Yankees have an MLB-ready bat waiting in Somerset for them

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles
Mar 2, 2024; Sarasota, Florida, USA; New York Yankees catcher Ben Rice (93) at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Rice was one of the most-discussed names in the Yankees’ farm system following a 2023 campaign where he hit 16 home runs in just 48 games for the Somerset Patriots. A powerful hitter with the contact rates and power to put up big slugging numbers, he possesses an excellent combination of offensive skills that present a high-upside profile. When the Yankees were at their best in 2017-2018, they were a team infused with young prospect talent, and while it’s not a guarantee that a prospect hits, Rice has the profile to immediately translate to the Major Leagues.

One of the top hitters in Minor League Baseball, the Yankees could get a serious boost to their lineup with Ben Rice, as he’s looking far too overqualified for the Eastern League at this point.

Could the Yankees Look at Promoting Ben Rice Soon?

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Designated hitter Ben Rice jogs to first base after being walked during the August 25, 2023 game against the Bowie Baysox at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, N.J.

Last season, Ben Rice put on an absolute show in Double-A with a 182 wRC+ and .648 SLG% and impressive contact rates to go alongside it. He finally hit a rough patch to start the season this year, as he struck out 27.9% of the time with a 52 wRC+ through his first nine games, but since then he has a 237 wRC+ and 20.8% strikeout rate. He’s also walking at a whopping 18.1% clip over that timespan, and while that could be because of how much Eastern League pitchers fear him, it also indicates a willingness to take walks that pitchers are handing to him.

The biggest flaw that most people point out in his game is the lack of a defensive position, as he’s not considered a good enough catcher nor is he an experienced enough first baseman to secure an MLB role there right now. While these are legitimate criticisms about his game, the biggest flaw in my opinion stemmed from how he performed against left-handed pitching last season, as Ben Rice looked destined for a strong-side platoon role. This season he’s not just holding his own against southpaws, but instead, he’s flat-out dominating in those matchups.

Nearly doubling your OPS is incredible, and while the Yankees will have to wait and see how that holds up at the Major League level, this is a massive change in the right direction. Now, you can play Ben Rice against same-handed pitching and feel confident he’ll hold his own, and that removes any talk of him being purely a platoon bat at this point in his professional career. There’s a lot of reasons to believe that Ben Rice can become a threat at the Major League level right now, and some projection systems back that notion.

In a previous article regarding the first base position, I wrote about how Ben Rice had similar ZiPS projections to Anthony Rizzo, who has since gone on an absolute tear by pulling the ball in the air frequently. While the underlying metrics aren’t great for the veteran first baseman, I do believe he’s made legitimate changes to sell out for pulled contact and get more power out of his aging profile. As mentioned earlier, Ben Rice probably doesn’t have the professional experience needed to justify playing him there full-time, an oversight in my piece that I didn’t account for.

With that being said, Rizzo being able to anchor down the first base position points all eyes towards Giancarlo Stanton, who has a 0.1 fWAR through 31 games. There’s just not a lot left in the tank it seems, as he’s trying to do the very same thing Rizzo is, but he might not have the physical tools he once did. It’s unfortunate, but the Yankees can’t trot out a league-average hitter with 7th Percentile Sprint Speeds and -1.2 Baserunning Value on Fangraphs.

This is 99% about Ben Rice and 1% about hoping that because I posted this article, Giancarlo Stanton goes on the very same tear that Anthony Rizzo did after I posted the first-base article.

READ MORE: Yankees could look internally to fix a potential problem at first base

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts
Feb 19, 2024; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) participates in spring training workouts at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of the immediate value that Ben Rice could bring to the table, Steamer has his projected wRC+ number at 109, which would serve as a marginal improvement over Giancarlo Stanton, but the baserunning gap is likely massive. Ben Rice did pick up 11 steals in 14 attempts last year through 73 MiLB games, and he’s already 4-4 in attempts on the season. I don’t think he’s an aggressive baserunner necessarily (or a good one), but I do think he has enough speed to take advantage of double steals, slow pitchers, or beat out slow rollers.

The kind of hitter I would compare Ben Rice to is Kerry Carpenter, who has a 122 wRC+ and .470 SLG% in his MLB career after exploding onto the scene in Double-A. The Tigers have found their DH of the future with him, as he’s one of the more underrated left-handed hitters in the sport, and if the Yankees were to get that kind of outcome out of Ben Rice, then we’re looking at one of the more dynamic lineups in the American League. According to ZiPS, that would take roughly an 80th Percentile outcome to occur, but this is certainly a hitter to have that kind of faith in.

If the Yankees roll the dice on Ben Rice, they could end up with a very quality bat at a position they haven’t got serious production from, and it would offset the cost of having Stanton’s contract on payroll. This is a move for now and the long-term with a chance for Rice to eventually pick up first base and become the Yankees’ primary option there in 2025.

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