Spring training has come and gone, and it’s officially time to get excited about the season! The next time you see the Yankees, they’ll be playing in a game that counts. The roster is pretty much all set, as they have chosen 25 out of the 26 players on the Opening Day roster. On Monday, the Yankees announced that Tyler Wade, Nick Nelson, and Michael King will suit up on April 1st, as they’ve made the team.
Surviving the cut is just the start for these three players. They will have to prove themselves if they want to be consistent contributors in pinstripes, and that especially goes for Tyler Wade.
The 26-year-old made his debut with the Yankees in 2017 and his role on this team has not changed over the last four years. Wade has served as the team’s backup infielder and/or pinch-runner since that magical 2017 season. As we sit on the doorstep of 2021 season, this could very well be his last chance to prove himself before the Yankees move on.
Reading his scouting report from 2016, it notes that Wade employs a lefty contact approach — acknowledging that he’s not a power hitter — and he focuses on getting on base. The good news is that they were right by saying he’s not a power hitter. He’s only has five career homers through four seasons. However, the report talks about his ability to get on base, which he succeeded in doing at the minor league level. Ever since he was called up though, Wade has had trouble getting on base, posting a career .274 OBP and 9.2 percent walk rate.
Wade is a backup, I understand that, so I’m not looking for him to produce All-Star numbers. Unfortunately, he’s not even putting up serviceable offensive stats, especially when looking at on-base percentage. For context, FanGraphs labels a .310 OBP as “below-average.” His .274 OBP is lower than the “awful” category, which sits at a mere .290.
While Wade’s offensive production is borderline putrid, it was his glove and speed that got him to the majors. He has a career four defensive runs saved, but six in the last two seasons. His -2 DRS in 2017 explains the math there. His scouting report did remark that he is a strong defender with quick feet and hands to go with solid arm strength — that still holds true today. He has swiped 13 bags, which are the sixth-most on the Yankees since he entered the league. It’s not a lot, but keep in mind that the team does not often issue the green light to baserunners.
While being slick with the glove and smooth on the basepaths is a plus, his bat is far from MLB-caliber, and the Yankees have to wonder if that’s worth a roster spot. For now, general manager Brian Cashman has decided that it is, but they’re definitely questioning it, and they’ve hinted at it during spring training. After all, Wade is not the only player in the world who can play defense and run fast.
Gio Urshela has trotted out to shortstop for only 13 games in his career, the most recent time being in 2018. Nevertheless, the Yanks had him take reps at short this spring. Let’s say Gleyber Torres has another awful defensive year at short. Hypothetically, they could slide him back to second, move DJ LeMahieu to the hot corner, and shift Urshela over to shortstop. That’s not encouraging news for Wade, given that the team may rather shuffle the infield around and force players out of position instead of inserting Wade into the middle of the infield.
Let’s not forget about Derek Dietrich who was assigned to the alternate camp site. He’s not a shortstop, but he could also serve as a backup infielder and manufacture more offensive output, especially power. There’s also 25-year-old Thairo Estrada, who finished this spring with three homers and an .831 OPS in 16 games. As for Wade, he slashed .220/.250/.317 with zero home runs an OPS of .567 in 15 games.
The Yankees have given Wade several opportunities to prove himself. At the start of 2019, he was tasked with helping fill in up the middle with Didi Gregorius out and recovering from Tommy John surgery. After a poor .520 OPS in 20 games, he was demoted and didn’t make another start until August 28th. Then in 2020, Wade worked his way into 52 of the 60 regular season games, a total higher than every Yankee except for Luke Voit and Aaron Hicks. But it was all for naught, as he could only muster a wRC+ of 68 — equal to Gary Sánchez’s own nightmare campaign — and most of his appearances turned out to be mere defensive replacements.
The Yankees are an elite team and have championship aspirations once again this year. We know teams with great depth will win more games than teams that don’t. Teams like the Bombers don’t have to settle for the Tyler Wades of the world when there are seemingly better options out there. A good glove and above-average speed will only guarantee you a bench role for so long, especially since under the current CBA, he’d be arbitration-eligible after this season.
While I wish the best for him, if Wade flops again in 2021, don’t expect him to be a Yankee for much longer.