Having versatility in your lineup is key, especially in the postseason. The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers both showed the importance of having a utility player in Game 5 of the World Series. The New York Yankees should take notice.
The New York Yankees have a bright future with a young roster that should contend for years to come. Do they have a utility player who can play multiple defensive positions? I’m not so sure.
Finding or developing a utility player should be a priority for the Yanks this offseason and the Astros and Dodgers showed why in Game 5 of the World Series.
Utility players are relied on more in the National League with double switches sometimes forcing players to move around defensively. However, even with the DH in play on Sunday, defensive versatility came in handy for both teams.
When Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson pinch hit for second baseman Charlie Culberson in the top of the sixth, I assumed that Chase Utley would be coming in to play second and Pederson’s night would be a one-and-done.
I had forgotten, however, that Kiké Hernandez, who had started in left field, can play anywhere. Hernandez moved from left to second and Pederson stayed in the game to play left field.
Then, in the top of the eighth, outfielder Andre Ethier came in to pinch hit for Hernandez. Time for Utley to come in to play second? Nope. Ethier would stay in the game, taking over in left field, Pederson moved from left to center, and starting center fielder Chris Taylor moved to the infield to play second base.
The Dodgers have two guys in Kiké Hernandez and Chris Taylor who can play infield and outfield. Taylor even made a few starts at shortstop in the ALCS when Corey Seager missed the series with a back injury. Los Angeles’s catcher Austin Barnes moved out from behind the plate to play second base in Game 2 of the World Series for crying out loud!
The Astros have the best utility man in this series, however. Outfielder Cameron Maybin pinch ran for first baseman Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday. Houston couldn’t win it in the ninth, though, and defensive adjustments were needed for extra innings.
Looking at the Astros’ bench, there isn’t a backup first baseman. Not to worry, starting left fielder Marwin Gonzalez moved to first and Maybin stayed in the game as Houston shuffled up their outfield configuration.
On the year, Gonzalez played every infield position as well as both corner outfield spots, all while hitting .303 with 23 homers and 90 RBI. Having a player like that in your lineup is invaluable.
Outside of these two pennant-winning teams, the Chicago Cubs have Ben Zobrist who can play all over the place. The Boston Red Sox have Brock Holt. Both have played every position in their careers except for pitcher and catcher.
The Cleveland Indians have Jose Ramirez who can play all over the infield as well as left field. Carlos Santana primarily plays first base but can play third base or left field and can even go behind the plate (his natural position) in a pinch. Trea Turner split time between second base and center field before becoming the Washington Nationals’ starting shortstop.
The New York Mets even have T.J. Rivera who played first, second, and third base as well as left field in 2017.
In an era of baseball where having extra bullpen arms is so important, having someone who can play anywhere defensively is key. Having one player fill multiple roles can save a team a bench spot and they can use that roster spot on an extra reliever.
The New York Yankees spent most of 2017 with eight relievers and just three bench players. If one of those bench players could fill in at shortstop, second base, third base, and corner outfield, then having only three guys on the bench would be no big deal.
The Yankees tried to make Rob Refsnyder a utility player. He was used at first base, second base, and corner outfield. The problem was that Refsnyder was incompetent defensively at every position. Now, I don’t need my utility player to be a Gold Glover at every position they play but they should have one position that they are solid at defensively and be average at the rest of them.
The other problem with Refsnyder was that he didn’t hit at the major league level. In his defense, he did not get regular enough at-bats to get his offense going but he wasn’t going to be the player New York had originally hoped.
Tyler Wade is now the Yankees utility player project. A natural shortstop, Wade played second base, third base, shortstop, and all three outfield spots in the minor leagues in 2017.
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Wade is a career .275 hitter in the minors and his game is speed. He has stolen at least 22 bases in each of the last four seasons.
Wade is still a question mark at the major league level, however. In 58 major league at-bats this year, Wade hit just .155 and went just 1-2 on stolen base attempts.
Tyler Wade certainly deserves more of an opportunity in the majors but the New York Yankees should also be developing more of their minor leaguers into utility players.
Nick Solak is a 22-year-old second baseman at Double-A but he played some corner outfield while at Louisville. Why not work him in at left or right field while he’s in the minors so that when he makes it to The Show, he can move around if needed.
Thairo Estrada is a 21-year-old middle infielder at Double-A with plus speed. Perhaps he could use that speed in the outfield.
Hoy Jun Park is a 21-year-old middle infielder at High-A who also has plus speed and a plus arm. Maybe he could play the outfield in a pinch.
Tyler Wade could be the New York Yankees’ Kiké Hernandez. But the more minor leaguers they move around the diamond, the better chance of them finding their next utility weapon.
Having a catcher who can play first base in a pinch is nice. Having infielders who can play second, third, and short is solid. Outfielders who can play all three spots can come in handy every once in a while. But having one guy who can play four-plus positions can make a big difference, especially in the postseason.
The New York Yankees need to find their utility player this offseason and set a few minor leaguers up to keep the pipeline going.