The New York Yankees watched a near-complete exodus of their upper-level starting pitching depth at the 2022 trade deadline, only to pull off a replenishing coup in record time. Goodbye, Ken Waldichuk, Hayden Wesneski, and JP Sears, but hello Chase Hampton, Drew Thorpe, and Will Warren's Development.
Only problem? The amount of trust they've built up in recent years hasn't extended to the linear development of their offensive prospects. Where were all the under-the-radar hitters? The international signings who found their footing stateside and exploded? Well ... about that ...
As Anthony Volpe and Jasson Dominguez both shined (to varying degrees) in the big leagues, Oswald Peraza graduated from the system, and Austin Wells and Everson Pereira cameoed, the Yankees (surprisingly) hit the ground running, boasting an FCL roster that apparently features more talent than any at the level for two decades. They even found a collegiate draftee to break out, too, satisfying antsy fans' requirement for a fast riser.
That would be Ben Rice, who earned more plaudits from Baseball America this week, ranking as their brand-new Best Hitter for Average in the system (though he remains outside their overall top 10).
Baseball America's Best Contact Hitter in Yankees' System: Ben Rice?!
As portrayed above, Rice had one hell of a year split between High-A and Double-A, and somehow peaked after being elevated, something no one thought was possible when he raked with the Renegades, posting a 1.082 OPS in 15 games.
The 2021 12th-rounder will be 25 years old by Opening Day 2024, and seems to be in a perfect spot for the Yankees right now. Outside teams probably don't believe in his bonafides/are scared off by his age, limiting the likelihood he'll get dangled as part of a blockbuster package. Instead of including him as an unknown throw-in, the Yankees will have a shot to reap the rewards themselves of the player who teammate Chase Hampton put right alongside Orioles mega-prospect Jackson Holliday, in terms of toughness and skills.
All Rice did was hit in 2023, at every level, and though he's somewhat positionless (first base or catcher or...?), the Yankees will take as many 6'1", 215-pound lefty hitters with exceptional contact skills as they can get.
Rice will, hopefully, prove he deserves a 40-man spot next offseason with a repeat of his 2023 campaign in 2024, at which point Baseball America might just be ready to give him the top-10 spot he's earned.