The New York Yankees have been crushing the ball as a team as of late, but who have been their top breakout performers so far?
The Yankees came into 2019 with high expectations, fully expecting to be World Series contenders. Even with several of the team’s top players including Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Giancarlo Stanton and Dellin Betances on the IL, the scrappy Yankees have fought their way to a stellar 32-17 record through their first 49 games. As of May 24, the team is in first place in the AL East, shaping up to be one of the more competitive divisions in baseball with the Rays and Red Sox also jockeying for playoff spots.
The team’s success thus far in 2019 has been due in large part to a number of players breaking out and improving their game significantly, somewhat softening the blow of losing so many players to injury. With that in mind, here’s a look at some of those breakout players who have helped the team to their 32-17 record so far.
After going 2-6 with an ugly 5.57 ERA in a subpar rookie campaign in 2018, German has burst onto the scene as one of baseball’s best pitchers in 2019. He has stepped up in Luis Severino’s absence and posted highly impressive numbers, leading all of MLB with nine wins and allowing two or fewer earned runs in seven of his 10 appearances. His 2.60 ERA is nearly three full runs lower than it was last season, and he has also struck out 57 batters while only allowing five home runs in his 10 appearances (nine starts). German especially struggled in the first inning last year, as he allowed 13 earned runs in the first inning across his 14 starts.
This season, he has improved significantly in the first inning, allowing just one first-inning run in his nine starts. He could definitely make a case as the best pitcher in the American League thus far and with the Rays’ Tyler Glasnow on the shelf for 4-6 weeks with a forearm injury sustained earlier this month, German starting the All-Star Game for the AL is becoming more and more of a possibility with each passing day.
The team is expected to keep German on an innings limit so he may skip some starts down the stretch, but if he keeps pitching the way he has, there’s no doubt that he’ll be a pitcher they feel comfortable giving the ball to him in a playoff start this October.
After spending a decade in the Indians organization and a brief stint with the Blue Jays last season, the Yankees picked up Urshela in a seemingly minor trade with Toronto last August. He played just 19 games with the Blue Jays last season and hit a meager .224, so fans certainly weren’t expected much with the bat from him. He put together a solid Spring Training with the team in 2019, but with Miguel Andujar as the team’s everyday third baseman, there was no need for him to be on the big league roster.
When Andujar went down with a Labrum injury that he later opted to have season-ending surgery on, Urshela stepped up in a big way and showed that he’s much more than just the defensive specialist that most people saw him as. While he has been his usual reliable self with the glove at third base, he has put together by far the most impressive offensive stretch of his career thus far since the team called him up. In his 117 at-bats across 39 games, Urshela is hitting .333 with a .383 OBP and .853 OPS. He has been a fantastic contact hitter towards the bottom of the order, more than capable of setting the table for the big hitters at the top of the lineup, though his 12 extra base hits and 19 RBI’s are nothing to sneeze at.
His two biggest moments as a Yankee have been his game-tying two-run home run in the 9th inning of the Yankees’ dramatic walk-off win against the Mariners on May 7th and his walk-off RBI single to cap off the team’s comeback win against the Rays on May 17th. The fan favorite has played himself into an everyday role and manager Aaron Boone has said that the team fully expects him to remain one of the usual starters when Didi Gregorius returns next month.
For many years, Cessa was a player that the team kept around despite him never being able to put it all together and be a solid pitcher, either as a starter or a reliever. With no minor league options left, the team opted to keep Cessa on the 25-man roster out of Spring Training this year instead of DFA’ing him, and so far it looks like they’ve made the right choice. Cessa has pitched to a career-best 3.63 ERA in his 13 appearances so far, striking out 27 hitters in 22.1 innings while allowing just nine earned runs.
In a star-studded bullpen featuring relievers like Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton, it’s easy to overlook Cessa, but he has been one of the team’s more reliable relievers so far. After posting an ugly 5.24 ERA last season, Cessa has allowed one or fewer earned runs in 12 of his 13 appearances this season. The team has seemingly decided against experimenting with him as a starter and instead of keeping him in the bullpen full time. He has been able to pitch more than just one inning when they’ve gone to him, as he has recorded five or more outs in seven of his 13 games.
Although Cessa is probably never going to be at the level of some of the team’s other relievers like Ottavino and Chapman, his consistency has been a very nice surprise this season, and with the team already having lost a number of their starting pitchers to injury, having a reliever who can give you multiple innings late in the game is never a bad thing.
Hopefully, Cessa has finally found his niche and can remain a dependable long reliever for the rest of the season into the playoffs.