By this point, the Yankees’ rash of injuries has been well-documented. It’s unfortunate, but the Yankees have to keep moving. Although their starting outfield of Mike Tauchman-Brett Gardner-Clint Frazier is not the same as Giancarlo Stanton-Aaron Hicks-Aaron Judge, it’s still pretty good. The Yankees’ lineup will be above-average even without some of their big boppers.
The ripple effects from this manifest themselves on the Yankees’ bench, though. Tauchman and Frazier were expected to be bench players, along with Miguel Andujar, who will see more regular time split between DH, third base and left field. That’s three of the five bench players. Who’s left?
The lone bench player who has stayed the constant is Kyle Higashioka. The backstop has solidified his position as the backup catcher, where he will spell Gary Sanchez once or twice a week. However, the other four bench spots might go to guys who weren’t supposed to make the roster at full health.
Tyler Wade was originally expected to be the 26th man of the roster, but is now the club’s lead bench player. Wade might just be the team’s fourth outfielder; he has more experience than Andujar at least. Wade’s spot on the roster is all but assured, but if he is spending more time in the outfield, the team will need to find a new backup shortstop/utility infielder.
Enter Thairo Estrada. The 24-year-old infielder played in 35 games for the Yankees last year and might take over as the team’s primary backup infielder with Wade playing more in the outfield. He can play second base and shortstop, and has even played a few innings at third base this year, a less familiar position for him. It all points to him making the roster as their reserve infielder.
That leaves two spots left for grabs on the bench. The team should want another player with outfield experience, and non-roster invitee Rosell Herrera might just be the guy. A switch hitter who has raked in Triple-A but hit poorly at the Major League level, Herrera has been the Yankees’ best hitter this spring and can play all three outfield spots, as well as second and third base. His versatility and suddenly-hot hitting might make him a hard player to leave off the Opening Day roster.
Now there’s only one spot left, and the Yankees don’t really have many other candidates. Mike Ford is probably the right guy for the job, given his ability to provide something different than the rest of the bench players. Everyone else on the bench is more a defense-first, light-hitting type. Most are also righty bats. Ford is the exact opposite: a hulking, lefty power bat with excellent plate discipline. These unique traits, along with his ability to play first base, a position the Yankees could use some insurance at, could serve him well as the 26th-man on the roster – a bench bat and occasional DH against tough righties.
Coming into the spring, most would’ve figured the Yankees’ bench to be some combination of Higashioka, Tauchman, Frazier, Wade and then one of Estrada or Ford. Now, Wade is still there but in a bigger role, Estrada and Ford are both projected to make it, and Herrera has entered the picture. Although the Yankees’ starting lineup can handle the losses of Judge, Hicks and Stanton relatively well, the bench has had to undergo some changes to better serve the club’s needs.