by Owen Hetherington
March 24, 2021
Thursday, in other words, tomorrow, marks one week until the Yankees take on the Toronto Blue Jays on Opening Day in the Bronx. It will be the first regular-season game with fans in attendance since October 18, 2019. As of right now, the roster is pretty much solidified on paper other than the final two bench spots.
Brett Gardner and Kyle Higashioka are clear locks to make the roster. Brett Gardner enters the 2020 campaign marking his 14th season in pinstripes. I questioned all offseason whether or not the Yankees would bring back Gardner with the depth they already have at the outfield position.
The Yankees’ system is loaded with talent in the outfield with Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, Estevan Florial (minors), and Mike Tauchman. Bringing back Gardner will provide both additional depth in the outfield and more importantly a veteran leadership presence in the outfield.
I believe, along with many others, that Stanton is going to be the full-time DH for the Yankees and that he should not step foot in the outfield under any circumstances. His power and bat in the lineup are too valuable to risk another injury from playing the outfield. With that being said, the Yankees will have four guys who can play the outfield who are locks for the Opening Day roster (Hicks, Judge, Frazier, and Gardner).
Kyle Higashioka is also another clear choice for the backup catcher position. Higashioka became the clear choice in the Postseason in 2020 amidst Gary Sanchez’s struggles at the plate and defensively. Higgy finished the year batting .250 (12-for-48) in 16 games with 4 HR’s, 10 RBI, and had an OPS of .771. The Yankees need a backup catcher on the roster which stamps Higashioka’s ticket to the big club.
The question now becomes, what other players will make the Opening Day roster and take the final two bench spots? There are four guys in the mix for that spot: Mike Tauchman, Jay Bruce, Derek Dietrich, and Tyler Wade.
I’ll go through each of these guys and what I think they could bring to the roster in 2021…
Tyler Wade has appeared in 161 games in pinstripes since he made his MLB debut on June 27, 2017. Since 2019, Wade has batted .209 (38-for-182) in 95 games with 6 doubles, one triple, 5 HR’s, 21 RBI and has swiped 21 bases. In four seasons with the Yankees, Wade has a FLD% of .981, making appearances at 2nd (90 games), SS (35 games), OF (32 games), 3B (6 games), and DH (3 games). His versatility on the baseball field is one of the best in the Yankees’ system and his speed has clear value.
As of last Friday, Wade was struggling at the plate, hitting .136 (3-for-22) in 9 games with two doubles, 1 RBI, 1 SB, and 10 strikeouts. Since then, he has made two starts (March 21 and 23) and is 4-for-8 with a walk, an RBI, and a double. He is heating up at the right time, making his case for why he deserves to be on this roster. On Wednesday, he made his start at second base then took over in RF in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Wade’s Spring Training was off to a bit of a rocky start, but he’s heating up at the right time to make his case to make the Opening Day roster. He is extremely versatile in the field, able to play both multiple outfield and infield positions, and has the speed to be a real threat on the basepaths.
Most Yankees fans, including myself, believed that Jay Bruce would be nothing more than insurance, should a few of the Yankees get hurt this season. 2021 will mark Bruce’s 14th season in the big leagues and the Yankees will be his sixth team.
Coming into Spring Training, I believed that Jay Bruce would see some regular at-bats and not put up the numbers to make his case for a roster spot. However, since his first Spring Training game on March 1st, he has shown that he’s healthy and able to play both outfield positions along with first base.
In 12 games this Spring, Bruce is hitting .207 (6-for-29) with 2 HRs, 3 RBI, and 7 Ks. He has made appearances in LF (3 games), RF (2 games), and 1B (7 games). His performance has shocked me, to say the least, and has far exceeded my expectations of him.
Out of the four probable players to make the Yankees Opening Day roster, I think Dietrich has the worst chance to do so.
Dietrich spent the first six years of his career with the Miami Marlins, where he hit .254 in 608 games with 60 HRs, 204 RBI, and had an OPS of .757. In 2019, he was a member of the Cincinnati Reds where he slashed .187/.328/ .462 in 113 games. He was on the Texas Rangers during the shortened 2020 season and hit .197 in 25 games.
Dietrich is also a versatile player, playing multiple infield positions, and has made some appearances in the outfield.
During the Spring, Dietrich is hitting .167 in 11 games with 1 HR, 4 RBI, and 9 strikeouts. His most impressive number this spring: 4 hit by pitches. Although he is a versatile player and is a ball magnet in the batter’s box, I don’t think this is enough to give him the edge over Wade for the backup middle infielder.
The Sock Man has been on a revenge tour this Spring to help secure his spot on this roster for April 1st . Yesterday, he was the leadoff spot and made the start out in LF. In his first at-bat, he launched a ball out to right field on the first pitch of the game, taking Tarik Skubal deep to give the Yankees their first run of the ballgame.
Like Bruce, Tauchman could provide a lefty bat off the bench for the Yankees lineup. Last season, Tachman played 43 games where he hit .242 with 6 doubles, 14 RBI, had 18 runs and 14 walks.
In two seasons with the Yankees, Tauchman has slashed .268/.356/.451 and has 13 HRs, 61 RBI, 48 BB, and 24 doubles in 130 games. He has been everything you could ask for from a backup outfielder and would likely have a starting spot on almost any other team in Major League Baseball.
This Spring, Tauchman has put up decent numbers, hitting .269 (7-for-26) with 3 HRs, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 1 SB, and 6 runs. He is tied for the most home runs for a Yankee this Spring and has put up impressive at-bats against opposing pitchers. He has played all three outfield positions this Spring, making the majority of his starts out in CF.
So Who’s Making This Team?
I think it’s clear that the Yankees need a middle infielder for one of their bench spots. I can’t think of a reason to argue against that statement. So, that puts a competition of Wade vs. Dietrich for one of the spots.
Wade is the best option to take for a backup infielder. He is quick on the bases, a good guy to have in the clubhouse, and is versatile in the field. He will likely secure a spot on the Opening Day roster.
If Wade makes the roster, this leaves another competition between Jay Bruce and Mike Tauchman. Derek Dietrich could also be thrown in that mix, but I think he’s the bottom man on the totem pole.
Jay Bruce has exceeded my expectations this Spring and can provide a big lefty bat to the Yankees bench. On the other hand, Mike Tauchman can play all three outfield positions and has been nothing but reliable on the Yankees’ bench since he arrived in 2019. Jay Bruce could also provide a veteran presence to the Yankees’ locker room with his experience. It was clear when he signed with the Yankees this offseason that he wanted to be a part of this team and help win a championship. Mike Tauchman is out of minor league options, meaning the Yankees would likely have to trade him before Opening Day because he won’t make it through waivers.
I think the clear decision here is to take Mike Tauchman to be the last bench spot on the Yankees 2021 roster. He has been a valuable piece in this organization and can play numerous outfield positions. If Luke Voit needs a day off, DJ LeMahieu can slide over to first and cover first. There is no place for Jay Bruce on this roster, despite his numbers from Spring Training.
Jay Bruce will likely opt out of his minor league contract with the Yankees and seek employment on another ball club. He has performed well enough to make another roster and I have no issue with letting him go. Mike Tauchman is the best option between the two and provides as much power on the left side and more options in the outfield. Jay Bruce is a liability in the outfield and would only serve as a backup first baseman.
I think with a bench of Wade, Tauchman, Gardner, and Higashioka, the Yankees will have the depth they need to fill the holes when players need off-days or injuries arise. I would be happy to see this core of guys make the Opening Day roster on April 1st .