Some ballplayers just get stuck in between. There is a perception that just because a player has exhausted prospect eligibility, they must have also exhausted all of their potential. Some people believe that a small sample cameo in the major leagues is enough to see a player for what he is. Besides, if you can’t read about him as a prospect anymore, what else do you have to go on?
Tyler Wade is neither prospect eligible nor an established major leaguer. He can’t appear on prospect lists anymore, and as a 22-year-old rookie, he only slashed .155/.222/.224 in 63 PA. Other than his defensive versatility, nothing about his major league debut was impressive. As such, he received very little attention this offseason from blogs or pundits.
However, a year ago he had plenty of helium. The lefty-swinging middle infielder walked 11.3% of the time in 2016 at AA Trenton while stealing 27 bases. In the Arizona Fall League, he increased his walk rate to 18.8% and stole another 10 bases. With his excellent speed, quality glove, and patient approach, Baseball Prospectus squeezed him into the very last spot of the 2017 Top 101 prospect list.
Wade reported to AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre for the bulk of 2017. Despite still being young for the level, he slashed .310/.382/.460 with 26 SB through 86 games. He also popped a career-high 33 XBH, which maybe portends increased power as he gets older. He played mostly shortstop, but also spent time at second base, third base, and all three outfield positions. Really, the only thing he did to hinder his prospect status was play in the major leagues.
Don’t sleep on Tyler Wade. Just saying.
— David Cone (@dcone36) February 11, 2018
So why did Wade’s bat abandon him in the big leagues? According to Brooks Baseball, he saw 331 pitches. He hung in OK against hard stuff and offspeed pitches, posting an 18% whiff/swing against both. Breaking balls were another matter. He whiffed at 60% of every breaking ball he tried to hit! His landing page at Brooks Baseball calls this, “a disastrously high likelihood to swing and miss.” If you’re “disastrous” at pretty much anything in major league baseball, opposing pitchers will find a way to exploit it. His 30.3% strikeout rate in the majors was roughly equal to Aaron Judge’s except without any of the power.
But fear not, Tyler Wade! 331 pitches are practically nothing! Here are the stat lines of three other players who had rough debuts at age 22 (courtesy of Baseball Reference Play Index):
Tony Perez: .080/.179/.120
Lou Brock: .091/.167/.091
Charlie Gehringer: .167/.250/.267
Perez, Brock, and Gehringer are all in the Hall of Fame. Wade probably won’t be a Hall of Famer, but 63 bad plate appearances is not a death knell for a young career, though it might help to start hitting curveballs. If he can manage that, the current construction of the Yankees’ roster should yield him several opportunities for playing time.
Second Base: Roster Resource lists Ronald Torreyes as the starting second baseman, but any Yankee fan who pays attention knows it’s Gleyber Torres’ job. The mega prospect was a freak elbow injury away from debuting last season (perhaps instead of Wade). But it’s not forgone conclusion that he’ll earn the job. Any prospect can disappoint, including a 21-year-old like Torres who’s yet to play even a half season above A+ ball. If things go south, Wade could get the first chance to pick up the pieces.
Third Base: Miguel Andujar will get the first crack at the hot corner. He’s a ready and capable hitter, but the defense and arm accuracy are suspect. If he turns out to be a young Eduardo Nunez, management may lose patience and give Wade a try.
Second Base and Third Base: Maybe everyone is great! If Torres, Andujar, and Wade are all playing well, Aaron Boone could implement some sort of infield rotation. Torres and Wade can both play all three positions including shortstop. With Wade batting lefty and Andujar righty, a platoon could be in order as well.
Super Utility: Chris Taylor of the Dodgers was a 5.7 WARP asset last season. He started games at 5 different positions without playing more than 49 at any one of them. Speed and defense are Wade’s calling cards. If he hits well enough to force his way into the lineup, they might just use him every day to give a different player a break.
Plain Old, Not-So-Super Utility: Ronald Torreyes batted 336 times for the Yankees last year. Despite hitting .292, his OBP was only .314 and he displayed very little power. The resulting 82 wRC+ was less than stellar. Could Wade do better in the same role? He’ll have an entire spring to prove that he can.
Photo credit: Brad Penner / USA TODAY Sports