NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 07: Mark Teixeira #25 of the New York Yankees in action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on August 7, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Blue Jays defeated the Yankees 2-1 after ten innings. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Up until two weeks ago, the talk around the water cooler had to do with the controversy surrounding the possibility that Greg Bird would spend most or all of the 2016 season in Scranton instead of New York. With Bird now out for the entire season after surgery for a torn labrum, a lack of upper organizational depth is apparent as the Bombers look for a backup to starter Mark Teixeira. Fans clamoring for signings of anyone from Pedro Alvarez to Ike Davis have come and gone and the parent club seems set on giving 2015 acquisition Dustin Ackley the first shot at the backup role. Teixeira becomes a free agent after the 2016 season and is unlikely to be brought back for next year. So, now is a good time to take a look ahead to what the club has in the pipeline going forward at the position. The first position look at catchers can be found here.
In the Bronx:
The Starter: Mark Teixeira
Teixeira goes into the final year of his 8 year/ $180 million contract after three seasons that have been marred by injury. After his first three years in New York produced MVP-like numbers, Teixeira has had trouble staying on the field. This included being limited to 15 games in 2014 after wrist surgery in April of that year. 2015 looked like a resurgence for Teixeira as he had a .906 OPS with 31 home runs before a leg fracture from a foul ball in August ended his year prematurely. A healthy 2016 from Tex will be critical for the Yankees success as his power and defense will be counted on heavily. Despite going into his age 36 season, a 30 HR, 100 RBI season is not out of the question. His defense is still among the best in the league at his position. Teixeira is the obvious choice at first base for the Yankees this season and the team will have more worries about him being able to stay on the field than what his production will be like.
The Backup: Greg Bird
Bird burst onto the scene after Teixeira’s injury in 2015 and gave fans an early look at the future for the position. John Sterling’s call of “Bye bye, birdie” was heard many times as the season came to a close as Bird came up with one clutch hit after another. The offseason saw many fans outraged at the possibility Bird would play in Triple-A in 2016. However, a healthy Teixeira in the Bronx and no DH at bats available would mean spending a good amount of time on the bench instead of getting regular playing time. Bird is no doubt the Yankees future at first base. He should get that opportunity in 2017 and the fan favorite has the opportunity to be a fixture in the lineup for years to come. One thing to watch will be his ability to stay injury free. Bird was drafted out of high school as a catcher, but was moved to first base early in his professional career as a result of frequent injuries.
The 2016 Backup: Dustin Ackley
Ackley was acquired from the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline in 2015 as the Yankees were searching for second basemen. Ackley ended up playing five different positions in the Bronx after his arrival and looks to be getting first shot at the backup first base role in 2016. He is a former number one draft pick of the Mariners, but never quite fulfilled his early promise. A resurgence with the bat came in a small sample size with the Yankees as he batted .288 with an OPS of .987 and four home runs. Ackley has only a handful of games under his belt in the majors at the position and whether he can stick at least for the upcoming year remains to be seen. If he can handle regular chances defensively and continues to improve offensively, Ackley could prove to be a very valuable commodity. If he can’t, it will have the front office searching the waiver wire and looking to make a deal.
With no one even signed to play first base at Triple-A Scranton, Snyder has the highest level of experience in the system. Snyder has a quality bat, but has missed large chunks of time as a professional because of injury as well. The 10th round pick out of Ole Miss in 2012, Snyder’s at bats have been limited and he has only seen a handful of games above Class A Tampa. He hit well in Tampa, but at 25 years of age was well above the average age for that level. Snyder has massive power from the left side of the plate and is an excellent contact hitter. It remains to be seen whether he can handle pitching at a higher level, and at this time certainly is a work in progress. He could turn into a late maturing prospect, but could be an injury bust just as easily.
Mike Ford has an excellent eye and has shown some power in his short professional career. The 23 year old has hit well at both stops in Class A ball and looks to keep his production at the plate and in the field moving forward as he should get a look in Trenton in 2016. A backup role in the Bronx in 2017 or 2018 is not out of the question here.
Gittens showed immediate pop with the bat for the Yankees in the Gulf Coast League in 2015 after getting drafted out of Grayson Junior College, hitting .363 with eight home runs. He will get a shot at full season ball in 2016 either in Charleston or possibly Tampa.
The future is close at hand as Greg Bird should take over the reigns at first base next season. Mark Teixeira is still the rock there for the time being. A minor league signing to fill the role at Triple-A should be forthcoming. The Yankees have to hope that the young prospects at the lower levels of the organization fulfill their promise to fill their pipeline for the future. The future looks bright, but an injury or two can seriously complicate things.