Richard Justice

Stacked with youth, optimism abounds for Yanks

Stacked with youth, optimism abounds for Yanks

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- This is exactly what the New York Yankees had hoped to see from all these young players. That's the story of their Spring Training. Optimism abounds.

"This is the biggest collection of young talent I've seen in this camp in 10 or 11 years," Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner said.

Some of it will be in the starting lineup on Opening Day, including three 24-year-olds: catcher Gary Sanchez, first baseman Greg Bird and right fielder Aaron Judge.

But the other story of this spring is that the Yanks have gotten a glimpse of their next wave of talent, and these players have also passed every test.

"It's been a great camp so far," general manager Brian Cashman said. "They're continuing to re-enforce that we have some real exciting things coming. It's all exciting."

Judge's solo home run

Cashman had just watched one of his top prospects, outfielder Clint Frazier, homer in an 11-5 victory over the Blue Jays on Thursday. Another, right-hander James Kaprielian, touched 96 mph with his fastball during a two-inning, three-strikeout stint.

Both of them will open the season in the Minors, but both are on the cusp of being ready to contribute.

"It's a testament to the way the organization has been doing things," Gardner said. "They all have a chance to be great players."

The Yankees haven't done a teardown. For one thing, they intend to remain competitive. What happened last season was an acknowledgement that the Yanks weren't going to win their next championship without change.

So Cashman made the toughest decision someone in his position, someone accustomed to winning, could make. He traded his two most coveted players -- relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. Cashman got young talent in both deals and then re-signed Chapman in the offseason.

In the past seven months, the Yankees have said their goodbyes to Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira.

"Four guys who've accomplished a lot in their careers," Gardner said. "That gives this spring a different feel."

And a future as bright as any in baseball. The Yanks have seven of's Top 100 Prospects, tied with the Braves for the most in baseball. Among them is 20-year-old infielder Gleyber Torres, acquired from the Cubs for Chapman and rated No. 3 overall.

There's young pitching, too. Right-handers Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa and Luis Severino are all 25 or younger, and they are competing for the final two spots in the starting rotation.

Severino fans Pillar

Spring numbers mean nothing. On the other hand, there's no other measuring stick. At 15-5, the Yankees have the best record in the Majors. They lead the Majors with 33 home runs and have the American League's best ERA at 3.65.

OK, take a deep breath. As Cashman said, "The reward will come when the games count."

But the young guys offer a different kind of hope for New York. Even if they struggle at times, there's the potential for vast improvement, and the Yanks haven't had that in a while.

"They're really good," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "They're going to be kids we can count on."

Girardi points to an instance on Wednesday, when outfielder Dustin Fowler, a 22-year-old who hasn't played above Double-A, fought off a tough curveball for a sacrifice fly that got a run home from third.

"[The pitcher] got a breaking ball up, and [Dustin] doesn't miss it," Girardi said. "Those are little things that show you they're becoming more consistent, better players."

Fowler's sac fly to center

This group of players may not have the ride the Derek Jeter/Bernie Williams generation had, but the Yanks are excited about the possibilities.

In that way, having veterans -- for instance, newly signed designated hitter Matt Holliday -- is vital to setting a tone and leading by example.

"I'm so appreciative of them as people and players," Bird said. "They go about everything the right way. They're people I look up to."

Bird's solo homer to right

Sanchez gave Yankees fans a taste of what could be ahead by homering 20 times in 53 games last season. Judge got his feet wet, too, playing 27 games, and Bird played 46 games in 2015 before undergoing shoulder surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2016 season.

"It's very exciting to see all the young players," Sanchez said. "What I see is the combination of veterans and young players working very good for us right now."

Richard Justice is a columnist for You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.