Should Yankees' Ben Rice be the everyday first baseman after his 3-homer day?


NEW YORK — New York Yankees first baseman Ben Rice didn’t know what was happening. Yankee Stadium was still erupting around him, and inside the dugout, he was being yelled at. All his teammates were screaming his name, trying to get his attention.

“I really didn’t know what they were talking about,” he said.

Rice was on the far end of the dugout. He had gone to retrieve his glove after crushing his third home run of the afternoon, becoming the first Yankees rookie to accomplish the feat in a 14-4 blowout of the Boston Red Sox on Saturday afternoon. But now his teammates were signaling for him to come back to them.

So, as Rice walked over, someone shouted for him to do a curtain call, and his mind raced with excitement. He looked for an opening. Should he just walk straight to the dugout railing? No, his teammates pushed him farther along, all the way to the steps on the near side.

Then, when the 25-year-old reached the top step, he raised his helmet, waved it a little at the crowd with a big smile, and ducked back into the dugout.

“Honestly,” he said, “it was all happening so fast. I think I was still coming off the high of hitting a home run and I was just walking through the dugout and I just hear everyone kind of yelling at me to do something.”

The moment came after Rice crushed a two-run shot well over the wall in right field off reliever Chase Anderson to give the Yankees their 10-run lead with one out in the seventh inning.

Before that, the lefty swinger had hit a home run to lead off the game, and then he went deep again with a three-run blast in the fifth inning.

“It’s a historical, magical day, and to be honest, I’m pretty thankful that I get to be on the lineup card because I know he’ll remember it forever,” said starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, who gave up four runs in 4 1/3 innings.

Through his first 17 games and 51 at-bats, Rice is hitting .294 with four home runs, 12 RBIs and a .971 OPS.

Not bad for an unheralded 12th-round pick out of Dartmouth in 2021 who didn’t get much love from top prospects lists throughout his time in the minor leagues. Going into this season, The Athletic’s Keith Law ranked Rice as the team’s No. 20 overall prospect.

The Yankees promoted Rice on June 18 when the team announced that Anthony Rizzo would need to go on the 60-day injured list with a right forearm fracture. Since then, he’s gotten the majority of reps at the position.

But should Rice be the full-time starter — at least until Rizzo returns?

The argument for starting Rice every day

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Ben Rice rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run in the fifth inning against the Red Sox on Saturday. (Luke Hales / Getty Images)

So far, Rice looks the part, especially at the plate. Evidence: He has almost as many walks (eight) as he does strikeouts (nine). For the first 14 games of his career, Anthony Volpe was the Yankees’ leadoff man. But with Volpe’s struggles, Boone moved Rice into the leadoff spot Thursday. He’s been there ever since and hasn’t wilted.

“Just trusting my approach,” Rice said. “Just trusting it. I have a lot of confidence in my approach and up here is no different. The game hasn’t changed.”

Manager Aaron Boone praised Rice’s “slow heartbeat” and his confidence.

“You see the calm at-bats he takes,” Boone said. “He understands the strike zone. He doesn’t flinch at much. Easy takes. Kind of see the pull-side power that he has, too. I just think he combined controlling the strike zone with some barrel awareness and the ability to get the ball in the air to the pull side.”

Plus, though he’s still learning first base — catcher is his natural position — his defense hasn’t been a major problem. As of Saturday, he was rated at one out above average, according to Statcast, or just a shade above average.

“I think he’s handled himself well at first base,” Boone said. “That’s still a work in progress.”

The argument against starting Rice every day

Rice didn’t post good numbers against left-handers in the minors last season. He hit just .217 with one home run and a .645 OPS In 70 plate appearances against southpaws between Low-A Tampa, High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset. This season, however, the stats were better. At Double A, he hit .292 (14-for-48). At Triple A, he went 3-for-8.

In the majors, has had hit .133 (2-for-15) vs. left-handers.

Also, the Yankees have J.D. Davis (.771 career OPS vs. lefties) and DJ LeMahieu (.815 career OPS vs. lefties), though neither player has hit well this season.

The Yankees also still believe in Rice’s ability behind the plate, though few evaluators have considered him a strong defender there.

“I think the catching part is real, too,” Boone said. “That’s not the need right now, but he’s obviously getting a ton of opportunities and it’s a great opportunity in front of him and we’re excited about what he’s doing. But I also don’t want to rush it too much.”

(Top photo of Ben Rice: Luke Hales / Getty Images)





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