Who will occupy the first base position for the Yankees at the major league level is certainly a hot topic for debate. A position that once looked like Luke Voit’s for the next half decade is now in flux due to his injuries and struggles. While answers at the major league level will not come until the lockout is over, that gives us a chance to look at the players who are coming through the minor league system. Below we continue our position-by-position look at the Yankees minor league system and see what players you can expect to see on the field for the team’s affiliates this coming year.
One player who has elevated his stock over the past year, and especially in the fall is Andres Chaparro. Chaparro has played a majority of the games in his career at third base, but that changed when he reached High-A Hudson Valley. After becoming a regular at first base to finish out the High-A season, Chaparro was selected to represent the team in the Arizona Fall League where he once again played more first base than any other position. He hit a combined .267/.381/.468 this season between the two Class-A levels. He has always solid plate discipline but this past season he really started to tap into some power.
That power jump really started to show up once he hit the Arizona Fall League, where scouts keeping their eyes on the Statcast numbers noticed Chaparro’s serious impact on the ball. After a slow start where he had just one hit in his first 18 at-bats, Chaparro really turned it on. He launched at least three hits with exit velocities of 110 mph or higher, including a double measured at 117 mph off the bat. In addition to his loud contact, he started hitting much more frequently as he slashed .353/.462/.686 in his last 61 plate appearances in the league.
Andres Chaparro is earning his pinstripes.— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) November 16, 2021
The @Yankees prospect drilled this double 117 mph. Only 45 balls were hit harder in the Majors this year, 25 of which were by Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. pic.twitter.com/xvZQQ5IX5m
He followed up his AFL stint with 10 games in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he continued to get on base and hit for power with a .250/.455/.594 line. He pounded five extra base hits and walked 10 times over 10 games in his native country. With his power developing, and established plate discipline, Chaparro will likely reach the upper levels of the minors this coming season.
Shortly after Chaparro moved up to High-A, the Yankees promoted Anthony Garcia from the Florida Complex League. Garcia, who signed with the Yankees as an outfielder, did not play any first base during his first two professional seasons in 2018 and 2019. This season he played the majority of his time at first base and also produced some big numbers with his bat.
Always known for his power, Garcia’s in-game production was very impressive — he hit a combined .306/.444/.678 with 14 home runs in 153 plate appearances. Garcia’s progress has been hindered by his strikeout rate, as he has struck out over 30 percent of the time every season in the minors. While he improved this past season, it is still a trait that he will have to continue working on as he moves up the system.
In the fifth round of the 2021 draft the Yankees selected Tyler Hardman out of the University of Oklahoma. In his final season of college ball, he led the Big-12 conference in batting average, hitting .397 for the Sooners. The fifth round is the highest the Yankees have selected a first baseman in the draft since 2001. Before winning the Big-12 batting crown, Hardman previously won the Cape Cod League home run derby, showing that he had some pop with a wooden bat. He was not as dynamic of an offensive player in his first professional look, but with only 33 games worth of action there is a good chance that Hardman’s bat has a lot more to show. Hardman even jumped over to play third base occasionally for Low-A Tampa, but the consensus is that he is a first baseman in the long run.
Another player who spends some time at third base as well as first base is lefty swinging Chad Bell. He crushed 21 home runs on the season, while rising from Low-A Tampa all the way to Double-A Somerset. At the two Class-A levels he posted a combined 138 wRC+. He does have some swing and miss issues, but has also shown the ability to crush hit for a lot of power making him a productive hitter. High-A Hudson Valley hitting coach Jake Hirst spoke highly of Bell in a recent interview with Pinstripe Alley, and thinks he is a candidate to have a strong 2022 season based on the progress he made in 2021. He struggled when he reached Double-A Somerset and will likely start next season again at that level.
Hirst also mentioned Eric Wagaman as a player who made big strides with in-season adjustments this past year. Wagaman was originally selected in the 13th round of the 2017 draft and has been a fixture in the Yankees system since.
Connor Cannon and Spencer Henson are two players returning from injury in the coming year that you should keep an eye on. Cannon was the player to be named later when the Yankees sent Mike Tauchman to the San Francisco Giants, but he has yet to play for the Yankees as he has battled injuries. He posted a 181 wRC+ in 35 games with the Giants’ rookie ball team in 2019. Henson posted a .951 OPS in 24 games following the draft in 2019, but then his season was cut short just four games in for Low-A Tampa in 2021. The slugger should be back in 2022 and could use his strong plate discipline and power to keep moving through the system.
When you look at the various prospect rankings, the first base position is not highly represented in the Yankees system. Still there are numerous players who have major league potential and also took significant steps forward in the last year. If the late summer and early fall progress of Andres Chaparro or Anthony Garcia continues, the Yankees may have several first baseman listed among their notable prospects in the near future.