Meet the homegrown 2018 Yankees: The LineupWeek-long fantasy series begins with a look at the everyday regulars
As a piggyback to last week’s “What If?” scenarios, we will, over the next week, examine the results of a hypothetical scenario just like that, a world where the 2018 Yankees are devoid of any expensive, long-term contracts.
The 2013-14 MLB offseason is still in its first half, but already, the additions of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and several others has ensured that the pinstriped pantry will be well stocked into the next decade.
But what if, after seeing Robinson Cano’s demands and what he eventually got, the Yankees got spiteful…and decided that within five years – or, as astute readers may have already noticed, the end of all long-term deals on the books at the end of the 2013 regular season – they would go from the game’s highest payroll to the lowest and try to win with an all-homegrown lineup, one that contains 25 players who haven’t yet hit their first Major League free agency.
Could a “wipe the slate clean for ‘18” mantra bring a World Series for a team made up only of only young talent? Marlins and Astros fans can point to 2013 and say probably not, and keeping in mind that even “young” core players like Ivan Nova, Eduardo Nunez and even Michael Pineda will be hitting free agency by the winter of 2017, there’s a whole lot of uncertainty to follow.
But let’s have some fun with it, shall we? We start today with what would be a potential starting lineup for a homegrown 2018 Bombers, one featuring only eight players so that we can save the DH spot for Tuesday’s bench breakdown:
C Gary Sanchez: Arguably the top prospect in the organization, Sanchez today seems “blocked” by the five-year deal just signed with Brian McCann. But in our scenario, where McCann is somewhere else, the barely-21-year-old who just made the 40-man roster after posting a combined .253-15-71 line between Tampa and Trenton has three years to play with, meaning he could spend most of the 2014-16 seasons at either Trenton or Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and come up late that last season before taking over full-time in 2017.
1B Greg Bird: The converted catcher had one of the best seasons of any Yankees Minor Leaguer in recent memory last year, hitting .288 with 20 homers and 84 RBI in 130 games at Class-A Charleston. He wouldn’t have to be placed on the 40-man roster until after 2015, so Bird has plenty of time to develop in the Minors.
2B Rob Refsnyder: The former College World Series hero spent most of 2013 at Tampa, hitting .283 with 51 RBI and 16 steals in 117 games. He was a little rough defensively (20 errors) as he continued his conversion from the outfield, but with a proven approach at the plate and two more years before a 40-man spot is needed, he also has plenty of time to come into his own.
SS Cito Culver: The 2014 season will be a big one for Culver, who grew up idolizing Derek Jeter but hasn’t had the same rise. Culver is Rule 5 eligible next winter despite only reaching high Class-A this year, but after abandoning switch-hitting this year, the now righty-exclusive hitter found some power at Charleston (career high eight homers) and then hit .355 in 16 games in a late-season call-up to Tampa. Hope is that he can do it again and shed the “all-glove, no-hit” label, and with Jeter close to the end, a good season with Tampa and/or Trenton could earn him a sure 40-man spot next November.
3B Eric Jagielo: Last year’s top pick could be on the fast track to the Bronx, even more so pending the result of Alex Rodriguez’s appeal. The sweet-swinging lefty hit .266 with six homers in 51 games with Staten Island after being drafted and will likely open 2014 in Charleston (if not Tampa), but while he has plenty of time under team control to develop in the Minors, he could end up in pinstripes (or at least on the 40-man roster) before he hits Rule 5 eligibility after the 2016 season anyway.
LF Slade Heathcott: Can a speed and defense guy really be an everyday corner outfielder for the Yankees? Brett Gardner did it in 2012 and looks poised to do it again in 2014, and Heathcott could be Gardner v2.0 in a few years. Although he has had an injury-plagues past, he did earn a spot on the 40-man roster this winter after posting a solid line in Trenton (.261-8-49-15 steals in 103 games), and with another strong year in Double-A, he could be in the Bronx at some point in 2015 as it is, so he would have been a solid starter on our all-control 2018 team.
CF Mason Williams: If Sanchez isn’t the top prospect in the system, it’s Williams, but like fellow 2010 draftee Culver, 2014 could be a make-or-break season for him; Williams earns Rule 5 eligibility next winter, and as he only just reached Double-A in 2013, he would surely be scooped up in the Minor League portion if he’s not at least on the provisional Triple-A roster next winter. After a 2012 that ended prematurely due to injury and a 2013 that saw him hit just .245 between Tampa and Trenton, this may be the last chance he has to prove he deserves his lofty status, but as he wouldn’t even need to debut until 2018 to stay under team control, he’ll surely have every opportunity to get there.
RF Tyler Austin: Rounding out the 2018 Yankees outfield is the guy who rounded out the 2013 Trenton outfield, Tyler Austin. He played just 83 games due to injury and was pulled from the Arizona Fall League with lingering wrist discomfort, but if Austin can bounce back to something close to his breakout 2012 form (.322-17-80-23 steals over four levels), he’ll certainly earn a spot on a 40-man roster that could lose a half-dozen outfielders next winter and have a chance to earn his way to Yankee Stadium either before or right after Carlos Beltran’s deal expires after 2016.