By far, first base has been the Yankees’ least productive position in 2018. Though Greg Bird, Neil Walker and Tyler Austin have had their moments this season, they’ve been largely underwhelming. At the trade deadline, the Yankees had to try something to improve the club’s poor production from such an integral power position.
Enter Luke Voit, a classic “Quad-A” player. Voit’s stats at the minor league level were exemplary, but he hadn’t done much when given a chance in the bigs with the Cardinals. With the Cardinals seeking relief help and the Yankees needing a first baseman, a trade made perfect sense. As it were, Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos were dealt to St. Louis for Voit and international money. Still, this seemed like a minor trade meant to add organizational depth and to fortify Triple-A Scranton’s lineup rather than one with much MLB impact.
But Bird continued his downward spiral, Walker was forced to move into a utility role, and Austin was dealt. Voit eventually became the last man standing. His debut for the team began inauspiciously, as Voit went 0-for-6 during two crucial losses in Boston and was demoted after three more games. He came back the next week though, and has since seized control of the Yankees’ first base position.
While we can’t altogether eliminate Voit’s games in Boston, he has gotten a hit in every game since, save for an 0-1 pinch-hitting appearance in Miami. More importantly, he’s powered three home runs over that span, and Aaron Boone has responded by playing Voit every day and even by batting him cleanup on Monday. While Voit will certainly drop in the order when the big guns return to the lineup, he may have earned the lion’s share of at-bats at first base for the stretch run.
Voit was seen by many as a similar player to Tyler Austin. While they’re both large first basemen with power, that’s about where the similarities end. Voit is actually a better pure hitter, although Austin definitely has more home run power. Voit though, has excellent plate discipline. He averages over 4.4 pitches per plate appearances and has a low chase rate.
Voit’s other key hitting attribute is his powerful swing. When he hits the ball, he sure hits it hard. 41 percent of his balls in play are hit for “hard contact,” and just 16 percent are “soft contact.” He also has a very high exit velocity, averaging 93.6 mph on his balls in play. Although it’s been a very small sample size, that would put Voit in the top 10 among qualifiers if he keeps this pace up. However, Voit also swings and misses a lot, which is why we’re not talking about him as a top prospect. This makes Voit a “three true outcomes” hitter, meaning most of his at-bats end in strikeouts, walks or home runs.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. Compared to Bird and Austin, Voit strikes out less and walks more, even if he doesn’t hit as many home runs. Voit is also a decent defender at first base despite his size, which neither Bird nor Austin can say. The Yankees haven’t gotten very good first base defense since Mark Teixeira retired, but at least Voit is a natural first baseman and has the proper instincts, unlike some of the other players the Yankees have tried at the position.
In the end, the Yankees can’t lose by playing Voit. They have no one better to put at first base, and because it cost almost nothing to acquire him, anything the team can get out of Voit is gravy. He is way too good for the minors (he’s put up a .906 OPS over the last three MiLB seasons), and definitely deserves this chance with the Yankees.
No matter what Luke Voit becomes, he has some hitting tools that could really help the Yankees down the line. Heck, he may end up being just another hot-hitting September footnote, like Shane Spencer, Shelley Duncan or Raul Ibanez. However, those guys helped the Yankees win ballgames at the most important time of the year, which is something that Greg Bird hasn’t been able to do this season. The Yankees may just have their next unheralded x-factor in Luke Voit. He’s probably not the first baseman of the future, but he’s a productive stopgap nonetheless.