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Is Tyler Wade enough insurance for the Yankees infield?

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Tyler Wade could be a quality backup. Just don't think too much about his 2017 stint in the majors.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

I've written about New York’s infield situation quite a few times this offseason. It's not that I think the infield is in dire straits; I think Didi Gregorius and Greg Bird are quality regulars, and the rookie duo of Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres have the potential to grow into stalwarts in their own right. However, no one knows how much Andujar and Torres might contribute in 2018, and right now the Yankees don’t have many options in the case that one or both struggle for an extended period of time. For a team that's aiming for the World Series after falling one win short in 2017, the degree of uncertainty surrounding second and third base is pretty high.

Last week, I mused that maybe the Yankees forgoing Todd Frazier meant that they are confident that Andujar would be able to handle the starting third base job capably. Lately I've come to consider another angle - maybe the Yankees are confident enough in their internal backup options to pass on free agent signings. As of now, the Yankees' insurance for Torres/Andujar seems to be Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade. We saw quite a bit of Toe in 2017, and as a backup he performed admirably. At the same time, though, it wouldn't really be ideal to plug him and his 80-ish wRC+ in as a starter for an extended period of time in case Torres/Andujar get hurt or struggle.

Wade, on the other hand, is still somewhat of a mystery. No one will point to his 2017 performance (.155/.222/.224, 17 WRC+ in 63PA) as evidence of his potential. However, prior to his call-up he was having himself quite the season in Triple-A, and it remains to be seen what he can do with more consistent playing time. So, it has to be asked: what do the Yankees have in Tyler Wade, and could he be a credible starting option in case Torres/Andujar fail?

Tyler Wade's player profile can be summarized by the oft-repeated phrase, “jack of all trades, master of none.” The scouting industry consensus is that what Wade lacks in loud tools, he makes up for in being a well-rounded, flexible player. Back in January, PSA's own TJ Knapp highlighted Wade's speed (26 stolen bases in 85 games at Triple-A in 2017) and versatility (experience at second, third, and shortstop, as well as all three outfield positions) as his best selling points for the 2018 Yankees.

Baseball Prospectus' Jeffery Paternostro and Scooter Hotz were optimistic about Wade's bat, too, calling him “a potential plus hitter” with adequate plate discipline and doubles power. While they did note that Wade was likely to be a utility player/second division starter due to his lack of a standout tool, they did not preclude the possibility of him playing his way into an everyday role.

Interestingly, quantitative analyses seem to like Wade even more. Chris Mitchell's KATOH projection system for prospects, which is based on “age, offensive performance, defensive performance, and other characteristics from the past two seasons,” forecasts Wade to post 7.3 WAR in his first six MLB years, ranking him the 38th best prospect in all of baseball by that measure.

It would seem that Wade's 2017 Triple-A season, in which he slashed .310/.382/.460 (136 wRC+) at the tender age of 22, went a long way towards sweetening his projection. Before hopping on the hype train, it's important to note that 2017 was the first time Wade had ever hit for any kind of power, as his previous career-high ISO was .089. If the power gains are real, then Wade just might live up to his lofty WAR projections. If they are not - and really, we have no way of telling just yet - then Wade is basically Toe with a better eye and glove.

Taking all of the above into account, then, what can we expect from Wade in 2018? It's weird to write this after his horrible, no-good, very bad 2017 cup of coffee, but I think he's at least a better backup option than Toe. With regular playing time, I think Wade could post a 90-100 wRC+ with solid defense at second and third, which would be like having a more versatile Chase Headley at a fraction of the price. Not sexy at all, but entirely capable.

Were the Yankees right to pass on Todd Frazier and bet on their current infield corps? Only time will tell. Individually, I think Todd Frazier is a safer bet to be a 2-win player in 2018 than either one of Torres, Andujar, Wade, or Torreyes. However, the more I think about it, the more farfetched the possibility of all four Yankee options being unbearably awful. Due to their commitment to Andujar and Torres, the Yankees may not be able to field solid regulars at each infield position this season. At the very least I do think they are well-equipped to avoid second or third base becoming black holes, if only due to the sheer number of their internal options.