By Jason Keidel
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In a season of serendipity for the Yankees, the latest happy surprise will be seeing five players, including three first-time, homegrown products, play in the All-Star Game next week in Miami.
Already riding a dream rookie season of Herculean contours, Aaron Judge will start in the outfield. Judge is just a few batting average points from being the AL Triple Crown leader, and arched MLB’s eyebrows by swatting 27 homers before America’s birthday. For a club that all but ignored or eschewed its minor leagues for a decade, the Bronx Bombers have now cultivated the most fertile farm system in the sport. And it’s paying robust dividends.
Joining this year’s rookie sensation is last year’s rookie sensation, Gary Sanchez, who belted 20 homers in August and September alone in 2016. And while Sanchez has been nagged by injuries this season, his production has been overlooked and underrated. Maybe Sanchez isn’t quite matching last year’s Ruthian deeds, but 13 homers and 40 RBIs in 51 games pro rata would equal at least 40 homers and 120 RBIs over a full season. He’s just not Judge this year. No one is.
Joining the homegrown first-timers is Luis Severino, who pitched like the MLB equivalent of Mr. Irrelevant in 2016. After going 0-8 and being bumped back to the minors, Severino has had a surreal turnaround, going 5-4 with a 3.52 ERA and 114 strikeouts.
Renowned and reviled for their bank-vault business model over the last 15 years — poaching other clubs’ best players, making it rain on free agents, while giving no regard to player development — the Yanks are back in business by doing business the right way. They have stocked their young talent pool while sprinkling the roster with veteran bats, arms, and leaders.
Rounding out the five pinstriped All-Stars are second baseman Starlin Castro, his first as a Yankee and fourth appearance in the Midsummer Classic overall, and relief pitcher Dellin Betances, who has been electric both as a set-up man and closer, depending on the club’s needs at any moment.
Not only are the Yankees surprisingly plentiful with All-Stars, they are also tied for the most such players in the majors, joining the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians in the AL, and the Washington Nationals from the NL, as the only clubs with five players invited to Marlins Park next week.
No doubt the Yanks could use the good news this week, as the last few weeks have hardly been kind. And surely they could use the All-Star break to heal, regroup, or reboot. Between inconsistency and attrition the Yankees have not looked anything like the young darlings of the sport that darted out of the gate, clubbing their way through the AL East.
Local media have branded this their “June swoon,” which is as apt as any characterization of the last month in the Bronx, an eyesore by any measure, which has seen the club grounded after such a splendid first two months of 2017.
On June 1, the Yankees were in first place, at 31-20, a full three games ahead of the Boston Red Sox. Even on June 12, they were at their high water mark, 38-23, and four games ahead. Since then have since gone 6-14, and find themselves three games behind Boston. On June 12, the Yanks had outscored their opponents by 117 total runs (358-241). Since that date, they’ve been outscored by 13 runs (94-107).
And strictly from a fun, aesthetic point of view, it will be swell to see Judge bring his formidable frame and epic bat to the Home Run Derby. Whether it’s superstition, narcissism, or fear of tweaking their swing, many MLB players balk at the Derby once they board the A-list, much like NBA stars who suddenly find themselves too delicate or important for the slam dunk contest.
For a sport often chided for being stuck in the 8-track era, unwilling to mutate with the times, frowning upon youth and youthful exuberance and home run poses, this is a good time for baseball. It feels like we’re seeing the sunrise on a new epoch, led by established stars (Bryce Harper, Mike Trout) and surefire future stars (Judge, Sanchez, Cody Bellinger).
For the first time in a long time, several of those budding stars sparkle in the Bronx.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel