Baseball is back! Pitchers and catchers are having their first official workout today, with some pitchers battling for the fifth spot in the rotation and others perhaps vying for the final spot in the bullpen. But starting this season, rosters will expand from 25 players to 26 through August 31, meaning that there is an extra spot available for someone once camp breaks. Once September hits, rosters expand to 28 players.
Now, the cap on the number of pitchers is set at 13, so the extra players aren’t likely to be an arm given that the Yankees typically carry an eight-man bullpen.
Here is the depth chart of the people who are locks (or at least near locks) to make the Opening Day roster:
C: Gary Sanchez, Kyle Higashioka
1B: Luke Voit
2B: DJ LeMahieu
SS: Gleyber Torres
3B: Gio Urshela, Miguel Andujar
OF: Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Tauchman
That brings the total up to 24. The bench will likely consist of Kyle Higashioka and the loser of the Urshela/Andujar competition at third, so there are two spots left. Here are some options the team has for those final roster spaces:
Wade has always been viewed as an above-average defender. He had a +3 DRS at second base in 2019 and a UZR/150 of 1.0. He also possesses very good speed: his 29.1 feet per second sprint speed last season was the fastest on the team and in the top seven percent of the entire league.
One knock on Wade in his MLB career is that he has not hit. This was the case in the first half of 2019, as he hit a measly .204 and carried a 30.4 percent strikeout rate. But in the second half, Wade started to find his stroke, hitting .289 and lowering that strikeout rate to 20.4 percent.
If Wade can continue to play solid defense and be a threat on the base paths, he will be a front-runner to nab a spot on the bench. It also doesn’t hurt that he can play every position in the field other than pitcher, catcher, and first base.
Will this finally be Frazier’s year to shine? The 25-year-old has only accumulated 231 major-league plate appearances over three seasons. Part of that is due to his defense, and perhaps another part is due to his character. But no one is denying his offensive abilities. This is the guy who Brian Cashman said had “legendary” bat speed.
Frazier has put up a 118 wRC+ in 2019 in 69 games played. Unfortunately, he was -13 outs above average (OAA) in the field. That’s pretty bad. While Tyler Wade is not great defensively as an outfielder, he was still only at -1 outs above average. The Yankees are already one of the best offensive teams in the league (if not the best), so as long as Wade is an option it is hard to see Frazier’s bat being enough to overlook his defensive woes.
Ford made his major-league debut in 2019 and did not disappoint. The 27-year-old first baseman hit .259 with an excellent 134+ wRC+. He also managed to slug 12 HR in just 163 plate appearances, which would translate to a whopping 44 HR over 600 plate appearances (about a full season). He also had a 45.6 percent hard-hit rate, which would have ranked 27th in the entire league had he qualified.
All those stats are great, but one thing Ford has going for him is that he is a left-handed hitter. The only lefties in the lineup would be Gardner and Tauchman, so Ford would provide a nice option of the bench, especially since teams might not be able to bring in a LOOGY ( left-handed one out guy) to face him given the new three-batter minimum rule.
He is also not a bad defender at first as he had a +2 OAA last season.
Estrada seems to be the dark horse in this competition. He played in 35 games last year and hit .250. He was about average defensively with an overall +1 OAA, but like Wade he offers versatility. Estrada had time at second and short as well as in left and right.
Barring an injury, it seems like he is unlikely to grab a major-league roster spot once camp breaks.
This is unlikely, as a third catcher would only ever be used in an emergency where the other two catchers got injured during the same game. But if somehow it comes to this, you have a few catchers who the Yankees just signed: Chris Ianetta, Erik Kratz, and Josh Thole.
Prediction: Wade and Ford get the last two spots on the bench
Wade’s versatility, speed, and defense add elements that are not so prominent in the Yankees’ starting lineup. Ford gives the team a lefty bat off of the bench and someone who has the potential to give Voit a run for his money if the incumbent struggles at any time or shows effects from his bilateral core injuries.