Despite the fact we’re still three weeks away from Opening Day, it would appear things are about set as far as the Yankees’ bench is concerned. Just yesterday, Aaron Boone yet again confirmed that he will not carry two full-time first basemen on the 25-man roster, which points to Austin Romine, DJ LeMahieu, and Tyler Wade occupying the three bench spots.
Romine and LeMahieu’s inclusions shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. Romine’s spot on the roster hasn’t been threatened in years, and the Yankees signed LeMahieu so his glove could bolster three different infield spots. On the other hand, Wade’s inclusion seems a little less obvious given Clint Frazier’s health and Wade’s major-league track record to this point. However, the Yankees’ re-commitment to utilizing Wade in the outfield likely gives him an edge for the final bench spot.
Tyler Wade's INF/OF versatility is a major factor for how the Yankees intend to set their bench, Aaron Boone said.— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) March 7, 2019
Using the term “re-commitment” when discussing Wade playing outfield might seem a bit confusing, since Wade got more than a handful of outfield innings last year. Playing Wade in the outfield never seemed to be part of the plan in 2018, though. During last spring training, Wade split time between three infield positions and didn’t log a single inning in the outfield, which was odd for several reasons.
It was certainly a sudden shift away from the 2017 plan of turning Wade into the Yankees’ version of Marwin Gonzalez or Ben Zobrist. Plus, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Jacoby Ellsbury were all nursing injuries at various points during 2018 spring training. There was definitely an opportunity for Wade to find time, but the Yankees never took advantage. Granted, he was in the race for the second base job, but Neil Walker and Gleyber Torres were fighting for that spot too. Since Wade didn’t get any reps in the outfield last spring, it logically follows that the Yankees weren’t planning on playing him out there in 2018.
As you may remember, Wade did log several innings in the outfield last year, but it wasn’t until May that he really started to get a significant amount of playing time out there. Perhaps the severe lack of depth in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre outfield had something to do with that. Despite not getting any spring reps, Wade did hold his own.
As of Thursday evening, Wade’s spent 19 innings this spring between three infield positions and 12 innings between the corner outfield spots, meaning he’s back on track to be the super-utility player the Yankees originally envisioned a couple seasons ago. The shift to playing Wade all over the field is a signal that the Yankees are once more committing to the old super-utility plan, and it’s this defensive versatility that very well might win him the final bench spot too.
If the Yankees wanted more offense on the bench, they could easily carry both Greg Bird and Luke Voit, but they’ve clearly stated they won’t carry two first basemen. Clint Frazier is a better offensive option too, and could probably be a better defensive option in the outfield, but Wade’s actually out-performed Frazier at the plate so far this spring. Even though Frazier is gunning for a spot on the big league team, it might be better for his development to at least begin the year in Triple-A to get more consistent reps. That leaves Wade at the end of the bench, getting bits of playing time all over the field. He’s not the best offensive option, but he is the most versatile option, which the Yankees may value more than anything for their 25th man.