Every season, the Yankees and teams around baseball are forced to make decisions on their future roster construction. Every player is given three years of minor league options when they are added to the 40-man roster. This season, several players that have already been up and down between the Yankees and their alternate sight in Scranton are playing on their last season with a minor league option. Between now and the end of the season, the Yankees will have to decide if these players are part of the Yankees’ major league future.
The player who was most surrounded by discussion when he was sent down is Clint Frazier. A highly-ranked prospect when the Yankees acquired him in 2016, Frazier made his major league debut in 2017 when the Yankees suffered a rash of injuries that summer.
Last season, Frazier’s bat produced solid results as he hit .283/.330/.513 in 209 plate appearances through mid-June. With Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton sidelined with injuries, his bat played a big role for the Yankees early on in the season.
Holding Frazier back was his sub-par defense that saw him take poor routes to balls and misplay several balls. When the Yankees traded for Edwin Encarnacion, Frazier was demoted to Triple-A Scranton despite his strong offensive showing.
The Yankees have a crowded but injury prone outfield. Judge, Stanton and Aaron Hicks have all missed significant time over the last several seasons with injuries. There is also speculation that Brett Gardner will retire at the end of the year. With a home run in his first at-bat of the season, Frazier has made an early impression that he is going to be too valuable to move on from.
Thairo Estrada was added to the Yankees’ 40-man roster following a strong 2017 season with Double-A Trenton where he hit .301 while playing shortstop. His ascension up the minor league ladder hit a delay when he was shot during a robbery attempt in his native Venezuela prior to spring training in 2018. That season became a lost year for Estrada, as he only was able to play in 18 games in the minors around his injuries.
When a rash of injuries struck the Yankees in 2019, Estrada was able to make his major league debut much sooner than expected. Called up several times during the year, Estrada played 35 games for the Yankee,s producing a 91 wRC+ in a utility role. One big sign of progress for Estrada in 2019 is that he hit 11 home runs in just 95 games between the majors and Triple-A.. Over the rest of his minor league career he had hit just 18.
Estrada has only found two at-bats with the Yankees this season, but has singles in both of them. He was recently sent down to the alternate sight as the Yankees seem to value Tyler Wade’s speed and defensive versatility more than Estrada’s on the roster. He will have to show the Yankees that he has as much or more to offer than Wade or several other utility type players in the Yankees system.
Consistently rated among the Yankees top prospects since joining the organization in 2016, Albert Abreu made his major league debut in Tampa this past weekend. Abreu’s struggles with both command and control diminish what scouts feel are four plus pitches. His struggles come in the form of a career 4.3 BB/9 rate. Working as a reliever in his major league debut, his issues with control followed him as he walked two batters in just 1.1 innings pitched.
Abreu’s path to the major leagues is likely in the bullpen, where he can potentially survive on pure stuff. The Yankees have a lot of strong arms coming through the system, and Abreu will have to show more than he has to this point to carve out a spot on the Yankees next season.
Additional roster spots in the 2020 season have given players chances on the big league roster. In addition to Frazier, Estrada and Abreu, several other players such as Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Jonathan Loaisiga and Tyler Wade are also playing the season with one minor league option. Up to this point none of those players seem to be in position to be sent down to use that option. Frazier seems to have to best path to staying with the Yankees beyond this season, but Estrada and Abreu still have a chance to carve out their role.