It started as a conversation between Yankees players last season and escalated as the year progressed. The motivators, most interestingly, were the team’s first power hitters – Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton.
They felt that, yes, power should be part of the Bronx Bombers’ portfolio. But then the Astros knocked the Yankees out of another playoff series. The dividing line for the teams that defeated the Yankees every year was a more balanced position group and the ability to play better baseball (for lack of a better term) and not just rely on brute force to try to win, especially when that part of the game has been closed.
So the conversations led by Judge, Rizzo, and Stanton shifted between the players, then to the coaches, and finally to upper management. It spurred change. Being more diverse has become a point of attention for the 2023 team. Batting coach Dillon Lawson mentioned – among other things – that there is now an all-batters meeting every two weeks to discuss their successes and failures. They point out that the three-point homer is the identity of the Yankees, but it can’t be the only identity, the only path to the races – especially when the scoreboard (score, inning, men on the situation base) dictates a need for strong base running acumen or putting the ball in play.
“It’s something I pushed for a while just to try to be more athletic,” Judge said. “To get more guys in the lineup who are different hitters; and it’s not the same batter at all. I feel like over the years we’ve kind of had the same hitter over and over and over and pitchers can get into a pitching routine the exact same way. Of course, we want the power. But you also want to spread the ball more across the field and have the opposing team play you, especially in the playoffs – to force the opposing pitcher to plan a game for nine different player types.
Which brings us to 8-9-1 batting for the Yankees on Saturday in what became a 3-2 win over Toronto. It was the local trio of Oswaldo Cabrera, Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe, who are 24, 23 and 22 respectively. They’re the Yankees’ best chance to further bolster an already strong defense and provide a bigger buffet on offense.
The Yankees had just one hit in the first seven innings against Toronto starter Alek Manoah – an opposite field, a double by Cabrera in the fourth. He stole the third. Peraza walked and flew second. In the biggest at-bat of the inning, Volpe struck out. But what the Yankees love about Volpe, and that whole trio, transcends skill. They are energetic, enthusiastic and have demonstrated firmness of spirit.
Peraza didn’t shy away when Volpe won the shortstop position in spring training. He showed up immediately at minor league camp (although he didn’t have to), made more strong impressions and has been terrific on both sides of the ball since his promotion last Monday. He scored a single Saturday with two out in the eighth inning of a scoreless game. And Volpe wasn’t intimidated by his first big strikeout. He followed Peraza’s hit with his second major league home run — his first on the right-field porch court and his first curtain call.
It’s not that power won’t be part of the trio’s skills, but it’s a set. Volpe has been terrific on defense, 8-8 in steals and has now reached base in 10 straight games. He took the top spot and may not give it up for more than a decade.
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Cabrera shows signs of bursting offensively, but even though he struggled to hit, he continued to circle around the diamond and play well all over. It moved Gerrit Cole to say, “I’m in awe of a player who can move anywhere on the pitch and play defense the way he does.”
Peraza didn’t lose the shortstop job, Volpe won it. And now, with Josh Donaldson out for who knows how long, Peraza may well be making it impossible for him to drop out of the lineup.
“I think their development through our system has been great,” Cole said. “They are just real ball players in every sense of the word. They are connected to their teammates. They’re tied to the situational aspects of the game. They’re able to take advantage of all the luxuries we have as major league players at that age to try and hone their craft, but at the same time they don’t lose their senses. basic things that put you in a position to win a lot of ball games. I think they all have a terrific sense for it.
None of the three youngsters were involved in the bottom of the ninth, when the Yankees scored the game-winning run after the Blue Jays tied it in the top of the inning. But this race was fabricated in a way that will matter in these bi-weekly meetings. Rizzo started with a double from the opposite field, Gleyber Torres hit a single into the field and pinch runner Isiah Kiner-Falefa made a heady run to third with no one guarding the sack. Willie Calhoun walked to load the bases. And against a five-man infield, DJ LeMahieu fired a left grounder for the winning RBI – no home runs, but also no swing hits on 11 pitches against the excellent nearer Jordan Romano.
The Yankees played better baseball – and won.