The Yankees might have their future first baseman, but they keep sitting him

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays, ben rice
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The Yankees may be patiently waiting for veteran first baseman Anthony Rizzo to return to the lineup following a fracture to his right arm, but they’ve experienced a surge of production at the position in the meantime. Rookie Ben Rice is traditionally a catcher, but he’s been filling in at first in the absence of Rizzo and with DJ LeMahieu featuring at third.

Rookie Power: Ben Rice’s Performance Analysis

Rice has been fantastic in the first 14 games of his MLB career, hitting .270/.378/.351, including four runs and four RBIs, with a 13.3% strikeout rate and 15.6% walk rate. Rice is traditionally a quality slugger, and while his power metrics have dropped a bit at the next level, he is still capable of launching a ball out of the park.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at New York Yankees
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Strategic Play: Yankees’ Use of Rice

The Yankees have been playing the numbers game with Rice, benching him against lefties and then starting him against righties. The problem with that is that Rice dominated lefties at the minor league level, suggesting that the Yankees aren’t necessarily doing themselves any favors.

Instead, they started JD Davis at first base on Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds, who have now won two straight games to open a three-game series. Davis was unable to get anything going across three at-bats in the cleanup spot, but Rice eventually took over and immediately worked a walk, getting on base and providing the Yankees with some positive production.

Consistent Impact: Rice’s Key Stats

Rice has been excellent in most important categories, ranking above average in both chase and whiff rates. Not to mention, he’s been walking a great amount and striking out at a low clip, making his at-bats more competitive. In addition, he’s hitting .300 with runners in scoring position across 11 appearances. The sample is small, but he’s been productive in that regard, suggesting he’s been more of an asset than a liability.

Defensive Challenges: Navigating New Terrain

Despite Rice’s fantastic offensive performance, he’s been inconsistent defensively, which was always expected given his lack of experience at first base. Interestingly, he has one out above-average over 90 innings at first this season, so he hasn’t been much of a problem despite a few mental lapses.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at New York Yankees, ben rice
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Looking Ahead: Rice’s Future with the Yankees

Even the veterans are taking note of how dominant Rice has been since his promotion recently, meaning even when Rizzo returns to the lineup, the Yankees may not have a reason to take Rice out of the equation.

“At that age, to come in here, the teams he’s played are some tough teams in tough environments,’’ Judge said last week. “I go back to the game [Saturday]. He comes up and gets slotted into that two-hole real quick, comes out of the gate with a nice line drive to left-center. It’s just impressive at-bat after impressive at-bat. We saw what he was doing in the minor leagues and it’s really translating well up here.”

The likely scenario is that Rizzo will reclaim his job, given his veteran experience, but the Yankees have no reason to believe that Rice can’t be their long-term solution at first base, given his lefty bat and phenomenal hit-tools.

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