Rachel Balkovec’s ascension within the New York Yankees organization has been among the bigger headlines this offseason (and would be bigger if the lockout wasn’t unnecessarily dominating what should be worthwhile coverage).
As the stalled collective bargaining agreement negotiations lag, however, Yankees fans should be getting more coverage of Balkovec and some of the team’s most promising young talents in the minor leagues.
The first woman to manage a team in professional baseball will oversee the Single-A Tampa Tarpons and the minor league campaign will be uninterrupted regardless of what happens with the CBA talks.
Now that Balkovec’s been elevated to a position of influence, it’s encouraging for fans to have another high-profile outlet to receive pertinent information from. Her role with the team in the minor leagues has allowed her to interact with some of the organization’s top talent, and it’s clear she has an eye for it.
Recently, Balkovec revealed the two prospects she believes fans should have their eyes on this spring. With guys like Anthony Volpe, Jasson Dominguez and Oswald Peraza dominating all the headlines, it seems Balkovec thinks these guys need more attention.
Her recommendations? First baseman Eric Wagaman and third baseman Andres Chaparro.
Yankees’ Rachel Belkovec thinks fans should watch these underrated prospects
Chaparro isn’t necessarily a surprise given his impressive 2021 that culminated with a nice showing in the Arizona Fall League. The 22-year-old spent last year in Tampa and Hudson Valley, finishing with a .267 average, .849 OPS, 71 runs scored, 15 homers and 73 RBI in 101 games. In the AFL, he hit .275 with an .884 OPS, 13 runs scored, 3 homers and 15 RBI in just 20 games.
As for Wagaman, it seems Balkovec’s eye has caught something most others haven’t. The 24-year-old slugger also split time between Tampa and Hudson Valley, but finished with much weaker stats. Across 78 games, Wagaman batted .220 with a .679 OPS, 31 runs scored, 6 homers and 34 RBI in 78 games. He’s been in the Yankees’ system since 2017, so we wouldn’t exactly call that encouraging.
But Balkovec noted he hits the ball incredibly hard, and knowing the Yankees’ penchant for favoring those who fit their analytical profile, maybe Wagaman’s average exit velocity could play a role in making up for his subpar play.
Based on his comments earlier in the season, it seems he’s among those who have fully bought into the whole “Hit Strikes Hard” thing:
“It’s not, ‘I’m going to look for this pitch and hit it hard’, it’s ‘I can hit offspeed strikes, fastball strikes, changeup strikes.’ It doesn’t have to be a cookie in order to do some damage with it.”
OK then! Look for Chaparro to build off of his potential breakout 2021 in addition to Wagaman finding his footing with his ability to make hard contact. Nobody’s had closer eyes on these two over the past year than Balkovec, who likely got her promotion thanks in part to the work she’s done with them.