fan knows just how much heart and hard work Gardner has beat into his craft since his rookie season in 2008, making him the tenacious defender and robust contact hitter he has proven to be throughout his career (ESPN). But to see him put on such an exhibition of power, was unheard of from Gardner, even in his prime. After hitting 21 HRs and 63 RBIs in 2017 and 12 HRs with 45 RBIs in 2018, Gardner posted a remarkable 28 HRs and 74 RBIs last season with 86 runs and a career-high slugging percentage of .503 (ESPN). Such a monstrous performance will be hard for a 36-year-old Brett Gardner to emulate once again this season. But if he was able to accomplish this last year when it was least expected, there’s no reason why Gardner can’t pull off a similar feat once again in 2020. After signing him to a one year deal worth $12.5 million, the Yankees have illustrated that they still have faith in Brett Gardner. And following last season, it’s safe to say that he still has plenty left in his tank for another strong year with the Yankees.
With Gardner shifting to centerfield, that leaves Clint Frazier in left. And coming off a breakout season where the youngster revealed to everyone why he deserves to be a major leaguer, Frazier will look to build off what he started and solidify his role on the Yankees. Similar to that of Tauchman, Frazier didn’t make much noise during his first two seasons and couldn’t demonstrate his talent with the little playing time he was given (ESPN). But as the Yankees began to get hit with injury after injury in 2019, Frazier found the chance to showcase his strengths and took full advantage of it. In 69 games with 225 at-bats, Frazier posted a career-high 60 hits, 12 HRs, 38 RBIs, along with a .267 average and a .489 slugging percentage on the year (ESPN). Although these numbers may not scream at you, Frazier really improved his hitting as his playing time increased, which bodes well for what the young 25-year-old can develop into as he receives more opportunities to start (ESPN). But above all else, what stood out the most about Frazier last season, was just how clutch he was with runners in scoring position, putting up 5 HRs, 28 RBIs and a .362 average in 47 at-bats (ESPN). 2019 was just the beginning and it’s up to him to make 2020 his year. Nonetheless, Clint Frazier has everything at his disposal to unleash another big season for the Yankees, it’s just a matter of when.
To top off all of these big injuries, the COVID-19 virus has sidelined the MLB season for at least two weeks, if not longer. What this means is no baseball until further notice (which has felt like an eternity already). But on the upside, this also means that Judge and Stanton could be back for the start of the regular season if everything goes smoothly with their rehab assignments. However, due to many athletes resorting to self-quarantining measures, rehab will have to be based on lots of rest and individual exercises these guys can do from where they are currently residing, which may not expedite their return. Nevertheless, what’s reassuring during this time of limbo, is that even if Judge, Stanton, and Hicks won’t be back in time for the start of the regular season, the Yankees have a trio of outfielders that can hold down the fort in their absence. Mike Tauchman, Brett Gardner, and Clint Frazier showed everyone that 2019 was not a hoax. And 2020 will present them with yet another opportunity to validate just why it wasn’t.