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2017 Yankees Season Review: Thairo Estrada

The middle infield prospect is starting to get some recognition

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Back in May, I wrote that Thairo Estrada was a sleeper prospect starting to wake up. Now, in November, it looks like he has. Estrada’s MLB ceiling is still somewhat in question, but after his 2017 campaign and his impending Rule 5 Draft eligibility, Thairo Estrada figures to be in the Yankees’ future plans in some capacity.

The Yankees signed a 16-year-old Thairo Estrada out of Venezuela in 2012. Since his organizational debut as a 17-year-old in 2013, Estrada has steadily risen through the Yankees’ system. Up until last season, he spent most of his minor league career as a fringe or under-the-radar prospect lost in the depth of middle infield prospects.

After finishing his age-20 season at High-A Tampa, Estrada was named a 2016 Organizational All-Star. He still didn’t appear in any Yankees top prospect lists, but his stock was undoubtedly on the rise. Estrada’s strong showing at High-A in 2016 earned him an invitation to big league camp in 2017.

In his first big league spring training, Estrada didn’t see much playing time. He appeared in eight games but played a total of just 22 innings. At the plate, Estrada went 3-for-7, including two homers and a double. In the field, he split time between second and third and converted all nine of his chances into outs. Without a real shot at the big league roster, it was nice to see Estrada perform in the few chances he had.

After the Yankees assigned Estrada to Double-A Trenton, he took no time making his presence felt. Through May, Estrada held a .321 batting average with 11 extra-base hits and more walks (21) than strikeouts (19). His early season performance earned him a spot on the EAS Mid-Season All-Star team.

Estrada’s early season patience didn’t follow him into June, but he remained one of the more productive offensive players for the Thunder. Despite taking just thirteen more base on balls the rest of the season, Estrada was not a hacker. His 10.3 K% was the lowest of Thunder regulars this year. Moreover, Estrada’s .301/.353/.392 slash line also made him the team leader in hits, runs, and total bases this season. He was also the only Thunder player named to the EAS Post-Season All-Star team.

The availability of offensive statistics can more completely show the capabilities of a prospect, but the lack of fielding statistics in the minor leagues makes a quantitative analysis difficult. However, Estrada’s real value is found on the defensive side of the ball. He is qualitatively known as a strong-armed, above-average fielder that can play two, maybe three, infield positions.

Estrada spent most of his time between second and third last season, while splitting time at second and short this season. This defensive versatility combined with and 107 wRC+ at the plate got him a very important invitation to the Arizona Fall League.

Estrada will become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter. If Estrada isn’t added to the 40-man, the Yankees risk losing him for essentially nothing. The invitation to the AzFL allows the Yankees, and other clubs, to evaluate Estrada for a few more weeks before the Rule 5 Draft. Estrada’s .351/.393/.439 slash line over 14 fall league games shows that he’s certainly making the most of this opportunity. His performances landed him a spot in the AzFL All-Star Game last night.

Fall ball wraps up its season on November 18th, and November 20th is the deadline to set 40-man rosters before the Rule 5 Draft. Estrada still has a few weeks to punctuate his 2017 season, but he’s already made a very strong case for himself. Thairo Estrada makes contact at a high rate, doesn’t strike out often, and can play multiple positions. Granted, he might only ever be a utility infielder, but that isn’t a knock. Look no further than Ronald Torreyes to see how impactful and fun a utility infielder can be.

On the other hand, the Yankees have a real roster crunch coming up, and organizational depth might force Thairo out of the picture. Joel Sherman reported the Yankees will add Jake Cave and Billy McKinney to the 40-man roster this offseason. Gleyber Torres, Domingo Acevedo, and Albert Abreu are also eligible for the Rule 5 Draft and will most certainly get added to the 40-man as well.

Exposing Estrada to the Rule 5 Draft doesn’t guarantee he’ll leave the Yankees, but it doesn’t guarantee he’ll stay either. From my perspective, it looks like Estrada has done enough to warrant a roster spot. He’s handled every level of the minor leagues so far and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. Hopefully this season wasn’t Thairo Estrada’s last in the Yankees organization.