The New York Yankees might not have much choice but to go into 2018 with unproven rookies taking up half their infield.
But if any team in Major League Baseball can get away with that, it's these Yankees. Especially if said unproven rookies are two of the top prospects in baseball: Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar.
With Chase Headley and Starlin Castro out of the picture, the Yankees have "Help Wanted" signs hanging over third base and second base. Andujar is slated to man the former on Opening Day. Torres appears to be behind Ronald Torreyes for the latter, but the Tommy John operation Torres underwent on his left (i.e. non-throwing) arm last summer shouldn't keep him from trying to upend Torreyes in spring training.
Of course, it's possible the Yankees will cave under an instinct to play it safe and try to add more experience at either position. But Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic recently cautioned that it's "not out of the question" they will move forward with what they have.
As it happens, that matches general manager Brian Cashman's public stance.
"We are currently set up to go this route, unless something presents itself between now and whenever that gives us a change of position," he said in early January, per ESPN.com's Andrew Marchand.
It's not as if this route will take the Yankees onto thin ice. This is still mostly the same team that came within a win of the World Series last year, save for one big new addition. With Giancarlo Stanton, the reigning National League MVP, joining Aaron Judge, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, the 2018 Yankees are going to have more power in their lineup than they know what to do with.
It's also not as if giving rookies chances to shine has backfired on the Yankees of late. Greg Bird and Luis Severino broke out in 2015. Gary Sanchez broke out in 2016. Judge and Jordan Montgomery broke out last year. To varying degrees, all are now big parts of the Yankees' present and future.
Experience-wise, Torres and Andujar are about as ready as they'll ever be. Andujar has already played five games in the major leagues. Between them, he and Torres have 252 games (197 for Andujar, 55 for Torres) at or above Double-A.
And as prospects, both players are more like sliced bread than chopped liver.
Bleacher Report rated both as "Tier 1" prospects, implying they have All-Star potential. They also rated quite well in all the top 100s that have rolled out. Torres ranked no lower than No. 6 at MLB.com, ESPN.com and Baseball America. Andujar landed near the middle of all three lists.
The hype for Torres, a natural shortstop, isn't new. He went into 2017 as an elite prospect and only added to the legend with a red-hot spring (1.400 OPS in 19 games) and continued excellence in the minors. At the time his left arm betrayed him, he was arguably baseball's No. 1 prospect.
It's easiest to gawk at Torres' hit tool, which is elite. His sharp eye for the strike zone is reflected in his career minor league walk rate of 10.5 percent. He also has a direct swing that's good for line drives with enough bat control to knock hits to all fields.
For the first few years of his professional career, Torres was a plus hitter more in theory than in reality. That changed last season, when he put up an attention-grabbing .287/.383/.480 slash line in 55 games at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Mind you, it's likely Torres will open 2018 back at Triple-A even if he (again) shows he's ready for the majors in spring training. The Yankees have a Kris Bryant-like service time incentive to delay his promotion and could easily justify it by arguing he needs more time to adapt to second base.
Nonetheless, that adaptation shouldn't be too much for him to handle. He's drawn positive reviews for his defense at shortstop and has already logged time at second in both the Arizona Fall League and regular minor league action.
Defense is where Andujar has had the most trouble inspiring believers. There's never been any question he has the arm for the hot corner, however. And at last check, the Yankees were pleased with his progress in other facets.
"I see more consistency in his overall body of work," Joe Espada, then the Yankees third base coach, told Brendan Kuty of NJ Advance Media in September, "the way his body's working, his feet, his arm. Everything is moving forward. He looks so much better than he did in spring training."
In the meantime, Andujar already has enough bat for the hot corner.
He's not a guy who's going to take many walks, but his ultra-quick swing makes it hard for pitchers to get anything by him. He's struck out in only 13.1 percent of his minor league plate appearances over the last two years. He's also shown good power, blasting 28 home runs and roping 62 doubles.
What should have the Yankees intrigued is Andujar's opposite-field pop, which looks like this:
Up until now, that oppo power has only been good for doubles and triples. But nothing has the potential to change that for the better like regular action at Yankee Stadium, where batters can stand at home plate and practically high-five fans in the right field bleachers.
All this being said, there is a good argument to be made that the Yankees shouldn't push their luck with their youth movement.
Despite their many weapons, FanGraphs projects the Yankees to finish tied atop the AL East with the Boston Red Sox at 91-71. That is certainly debatable but also something that the addition of a veteran infielder or veteran infielders—be it Todd Frazier on his own or some combination of other players—would fix if the Yankees want to minimize their risk to zero.
Trouble is, the practicality of this strains believability.
Their 2018 payroll puts them just $20.8 million beneath the $197 million threshold. Assuming they want to stay under that and also set aside a good sum (e.g. $10 million) for in-season additions, they might have to clear some payroll before they can think about making any impact signings.
In a scenario like this one, the Yankees might as well sit back and see what the kids can do. They can always adjust later by patrolling the summer trade market for upgrades.
Given the lineup Torres and Andujar could be joining, however, no such adjustment should be necessary.