Part 28 in a series analyzing the New York Yankees.
In 2000, Clay Bellinger wasn’t yet known as Cody’s pop as the future Dodgers star was 4. Instead, Clay was the Yankees’ 25th man with the ability to fill in at several positions on a team loaded with All-Stars.
Derek Jeter at short, Bernie Williams in center, Tino Martinez at first, Paul O’Neill in right, Jorge Posada behind the plate and Scott Brosius at third. As a professional baseball player, Bellinger had played all those positions before reaching the big leagues in 1999 at the age of 30 after being a second-round pick of the Giants in 1989 out of Rollins College.
With Williams ailing in August 2000, Joe Torre started Bellinger in center field eight times and once in right field from Aug. 19-27, with the Yankees winning six of the nine games. A career .193 hitter with 12 homers, 35 RBIs and a .621 OPS, Bellinger hit .400 (10-for-25) with eight RBIs and a 1.165 OPS.
So why are we writing about Bellinger, whose last year with the Yankees was 2001 and who played in just 183 big-league games?
Because Tyler Wade could be a much more athletic version of Bellinger and offer Aaron Boone options at multiple positions for a Yankees team, like the 2000 squad, that is loaded with talent.
Twenty years ago, some scouts believed the Yankees were the only team Bellinger could play for because his value was in versatility, but not being talented enough to hold a regular gig. Had he not landed with a stacked Yankee team, a lesser club might not been able to carry him. The same could be applied to Wade, a 25-year-old who has played four positions in 109 big-league games.
“I see a utility guy who if he had a better bat could be a regular,’’ an AL scout said of the left-handed hitting Wade. “He can run, steal a base, play the infield and outfield. But there are holes in the swing.’’
Those who disagree with that report would point to Wade not getting regular time in the big leagues and him leading the Triple-A International League in hitting with a .310 average in 2017. Since breaking into the majors in 2017, Wade has never appeared in more games than the 43 he played in last year. He is 43-for-218 (.197) in the big leagues.
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A fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft out of Murrieta Valley High School in California as a shortstop, the 6-foot-1, 188-pounder played short and second for his first four pro seasons. In the 2016 Arizona Fall League, Wade was used in left, center and right field to start his introduction to moving around. This past season for the Yankees, he started 13 games at second, nine in left field, three at short, two at third and appeared in center twice but didn’t start.
So, where does Wade fit if there is a season this year?
With the rosters expanded from 25 to 26 during the offseason, Wade was a strong favorite for the final spot. If a season is held, it’s possibly going to be with clubs having 30 players and possibly 20 more on a “taxi squad’’ type setup.
He could serve as the backup shortstop and second baseman plus help in the outfield. It’s that versatility that an NL scout thinks is an asset.
“He is a solid multi-position utility player. Can play the infield and outfield. I like him defensively but have concerns about the offense because he is not real strong and doesn’t drive the ball,’’ the scout said. “He relies more on speed which is OK. He can help lengthen a bench and is a manager’s dream that way.’’