Could the Yankees make a surprise move at first base?

MLB: Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a series sweep of the Minnesota Twins, it seems as though everyone on the Yankees is feasting on opposing pitching. Even Gleyber Torres, who had an ice-cold start to the 2024 season, has begun picking up steam and providing results. Over the last 15 days, Torres’s numbers have rocketed, hitting .289/.353/.511, including two homers and seven RBIs. On Thursday night, he contributed a two-run double, helping the Yankees win 8-5.

Yankees’ Offensive Surge and Rizzo’s Struggles

Despite the constant offensive production, veteran first baseman Anthony Rizzo has been nonexistent. The 34-year-old fouled a ball off his right leg toward the end of the game, sending him crashing to his knees. This moment was adding insult to injury since his numbers have been quickly dropping to career lows this season.

Rizzo’s Decline and Potential Changes

Over 62 games, Rizzo is hitting just .233/.295/.352, including seven homers and 25 RBIs, with a 17.8% strikeout rate, 5.8% walk rate, and 89 wRC+. The last time Rizzo hit a home run was back on May 10 against Tampa Bay, going nearly a full month without a long ball.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees, anthony rizzo
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There’s obvious regression in the slugging department, recording a 32.5% hard-hit rate and 4.7% barrel rate, both career lows by a substantial margin. Even his average exit velocity sits at 86.4, down 3.6 mph from last year, in which half of his season was derailed by concussion symptoms.

Unfortunately, Rizzo has seen his power metrics decline at a rapid pace, and the Yankees may have to make a difficult choice regarding his playing time. There is a possibility that they will look to call up one of their young prospects who is destroying minor-league baseball. One player who could be an option is Ben Rice, a 25-year-old catcher who has experience at first base.

In Double-A this season, Rice has played 49 games, hitting .261/.382/.511, including 12 homers, 26 RBIs, a 21.1% strikeout rate, 14.7% walk rate, and 151 wRC+. He’s been quickly getting better, and his first two games at the Triple-A level have been nothing but phenomenal. He’s contributed two homers with four RBIs and a .750 on-base percentage in just eight plate appearances.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers, ben rice
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He might be the hottest player in the Yankees’ minor league system, suggesting he is ripe for a promotion and could be a reasonable option at first if the Yankees want to test him out. All it took was one game catching Gerrit Cole for the Yanks to send him to a high level.

Not only is Rice ready for the promotion, but his slugging metrics are solid, and he has legitimate power from the left side of the batter’s box. Adjusting to first base could take a few weeks, but if he can pick up the slack offensively, the Yankees may find their long-term solution at the position, especially since the expectation is they reject Rizzo’s $20 million club option for 2025, reallocating it to Soto’s mammoth extension.

At the moment, it doesn’t seem as if the Yankees will give up on Rizzo, given his history of success, but there has to be a red line that forces a change, and maybe that comes around the All-Star break.

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