There was some gnashing of teeth when Mike Tauchman was acquired at the end of spring training to round out the Yankees’ roster. It appeared that Tyler Wade had earned a full-time spot on the club, but the Yankees decided to trade for a nondescript outfielder from Colorado to take Wade’s spot. Eight months later, Tauchman is one of the most important outfielders on the team, and one who could be in line for a much bigger role next season.
2019 Statistics: 87 games, 296 plate appearances, .277/.361/.504, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 46 runs, 128 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR
2020 Contract Status: Pre-Arbitration, under team control until 2025
Tauchman came over with the reputation of being a good fielder and not much of a hitter, and that was largely true for the first two months of the season, which he spent as the team’s reserve outfielder. Once the Yankees got Aaron Hicks back from injury, Tauchman was demoted back to the minor leagues, where his story could have easily ended.
Instead, injuries kept on popping up on the big league roster, giving Tauchman more chances to contribute. After getting recalled again in late June, Tauchman went on a tear to close out the rest of the season, a phenomenon that can best be described as “Tauch-mania.”
After slashing .228/.318/.404 with four home runs in 42 games before the All-Star break, Tauchman turned it on in the dog days. In his final 45 games, Tauchman powered nine home runs, 20 extra-base hits, 30 RBI and slashed .315/.395/.582. Tauchman’s peak came in July, when he had 13 RBI in 16 games, plus an OPS of 1.224. “The Sock Man” seemed to find power and clutch out of thin air, and become an unexpectedly reliable contributor for Aaron Boone’s team.
Unfortunately, Tauchman’s season came to a premature end after a Grade 2 calf strain sidelined him in September. He likely wouldn’t have played much in the playoffs anyway, but it was a sour end to a breakout season for Tauchman.
Tauchman will be 29 in 2020, which should be square in his prime. While his role is uncertain, it should be bigger than it was last year. Hicks will be out until mid-season, and no one else in the Yankees’ outfield can be described as durable. Tauchman is the starting center fielder on the roster as of now, but he will probably open the season as the fourth outfielder, considering the team will likely bring Brett Gardner back.
Still, Tauchman could push Gardner, who will be 36 next season. He is capable of playing all three outfield positions at a high level, has some speed, doesn’t strike out too much, and has a good batter’s eye. He showed the ability to hit to all fields, and had one of the lowest soft-contact rates of anyone on team. Tauchman definitely has the tools to contribute as a fourth outfielder or even a starter next year, but he’ll have to prove first that his 128 wRC+ 2019 season wasn’t a fluke.