According to early reports from Jack Curry of the YES Network, Luke Voit will be New York’s starting first basemen come opening day.
That is of course, unless Greg Bird beats him out. Right?
This should be no breaking news to anyone as Voit rightfully should have a decent leg up on Bird. All Voit has done since coming over to the Yankees is become the best hitter of the 2018 trade deadline and immerse himself as a fan favorite thanks to his passion and energy on the field.
Only one thing is certain, it will be a fun battle between the three internal candidates (as of now) in Tampa, Florida this spring.
Voit, 27, has absolutely raked in both the upper level of the minor leagues and in the majors (so far). Defensively, the Wildwood, Missouri native will make all the routine plays but is an average to a tick below average overall. Over 151 total plate appearances, the St. Louis Cardinals 2013 22nd rounder slashed .322/.398/.671 with 15 homers in 47 big league games in 2018.
The Missouri State alum did spend the vast majority of those games with the Yankees as he appeared in 38, and posted 148 plate appearances during that time. Voit has below average speed, ranking in the 36th percentile in Major League Baseball. According to Statcast, he had an average exit velocity of 92.2 miles per hour and a Barrel% of 15.3.
While Voit is the early favorite to win the first base job, he does not come with a ton of experience and some question if he is a flash in the pan. As with everything in life, only time will tell.
Bird, 26, was a former Yankees top prospect since being taken 179th overall in the fifth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. He showed great promise all the way up to playing well in the Arizona Fall League, but has been subpar since being called up. Injuries have also completely derailed his Major League career thus far, as he has already twice been placed on the 60-day Disabled List with a torn right labrum and right ankle issues.
While showing he can play plus defense, his bat has yet to show much against big league pitching. The Memphis, Tennessee native has played in a measly 176 career games and had just 659 plate appearances. In that span he’s jacked 31 home runs and slashed .214/.302/.434. Last season, Bird hit .199/.286/.386 with 11 homers in 311 plate appearances.
The 6’4” lefty hitter would be a great fit in the Yankees right-handed heavy lineup, but it is extremely doubtful Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone will even have him on the Yankees 25-man roster come opening day. Bird’s exit velocity is lower than Voit’s at 89.2 mph and Barrel% is also worse at 11.2. Bird is also slower than Voit, ranking in the majors 18th percentile.
What could make things interesting is if Bird follows his past and posts his prototypical huge spring training numbers.
LeMahieu, 30, signed a two-year, $24 million pact with the Yankees back on January 11, 2019 to become a super-utilityman. New York’s best version of Ben Zobrist, Brock Holt, or Marwin Gonzalez if you will. At least this seems to be the plan, for now.
In 2018, LeMahieu put together a productive campaign. He ranked in the 88th percentile in both exit velocity (91.1 mph) and xBA according to Statcast. He also ranked among the 78th percentile in hard hit % as well.
Owning a career slash-line of .298/.350/.406 over eight Major League seasons, the former Chicago Cubs second round pick out of Louisiana State University has been selected to two All-Star games (2015, 2017). His home/away splits do cause some concern as the 6’4” infielder slashed .229/.277/.422 away from Coors Field and enjoyed a much improved .317/.360/.433 line in the Rocky Mountains this past season.
The Visalia, California native is a plus-plus defender who is far superior than Voit or Bird in this category (at least at second base). There is some risk involved with him playing first base, as he hasn’t tackled this task thus far in his career. Having said that, his footwork, athleticism, and arm strength should allow him to play anywhere in the infield.
The best fit to man first, as the roster is currently constructed in my opinion is convincingly LeMaheiu. New York’s lineup does not need power, it needs another contact-oriented, clutch-hitting, elite defender who will provide durability and quickness.
While his Barrel% (5.2) is below the Major League average of 6.1%, his OBP% was still a respectable .321 in 2018. His launch angle (4 degrees) is also below the league average of 10.9 degrees, however, he makes up for hitting the ball on the ground with his speed. LeMaheiu ranked in the 55th percentile in that category.
Another analytical category that explains how he overcomes the shortcomings in his game is his Hard Hit%. The Major League average is 34.1% and LeMaheiu’s is well above that at 42.8%.
Power clearly isn’t a huge part of his game, but LeMaheiu did hit 15 of his 49 career homers last season. Even though his average was down a bit (.276) in 2018, he still collected a respectable 62 RBI and scored 90 runs over 581 plate appearances.
LeMaheiu doesn’t strikeout much, in fact it is significantly less of an occurrence than most big-league hitters. The MLB K% average is 21.4%, and over his career LeMaheiu has a 14.1 percentage. His career walk percentile is just about at last year’s league average of 8.2% as well (just in case you were wondering).
Lastly, he is also clutch, as he slashed .280/.308/.540 in his 50 late/close at bats.