MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Cashman pushes Yankees forward with youth movement

Cashman pushes Yankees forward with youth movement

The Yankees are prepared to open the 2015 season with a 24-year-old shortstop and a 23-year-old second baseman. Three of their projected five starting pitchers could be 26 or younger. Out in the bullpen, Shawn Kelley might be the only reliever who has celebrated a 30th birthday.

Yes, friends, the Yankees are getting younger. Never saw that coming, did you? This shift toward more youth is one of the interesting storylines of general manager Brian Cashman's offseason.

He remains focused on keeping the Yankees competitive. At the same time, he has started something of a transition at a time when his farm system appears to be stronger than it has been in years.

The Yankees still won't qualify as a young team. They'll still be counting on some older players, but not nearly as many as in recent years when Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte were part of the core.

At the moment, just three of the Yankees' projected nine everyday players -- Mark Teixeira (34), Carlos Beltran (37) and Alex Rodriguez (39) -- are older than 31. Meanwhile, CC Sabathia (34) and Chris Capuano (36) could be the only starting pitchers older than 31.

This focus on getting younger was driven home last week when Cashman made a trade with the Marlins in which he sent infielder Martin Prado and right-hander David Phelps to South Florida for right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, first baseman Garrett Jones and Minor League pitcher Domingo German.

That trade did two significant things for the 2015 Yankees, at least for now. One is that it sent their projected 31-year-old starting second baseman (Prado) to Miami and opened the door for two kids to compete for the job.

Pirela's first career hit

Jose Pirela is 25 years old and Rob Refsnyder is 23. Pirela has 25 Major League plate appearances, Refsnyder zero. But the Yankees like both of them and think both have a chance to be long-term contributors.

Pirela has climbed steadily through the system since being signed in Venezuela when he was 17. He has a .785 OPS in 135 career Triple-A games.

That number doesn't indicate he's going to be a star -- or that he'll even make it -- but so many kids younger than him have made it the last three years that baseball people have changed the way they look at timetables.

They've gradually come to believe that if a player has the talent to play in the big leagues, he'll survive being challenged along the way.

Refsnyder, a fifth-round pick out of Arizona in 2012, has flown through the system, reaching Triple-A last summer. He has an .833 OPS in 313 Minor League games and an .845 OPS in 77 Triple-A games.

Prospect Watch: Robert Refsnyder

He's a converted outfielder who isn't yet polished at second base, but it was his bat that got him drafted, and it will be his bat that gets him to the big leagues. Whether that's at second or some other spot remains to be seen.

Even as Cashman pursued Chase Headley to return at third, he told reporters that shifting Prado from second to third and allowing Refsnyder and Pirela to compete for the second-base job remained an option.

Then last week after Cashman signed Headley, he also acquired Eovaldi, 24, and his 96-mph fastball from the Marlins. Eovaldi hasn't yet harnessed all that power, but Cashman saw a chance to get a special talent.

Cashman could still go sign a veteran to play second. Asdrubal Cabrera and Stephen Drew are possibilities. For now, though, the Yankees may go to camp and let the kids compete.

Having already acquired 24-year-old Didi Gregorius to play shortstop, the Yankees have players that may require patience as they attempt to figure things out at the big league level.

Manager Joe Girardi -- and his veteran players -- have done a tremendous job creating the right environment the last few years, so the Yankees feel confident that if the players are good enough, their talent will take over.

Eovaldi strikes out seven

There's some youth on the pitching staff, too. Masahiro Tanaka (26), Michael Pineda (25) and Eovaldi are all young guys, with Ivan Nova (27), Chase Whitley (25) and Bryan Mitchell (23) possibly figuring into the rotation mix at some point.

The bullpen isn't older, either, with Dellin Betances (26), Andrew Miller (29) and Justin Wilson (27) likely to get most of the late-inning workload. Left-hander Manny Banuelos (23) seems likely to make his long-awaited big league debut next summer.

These 2015 Yankees are going to be far different from some other years when they had a former All-Star at almost every position. Older players and younger ones both come with some risk for different reasons.

But every team must make the kind of transition the Yankees are making. The Giants did it last summer, with five rookies ending up on their postseason roster. The Yankees were always going to look different once Jeter walked out the door.

Now, Cashman appears to have positioned them to move forward with a transition of sorts while remaining capable of winning the American League East. Best of all, young players have a chance to get better and better.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.