Yankees' 'MVP of Summer Camp' Is Playing His Way to an Opening Day Roster Spot

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NEW YORK – There's been three constant trends at Yankees Summer Camp.

New York's players and coaches have been adjusting to new health and safety protocols brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic, stars like Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge have been working their way back from injuries and Thairo Estrada has been virtually unstoppable at the plate.

The 5-foot-10 utilityman has been arguably the best hitter in pinstripes at camp, slugging three home runs in intrasquad play to lead the entire team. He took his hot bat into New York's brief slate of exhibition games as well, ripping an RBI single in his lone at-bat of Saturday's exhibition game against the Mets.

Manager Aaron Boone's message on watching Estrada these last few weeks was simple.

"He’s probably been the MVP of Summer Camp so far," he said.

Before baseball was shutdown by the coronavirus, Estrada was on the outside looking in at a competitive race to earn the final few roster spots for Opening Day. He had hit just .200 across 11 games played in the Grapefruit League.

After MLB's coronavirus-induced hiatus, however, he's taken full advantage of another opportunity to showcase what he's capable of at the big-league level.

"Really happy with the way camp has gone for me," Estrada said via the Yankees' interpreter on Sunday. "During the offseason, I did extensive work and during the pandemic, being shut down, I tried to do as much as I could and practice as much as I could."

Evidently his hard work is starting to pay off. New York's coaching staff has taken notice of his improvements, across all facets of his game.

"The versatility is certainly one of the things that's very appealing about Thairo," the Yankee skipper said. "Obviously he can play up the middle of the diamond. We saw him on the fly be able to play in the outfield, he runs well and we continue to see the bat. I feel like he's been able to make big time strides. He did a good job with the bat last year, I feel he's even better this year."

READ: Judge, Yanks Flex Muscles With Home Run Barrage Against Mets

In 35 games with the club last season, Estrada posted a .250 batting average (16-for-64) while making appearances at four different positions on defense. Through 60 games with the Bombers' Triple-A affiliate last year, Estrada hit .266 with eight home runs and 32 runs batted in.

Estrada pointed to a set of minor adjustments that he's made in his approach and execution at the plate as a key in his success this summer.

"It was a matter of being more selective at the plate," he explained. "At the same time, making better contact. Being aggressive with those pitches and making better contact. I'm extremely excited about the results I've had so far."

The road to a roster spot ahead of Thursday's opener against the Nationals won't be smooth sailing for Estrada. As DJ LeMahieu returns from his case of the coronavirus, while Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier continue to impress in the outfield, New York's surplus of depth across the diamond will leave ballplayers deserving of a spot on the outside looking in. 

That said, Estrada has done all he can to leave a lasting impression with his performance between the lines these last few weeks. He's not satisfied either, saying Sunday he's eager to continue preparing for any situation that he could come across in a game moving forward.

"Just love the makeup of the person. There's a lot of things that Thairo brings to the table. His performance has been outstanding," Boone said. "Add all of those things up and he's very much in play."

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