Behind the scenes of Yankees’ early preseason training before it officially started

Yankees stars Juan Soto, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton at the 2024 spring training camp in Tampa.

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For New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, a sense of unusual activity hung in the air. Traditionally, December and January signify a period of quietude at the team’s player development complex. This expansive facility boasts an impressive array of resources – four regulation baseball fields, a state-of-the-art gym, a fully-equipped clubhouse, educational spaces, a dining area, administrative offices, a cutting-edge biomechanics lab, and more. However, this offseason presented a stark contrast.

Steinbrenner mentioned earlier in the camp that there was a significant number of players voluntarily working out at the Himes Avenue complex throughout January, focusing on conditioning and intensifying their training regimen. The Yankees owner noted that this level of commitment was unprecedented in his memory and suggested that it wasn’t merely a coincidence. According to him, the players appeared primed and prepared for the upcoming season.

“We had a large number of guys the entire month of January over at the Himes (Avenue) complex voluntarily working out, getting in shape, ramping it up,” Steinbrenner told. “More so than I ever remember, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. They’re ready to go.”

Following a lackluster season marked by an 82-80 record and a fourth-place standing in the American League East, over a dozen Yankees, spearheaded by team captain Aaron Judge, departed from their respective hometowns earlier than usual to convene for advanced training sessions.

The Yankees captain expressed that things hadn’t gone their way and he couldn’t dwell on it. Judge mentioned that it still ate at him and bit at him, but emphasized the need to keep moving forward.

Early buzz before Yankees spring camp

Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt is with teammate Nestor Cortes during a practice session at Yankee Stadium in 2022.
Clarke Schmidt

The Yankees’ player development complex buzzed with uncharacteristic activity this offseason. An influx of players arrived earlier than usual, each driven by a unique set of motivations.

“Things didn’t go our way,” Judge admitted. “I can’t sit here and dwell on that. It still eats at me and still bites at me, but we’ve got to keep moving forward.”

For some Yankees, sticking to their established training regimens remained the priority. Others, however, were swept up in a wave of competitive spirit. Witnessing their fellow teammates diligently training on social media, they couldn’t resist the urge to join the action firsthand.

One such Yankees player was starting pitcher Clarke Schmidt. While he had already planned an early arrival, his resolve hit overdrive upon seeing a video of Aaron Judge’s intense workout on Instagram. Recognizing the importance of early preparation alongside his captain and teammates, Schmidt felt compelled to join the fray. Judge’s dedication became a rallying cry, inspiring other Yankees to follow his lead and elevate their off-season training.

“It’s like FOMO (fear of missing out) in a sense,” the pitcher said. “It’s like, ‘Damn. Am I behind the eight ball because I’m not there?’ Even if you didn’t have plans to get down early, it’s like, ‘I’ve got to get down there because everyone else is down there.’

The Yankees pitcher described it as a motivational factor for them to have a leader who is at the forefront. He noted that the leader wasn’t actively calling everyone and urging them to come to Tampa, but rather demonstrating his commitment by being there himself. It was seen as a lead-by-example approach, which encouraged many others to arrive early as well.

Early arrivals result of motivation to rebound


The uncharacteristic buzz at the Yankees’ offseason training facility wasn’t just about keeping pace with teammates. For some players, it was a personal mission to prove their worth. Both Carlos Rodon and Nestor Cortes, left-handed starting pitchers, endured injury-plagued and underwhelming seasons in 2023. Determined to hit the ground running on Opening Day, they arrived early to ramp up their preparation.

Rodon, in particular, sported a noticeably slimmer physique compared to last year. This physical transformation signaled a clear focus on rebounding from a string of injuries that derailed his performance in 2023, resulting in a disappointing 3-8 record and a bloated 6.85 ERA. Similarly, Cortes, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2022, prioritized improving his conditioning to overcome shoulder issues and a concerning ERA from the previous year.

Cortes’ commitment was evident by his early arrival on December 17th. His dedication extended beyond his training, as he even reached out to Clarke Schmidt and catcher Jose Trevino to encourage their participation in the early workouts.

Cortes asked them when they planned to arrive.

Getting to spring training early was just one step in DJ LeMahieu’s ongoing journey of improvement. Despite a decent season last year with a .243 batting average, 15 home runs, and a .718 OPS, LeMahieu wasn’t content with his performance and sought to refine his game further.

Yankees' Anthony Volpe, Alex Verdugo, and Anthony Rizzo at Tampa facility on Ja 13, 2024.
Charles Wenzelberg/NYP

LeMahieu mentioned that he didn’t take much time off, except for a couple of days, emphasizing his commitment to being fully prepared for the upcoming season.

The offseason buzz at the Yankees’ training facility wasn’t limited to just a few players. A core group consistently showed up, including veteran infielder DJ LeMahieu who often trained alongside superstar outfielder Aaron Judge. They were joined by rising prospects like shortstop Anthony Volpe, catcher Austin Wells, infielder Oswald Peraza, and utility player Oswaldo Cabrera.

Another notable presence was top prospect Jasson Dominguez, who diligently rehabbed from his October Tommy John surgery at the complex throughout the offseason. First baseman Anthony Rizzo also joined the early training sessions in late January. On the pitching side, the facility welcomed promising prospects Will Warren, Clayton Beeter, and Chase Hampton, who were eager to get a head start on the season.

Schmidt expressed the sentiment that people used to fear the Yankees when they entered stadiums. He conveyed the desire for their team to embody that same intimidating presence and to make a statement to the league about their readiness to compete at a high level.

Yankees legend praises early workouts, recalls 1998 success

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Yankees legend Andy Pettitte lauded the team’s commitment to early offseason training. His comments sparked memories of the historic 1998 season, a year where core players like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, and Tino Martinez all reported to spring training in Tampa ahead of schedule.

This dedication came on the heels of a disappointing 1997 season, where the Yankees fell short of their ultimate goal – a consecutive World Series title. Finishing second in the AL East and bowing out in the Division Series to the Cleveland Indians left the team hungry for redemption.

Pettitte vividly recalled the intense focus and energy present during those early workouts, crediting them as a significant factor in the Yankees’ remarkable 1998 season. That year, the team shattered the American League record with 114 wins and culminated their efforts with a World Series championship. Pettitte’s endorsement of the current team’s early training regimen suggests he sees a similar potential for success brewing within the young squad.

Pettitte remarked, during his time as a guest instructor in February, that he observed a similar attitude in many of the players present. He noted that although they hadn’t recently won a championship, they understood and embraced the high expectations associated with being a Yankee. Pettitte acknowledged that not everyone welcomes such pressure, as it can be challenging to manage. While acknowledging that winning a championship isn’t guaranteed, he emphasized the importance of maintaining a collective focus on that goal. Pettitte stressed the significance of daily dedication, both physically and mentally, as part of fulfilling that objective.

LeMahieu with Yankees manager Aaron Boone.

The experience proved to be immensely valuable for Wells, who made his debut in September but will enter the 2024 season as a rookie once again. It had been enlightening for him as a young player to observe those veterans, who had significant experience and understand what they were striving for to be fully prepared.

Manager Aaron Boone highlighted the impact of Judge’s influence. He mentioned that one of the starting points is Aaron living here in the winter. He added that Judge began to contribute to creating and nurturing that culture.

However, Judge considered the broader perspective. He mentioned that many players felt embarrassed and disappointed by their performance. It served as a wake-up call for them collectively, as they realized they couldn’t allow a repeat of the previous season.

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