Yankees claim former 1st round pick off of waivers to bolster outfield depth

MLB: Texas Rangers at Detroit Tigers
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With the Yankees looking to add position player depth in case of potential disaster, they add a left-handed bat who hasn’t found much success in the upper levels of Minor League Baseball. Bubba Thompson has spent time with the Rangers and Royals since being drafted back in 2017 in the first round of the MLB Draft. In his Major League career, he’s played 65 games and slashed .242/.286/.305 for a 65 wRC+ and -0.2 fWAR, struggling mightily since debuting back in 2022 with the Rangers.

He opened the 2023 season on the Texas Rangers before being claimed off of waivers by the Kansas City Royals in July, and while he’s a remarkable athlete with 100th Percentile Sprint Speeds, the bat has consistently underwhelmed.

Yankees Get Potential Pinch Running Option

MLB: Texas Rangers at Detroit Tigers
May 29, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Texas Rangers left fielder Bubba Thompson (8) bunts in the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees lack speed in the organization, with multiple players who sport sprint speeds below the MLB average, and while Bubba Thompson won’t start for the team, he could be a pinch-hitting option for the team. Thompson is a remarkable athlete who has excellent speed tools that have allowed him to display elite range in the outfield, sporting a career +3 DRS in centerfield and +1 DRS in the outfield across 595 innings. Despite having blistering speed and swiping 27 bases in just 65 games across the Minor Leagues this past season, his bat just hasn’t been good enough to get consistent MLB playing time.

He was claimed by the Cincinnati Reds off of waivers, but they designated him for assignment last week and now the Yankees will take a flyer on him. The raw power is severely underwhelming, with a Max Exit Velocity of just 107.8 MPH, and with a .733 OPS and 82 wRC+ in Triple-A this past season, it’s unlikely the Yankees view him as an everyday option entering 2024. Speed and athleticism are always valuable, especially when considering that he’s arguably the fastest player in baseball, but the downside is carrying a bat that is outright useless in any scenario.

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New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone, left, and general manager Brian Cashman talk during the team workout on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in the Bronx. Yankees Workout

What this does do is give the Yankees another weapon off the bench if they need a pinch runner, depending on how the roster ends up shaking out. His baserunning prowess is excellent, swiping 150 bases at an 82.9% clip across 420 MiLB games, and he could end up being a staple for Aaron Boone in that kind of role. Defensively, he could be a late-game substitution that allows the team to take Aaron Judge off of his feet out in centerfield, especially if an outfielder is hurt and they have an open roster spot.

This doesn’t make Bubba Thompson the Yankees’ fourth outfielder, that role distinctly belongs to Trent Grisham, who the Yankees acquired alongside Juan Soto, but having depth isn’t a bad thing at all. We’ve also seen the Yankees take hitters with middling success and turn them into MLB contributors, most notably taking a career journeyman in Billy McKinney and getting him to unlock a bit more power and bring a 101 wRC+ in his limited playing time as a reserve when the Yankees suffered a myriad of injuries during the summer.

Depth is never a bad thing, as the Yankees aren’t relying on Thompson to serve an MLB role for them in 2024, barring massive injuries, and there’s also a chance he’s just 40-man fodder for the Yankees to fill out their roster for now.