The 2019 Yankees have suffered injuries at an unprecedented level. As things stand, 13 players — including several stars — occupy the injured list. With that level of bad luck, the season could have spiraled out of control. The team could have plummeted to the bottom of the division, and no one would have been surprised.
Instead, the replacement players stepped up. They have carried the Yankees long enough to let the starters recover. In the process, the team owns a 17-11 record, sitting 1.5 games out of first place.
The players who kept the team afloat deserve celebration. To do so, I categorized them into three archetypes. No one category outweighs the other. They each earned their share of recognition.
The Top Prospect Breaks Out
When the Yankees placed Giancarlo Stanton on the injured list on April 1, the team called up Clint Frazier as the corresponding move. The 24-year-old outfielder had a brutal spring training, one that saw him hit just .143/.228/.245 across 49 at-bats. He clearly needed time to shake off the rust associated with spending most of 2018 on the injured list. The Yankees didn’t have time to spare, however, so up came Frazier.
He went 0-for-4 against the Tigers in his first game of the season, and that wasn’t all too surprising. He caught fire the very next series against the Orioles, however, collecting six hits with three home runs in the sweep.
In 18 games, Frazier authored a .324/.342/.632 batting line with six home runs. His 150 wRC+ ranks 17th in the American League with a minimum of 70 plate appearances. That sits right in line with the likes of Luke Voit and J.D. Martinez. While the results came in a small sample size, Frazier’s approach appeared to have staying power. Jake recently described what fueled the success:
“Thanks to the fact that he’s making more contact than ever on the pitches he can hit, and making less contact than ever on pitches he can do nothing with, Frazier’s quality of contact has spiked. Both his exit velocity and launch angle have increased. His groundball rate has plummeted, in favor of a spate of air balls; his 43% fly ball rate more than doubles his 2018 figure.”
Frazier always possessed a world of talent. He was a top-five draft pick in 2013, and MLB Pipeline ranked him as the number 15 prospect in all of baseball on their top 100 list at midseason in 2016. He always had the tools to succeed, but injuries and limited opportunities stood in the way.
While the outfielder eventually found himself on the injured list after a bad ankle sprain, his contributions could not go understated. Frazier carried the offense for a stretch. And even better, reports indicate he is already progressing with baseball activities.
The Lottery Ticket Pays Off
When the Yankees arrived to spring training, Domingo German couldn’t have guessed his role with the team. Having an option year to his name, it seemed possible — if not probable — that he would stay stretched out as a starter in Triple-A Scranton. Maybes, just maybe, he would break camp with the team as a reliever.
After Luis Severino landed on the injured list, a path opened for German to make the roster. When the news came out, even German couldn’t believe it.
I just jeep thinking about his enormous smile when they told him he made the team out of spring. extremely pure.— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) April 25, 2019
German didn’t just come up and keep the rotation spot warm. He thrived. The right-hander has logged 31.2 innings over five starts and one relief appearance. He has pitched to a 2.56 ERA (2.79 FIP) with even better peripherals.
At the moment, German boasts a noticeably high O-Swing%. He’s getting batters to chase pitches out of the zone at similar rates as the 2018 versions of Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Jacob DeGrom, and Patrick Corbin. That rate will probably come back down to Earth, and when it does, German will pitch like a mid-rotation arm instead of an ace.
That’s okay, though, because a number three pitcher is extremely valuable. In fact, it’s better than most expected when the Yankees acquired him in December 2014. Consider what Matt Provenzano had to say at the time of the trade:
“Then there is the lottery ticket of Domingo German, who is just that. German is a right-handed 22 year-old who pitched to a 2.48 ERA/3.26 FIP in 123.1 IP in the South Atlantic League, so who knows how he turns out. Jason Parks said the following about him in the spring: “Most likely a late-innings arm, with double-plus FB and an above-average slider coming from a whippy release”, and Kiley McDaniel gave him a future value of 45 with the possibility of four 50-grade pitches. That’s not too bad.”
The Yankees won big on that lottery ticket, and it’s a reason why the team has stayed competitive.
The B-Squad Gets an A-Grade
The injury outbreak stretched the Yankees’ depth to the absolute limit. On a few occasions, Brian Cashman had to go outside the organization for help. With Aaron Hicks sidelined in spring training, the Bombers traded for Mike Tauchman. After Frazier landed on the injured list, the club acquired Cameron Maybin. Minor league free agents like Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Cliff Pennington had to join the fold and shore up spots in the farm system.
As the injured list grew, the Triple-A RailRiders essentially migrated to the big league level. Gio Urshela, Thairo Estrada, Tyler Wade, Kyle Higashioka, and Mike Ford all received promotions. And you know what? They all contributed to keep the Yankees in the thick of it.
Think about how some of the “B” Bombers, as Cashman calls them, performed to date.
Tauchman: 68 PA, .186/.294/.407, 3 HR, 85 wRC+
Urshela: 65 PA, 351/.415/.509, 1 HR, 147 wRC+
Wade: 49 PA, .244/.354/.244, 72 wRC+
Ford: 32 PA, .167/.375/.333, 1 HR, 87 wRC+
Estrada: 16 PA, .429/.467/.429, 148 wRC+
Higashioka: 16 PA, .200/.188/.333, 22 wRC+
Some have played better than others, but it’s difficult to ask for more at the major league level from these guys.
Save for a few homers, these contingency plan Yankees have pushed across runs by stringing together hits and running wild on the bases. They brought with them a different aesthetic to the game, but fans and commentators should stop short of prescribing that strategy to the team writ large. There exists a significant case that these guys are playing above their heads. This may be the only way they can score at the big league level. Expecting them to redefine the organization’s philosophy belies their accomplishments.
The “B” Bombers are doing exactly what they need to do — keep the team in contention while the Extremely Good At Baseball Players recover. Be grateful for their contributions. Asking them to do anything more is unfair.