Yankees drop significant hints about Ben Rice with promotion timing

Well, that all seems pretty purposeful!
New York Yankees Photo Day
New York Yankees Photo Day / New York Yankees/GettyImages

While it might sound somewhat ridiculous for the well-over-.500 Yankees to replace respected veteran Anthony Rizzo with 25-year-old rookie Ben Rice midway through 2024, New York's braintrust tipped their plans a bit on Wednesday afternoon.

Rice's promotion to Triple-A felt inevitable after he spent the season's first two months posting a near-.900 OPS and mashing high-exit-velocity liners alongside Agustin Ramirez. The Yankees finally pulled the lever and sent Rice skyward on Wednesday morning, (hopefully) wrapping up his Somerset career forever with aplomb. They hinted at such a move by granting Jose Rojas his release, then immediately followed through.

But why now? Why, specifically, less than 24 hours after they kept Rice in Double-A to catch Gerrit Cole's rehab start? Oh, boy. The gears are turning.

Cole gave Rice's receiving skills high marks, stating postgame, "I thought Ben was fantastic tonight. Lot of moving parts for him today. He had a lot of meetings and stuff, first game of the series, so ... I thought his targeting was great. He kept a nice, level head to give us the opportunity to execute all the different pitches.

During the brief interview, Cole seemed to be working overtime not to tip his hand, but obviously having him collaborate with another "Ben" behind the dish was important to the Yankees.

Yankees top prospect Ben Rice promoted to Triple-A day after catching Gerrit Cole. Not meaningless!

The Bombers apparently saw what they were looking for, too, showing faith in Rice as a catcher first, rather than a first baseman, and moving him up to the highest level before the next game's first pitch.

Rice might not be waiting in the wings to replace Rizzo instantaneously, but clearly, the Yankees view him as a viable big-league option. They wouldn't have kept him in Double-A just long enough to cross Cole's path if they weren't taking his candidacy seriously.

Next up? Getting Austin Wells' expected stats to match reality, then seeing if he could be an option at first base for the Yankees' future rosters. The catching position -- plus Agustin Ramirez! -- is getting quite crowded, but the Yankees gave Rice votes of confidence on Tuesday and Wednesday, and that should not be ignored.