With the decision to move on from Todd Frazier, the Yankees seemed poised to enter the 2018 season with young players at both second base and third base. While there are still some veterans remaining on the free agent market and there is enough depth to pull off a trade, Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman’s first major team decision looks to be whether or not Miguel Andujar is ready for the third base job.
From there, they can see if Gleyber Torres is ready to start the season at the Major League level. With Ronald Torreyes and veteran Danny Espinosa also in the mix, Yankees’ management will have temporary options if Torres needs more time.
That scenario does leave out 23-year-old Tyler Wade. Wade did get to the Major Leagues last season but struggled during his brief 30 game, 63 plate appearances stint in the Bronx. In all, the left-hander hit just .155/.222/.224 with 19 strikeouts and 5 walks. And, truthfully, he looked even worse than the slash line indicates.
In a 2017 season where all of the Yankees’ youth seemed to be an instant hit, Wade’s first introduction to the Major Leagues wasn’t pleasant. Because of that tough start, Wade is a bit of an afterthought as Spring Training begins.
But, he isn’t that afterthought to the Yankees’ organization. At the Winter Meetings, Brian Cashman, Tim Naehring, and Damon Oppenheimer were all interviewed at different times on the YES Network Hot Stove show. Each were asked about the “Next Wave” of prospects. Without fail, they all brought up Tyler Wade. Company line or not, each Yankees executive reiterated that the small sample size may have dampened fans and media opinion, but the organization is still high on him.
And, with good reason.
The former fourth-round pick has an above average Minor League track record and a skillset the Yankees could definitely use in 2018. Wade began his professional career as an 18-year-old playing for the Rookie League Yankees before making a brief appearance in low-A ball. During his 18-year-old season, he would show signs of polish and the type of batter that is valued in today’s game. In 46 Rookie League games, he would slash .309/.429/.370 with 10 doubles and 11 stolen bases. As a 19-year-old, he played a full season (129 games) with the A-Ball Charleston River Dogs, batting .272/.350/.349 with 24 doubles, 6 triples, 1 home run, and 22 stolen bases.
In 2015, he would post similar numbers in high-A ball before earning a promotion to double-A. He would struggle initially, but he would prove acclimated to that level the following season, playing in 133 games for Trenton and batting .259/.352/.349 with 16 doubles, 7 triples, 5 home runs, and 27 stolen bases. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A in 2017, where he showed continued development, batting .310/.382/.460 with 22 doubles, 4 triples, 7 home runs, and 26 stolen bases in 86 games. It was that performance that earned him the call-up.
The Minor League career on-base percentage of .355 is a good indication of the young Wade’s present patience and developing approach. In each Minor League stop, Wade would post a walk percentage of 9.9 percent or higher. By comparison, the 2017 Major League average was 8.5 percent. His strikeout percentage was always in between 17 percent and 21 percent, aligned with the 2017 Major League average of 21.7 percent. With on-base skills and speed, Wade’s strengths would address two needs for the 2018 lineup. Obviously, his on-base skills help the power hitters to generate runs. Secondly, he would be, quite possibly, the Yankees’ best stolen base threat. At the very least, he would provide speed to the lineup mostly comprised of power hitters.
His best asset, however, is his versatility. In the Minor Leagues, Wade has started 273 games at shortstop, 76 at second base, 12 at third base, and 8 in both center field and right field. In his 30 game Major League stint, he played second base, shortstop, and both corner outfield positions. With a roster of talented players, but with limited versatility, Wade’s ability to move to any spot on the field makes him an instant asset.
Based on his track record, Wade could, conceivably, win the second base job with a good Spring Training. After each Minor League promotion, Wade would recover from initial struggles. His first exposure to the Major Leagues didn’t go well. Then, again, neither did Aaron Judge’s (.179/.263/.345 in 27 games) or Mike Trout’s for that matter (.220/.281/.390 in 40 games). Make no mistake, Tyler Wade isn’t Judge or Trout, but it has to be noted that very few players are instant stars in their first stint. Few just come up like Gary Sanchez and immediately produce.
A solid Minor League track record is a much better indicator than a small, initial sample size at the Major League level. With Wade’s proven ability to use the whole field (40 percent opposite field rate and 40 percent pull rate), his plate discipline, and his on-base skills, the resume is there for the 23-year-old to be a productive hitter in the Major Leagues. If Gleyber Torres needs more development time, Wade may be the favorite to break camp as the second baseman.
Ideally, Wade should fill a Ben Zobrist-circa-Tampa Bay Rays role where he is in the lineup a few days a week at each infield position. With his speed and his developing defense, that role would greatly benefit the club. If given 300 to 400 at-bats, Wade could realistically be projected to hit .250/.330/.375 with a handful of home runs and 15 or so stolen bases at the age of 23. That’s valuable production from a super utility player whose skillset and ceiling is vastly superior to fan favorite Ronald Torreyes.
Aaron Boone did a nice job of embracing all of the expectations during his first day of Spring Training. The Yankees are expected to dominate the regular season. The power is flashy and the bullpen projects to be impenetrable. But, there are real, potential issues. It is not wrong to question the infield depth. Greg Bird looks to be an above average regular, especially after his finish and playoff performance last season. But, he still has to do it over the course of a season. And, with two of the other infield positions in flux, the Yankees do need a player with the ability to play everywhere. They could another left-handed hitter and another runner who can steal a base. Tyler Wade has the resume to fill that role just like Eduardo Nunez will for the Red Sox and Marwin Gonzalez has for the Astros. He could be a starter, but will better help the team as a super utility man.
Whether he lands a starting gig or a utility role, Tyler Wade projects to be a positive contributor in 2018. His terrible short stint in the Majors has clouded the perception of what his potential value could be. Had he only had a Minor League track record, there would be a different tone heading into Spring Training. He would be lauded for his speed, his developing power, his patience, and his versatility. There would be excitement about a job competition between him and the still-developing Torres. There would be young Ben Zobrist comparisons. It’s amazing how 30 games could alter that perception.