It’s prospects season! The New York Yankees have a sneaky deep farm system that has a lot of big-bodied pitchers and toolsy position players. Here at Empire Sports Media, we will be ranking the top 10 prospects on the Bombers starting in late January and finishing in early February.
The New York Yankees‘ farm system, as a whole, had a very solid year in 2023. We had the amazing Double-A rotation, Jasson Dominguez coming up through the ranks, Spencer Jones showing the best of his talent, and many other surprising and not-so-shocking stars.
However, catcher Ben Rice had perhaps the greatest hitting season of all Yankees prospects last year. Numbers-wise, his performance was marvelous and invites fans to fantasize about having him in the majors at some point in 2024.
From the very beginning, odds were against Rice: he was a 22-year-old 12th-round pick by the Yankees out of Dartmouth in 2021, with little defensive skills. He knew he had to hit a lot to start putting himself on the map. That season, he played 20 games in Single-A Tampa and had a 110 wRC+ but a rather mediocre (for a bat-first prospect) .387 slugging percentage.
The lefty-swinging Rice spent the whole 2022 campaign at the same level in Tampa, but this time he earned better results: a .267/.368/.442 line and nine home runs in 243 plate appearances, with a 133 wRC+.
Rice’s true breakout would come in 2023, though: opening the year in High-A Hudson Valley, he mashed to the tune of a .341/.559/.523 line in 15 games, with a 205 wRC+. An injury robbed him of valuable playing time in May and June, but after a brief return to Single-A to get himself in game shape, he was promoted to Double-A Somerset.
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Rice had otherworldly numbers in the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate
There, he hit an incredible 327/.401/.648 in 48 games and 222 trips to the plate. He homered 16 times in Somerset, with an 182 wRC+ (!) and just an 18.9 percent strikeout rate.
He has made changes through the years, but they haven’t been huge, as he explains:
“Nothing crazy,” Rice told FanGraphs. “Maybe a little bit with how I was positioning my bat in my launch position. That was one thing, just making it a little flatter, giving myself a little more room for error by being more on plane with the baseball. That’s just a small thing, though. I don’t think too much about mechanics. When I do, that’s when it starts to get a little funky.”
Rice is blessed with excellent bat speed and should be able to eventually carve a role with the Yankees just by offensive ability alone. Here is what Eric Logenhagen, FanGraphs’ prospect evaluator, had to say about him:
“There is still big time lefty bat speed here, enough to make Rice interesting as a bat-only prospect. The ferocity in his swing and the strength and flexibility in his lower half are all exciting, and Rice might end up having a two or three year peak in the mold of a Jared Walsh or Justin Bour, or perhaps be deployed the way Blake Sabol was in 2023.”
There is a chance the Yankees have Rice open 2024 in Triple-A, and from there, it will be a matter of weeks of sustained production and the team having an opening. He isn’t particularly good at either catcher or first base, but if he hits, he will likely play.