Yankees fans know full well where to look for the missiles heading into the night and the rocket’s red glare of prodigious home runs made for ESPN’s nightly recap. But there are two pieces to this Yankees team who won’t be sharing the limelight, for they are cogs in the wheel and vital parts that make up the whole when wins are counted.
Every major league team has layers of talent. You start at the top with a team like the Yankees and the five players they sent to the All-Star Team last year (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Luis Severino, and Dellin Betances) form the first tier of the team’s strength this season as well.
These are the players who become magnets for Yankees beat writers and media personalities. As the saying goes, as they go, so do the Yankees. And while that’s true, there’s an underlying current in a team sport like baseball which suggests winning teams have multiple layers of talent, and the sum of the parts equals the whole.
The depth of teams rosters will separate winners from losers in 2018, just as any year before. Compare the Depth Chart of the Yankees (assembled by ESPN) to the same chart for the Boston Red Sox, and you will notice for the Red Sox the same brand of second-tier players, like Rafael Devers and Dustin Pedroia. Both are expected to complement and drive the “stars” of the team with players like J.D. Martinez, Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, and Chris Sale if the Red Sox expect to prevail in the A.L. East.
The Yankees critical duo for the 2018 season is Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner. Underrated and operating under the shadow of the “Main Guys,” each will be a crucial element in determining how far the Yankees go this season.
Gardner is officially by baseball standards these days an “old man” playing baseball at the age of 35 in August. A product of the Yankees farm system, I can recall watching him play for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Triple-A team of the Yankees in 2008, and to his credit, he is the same player now as he was then, spewing sparks to ignite his team.
For me, the definition of Brett Garder is encapsulated in just one at-bat which occurred during the playoffs in 2017 against the Cleveland Indians and their closer Cody Allen to extend the Yankees lead in a tight and excruciating playoff battle:
Due to age and the wealth of talent the Yankees have in their outfield this season, Gardner may be forced to see fewer at-bats this season, especially against lefties. But if you watch carefully, Aaron Boone will have Gardner in there for every game that matters as the season moves along, lefty, righty, or indifferent, because Gardner has earned that respect and he can be counted on to deliver.
Aaron Hicks doesn’t carry the Yankees pedigree of someone like Gardner, but since his trade to the Yankees from the Minnesota Twins two seasons ago, Hicks has earned his place in the Yankees lineup, buoyed mostly by his performance last year.
Yankees fans will recall that Hicks was the “loser” in the so-called battle for right field at this time last year. But I suspect no one on the Yankees would be willing to take a lie-detector test proving it was a real contest, and that Judge was pre-ordained from the beginning. As it turned out, the team made the right call and Judge zoomed off to an unprecedented rookie season.
Flying under the radar, though was Hicks, who apparently was a favorite of the now departed Joe Girardi from day one. Criticized in the media for playing Hicks over Clint Frazier, Hicks over Jacoby Ellsbury, Hicks over anybody, Girardi stayed with it, and Hicks responded.
Granted only 301 at-bats, Hicks batted a respectable .266 while hitting 15 home runs and 52 RBI. Double those numbers and you have the equivalent of a full season and something the team would happily like to deposit in the bank.
Only 28, Hicks is in the middle of what is now considered his prime (26-31) and is currently positioned as the Yankees everyday center fielder.
Hicks, along with Gardner as cogs in a juiced lineup, complete the recipe for the Yankees success this season. Neither will make the All-Star Team in 2018. But when that trophy is lifted following the World Series, eventually reporters will make their way over to their lockers for a well-deserved comment or two.
Twenty-five players will contribute to a championship if it is meant to be. And both Gardner and Hicks are being counted on to do what they do to help make it happen.
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