For the past eight days, Yankees 101 has done a countdown with the eight most interesting Yankees entering 2013, and with one day to go until spring training commences with pitchers and catchers, we take a look at the number one most interesting Yankee entering 2013.
The criteria for this countdown has emphasized the player's importance to the position they are in and how it factors in defensively and offensively. For example, Kevin Youkilis made this list because right away, he'll be stepping into the every-day third base role with the long-term absence of incumbent Alex Rodriguez expected. Moreover, he will be expected to produce runs and rebound from a disappointing 2012. Additionally, outfielder Brett Gardner also made this list as he is coming back from an elbow injury that sidelined him the majority of 2012, and with the departures of veterans Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones, there is no real depth behind Gardner. Furthermore, his role in the lineup will be to get on base often, setting himself up for run producers such as second baseman Robinson Cano and first baseman Mark Teixeira, as well as the aforementioned Youkilis. In addition to his offensive expectations, the team overall is better defensively with the speedy Gardner manning the outfield.
A disclaimer before we continue, Rodriguez is NOT our number one. While he might be the most discussed Yankee these days (for the wrong reasons), his production has dropped significantly since his post-season heroics in 2009, and in current time, Youkilis is a more than adequate fill-in. Furthermore, with Youkilis' ability to work counts and draw walks, he might even be an upgrade with his propensity to get on-base.
Yesterday, closer Mariano Rivera continued our continued our countdown, coming in at number two. While the best closer in the history of Major League Baseball returns from a torn ACL suffered last May, the departure of last year's fill-in for Rivera, Rafael Soriano, makes the task all the more interesting. While Rivera's ability cannot be discounted, it will be interesting to see how he bounces back in his return to the customary ninth-inning role.
Similar to Rivera, another legendary Yankee returns from the most significant setback of his career. An already inept offense became all the more silent during last year's American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers when Yankees captain Derek Jeter fractured his left ankle. As the 38-year-old shortstop continues to progress towards his goal of being at shortstop on Monday, April 1, when the Boston Red Sox visit for opening day, the speculation for how strongly he will return makes him the most interesting Yankee entering 2013.
Among the likes of the aforementioned Cano and leading home-run hitter Curtis Granderson, it was Jeter who maintained the best batting average in the 2012 Yankees lineup, finishing with a .316 mark. While Jeter mostly maintained the lead-off position in the lineup, the Yankees offense finished second overall in all of MLB with 804 total runs scored, as well as finishing second with a total .337 on-base percentage.
Needless to say, Jeter, at the top of the lineup, was the catalyst of an impressive output offensively during the regular season. Additionally, prior to the aforementioned ankle injury during the ALCS, Jeter led all Yankees batters with a .333 post-season batting average.
What makes Jeter an interesting Yankee entering 2013? As he continues to rehab, the latest improvement being his first running activity since ankle surgery, can Jeter continue to keep the engine that is the Yankees offense running?
Simply put, Jeter has never ceased to amaze us before. Moreover, the 2013 Yankees lineup, even with the departures of outfielder Nick Swisher and catcher Russell Martin, consists of professional batters, all expected to contribute equally offensively. Therefore, Jeter will not shoulder all of the burden.
In summary, if Jeter can maintain the excellence he has maintained consistently at the top of this Yankees lineup, the offense should be able to hit the ground running. However, and similar to Rivera, there's always that curiosity on how an older player will bounce back from significant injury. Luckily, time is of the essence, and Jeter will get to see plenty of live action before being inserted back into make-or-break scenarios.
With one day to go until pitchers and catchers kick things off in Tampa, eight players with eight interesting story lines will begin their respective journeys towards what is hopefully a collaboratively successful 2013 season.
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