For all the injuries the Yankees have suffered over the last several seasons, few have been as jarring as reading that Thairo Estrada was shot during a robbery attempt in his native Venezuela during the opening days of spring training in 2018. Coming off a strong season with Double-A Trenton, the versatile infielder had been added to the 40-man roster the previous November only to see his life and career threatened just as he reached the cusp of the major leagues. The incident derailed Estrada’s 2018 season, but now he is primed to make an impact on the Yankees’ season.
Estrada joined the Yankees’ system in 2012 with a modest signing bonus and little fanfare. The organization saw enough potential in the young infielder to bring him state-side to the Gulf Coast League for his professional debut. Never looking overmatched along the way, Estrada’s versatility ensured that he always had a place on the field as he played shortstop, second base, and third base routinely while coming up through the system.
Estrada’s offensive production remained steady as he hit .301/.353/.392 as part of a Double-A Trenton team that at times featured infield prospects such as Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, and Mike Ford. It was Estrada’s performance while surrounded by this talented group that convinced the Yankees that he needed to be protected from the Rule-5 draft.
Spring training 2018 should have been another proving ground for Estrada as the rising prospect would have seen extended action along side the major league regulars, but it wasn’t to be. Shortly after the beginning of camp, new Yankees manager Aaron Boone announced to the media that Estrada had been shot several weeks earlier while dining with his wife in their native Venezuela.
Two teens approached Estrada and his wife as they dined, demanding cash and a cell phone. A fight ensued in which one of the teens shot the Yankees infielder in the hip. Doctor’s attempts to remove the bullet at the time failed, and Estrada returned to the United States with the bullet still in his body.
Escaping life-threatening injuries, Estrada started the season on the injured list and then attempted to play while the bullet was still lodged in his body. Hamstring, wrist, and eventually a lower back injury ended his season after very limited action.
With the lower back injury likely related to overcompensation for the initial injury, it was time for the bullet to be removed, and Estrada’s season was over until he returned for a brief appearance in the Arizona Fall League where he struggled.
2019 looked like it would be his year to get back on track. Despite being on the 40-man roster, Estrada did not appear to be at the top of the Yankees’ depth chart. The injury bug struck early and often for the Yankees last season and Estrada was in the majors before the end of April. Not only was he promoted to the majors but he was then pressed into action as an outfielder, a position he had never played in the minor leagues.
Estrada’s line for the season is not especially impressive, hitting just .250/.294/.438. Coming off the serious injuries and with only 19 games of experience at the Triple-A level when he was first called to the majors, there is still more potential for the Yankees and Estrada to tap into.
One thing that was consistent with Estrada as he came through the minor leagues was his ability to get the bat on the ball. This peaked with his 10.3% strikeout rate in 2017 at Double-A. Coming off his injuries that rate spiked up to 19.3% during his Triple-A action last season, while his batted ball profile remained similar to his 2017 season. The Yankees and Estrada will now look to see if he can return to the high contact rate hitter. If so, he could fill the utility role for the Yankees.
Thairo Estrada’s rise through the Yankees’ system was derailed in a terrible and nearly tragic manner. Pushed into major league action due to injuries, that experience could prove valuable. With a healthy offseason, and experience at the highest levels of the sport to draw on, Estrada can be expected to return more to form and be a solid contributor to the Yankees this season.