2021 Non-Roster Invitees: Jay Bruce

As we close in on Opening Day, it’s time to start taking inventory of the non-roster invitees at camp this spring and take some stock in who will and will not be breaking camp with the big-league club on April first.  The first player in our preview series focuses on 13-year veteran OF/1B Jay Bruce.

Photo Credit: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees signed Bruce back on February 13th to a minor-league deal that can convert to a $1.35m guarantee if Bruce makes the major league roster next week.  At first glance, this move may have seemed like a flier, with Bruce coming off a 2020 season that saw him slash just .198/.252/.469 in 103 plate appearances for the Phillies.  Bruce, however, has forced his way into the conversation for the last bench spot on the 2021 Yankees, potentially displacing Mike Tauchman as the fifth outfielder behind Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier and Brett Gardner. 

Bruce also brings some versatility as a left-handed backup first baseman behind Luke Voit, the role that Mike Ford has occupied the past two seasons.  The Yankees recently optioned Mike Ford to triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, however, so, perhaps, Bruce has already done enough in camp this spring to earn that role on the Yankees’ Opening Day 26-man roster.

In 11 games for the Yankees this spring, Bruce has slashed .231/.286/.500 but does have a pair of home runs as well as a few nice plays in the field.  With a Yankees lineup so heavily tilted towards right-handed hitters, Bruce’s lefty swing can help add some balance to the New York batting order on days he plays, and his ability to play both first base as well as both corner outfield spots means he can spell any of Judge/Frazier/Voit on a given day.

BaseballReference currently projects Jay Bruce to tally 18 home runs, 50 runs batted in and an OPS of .786 in 2021 and while those might be a bit lofty expectations considering the limited role he’s expected to play for the Yankees, he does still have a lot of pop left in his bat and will be an interesting complimentary piece for the 2021 squad. 

As mentioned above, the likely casualty of Bruce earning a roster spot appears to be Mike Tauchman who is currently out of options.  The Yankees were able to keep Ford stashed in the minors because he had options remaining.  Mike Tauchman’s appeal to the big-league roster is that he can play all three outfield spots and provides better speed and defense than Bruce.  Ultimately, this might be a decision that is made at the last possible moment before the season.  If the Yankees elect to go with Bruce, they’d have to trade Tauchman or pass him through waivers and hope he goes unclaimed – something that’s unlikely considering his upside he displayed in 2019.  If the Yankees chose Tauchman, Bruce would likely ask for his release on his opt-out date - this Thursday 3/25  - and a chance to catch on with another club rather than an assignment to the alternate site/minor leagues.  The only other scenario plausible would be carrying both Tauchman and Bruce, but that would require using Tyler Wade's last option and not having any middle-infield depth on the Opening Day lineup. That scenario was floated by SNY's Andy Martino earlier today, but I just don't see that happening.

Article by: Andrew Natalizio



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