Could the Yankees make this surging prospect their first baseman in 2024?

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles

There’s a lot of buzz right now around Ben Rice, who is one of the best position player prospects in the Yankees’ organization. He was promoted to Triple-A last afternoon just one day removed from catching Gerrit Cole in a rehab assignment with the Somerset Patriots in Double-A. In his first game with the Scranton RailRiders, he drove in two runs including a solo home run late in the game that gave them a lead over the Norfolk Tide. His first start came at first base, a position we’ve seen him play more often in recent weeks, which has led to some chatter about another promotion.

It’s been an underwhelming season for Anthony Rizzo, but is it rational or realistic to ask for Ben Rice to get a chance at first base?

Is Ben Rice an Option for the Yankees at First Base?

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When evaluating Ben Rice, the all-around excellence in his profile helps him stand out, possessing various skills that allow him to project extremely well. Power is what people mostly know him for, as he has the most home runs for any Minor League bat in the organization (13) and has smacked 29 home runs in the 98 games he’s played since being promoted to Double-A last summer.

Ben Rice has a lofty swing that he uses to drive the ball in the air, sporting a sub-40% groundball rate with quality line drive and flyball rates as well. What will most certainly catch the eyes of Yankees fans is that he pairs a high launch angle with high pull rates, which creates the exact kind of batted balls that play perfectly for a left-handed hitter at Yankee Stadium.

Excellent power and batted ball data then get mixed in with excellent walk rates, as Ben Rice knows how to work the count and take his walks when pitchers present them. This season he’s walking 14.4% of the time, and he was leading off at various points of the season for the Somerset Patriots because he created an immediate dilemma for Eastern League pitchers who know Rice is capable of ambushing a first-pitch strike and putting a run on the board.

Most power hitters with good walk rates struggle to make consistent contact, but that hasn’t been the case either for Ben Rice. His 20% strikeout rate at Double-A (and one game at Triple-A) is better than the average hitter, and the only concern regarding Ben Rice was whether he could hit left-handed pitching or not. While he struggled in those matchups last season, we’re starting to see him dominate in those matchups.

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His first home run in Triple-A came off of a lefty, and the Yankees are starting to see Ben Rice put up big numbers in situations where he would have floundered just a year ago. Some will point out that he’s older than most pitchers he was facing, but Ben Rice is not nearly as experienced as your average 25-year-old. He has 213 MiLB games under his belt compared to Anthony Volpe who had 275 MiLB games before making his MLB debut, and many believed he could have used more time at Triple-A at first.

Perhaps a more fair comparison would be a player selected out of college, and an example of that would be Austin Wells, another left-handed hitting catcher. He played 291 MiLB games before getting his call to the show, so Rice still has some seasoning left for him to do before getting a massive promotion. This raises another massive question about whether the Yankees would give him a chance to be their everyday first baseman this season. Last year they were aggressive with promotions, but that’s because they were (for a lack of better terms) painfully mediocre.

May 23, 2024; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo (48) follows through on an RBI sacrifice fly against the Seattle Mariners during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Rizzo has not been good enough, putting up a 90 wRC+ and -0.1 fWAR through 61 games, it just hasn’t been good enough for him to remain their first baseman in the postseason. Since his concussion against the San Diego Padres, he has a -0.9 fWAR and 70 wRC+ across a 107-game sample size. There’s a chance that he’s not the player he once was anymore and that this injury was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but would Ben Rice be his replacement?

The Yankees still have faith that Ben Rice could catch, as represented by the fact that they had him catch Gerrit Cole in Somerset. He spoke glowingly about the young catcher and the organization has noted some progression for him behind the plate. Would the Yankees completely give up on him as a catcher to have him come up and play first base?

Furthermore, how wise would it be for the Yankees to bank on a rookie who has never played at the Major League level to take over at first base during a pennant chase? The trade deadline is less than two months away, and the Yankees could try to address their issues on the right side of the infield with a more steady option with a track record of success.

I strongly believe that Ben Rice could contribute right away, but prospects are not a sure thing, especially in their rookie seasons. Perhaps he comes up and immediately mashes, I don’t doubt that he has the skills to immediately make an impact, but give him some time in Triple-A, and give the Yankees some time to survey all of their options first.

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