The New York Yankees entered 2017 with nearly everyone, including their GM Brian Cashman, saying that this year’s campaign would be a rebuilding year. Despite knowing that the season would be full of growing pains due to the team’s influx of young talents such as the power-hitting Aaron Judge and superstar catcher Gary Sanchez, who had been dubbed the new face of the franchise after his white-hot 2016, fans were excited to see a team that would help advertise young stars that would offer a glimpse of what many believed had the potential to become a future dynasty. Then a funny thing happened. The Yankees, currently 91-71 as of Monday, have clinched a playoff spot, and will likely host the AL Wild Card game. While it isn’t a division title, this team achieved something that many believed wouldn’t happen for a couple more years. Without further ado, let’s look back at some of the best players, and moments, from this incredible Yankees campaign.
Team MVP (And Rookie of the Year): Aaron Judge, RF
Stats: .283, 50 HR, 108 RBI, 124 R, 120 BB, 203 K
Who were you expecting, Chris Carter?! Judge has simply been the Yankees’ best player all year (with the exception of that rough August), and he has also evolved into one of the most exciting players in not just baseball but all of American sports. He flashed light-tower power with his rookie-record 50 home runs (even hitting one 495 feet!) and showed surprising plate discipline, drawing 120 walks. He also showed off his incredible skills in the field on multiple occasions, making spectacular catches on a seemingly weekly basis, becoming a rare player who can both hit for power and play sensational defense. Yankee legend Reggie Jackson once said that he believed Judge would be the next great Yankee, and it looks like he may be right. After putting up video-game numbers in his first full season in the big leagues, the 6’7 behemoth is only getting started, and clearly looks to be one of the brightest stars in the game today. Look for Judge to win the AL Rookie of the Year in a landslide and even pick up some MVP votes (he would be my personal pick to take home both honors).
MVP Runner-Up (Tie): Gary Sanchez (C), Didi Gregorious (SS)
Rookie of the Year Runner-Up: Jordan Montgomery
Team Cy Young: Luis Severino, SP
13-6, 3.03 ERA, 30 G, 221 K
One year after going 3-8 with a 5.83 ERA, Severino entered this season on a short leash, with many fans worrying that he would not live up to his status as a former top prospect. He recaptured that form in 2017 to the tune of a 13-6 record, sporting a 3.03 ERA and striking out a whopping 221 batters. He also made his first All-Star game, and finally cemented himself as the ace of a Yankees staff that was in desperate need of an anchor in the wake of a down year by star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. Severino, the likely starter in the AL Wild Card game, looks like a star, and should be a fixture atop the Yankee rotation for years to come.
Runner-Up: Chad Green, RP
Biggest Surprise: Ronald Torreyes, 1B/2B/SS/3B/OF
.292, 3 HR, 36 RBI, 33 R, 10 BB, 42 K
It feels weird awarding an honor with the word “Big” in it to Ronald Torreyes, but, despite his small stature, Big Toe couldn’t have been bigger when the Yankees called his number. He set the tone for the season when he hit the club’s first home run against Tampa Bay on April 4, and came up with a walk-off single against the Texas Rangers on June 23. Torreyes also played stellar defense all year, and hit an incredibly efficient .292 to help pace the back end of the Yankee lineup while star shortstop Didi Gregorious recovered from a hamstring injury. A player who should be a solid pinch-hitter or defensive sub in the playoffs, Torreyes gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Big Things Come in Small Packages.”
Runner-Up: Aaron Hicks
Biggest Letdown: Aroldis Chapman
4-3, 3.42 ERA, 49 G, 20 SV, 65 K, 4 Blown Saves
After being traded from the Yankees to the Chicago Cubs (where he helped the club win the World Series) at the 2016 trade deadline, Chapman signed a 5-year, $86 million deal to return to the Bronx, the largest ever by a closer. While he started the season extraordinarily strong, Chapman was one of the worst Yankees from June to August, blowing four saves and at one point sporting an ERA over 4. Girardi even benched his star closer for a few weeks, though Chapman has since regained the closer role and has started to produce, albeit not at the level that he was expected to when he signed his monster deal in the offseason.
Runner-Up: Masahiro Tanaka
Best Reliever: Chad Green
5-0, 1.87 ERA, 38 G, 102 K
After working as the Yankees’ fifth starter towards the end of the end of the 2016 season to mixed results (2-4, 4.73 ERA), Chad Green was converted to a long reliever at the start of the season, and he thrived in his new role to become one of the best and most underappreciated relievers in the American League. The second-year man won all 5 of his decisions, and allowed just 14 runs throughout the entire season. He is counted on to help right the ship during tough starts by the Yankee staff, and was nearly always the first man out of the bullpen, and should serve a similar role throughout the postseason, where he will likely continue to stifle hitters and lead a stout Yankee bullpen.
Gold Glove Award: Aaron Hicks, CF
Hicks, who was written off after a rough 2016, rebounded in a big way this season, putting up career numbers in virtually every offensive category. Despite his impressive offensive output, his calling card was his defense, flashing the leather with several spectacular catches that left fans everywhere speechless, including robbing a Wilson Ramos grand slam this past Tuesday and going full extension to take an extra base hit away from Eduardo Nunez. He saved several runs, and games, for the Bombers with his glove, and he will likely continue to flash his dominance in the outfield when postseason play kicks off next week.
Best Individual Performance: Aaron Judge vs. Baltimore Orioles (6/11/17): 4-4, 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB, 4 R
Aaron Judge has had many incredible feats and performances, but the one that stands out the most is his superhuman effort against the Baltimore Orioles on June 11. Judge came to the plate 5 times on the day, reaching base on all of his plate appearances, including 2 home runs. His first homer was deposited over the left-field bleachers, nearly hitting a retired number plaque on a blast that traveled 495 feet, the longest homer in Yankee Stadium history. The crowd was speechless, with even the players sitting with their mouths gaping open as the 6’7 Judge rounded the bases. Not only did Judge launch arguably the season’s most impressive home run, but he came up the next at-bat and launched another home run, this one traveling 401 feet. This performance is truly one that sums up an incredible season for the Yankees’ prized rookie, and his long home run was arguably, in my opinion, the highlight of his banner campaign.
Game of the Year: Yankees over Orioles, 14-11 (10 Innings), 4/28/17
With the Yankees trailing 11-4 to the Orioles in the 7th inning, many fans wrote the team off and assumed that the game would end in a lopsided defeat. However, the young Bombers team banded together and embarked on one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history. Jacoby Ellsbury, not known as a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination, hit a grand slam with two outs in the 7th inning to bring the Yankees within 3 runs. The game remained 11-8 until the 9th inning, when Ellsbury drove in Chase Headley on a groundout. The Yankees had the tying run aboard with 1 out, and Starlin Castro deadlocked the score with a titanic blast into left field that saw him kneel down as he slugged his homer off reliever Brad Brach. After Castro’s heroics, the Yankees would win the game in the 10th inning, when veteran Matt Holliday clobbered a 3-run shot into center to cap one of the most memorable games in recent memory, and one that captured both the team’s never-say-die attitude and the excitement of a truly memorable season.