Each season brings with it new opportunities for certain depth players to gain larger roles within their baseball club. Whether a reserve piece has benefited from a team member unfortunately joining the injured list or under-performing, it’s always a welcome sight when that player is called upon and beats expectations.
For the Yankees in 2019, multiple players fit this category, among them Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford, and many more. One Yankee who has been working his way up the ranks is Tyler Wade, but he didn’t really make an impact the way most of the members of the The Next Man Up cavalcade did. Wade didn’t see all that much playing time until after September call-ups, and didn’t have much on-field success prior to then either. 2020, however, might be the best opportunity for Wade thus far to contribute as a depth piece.
Early Christmas present...— Tyler Wade (@_tylerwade) December 9, 2017
At first glance, many Yankee fans could see this tweet simply as Wade being excited for the addition of Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, in exchange for Starlin Castro and a couple of prospects. Stanton had just won the National League MVP award for the 2017 season, and the Yankees reached the ALCS to the surprise of many people who expected the Cleveland Indians to advance instead. The transaction was viewed as a blockbuster trade for the Yankees, but no one could have been more excited than Wade.
With Castro sent to the Miami Marlins, second base in the Bronx was up for the taking as Wade was given the opportunity right out of Spring Training. But within three weeks, his performance forced him out of the lineup. Through 38 plate appearances, Wade produced a -19 wRC+, generating a mere three hits while striking out 11 times.
At the time, Gleyber Torres was ranked the Yankees’ top prospect, and he never looked back once Wade handed over starting second base duties. Fast forward one year later to 2019, and Wade was once again attempting to earn a starting role out of spring training, but this time as an outfielder. However, Mike Tauchman was brought over from the Colorado Rockies late in camp to provide further outfield depth. This move proved prescient, with Tauchman leading the charge of unheralded players off the bunch.
With the emergence of Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres during the 2018 season, and the trade acquisitions of Tauchman and Cameron Maybin in 2019, Wade rapidly saw his opportunities cut short. After aiming for two starting roles over the past two seasons, 2020 offers Wade his best shot of becoming a consistent presence within the Yankees clubhouse because of his ability to play multiple roles. Not only does the relative lack of middle infielders help Wade’s case, but this coming season, each team will expand their active roster to 26 players.
In all, three things count in Wade’s favor. The Yankees hardly have any roster space to add further free agents, which should cap the amount of competition Wade will have. To wit, Brett Gardner has been waiting to sign his contract for about a month now, but the Yankee have yet to designate another player for assignment to officially clear space for their longest-tenured player.
Secondly, with the low possibility of free agents coming into the mix, Wade stands out as one of the most versatile players on the 40-man roster. After the departure of Didi Gregorius, players capable of playing shortstop are Torres, Wade, and Thairo Estrada. Considering Wade is a left-handed bat, has shown the ability to play the outfield, and is quicker than Estrada on the base paths, he already has some ground on Estrada, but needs to put each skill on display come March.
Lastly, durability issues arise across the outfield. Gardner was a stalwart all last season, but it’s hard to expect the 36-year-old to play 141 games again. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have injury concerns, and Aaron Hicks is already on the shelf. Tauchman and Clint Frazier will provide the initial depth, but Wade might be the best option after that. Wade also can certainly provide better defense in the outfield than Frazier, meaning Wade could earn appearances as a defensive sub at times.
Until the return of midseason return of Hicks, if any outfielder is injured, Wade could have the opportunity to earn the most playing time he’s had all his career. He’s played for the Yankees organization since 2013, and perhaps seven years into that run, Wade might finally be able to cement a consistent role.