Shortly before Opening Day 2019, Mike Tauchman was acquired from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for relief prospect Phillip Diehl. Although it was merely a minor depth trade at the time, Tauchman took advantage of his opportunity and burst onto the scene. In 87 games, he slashed .277/.361/.504 with a 128 wRC+ and 2.6 fWAR, all while flashing borderline-elite defensive numbers: 19 defensive runs saved and nine outs above average, which ranked him in the 94th percentile among all major leaguers.
When Tauchman returned from the calf strain that cut his previous season short, his success unfortunately did not continue. He couldn’t find his power stroke, as he wasn’t barreling up as many pitches, and his defensive numbers took a dive as well. Now, as we inch closer to the start of the 2021 season, Tauchman’s future with the team is blurry.
2020 Stats: 111 PA, .242/.342/.305, 0 HR, 14 RBI, 23.4 K%, 12.6 BB%, 78 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR
2021 ZiPS Projections: 416 PA, .260/.339/.426, 11 HR, 54 RBI, 22.1 K%, 10.3 BB%, 100 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR
Tauchman is seemingly in a battle with Jay Bruce for a spot on the bench come April 1st. Bruce was brought on board as a non-roster invitee to compete for the duty to be the extra outfielder/lefty bat on the bench, and he’s done just that. Despite his recent slump, the veteran has six hits, including two homers, and a .706 OPS across 12 games. He’s also made some nice plays in the outfield with his glove. Coming into spring, many figured Tauchman would have a fairly clear path towards a roster spot. Bruce has really challenged that idea.
The competition between the two gets even more complicated when adding the fact that Tauchman has no more minor league options remaining, which guarantees one of two outcomes: he needs to make the Opening Day roster or be traded. The Yankees are forced to make a tough decision. Is Tauchman expendable for a 33-year-old Jay Bruce?
The Yanks could get creative with this and keep both of them if they were to send Tyler Wade to the minors and use Gio Urshela as the backup infielder, though that would mean minimal infield depth. However, if the Yankees keep Wade in the majors and do have to choose between Tauchman or Bruce, I think the team would be wise to go with Tauchman, who has four years of club control remaining.
We have seen what Tauchman can do with his glove, and he’s also a threat on the basepaths as he’s swiped 12 bases in 130 games in pinstripes. His numbers at the plate obviously took a hit (no pun intended) in 2020, but it was a shortened season and he was coming off the bench. You could make the claim that he was never given a fair shot to get in a groove. Tauchman was a major contributor to the team when thrust into a starting role in 2019 during the “next man up” movement. He’s faster and a better defender than Bruce. Are the Yankees willing to part with Tauchman because Bruce may have a better bat? For that matter, do the Yankees even need another bat? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
So what could Tauchman provide to this Yankees team in 2021 if given the spot? As previously mentioned, he would not only be a depth piece in the outfield, but also serve as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement. The “Sock Man” has certainly heard the talk around his situation and has responded well to it. He’s getting on base at a .345 clip this spring, paired with a .960 OPS and three homers, including a leadoff blast in yesterday’s contest.
Remember, he didn’t go deep even once in 43 games in 2020, but he’s launched 3 homers this spring in 26 at-bats.
If Tauchman has regained his power stroke, he could be a very good player—like the one we saw two seasons ago. Time will tell what his future on this team will be, but to me, it’s obvious that he deserves a spot on Opening Day.