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Predicting the Yankees Opening Day start

March 9, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Oswald Peraza (91) doubles against the Boston Red Sox during the fourth inning at George M Steinbrenner Stadium. Mandatory credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees’ inevitable Opening Day starter probably won’t be the favorite of the bunch because they still have Josh Donaldson under contract and aren’t keen on wasting his paycheck on the bench.

However, with Anthony Volpe’s recent performance, coach Aaron Boone will have a hard time keeping him in the minor league system. Volpe has turned out the lights with 28 at bats this spring training, posting nine hits, six runs, two at-bats, two RBIs, and three stolen bases. 321 with 0.424 OBP and 1.103 OPS.

At the end of the day, Volpe is a future baserunner, and the only player standing up to him is Gleyber Torres at second base, who may inevitably end up being traded over the next few months.

However, the Yankees are trying to maximize their dollar and keep tinkering with service time, so I wouldn’t expect to see Volpe on the OD list despite the fact that he definitely earned it.

Prediction for Yankees Opening Day start:

1b: Anthony Rizzo

Rizzo was scratched over the weekend from the lineup, dealing with a “freaky” back problem considered chronic. Rizzo, who signed a two-year, $40 million extension with a 2025 option for the club in the off-season, is the team’s first baseman to step forward.

Rizzo hit . 224 with a 0.38 OBP last season, including a career-high 32 homers and 75 RBIs. With MLB blocking this shift, expect to see the Riz-dog collect more base hits and increase his on-base percentage. His Steam forecast has him hitting .251 with 0.348 OBP, 27 HRs and 81 RBIs.

Rizzo is one of the team’s more consistent players, and the starting left fielder takes advantage of the short right balcony at Yankee Stadium.

2b: Jalibre Torres

As mentioned earlier, Torres likely had his start at second base boosted until the Yankees could find a good time to move him around and plug a weak point.

Torres is too good to sit off the bench, especially after a 2022 season that saw him running back . 257 with a 0.310 OBP, 24 homers, and 76 RBIs. Defensively, he had one of his most efficient seasons at second base, enjoying 115 WRC+ and a 2.7 WAR. However, it is the barrier that prevents Volpe from being promoted, so the Bombers have no choice but to move him and raise his eventual first-place possibility.

New York Yankees, Jiliber Torres
October 7, 2019; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Yankees second baseman Gleiber Torres takes a look at the seventh inning of Game 3 of the 2019 ALDS Playoffs Baseball Series against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

SS: Oswald Peraza

Peraza has a short-stop position nearly closed on Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Peraza offers Gold Glove level defense and hit .306 with .404 OBP across 18 league games last year. Those numbers are inconsequential to expect this upcoming campaign, especially after I struggled a bit in spring training. Across 17 batters, Peraza hits .176 with 0.33 OBP, so he may take some time to adjust to pitching at the major league level.

There’s an argument that Volpe could start at shortstop over Peraza, but the Yankees are willing to give him a chance right away, considering he has an extra year of experience, and they need to see what he can offer now.

As mentioned, Peraza brings elite defense to the table, so at least the Yankees know a shortstop position will be secured in this regard.

3b: Josh Donaldson

The preferred starter at third base will be DJ LeMahieu, but DJ will be expected to move around the field to supplement injuries and inadequacies. I expect to see a lot of DJs on first base, giving Rizzo the rest to ensure his back stays healthy.

Meanwhile, Josh Donaldson will once again take over in the hot corner. He put up a gold glove-caliber defense in 2022, but expecting a similar performance could be optimistic. He hit career lows all-around offensively, hitting . 222 with a 0.308 OBP, 15 homers, and 62 RBIs. This wasn’t the same Donaldson we saw with Minnesota, and at 37 years old, expecting him to up his game is definitely a risk.

LeMahieu is the best player right now, by far, and the only reason Donaldson would ever start a game is because the Yankees can’t afford his salary.

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