At this time last year, DJ LeMahieu was entering spring training as a very intriguing, super-utility option for the Yankees. GM Brian Cashman signed him to a two-year, $24 million deal, and many believed his high-contact bat and smooth glove anywhere in the field could be a catalyst of sorts for a lineup bursting with power bats.
The preseason catalyst actually became the team MVP.
LeMahieu was everything the Yankees hoped to see and much more after having a career year at the plate, and providing manager Aaron Boone with a consistent presence in a lineup wrecked by injuries. He earned his third All-Star nod after posting a .327/.375/.518 slash line with a career-high 26 homers and 102 RBI. That kind of leap in production also had a Silver Slugger Award come his way as well.
However, if you know LeMahieu, you know personal accomplishments mean nothing without the biggest award -- a World Series -- at the end of the day.
"First one, really cool," LeMahieu said on Tuesday about the Silver Slugger. "But honestly, I was disappointed in the way things ended last year."
In that heart-wrenching loss down in Houston, LeMahieu's heroics reached its highest peak when he sent a two-run homer over the right field wall in the top of the ninth to tie Game 6 of the ALCS to keep the Yankees' hopes alive. That homer could have been the one talked about for ages if Jose Altuve didn't end it with a walk-off homer in the next frame.
And speaking of the Astros, LeMahieu wasn't animated like some of his other teammates about the sign-stealing scandal. He was even keel when he said he just wants to move forward.
"I'd just say not angry -- I'm disappointed," the 31-year-old said. "It's one of those things I hope we can move on from and it's behind us and we know we're playing on an even playing level now."
For most, though, playing against the Yankees' lineup doesn't seem too even. Decimated by injuries, this team still won 103 games to take the AL East crown, and now they just got even better with Gerrit Cole serving as the team's bonafide ace. LeMahieu called him "one of the toughest pitchers I've faced" -- he is 2-for-18 off Cole in his career, though he singled off him to begin Game 3 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium last season -- and admitted it was "a tough time sleeping" when he saw the news broke.
Many are looking at that Cole acquisition, to go along with the Yankees having virtually the same group of players on their roster, as the perfect World Series formula. LeMahieu seems to agree, especially after what he experienced in his first trip to a championship series in his career.
"It would mean a lot to us. It would mean a lot to our fans," he said. "I think it's time and we're ready for the challenge."
Is he ready to try and follow up his career year, though? He wouldn't get into that other than to say that he is simply going to do what he did last year, going all the way back to spring training: showing up and putting in the work.
"Show up every day ready to play like I always do," he said. "Like I said, hopefully I can be a force at the top of the lineup."