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Yankees position analysis: DJ LeMahieu back 'home' at second base following stellar 2019

New York Yankees' second baseman DJ LeMahieu could

New York Yankees' second baseman DJ LeMahieu could not handle the throw while Toronto Blue Jays Cavan Biggio steals 2nd base in the top of the 4th inning in game one during spring training at George Steinbrenner Stadium, in Tampa, FL Saturday Feb. 22, 2020 Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

During this pandemic-induced baseball hiatus, we examine the Yankees position by position. We already covered first base. Now, second base.

The starter: After playing third, second and first last season, DJ LeMahieu is back full-time at second, the position at which he won three Gold Gloves with the Rockies. LeMahieu, 31, returned to his natural position after the Yankees let shortstop Didi Gregorius go via free agency (he signed a one-year deal with the Phillies) and shifted Gleyber Torres to short, his primary position coming up through the minors.

It is hard to envision the position being in better hands than LeMahieu’s. In addition to being a slick fielder, far slicker than one would imagine upon first glancing at his 6-4, 215-pound frame, he is coming off a standout 2019 at the plate in which he clearly was the team MVP and in strong contention to be the American League MVP. LeMahieu, an All-Star for the third time in his nine-year career, hit .327 with an .893 OPS, a career-high 26 homers (his previous high was 15) and 102 RBIs (his previous high was 66). 

LeMahieu was among the most durable Yankees, playing in 145 games in a season in which a record 30 players went to the injured list. LeMahieu, super-popular in the clubhouse despite his uber-quiet disposition, entered 2020 in the second year of the two-year, $24 million deal he signed as a free agent. The Yankees are interested in extending LeMahieu, and all indications are the interest is mutual. 

The other options: Torres played 77 games at short last season because of the time it took Gregorius to recover from offseason Tommy John surgery and played 65 games at second. Though inconsistent at times with his glove at times at second (and short, for that matter), for the most part he was just fine there.

Thairo Estrada proved capable at several positions in 2019 as he made his big-league debut, and second base, where he saw the most time (17 games), was among them. The same is true for Tyler Wade, who has developed into a Swiss army knife of a fielder, showing the ability to play all three outfield spots and three infield positions (first base is the exception) when he’s had his chances in the majors since his 2017 debut.

Estrada showed some pop with his bat in his limited time in the majors last season (35 games in four stints), and the Yankees are still waiting for Wade to do so. The Yankees would be able to piece things together well enough if something happened to LeMahieu, but for obvious reasons, they’d prefer not to have to try. 

The future: The righthanded-hitting Estrada, 24, likely is in line to get the first crack at the position down the road, followed by Wade, 25. Many opposing team scouts believe that of all of the positions the lefthanded-hitting Wade plays, he looks most comfortable and has the highest ceiling defensively at second.

Beyond that, there isn’t much in the system, at least in terms of being close to the majors. Among the more interesting prospects, or at least those mentioned occasionally by rival talent evaluators, is Josh Smith, a lefthanded-hitting 22-year-old picked by the Yankees in the second round of the 2019 draft. Last summer, in his first season of professional ball, Smith hit .324 with a .927 OPS in 33 games with short-season Class A Staten Island.

Looking far, far down the line, keep an eye on 17-year-old Maikol Escotto, a second baseman/shortstop signed by the Yankees for $350,000 out of the Dominican Republic in July 2018. The righthanded-hitting Escotto, who will turn 18 on June 4, impressed international scouts with his overall speed and quick bat in 2019 in the Dominican Summer League, hitting .315 with a .981 OPS, eight homers, 11 doubles and four triples in 45 games.

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