Yankees claim youthful outfielder off waivers from Cleveland

MLB: New York Yankees at Cleveland Guardians
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

With the Winter Meetings set to start next week, the Yankees have made a small transaction to help shore up their outfield depth. Oscar Gonzalez, a 25-year-old Dominican-born outfielder from the Guardians, was claimed off of waivers by the team according to Jack Curry of YES Network, and after an abysmal 2023 season, he’s looking to rebound and look more like his 2022 self. He slashed just .214/.239/.312 for a 48 wRC+, and with -6 OAA in the outfield he was a negative on both sides of the ball.

The Yankees, who lack outfield depth, are hoping to get a season reflecting what the Guardians got in 2022, where the outfielder nicknamed “Spongebob” due to his walk-up song hit 11 HRs with a 125 wRC+ in 91 games. For the Yankees, they take a flyer on an outfielder, and for Gonzalez, he gets a fresh start elsewhere.

Yankees Take Flyer on Outfielder and Fill a Roster Spot

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Cleveland Guardians right fielder Oscar Gonzalez (39) watches his shot down the first baseline during the fourth inning of Game 4 of an American League Division baseball series against the New York Yankees at Progressive Field, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, in Cleveland, Ohio. Alds Game 4 20

The name Oscar Gonzalez should sound familiar, as he was the outfielder who delivered the final blow in the Yankees’ Game 3 loss in the ALDS back in 2022 with a looping single off of Clarke Schmidt in the ninth. Just 25 years old, the Yankees land an outfield bat that has shown upside but is coming off of a really poor season at the plate. Issues with plate discipline have always existed, as even in his excellent 2022 campaign he chased 48.3% of the time, but he only struck out 19.3% of the time and generated solid power numbers

Fast-forward to 2023, and the right-handed hitter completely regressed, chasing 2.6% more while striking out 6% more as well. His power dropped off as well, with just two HRs in 54 games, and while he’s only projected for a 95 wRC+, perhaps the Yankees see more in his profile. They have taken flyers on veteran bats before, but this is different given his youthful age and the fact that the team is claiming a hitter who is only a year removed from a stellar campaign.

Defense is not his strong suit, as while he possesses a great arm (97th Percentile Arm Strength), his inaccurate throws and poor reads limit his defensive abilities. He profiles more like a DH, although he could do well in right field where Yankee Stadium helps hide defensive issues for outfielders who possess below-average jumps and routes. Gonzalez isn’t slow-footed, as he’s in the 68th Percentile in Sprint Speed, but he isn’t much of a base-stealing threat either.

Technically, the Yankees did get a Dominican-born 25-year-old outfielder in the transaction, but it’s not the one fans are clamoring for. That being said, it’s hard to criticize a no-risk high-reward move, especially given the track record the Guardians have had with hitters. Last winter, the Guardians shipped outfielder Nolan Jones to the Rockies, where he immediately broke out for a .931 OPS and 20 HRs, and this could be an opportunity to get more out of a hitter who possesses solid power tools.

Issues with launch angle have plagued Gonzalez, but he has a Max Exit Velocity north of 113 MPH and stands at 6’4 240 pounds, so he could definitely benefit from lifting the ball a bit more. The Yankees have a track record of developing power, but time will tell if they can get his 2022 production next year.

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