Yankees’ underrated utility prospect is tearing up Triple-A

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Pittsburgh Pirates
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

At the time, it looked like the Yankees were making a minor move when they acquired Indigo Diaz and Caleb Durbin from the Braves for Lucas Luetge. Neither prospect was highly touted, and it wasn’t like New York had any leverage here since it was a DFA that created the trade situation, meaning the Yankees were prepared to lose him for nothing. Thus far, this trade is looking like anything but an afterthought, as Durbin has emerged as a top performer in the organization over the last two seasons, and this year he’s off to an unbelievable start to his Triple-A career.

He’s been the best hitter at the highest level Minor League Baseball has to offer, and just a step away from the big leagues, we could see the versatile 24-year-old sooner rather than later in the Bronx.

Caleb Durbing Making Strong Bid to Join the Yankees

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers
Mar 23, 2024; Lakeland, Florida, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Caleb Durbin (87) bats during the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

This is one of the biggest underdog stories in professional baseball, as Caleb Durbin is one of the few Division III players currently at the Triple-A level. It’s no secret that people look at Division I sports far more, with events like March Madness, the College World Series, and the various Bowl games being considered some of the biggest events in sports, rivaling their professional counterparts. At Washington University in St. Louis, Caleb Durbin wasn’t going to experience any of that glamour and attention, but he played well enough to get drafted in the 14th Round by the Atlanta Braves.

It’s been a very long time since a player from Washington University, over 60 years to be exact, as Dal Mavill remains the most recent alumni to accomplish that feat. Standing at just 5’6, he’s also at a physical disadvantage to most players, who have more height and size to leverage for power in their swings, but Caleb Durbin has maximized his profile and is proving that he’s an anomaly. So far, he’s slashing .469/.571/.781 with a 242 wRC+ across his first nine games, showing off good game power while also generating plenty of contact.

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There are a lot of excellent underlying skills that have fueled his hot streak as well, with a low groundball rate and high pull rate indicating that he’s getting the ball in the air often, and using his pull-side power. It would seem strange for a smaller hitter to want to pull the ball more but pulled contact in the air does far more damage than opposite field or straightaway contact in the air. He also has a 41.9% Sweet Spot Rate, which is a metric that measures how often you hit a batted ball between 8 and 32 degrees, where there’s a high probability for a hit.

His .576 wOBA is remarkable, but his xwOBA (.573) suggests that his strikeout-to-walk rates and quality of contact are the driving factors behind his success, not luck. Caleb Durbin will slow down eventually, he can’t be a 1.353 OPS hitter forever (right?), but the success he’s had is indicative of a player ready for the Major Leagues. He’s gradually made improvements to his game to get away from being just a slap hitter with a high groundball rate, instead prioritizing contact off of the ground that can drop for hits and help him run extremely high averages.

Caleb Durbin has done this while avoiding strikeouts, and he’s looking like a serious threat at the plate who can help the Yankees at a variety of positions. Through just nine games with the Scranton RailRiders, he’s already played five different positions including second base, third base, shortstop, left field, and centerfield. The outfield is new for him, but he mentioned on the Fireside Yankees podcast that he would be working on adding that to his repertoire. Furthermore, he gave us some insight as to how his approach at the plate has evolved over the past year.

“I don’t have a ton of swing and miss in my game, so I don’t have to worry about actually hitting the ball. So when I simplify it to just trying to pick my good pitches, see the ball in the zone, and then not cheating myself with my swing and really putting a good, full intent swing on it, when I kind of simplify it to that, it kind of just clicked for me at some point this season.”

Caleb Durbin
MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to improve both your quality of contact and your quantity of contact, but the Yankees found the right approach for him at the plate, and the results speak for themselves. He stood out in the Arizona Fall League last year, where he hit .353 with a 1.045 OPS and 21 steals in just 23 games, and the number that’s gone under the radar is the 43 steals in just 78 games with the Yankees’ organization. He’s been caught eight times, giving him an 84.3% success rate on attempts to swipe a bag.

Part of why we ranked him in the top 30 despite the organization having so many interesting bats in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues was because of the skills he brought to the table outside of his bat. Some prospects are bat-first guys, and while that doesn’t make them inherently bad, on a team like the Yankees it limits their value. Providing strong defense at multiple positions while also being a speed threat means that Caleb Durbin could be promoted even if the Yankees don’t have an open spot in their lineup.

When the opportunity opens up, we could see him get shuttled to the Bronx, and with the way he’s hitting, that day might be closer than we think.

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