During this pandemic-induced baseball hiatus, we examine the Yankees position by position. Today, first base.
The starter: Though Luke Voit, hampered by a sports hernia that never fully healed, struggled in the second half last season — so much so, in fact, that whether he would make the ALDS roster against the Twins was very much in question — he entered spring training this year fairly secure in the job.
That was primarily for two reasons.
First, the Yankees liked almost everything they saw out of Voit, a discovery of the club’s influential analytics department, in the latter part of 2018 after he arrived via trade from the Cardinals. He produced a 1.095 OPS, 14 homers and 33 RBIs in 39 games, seizing the starting job from Greg Bird.
Second, before last year’s injury, the righthanded-hitting Voit was well on his way to showing that 2018 wasn’t a fluke, putting together a .280/.393/.509 slash line with 17 homers and 50 RBIs in the first 78 games. (In Game No. 78, a 17-13 victory over the Red Sox in London, he left in the top of the fifth because of the injury after picking up his fourth hit.)
The other options: One player’s misfortune can be another’s opportunity, and with Voit’s second-half slump came the emergence of Mike Ford. Ford, a local product — he was born in Belle Mead, New Jersey, and went to Princeton — got more and more chances late last season and made the most of them.
In three stints with the big-league club, the lefthanded-hitting Ford batted .259 with a .909 OPS, 12 homers and 25 RBIs in 50 games. Ford, 5-for-11 as a pinch hitter, excelled in his final stint, from Aug. 3-Sept. 29, hitting .274 with a .953 OPS, including 11 of his 12 homers.
He entered spring training with an outside chance of taking the starting job away from Voit and was all but assured of making the final 26-man roster as a reserve.
Other options? DJ LeMahieu, in addition to his duties at second and third, proved a capable first baseman last season, starting all nine postseason games at that position. He is solidly entrenched now at second base but certainly could fill in again as needed.
Miguel Andujar played one game at first in spring training as part of the Yankees' experiment to find a spot for his potent bat, an experiment that also included time at third and in the outfield.
The future: It's Voit for the foreseeable future, and given that he's 29, that should be just fine. The Yankees believe he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, and he has a reputation as one of the team’s hardest workers.
That, of course, would have been unthinkable two years ago. At that point, there were many, including the Yankees, who thought the franchise was set up long-term at the position with Bird. Considered the organization’s best pure hitter during his rise through the system, he showed flashes of that ability in the major leagues but never could stay on the field. Bird, 27, now is in the Rangers' organization.
The Yankees’ current farm system, though strong in some areas — the number of power arms accumulated in recent years never fails to draw raves from opposing team scouts — is not especially deep or well thought of when it comes to first base. The most intriguing of the first basemen, and the one most mentioned by rival evaluators, is Dermis Garcia, an international signing (for $3.2 million) in 2014. Signed initially as a shortstop, the 6-3, 200-pound Garcia, now 22, played 44 games at first in 2018 and 54 games at the position in 2019 with high Class A Tampa.
Note: During this pandemic-induced baseball hiatus, we are examining the Yankees as an organization, position by position. Consider it a reminder of where the team will stand upon baseball’s return, whenever that is, and how things might look years into the future. We start off with first base.