However, during the past year, Steve has been by far the most skeptical Yankee fan I've ever read with regards to our boy Phil Hughes. While I appreciate and understand Steve's "non-rose-colored-glasses" and "non-fanboy" point of view, I began tiring of his relentless Hughes-bashing right around the time the whole Santana nonsense began escalating.
At first I thought it was because he genuinely didn't like Hughes, but the more I read his grasping-at-straws posts suggesting reasons that Hughes might fail, it's become clearer that it's more a traffic grab than anything else.
Even the most jaded Yankee fan in the world can't not be excited by the possibility of a Phil Hughes. I don't believe rooting for a pitcher on one's team who has at times been regarded as the best pitching prospect in the game can be called homerism. The fact is, this is the first time during my Yankee-rooting career that we've ever had a multitude of pitching prospects to be excited about.
Clearly, one must take things with a grain of salt - yes, we know being lights-out in the minors is no guarantee of major league success, but does that really matter? What matters is the glimmer of hope these young kids provide, and the genuine excitement that develops organically from watching young stud pitchers come up through your team's farm system and be significant contributors to the big-league club.
All offseason, Steve has been tempering his expectations for our youngsters, which I can understand on a superficial level - that way if they fail, not only can he insulate himself from disappointment, but he can tell everyone who reads his blog that he was right. But what Steve has ignored is that, what other option do we have? His Cashman-bashing posts (which I do agree with to a certain extent) have continually pointed out Cash's failings with signing high-profile pitchers during the last 10 years. Clearly the Yankees realized they were doing something wrong, and decided to go about fixing the business model.
The last few years have seen a bounty of pitching prospects scooped up by the Yankees. Are they all going to succeed and be contributors at the major league level? Of course not. But as a fan for nearly 20 years, it's exciting as hell to finally have players in our system that have a chance to excel. Phil Hughes was essentially a league-average starting pitcher in 2007 at age 21, pitched to an under-3.00 ERA in September and saved the Yanks' asses in Game 3 of the ALDS. In less than a full year, Phil has already experienced more success and exhibited far more poise than the following pitchers: Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Kevin Brown, Jose Contreras, Jeff Weaver and Javier Vasquez, to name a few, and we're somehow supposed to be skeptical of his future?
I'll gladly root my ass off for Phil, Joba and IPK to succeed any day of the week over signing crap off the scrap heap like Kyle Lohse. Maybe it's a generational thing with Steve, and maybe he's been burned too many times in the past with hyped-up pitchers coming in and failing, but even if that were the case (and I'll still take my chances with the Big Three regardless), isn't it still better than the alternative? I'd much rather fail with our guys than overpriced hack veterans.
For younger Yankee fans, I believe we're about to enter one of the most exciting seasons of our lifetimes. For the first time in forever, we'll have two sub-25-year-olds in the rotation, and hopefully at some point, all three of our stud pitchers. We've got a host of young guys ready to vie for spots in the bullpen, and if they don't work out, there's enough depth that chances are we can find someone else internally who will.
The last few seasons have started off with the Yanks looking listless in April and stumbling out to poor records. Joe Girardi has already shown us he's a firebrand and the intensity should be ratcheted up right out of the gate. A lot of the guys on this team have a lot to prove, and I think there's a hunger there that may not have existed in previous years. This year's Yankee team knows that they're just as good if not better than every other team in baseball in 2008. Quick, name one team that scares you. Sure, Boston's going to be good again, but the Yankees in all likelihood would have won the pennant again last year if not for two horrible months of baseball in April and May. The Tigers? The lineup looks stacked, but we all know that teams who are supposed to score 1,000-plus runs on-paper seldom reach that goal. And don't even get me started on
So get excited, Yankee fans. Even if the team loses more than 70 games and misses the playoffs, 2008 is still going to be an incredibly memorable year. For the record, I feel confident enough in the team that I predict a first-place finish. I won't go as far as calling a championship, but I do feel that this year's team is as good if not better than any of the teams of this decade, and I can't tell you how ready I am for another summer of amazing baseball in the last year of the old Yankee Stadium by your team and mine, the New York Yankees.