Thairo Estrada has spent his entire career under-the-radar, but that might soon change. Since debuting with the organization in 2013, Estrada has been a consistently solid presence with the glove and at the plate. Estrada, only 21, is currently having a solid start in his first season at Double-A Trenton and could soon find himself in the major leagues as early as next year.
In 2012, Estrada signed with the Yankees as a sixteen-year-old international free agent, but the signing was largely unheralded. Estrada signed for only $49,000, hardly a noteworthy figure. The team had already given bigger contracts to more highly-touted prospects, Jorge Mateo and Luis Torrens, earlier that year. The prospect stockpiling that came with the years following only contributed to Estrada’s anonymity. Depending on the list, the Yankees have five or six middle infielders on their top-30 prospect rankings. Currently, Estrada shares an infield with Miguel Andujar and the 2nd overall prospect in baseball, Gleyber Torres. Despite being under-the-radar, Thairo Estrada does have real value as a prospect.
In 2013, Estrada debuted with the Gulf Coast Yankees at just 17-years-old, more than two full years younger than the average age of competition. Despite the difference in age, Estrada had no problems keeping up. In just 49 games, Estrada collected 49 hits, 11 doubles, 5 triples, and 2 home runs. He earned a promotion to the Staten Island Yankees in 2014 but had his season cut short by injury. Estrada spent all of 2015 with Staten Island, where he was named a NY-Penn League All-Star, earning yet another promotion.
In 2016, Estrada had his strongest season yet. Estrada opened the season at Low-A Charleston but earned a promotion to Tampa just 35 games into the season. In 118 games last season, Estrada put up a very serviceable .290/.346/.391 slash line, including a career-high 8 home runs. After the season, Estrada was a named a 2016 MiLB.com Organizational All-Star.
Estrada has gotten off to a great start this season, and it could not have come at a more perfect time. For the first time in his career, Estrada spent time on the big-league Spring Training roster. Estrada profiles more as a utility player than future starter, so he saw more time in the field than at the plate. However, he did show some pop in the few at-bats he did have. In just 7 at-bats, Estrada went 3-for-7, with 2 home runs and a double.
So far, Estrada’s hot start has continued in Double-A this year. The right-handed hitting Estrada has a slash line of .319/.421/.383. Estrada has always been a high-contact hitter, but he’s taken it to the next level this year. He currently has 14 walks and only 11 strikeouts, exhibiting that he has some patience and a good feel for the strike zone. Most importantly, Estrada is putting up a career-high .804 OPS, suggesting that he’s starting to grow into his power a little bit more now.
While the performance at the plate is nice, Estrada has real versatility on the defensive side of the ball. His combination of range and an above average arm make him a fit at any infield position other than first. This season, Estrada has split time almost evenly between shortstop and second base. However, he spent most of his time with High-A Tampa at third base in 2016. His defensive versatility, in my opinion, makes him a prospect worth keeping an eye on in the future.
If he continues to hit, Estrada could find himself with a big league club as early as next year, but that team might not be the Yankees. Estrada’s time with the Yankees is approaching a fork in the road. At the end of the season, he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. The Yankees will need to add him to the 40-man roster or they’ll risk losing him to the draft a la Luis Torrens or in a trade like the James Pazos-Zach Littell trade.
The easy answer is to just add him to the 40-man, but that the depth of the system might make that an impossibility. Tyler Wade, Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, and Dustin Fowler will all be Rule 5 eligible at the same time and all are bigger prospects. As a result, a statistically-weak season could very well mark the end of Estrada’s Yankee career. However, a strong season at Double-A could earn him a spot on the Yankees 40-man roster and give new significance to his prospect status.