Yankees coaches and players such as Justus Sheffield exude optimism

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

The Yankees and their fans know what the world expects from them: It’s World Series or bust in 2018. This expectation seems to have energized the players and has the fans dreaming of championships.

The New York Yankees pre-camp is abuzz with activity and optimism. Throughout the early afternoon on Tuesday, players and coaches filtered in and out of their training facility sharing two common traits: Mild smiles and brimming confidence.

And why not? The Yankees look back at a season that saw them fall one game short of the World Series and ahead to a season with reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton. That would make any team but the Astros more hopeful for 2018.

Before I proceed with the report, however, some thanks are due.

This is the first time Call to the Pen–powered by FanSided and part of the Time Inc. family–has allowed me down here. Were I here as the only reporter, I would mostly be an observer.

Thankfully, Eric Boland of Newsday and Bryan Hoch of MLB.com are also here. They have been more than professional and long ago shot by generous. Their help and guidance have given me 100% of the access I have gotten, and I would have had nothing to report without them.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

And there is an unnamed scout I have to thank as well; he knows who he is. His professional relationship with many of the young Yankees has served as an entree for me.

While I purposefully picked the brains of Messrs. Hoch and Boland, my acquaintance with this scout was by happenstance. I was asking a poll question (see below) when he and I struck up a conversation about several of the minor league pitchers.

United in our shared knowledge of, and passion for, the Yankees youth movement, we leaned on the same part of the training camp fence. What happened next was a pure good fortune.

As players came out, he said hi to them by name always in Spanish. Seeing him, many of them came over to the two of us for a short private interview.

Now, if I spoke fluent Spanish, I might have a lot to write. Sadly, I am not a cunning linguist. After introductions, hello’s and asking how each player is doing, I’m pretty much limited to, tiene un gato in sus patalones?

Experience has taught me that is not much help.

Decorum Demands

It was still an enjoyable experience to meet and speak with several young Yankees. I did not take any pictures because they were coming to see a respected friend. I felt it would be intrusive and a violation of a fortunate situation.

But the players did come. Everyone from RHP Raynel Espinal and fellow righty Luis Medina to LHP Justus Sheffield and 3B Miguel Andujar came over for a private talk. Espinal had by far the coolest shoes, by the way.

However, they all showed tight, taut bodies naturally hardened in the off-season. I won’t belabor the point, suffice to say there were no Dominic Smith‘s in the group.

It was this same scout who initially marveled at how much bigger Andujar has gotten, confirming my supposition before I could pose it.

A Smile You Can See From New York

But it was Sheffield who led the way with optimism. From beneath a super-size mop of rich, curly black hair, Justus was beaming. Short of stature but long on bulldog attitude, he has plenty of reason to smile.

Shef showed his mettle in the Arizona Fall League last year. Against some of the best competition among soon-to-be Major Leaguers, including AFL MVP Ronald Acuna of the Braves, Justus finished with 20 innings pitched, 22 strikeouts, an ERA of 3.10 and a WHIP of 0.84.

Now Yankees fans are smiling.

Sheffield seems to be in the catbird seat. He is not only the most advanced of the minor league pitchers but also the only lefty. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild might want RHP Domingo Acevedo to remain a starter, but he will insist it be so for Shef.

If I were Justus, I’d be smiling as well. He is not just talented enough to at least get a tryout in the majors in 2018; he is also fortunate enough to be in a system that looks like it might just go on one of its signature championship runs.

And that would put a smile on more than his face. The fans at spring training would love that, too.

A Return to the Polls

But they are already plenty optimistic. In fact, my informal poll question of the day was meant to gauge just that.

I reminded them that the Yankees came close to winning the World Series in 1976. Then they added power hitter Reggie Jackson. The team went on to make three WS appearances over the next five years, winning two of them.

The question I posed to the fans, and now you the reader, is, will Giancarlo Stanton have the same impact, a greater one, or a lesser?

No one took the under.

Beyond that, the voting was evenly split. They all expect at least that type of run, but some see perhaps a return to the late Nineties. Easier hoped for than done.

Next: Hear from Yankees Humble and Soft Spoken Ace Luis Severino

Still, it reflects the same ebullient attitude exhibited by almost every Yankees player or coach I saw. Well, not Rothschild but he has to carry the mantle of a lovable curmudgeon.

I would usually have left it off the lovable epithet but that darn Yankees positivity is starting to affect even him.

And that alone is a reason for hope in 2018.