You may not realize it, but the New York Yankees have quite the battle shaping up for the starting first baseman’s job this spring.
As spring training approaches, the New York Yankees have first base on their mind.
Mind you, it’s certainly not the team’s top priority. No, manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman are more focused on what the Yankees did during the offseason. The pitching staff is revamped and led by new face Gerrit Cole, not to mention new pitching coach Matt Blake. The training staff was similarly overhauled after a slew of injuries ravaged the roster in 2019.
Injuries were so rampant, regular first baseman Luke Voit was ultimately benched for DJ LeMahieu. In 2020, even with Voit healthy, he has plenty of competition nipping at his heels.
Thus, let’s take a look at this under the radar position battle and see just who should get the starting job for Opening Day.
In this case, let’s start with the man who has the best chance for the job from the start. Thanks to the ungodly amount of injuries last year, including one to former top prospect Greg Bird, Luke Voit was basically the 2019 first baseman by default. After going on a September tear in 2018, he would finally have a shot at proving himself.
And on the whole, Voit did well last year. He posted a solid slash line of .263/.378/.464 with 21 home runs and 62 RBI. However, he suffered a core muscle injury in the London series and was limited to 118 games. Moreover, he was never quite right after getting hurt and his second-half batting average shrunk to .228 from a pre-All Star Break mark of .280.
But Voit has looked motivated this season. His Instagram was probably taken over by Hans and Franz because he looks ready to pump *CLAP* you up.
Luke Voit will need to show a consistent bat and improved defense (-3.9 UZR in 2019), but odds are he walks out of camp as the starting first baseman.
Miguel Andujar is literally competing for a job this spring. Gio Urshela’s superior defense has him penciled in at third base, and Cashman has already said the hot corner is his to lose. Barring a major step back with the bat, he isn’t going anywhere.
On top of that, Cashman told the YES Network that Andujar would see time at first base and left field in spring training. If he can show he’s improved as a fielder, he could be a dark horse to watch.
The good news for Andujar is his bat speaks for itself. From a hitting standpoint, he just needs to show his swing is the same after shoulder surgery. Between that and management wanting Giancarlo Stanton in left field, he should get plenty of at-bats at DH.
Just the same, keep an eye on his reps at first base.
If a Swiss Army knife were a baseball player, it would be DJ LeMahieu. The former NL batting champ and three-time All-Star is a second baseman by trade but plays multiple infield positions.
In his first year as a Yankee, the man dubbed “The Machine” played over 100 innings each at second base, third base, and first base.
That said, expect LeMahieu to work first base on an as-needed basis. He’ll see the majority of his time at second base now that Gleyber Torres has shortstop locked down.
Throw in third base being his next likely destination in an emergency, and LeMahieu will only be the Opening Day first baseman if something goes very, very wrong.
Mike Ford warrants consideration for a few reasons. He hit .259 with 12 home runs and 25 RBI in just 50 games. His left-handed bat is a boon in a righty-dominated lineup. He posted a .350 OBP, proving he isn’t just swinging willy-nilly.
All in all, it may be Ford who has the most to play for this spring training. On top of fighting for the coveted 26th spot on the roster, he’s 27 years old. If anyone else on this list outperforms him in camp, he’s either going back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or being released.
Ford isn’t a particularly strong fielder but can hold his own. He posted a DRS and UZR of -1 and -1.5, respectively. That said, if he turns in consistently strong performances at the plate in spring training, Ford has a shot at making the roster.
If Luke Voit has a historically bad camp, Ford could easily vulture the starting job away.
Final thoughts and verdict
As was mentioned before, the New York Yankees are not prioritizing this battle like they did last year. Instead of a full-on competition between Luke Voit and Greg Bird, Voit basically has the job locked down.
However, the Yankees also need to figure out what to do with all their depth this season. It’s why Andujar is even being considered for the third baseman’s job. Urshela was strong last year but was a .225 career hitter entering 2019.
And even though Voit basically won the job by default last year, he held his own enough. He himself has said he tried to rush back from his injury last year, which explains why his hitting nosedived in the second half.
In 2020, Luke Voit will get a fresh start. Andujar and Ford will hold their own, but first base is Voit’s to lose. Barring major setbacks, expect him to win the starting job in a walk.