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Yankees lose middle-infield depth to Rule 5 Draft selections

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Without Kyle Holder, the Yankees’ depth at shortstop is concentrated in the lower levels of their farm system.

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

It would be an exaggeration to say the Yankees farm system was gutted, but more than a few of New York’s prospects were picked up by other clubs in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. One of those prospects, shortstop Kyle Holder, is a unique talent whom the Yankees might eventually regret losing to the Phillies.

Holder, 26, is among the best defensive infielders in the minors, but he needs further development as a hitter to break through to the big leagues. The narrative surrounding Holder is that he lacks potential at the plate and would likely struggle to hit in the majors. Nearly all scouting reports on him express doubt regarding his ability in this regard.

That said, while his most recent numbers from the 2019 minor league season aren’t extraordinary, they’re not terrible, either.

Holder batted .265/.336/.405 with nine home runs and .742 OPS in 112 games at Double-A Trenton in 2019. More importantly, his 119 wRC+ at the end of the season suggests he is capable of generating more runs than the league average. While it was three years ago at this point, Holder’s Fall League numbers are worth mentioning, as well. He put up a .333/ .367/.511 slash line for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the 2017 Arizona Fall League, where he had the second-best OPS on the team (.878) and faced a number of players who are now pitching in the major leagues.

To a degree, it seems like there is a mild schism between Holder’s actual hitting ability and how scouts and coaches have perceived it. Context matters in Holder’s case, too. That he produced career-best offensive numbers at Double-A Trenton is significant, considering he missed much of the 2018 minor league season due to his sustaining serious injuries and enduring a terrible personal tragedy. (Holder suffered a stress fracture in his lower back during spring training and then later on in the season, a concussion. He also took an extended bereavement following his older brother’s unexpected death).

Despite what the scouting reports say, I think it is still too early to come to any big conclusions about Holder’s offensive ceiling. What his comeback from injuries and tragedy does demonstrate, though, is Holder’s resilience and ability to handle adversity. Being able to bounce back after failure is an extremely important skill for ballplayers to have in the major leagues. It will be interesting to see how Holder improves his offensive game, and whether or not he will be able to progress to the big leagues in the Phillies organization.

As an organization, Philly could be a good fit for Holder. I’m not sure if Phillies manager Joe Girardi was involved in his Rule 5 Draft poaching, but I’m confident that Holder will very much be on Girardi’s radar. During his own playing career, Girardi fit the classic all-glove, no-bat player mold. It would be hard to find a major league manager who appreciates defensive excellence more than Girardi does.

For now, the Yankees must concentrate on replenishing the organization’s infield depth in their minor league system. It seemed likely that Holder would make the jump to Triple-A and be on the doorstep of the majors, but with him gone, Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe are arguably the most developed shortstop prospects in the Yankees farm system right now. Both players project well and are highly-touted for their innate talent. But both are also extremely young — Peraza is 20 and Volpe is 19 — and have yet to play at a level above Single-A.

Thanks to Tyler Wade and to a lesser degree, Thairo Estrada, the thinning supply of shortstops doesn’t present an urgent problem in the short run. However, the scarcity does leave the Yankees’ infield slightly vulnerable. Hypothetically, if the Yankees’ injury bug was to strike again in 2021 (knock on wood), Brian Cashman would probably need to make a trade, or do some creative roster shuffling. Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to that.