New York Yankees: Five Players to Watch

by on January 15th, 2011
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The Yankees last appeared in the World Series in 2009. In the Bronx, that’s considered a drought. Here are five players the team will be counting on to lead them back to the Fall Classic:

1. Phil Hughes: The biggest question for the Yankees as spring training begins is who will emerge as the No. 5 starter. Will it be Hughes, who had a disappointing year in 2011 following his 18 wins in 2010? Or will it be Freddy Garcia, who was a reliable starter for New York last year, winning 12 games? You would have to think that the Yankees would like for Hughes to win the job, even though Garcia is guaranteed $4 million this season. Last year, Hughes was penciled into the rotation when spring training began, but he wasn’t in the best of shape and his fastball lost its zip. Early reports from Tampa suggest that Hughes is in much better shape this time around, which will certainly help his chances in what will be a very important spring, and year, for the 25-year-old pitcher who the Yankees have always had high hopes for.

2. Michael Pineda: One day he could be the ace, but this spring he’ll join CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Hiroki Kuroda in a deep starting rotation. The Yankees really liked Jesus Montero, so for them to trade him shows you how high they are on Pineda. Pineda was 9-10 last year with a 3.74 ERA on a bad Seattle team. He had 173 strikeouts in 171 innings, and batters hit just .211 against him. At 23, he comes to New York as a promising pitcher who hasn’t yet entered his prime. We’ve seen pitchers – both young and old – arrive in New York with a lot of expectations and end up struggling. The Yankees are hoping that Pineda, with his live fastball, can help anchor this staff for many years to come.

3. David Robertson: Robertson has become the most reliable arm in the Yankee bullpen, behind closer Mariano Rivera of course. Last year, after shelling out all that money to the free agent Rafael Soriano ($35 million for three years), Robertson proved to be the best setup man the Yankees had. Now there’s talk that he may be the one to eventually replace the great Rivera. In 2011, Robertson’s fourth big-league season, he appeared in 70 games, pitched 66.2 innings, struck out 100 batters, and finished with a 1.08 ERA. Setup men don’t usually get the headlines or the highest salaries, but Robertson is a perfect example of how important it is to have a go-to guy in the bullpen. Before, of course, you go to Rivera.

4. Derek Jeter: New York spent the first half of last season writing off the Captain, then the second half running from what they said. Jeter had a remarkable run last year, not only by getting his 3,000 hit in early July, but by hitting .327 in the second half and finishing with a .297 batting average. He’ll turn 38 on June 26, and not many shortstops stick around at the position this long, certainly not putting up the numbers Jeter has. But this guy is a winner, and last year he proved he still had something left. Jeter said last week that he’ll know when it’s time to walk away. That time has not yet arrived.

5. Alex Rodriguez: The days of Alex Rodriguez hitting 50 home runs in a season may be long gone, but the Yankees need more than the 16 he hit last year. After undergoing knee surgery in July, he may finally be healthy, or at least as healthy as his body, at 36, will ever be. There are a lot of questions with A-Rod. Can he still hit the long ball consistently enough and be a run producer in the middle of the lineup? Is he capable of playing third base? How much will he DH? There is a lot on the line here as well. Rodriguez still has six years left on a very lucrative deal. At one point there was talk about him breaking the home run record in Pinstripes. Now the Yankees have to hope he’s not breaking down.

Charles Costello covered the Yankees in 1997 and 1998 as a beat reporter for WFUV Radio in New York. Follow him on Twitter @CFCostello .

Sources Phil Hughes Stats Freddy Garcia Stats David Robertson Stats Alex Rodriguez Stats Michael Pineda Stats Derek Jeter Stats

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