Yankees’ new first base option has been impressive with the bat

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
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The New York Yankees called up Ben Rice last month after Anthony Rizzo went down with a nasty arm injury that will sideline him until August. It’s hard to immediately come up and find success at the plate, but Rice has looked like a seasoned MLB veteran over his first few games with the Bronx Bombers. It’s far too early to declare whether he’ll be an above-average regular or not, but he’s impressed mightily in his first taste of MLB action. Showing off skills that only some of the best hitters in the game can maintain, Rice has emerged as a potential mainstay at first base.

It’s still a work in progress for the 25-year-old, but the Yankees are starting to see the potential that he flashed in his time at the Minor League level.

Ben Rice is Emerging as Primary First Base Option for the Yankees

MLB: Atlanta Braves at New York Yankees
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Well-rounded hitters are hard to come by at the Major League level, especially in their first few games after being promoted, but Ben Rice is showing off some impressive depth in his skillset. His contact rates are strong, boasting a league-average Z-Contact% (85.3) and walking more than he strikes out in the early going. It’s not as if teams are feeding him fastballs only, as Rice is seeing a heavy dosage of curveballs and sliders in an attempt to exploit a weakness he showed in Triple-A against those kinds of pitches.

He’s adjusted beautifully to baseball’s highest level, and a great indicator of that has been his swing decisions through the first 12 games of the season. He’s extremely aggressive in-zone, sporting a 76.4% Zone Swing Rate which goes against the grain for a Yankee lineup that relies a lot more on seeing a lot of pitches. Usually, an aggressive hitter in-zone has to suffer the trade-off of chasing a lot, but that’s not the case either. Ben Rice sports a 19.2% Out of Zone Swing Rate, and we’ve seen him work the count and set himself up to get a damage pitch or just take first base.

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MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays, ben rice
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What Ben Rice is doing at the plate becomes infinitely more impressive when you see how much damage he’s making on contact. With a 10.3 % Barrel Rate and .407 xwOBACON (which measures purely your quality of contact), Rice is crushing the baseball consistently, and the Yankees are looking at the kind of profile that should perform extremely well at Yankee Stadium. He pulls a ton of his flyballs and runs a mere 31% groundball rate as a left-handed hitter, the only question is whether this profile maintains or not.

None of these metrics really stabilize through 12 games, but these are the same kinds of skills he had throughout the Minor Leagues. The Yankees need someone who can help the middle of their lineup and provide them with a punch at first base, and Rice has certainly shown the skills to do so. Moving Ben Rice to the cleanup role could give the struggling Alex Verdugo a needed bump down in the lineup, and it could help the Yankees convert some run-scoring opportunities that they haven’t over this slump.

If Ben Rice keeps performing at this level throughout the summer, the Yankees are going to have a potential cornerstone bat, and he’s checking off all of the boxes for me right now. Rice doesn’t look overwhelmed, he looks like a hitter who has been here for years, and fans should be pumped about what he could become based on his first two weeks of Major League action.

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