Versatility and a Vacancy Could Be Tyler Wade's Ticket to the Yankees' Opening Day Lineup

Max Goodman

Almost an hour after the final pitch of Thursday night's intrasquad was thrown, the sound of baseballs smacking into lumber echoed under the lights at Yankee Stadium.

Tyler Wade stood at home plate, spraying line drives across the outfield grass. He and a pair of teammates – Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge – were getting some extra hacks in after the sixth day of Yankees Summer Camp had come to a close. 

In the words of his skipper, Wade is the Yankees' "super utility" player. With speed to spare, along with the capacity to play virtually every position on the diamond, the 25-year-old is a manager's best friend – always willing and able to fill in at any spot at any time, something he's proven across his three-year career. 

"I'm a guy that can fill in different roles and different positions and give guys much needed days off," Wade said. "Especially now when our bodies aren't really up to date where we are in the season, I figure this year [will feature] more of a bigger role."

Wade's right. In a shortened campaign, after close to four months in quarantine, depth is poised to be a key to success across the league. The same is the case for Miguel Andújar, who's opening doors with his budding versatility on defense. 

With DJ LeMahieu presently situated on the 10-day injured list, after testing positive for COVID-19, unprecedented circumstances off the field have presented the speedster with a new opportunity.

There's a good chance LeMahieu won't be ready for the Yankees' opener, scheduled to take place in just under to weeks. If that's the case, LeMahieu's shoes are big to fill. In an injury-plagued season, LeMahieu was New York's most reliable and consistent position players, finishing fourth in the race for the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

Nonetheless, Wade believes he's up for the challenge, ready to help wherever the coaching staff needs him.

"I'm preparing every day like I'm going to play every day, whether it's short, second, wherever it's going to be," Wade said. "Unfortunately DJ is not here. So there is a vacancy. I'm getting my reps all over the infield, all over the outfield and. wherever they need me in previous years I'm taking that same mindset into this year."

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Although Wade has never had a full-time starting gig with New York, playing in fewer than 44 games in each of his three seasons with the big-league, club bench coach Carlos Mendoza isn't concerned with the possibility of Wade making that transition. 

After all, Wade and the Yankees' starting shortstop Gleyber Torres have played as a double-play duo before and are familiar with each other in tandem up the middle. 

"These two kids have played together in the minor leagues as well so I think that transition is not going to be as hard," Mendoza said. "They are used to each other playing up the middle. We’re happy with where they’re at."

While his defense has been reliable, his offense is a work in progress. Across 109 games played in the Majors, Wade is a career .197 hitter with just 15 extra base hits (and three home runs) to his name. 

Nonetheless, Wade feels he's hitting the ground running this summer after training in Tampa for the entirety of MLB's coronavirus-induced hiatus. His manager has noticed improvements at the plate, pointing out Wade's ability to lay down bunts effectively and utilize his speed. 

"He’s certainly always working on impacting the ball a little better," Boone said. "Really working on that line drive swing because he’s got a pretty good understanding of the strike zone. Hopefully with more and more reps and more opportunities, we’ll see that more often at this level."

Whether or not second base is uninhabited come Opening Day, Wade's unique skillset will still be an essential component in a "super competitive" stretch run, as he called it.

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Boone accentuated Wade's speed and instincts on the base paths. With MLB's new extra-inning rules – placing a runner on second base at the start of each frame after regulation – Wade is a prime candidate to impact games with his feet. 

"There’s no question that he’s an elite base runner and that usually shows up when he gets in the game," Boone explained. "It’s just about continuing to progress offensively and we think he can be a very valuable player for us."

In a 60-game sprint, where every game matters, the 25-year-old is ready to do whatever it takes to win games. 

"I'm not going to hit 50 homers," he joked. "In playoff baseball, base running is going to win you games, moving up 90 feet."

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