For every team, spring training marks the start of a new beginning, as a fresh slate is presented to them. For the teams that struggled in 2013, they look to put last season behind them. For a team such as the Boston Red Sox, who won the World Series, they look to build on their foundation of success.
Then there are the teams who had an average season at best, such as the New York Yankees. Fortunate to have reeled in an abundance of talent in the offseason, New York enters spring training with the hope of making it back to the playoffs in 2014. However, with the team it will bring to the Bronx in April, it can do much more than that.
Here are five bold predictions for the Yankees in 2014 and why there is a legitimate argument that they will happen.
Derek Jeter will win Comeback Player of the Year in 2014.
The beloved captain will turn 40 in June, but age has never been a factor for Jeter up until he injured his leg and was sidelined for all but 17 games in 2013.
In 2012, his last full season, Jeter led the league with 216 hits, defying the logic of old age as an effect on a player's performance. Fully poised to come back healthy, Jeter ended his offseason early to prepare for the season in Tampa, the site of the Yankees' spring training facility.
For almost any other player, this prediction would seem way too far-fetched. However, Jeter has been a warrior on the field his entire career, facing adversity and overcoming difficult obstacles.
Add the fact that this is his last season of ever playing professional baseball, and one can see why Jeter is expected to perform as he always has.
According to a report from Chad Jennings of USA Today, Jeter responded to questions of how he felt after his first official spring training workout Thursday by saying, "I'm always going to tell you I'm fine. This year, I mean it."
Over his 19-year career with the Yankees, Jeter owns a 162-game average of 206 hits per year. As long as he remains healthy, it is still predictable that he will total somewhere around 170-180 hits, considering he will likely be given a few more rest days than he had been given at a younger age.
In his final season, Jeter will likely lead his team like he always has, with the mentality of only having a successful season if his team wins the World Series.
Michael Pineda will win over 10 games for the Yankees in 2014.
After being traded from the Seattle Mariners to New York in 2012, Michael Pineda was set to build on an outstanding rookie year in which he struck out 173 batters in 171.1 innings pitched.
Since that trade, he has yet to throw a pitch for the Yankees, undergoing shoulder surgery and struggling to recover from it.
However, Pineda arrived to camp on time, and he is healthy and ready to vie for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, as reported by John Harper of The New York Daily News.
Still only 25 years old, Pineda has plenty of time to get healthy and have a successful career. After missing two consecutive seasons to recover from injury, 2014 will be his year.
Look for Pineda to beat out his competition in Adam Warren and David Phelps for the starting job. Pineda will be on the mound every fifth day, barring injury, and he'll win over 10 games for his team in 2014.
David Robertson will accumulate over 35 saves in his first full season as a closer.
When the great Mariano Rivera retired after last season, there were debates on whether the Yankees should pursue a closer such as Fernando Rodney or promote their stellar setup man, David Robertson.
The Yankees chose the latter, and Robertson is at camp and preparing for the challenge of filling some huge shoes.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, when asked about filling the void Rivera left when he retired, the righty answered, "Just like Michael Jordan. Just like Derek (Jeter). Nobody replaces those guys, but somebody is going to have to take over their jobs."
Robertson deserves respect for being realistic about the situation, but don't let that overshadow his own dominance on the mound.
In 339 career games, Robertson owns an ERA of 2.76, including a 2013 season in which he won five games out of the bullpen and pitched to a 2.04 ERA. In 2011, Robertson blossomed, striking out an incredible 100 batters in only 66.2 innings.
There is no question that Robertson has filthy stuff. The unknown question is whether he will transition into the closing role.
Based on his brilliance as the setup man, there should be no doubt that he can perform as the closer this season. Furthermore, with the amount of offensive production expected from this revamped Yankees lineup, Robertson will be given plenty of opportunities to close out games in the ninth.
A season with 35 or more saves seems just about right for Robertson as he transitions to his new role for New York.
The New York Yankees will send Jeter out on a high note.
This next prediction may come as a surprise this early on until all factors are considered.
Barring another season plagued by injuries to almost every key player on the field, the Yankees will be locked and loaded heading into the new season. That is why they have a legitimate shot at winning an unprecedented 28th World Series title in 2014.
Led by Jeter, the Yankees will put out a lineup that features new acquisitions such as catcher Brian McCann and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Those three combined for 427 hits and 194 runs batted in last season with their respective clubs.
Now add Alfonso Soriano, who blasted 34 home runs and drove in 101 runs last season, and the Yankees have one of the best outfields in all of baseball.
The infield will need solid production from platoon players at third base such as Kelly Johnson and Eduardo Nunez, since the Yankees learned Alex Rodriguez would be suspended for the entire season.
Jeter will man shortstop, and as I stated, if he remains healthy, there is no reason to believe he cannot perform the way he has his entire career. The same goes for first base, which Mark Teixeira will patrol as long as he too is healthy. Similar to Jeter, the slugger was sidelined for almost all of 2013. In 2011, his last full season, he belted 39 home runs while driving in 111 runs.
The biggest question mark for the Yankees deep into the offseason was the rotation. Then on Jan. 22, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that the Yankees signed Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka. With the signing, the Yankees bolstered their pitching staff, which consists of C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova.
Erik Boland of Newsday reported that Tanaka impressed a lot of his teammates in his first bullpen session this week. When he asked catcher Austin Romine about Tanaka's pitches, he said "I had to turn around and ask what the pitch was. I've never seen the ball move like that before."
Tanaka should adjust just fine to the style of Major League Baseball, and his presence in the rotation makes New York a serious threat to any team in the league.
Considering all those factors and Jeter's determination to win, it wouldn't come as a great surprise if the Yankees make it back to the top this season.
Of course, baseball is a game of unknowns, which is what makes it so beautiful. However, these predictions are based on statistical and factual analysis. So, while they are bold, these predictions have more than a good chance of happening.
Nevertheless, it will be a great season to watch as Jeter plays for his last time and new faces look to bring a championship back to the Bronx.
Statistics Courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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