The Yankees system came up big last season filling numerous gaps caused by injury along the way. First base was no exception, as Luke Voit’s injury in mid-season opened the door for Mike Ford step in a help the team. Let’s take a look at Ford and the rest of the Yankees’ first base depth in their minor league system.
2019 saw Ford go from a non-roster player coming out of spring training to making his major league debut before the end of April. By the end of the season and several trips on the Scranton Shuttle, he had posted a 134 wRC+ in 169 major league plate appearances. Beyond his major league performance, Ford was leading all qualified hitters in the Triple-A International League with a 1.007 OPS when he was called up for the final time in early August.
Ford accrued enough service time with the Yankees so that he is no longer a prospect or considered a rookie, but he does have two more years with minor league options. Those option years give the Yankees tremendous flexibility with their roster. Ford is a major league ready bat that the Yankees can maneuver between the minors and majors depending on the needs of the roster.
One level down, the Double-A Trenton Thunder watched Chris Gittens return from an injury shortened 2018 season to win the Eastern League MVP award. Gittens’ hitting line of .281/.393/.500 was good for a 164 wRC+. He was also voted as the best defensive first baseman in a poll taken by Baseball America of Eastern League coaches.
The right-handed Gittens hit a majority of his home runs to the opposite field this past season. That is a promising sign for a player who will be one step away from Yankee Stadium and its inviting short porch. The Yankees will be concerned about Gittens’ strikeout rate, which trended upward in the second half of the season, and finished at 29% on the season. Some of that concern can be tempered because of Gittens’ impressive power, and an impressive 14% walk rate.
The first baseman for High-A Tampa entered the Yankees system with a tremendous amount of hype and expectations that he has struggled to live up to. Dermis Garcia was the biggest prize at the time of the Yankees’ 2014 international signing class. Since making his debut he has displayed his trademark power with 62 home runs in his last 283 minor league games. Garcia has failed to make enough contact to remain a top prospect though, striking out over 32% of the time.
When Garcia went down with an injury last season, the void at first base for High-A Tampa was filled with a combination of Mickey Gasper and Steven Sensley. Sensley hit well after being drafted and looked like he could be a mid-round steal as he continued to hit in Low-A Charleston. Since being promoted to High-A Tampa in mid-2018, Sensley’s production has dropped off, and he has only produced a .647 OPS in 153 games. Gasper hit well in 23 games at High-A, but put up more pedestrian numbers in a larger sample size for Low-A Charleston in 2019.
Spencer Henson produced a .951 OPS in 24 games after the Yankees used their ninth round pick on him in the last draft. After coming out of the gates on fire, his bat cooled when he was promoted from Rookie-Advanced Pulaski to Short-Season A Staten Island. Another Yankees draft pick from this last season, Kyle MacDonald produced a 1.052 OPS, but that came as one of the older players on the Yankees Gulf Coast West team. Both of these players coming off their college careers will have to prove they can hit at higher levels if they want to be considered legitimate prospects.
The Yankees have tremendous first base depth at or near the major league level. Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu and Mike Ford have all proved to be great options at the position in the major leagues. Chris Gittens will likely be one step away in Triple-A this coming season, coming off a great year. While some players have shown flashes of promise, they will have to show they can carry their production to the higher levels of the minors if they are to ever become serious candidates for the major leagues.