The New York Yankees’ starting second baseman, DJ LeMahieu, is currently unavailable while recovering from COVID-19. His absence may not be for much longer, as he’s expected to return later this week, but his quarantine experience has allowed the team to explore their options for depth behind their superstar infielder.
By now, the most likely candidate to replace LeMahieu at the keystone is Tyler Wade, who is not known for his bat but can offer speed and versatility. He may be, for those reasons, best suited for a super-utility role, though.
While Matt Duffy and even Gio Urshela remain options to see some playing time at second, the most logical replacement to take over the position in the short term may very well be Thairo Estrada.
A natural in the position
A middle infielder by trade, Estrada can be a plus defender at second base and looks like a natural there. Here is some footage of him making a play at second a few days ago:
We will examine Estrada’s offensive profile in a bit, but it’s fair to say that he has been one of the Yankees’ intrasquad stars with a couple of homers and doubles at summer camp. Of course, the sample size is extremely small but that’s a promising development, for sure:
Naturally, the Yankees are looking for offense in addition to the ability to defend the position. Last season, Estrada hit two grounders for every fly ball, and that isn’t going to be enough to make it with the big-league team. However, it was the infielder’s debut in the majors, and he has added power to his game — little by little, slowly but surely — through the years.
After slugging .432 in rookie ball in 2013 at age 17, he didn’t surpass the .400 mark until last year. In 60 Triple-A games he slashed .266/.313/.452 and belted out eight home runs, and in 35 games with the Yankees he hit .250/.294/.438 with three homers and four steals.
Finding consistency and making adjustments
Estrada won’t wow you with extremely loud contact, a la Giancarlo Stanton or Aaron Judge. In fact, his 106.2 max exit velocity was the second-lowest across the Yankees lineup last year. But one of the best indicators for future success is not necessarily hitting one ball extremely hard, but instead, doing it consistently and frequently.
He had the ninth-highest hard-hit percentage in the Yankees (with a minimum of 50 batted ball events) with a very respectable 40%, fueling the possibility of an offensive breakout if he manages to up his barrel percentage (4.0%) and cut his groundball rate (53.1%.)
Additionally, Estrada has some wheels. According to Statcast data, he was in the 74th percentile when it comes to sprint speed. He was actually just 1.1 ft/s slower than Tyler Wade in that department.
Expecting him to hit like LeMahieu is an unfair comparison, but Thairo Estrada can hold his own at the plate. And deploying him as the starting second baseman would allow the Yankees to keep Wade on the bench, where his versatility comes into play.