Yankees’ decision to keep prospect Ben Rice AA grounded looks baffling

Yankees' prospect Ben Rice celebrates after hitting back-to-back homers in the opening game for AA Somerset on April 5, 2024.

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Despite a breakout season in 2023, New York Yankees catching prospect Ben Rice will be starting the 2024 season back in Double-A with the Somerset Patriots. This decision comes as a surprise to many considering Rice’s impressive performance last year.

The 25-year-old catcher had a dominant year statistically, batting .327 with a .401 on-base percentage and a .648 slugging percentage. Ben Rice also crushed 20 home runs, with 16 of those coming in just 48 games and 222 plate appearances at Double-A.

A recent article by Baseball America writer Josh Norris highlighted Ben Rice’s intriguing minor league assignments. Norris acknowledged the rookie’s rapid climb through the Yankees’ farm system in 2023, jumping from Low-A to Double-A while putting up eye-catching offensive numbers. However, Norris also expressed surprise at the decision to keep Ben Rice in Somerset, particularly considering his age and the apparent lack of a clear obstacle to a promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

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Reason for Yankees’ Ben Rice decision

While Triple-A is already underway, the rest of the minor leagues are set to kick off on Friday, with Ben Rice’s Somerset Patriots opening the season against the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the San Francisco Giants’ Double-A affiliate.

Age is a potential factor in the Yankees‘ decision. Baseball reference calculations show that Ben Rice was 2.8 years older than the average Double-A player last season, and that gap is expected to widen to around four years in 2024.

Another factor could be the Yankees’ catching depth at the Triple-A level. While not necessarily a powerhouse, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster includes players like Luis Torrens (271 MLB games), Josh Breaux (.244 career minor league average), and Carlos Narvaez (known for light hitting), who was recently added to the 40-man roster.

However, with this depth chart in mind, Ben Rice’s stay in Double-A might be temporary. The Yankees may be looking to develop him further while giving him more consistent playing time before a potential promotion later in the season.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

One thought on “Yankees’ decision to keep prospect Ben Rice AA grounded looks baffling

  1. Having Rice start at AA makes perfect sense. One of the worst things you can do to destroy a young player’s self-confidence is rush him through the minors & turn a surprisingly good Rice into fried rice.

    While Rice is now 25 and one would hope that he’d be MLB-ready in the near future, as recently as 2021, his first year in the minor, he hit only .197 in the very low minors. So, while his .267 in 2022 raised Yankee hopes, and his .324 BA with 20 HRs in 2023 heightened those hopes, he played in only 48 games in AA, so an extra 4 weeks or so in AA seems appropriate, with a promotion to AAA, subsequently, if he hits as expected.

    Rice’s 2023 season, which was spread over 3 levels (A, A+ and AA), was impressive, in that he walked 44 times against 62 Ks, with 11 SB (for a catcher!), with a .434 OBP, a .615 SLG, and a 1.049 OPS. Those are numbers associated with a Real Top Prospect, so let’s not screw this up!

    His stay in AA will likely be short if he maintains or exceeds those numbers with some more seasoning, assuming he also retains healthy. Keep in mind that a 3-level jump in One Year, as Rice did in 2023, is impressive unto itself, so let’s not rush the kid, and maybe will see him in Pinstripes in late 2024 or all of 2025.

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