The thing I'm most looking forward in the 2016 New York Yankees season is watching how Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro progress. They have a chance to be an extremely exciting and fun duo to watch this season.
Sure, the obvious answer to what I'm most looking forward to the most should probably be watching the fireworks show that is Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, but there's no mystery about how awesome they will be this season. Gregorius and Castro, on the other hand, have had many ups and downs in their careers, but if both are on top of their games they can form one of the best double play combos in MLB.
The overall stat lines for Gregorius and Castro from last season aren't going to get anybody super pumped, but you have to look at how they improved as the season went along and think that maybe a light turned on. Gregorius didn't look like a MLB player for the first two months of the season between his non-existent bat, boneheaded plays running the bases and even errors on defense where he was supposed to shine. Perhaps it took him just a while to get used to playing in New York and replacing Derek Jeter because he took off in a big way in the second half. Gregorius hit .294/.345/.417/.762 while playing the shortstop position defensively as one of the best in baseball. This strong second half allowed him to finish with a 3.1 WAR, which was good for fourth in MLB among shortstops. That could not have been thought to be possible by even the most optimistic person after May. It also shows the waste land that the position is league wide.
Castro has more of a pedigree than Gregorius with three All-Star game appearances and 991 hits before his 26th birthday. However, he has faced many ups and downs in his career that ended up with Chicago being down on him following a team-friendly extension. Castro struggled so much at the beginning of last season that he got his shortstop position pulled from him and was benched. This seemed to be a turnaround for him as he moved to second base and caught fire to end the year. In August, Castro posted a .296/.315/.437/.752 line before exploding in September with a .369/.400/.655/1.055 line with .442 wOBA and a 185 wRC+. The last time Castro had a poor season in 2013 he bounced back in a big way in 2014.
It's been exciting this spring to see both players pick up right where they left off as Gregorius is 6-for-16 and Castro is 8-for-19. Coincidentally, if both Gregorius and Castro improved on their plate discipline that could take them to the next level. Neither is a big power threat, so walking more and improving their on-base percentages could be a huge plus. Gregorius has a career 7.1 percent career walk rate and Castro is at 4.9 percent. Gregorius swung at 37.1 percent of pitches outside the strike zone last year and Castro was right behind at 36.2 percent. For comparison's sake, the Yankees' most patient hitter, Mark Teixeira, only swung at 25.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone last year. Teixeira and the other veterans should try to work with these guys on their plate discipline because it's the next step in their development. They're always going to be more aggressive and not have as good as a natural hitting eye as Teixeira, but getting in more hitters counts is never a bad idea.
Gregorius has definitely flown way more under the radar this spring, which is a great thing for him. The interesting thing is if Gregorius keeps progressing like this the next couple of seasons what will the Yankees do with Jorge Mateo? Mateo showed off his natural talent early in spring training with a couple of bombs off his bat and his blazing speed. Castro seems to have second base locked down for the foreseeable future, so if Mateo can't be moved to the outfield the Yankees would have a fantastic trade chip with him or Gregorius.
This is a nice problem to have and not something to concern yourself with yet, just something intriguing down the line. For now, just enjoy watching two young and athletic guys in the middle of the infield for the Yankees this year because it could be a lot of fun compared to the garbage we have seen since prime Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano left.