The good news just keep coming for DJ LeMahieu, who hasn’t made a postseason appearance since 2020 despite the Yankees making trips in both 2021 and 2022. Health has been a massive issue for the three-time All-Star, and his recent toe injury presented questions about his availability for Opening Day.
After reports surfaced that LeMahieu had progressed well in the Tampa facilities doing baseball work, Aaron Boone made comments that would suggest DJ is ready to go for Opening Day.
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How Far is DJ LeMahieu In His Progression?
The Yankees are getting great news on his baseball activities, something that gives you hope that he’ll be at 100% for April. A big concern was how LeMahieu would handle movement drills and whether he’d experience the same pain he did at the end of the 2022 season. Manager Aaron Boone told the media that “He’s been at the player development complex pretty much every day doing everything from hitting and throwing, agility work, running.” – per NJ.com.
While it’s really difficult to simulate game speed, LeMahieu progressing well on this front is extremely positive for the long-term outlook of his season. Unlike in 2022, the Yankees have an extremely deep infield that can mitigate fatigue for DJ, with Cabrera/Peraza/Volpe all entering the fold at some point in 2023. It’s difficult to say for certain how LeMahieu will turn out by the time April rolls around, but Boone’s been extremely positive about LeMahieu’s situation. He remarked that “It’s still a tricky injury, but I feel like we’re in a good spot.” which provides the obvious that nothing is certain but does confirm the team likes where DJ is at.
With his health becoming clearer, DJ LeMahieu becomes an integral part of this team once again, but how does the infield shape up with LeMahieu?
How the Yankees Should Use DJ LeMahieu
The obvious hole for the Yankees in their infield is at 3B, where they have Josh Donaldson penciled in as the starter (for now). DJ LeMahieu provides a lot of things for them at 3B, most notably his defense being better than Donaldson’s on a per-rate basis. With the same amount of DRS in less than 50% of the playing time at third, LeMahieu is not going to cause any defensive dropoff there. He’s also the far better hitter, and projections agree heavily with this notion.
LeMahieu is one of the best contact bats in the game, and his remarkably low 24.4% Chase% allows him to work walks at an elite level. He’s projected for a .352 OBP and 119 wRC+ in 2023, which would make him a perfect leadoff option for the Bronx Bombers. They sorely missed their strong hit-tool bats in the ALCS against the Astros, and DJ is the perfect solution for a lot of those issues. Donaldson is a lot of what the Yankees don’t need; high whiff, mediocre power, and mediocre offense bats with no speed.
The Yankees finding their identity in the leadoff spot is important, and when DJLM is healthy, he’s their best bet. People forget he was a 116 wRC+ hitter last season, with a 135 wRC+ as late as August 18th. The injury dampened his season averages, but there’s a great hitter still in there somewhere. He’s a huge part of the equation for 2023 and could be the difference between a good lineup and a great one.