New York Yankees: Who’s Who on the Bench?

Yankees bench

In a recent interview, New York Yankees Vice President and General Manager Brian Cashman said, “I think our team overall is going to be a constant evolution.” Cashman has never spoken truer words, as the Yankees offseason has seen players come and go with almost alarming rapidity – some acquired and sloughed off without ever donning the pinstripes. Bubba Thompson, Jeter Downs, and Oscar Gonzalez all received the revolving door treatment from the Yankees in 2024. Each was acquired to compete for a position on the Yankee bench; each was dismissed with the acquisition of the next man up. None were given the opportunity to unseat holdovers from last year’s bench, namely, Oswaldo Cabrera, Everson Periera, Oswald Peraza, or Austin Wells, nor to vie with newcomers Diego Castillo, Jose Rojas and Trent Grisham.

Oswaldo Cabrera is already in Tampa working out with Aaron Judge and other notable Yankee players. Following up on a successful 2022 campaign, Cabrera entered the 2023 season as the Opening Day left fielder. Unfortunately, this might have been the highlight of Cabrera’s season, as he underperformed both at the plate and in the field, dropping from a 1.5 fWAR and 2.0 bWAR in 2022 (granted it was only 44 games) to a below replacement-level player in 2023. Joe Najarian of Sports Illustrated points out that Cabrera’s power vanished at the plate, and defensively, he dropped in every category. The only area of improvement for Cabrera in 2023 was in baserunning. “2023 New York Yankees in Review: Oswaldo Cabrera.”  

Cabrera remains an option for the Yankees as a utility player, though fans are likely to be eager to see what Trent Grisham brings to the table. Grisham was acquired along with Juan Soto in a trade that sent Michael King, Jhony Brito, Randy Vasquez, Drew Thorpe, and Kyle Higashioka to the San Diego Padres. Grisham is a defensive specialist in the outfield with two Gold Gloves to his credit, most recently in 2022. Although he struggled offensively for the Padres in 2023, according to MLB.com, he set career highs in games played, runs scored, doubles, walks and stolen bases.

Grisham will likely play a role late in games as a defensive replacement for Aaron Judge in Center Field and Juan Soto in right. Christian Arnold, New York Post, said that “his defense could be critical for the Yankees late in games, as Aaron Judge projects as an average centerfield defender while Soto ranks well toward the bottom in outs above average in the corner.” “What Trent Grisham brings to the Yankees in Juan Soto Trade” (12/7/23)

On the infield, the Yankees have Oswald Peraza on the bench. Peraza is an above-average defender who struggled at the plate in 2023. Like Cabrera, his swing went backward once he got to the major league club. The biggest issue for Peraza appeared to be that he was forcing power and, as a result, looked overmatched at the plate. Peter Brody of Pinstripealley.com noted that towards the end of 2023, Peraza tinkered with his mechanics and saw some improvement at the plate. (“Yankees 2023 roster report card: Oswald Peraza” 11/9/23) 

Everson Pereira split time in 2023 between the minor leagues and the majors, making 103 appearances for the Yankees and posting a .300/.373/.548 slash line with 18 homers and 11 stolen bases overall. Pereira says Peter Brody managed just 14 hits in 93 at-bats and struck out two out of every five trips to the plate. (“Yankees 2023 roster report card: Everson Pereira”, 11/11/23) As with Cabrera and Peraza, he appeared to change his approach in the majors to hit home runs. Shelley Duncan, Pereira’s manager at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, characterized him as “a young hitter who does try to do too much and gets too aggressive with his contact zone or launch angle.” (Baseball Almanac 8/9/23) He’s the number three prospect in the Yankees system and was named an organizational All-Star by MiLB.com.

The Yankees acquired Jose Rojas, a 31-year-old utility infielder who can also cover the corner outfield positions – he has an invite to major league spring training. Rojas spent 2023 playing for the Doosan Bears of the Korean Baseball Organization. In 122 games, he hit 19 home runs with a slash line of .253/.345/.474. According to DarraghMcDonald of MLBtraderumors.com, Rojas had put together a solid body of work at the triple-A level before heading overseas but hadn’t been able to carry that up to the big leagues.” In 83 games for the Los Angeles Angels in 2021-2022, Rojas hit .188/.245/.339. (“Yankees sign Jose Rojas to minor league deal”)

Most recently, the Yankees reunited with Diego Castillo, a utility infielder. Castillo had been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the deal that brought Clay Holmes to the Yankees in July of 2021. Castillo made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 2022 but was designated for assignment in December of that year and claimed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he spent the 2023 season at Triple-A Reno except for one appearance for the Diamondbacks. After being designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks and the New York Mets, the Yankees picked him up on January 19th. Castillo will have the opportunity to vie for a spot on the bench.

Austin Wells is ranked seventh in MLB prospect rankings for the Yankees, and his late call-up in September last year was only a taste of what he can do for the team offensively. After struggling when first called up, Wells went on a tear in the season’s final eight games, going 11-32 (.355) with four home runs and nine RBI. Defensively, he didn’t fare quite so well, placing 40th out of 74 in framing runs, 56th out of 77 in blocking runs, and 54th out of 76 in throwing runs.” (“Yankees 2023 roster report card: Austin Well”,” pinstripealley.com, 11/29/23)  Wells told Bill Ladson of MLB.com that he is working on being consistent in thbatter’s’s box and that he hopes to compete for the starting job. He said”, “You’re trying to be a backup; you are in the wrong spot.” (“This top prospect has lofty goals f’24’ “4,” MLB.com, 1/11/24)

Andres Chavez wrote, “The Yankees, now more than ever, need their bench to perform in 202″:” “The 2023 Yankees downplayed the importance of depth and a solid bench (or misevaluated a lot of players, and don’t know which one is worse) and paid the price”.” (pinstripealley.com 1/18/2024) 

The Yankees bench must be more productive and perform at a higher level than it did in 2023. Cabrera, Peraza, Pereira, and Wells all performed below their abilities in 2023. Still, all showed promise of improvement for 2024, and with newcomers in the mix, fans can only hope that Spring Training brings some clarity to the bench for 2024.

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