While we still don’t know the extent of Harrison Bader’s oblique issues, so far, the reports from Harrison Bader himself would suggest that this isn’t a worst-case scenario. When Bader’s oblique strain was announced, there was plenty of concern since that could knock Bader out for months, and the Yankees are extremely shallow in CF. It’s still likely that Bader will start the season on the IL, but similarly to the injury to Carlos Rodon, the Yankees could have avoided another disaster injury. Injuries are always bad news, but the Yankees might have avoided a serious long-term issue with Bader’s injury.
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Harrison Bader Chimes in on Injury
Erik Boland of Newsday Sports reported that Bader responded with “No, not at all” when asked if he’d miss a significant amount of time, an encouraging sign on its own, but he made a second comment that adds to that comfort. While the Yankees are still waiting on an official diagnosis and timetable for return, Bader mentioned that he didn’t feel much discomfort, which is why the uncertainty regarding his injury puzzles him. It’s a wait-and-see situation for the Yankees, but based on what Bader’s said regarding this oblique strain, he could avoid missing substantial time.
These are huge news for the Yankees, who want to have Bader’s speed and defense in the lineup, alongside the upside he flashed with the bat. The Yankees can play Aaron Judge in CF, but they acquired Bader specifically, so they wouldn’t have to. Estevan Florial is the closest outfield prospect they have to the Majors, but he’s had an abysmal MLB track record and an awful Spring so far. It’s clear that the Yankees care more about having their players healthy for October, and thus pushing guys who are experiencing discomfort to play in March isn’t going to happen.
Brian Cashman and the Yankees already know the song-and-dance of entering the postseason with key guys on the IL, and to avoid that, they’ll need to be careful with them early on. With that said, the Yankees might have to get creative at CF for now.
Who’s The Next Centerfielder?
The first player that comes to mind is Aaron Judge, who played the majority of his games in CF as the Yankees moved Aaron Hicks to LF mid-season. Aaron Boone also mentioned Estevan Florial and Rafael Ortega as depth, but as mentioned previously with Florial, he just doesn’t seem to be MLB-ready. He’s struggled mightily this Spring, with a 36.4% K% and just a .202 wOBA. The Yankees might value the OBP and contact skills Rafael Ortega has displayed with the Cubs and in the Spring, as he’s been red-hot early on. Ortega is averaging 92.4 MPH on his exit velocity with a .500 OBP and 33.3% BB%, and he projects as a 105 wRC+ bat by ZiPs.
Rafael Ortega also ranked in the 86th Percentile in Pulled Flyball%, which as a left-handed hitter, will work wonderfully at Yankee Stadium. The issue is Ortega’s -3 DRS and -3 OAA in CF, making him a below-average defender at the position. While Aaron Judge was a positive defender in CF, the Yankees may not want to play their extremely high-priced superstar in a more physically demanding position. They also have Oswaldo Cabrera, but his experience in CF has been limited to just one game at centerfield in Spring Training, so can he really be asked to play the position?
He did handle LF decently, and at Yankee Stadium, it can be an extremely difficult position to play, but CF is an entirely different challenge. He has the arm, and he has the instincts, but the question is mostly about his range. He covered three more feet than the average OF did in 2022, and that could be an indication that Cabrera can handle such a physically demanding position, but will they start him there full-time? They’ve shown a willingness to throw Cabrera to the fire before, but March/April is a different level of desperation than August/September.
The good news surrounding all of this is that it’s looking as if these hypotheticals in CF will be just a short-term fix before Bader returns. The Yankees are going to have to mix and match at the position for now, but if Harrison Bader’s words are any indication, he won’t be out for too long.