Two years ago they walked into Hadlock Field, carrying high expectations as well as the future of the New York Yankees on their shoulders.

Pitcher Luis Severino, outfielder Aaron Judge, first baseman Greg Bird and catcher Gary Sanchez played for the Trenton Thunder then. Now they are certified Yankees, most of them walking into Fenway Park this week.

It sounds strange to say, but this New York team is younger – and better.

The Yankees, whose game in Boston was rained out Tuesday, are supposedly in a rebuilding year – rebuilding with the third-highest payroll in baseball, mind you. They arrive at Fenway Park with an 11-7 record, a half-game better than Boston (11-8).

There are reasons to doubt that New York can keep this up. But the team could get better. It is missing two players – Sanchez and shortstop Didi Gregorius – because of arm injuries. Both are expected back early in May.

Both Bird and veteran outfielder Brett Gardner are in slumps. They easily could pick it up.

The Yankees have been in need of a revival. In the previous five seasons they made the playoffs once, and that was a 2015 wild- card game they lost to Houston.

In the four seasons before that, 2009-2012, New York made the playoffs every year. It won the World Series in 2009 – after their infamous free-agent spending on CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett.

But the Yankees had been aging and weighed down by big contracts. Burnett has been long gone. Alex Rodriguez was forced to retire midseason last year (and is now a $21 million “consultant” for the Yankees). Teixeira retired after last season. Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann were traded.

Sabathia is in the final year of his deal, at $25 mllion.

The only onerous contract still on the books is Jacoby Ellsbury’s, at $21 million annually through 2020. In Ellsbury’s first three seasons with New York, he averaged 136 games and a .248 average. (At least Ellsbury is in the major leagues, as opposed to Triple-A Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo, with an $11.5 million annual average salary through 2020.)

Ellsbury, Gardner and third baseman Chase Headley are graybeards at age 33 among the regulars (topped only by 37-year-old designated hitter Matt Holliday, signed to a one-year contract this year).

Both Headley (.339 average/.995 OPS) and Ellsbury (.333/.835) are playing well beyond expectations – one of the reasons why skeptics wonder if New York can keep up this pace.

After Ellsbury’s seven-year deal was inked in 2014, the Yankees seemed to change tactics. No more crazy contracts or quick fixes. Aroldis Chapman was signed this winter for five years and $86 million and is a lights-out closer (0.00 ERA/0.79 WHIP), anchoring baseball’s best bullpen (1.39/0.95).

For the most part, New York is turning to the kids.

Sanchez, 24, batted .299/1.032 last year with 20 home runs in 53 games. Catcher Austin Romine is subbing in well (.324/.840), but the Yankees look forward to Sanchez’s return.

Judge, 25, has six home runs. He’s hitting .279/.983.

Bird, 24, who missed last year with shoulder surgery, is batting .104. That shouldn’t last. When he was called up in 2015, Bird hit .261/.871 with 11 home runs in 46 games.

Severino, 23, is 1-1 with a 4.04 ERA, and 27 strikeouts/two walks in 20 innings. He is scheduled to start Wednesday.

We used to watch these prospects play for the Trenton Thunder, then wonder who the Yankees will trade them for. Now, New York is holding onto to its prospects.

General Manager Brian Cashman has made shrewd deals and acquisitions. He traded reliever Adam Warren to the Cubs for second baseman Starlin Castro, 27 (.357/.971), then got Warren back in a trade for Chapman (who returned as a free agent). Shortstop Ronald Torreyes, 24 (.293/.724) was on waivers when the Yankees got him back. He’s filling in well for Gregorius.

On the mound, Sabathia is holding up (2-1, 2.70 ERA) at age 36. The rest of the staff is 28 and younger, including lefty Jordan Montgomery, 24 (1-1, 3.78), a fourth-round draft pick in 2014.

This is a young team that’s supposed to rebuilding butdoesn’t appear to realize that.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ClearTheBases

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