Who? That was my reaction when the Yankees acquired Mike Tauchman in an eleventh hour deal before the regular season began. I’m sure I wasn’t alone. The trade was a result of need with Aaron Hicks’s recovery dragging out. Tauchman snagged the team’s final roster spot, much to Tyler Wade’s chagrin. As a 28 year-old yet to shed the Quad-A star reputation, the deal was a tad surprising. Tyler Wade had all but made the roster, and if the Yankees wanted to go off the 40-man for a true outfielder, they could have gone with non-roster invitee Billy Burns. Instead, they turned to the Rockies in order to get Tauchman.
Tauchman has “Voit-like” qualities. In other words, the Yankees think the outfielder could be a diamond in the rough, just like Luke Voit was last summer. As a left-handed hitter with modest power numbers in the minors, it’s not difficult to envision why the Yankees might like Tauchman.
The former tenth rounder has spent three full seasons with Albuquerque, Colorado’s Tripe-A affiliate. That team is part of the batter-tilted Pacific Coast League. Nonetheless, Tauchman’s statistics are impressive even with the PCL boost. In 1,473 plate appearances, he recorded a 126 wRC+. The combination of contact, discipline, and decent power propelled Tauchman to that comfortably above average all-in number. Still, he couldn’t replicate that performance in his stints with the Rockies. The outfielder got to hit 69 times for the Rockies over the past two seasons and posted a paltry 17 wRC+. Obviously, small sample size and all, the Yankees aren’t writing him off based on his performance in Colorado.
In an era dominated by strikeouts, and with a lineup already featuring a few strikeout prone batters, Tauchman’s bat to ball skill was undoubtedly part of the Yankees’ attraction. His 14.9 percent punchout rate in Triple-A is remarkably low. Further, it’s not like Tauchman makes a bunch of contact by avoiding deep counts. His walk rates have gradually improved in Triple-A, reaching as high as 12.7 percent last season. He sounds a bit like Aaron Hicks, strictly in terms of plate discipline: high contact with patience. Unfortunately, that skillset hasn’t translated to the majors yet. He’s fanned 36.6 percent of the time in limited opportunities.
Decent power is another one of Tauchman’s positives, and it’s fairly new to his game. Prior to 2017, Tauchman had almost no pop. He hit only one home run in 527 plate appearances in his first season at the minors’ highest level. Then, in 2017, that jumped to 16 in 475 (and a .224 ISO). In 2018, he hit 20 in 471 (.248 ISO). Where’d the power come from? He credited Glenallen Hill, his Triple-A manager and former Yankee (great excuse to relive this).
Even though Tauchman has developed some power, there’s still one thing hindering his ability to tap further into his six-foot-two, two hundred pound frame: his propensity to hit grounders. He’s started to minimize that weakness over the last few years, but could still do better. In 2016, 57.5 percent of his batted balls were grounders. The next season, he dropped that mark to 46.7 percent. It fell a bit further to 43.5% last year. In limited time in the majors, he’s really struggled to lift the ball: 28 of 41 balls in play have been hit into the ground.
With few balls in play, there’s not much to glean from Statcast. To no surprise, he has a very low launch angle, which is why he hits the ball into the ground so frequently. I don’t think there’s anything to read into in terms of exit velocity (from what’s publicly available). I’d bet that his minor league Trackman numbers indicate good contact quality, though. And that’s where we can induce why the Yankees view him as potentially the next Voit.
We’ve heard about the launch angle revolution ad nauseam. Teams are hoping to dig up guys who with a swing change can unlock better offensive performance, and this is yet another case of it. Tauchman has already made improvements with Colorado over the past couple years, as evidenced by additional power and lower ground ball rates. Perhaps the Yankees feel that he can take the next step in the Bronx, especially with Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton out.
All told, Tauchman fits the mold of the type of player the Yankees have sought out in recent seasons. The aforementioned Hicks and Voit are other recent examples. Chances are that Tauchman won’t blossom into a significant contributor, but at the same time, the Yankees aren’t counting on him for much more than depth. The easy call would have been to bring Billy Burns north, but instead, the team took a more thoughtful approach. If Tauchman thrives and forces his way into regular playing time, great. Otherwise, it’s not a big deal. The team has enough outfield depth (when healthy) to stash Tauchman in the minors.
Like many others, I’ve been highly critical of the Yankees roster construction this offseason. Putting the past aside, Tauchman is an intriguing acquisition. At worst, he’s a decent up-and-down outfielder when needed this year. Once Stanton and Hicks return, Tauchman won’t be needed in the Bronx (barring future injury). At the same time, he appears to have some untapped potential that the Yankees have been good at snuffing out.