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Imagining the ceiling of Yankees’ utilityman Tyler Wade

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The speedster has struggled to break through, but his peripherals look reminiscent of a very good major leaguer.

New York Yankees v. Washington Nationals Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Baseball is back, and the New York Yankees won in Washington on Thursday’s Opening Day. Order has been restored. And while we couldn’t watch the whole nine innings thanks to the rain, it was enough for some takeaways.

Tyler Wade looked very good out there in a couple of plate appearances, in the field and on the basepaths. He drew a walk and had a bunt single, and he scored all the way from first base on an Aaron Judge double, showing once again that he can change a game with his speed.

What would a full season from Tyler Wade look like if he were a regular and played up to his ceiling? It sure is fun to imagine, isn’t it? It’s an entertaining exercise because he isn’t your typical Yankee slugger — he is a different kind of player.

He’s been bad, but we need a bigger sample

So far, Wade hasn’t been able to succeed at the major league level. He has a putrid .201/.274/.301 line with a .256 wOBA and a 55 wRC+. That comes in a small sample size of 110 games and 243 plate appearances, with an 8.6 BB% and a 28.8 K%. He’s been plain bad.

However, in a much larger sample size in the minors (694 games) Wade is a .274/.351/.370 hitter with a .721 OPS. Not excellent, not great, but decent. And if you add the fact that he is still young and projectable at 25, that he has game-changing speed, and that he has improved from being a -10.2 UZR/150 and -1 DRS defender at second in 2018 to a 1.0 and 2, respectively, in 2019, there’s the mold for a very interesting player.

I would say Wade’s ceiling would look a lot like Whit Merrifield. He is a ways away from performing at that level, but the two players are somewhat similar when we talk about their best attributes.

Merrifield, now 31 years old, has been among the Kansas City Royals’ best players for a couple of years. He has moderate pop (19, 12 and 16 homers in the last three seasons) but his best trait is his elite speed. He uses it in all facets of his game, including on the bases, stealing a total of 99 bases the last three years.

If you think about it, Wade’s minor league OPS of .721 is not terribly far off Merrifield’s .789 mark in the major leagues, although I concede that there’s still a gap to bridge. There is a lot of work to be done. To reach that level, Wade would need to increase his power output to at least 10-to-15 homers per year, and up his batting average.

Baby (Bomber) steps

Improving offensively is in the agenda, and last season, Wade performed at an 88 wRC+ level with a .245/.330/.362 slash line. That’s at least better than his career 55 wRC+ mark, though that’s a low bar to clear.

Merrifield is a career .296/.344/.445 batter. He edges Wade in virtually every aspect of the game, including defense. But could Wade develop into a similarly-rated player with time and at-bats? In theory, he could.

The practice, however, is another story. DJ LeMahieu will return any day and will bump Wade to the bench. He would need another injury or surprising trade to unlock regular at-bats, and even in that scenario, it is possible that the Yankees award those plate appearances to Thairo Estrada or another ballplayer.

For now, I am imagining Wade’s ceiling, and he sure looks like an exciting player. In 2017, he batted .310/.382/.460 with a 136 wRC+ in 85 Triple-A games. In 2019, he was at .296/.352/.425 with a 99 wRC+ in 79 games. Based on what he’s shown with consistent playing time, his best version in the bigs could look like a .285/.350/.430 hitter, with 10-12 home runs and 30+ steals. Let’s hope he reaches that Merrifield-lite status.