The New York Yankees are one of the great mysteries of the upcoming 2017 MLB season. They have managed to tread water the last few years as their veteran core slowly fell away. Now the Yanks are buoyed by one of the best farm systems in baseball, though the consensus is that they are still a year or two away from serious contention. The 2017 club has a parade of question marks in the starting rotation behind ace Masahiro Tanaka, and the lineup is largely unproven.
But forget about all that for a moment. The prognosticators might not know what kind of record the Yankees will put up this season, but you can be damn well sure of one thing: they are going to hit the ever-loving shit out of some baseballs. I'm not talking about hits, runs scored, or even slugging percentage; I mean they are going to hit baseballs hard. That highly regarded farm system might not be ready to produce a playoff team, but they have already blessed the Bronx with some seriously large dudes who sock awe-inspiring dingers—the kind of moon shots that make the viewer put down his or her "Why Don't Lazy Millennial Idiots Watch Baseball?" thinkpieces and just appreciate the magnificent violence taking place between bat and ball.
Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird each have a great deal to prove this year; it will be the first time each player has started the season with the big club. But science has already determined, via the exit velocity statistic, that all three men have elite baseball-abusing ability. Now that they have finished demolishing the Grapefruit League, let's examine each young Bomber's prospects for hitting some baseballs hard in the regular season.
2016 average exit velocity: 95.5 MPH (2nd in MLB)
This kid leaves one hell of a first impression. First of all, he's pretty much the biggest position player on Earth, listed at 6'7" and 275 pounds. It's almost as if the great cosmic architect of baseball suddenly lifted his face from a pile of cocaine and proclaimed, "What if... Giancarlo Stanton... but bigger!" And just in case folks were skeptical that this man-monster could truly crush a baseball, Judge stepped to the plate in his first Major League at bat and did this:
He damn near put the ball through the window leading to that gauche, depressing Mohegan Sun restaurant in dead center! The rest of his 2016 season was a struggle, as it is for most rookies, but that first dinger put the league's pitchers on notice: Judge won't just hit your pitches; he will brutalize them. Judge knows what is best in life: to crush your pitches, see them driven before him, and to hear the lamentations of their women.
And just in case those pitchers had forgotten, Judge stepped to the plate in the first spring training game and did this:
Judge spent the majority of his spring training attempting to win the starting right fielder job (which he did) and cut down on his unconscionable strikeout rate (which he also did). The baseballs will pay the price.
2016 average exit velocity: 94.1 MPH (8th in MLB)
This may come as a surprise, but the kid who last season became the fastest player in Major League history to reach 20 home runs showed a tendency to hit the ball hard. Yankee Stadium is designed to punish right-handed power hitters, but Gary merely laughs at its spacious left-center field, just like he laughs at pitchers who try to intentionally walk him.
Despite his status as the Yankees' undeniable main attraction, #ElGary has been almost an afterthought this spring training, just casually mashing taters and throwing out baserunners with 100 MPH missiles like it's no big deal. He finished among the league leaders in home runs this spring despite the fact that the dinger he hit in an exhibition game against Canada's World Baseball Classic team doesn't count (Gary would never lower himself by counting dingers against Team Canada). Perhaps he felt the need to remind the baseball world what's up in Thursday's Grapefruit League finale, when he sat back on a breaking ball and walloped one so far the cameraman just kind of gave up on tracking it.
Yeah, he's ready for Opening Day.
2015 average exit velocity: 93.7 MPH (6th in MLB)
The first baseman came into spring training as a major question mark after missing all of 2016. He had undergone a procedure to fix a labrum tear in his right shoulder, the kind of injury that has been known to sap hitters' power.
But there was a flip side to that concern. Bird had electrified Yankees fans by hitting 11 home runs at the end of the 2015 season in place of the injured Mark Teixeira, and he did all that with a labrum that had been torn since the previous spring. What if the surgery turned out to be some Six Million Dollar Man shit, creating some kind of baseball-murdering cyborg with two healthy shoulders?
The Grapefruit League witnessed the unveiling of the new Mecha-Bird—bigger, stronger, maybe not faster, but you get the idea. Bird hit seven bombs this spring—emphasis on bombs—and led all qualified players in slugging.
Unlike his young compatriots, the left-handed Bird is tailor-made for Yankee Stadium. Not that it matters, really—when Bird hits baseballs, they stay hit.
Not content to rely on the three kids for all the baseball abuse, GM Brian Cashman also acquired veterans Matt Holliday (fifth in average exit velocity in 2016) and Chris Carter (the NL home-run leader in 2016). They also have top prospect Clint Frazier, who looks like a ginger Popeye, waiting in Triple-A.
Does this mean the Yankees will score runs by the bunches in 2017? Hell no. They'll probably strike out too much and not get on base enough. The shriveled husks of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Chase Headley still dot the lineup. But man oh man, viewers are going to witness some insane displays of raw power. It won't be boring, which is just about all you can ask of a rebuilding club.
Exit velocity stats courtesy of MLB.com (minimum 40 batted ball events)