From rock bottom to achieving his dream: A look back at the past calendar year in Thairo Estrada’s life

Flashback to early 2018, and Yankees’ infielder Thairo Estrada endured a tragedy much bigger than the game of baseball. He sustained a gunshot wound in an attempted robbery back in his home country of Venezuela. His injury was not life-threatening, but still created consequences that the average baseball player does not have to go through. His initial surgery to remove the bullet was carried out poorly, arguably causing more damage than the initial wound, however he was cleared to play and felt ready to go.

Photo Credit: Elsa | Getty Images

Despite the given clearance, the 2018 season did not go well for Estrada. He only managed to play in 18 games, as he overcompensated for the bullet lodged in his hip and suffered back and hamstring injuries. Even when he was on the field, his performance was nothing short of horrendous in comparison to his past few seasons at the dish. The .301 hitter from a year ago had lost his prestigious bat on ball skills and showed very limited range of motion. Eventually after he suffered a back injury that would sideline him until September, he had the bullet that cost him his 2018 season removed for good. Just as much as it was a physical burden for Estrada to be trying to reach the majors with a bullet cemented in his body, it was a constant psychological reminder of the horrifying moment. When doctors finally removed the bullet, Estrada said through the Yankees’ translator that he did not care what the doctors did with the bullet, he just wanted it to disappear.

Disappearing along with the bullet was any negative impressions surrounding his capabilities. Despite his inability to stay on the field and poor performance even when he was able to play, the Yankees did not give up on the infielder who seemed destined to crack the majors sooner rather than later. Estrada played in the Arizona Fall League to knock off some rust and was invited to major league camp as he was a year ago. He looked much more like the player he was prior to the gunshot wound as he put together an .805 OPS in 30 at-bats.

Despite never playing much above Double-A, he was assigned to Triple-A, where he only played 10 games. However, it was not because of an injury or poor performance on his end. Estrada was called up for a cameo following a Troy Tulowitzki calf-strain, but was promptly sent back down in favor of the surging Gio Urshela.  The Yankees then began dealing with a plethora of injuries in both the outfield and the infield, and the typical Yankee utility-man, Tyler Wade, was needed in the outfield following Aaron Judge’s victimization to the injured list. Estrada has been on the Yankees since and is proving his worth. He has displayed the ability to play all over the diamond, shortstop, second base, and left field, and has also not been a liability in the lineup. In spite of not having a full season under his belt above Double-A, Estrada is holding his own at the major league level and to some surprise has surpassed Tyler Wade on the Yankees’ utility-man depth chart, and I would argue that this was not on accident.

Wade has had three separate stints with the Yankees in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and has simply been outplayed by the competition every time. He has a career .484 OPS in 173 at-bats and clearly his solid speed and defense do not make up for his absent bat as he has a negative 0.6 WAR in his career. Over the course of a full season, he is looking at being worth negative two wins. To put how poor that is into perspective, Chris Davis’ historically bad 2018 was worth -2.8 wins. The Yankees really wanted to give Tyler Wade an opportunity to demonstrate his success at Triple-A in the majors, but with his demotion following the need to for a pitcher at the major league level, it is clear that the Yankees want to give Estrada his extended look.

With Gio Urshela’s phenomenal play, Estrada likely is the odd man out as the Yankees see more of their regulars return. His inevitable demotion should not be seen as anything but an opportunity to continue to refine his game in order to be a contributor for the Yankees for years to come. Andujar has played his last game with the Yankees this season due to his labrum causing him to see a second IL stint, so Estrada will be the next man up if an infielder is needed following the returns of Troy Tulowitzki and Didi Gregorius. Estrada has had to deal with adversity that is extremely catastrophic and almost unheard of, but it has molded him into a successful major league baseball player. This type of perseverance combined with his evident talent will set up Estrada to combat any future conflict and hopefully come out stronger than before. Within a single calendar year, Estrada has seen his life at an all-time low, at the mercy of gun, and at an all-time high, playing the game he loves as the Yankee stadium crowd of thousands cheers him on as he circled the bases.

Article by: Ryan Thoms


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