This Yanks prospect's power surge set to hit The Show

June 18th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

’s power surge has continued into the top ranks of the Yankees’ farm system, which has the sweet-swinging lefty banging on the door for a big league callup -- potentially as soon as this season.

Editor's Note: The Yankees called up Rice with Anthony Rizzo set to miss eight weeks with a right forearm fracture.

Rated as the Yankees’ No. 12 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Rice was promoted from Double-A Somerset to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on June 5. The 25-year-old has quickly adjusted to the International League’s more experienced hurlers; through Rice’s first 11 games as a RailRider, he has gone 14-for-42 (.333) with three homers and 10 RBIs.

“It’s just continuing to see more pitching,” Rice said recently. “The more I got used to the stuff that guys had at this level or in pro ball in general, the more I was able to take that power I have in practice settings and see it translate to the game.”

A 12th-round pick by the Yankees in the 2021 MLB Draft out of Dartmouth, Rice compiled a .261/.382/.511 slash line in 49 games at Double-A this season, slugging 12 homers with 26 RBIs.

That followed a successful promotion to that level at the end of 2023, when Rice hit .327/.401/.648 with 16 homers and 48 RBIs in 48 games at Somerset.

Named the Yankees’ 2023 Kevin Lawn Award winner as the organization’s “Position Player of the Year” before the start of this season, Rice was also anointed as MLB Pipeline’s Yankees “Hitting Prospect of the Year” after ranking among qualified Bombers farmhands in home runs (seventh) and RBI (tied for eighth).

“This guy knows what he wants to do, getting up to the plate,” said Somerset coach Kevin Martir. “He works, trains really hard. He’s doing his homework the night before on the starting pitchers, and even the relievers. The guy is like a live camera. He remembers everything from the at-bat before, or an at-bat a year before. He’s like, ‘Oh, I remember this guy. He did this, this and that.’ That’s really hard to come by.”

Drafted as a catcher, Rice has been logging increased reps at first base, a position the Cohasset, Mass., native began playing in 2022 while with Single-A Tampa. Rice’s defensive appearances in the Minors this year have almost been even; he has started 28 games behind the plate and 22 games at first base, which is no accident.

“I’m going to be wherever they need me to be,” Rice said. “I’m more experienced as a catcher than at first base, so I would think that’s where I primarily would be. But if first base is where they ever need me to be, I’d be able to go over there too.”

Despite a rough performance on Sunday in which Jose Trevino saw nine stolen bases on his watch, the Yankees seem confident in their catching situation at the big league level. Even before an injury to Anthony Rizzo on Sunday, their long-term vision for first base seemed less settled; Rizzo’s offensive performance has dipped, and he may become a free agent after this season if New York chooses to buy out his $17 million option, a move that would cost $6 million.

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has spoken about his desire to keep next year’s payroll under $300 million; the promotions of young players like Rice would be essential for that goal, especially if the club is able to re-sign Juan Soto.

“I feel good over there [at first base],” Rice said. “It’s a learning process, like any other position would be. Infield is not something that’s totally foreign to me. I used to play second base a lot when I was younger, so it’s really just continuing to get reps over there. It’s just like anything; you’ve just got to keep going out there and keep seeing balls come off the bat, getting grounders, knowing where to be on the field in different situations. But I definitely like the improvements I’ve made over there so far.”

Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: First baseman has been among the RailRiders’ most consistent hitters. Through Sunday’s action, Rumfield is batting .303/.358/.454 with 13 doubles, five homers and 32 RBIs in 47 Triple-A games.

Double-A Somerset: Catcher hit his 16th home run on Saturday, marking his fourth consecutive multihit game and 17th of the season. The Yanks’ No. 20 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Ramirez leads Eastern League hitters in homers, RBIs (47), total bases (128) and extra-base hits (30). He’s also second in the league in runs (46).

High-A Hudson Valley: Infielder remains one of the best hitters in the South Atlantic League. The Yanks’ No. 19 prospect, Serna is riding a nine-game hitting streak, during which he has batted .441 (15-for-34) with seven doubles, five RBIs and a 1.134 OPS. Serna paces the league in doubles (19) and is tied for the lead in extra-base hits (30).

Single-A Tampa: Right-hander struck out six in his most recent start on Saturday at Clearwater, giving him a Florida State League-leading 74 strikeouts this season. The Yanks’ No. 23 prospect, Smith has pitched to a 3-4 record and a 3.28 ERA in 12 games (11 starts), spanning 57 2/3 innings.