Spring training is generally not the time to worry about the little things. Big picture-wise, the Yankees are doing quite well this spring – most of their top players look healthy and productive, they’re winning ballgames, and they haven’t had any COVID-related issues.
However, if you want to get nit-picky, the Yankees do have one potential area of concern that is slowly starting to manifest this spring training: the team has very little infield depth behind its starting group.
Now, let me be clear that the Yankees’ starting infield is excellent on paper. Luke Voit holds down the fort at first base as the reigning MLB home run king; DJ LeMahieu can play three different positions and is the heartbeat of the offense; Gleyber Torres looks set for a bounceback year, and Gio Urshela is fully recovered from his offseason elbow surgery. However, this is the Yankees, and that means that things can’t go 100 percent according to plan, and injuries will undoubtedly be a factor as the season goes on.
And when that first infield injury hits, the Yankees are ill-equipped to handle it, unless it’s at first base. At first, the Yankees have a solid depth chart of Voit, LeMahieu, Jay Bruce and Mike Ford. Anywhere else on the infield dirt though, you’ll only find question marks beneath the starters.
This worry came about originally when considering Urshela’s status. Although he is supposedly healthy, he has taken some time to get re-acclimated after his surgery. He is just 1-for-12 this spring, and although that alone is not a cause for concern, it may remind fans of how Aaron Hicks played “healthy” after an elbow operation last year but also claimed he wasn't fully himself at the plate the entire year. He was still productive, but not completely comfortable.
If the same thing happens with Urshela, the Yankees can’t just turn to Miguel Andújar at the hot corner. The former rookie of the year runner-up has been shut down with hand and wrist soreness that has been bothering him since the winter league. This of course comes after Andújar has provided the Yankees with no value since 2018, anyway. The potential is there, but for the immediate future, Andújar still isn’t an MLB option.
Urshela is one of the 10 best third basemen in baseball. But, if he needs more time to get acclimated, the Yankees might have to play LeMahieu at third a little more often, which subsequently creates a vacancy in the middle infield. Tyler Wade is penciled in as the Yankees’ backup infielder du jour, but that’s also mainly because of positional versatility (read: the ability to play shortstop) and speed alone.
If the team could upgrade from Wade without spending money, they certainly should. Unfortunately, there really aren't any worthwhile veterans available for a minor league contract at this point, although there could be after spring training cuts around the league. I like Wade as a person and a Swiss army bench player, but if the chief backup infielder is a career .190/.274/.301 hitter over 161 games, it could present issues.
Complicating things, Thairo Estrada and Derek Dietrich have done little to force the issue. They’re a combined 3-for-28 in spring training, and only Estrada is a true option at short anyway. This is also concerning given that Gleyber Torres’s long-term fit at shortstop is still somewhat in the air. While I fully anticipate improvement this year and think he’s the Yankees’ shortstop of the future, questions will persist about his fit on the field until he actually shows tangible improvement defensively. If Wade or Estrada is the option for a late-game defensive substitution, it’s not a move Aaron Boone would make often given the team would suffer a tremendous decrease in offensive productivity should the game go to extra innings.
Bench players are bench players for a reason; MLB teams can’t just be expected to carry starting-caliber players as insurance options. However, the Yankees have very little in the way of infield depth, and it’s starting to show already. With Andújar injured, Urshela needing time to get up to speed, Torres’s defense still a question mark, and the prospect of significant at-bats for the Wade-Estrada-Dietrich group, the Yankees would be wise to monitor the market for a potential veteran bench option to sign to a cheap deal at the end of spring training. Unless there’s significant internal improvement, the Yankees’ depth infield group is the weakest spot on the roster as of now.