Heading into spring training, there appeared to be a multi-way battle for the bench spots on the 26-man roster. Any of a handful of players hoped a strong showing in spring could earn a major league opportunity, and Tyler Wade once again found himself in the thick of that race.
While it is a near given that Kyle Higashioka will occupy the first bench spot as the backup catcher, at the beginning of spring it appeared the remaining three were up for grabs. Now with Giancarlo Stanton’s Opening Day availability in doubt with a calf strain, and uncertainty surrounding the health of Aaron Judge’s right shoulder, Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier seem like virtual locks to make the major league roster. That leaves a couple bench spots available.
Mike Ford, Tyler Wade, and Thairo Estrada stand out as the obvious candidates for that final slot. Mike Ford is certainly an intriguing option. His excellent plate discipline, power lefty bat, and track record of success as a pinch-hitter all work in his favor. With the defensive concerns in Andujar and Frazier, the Yankees must prioritize versatility with final bench spot. None of the candidates embody that more than Tyler Wade.
The first thing anybody mentions when talking about what Wade can offer in the major leagues is his speed. Wade ranks in the 93rd percentile in both sprint speed and home-to-first time. He has also contributed positive baserunning runs in each major league stint.
Wade has always been on the fringes of the MLB roster since getting his first major league call up. A prototypical Quad-A hitter, he so far has not translated his success at Triple-A to the big leagues. Every time he’s been called up, he hasn’t established any sort of consistency due to a lack of available at-bats and other players making more of their opportunities
That being said, Wade trended upwards in 2019. He nearly doubled his walk rate and cut down on strikeouts relative to 2018 while posting career-high marks in both OPS+ (86) and wRC+ (88) in 2019. His slugging percentage and isolated power also increased.
While his exit velocity has remained relatively stable in his three major league seasons, he appeared to optimize his launch angle from 2018 to 2019, going from -0.7 to 9.2 degrees. He also has made significant progress in tackling his greatest MLB demon. Wade’s xwOBA against breaking balls jumped over 100 points between 2018 and 2019. All of these improvements indicate he might finally be figuring out how to hit major league pitching.
The greatest asset Wade can offer the Yankees is his defensive versatility. A true Swiss Army Knife player, Wade grades out at roughly league average at second, third, and shortstop, as well as all three outfield positions. With the amount the Yankees employ positional rotation to give guys rest, Wade’s availability as a plug-and-play candidate is invaluable.
This season is a pivotal year for the Yankee spark plug. With only one minor league option remaining, Wade is running out of time to force his way onto the major league with any sort of permanence. Every season feels like the same story for Wade: a hot start in spring training followed by disappointment in the regular season. Is 2020 finally the year that Tyler Wade steps off the Scranton shuttle for good? If he wants to remain a Yankee into the future, now is the best chance to make himself stick.