The Yankees got a taste of what it was like to be without corner infield depth in 2013 when Alex Rodriguez missed most of the season with an injury. Third base became a revolving door of sub-par players that proved themselves unable to hang at the big league level. Mark Teixeira has been firmly entrenched at first base since signing on with the Yankees after the 2008 season, but he too missed nearly all of 2013 with an injury. Yangervis Solarte has been quite a find for third base so far this season, but he has played the vast majority of his professional career at second base. Third base will be a hot topic this offseason, as everyone awaits whether or not Rodriguez will return and whether or not he'll be able to play third base at a high level on a regular basis if he does.
With their first pick in last year's draft the Yankees selected Notre Dame third baseman Eric Jagielo. He was aggressively sent to High-A Tampa to start the season, hopefully indicating that the Yankees plan to push his polished college bat through the system as quickly as possible. Aside from Jagielo at third, what does the corner infield depth look like for the near future?
As the 2013 season might have indicated, there is little in the way of real corner infield prospects at the Triple-A level for the Yankees. Kyle Roller, Russ Canzler, and Zelous Wheeler have been predominantly manning some combination of first and third base this season, though they have moved around quite a bit. Roller is new to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, having joined after 21 games at Double-A Trenton earlier this year. At 26 years old, Roller's prospect status is a bit iffy, but he hits enough home runs to make people take notice. Unfortunately, the strikeouts also tend to pile up for him. He whiffed 143 times in 124 games last year while hitting 17 home runs. Corban Joseph got a little playing time at both corner infield positions last season, but he's not even currently playing every day at Triple-A this season. These options could fill in in a pinch at the big league level, but seem more like organizational filler than hope for the future.
The corner infield for Trenton isn't a lot better than what is found at the Triple-A level, unfortunately. First base has mainly been occupied by Dan Fiorito this season, who was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2012. The Yankees have mentioned playing outfield prospect Tyler Austin at first base to increase his versatility, but he hasn't found a permanent home there to this point. Austin has been moved all over the diamond prior to now, so a move to first base doesn't seem like it would be too incredibly difficult. With a crowded outfield ahead of him in New York for the next few seasons at the very least, it could be Austin's best shot of making the majors. Rob Segedin is the Thunder's primary third baseman, but he is also getting quite old for real prospect status and has been middling at the Double-A level since 2012. With a .755 OPS through 42 games this season, he could see time at Scranton later this season for lack of any better options, but it seems unlikely that any one of his attributes will wow you. Trenton is currently home to Peter O'Brien, who is unlikely to stick as a catcher and did not look good in a brief third base experiment last season. The Yankees have played him in right field a little so far this year, but first base could very well end up as his home. His 18 home runs and .982 OPS between Tampa and Trenton so far this season have really made people take notice, but it would be unfortunate if he was already relegated to a life of DH duty. First base may be the next logical step for him if right field doesn't end up working out.
Here's where things get interesting at the corner infield positions, finally. In addition to the previously mentioned Jagielo, prospects Dante Bichette Jr. and Greg Bird are both currently playing well at the High-A level. In Jagielo's first full professional season he's currently batting .256/.339/.500 with ten home runs for Tampa. Third baseman Bichette lost a bit of his shine after a couple of down seasons with the Charleston RiverDogs. He kicked off his 2014 campaign with a bang and currently sports an .851 OPS through 48 games. Bichette has six home runs already this year, which is double the number he hit in all of 2012. Jagielo's presence on the team has moved Bichette mainly to the DH role for now. First baseman Bird got a late start to the 2014 season due to injury, but he has started his campaign strong with a .932 OPS through 17 games at first base for the Tampa Yankees. After his 20-homer and 100+ walk season a year ago, Bird saw his stock rise to the point of appearing on nearly all Yankees' Top 10 lists this offseason. His .302/.408/.524 batting line is nearly right in line with what he did last year at Low-A. Bird, who will turn 22 in November, might be able to find his way to Trenton by the end of the season if he destroys the Florida State League the way he did the South Atlantic League a year ago.
Charleston first baseman Mike Ford has done a lot of hitting so far this season. His most recent feat was a four-home run game against the Hickory Crawdads on May 25th. Signed as a non-drafted free agent in July of last year, Ford currently sports a .319/.418/.518 batting line through 47 games. His four-homer performance doubled his season total of dingers. It seems unlikely that the Yankees would be in a hurry to promote Ford to Tampa with the more highly-regarded prospect in Bird already playing the position at the next level, but it's possible that simultaneous promotions could come for the two later on this season if they both continue to hit well. Like Bird a year ago, most of Ford's damage has come away from The Joe with six of his eight homers being hit on the road. Nineteen-year-old Miguel Andujar has been manning third base for the RiverDogs this year. He had an .864 OPS in 34 games for the Gulf Coast League Yankees a year ago, but hasn't yet been able to match those numbers this year. His .220/.277/.341 batting line in 47 games isn't great, but he is still very young and has plenty of time to turn it around this season. His problem with errors has been more noticeable with thirteen already on the year to lead all RiverDogs. The next highest is Tyler Wade with six. Ford could move up at a quicker pace, depending on what the Yankees do with Bird in front of him, but Andujar is likely to be at Charleston for at least the rest of this season, if not longer.
A lot of the hope at the corner infield positions for the Yankees comes at the High-A level with Bird and Jagielo, especially. Having two of their top prospects playing positions they will need filled at the big league level in the somewhat near future works out pretty well. It's difficult to draft for need in MLB because the players do not come in to help right away, and most first base prospects end up being prospects that started out at other positions anyway. That being said, the Yankees do have quite a bit of promise at first and third base within their system. It just happens to be at the lower levels. Should Jagielo and Bird make good on their lofty prospect statuses, the team should be in fine shape once Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are gone.