Position Preview: Bench

 

In the final installment of our preseason positional preview, today let’s take a look at the Yankees forecasted bench for the 2021 season.

Photo Credit: Robert Sabo


The 2021 season will feature a 26-man roster, and the Yankees forecast to split that right down the middle, 13 pitchers and 13 position players.  The nine starters, as previewed  here, will be Gary Sanchez, Jay Bruce, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Clint Frazier, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.  So who’s left to make the roster and who will be on the outside looking in?


Let’s start with those who just missed out on a spot on the 2021 opening day roster.  On Saturday, the Yankees released both C Robinson Chirinos and utilityman Derek Dietrich from their minor league deals.  On Monday, the Yankees resigned Chirinos, however he will be undergoing surgery on his fractured wrist and should be out until midseason.  Dietrich is a free agent and can sign elsewhere.  The Yankees did not want to lose Jay Bruce, and so they optioned Mike Ford to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last week.  Bruce was battling for the 26th roster spot at the time, but in the wake of the injury to Luke Voit, Bruce will be the opening day first baseman.


Greg Allen was DFA’d earlier in spring, passed through waivers, and will remain with the team at the alternate site to start the season.  All other young prospects with options were reassigned to minor league camp or optioned to AA or AAA and will finish camp with the team.


As is case each season, the Yankees follow a basic bench formula: a backup catcher, a bench middle infielder and a fourth outfielder.  This season, with the rosters at 26 instead of 25 as they were prior to 2020, the Yankees can carry a fourth bench player.


Just formally announced this afternoon, the Yankees bench this season projects to be comprised of Kyle Higashioka, Mike Tauchman, Brett Gardner and Tyler Wade.  There was some thought the Yankees might carry Dietrich over Wade, but since Dietrich is no longer with the club, GM Brian Cashman was able to announce to the media on Monday that that spot will go to Wade.  Mike Tauchman was potentially at risk of not making the club, but the Voit injury allowed the Yankees to roster both him and Bruce.


Higashioka ended the 2020 season as the primary catcher for the Yankees, with manager Aaron Boone starting him over Gary Sanchez in five of the seven playoff games the teams played last year, including all three started by Gerrit Cole.  Higgy dealt with some minor side soreness this spring, but isn’t showing any residual effects and expects to be the primary backup to Sanchez this season.  Higashioka had his best offensive season as a pro in 2021, sporting a 107 OPS+ with four home runs.  His defensive and pitch-framing ability behind the dish has been a constant since his debut in 2017.

Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo


The Yankees love what they have in Mike Tauchman and that’s what made the possibility of them losing him so tough.  Out of options, Tauchman was at risk of being DFA's or traded if the Yankees selected Bruce over him for the 26th spot on the MLB roster.  Tauchman is an elite defensive outfielder at all three positions in addition to his strong baserunning ability.  He struggled offensively in 2020 but was stellar in 2019 (127 OPS+) and the Yankees are banking on a return to that form in 2021.


Brett Gardner remained unsigned for the majority of the offseason, but it felt like a foregone conclusion that he would find his way back into pinstripes.  Gardner is the longest tenured Yankee and the lone holdover from the club’s last title in 2009.  Gardner has been on one-year deals the last few years with the expectation that he would be the fourth outfielder, but injuries pressed him into almost daily service.  With Clint Frazier being announced as the primary left fielder early in camp this year, Gardner might finally fill that fourth outfielder role on the 2021 club and shouldn’t be expected to start more than 50-60 games depending on injuries.  His veteran presence, speed on the bases, strong defensive play and occasional pop are why he remains an asset even at age 37.

Photo Credit: Steve Nesius/AP Photo


Tyler Wade is probably the biggest source of frustration among the fanbase when it comes to bench players.  His ability to play all over the field, elite speed, slick defense up the middle and left-handed stroke make for a unique skillset that should flourish at the big-league level.  However, to this point in his career, Wade has struggled to make a name for himself in the bigs and owns a career 56 OPS+ and a 0.0 WAR.  Over the years, he’s earned the “king of spring” moniker, but hasn’t been able to translate that to the regular season.  The Yankees are hoping he can finally take the next step this year as he’ll play an important depth role behind LeMahieu, Torres & Urshela in the New York infield.  If not, it’s possible the team looks for outside help and uses Wade’s final option to send him off the roster by midseason.


Article by: Andrew Natalizio

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