The Yankees have never been able to produce much in the way of talent when it comes to first base. Instead of developing young players, the team has acquired the likes of Tino Martinez, Jason Giambi, and Mark Teixeira to hold down first base since 1996. The only real first baseman the organization has been able to produce since Don Mattingly retired was Nick Johnson, who crumpled into dust just as fast as he arrived. Ahead of the 2017 MLB Draft, here’s a look at the team’s depth at first base.
Like Gary Sanchez and the organization’s depth at catcher, the Yankees live and die with Greg Bird at first base. Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out as perfectly for Bird as we all would like. After a breakout performance in 2015, he missed the entire 2016 season due to a shoulder injury. The 2017 season has started out disastrously for Bird after a month of disappointment at the plate. He now sits on the disabled list with an ankle injury. The Yankees will obviously give him the time he needs to get going, but in the event that he can’t stay on the field long-term, the organization will be in a bit of trouble.
The only true major league-ready first baseman the Yankees have is Tyler Austin, who was supposed to be on the team this year but is instead rehabbing a broken foot. After several seasons of disappointment, the former top prospect saw a meteoric rise in 2016 that culminated in a trip to the majors. While his overall numbers over 90 plate appearances were nothing to write home about, Austin looked to be a solid bench bat in the making. He can hit a home run, go the opposite way, face left-handed pitching, and also play right field. There’s a role for that kind of player.
Other than Austin, the Yankees also have the likes of Rob Refsnyder and Austin Romine, who have shown an ability to fill in at first base. Refsnyder in particular has shown an adeptness at the position that could save his career with the team. Chris Carter also still exists, for now, and Ji-Man Choi could be called up in a pinch, but none of these players will prove to be long term solutions for the Yankees.
As far as prospects go, the organization is lacking at first base. Typically, the better prospects are moved elsewhere in order to increase their value, and the move to first is seen as a last resort. This is why Donny Sands moved from third base to catcher and why the young Isiah Gilliam is in the outfield. In this sense, the organization’s lack of first base depth might be considered a good thing because it means their better talent is more valuable than they would be at first.
The only other prospects the Yankees have at the position are Mike Ford and Chris Gittens. Ford is 24, hitting the ball very well, and just reached Triple-A Scranton for the first time a few days ago. His status as a prospect has been a highly debated topic for years, but it looks like he could push his way into the conversation, even if he lacks home run power. Gittens, meanwhile, is in High-A Tampa at the age of 23 and is coming off a season where he hit 21 home runs. Those are the options.
The Yankees have plenty of spare parts lying around the organization that have gotten work at first. Cito Culver and Dante Bichette should be considered fodder at this point. A few other players remain as blips on the radar.
The upcoming draft would be a perfect way to add some much-needed talent at the position. However, this is where it gets tricky because the Yankees are better off drafting other positions and worrying about first base later. It’s a decision that will be better for the organization as a whole but won’t do much for the dearth of talent at first. It’s a tradeoff worth making.