Who Is Mike Ford?
Greg Bird is down with yet another lower body injury, this time succumbing to plantar fasciitis. The Yankees have stated that Bird will be out for at least a month, but based on their track record in estimating IL time and Bird’s propensity for extended absences, the Yankees will likely have a hole to fill for longer. The Yankees have allowed Bird to occupy a spot in the lineup despite the fact that his production when healthy over his last 500 plate appearances has been abysmal. The injury to Bird’s foot finally allows the Yankees to give Mike Ford a shot. Ford has started this season scorching hot at Triple-A Scranton, but there’s more to his story than just a flash in the pan.
Ford has been an under-the-radar prospect of note for years. Undrafted out of Princeton, the Yankees signed him in 2013. Since that time, Ford has steadily climbed the organizational ladder, and was seemingly on the cusp of a big league shot in 2017. In fact, I (and many others) argued that the Yanks needed to call up Ford to fill the hole left by Bird in the middle of that same summer. You can read what I wrote in August 2017, but I’ll sum up the arguments made at the time. At the time of that post, Mike Ford had walked more than he had struck out throughout his 4+ year minor league career (249-235 BB-K), and had a BB-K ratio of 117-91 in the high minors between 2016 and 2017. In addition to elite plate discipline, Ford got on base at a better than .400 clip and showed some pop, displaying an ISO (an isolated measure of power calculated by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage) of .220 through August 10th of 2017. Lastly, Fangraphs’ statistical projection system, KATOH, projected Ford’s career favorably based on his minor league numbers.
Despite all of the positives, the Yankees did not call up Ford in the summer of 2017. In fact, the Yankees did not add Ford to the 40-man roster in the 2017/2018 off-season, and he was selected by the Mariners in the Rule 5 draft. 2018 was a struggle for Ford, as he did not make the Mariners 25-man roster out Spring Training, and was returned to the Yankees. Ford played through some injuries 2018, and his production at AAA was uncharacteristic in numerous ways. For the first time, Ford struck out significantly more than he walked (37-70 BB-K ratio at AAA), and his power numbers were depressed, slugging just 15 HR in 410 Plate Appearances with an ISO of just .180 (a good number on a global scale, but not at 1B).
Ford lost a little weight this off-season, and more importantly, he came into camp healthy and he has started the AAA season red hot, triple slashing .410/.467/.897 with 5 HR in 45 Plate Appearances. Ford has long performed well enough to earn a call-up, and his moment is finally here, earning a chance with his favorite childhood team.
What can we expect from Ford at the MLB level? While his plate discipline numbers have not rebounded to their previous levels yet, I think it is safe to assume that Ford will not give at bats away. Ford will likely see plenty of pitches and work counts. Ford is not much of a defender at 1B, so mixing and matching DH time with Luke Voit would make sense. Multiple scouting reports have noted that the lefty-hitting Ford has good natural loft to his swing despite modest minor league power numbers for a 1B prospect prior to this season. One variable that could make Ford more valuable this year is the MLB ball. For the first time, AAA is using the MLB ball, which has been proven in recent years to have more pop than the ball used at the minor league level. Ford’s power numbers have spiked in his first year hitting the MLB ball, and now he gets to take his lofty lefty swing to the short porch at Yankee Stadium with the same ball. Based on plate discipline and newfound power, Ford may be more valuable to the Yankees than he has appeared in years prior.
Realistically, Mike Ford is a long-shot. He went undrafted out of college, he is 26 years old (old for a prospect), he has been overlooked by the Yankees multiple times despite their significant issues at 1B, and he was unable to make the Mariners roster out of camp last season. The Yankees have proven adept with regards to talent evaluation, but I will freely admit that I have always had a soft spot for Ford. Scratching and clawing his way to the majors from his starting point is no small feat, and I think there is more value to his bat than initially meets the eye. While I am not sure that Ford is a first-division regular at 1B at the Major League level, I think he belongs at this level, and he can certainly help the Yankees right now given their dire situation with regards to injuries. The precedent exists: did anyone know who Luke Voit was in April 2018?
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)