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Chris Gittens will need to elevate and celebrate if he wants to stick around

The hulking rookie hasn’t been overly impressive, but he can take walks and offers power upside if he trades some grounders for flies.

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Voit is finally on the way back to the Bronx. His absence has been, without a doubt, the hardest to adequately cover for the Yankees, as they have tried several players there without much success. The first baseman looks like he could rejoin the team as early as this weekend.

Yet, since he suffered his second injury, the oblique strain, the Yankees have had the opportunity to take a look at a longtime minor leaguer, one that could potentially have the tools to be a contributor if given enough playing time: Chris Gittens. Our own Joshua Diemert profiled him before he reached the bigs, so we are somewhat familiar with his skillset.

Gittens made his major league debut at 27-years-old. So far, through Thursday’s game, he has a .111/.190/.278 with a home run and an 27 wRC+ in 8 games and 21 plate appearances. It’s been mostly tough sledding.

Obviously, he hasn’t been particularly impressive in his stint with the Yankees, but some things stand out. The first thing one notices about Gittens is his size, which one automatically associates with game power. In fact, Gittens does have some pop, evidenced by his 23 homers in 115 Double-A games in 2019 and his .585 slugging percentage in 18 Triple-A games in 2021, with four round-trippers.

He can reach awfully impressive max exit velocities: for example, he hit a ball at 118 mph while impressing at the Yankees’ alternate training site. He is yet to show, however, that he can do that consistently against top competition for a sustained period of time. This year, he will hopefully get the opportunity, if not in MLB, then in Triple-A.

I’m tempted to say Gittens is a three-true-outcomes hitter, but given that he finished with a .281 average in 2019 and was hitting .283 in Triple-A this year, that might not be the case. It’s clear, though, that his walk and strikeout rates are really something:

Chris Gittens plate discipline profile

Season Level PA BB% K%
Season Level PA BB% K%
2019 AA 478 14.9 29.1
2021 AAA 74 27 21.6
2021 MLB 19 10.5 36.8

For Gittens, there are two keys that could unlock his potential: cutting back on the strikeouts, and lifting the ball. Judging from his time at Triple-A, before his call-up to the bigs, he had begun work on the former, but we don’t have enough plate appearances to draw conclusions on that front.

Judging by the early results, it seems that his strikeout issues stem from being too passive. His swinging-strike rate, while a tad high, isn’t too egregious at 11.8 percent. His called strike rate, however, is 22.4 percent, which is insanely high and almost in Yasmani Grandal territory.

As for the latter issue, he is still having problems. In the tiny sample size of 10 batted ball events in the big leagues, he has an average launch angle of -5 degrees, and a 70-percent groundball rate.

To expand the sample size, we can go back to 2019 in Double-A and his brief time in Triple-A before getting the call. He had a 1.55 GB/FB ratio and a 50.2-percent groundball rate in 2019, and a 1.64 GB/FB and 48.6-percent groundball rate in his 2021 Triple-A showing.

Clearly, he’s got some impressive raw power (80 on the 20-80 scale by some evaluators) but will need to elevate to celebrate. He won’t do much damage over a full season if he hits the ball on the ground more than half of the time.

Gittens is not fast (to say the least), and while he won a minor league award for defense in 2019, first baseman who survive in the majors with good gloves alone are quite rare. So if he wants to carve out a career in the bigs, he will need to cut his strikeouts and lift the ball. With his patience, doing those things will almost guarantee some sort of role. Maybe that role is as a bench bat with some scary power and not too much else, but that would still be a great accomplishment for a prospect who’s put in a lot of hard work over many years in the minors.