The Yankees have plenty of competitions among positions as we begin spring training, but which players are on the bubble for bench spots?
The calendar has turned to late February, which means that spring training games are officially upon us. Amidst all the (mostly) meaningless fun that is spring training, there are a number of Yankees players that still have something to prove as they make their bids to crack Opening Day roster. With the newly introduced 26-man rosters for this MLB season, the Yankees will enter Opening Day carrying 13 pitchers and 13 position players. There appear to be 11 position players for the Bombers that are essentially locks to make the roster, barring injury: Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Brett Gardner, Mike Tauchman, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar and Kyle Higashioka.
Either Tauchman or Andujar will likely ride the bench to start the season, joining Higashioka, the backup catcher, as the players to have cemented roles as bench players. This leaves space for two more players to sneak onto the roster in backup roles. Here’s a look at some players who are will jockey for those last two spots in the next month as the Yankees round out the players who will start the year with the big league squad.
With Voit being the only true first baseman currently on the roster, Ford has a very strong case to snag one of the remaining bench spots on the Yankees’ roster and serve as the backup first baseman. Ford signed with the Yankees as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and spent parts of seven seasons in the minor leagues for the team before he finally got the call to the majors in April of 2019. He was optioned and recalled numerous times throughout the course of the season before he would ultimately spend the rest of the season with the team after he was recalled on August 3.
Ford would appear in 50 games for the team, starting 37 of them, largely filling in for Voit when he got bit by the injury bug. Albeit in a small sample size, Ford’s numbers for the big league squad were fantastic, as he slashed .259/.350/.559 with 12 homers, seven doubles and 25 RBIs in 163 plate appearances, posting a 134 wRC+ and 137 OPS+. Perhaps most impressive were the 17 walks that Ford drew, demonstrating an impressively patient eye for a player with so few major league games under his belt. He also showcased his ability to provide a big hit off the bench when called upon, launching two pinch-hit homers in the span of two weeks in September, the first of which came as a walk-off off of Atheltics closer Liam Hendriks- the first time a Yankees rookie ever hit a pinch-hit walk-off blast.
Some have suggested that Ford could give Voit, who struggled when he returned from his sports hernia injury last season, a run for his money as the starting first baseman, but the job seems to be Voit’s to lose entering the season. Ford certainly is a compelling option to make the roster as a power bat off the bench and to serve as the backup first baseman, and a strong spring training will only aid his case.
With the Yankees lacking a true utility player off the bench, Wade, who has played second base, shortstop, third base, left field, center field and right field at the major league level, would fill that role quite nicely. After years of showing promise with the bat in spring training and then not delivering during the regular season, Wade finally put together a respectable enough season with the bat in 2019, slashing .245/.330/.362 in 108 plate appearances across 43 games with the big league team. He didn’t show much power, but the long ball isn’t his game, as Wade instead excels as a slap hitter who wreaks havoc on the basepaths and is tremendous defensively all around the diamond.
He spent most of 2019 at AAA with the RailRiders, where he slashed .296/.352/.425 with 19 doubles in 334 plate appearances across 79 games. He showed off his trademark speed as well, swiping 13 bags and even recording four triples. Wade has flashed the potential to be a tremendous hitter at points in his career, most notably in his 85 games at AAA in 2017, when he slashed .310/.382/.460 with 22 doubles and 26 stolen bases in 286 plate appearances. If Wade can translate that ability to get on base and then do damage with his legs at the major league level for the Yankees, he can without a doubt be a key player off the bench for the team in 2019.
LeMahieu and Torres are the only middle infielders who are currently locks to make the team, so Wade’s ability to play both second base and shortstop, as well as third base and all the outfield positions, make him a strong candidate to make the Opening Day roster.
Estrada’s case to make the Opening Day roster is incredibly similar to Wade’s, as the two of them can play a range of defensive positions and are solid contact hitters with speed. Like Ford, Estrada made his major league debut in 2019, appearing in 35 games in his rookie season. He showed more promise with the bat than Wade did in his limited time with the big league club, slashing .250/.294/.438 with three homers, three doubles and 12 RBIs in 69 plate appearances. Estrada is naturally an infielder, but was thrust into having to play some left field and right field for the first time in his career shortly after he was called up, since the Yankees were dealing with so many injuries to their other outfielders. In his seven total seasons playing across multiple levels of the minors and in the majors, Estrada has played 267 games at shortstop, the most he has at any position. He’s also played 180 games at second base and 52 at third base, making him experienced and well equipped to play all three positions at the major league level. The discrepancies between Wade and Estrada are few, but Wade ultimately likely has the edge in the speed and defensive versatility departments, while Estrada has shown more promise with the bat at the major league level, at least to this point. Wade also has the advantage of being a left handed hitter, something the Yankees have a shortage of with the way the roster looks at this point. One of the two of Estrada and Wade will likely make the roster to serve as a speedy utility player off the bench, and with there being so few differences between each of their styles of play, it could very well come down to which one of them has the better spring training.
It would be a bit of a surprise to see Frazier break camp with the team, largely because the team is already carrying four outfielders in Judge, Stanton, Tauchman and Gardner. Andujar is also expected to play some left field in spring training games as the team figures out how to get his bat into the lineup. With that being said, Frazier’s bat alone would make a strong case to crack any roster across all of Major League Baseball.
The 25 year old finally had an opportunity to showcase his skills for an extended period of time at the major league level in 2019, appearing in 69 games across multiple stints with the big league squad. He showed off his patented “legendary bat speed”, being a reliable offensive contributor among the Yankees’ “next man up” brigade. In 246 plate appearances across his 69 games, Frazier slashed .267/.317/.489 with 12 homers, 14 doubles and 38 RBIs, posting a 108 wRC+ and 111 OPS+. Despite his solid offensive numbers, Frazier only put together a 0.1 fWAR for the team in 2020. That was because of his horrid defense. Frequently bobbling, misplaying and taking poor routes to balls in the outfield, Frazier was optioned to Triple-A on June 16, not because his bat wasn’t good enough, but because his defense was simply hurting the team too much to have him occupy a roster spot.
He spent the summer in Triple-A working on improving his defense while getting everyday at bats, and was recalled on September 1 when rosters expanded. He looked solid enough in left field in the team’s first spring training game on Saturday, February 22, but there are still legitimate concerns about his defensive capabilities at the major league level, which will likely make him the odd man out of the Yankees outfielders to make the roster. In the event of an injury to an outfielder, Frazier could certainly find himself in the Bronx at some point this season, but it would take a phenomenal spring training from him to put himself in a position to make the team.