Yankees baseball seems to finally be on the horizon, so it’s time to consider which bench players will crack the team’s roster for the start of the season.
Dear baseball fan: if you’re reading this, congratulations, you’ve made it! After months upon months of no baseball due to the coronavirus, followed by an ugly labor war between the owners and the players, baseball is finally almost back, barring another coronavirus outbreak. The Yankees gathered at Yankee Stadium on Saturday for their first “Summer Camp” full team workout in preparation for their first game against the Nationals on July 23rd.
Among the handful of rule changes MLB has implemented for this season includes expanded rosters, with teams starting with 30 players on their active roster and a three-man “taxi squad” for road games. The active roster will be gradually reduced to 28 players after two weeks and 26 players after four weeks.
It’s expected that the Yankees will carry 14 or 15 position players to start. There’s a strong possibility that they could opt to carry more pitchers than position players in order to ease their pitchers in and not have them throw so many innings out of the gate.
The players expected to start for the team (barring injury or players sitting out) this season are Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton. Miguel Andujar, Mike Tauchman and Kyle Higashioka are essentially locks to make the team as well, which leaves the Yankees with two or three open bench spots. Let’s take a look at some players who are candidates to round out the position players that will start on their active roster.
With the defensively challenged Andujar being the only backup infielder who is currently seen as a lock to make the roster, Wade’s stellar glove, defensive versatility and speed make him a strong candidate to claim one of the remaining bench spots. He has appeared in 109 regular-season games over the last three seasons with the Yankees, making appearances at second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield positions. Wade’s speed is his calling card and would be a welcome asset for the team, especially with MLB instituting a rule that each team will start with a runner on second base during extra innings this year in an effort to speed up games. Wade has swiped 143 bags over his 694 career minor league games played and recorded seven more stolen bases in his 43 games with the Yankees last season.
Though he has shown brief flashes of potential offensively, he has yet to find much success with the bat at the major league level, slashing .197/.268/.298 with three home runs and 18 RBIs over 241 plate appearances in 109 career games. With that being said, he posted career-highs across the board in 2019, slashing .245/.330/.362 with a 88 wRC+, 86 OPS+, 23 hits, 16 runs, six extra-base hits, two home runs, 11 RBIs and 11 walks in 108 plate appearances over 43 games. An impressive Summer Camp showing offensively would certainly help his case to make the roster, but his defense and speed make him a strong enough candidate as is, and would likely be the reasons that he would make the team.
After spending parts of seven seasons in the Yankees minor league system and even briefly heading over to the Mariners in 2018 after they selected him in the Rule 5 Draft, Ford finally got the call to the big leagues last April, and he certainly made the most of it. The first baseman appeared in 50 games for the Bombers last season, serving as one of many replacement players who got extended playing time when nearly all of the team’s usual starters missed time with injuries. He slashed .259/.350/.559 with a 134 wRC+ and 137 OPS+ across his 163 plate appearances, crushing 12 home runs and recording 25 RBIs. He also demonstrated impressive discipline at the plate, walking 17 times and only striking out 28 times.
Ford even provided one of 2019’s most memorable moments for the Yankees, blasting a walk-off homer to cap off a 5-4 come from behind victory over the Athletics last September, clinching a series victory. Having lost Didi Gregorius to the Phillies in free agency, the Yankees have a noticeable lack of left-handed power bats on their current roster, with Brett Gardner, Mike Tauchman, and the switch-hitting Aaron Hicks leaving a bit to be desired in the power department. This is a hole that Ford could fill quite nicely and is one of his strongest assets that makes him another stellar candidate to snag one of the open bench spots.
Herrera was the talk of the town among Yankees fans during March before the coronavirus put baseball on hold, as his .400/.444/.600 slash line and four extra-base hits in 11 Spring Training games highlighted him as an intriguing underdog option to sneak his way onto the roster in the wake of injuries to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Before being brought in by the Yankees, Herrera appeared in 149 games with the Reds, Royals, and Marlins in 2018 and 2019 and didn’t do too much for them offensively, but much like Wade, he showed his value as a speedster and reliable, versatile glove.
Given the success of the Yankees’ analytical department in finding hidden offensive gems such as Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, and Mike Tauchman in recent years, many fans were excited at the prospect of Herrera becoming the next in line to blossom offensively out of nowhere for the Bombers. Now that Judge, Stanton and Aaron Hicks are all at full health and expected to be ready for the start of the season, Herrera’s path to a roster spot is much less clear, but anything is possible if he can build off his impressive Spring Training performance in Summer Camp in the coming weeks.
Another speedy and defensively versatile option, Estrada, like Ford, was embraced by the Yankees’ fanbase last season after putting up solid numbers in the wake of all the team’s injuries. He played in 35 games across a number of separate stints with the big-league club, primarily appearing as a second baseman but also getting time at shortstop, right field and left field. Estrada slashed .250/.295/.438 with three home runs and 12 RBIs across his 69 plate appearances, also stealing four bases without being thrown out. He appeared in 60 games with the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders last season as well, slashing .266/.313/.452 with eight home runs, 27 extra-base hits and three stolen bases across 259 plate appearances.
The 24 year old Venezuelan could fall victim to the fact that he’s competing with a number of other infielders with similar skillsets for a limited number of bench spots, but having better offensive numbers at the major league level than Wade and Herrera do could work in his favor.
The Yankees announced this past Sunday that Duffy was brought in on a minor league contract and was added to the Summer Camp roster, adding yet another infield option to the mix. Duffy debuted in 2014 and has since spent parts of five seasons with the Giants and Rays. He has played 452 games in his career, slashing .282/.338/.380 with 22 home runs, 105 extra-base hits, and 169 RBIs. He has played upwards of 130 games twice, in 2015 and 2018, with those being his two best offensive seasons statistically as well. Duffy signed with the Rangers prior to this season and appeared in 13 Spring Training games for them, but was recently released.
The 29-year-old has primarily played third base throughout his career, appearing in 377 games at the hot corner, but has also recorded 30 appearances at shortstop, 18 appearances at second base, and one appearance at first base. Duffy was injured for much of 2019 and didn’t make his season debut until July 23rd, ultimately slashing .252/.343/.327 with one home run, eight doubles, and 12 RBIs in 169 plate appearances over 46 games for the Rays. He has also appeared in 11 career postseason games, eight in 2014 and three in 2019. Nevertheless, Duffy will still be a long shot to make the roster, as he will have to beat out plenty of younger players who may bring more to the table than he does.
One of the most polarizing figures in the whole Yankees organization, Frazier finally got a chance to show what he could do offensively with some extended playing time in 2019. In 246 plate appearances across 69 games, he slashed .267/.317/.489 with a 108 wRC+ and 111 OPS+, also recording 12 home runs, 26 extra-base hits, and 38 RBIs. The on-field knock on Frazier continued to be his defense, as he continued to routinely struggle with taking good routes to balls and with bobbling balls that were hit to him, both in left field and right field. Unless his defense drastically improves, Frazier seems to be best suited for a DH role, which simply isn’t available to him with the Yankees right now.
Entering 2020, Frazier yet again faces a problem of not having somewhere to play, given that Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, Giancarlo Stanton, and Mike Tauchman are all ahead of him on the outfield depth chart and all seem to be locks for the roster. The Yankees are unlikely to carry a sixth outfielder, especially given that Miguel Andujar could also see some time in left field in an effort to get his bat into the lineup however they can. Frazier could make some noise in Summer Camp with his bat and especially if his defense seems to have improved, but as it stands right now, it would be quite a surprise to see him break camp with the team.