Yan­kees will look to young power in 2017

Gary Sanchez is slated to bat sec­ond in the Yan­kees’ or­der.

Metro USA (New York) - - Sports - ROBERT CRISCOLA @MetroNewYork sports@metro.us

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 ex­actly stacked 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 while Luis Sev­erino was named the fourth starter on Thurs­day.

Man­ager Joe Gi­rardi re­vealed on Wed­nes­day that the Yan­kees will carry four starters and eight re­liev­ers un­til Apr. 16.

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.”

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, which is why there will be times this year in which he will bat fifth, but he does boast 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 RBIs), 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 Thurs­day) 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 RBIs), he’ll be right at home in the mid­dle of the or­der.

In right field, Aaron Judge was awarded the start­ing job on Thurs­day over Aaron Hicks. As of Thurs­day, Judge had a Spring Train­ing av­er­age of .345 with three home runs. Most im­por­tantly, the 24-year-old’s strike­out num­bers are down from his alarm­ing 2016 whiff rate.

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.

GETTY IM­AGES

Gary Sanchez will look to feed off a 2016 sea­son in which he hit 20 home runs in 53 games.

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