No team in sports is as synonymous with veteran star power as the New York Yankees. From Giancarlo Stanton to Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens to Babe Ruth, the Bombers have a long history of trading for legendary talent whenever the opportunity arises.
Of course, the team’s lineups over the past two weeks have been populated not by big-money stars, but by anonymous minor leaguers who have surpassed all expectations. With an unprecedented amount of talent languishing on the injured list, there are simply too many holes to plug with established studs. Unheralded third-stringers like Gio Urshela and Thairo Estrada, however, have thus far filled the vacancies admirably.
Needless to say, the front office would much prefer to field a veritable All-Star team — a squad which, when healthy, doesn’t have a starting spot open for players as gifted as DJ LeMahieu. And yet this rare opportunity for the Yankees depth players to shine has revealed more than one diamond in the rough, making the organization stronger in the long run. Here’s a look at which of those depth pieces could continue to help the team in 2019, whether directly or via a trade, even once its stars return to action:
Key stats: 6 games, .353/.389/.353 (105 wRC+), 1 steal.
Performance grade: B
Fate once injured players return: Triple-A or trade candidate
Estrada, 23, represents an athletic, defense-first prospect who projects as a utility infielder. Obviously, 19 plate appearances represents a tiny sample size, but Estrada has shown me something already, playing strong defense while hitting .353 despite sporadic starts. His overall profile is reminiscent of fan favorite Ronald Torreyes, though Estrada seems to have a higher ceiling. On the other hand, he’s never been a top hitter in the minors, he’s significantly slower than his competition Tyler Wade, and there isn’t room on the team for either player with everyone back. For all these reasons, don’t be shocked if Estrada is traded.
Key stats: 8 games, .167/.375/.333 (88 wRC+), 20th percentile speed
Performance grade: D
Fate once injured players return: Triple-A
Ford is built for the modern game, given his combination of power and plate discipline. But after raking in Triple-A this year, he hasn’t produced yet with the Yankees. Assuming at least a few injured players return, I don’t see Ford contributing much before September, as he doesn’t offer anything besides his bat.
Key stats: 18 games, .324/.342/.632 (151 wRC+)
Performance grade: A
Fate once injured players return: Starting left fielder
Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch to call Frazier an injury replacement, since he’s played with the team since 2017, but he did start the year in the minors. Before spraining his ankle, Frazier caught fire, finally showcasing the power potential he’s flashed for years now. His 70th percentile sprint speed makes him a plus on the bases as well. Although his defense clearly needs work, that speed is an asset in the spacious left field at Yankee Stadium.Frazier has done enough to prove that he’s a quality starter, if not a budding star. Will Brett Gardner — who’s also played quite well — be the odd man out when Stanton, Hicks, and Judge are back?
Key stats: 18 games .227/.333/.227 (62 wRC+) 91st percentile speed
Performance grade: D+
Fate once injured players return: Triple-A
Wade has steadily improved this year as his playing time increased, but he still has shown no power while playing only average defense, according to the metrics. For all his speed and versatility, he’ll eventually have to start hitting in the majors if he wants to crack the roster as anything more than a pinch runner in September. The Yankees have had the easiest schedule in baseball through 29 games, and yet Wade is slugging just .227.
Key stats: 6.2 innings, 6.75 ERA, 8 strikeouts, 5 walks, 96 mph average fastball
Performance grade: C-
Fate once injured players return: Scranton shuttle
With an electric fastball, a biting slider, and a high spin rate, it’s easy to see why the Yankees believed the 27-year-old Harvey was finally ready for his big league debut this season. But after an impressive first three outings, Harvey has had difficulty with his command, as evidenced by his five walks in six-plus innings of work. Still, if guys like Chad Green and Stephen Tarpley continue to struggle, he’ll get more opportunities to prove that his 1.59 ERA in Triple-A can translate to the highest level.
Key stats: 21 games, .345/.409/.500 (145 wRC+), -2 DRS, 37th percentile speed
Performance grade: A-
Fate once injured players return: Trade candidate
Urshela might be the most pleasant surprise of the young season, having performed better than Miguel Andujar was expected to before he got hurt. Despite Urshela’s .345 average and spectacular defense at third, however, the underlying metrics suggest his success might not result in a long-term roster spot. Urshela has benefited from an astronomical .388 BABIP, which is bound to regress, while both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference actually rate him as a below-average defender. He certainly looks the part at third, but his poor range apparently outweighs his flashy glove work. Call me a non-believer, but Urshela is slow on the bases, is an overrated defender, doesn’t fit a utility role, and has never had an OPS above .608 over a full season. The smart move is to trade him at peak value.