Though the Yankees haven’t broken the bank on any major free agent signings in recent years, one area in which general manager Brian Cashman has excelled has been finding diamonds in the rough. He turned backup catcher John Ryan Murphy into Aaron Hicks; he didn’t sign Manny Machado but acquired Gio Urshela from Toronto for cash considerations; and most recently, Cashman traded pitcher Phil Diehl to the Rockies for Mike Tauchman.
In all three of these cases, the Yankees turned a struggling player into a major contributor. Tauchman hasn’t been pressed into everyday service like Urshela has been following Miguel Andujar‘s injury, nor is he a former top prospect who’s begun to live up to his potential like Hicks. However, in a year, Tauchman went from hitting .094 in 21 games with Colorado to .293 in 72 games with New York, and his glove has been enough to make fans forget the team’s injury woes.
The New York Post detailed what’s changed for the 28-year-old outfielder an article earlier this month. After Tauchman hit a homer and a double and robbed Pedro Severino of a home run of his own in a 9-4 win at Camden Yards, Tauchman told Ken Davidoff his improvement stems from working harder as he matured:
“Yeah, kind of just realizing what is important. Things you really have to stay on top of. It’s nothing like reinventing the wheel or anything. It’s probably what most of us talk about. I just got a little bit better at it. And more comfortable with it.”
Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames explained that the team hasn’t changed Tauchman’s swing at all and that he’s just getting out what he’s finally put in:
“No mechanical tweaks. More of a mindset. Just taking his A-swing in the game.”
A 10th-round selection in 2013, Tauchman was never a highly touted prospect and had hit only eight home runs in four minor league seasons before breaking through with 16 round-trippers in his 2017 season, his second year with the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate.
He built on this with a 2018 Triple-A season in which he slashed .331/.386/.555 with 20 homers in 110 games. This must be what caught the eye of someone in the Yankees organization because his 52 games in the majors did not inspire confidence. Tauchman had only nine hits and no home runs in 59 at-bats.
Tauchman cited his time in the batting cage with the fastball machine as the reason for his success. Tauchman’s tried to “keep my eyes locked into as close to game-like velocity as I can get,” he said in a recent interview, according to Davidoff later in the same article.
A lower strikeout rate has been one of the most obvious rewards from Tauchman’s newfound focus and routine. During his first two call-ups in 2017 and 2018, he struck out in 31.3% and 40.5% of his at-bats respectively. He’s reduced that to 25.2%.
It’s been a combined result of him swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone and making more contact when swinging at pitches inside the zone as well as in general.
|O-Swing %||Z-Contact %||Contact %|
Tauchman is hitting far fewer grounders and driving the ball through the air much more frequently. He’s also pulling more hits to right field than ever before, not a bad idea as a lefty in Yankee Stadium. Seven of his 12 home runs have come at home, and six of those were to right field.
Yankee Stadium’s short porch is treating Tauchman much better than Coors Field’s power alleys did:
As impressive as his development at the plate has been, it’s been Tauchman’s glove that’s differentiated him from Clint Frazier. Frazier had hit well in his time with the Yankees this season, but several defensive miscues drew the ire of both fans and the organization.
Tauchman has just a single error to Frazier’s three, but it’s in Statcast’s outs above average where the difference is most discernible. He has seven total, two back and five in, Frazier has -10, -2 back and -8 in. According to the same metric, both outfielders were expected to catch 85% of the balls hit to them this season, and while Frazier has caught 71%, Tauchman has caught 91%, which is why he has 14 total defensive runs saved and is robbing home runs on the major league roster while Frazier has -6 DRS and is with the Triple-A Trenton Thunder.
In a season in which Aaron Judge, Hicks, and Giancarlo Stanton have missed a combined 243 games, Tauchman could not have chosen a better time to find his stroke at the plate. One has to imagine if and when New York’s outfield returns to full strength that the team will find a way to keep Tauchman’s bat and glove on the roster come fall.
(Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)