When the New York Yankees secured veteran first baseman Anthony Rizzo with a two-year, $40 million deal, it was with the expectation that he would be a key player until the end of the 2024 season. Although his contract carries a 2025 club option, the Yankees are projected to pass on this, considering Rizzo will be 36 and likely entering the final stages of his professional career.
Rizzo’s recent season was marred by considerable challenges, notably a concussion sustained during a game against the San Diego Padres. This injury limited him to only 99 games, his fewest since 2012 if one sets aside the Covid-shortened season. His performance understandably suffered, with a batting average of .244 and a .328 OBP, contributing 12 home runs, 41 RBIs, and achieving 100 wRC+. Despite these struggles, Rizzo’s solid start to the season suggests he still holds value.
Ben Rice: A Rising Star in the Yankees’ Minors
Looking ahead to 2025, the Yankees could see a saving of $20 million as a strategic benefit, and their long-term vision for first base may already be evolving within their farm system. Ben Rice, a 24-year-old versatile player sharpening his skills both as a catcher and infielder, appears to be an emerging solution.
Rice’s 2023 season started with a flourish in Low-A Tampa, and after just 10 games, he advanced to High-A Hudson Valley. His performance there was nothing short of dominant, with a .341 batting average and a remarkable .559 OBP. This rapid success fast-tracked him to Double-A Somerset, where he continued to impress as one of the standout offensive talents in the Yankees’ minor league roster.
Rice’s accolades this year included the team’s Developmental Hitter award, a testament to his .327 average, .401 OBP, and .648 slugging rate. Over 48 games, he hit 16 home runs, drove in 48 RBIs, and stole seven bases. His statistical output, such as an 18.9% strikeout rate and 182 wRC+, suggests he outperformed the average Double-A player by a staggering 82%, signaling his readiness for the next level.
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Strategic Development and Upcoming Prospects
The Yankees’ game plan should involve giving Rice more on-field time at first base, where he has already logged 213 innings and achieved 239 putouts. By honing his defensive skills and maintaining his offensive prowess, Rice is positioning himself as a prime candidate for promotion and a long-term role at first base.
Given the Yankees’ preference for left-handed hitters in that position, Rice fits the bill perfectly. His power at the plate hints at the potential for consistent double-digit home run seasons, though there are still areas needing refinement.
As Rice approaches the typical peak of his minor-league career at 24, the clock is ticking for the Yankees to leverage his capabilities on the bigger stage. Opportunities could arise as early as 2024, providing Rizzo with rest while testing Rice’s adaptability and skill.
It wouldn’t be shocking if spring training next year includes Rice, allowing him a chance to prove himself against top-tier pitching. His unexpected rise to dominance in Double-A caught the front office’s attention, marking him as a player to watch. For the Yankees, overlooking his potential upside as they plan for the future would be a mistake.