This off-season has been a whirlwind for the New York Yankees, but things are coming together as spring training quickly comes to an end. Opening day is one week away, and while the starting rotation has had its fair share of hiccups, the team’s offensive prowess has been phenomenal, paired with quality defensive displays.
One of the biggest concerns this off-season was the shortstop position, which general manager Brian Cashman solved in a massive trade with the Minnesota Twins.
The Yankees acquired Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Josh Donaldson, and Ben Rortvedt in exchange for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela. Essentially, the Bombers took on the final two years and $50 million from Donaldson’s contract, but they had their eyes set on Kiner-Falefa as their stopgap shortstop.
Falefa isn’t known for his power hitting, smacking just eight homers last year over 158 games. However, he is a quality contact hitter that displays patience and maturity at the plate.
Last season, he hit .271 with just a 13.3% strikeout rate and a 4.1% walk rate. The Yankees have a slugging approach and have slowly been factoring in their fundamentals, giving Falefa a bit more power behind his swing.
This spring training, Falefa is dominating, posting a. 421 average, .924 OPS, eight hits, and just one strikeout over 19 at-bats.
When looking at the former Texas Ranger objectively, he’s not going to be a massive slugger in the middle of the order for the Bombers, but he fits a specific role perfectly.
The main benefit he brings — he can get on base frequently.
The Yankees have a plethora of heavy hitters scattered throughout the batting order, so Falefa getting on base will only drive in more runs. In addition, he’s a solid defensive player as well, featuring a .972 fielding percentage last year at shortstop over 1,360 innings.
The returns from Isiah have already been fruitful, but it is only spring training, and he needs to be consistent during the regular season. Nonetheless, this might end up being a magisterial move from Cashman, especially since Kiner-Falefa could transition to third base in the future once Donaldson’s contract expires and Anthony Volpe is ready for the big leagues.