Remember that player who came over in a midseason trade from the Cubs last season to bring life to an otherwise boring Yankees season? That guy would be Alfonso Soriano, and he has really fallen under the radar this spring in terms of buzz, but he is still a huge key for the Yankees this season.
Soriano has fallen under the radar because there are just so many stories at Yankees camp, and he was suffering from the flu early in camp. The additions of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka have stolen most of the spotlight. Also, Derek Jeter’s retirement, CC Sabathia’s fastball velocity and questions in the infield and bullpen have been huge topics as well.
Soriano certainly didn’t lack buzz in his return to the Yankees last season, as the fans were loving that he was back in pinstripes, and he was tying to carry the Yankees to the postseason on his shoulders. Soriano hit .256/.325/.525.850 with 17 home runs in 58 games for New York last season.
Obviously, repeating those numbers again will not be expected out of the 38-year-old Soriano, even though he still doesn’t look a day older than when he came up with the Yankees. It was amazing that he what he did at his age and with not a very good lineup around him. He was so hot at the plate that you almost started to expect another home run from him every at-bat.
The good thing is that Soriano doesn’t have to repeat those numbers this season to have a big impact since he was so amazing last season. ZIPS projects Soriano to hit .247.297/.484/.781 with 32 home runs and a 109 wRC+. Those would be great numbers for a guy projected to hit sixth in the lineup behind Ellsbury, Jeter, McCann, Mark Teixeira, and Beltran. That is just a guess at how the lineup will look and not definitely how it will be.
Soriano is a huge source of right handed power, which is something that the Yankees have lacked since Alex Rodriguez started getting injured and suspended. Teixeira and Beltran should provide power from the right side as switch hitters, but Soriano is still the only true righty on the team who can hit for power.
It is a testament to Soriano’s work ethic that he has not seen a much of a decline into his late thirties. Since 2010, he has a .342 wOBA and a 111 wRC+. Soriano’s power is what has helped him remain a very good hitter, as he has 116 home runs and 129 doubles since 2010 as well.
The Yankees better hope that Soriano doesn’t lose his power because if he does it could be a steep decline. Soriano has not been a high average player since early in his career, and he as never been a high on base guy in his career since he has always been a free swinger. He only has a career .321 OBP and a six percent career BB rate. He never gets cheated at the plate and always swings hard, which is good for his power and can hurt his contact.
Soriano has never been a great defensive player either, although he has not been horrible late in his career either. According to FanGraphs, Soriano was worth .4 runs below the MLB average last season, although he had a solid 7.3 UZR, and 5.2 runs above average in 2012.
His defense has not looked good in spring training, although it really has just looked more like a lack of effort more than anything. However, his defense will not matter a whole lot this season, as he will be spending the majority of his time at DH if the outfield stays healthy. Although, Beltran will need a good amount of days off in the field with his bad knees, so Soriano should see a decent amount amount of playing time in the outfield.
Opening day is in exactly two weeks for the Yankees, and everybody will still be focused on the fresh new story lines. Just don’t forget about that old face who will have a big say in how the season ends up.