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Yankees infielder Tyler Wade’s bat isn’t likely to improve

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Wade has youth on his side, but he’s got nothing else going for him.

New York Yankees v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Every team needs depth, and the Yankees certainly learned their lesson in 2018, when injuries to their regulars forced them to rely upon many a subpar role player, costing them crucial games in the division race. There’s no question that acquisition of high-end talent should be the Yankees’ primary concern, but they shouldn’t forget to shore up their bench, either.

The Yankees’ current infield situation is far from bleak, but they could use a credible backup infielder with positional flexibility. Ronald Torreyes filled that role quite capably for the past two years, but he’s now a Minnesota Twin. Luckily for the Yankees, they have a homegrown infielder who plays multiple infield spots on their roster. Yet, said player hasn’t enjoyed the adoration that Toe received, mostly because he hasn’t hit, like, at all. Can Tyler Wade turn his career around in 2019 and provide some value as a bench piece? According to both scouting and advanced data, the odds are against him.

Let’s start with the good. The one thing even the most ardent Wade detractors have to concede is that his speed is real. FanGraphs’ prospect team has graded him as a 60 run player, and Statcast shows that his average sprint speed is 28.8 feet per second, well above the MLB average. That speed has translated into 1.2 baserunning runs above average over just 133 plate appearances. Wade has certainly made an impact with his feet, and a speedy infielder is always a nice bench option to have.

Wade’s glove is also solid, though perhaps not an outright plus like his speed. In 2017, Eric Longenhagen wrote favorably of his defense, describing his hands as “passable” but his arm as “above-average” and ultimately rating him as an average defender at short. Those ratings haven’t really shown up in the advanced metrics yet, but the sample size is so laughably small that I’m willing to give Wade a pass here. As a capable defender at short, Wade should be able to handle second and third base pretty well, and his speed and arm should help him navigate all three outfield spots as well.

However, Wade’s bat has been an absolute deal breaker so far. His wRC+ marks the last two years have been 17 and 29, or basically what you would expect from a non-Ohtani pitcher. More worrying are his strikeout and walk rates, which tend to be predictive even in small samples. Wade owns a mediocre career walk rate of 6.8%, while running a sky-high 31.6% K rate. For a guy who scouts described as a high-contact, high-average hitter, that K rate is especially troubling.

Now, hitters can thrive while striking out a lot, provided they hit for power. Unfortunately, “power” is nowhere to be found in Wade’s dictionary. FanGraphs’ prospect team has rated his game power as a future 30 and his raw power as a future 40, suggesting that there’s not much potential to be unlocked there. Statcast is similarly unflattering, recording Wade’s average exit velocity in 2018 at a measly 84.0 MPH. With that kind of contact quality, Wade needs to make tons of contact in order to be even a league-average hitter. In that regard, his major league track record so far doesn’t inspire much confidence.

It may be that all Wade needs is constant reps in order to figure out major league pitching and stop striking out so much. However, as a backup infielder, Wade doesn’t really have that luxury, and the Yankees aren’t really in a position to give Wade at-bats and stomach his terrible production to let him develop. If the Yankees are looking for a credible backup infielder, a Neil Walker reunion would be preferable to sticking with Wade and hoping for better.