Mike Ford could be long-awaited lefty solution to Yankees’ first base issues
Part 6 in a series analyzing the New York Yankees.
Since Mark Teixeira retired following the 2016 season, the Yankees haven’t found a consistent answer at first base. The uncertainty at the position actually started when Teixeira began dealing with injuries late in his career.
In 2015, Greg Bird seemed ready to take over the position in the near future when he replaced Teixeira — who was out with a fractured shin — to end the season, but Bird was never able to stay healthy and he finally landed with the Rangers this offseason.
After the Yankees moved on from Bird last year, Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu split time at first.
And there are still questions surrounding the position as we wait for what’s to come of this season.
Now that Gleyber Torres has shifted from second base to shortstop and LeMahieu is back to second, Voit was expected to take over the everyday spot at first. He is recovered from a hernia injury that required offseason surgery, but he has yet to prove himself over an entire season.
That’s where Mike Ford comes in.
Ford starred as a two-way player at Princeton, where he was named Ivy League Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year as a junior, when he hit .320 with six homers and also went 6-0 with a 0.98 ERA.
The undrafted free agent signed with the Yankees in 2013 and turned into one of their most pleasant surprises in the second half of last season.
He hit a dozen homers, including in consecutive games on Aug. 25 and 26 and added a pinch-hit walkoff home run on Sept. 1.
So, what to make of Ford’s 163 plate appearances in the majors? The Yankees have seen other lefty-swinging first baseman come up and produce for brief stretches only to flame out.
“He’s shown patience at the plate at every level and with his swing in that stadium, what he did last season when he got the chance should be sustainable if they can find a spot for him,’’ one AL scout said.
Ford actually hit significantly better against lefties than righties (1.389 OPS vs. .766 OPS) last year, while Voit’s splits are not as dramatic (.892 vs .865).
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Prior to his debut in The Bronx, Ford went to Seattle in 2017 as a Rule 5 pick, but he didn’t make the Mariners out of spring training last season and spent the majority of the 2018 season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
After spending 561 games in the minors, Ford finally got called up last April.
“It’s a day I’ve waited for for a while,’’ Ford said that day. “I just kept the faith. Sometimes that faith wavered, but when I found out… I’d be coming up, it paid off.’’
He replaced Bird on the roster when Bird landed on the injured list. Voit became the regular first baseman, but Ford gave the Yankees another left-handed bat off the bench.
Ford’s first stint ended when Miguel Andujar made his brief return from a shoulder injury in May and Ford spent much of the next three months with SWB.
Edwin Encarnacion’s fractured right wrist in August and that gave Ford another shot. He made the most of it, with 11 homers in his final 39 games.
Before the start of this season was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ford seemed to be pegged for a lefty-swinging backup to Voit at first, with potential time at DH, since Giancarlo Stanton was dealing with a strained calf.
If the season ever gets started, the oft-injured Stanton figures to get the bulk of the at-bats at DH to prevent further leg injuries and Andujar — who could also get a turn at first if Gio Urshela sticks as the everyday third baseman — will also get time.
And LeMahieu showed he could also play first a year ago.
Still, the Yankees lack power from the left side and an expanded roster would ensure an important role for Ford.
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