LeMahieu ready for super-utility role in Bronx
Gold Glove Award winner can contribute in multiple positions across infield
NEW YORK -- Having experienced the excitement of playoff baseball in his past two seasons, DJ LeMahieu said that he placed the Yankees at the top of his list early in free agency, eager to leap toward the Bronx despite no clear indication of which position he will play to begin the season.
"I was told to bring a lot of gloves, if that's any indication," LeMahieu said on Wednesday. "I think I can add a lot. Didi [Gregorius] is coming back, I don't know when, but I see they've got a lot of talented infielders there. We'll see how it unfolds, but I'll be ready to go wherever I'm needed."
The Yankees announced a two-year, $24 million deal with LeMahieu earlier this week, envisioning that manager Aaron Boone could deploy the 30-year-old as a super-utility player at second base, third base and shortstop, spelling Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar and Troy Tulowitzki, respectively.
A two-time National League All-Star, LeMahieu played second base exclusively over his last four seasons with the Rockies, winning Gold Glove Awards in 2017 and '18. He also won a Gold Glove at the position in '14, though he made seven appearances at third base and one each at first base and shortstop that year. LeMahieu played third base and shortstop in the Minors, and he said that he could also be used in an emergency at first.
"I feel pretty comfortable playing multiple positions," LeMahieu said. "I guess it just depends on the matchup, the pitcher, how guys are doing and how guys are hitting. I'm sure as a manager, it's a good place to be in when you have that many options."
LeMahieu said that Manny Machado's name did not come up in his discussions with the Yankees, as the superstar now appears unlikely to land in New York. LeMahieu did reveal that he recently spoke with his former Colorado teammate Tulowitzki, who signed a league-minimum contract with the Yanks this month after being released by the Blue Jays.
"I know he's excited to be a Yankee," LeMahieu said. "That was always his dream, to be a Yankee, even playing with him in Colorado. That was kind of his dream if he didn't play for the Rockies. If he's healthy, he's one of the best in the league. He does some things at shortstop that I've never seen before. He's going to be exciting and fun to watch out there."
LeMahieu won the NL batting title with a .348 average in 2016 and is a career .298/.350/.406 hitter, but his average and on-base percentage dropped in each of the past two seasons. LeMahieu batted .276/.321/.428 in '18, with a career-high 15 home runs and 62 RBIs in 128 games.
LeMahieu has been more productive within the confines of Colorado's Coors Field, owning an .834 career OPS at home, compared to a .673 mark on the road. Last season, LeMahieu had a .793 OPS in Denver and a .698 OPS everywhere else, though the Yankees believe that playing home games in the Bronx could help LeMahieu approach his Mile High numbers.
"I played one series there in '16," LeMahieu said. "I just remember, the first game, pulling up to Yankee Stadium and it's like, 'Holy cow, it's Yankee Stadium. We're playing here today.' Now to do it every home game, that's pretty special and pretty exciting."
LeMahieu's ability to make hard contact and drive the ball up the middle and to the opposite field factored into the Yanks' thinking. According to Statcast™, LeMahieu has put 645 balls in play with exit velocities of 95 mph or greater over the past three seasons, ranking fourth in the Majors behind Machado, Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich.
In addition, among 104 hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances over the last four seasons (2015-18), the Visalia, Calif., native has the fifth-lowest swing-and-miss rate (5 percent), the sixth-highest contact rate (88.2 percent) and the eighth-highest line-drive rate (24.6 percent).
"I pride myself on having good at-bats, tough at-bats, being a tough out," LeMahieu said. "I'm always trying to get better. I think if I try to hit like [Giancarlo] Stanton or [Aaron] Judge, I'm probably going to find myself not being a very good hitter. I just try to stick to my strengths."