Left field/Center field/Right field:
To save some space, I’ve clumped the outfield together. Ellsbury and Gardner could form an incredible dynamic duo at the top of the lineup. Pause if you’ve heard that before. Unfortunately, we’ve been saying that for a couple years now and it has yet to fully develop as expected. Injuries have been part of the problem. Ellsbury missed 51 games last year due to a knee injury and never was able to get it going when he returned from the disabled list on July 8. Similarly, Gardner was also not the same player in the second half of the season as a lingering wrist injury sapped him of his power and limited the left fielder to a .595 OPS in his last 72 games and a .216 batting average from July to the end of the season. Even more concerning was Gardner and Ellsbury’s lack of second-half stolen bases. As the Yankees greatest threats on the basepaths, the duo’s combined total of 12 stolen bases from July to September simply won’t do. If the Yankees are going to be successful in outscoring their opponents, they are going to need Ellsbury and Gardner to stay healthy and set up the middle of the lineup with run-scoring opportunities.
At the age of 38, Beltran put up a productive season in 2015, belting 19 home runs and recording an .808 OPS. The right fielder also managed to play 133 games, a number Beltran will hope to approach again this year. At this stage of his career, Beltran is no longer the defender that he used to be when he patrolled center field for the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets. However, there is still considerable thump left in Beltran’s bat, and the Yankees hope he can give them one last productive season before his contract expires at 2016’s end.
Out of all the positions on the field, the Yankees have the most depth in their outfield. The trade that landed the Yankees Hicks from the Minnesota Twins might seem like a minor transaction, but it could arguably be one of their most crucial. After letting Chris Young leave for free agency in the offseason, the Yankees lacked a fourth outfielder that they could plug into any of the three outfield positions. Acquiring Hicks gave them exactly that in a player who is still just 26 years old. It’s easy to forget that Hicks was once a top prospect in the Twins system, but after two mediocre big-league seasons, Hicks finally came into his own in 2015, batting .256 with 11 home runs, a .721 OPS, and 13 stolen bases. Hicks will be counted on as the fourth outfielder, which is a big responsibility given the injury histories of Gardner, Ellsbury, and Beltran.
Should the Yankees need to dig deeper into their outfield depth, Ackley can fill in at the corner spots in a pinch. In the minors, the Yankees have several outfield options, including Gamel, Heathcott, and Judge. Gamel had a breakout season in Triple-A in 2015, in which the lefty batted .300 with 10 home runs and an .830 OPS. Heathcott had his cup of coffee in the majors last season, appearing in 17 games and hitting two home runs, although the 25-year-old has battled many injuries himself. Finally, the outfield prospect that everyone has been waiting for, Judge, represents the long-term option in right field, but the gigantic right-hander will have to make adjustments at the Triple-A level before he gets a shot at Beltran’s job.