Thairo Estrada has been with the New York Yankees since 2012, signing as an international free agent out of Venezuela at 16-years-old. He steadily worked his way through the minor leagues and made his major league debut last year. Estrada held his own during his cup of coffee in 2019, and now at age-23, he has the opportunity to play an important role for the Bombers in 2020 as a super-utility man.
Estrada was called up to the majors when the Yankees were infected by the injury bug early in the 2019 season, and ended up playing only 35 games. However, in such a small sample size, he was able to make an impact and show off his talent. He slashed a respectable .250/.294/.438 with a .732 OPS and 91 wRC+. Those numbers may not jump off the page, but for a utility player who was making a sudden jump to the bigs, they’re definitely solid.
The most impressive thing about him is his ability to play anywhere in the field. Last year, for example, Estrada not only had innings in the infield at second base and shortstop, but also in the outfield at the corners. He likely couldn’t stick in the outfield every day, as he’s mainly a middle-infielder, but when in a pinch, the Yankees know they can throw him out there and he can handle it.
Because of the departure of Didi Gregorius, Gleyber Torres will slide over to short and DJ LeMahieu will patrol second base. This leaves the backup infielder role wide open for the taking. With that in mind, Estrada and Tyler Wade will be competing against each other throughout spring training for the opportunity to be that utility man for the Yankees. Taking both of their numbers from last season, Estrada would seem to have the advantage at the plate, but Wade has the edge with the glove.
Dig deeper, and we see even more intruiging numbers that could hopefully be a sign of what’s to come. According to Statcast, he make hard contact with the ball 40% of the time during his rookie season, and crushed fastballs to the tune of a .324 batting average against heaters. On the other hand, it seems he did have trouble with breaking balls and offspeed pitches. Obviously, these numbers were produced in a small sample size, but if he’s able to work on recognizing secondary pitches and strikes out less often than his 21.7% rate, he could become that much better.
Ultimately, how the two perform during preseason could determine who between Wade and Estrada earns a utility role with the team. Their play during that time will be a factor in the final decision as to who “wins”, but it also could come down to whether the Yankees want the better bat or better defender. Even if one of them starts the year in Triple-A, they will most likely both get opportunities to play in the Bronx over the course of a 162-game season. If Estrada is the one who gets the call, he could make the most of it and really play an important part for the Yankees.