Yankees sign speedy utilityman Wilmer Difo to MiLB deal

wilmer difo, yankees
Sep 24, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Wilmer Difo (15) reacts as he rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run in the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

As the Yankees continue to bolster their minor league depth, they added journeyman Wilmer Difo to a MiLB deal. Difo is a 30-year-old super utilityman who’s played all 3 OF positions alongside 2B/SS/3B, and while he hasn’t hit much at the MLB level, he seems to be in the situation Marwin Gonzalez was last season. A switch-hitter, Difo looks to give the Yankees depth in their position player group with a chance to make the MLB team.

The Yankees will be the 4th organization he’s joined in his career, and at the age of 30, it seems the former #8 prospect with the Nationals in 2015 is going to have to settle for a utility bench role.

Wilmer Difo brings speed and versatility to the Yankees’ bench:

While Wilmer Difo’s bat isn’t worth nothing (73 wRC+), he does have strong sprint speed numbers that could bode well with bigger bases in 2023. He’s 24/29 in stolen base attempts in his limited playing time at the Major League level, but perhaps the Yankees let him run more aggressively. At the very least, he provides some pinch-running value for the team for some of the slower players like Giancarlo Stanton or DJ LeMahieu, with both having dealt with injury issues throughout 2022.

giancarlo stanton, yankees
Jul 22, 2022; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton (27) before the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees didn’t get great speed from Marwin Gonzalez, who ranked in the 27th Percentile in Sprint Speed. Difo is consistently hovering around the 80th Percentile, and that value shouldn’t be understated. It should be noted he isn’t the defender Marwin is, as while he’s a career 11 OAA defender across 2B/SS/3B, he’s a -3 OAA defender across the three outfield positions. He’s probably going to have limited work out there, but he isn’t the worst defender in the world out there.

Wilmer Difo really isn’t going to be expected to do much (assuming he even makes the MLB roster), but the role he’ll most likely serve as a speed/defense guy off the bench should suit him well. While the bat is definitely not good, is there any potential upside for the Yankees to unlock?

Decent raw power:

Wilmer Difo’s career .353 SLG% and .103 ISO would point to Difo having abysmal power, but in his last full season (2021), he did register a 109.9 MPH Max Exit Velocity. That would rank in the 70th Percentile, meaning his raw power is more impressive than his surface-level stats would suggest. He also had a modest 94 wRC+ in 240 Plate Appearances that year, hitting particularly well against RHP (111 wRC+). Difo in his career, strikes out far more against LHP than he does against RHP, so perhaps staying as a left-handed hitter full-time could help him.

Not everyone’s made to be a switch-hitter, and perhaps Difo could be closer to an 85-90 wRC+ bat if he stays on the left-handed side of the box. While that’s still a poor hitter, it’s pretty solid for a bench bat that you’re primarily using for their speed and defense anyways. The Yankees have had success getting the most out of their bench bats, with examples like Matt Carpenter, Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, and Cameron Maybin. It’s obviously idealistic, and I don’t believe it’s even remotely reasonable to expect he touches the production any of them did, but replicating his 2021 campaign should be the goal here.

The Yankees have added a multitude of MLB veterans on MiLB deals now as they look to not just boast one of the best Major League rosters talent-wise but also one of the deepest rosters in the situation that injuries arise.