All of a sudden, the Yankees have become a little thin at first base. Anthony Rizzo, who missed a week at the beginning of August with a back issue, hasn’t made a start since August 30th with a reoccurrence of that same problem. Primary backup DJ LeMahieu has been dealing with injuries of his own, including toe problems that have sapped his strength. Matt Carpenter, the player with the third-most appearances at first, has been out since early August with broken bones in his foot. Marwin Gonzalez, the utilityman with three appearances at the cold corner ... well, let’s just face it, he hasn’t been very good.
If Rizzo misses any significant time with either the back injury or the epidural-induced headaches, the Yankees may need to look outside the 40-man roster for their first baseman down the stretch. Fortunately, there’s a decent option waiting in the wings down in Triple-A Scranton: Ronald Guzmán, who just so happens to have experience with homers at Yankee Stadium.
Those who obsessively follow the Yankees even in spring training (as much as I do) might remember Guzmán, as he made some headlines as a non-roster invitee. Given No. 29 — a fairly low number for a player not on the 40-man roster — the 6-foot-5 left-handed first baseman made quite an impression in limited playing time, going 4-for-10 with a double, a walk, and five runs batted in. Although he was always destined for a ticket to Scranton with both Rizzo and LeMahieu ahead of him on the depth chart and in his first season after tearing his meniscus last April, he nonetheless showed that he could potentially fill in should the need arise.
Well, with Rizzo’s lingering back problems (not to mention Giancarlo Stanton’s Achilles and foot issues), the time might just be ripe for the 27-year-old’s return to the big leagues. If that’s the case, it couldn’t come at a better time. The first three months of the season saw Guzmán mired in a massive slump, and as June gave way to July, he was slashing a pitiful .198/.311/.321 with just 4 home runs and 8 doubles in his first 54 games. Starting in July, he began to mash, posting a .367/.439/.612 triple slash with 2 homers and 6 doubles in just 15 games. In August and September, he has been even better: a .333/.413/.712 line with 6 home runs and 7 doubles in 20 games.
Oh, and Guzmán has been doing all this recent work while focusing not on his work at the plate, but on the mound, as he tries to leverage his 96-mph fastball to turn himself into baseball’s next two-way player.
Furthermore, in addition to his hot-hitting bat, Guzmán would provide the Yankees with some defensive certainty at first if Rizzo misses significant time. In 226 games across four seasons with the Texas Rangers, he has been worth 7 Defensive Runs Saved, 4.2 UZR/150, and 0 Outs Above Average. While these numbers are not necessarily elite, first base defensive metrics are notoriously tricky, and his glove did earn a strong reputation among insiders. At a minimum, he’s a natural first baseman with a decent glove capable of competently receiving the throws from other infielders and saving a few errors along the way, which is all you can ask for.
The chances are that Guzmán will finish out the year down in Triple-A Scranton, continuing to keep up his strong finish at the plate and potentially making an appearance or two out of the bullpen to further his two-way development, as Rizzo is expected back tomorrow. Should the Yankees’ first baseman need to hit the injured list, however, or if the Yankees decide to try something else to ignite the underwhelming offense ... well, Guzmán could not have found his stroke at a better time.
Ronald Guzman says he hasn’t been told what his role will be. He received word that he was being called up last night. #Yankees— Justin Shackil (@JustinShackil) September 6, 2022
Welp, here we go.