Yesterday, the New York Yankees signed former All-Star center fielder and three-time Gold Glove winner Ender Inciarte to a minor league contract. The 31-year-old hasn’t had much success since his 2018 season, when he produced a 2.9 fWAR; he’s only played 163 games over the last three seasons. The Yankees took a flier on him, but will he ever make it to the big leagues with New York’s already-crowed outfield? Let’s dive in.
The 2021 season was not all that friendly to Inciarte. He played in just 52 games for the Atlanta Braves before behind released in late July. A week later, he signed a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds, but never made it back to the majors and was released at the end of August. Hence the reason why the Yanks were able to bring him aboard because he didn’t finish last season on a 40-man roster or 60-day injured list.
Inciarte has never been a spectacular hitter at the plate. The highest wRC+ of his career was in 2015 where it was 100 — which is not anything to boast about. His best on-base percentage is a .351 back in 2016 — also not anything to boast about. He stole 16+ bases per year from 2014-2018, but hasn’t swiped double digits since then. Inciarte rarely strikes out, as he’s never had a season with more than 95 punchouts. He’s been riddled with injuries, which could be one of the main reasons why his production has been lackluster the past three years. A lumbar strain early kept Inciarte out for two months of the 2019 season. Once he returned, a hamstring injury ended his year. His play never recovered after that.
It’s obvious that this signing is nothing more than a depth move. Inciarte is not here to be a starter for the Yanks. If he is, then disaster will have struck. We know the outfield is already a bit stacked up with Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Joey Gallo, and Giancarlo Stanton, plus Estevan Florial and Miguel Andújar sprinkled into the mix as well. The status of Brett Gardner could also still be up in the air. What would Inciarte have to do in order to make the major leagues with the Yankees in 2022? An injury would most likely need to happen and he’d need to continue to play exceptional defense.
Yes, Inciarte’s offensive production has fallen mightily, but his glove has remained consistent. He’s put up above-average defensive numbers since his fall off in 2019 and into 2021. During his Gold Glove winning seasons in 2016-2018, Inciarte was credited with 61 outs above average in those three seasons combined, mostly coming from center field. However, he has only 5 combined OAA over his last three years. It’s a big drop off, yes, but he hasn’t produced a negative number in that category and has shown he can still flash the leather. If Hicks is unable to find his old self and Inciarte is, an outfield of Gallo, Inciarte, and Judge would be among the best in baseball defensively.
Inciarte most likely won’t show much at the plate. As previously alluded, he was never really a great hitter and his bat has made him borderline unplayable since the start of 2020. He’d have to rely on his speed and defense to get a shot to make the major league roster out of spring training, especially if Gardner returns. He could be in a Greg Allen type of role if the Yanks keep him in the organization throughout the 2022 season.