Yankees are backing up youth movement talk with action
They are serving youth in The Bronx. That is not the title of a cookbook, but it is the Yankees’ recipe for success.
For on Sunday, when 34-year-old Brett Gardner was given the day off, the Yankees started an all-under-30 lineup for the first time in nearly three decades in a 5-1 victory over the Blue Jays that featured Gleyber Torres’ much-anticipated big-league debut, Miguel Andujar’s 4-for-4 performance and undisputed ace Luis Severino’s dominant seven-inning, three-hit start.
“We’ve worked really hard long before I got here at building the organization from the ground up,” Aaron Boone, no geezer himself at age 45, said after the victory in which the Yankees opened with all 20-somethings for the first time since a roster-expanded, Sept. 29, 1989, game against the Tigers.
“They’ve done a great job of it,” the neophyte manager said. “I feel like we’re in the position not only to be a really good team for the short-term but the long-term. It’s a tribute to all the people who built the organization from the ground up.”
Ownership and management hit the restart button two summers ago but the process of going green was already underway by then. Aaron Judge was in the system. Gary Sanchez was in the system. Severino was in the system. The injured Greg Bird was in the system. Though the Yankees still flaunt their wealth — Giancarlo Stanton is not taking home a bag of shells for his pay — this is not going to be the best team money can buy, but rather the best team scouting can construct.
“It’s what everyone has been talking about,” said 28-year-old relative graybeard Didi Gregorius, who clubbed a first-inning home run. “We’ve got a lot of prospects.”
Prospects who can and will play. When the 21-year-old Torres arrived after a career sum of 153 Triple-A plate appearances over parts of two seasons — what took so long? — he was hardly alone. Familiarity breeds some comfort.
“I know everybody here,” said Torres, the prized piece of the July 25, 2016, lend-lease deal in which Aroldis Chapman went to the Cubs. “It’s like a family.”
In this context, the dynamic was far different from the last time the Yankees promoted a highly regarded young second baseman in midseason. For when 22-year-old Robinson Cano joined an 11-15 Yankees team in Tampa Bay on May 3, 2005, he was an exception to the rule of veterans wearing pinstripes.
Cano batted ninth in the order and went hitless in three at-bats with a strikeout and without getting the ball out of the infield against Doug Waechter in the 11-4 defeat. He would go 2-for-4 the next day before enduring an 0-for-16 stretch over the following five games.
Which is to say that all is not lost for Torres following his 0-for-4 debut in which he came up with seven men on base without advancing a runner, striking out in his first at-bat against short-time Yankee lefty Jaime Garcia and later hitting into a double play.
Nevertheless, the young man hardly despaired after it was over. He stressed the importance of being a part of the victory and talked about being “super excited and happy.”
Boone said that he thought Torres, the youngest position player to debut for the Yankees since 20-year-old Melky Cabrera on July 5, 2005, was “really excited and anxious” in his first at-bat that ended in a five-pitch swinging K.
“I thought he settled in and controlled the zone a little better after that,” the manager said. “He took steps in the right direction.”
According to STATS Inc., Sunday represented the first time in nearly three-quarters of a century — roll that one around your tongue — that the team had started an all-under 30 lineup within the first 20 games of a season since the second game of a May 9, 1943, doubleheader against the Philadelphia A’s. At that time, of course, World War II had ravaged major league rosters.
Then, 29-year-old first-baseman Nick Etten was the senior citizen. Austin Romine, also 29, played that role on Sunday, catching while Sanchez was the DH.
“I was joking before the game that I’ve always been the youngest guy,” Romine said. “Now I’m the oldest.”
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