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Yankees 2017 season preview: All eyes on Gary Sanchez, young Yanks

Gary Sanchez is slated to bat third in the Yankees' order
Yankees star Gary Sanchez is the future of his team, but behavioral issues could stall his progress. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Yankees enter 2017 in a quasi-rebuilding mode; they haven’t stripped their roster down ala the Chicago White Sox, but they're not exactlystacked like the defending champion Cubs either.

Masahiro Tanaka (14-4, 3.07 ERA in 2016) will get the ball in the Yankees’ Opening Day tilt with the Rays this Sunday, but beyond the ace, the starters look shaky.

The rapidly-aging CC Sabathia (9-12, 3.90) and the enigmatic Michael Pineda (6-12, 4.82) are projected to see plenty of starts, with Luis Severino, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green and Adam Warren all potentially splitting time behind them. The Bombers’ bullpen is likely to be worked hard again this year, but is still projected to be among the strongest units in baseball.

The Yankees demonstrated they’re still willing to shell out the big bucks when they brought back Aroldis Chapman (3-0, 2.07, 20 saves in 31 appearances for New York last season) on a five-year, $86 million deal. He’ll bolster the back of the bullpen with Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard. Warren will likely pitch some important innings in relief along with Chasen Shreve.

Gary Sanchez could be an MVP candidate in just his second year in the league if he can replicate his 53 games in pinstripes last year. From early August until the end of the season, the precocious catcher clubbed 20 home runs, drove in 42 RBIs, and sported a .299 batting average. But there’s always a chance that Sanchez experiences a “sophomore slump.”

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Setting the table for Sanchez will be Brett Gardner and/or Jacoby Ellsbury. Gardner has had a rough Spring Training but has been among the most reliable members on the team since 2013. Ellsbury may not be living up to his lofty salary but boasts a respectable .326 OBP in three seasons as a Yankee.

The Bombers’ middle infield tandem, Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro, was among the best in the AL last year. Gregorius had a breakout year at the plate (.276 average, 20 homers and 76 RBI), but will unfortunately start the year on the DL for about a month with a shoulder injury. Castro, fresh off a career-high 21-homer season, will look to produce more big numbers in the Bronx this year.

Greg Bird missed all of 2016 with a shoulder injury but put up a monster Spring Training (1.558 OPS through Tuesday) to essentially muscle Chris Carter out of the discussion as the everyday first baseman. If Bird can live up to his 2015 numbers (.261, 11 homers, 31 RBI), he’ll be right at home in the middle of the order.

Aaron Judge has been fighting to win the starting job in right field, and though nothing has been made official as of Wednesday, he appears to be winning the battle over Aaron Hicks. As of Tuesday, Judge has a Spring Training average of .327 with three home runs. Most importantly, the 24-year-old’s strikeout numbers are down from his alarming 2016 whiff rate.

Adding to the veteran presence in the clubhouse is Matt Holliday, whose 13-year career speaks for itself. Chase Headley, third baseman by default once more, rounds out the order.

The AL East could be one of the toughest divisions in baseball, but with good fortune, the Yankees could be playing some meaningful games in September.

Projected rotation

Masahiro Tanaka

CC Sabathia

Michael Pineda

Luis Severino

Bryan Mitchell

Projected lineup

Brett Gardner - LF

Jacoby Ellsbury - CF

Gary Sanchez - C

Matt Holliday - DH

Greg Bird - 1B

Starlin Castro - 2B

Ronald Torreyes - SS (to be replaced by Didi Gregorius)

Aaron Judge - RF

Chase Headley - 3B

 
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