Who is Yankees catching prospect Ben Rice, who's been absolutely insane in 2023?

The New York Yankees' hottest prospect is...who?
Hudson Valley Renegades players, from left, Ben Cowles, Ben Rice and Spencer Henson arrive for media
Hudson Valley Renegades players, from left, Ben Cowles, Ben Rice and Spencer Henson arrive for media / Patrick Oehler/Poughkeepsie Journal /

Anyone following the Yankees' minor league system over the past few weeks has probably asked themselves one question: "Wait, do they really not teach baseball at the lower levels?"

OK, two questions. But it's quite likely the second one, for several months now, has been, "Who is lefty-swinging catcher Ben Rice, why have I never heard of him, and why is he hitting .320 with power?"

Can't answer the first one, but happy to help on No. 2!

Rice, a 2021 12th-round pick out of Dartmouth, has (rightly) flown under the radar since being selected. In fact, he languished in 20 games at Low-A Tampa post-draft, hitting .210 ... but with an impressive .359 OBP and .746 OPS masked by a poor average.

Last season, Rice's rise involved a full year of repeating the level, where his average (.267) rose to meet his on-base skills a bit, resulting in nine homers, 28 walks, and an .810 OPS.

This year? Well, this year's placed Rice on another planet. No longer just an "interesting bat, underwhelming defender, let's stick him in the low minors" type, his stick has been undeniable at every level. After an early boost to High-A Hudson Valley, he conquered that level with a 15-game stretch of hitting .341 with an astounding .559 OBP/1.082 OPS. That's how you force the issue.

If you reach base over 50% of the time, you'll typically be promoted, and Rice hasn't slowed down a step since being added to Double-A Somerset's crowded house. In fact, he's improved, ripping nine homers in 23 games while hitting .322 (and, of course, OBP'ing .396). That made him the Eastern League Player of the Week, and he appears to be powered by rockets?

Yankees top prospect Ben Rice thriving after Austin Wells promotion to Triple-A

Austin Wells' well-deserved promotion to Triple-A cleared a path for Rice, but ... he still has to compete with former first-rounder Anthony Seigler and the highly-touted Josh Breaux for reps. He still has to hit. Luckily, he's knocked down the gate and stormed to the front of the Yankees' priority list in recent weeks.

Rice's recent quotes to The Trentonian, outlining his approach, sound like a WFAN caller's dream:

"I think the thing that helps me most is my bat-to-ball skills. I make a lot of contact, don’t swing and miss very much. That’s the biggest thing with me, so I know that if I’m smart during my at-bats and work the counts that I’ll get a pitch to hit eventually, and I’ll be able to put a barrel on it."

Ben Rice

While the Somerset pitching staff, replete with talent, has stolen the headlines once targeted for Jasson "The Martian" Dominguez, Rice has refused to be lost in the shuffle this summer. It's patently absurd that an Ivy League semi-afterthought with a throwback approach is the player making some of the loudest noise in the system right now, but hitting in the mid-.300s with powerful contact will have evaluators thinking differently.

While racking up Double-A honors, Rice was elevated to No. 23 on MLB Pipeline's recent midsummer Top 30 list update. If you've made it this far, you're probably wondering about ... his defense. His blocking and receiving skills are reportedly top-notch, but his low-grade arm leaves plenty to be desired. Pipeline lists Rice as a "C/1B," but ... he probably won't hit enough to stick at first base, long-term.

Unless he just ... does? In 2023, he's been unstoppable enough to make cynics stop asking questions. Hopefully, the bat continues to play, giving the Yankees a series of far more interesting, left-handed answers at catcher in 2024 and beyond, especially if Wells also has to move.