Ben Rice’s rise makes Yankees road rocky for Rizzo, smooth for Soto

New York Yankees' Anthony Rizzo, rookie star Ben Rice, and star slugger Juan Soto in 2024.
Inna Zeyger
Monday July 8, 2024

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During Ben Rice’s historic three-homer game against the Boston Red Sox, the YES Network captured the jubilant reactions of his New York Yankees teammates. The dugout erupted in celebration, with players like Clarke Schmidt and Giancarlo Stanton enthusiastically cheering at the railing. Alex Verdugo appeared awestruck, while Marcus Stroman ventured onto the field to offer congratulations.

Notably, Anthony Rizzo, whom Rice has temporarily replaced due to injury and prior performance issues, displayed genuine excitement. Rizzo’s animated celebration included a gesture reminiscent of basketball star Dirk Nowitzki’s signature three-pointer celebration, acknowledging Rice’s hat trick.

Upon Rice’s return to the dugout, Rizzo actively encouraged the rookie to step forward for a curtain call. This moment capped what pitcher Gerrit Cole described as a “magical” day at Yankee Stadium, where the team secured a 14-4 victory over their rivals.

The collective enthusiasm of the team, highlighted by Rizzo’s supportive reaction, underscored the positive atmosphere surrounding Rice’s breakthrough performance.

Despite being sidelined on the 60-day injured list with a fractured right forearm, Anthony Rizzo continues to lead in the New York Yankees’ clubhouse. His support for teammates, especially rookie Ben Rice, underscores his dedication to the team’s success. Rizzo’s championship experience with the 2016 Chicago Cubs is seen as invaluable for a team with title aspirations.

However, Rice’s standout debut in pinstripes could complicate Rizzo’s future with the Yankees. Rice made history with a three-homer game, becoming the first Yankees rookie to achieve this feat. Even before this milestone, Rice had impressed with his quality at-bats, showcasing patience and consistent barrel contact.

Yankees' Ben Rice has a three home run game against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on July 6, 2024.
NYY

Manager Aaron Boone’s decision to move Rice to the leadoff spot was driven by the rookie’s calm approach at the plate, which Boone described as having a “slow heartbeat.”

Small sample but Rice carries Yankees’ big hopes

While Rice’s sample size of 17 games remains small, his performance aligns with scouting reports from his minor league career. His left-handed swing appears well-suited for Yankee Stadium, combining effortless mechanics with power. Rice’s mature approach and confidence, shaped by his journey as a 12th-round pick from Dartmouth, have been evident in his early major league appearances.

Rice’s emergence presents a potential challenge to Rizzo’s role within the team, highlighting the dynamic nature of roster decisions in professional baseball.

The New York Yankees might be experiencing a scenario reminiscent of the legendary Wally Pipp-Lou Gehrig transition nearly a century ago, with rookie Ben Rice potentially vying for Anthony Rizzo’s spot at first base.

Rice, much like Gehrig, boasts an Ivy League background. His remarkable debut, highlighted by a historic three-homer game, has drawn parallels to Gehrig’s iconic takeover from Pipp. However, the Yankees are cautious about overhyping Rice’s early achievements, aware that many prospects face significant challenges after their initial success.

On June 16, 2024, Anthony Rizzo left the game following the collision. 4 Anthony Rizzo left the game following the collision.
Reuters

Rice’s recent performance, hitting .325 with a 1.113 OPS over 13 games, has been impressive. Yet, the true measure of his potential will be how he adjusts once pitchers start adapting to his style. His ability to respond to these adjustments will be critical in determining his long-term impact.

With Rizzo sidelined on the 60-day injured list until mid-August, Rice has an extended window to prove himself. Rizzo’s struggles before his injury, including a .223 batting average and a team-worst negative-0.4 fWAR over 70 games, have raised concerns about his future productivity.

Rizzo’s decline began after a collision with Fernando Tatis Jr. last year, resulting in post-concussion syndrome. His latest injury occurred during a slump, as he awkwardly fell trying to beat out a ground ball.

This unfolding situation marks a potential turning point for the Yankees’ first base position, with Rice’s emergence and Rizzo’s uncertain future creating a compelling dynamic for the team’s roster decisions moving forward.

Juan-Soto-new-york-yankees
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Yankees manager Aaron Boone discussed Ben Rice’s evolving role, emphasizing his versatility as both a first baseman and a catcher. Boone highlighted Rice’s current contributions but urged caution in drawing long-term conclusions about his position on the team.

Boone mentioned that while catching isn’t a pressing need right now, Rice’s abilities behind the plate remain an asset. He expressed enthusiasm for Rice’s performance but stressed the importance of maintaining perspective amidst the team’s current challenges and high stakes.

Rice’s continued success could significantly influence the Yankees’ lineup, potentially negating the need to trade for a first baseman before the deadline. The team recently added J.D. Davis for infield depth, but his contributions have been limited. Rice’s impressive performances have earned him more starts, even against left-handed pitchers, despite initial struggles in those matchups.

Should Rice continue to excel, it may impact Anthony Rizzo’s future with the Yankees. The team faces a financial decision regarding Rizzo, with a $6 million buyout or a $17 million club option for next season. Keeping Rice as the primary first baseman in 2025 could provide financial flexibility, possibly allowing the Yankees to pursue other high-profile free agents like Juan Soto.

This scenario highlights the dynamic nature of roster management in baseball, where emerging talent can swiftly alter a team’s plans and financial strategies. The Yankees are balancing immediate needs with long-term considerations as they assess Rice’s role and its implications for the team’s future.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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2 thoughts on “Ben Rice’s rise makes Yankees road rocky for Rizzo, smooth for Soto

  1. SO ….THE (3 BLIND MICE) THINK 🤔 , JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE HAS A 3 HOME RUN GAME
    …. HE’LL BE A SUPERSTAR ⭐ OVERNITE !!!

    BEN RICE DOESN’T COME CLOSE TO ANTHONY RIZZO YET !!!. BEN RICE DID NOTHING LAST NITE . RIZZOS DEFENSE TOPS RICE !!! SOTO AND OTHERS ARE IN A MAJOR SLUMP !!!.
    THE YANKEES HAVE MAJOR ISSUES … AGAIN !!!.

    ENOUGH SAID
    FOD BLESS 🙏 AMERICA

  2. Just look at what Rizzo’s 2022 season with the Padres was like… high Kd, .141 BA, in 128 ABs. Just let Rice play, not sit on the bench too often.

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