The second in our series entitled: YANKEE SPRING STORYLINE is WHO’S ON FIRST? With Mark Teixeira retired and on his way to ESPN as the network’s newest analyst, the first base job is wide open and not guaranteed to supposed heir Greg Bird. As the YES Network reports, “Joining him (Bird) in the competition for the starting role is 25-year-old Tyler Austin, who came through in a number clutch situations during his brief 2016 stint in the Majors. Additionally, 2016 NL home run co-leader Chris Carter reportedly signed a one-year deal on February 7, adding more speculation and intrigue over who will ultimately snag the starting job come April.” Let’s take a closer look at all three potential first base prospects.
1. Greg Bird: Arguably a stand out and front runner for the starting role at first. His Arizona Fall League stats are not stand out with .215 average, 65 AB, 14 hits, 9 runs, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 1 HR, 10 RBIs, 17 K, 12 BB, 1 SB, over 17 games, but he is feeling great and ready to take on spring training. ”This is a great steppingstone for guys that are trying to work to get to the big leagues and progress their career,” said Bird, who was the 2015 Fall League MVP. “For me, it’s about progressing my career in a different way than it was last time … staying healthy, getting the reps, just playing again. It’s exciting for me,” said Bird at the start of the AFL in a NJ.com article. A caveat to his 2016 Arizona Fall League stats are that he was not fully cleared medically upon entering the short season. Recall that Bird had season ending shoulder surgery right on the heels of spring training last year. But Bird’s workouts have been focused and he is ready to take the field to compete for a spot on the team and a leading role at first base.
2. Tyler Austin: Call him Mr. Clutch for 2016, Tyler Austin certainly made his presence known on a team that fought until the end in 2016. According to Elite Sports NY and Yankees beat writer Christian Kouroupakis, “In 31 games, Austin slashed .241/.300/.458 with an OPS of .758 and five home runs. Despite striking out in 43% of his total at-bats, New York’s 13th round pick of the 2010 draft went 6-for-12 with two home runs in his last five games. Against left-handers, he slashed .348/.444/.652 and maintained a 1.097 OPS.” These are good numbers but can these be carried over to 2017? There is word that he and Bird could trade righty-lefty roles as needed by Joe Girardi, but no one can minimize the impact that Austin’s bat has had off the bench. It could get very interesting and as we have said here time and time again, nothing is guaranteed.
3. Chris Carter: According to the Bergen Record, “Yes, Carter has that HR crown on his resume; his power is undeniable. But he was still job-seeking only days before spring training because of his limited skill-set. Carter hits the ball a long way – but that’s all he does, and that’s only when he connects. Carter’s 41 homers were offset by his major league-leading 206 strikeouts, along with a .222 average.” And keep in mind that we only signed him to a one-year 3-million dollar contract. The rest of his salary comes from the Brewers who are on the hook for 8 million whether or not the 30-year-old veteran performs well for us or not. If he can make it at the big-market New York Yankees team, his contribution could provide the much needed support at first base or in a rotating role with Matt Holliday at DH. Bird’s injury was very serious and playing everyday this season may not be in his cards or in his best interest, but Carter could platoon with him to provide the necessary offense, leadership and bat needed to content in 2017.
Having to make a decision with three very worthy, talented players is a good place to be for us this spring. And not all of the decisions have to be made at once. We can pilot some options this spring and try some other things out in April. Either way, the storyline at first is a real one and we will keep you posted with insights along the way.
BYB Managing Editor