by SSTN Admin
This week we presented the following to our writers:
Aaron Judge was seen taking ground balls at first base. Which Yankees player will play an unlikely position in 2023?
Here are their responses:
Paul Semendinger - We could see any number of players in left field, but for fun, I'll go a different direction. Kyle Higashioka will pitch in 2023.
Ed Botti - It would not surprise me one bit if we saw IKF catch in an emergency situation this season. With practically no lefty relievers, maybe when they play the Dodgers we will see Rizzo come out of the pen to strike out Freddy Freeman once again!!
Ethan Semendinger - My big prediction is that we are going to see Gleyber Torres playing some left field this season. The Yankees are currently in this overwhelming mood to having all their players be multi-position athletes, and I think Gleyber could be next on the list.
There are any number of scenarios where Gleyber could be getting pushed off of second base: such as DJ LeMahieu forcing the issue, Anthony Volpe being ready for the MLB, or Oswaldo Cabrera needing MLB at-bats to name a few. Combine this with the Yankees having no real plan in left field behind the oft-injured Aaron Hicks. Add in that Gleyber Torres could also be a hot commodity around the trade deadline and showcasing that he can play some outfield could help the Yankees get back a better return.
There were also a few shifts last year that saw Gleyber Torres playing against some batters in the outfield. It isn't the most unrealistic thing to imagine!
Cary Green - The recent Spring Training occurrence of Aaron Judge fielding throws to first base indicates, as Aaron Boone said, that Yankees needed someone to take throws for Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Oswald Peraza during practice.
Boone further stated that though Judge played some first base in high school, the Yankees wouldn't consider using Judge there for at least another five-years at which point, they might be open to having those sorts of questions. Obviously, Judge is a large, "tight-end" on the gridiron type physically, so he's be an outstanding target Yankees infielders could throw to at first base, but currently he's very athletic and mobile and he’ll no doubt be playing right field for the Yankees for the foreseeable future, seeing as how right field is easily a more important defensive position than first base.
With the often injured Harrison Bader penciled in as the starting center fielder, I could easily see a scenario where the Yankees, considering their lack of Triple-A depth in center field, might actually need to use Judge in center field again this season (like they did in 2022), which might open some playing time in the outfield for the likes of both Giancarlo Stanton and Oswaldo Cabrera.
Perhaps the real takeaway from Boone having to use Judge a bit in practice at first base is that the Yankees are extremely thin at the position behind Anthony Rizzo, who they brought back via free agency this offseason. This season, the Yankees plan appears to be to continue using LeMahieu at third base, first base and of course second base, but they will likely need to dip into their farm system to find some depth behind Rizzo - considering he's been dealing with a balky back for some time now.
Make no mistake, DJ LeMahieu is being counted on to be Rizzo's primary backup but the Yankees aren't rushing him back to playing the field given his toe injury that he's dealt with most recently, so with LeMahieu not quite ready to step into his role, Boone understandably inserted Judge to help out.
Once LeMahieu is ready to begin fielding on an everyday basis, Judge of course will focus on the outfield. The plan going forward is a bit more muddled as the Yankees don't have a single highly regarded first base prospect in their system.
That said, the Yankees do have some temporary fill-in candidates as options thanks to Cashman’s apparent 2023’s depth plan as a Non Roster Invite was extended to left-hand hitting Jake Bauers, who most recently logged some big league experience while with the Reds. Though Bauers has MLB experience, he’s a light hitting option who’s only posted a .289 wOBA / 82 wRC+ / -0.6 fWAR across 1,126 Big league plate-appearances.
With a decent arm (67th percentile) and adequate speed (61st percentile) Bauers would be a defensively solid first baseman/left fielder for the Yankees and for a stretch of home games, he could conceivably fill in for a short stint, but I wouldn’t dare suggest he could be counted on for a more substantial role, say if Rizzo goes out for an extended period of time.
The Yankees also have another left-hand hitting first baseman/utility player stashed in Triple-A, in Chad Bell who is also possibly capable of being called up this season if needed, but he’s struggled with Triple-A pitching in limited reps and probably isn’t going to be of much help if the Yankees are in dire straits. This makes LeMahieu the likely player that the Yankees would count on to step for a longer stretch, if needed.
Beyond the coming season and with the Yankees payroll dropping $95,586,000 after the season as players like Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Harrison Bader, Frankie Montas, Luis Severino and Wandy Peralta all set to be free agents, the Yankees do have more projectable talent that might be of help in 2024 and beyond.
One option as this season’s Minor League season gets into swing might be for the Yankees to begin moving left-handed slugger Austin Wells to more of a dual first-base left field role. He's fast for a catcher, but relatively slow for a left fielder, with scouting reports suggesting his speed is a 40 on the 20-80 scale. That places him roughly in the 50th percentile of MLB outfielders, for a frame of reference, equivalent to Oswaldo Cabrera actually. Meanwhile, his throwing arm grades out as a 40 on the same scale, likely placing him in the 35th-ish percentile of MLB outfielders.
More than likely, Wells is the Yankees first baseman of the future. As always, the more versatile a prospect is, the more Major League at-bats await them, so the Yankees would be wise to put a full court press on getting him acclimated at first base and also left field as this past season may have shown that he’s not a Major League catcher.
In terms of actual projectable first basemen in the Yankees system, Wells seems to be the best option for 2024 and beyond and it would be pretty cool if Trey Sweeney could wind up handling third base in 2024, as he could combine with Wells to give the Yankees some much needed left-handedness.
Personally, for this season, I would have liked if the Yankees could have brought Matt Carpenter back, using him as a DH and a part time first baseman, but doing that wasn't in Steinbrenner's budget. He was pretty fantastic last season for the Yankees, and he was also extremely well liked in the clubhouse. How much he has left in the tank remains to be seen, but it will be fun to keep tabs on how he does this season with the Padres.