- Position: 1B
- Born: 2/4/1994
- Bats: Right
- Throws: Right
- Height: 6’4″
- Weight: 250 lbs.
Gittens hails from Texas and attended Grayson County Junior College before the Yankees selected him in the 12th round of the 2014 draft. As an amateur, the first baseman garnered interest both as a hitter and pitcher. He touched 93 MPH with his fastball and also offered a 12-to-6 curveball per Baseball America’s 2014 draft report. However, his power at the dish was always his best tool. The Yankees paid Gittens a $125,000 signing bonus and stuck him at first base right away.
The story so far
Slowly but surely, Gittens has ascended the organization’s minor league ranks. And aside from some struggles at Double-A in 2018, the slugger has raked at every stop.
After the draft, Gittens made a brief cameo in rookie-ball and hit .286/.400/.400 in 45 plate appearances in the GCL (129 wRC+). Surprisingly, he didn’t hit a single home run. He returned to the GCL to start the 2015 season and absolutely dominated the level, batting .363/.452/.645 with 8 long balls in 146 plate appearances (220 wRC+). That performance earned him a five game cameo in High-A Tampa to close out the season.
In 2016, Gittens spent all year in full-season ball with Single-A Charleston. There, he showed off his power (21 homers and .225 ISO), but also some propensity to swing-and-miss (27.9 percent K-rate). All told, his 140 wRC+ made him the RiverDogs top hitter that season. He moved up to High-A Tampa for the 2017 campaign, but missed most of June and July due to an undisclosed injury. But when on the field, he more or less performed like he did at Charleston: .266/.372/.472 (150 wRC+) with 13 homers, a .206 ISO, and 27.2 percent strikeout rate in 290 plate appearances. You can sense a running theme for the first baseman here.
As mentioned, 2018 was not so pleasant. Gittens power dissipated (.142 ISO) and his strikeout rate increased to 30.5 percent while with Double-A Trenton. He again spent some time on the shelf (hip injury), absent from play from mid-June until the end of August. And at this point, it seemed like Gittens might not be able to hack it at the upper rungs of the minor leagues. Opposing pitchers really jump up a notch going from Single-A to Double-A, and perhaps Gittens wasn’t going to be up to snuff with his high strikeout totals.
Enter 2019, or as I’d call it: the Gittens revenge tour. Then 25, and seemingly a fringe prospect or organizational fodder at best, the first baseman broke out and won the Eastern League MVP for Trenton. In 478 trip to the plate, he hit .281/.393/.500 (164 wRC+) and blasted 23 homers (.219 ISO). He still struck out a lot (29.1 percent), but his power impressed. Nonetheless, there just wasn’t much room for him at Triple-A or the majors, unfortunately. Mike Ford and Greg Bird held down first base depth for Luke Voit that year. In the offseason, any team could have grabbed Gittens in the Rule 5 draft, but no team took a stab.
The Yankees invited Gittens to big league camp in 2020, but somewhat surprisingly after the season’s delay, left him off the team’s 60-player pool for the regular season. And without the minor league season, Gittens had no opportunity to build off his MVP campaign with Trenton. It’s one thing to lose a year of development as a teen or early-20s prospect, but missing a year at 26 might be even worse. Opportunities are rare as it is for players like Gittens, who get labeled as Quad-A sluggers, so missing a prime-age year is brutal.
Gittens became a minor league free agent after 2020, and in spite of arguably better opportunities elsewhere, he returned to the Yankees. Now, 2021 has offered new hope for a big league opportunity. Gittens again returned to major league spring training, wowed with some massive exit velocities, and is now off to a hot start at Triple-A (.268/.464/.634, 191 wRC+). Yeah, it’s no wonder why folks want him up in the majors now while the Yankees’ offense continues to scuffle.
80-grade raw power. That’s the main thing you need to know about Gittens. We’re talking about Aaron Judge/Giancarlo Stanton-like exit velocities that push 120 MPH. Per FanGraphs, Gittens led the minors in average exit velocity in 2019 at 96 MPH.
One carrying tool, even at 80 on the 20-80 scale, doesn’t make a top prospect though. Gittens has never been, nor did he really deserve, to be anywhere near the team’s top-10 prospect lists at any publication. That’s not surprising in any way: older first-base types don’t get much prospect love. That said, FanGraphs has ranked him in back-to-back years, but that’s only because the site goes very deep in their organization prospect lists (46 this year, 52 last year).
Defensively, FG’s Eric Longenhagen didn’t note anything other than giving him 40 and 55 grades for fielding and throwing, respectively. Based on that, he sounds like he’d be tolerable but nothing special at first base. But again, with Gittens, offense is the name of the game. It’s also what the Yankees badly need in the Bronx.
Again, Gittens has gone unranked (but not necessarily unnoticed) at most publications:
- Baseball America: NR
- Baseball Prospectus: NR
- FanGraphs: 46th
- MLB Pipeline: NR
Gittens is already off to a good start in Scranton, and if that keeps up, he really won’t have much else to prove in the minor leagues. Strikeouts will always remain a big concern, but who exactly doesn’t strike out a ton nowadays?
We may see Gittens in the Bronx very soon. Aaron Boone has already acknowledged that the 27 year-old first baseman is on the team’s radar for a promotion, though it’s not clear what will be the tipping point to give him a call up. For the time being, all Gittens can do is continue to force the issue for as long as Luke Voit remains on the injured list.
As I wrote last week, now’s the perfect time to give Gittens some run in the major leagues. Seriously, what more do the Yankees have to lose? Rougned Odor and Mike Ford simply aren’t cutting it. Those two, combined, have hit .173/.291/.353 (85 wRC+) in 175 plate appearances. Sure, Gittens *could* perform worse than that, but who cares? Why not take a chance on someone who could get hot for a month before big league pitchers figure him out?
Remember when Ford hit .274/.333/.619 (145 wRC+) with 11 homers in 123 plate appearances from August through September in 2019? That’s the sort of thing Gittens has potential to do, too. It wouldn’t shock me one bit for Gittens to tear up the majors before opposing teams determine the holes in his swing. Granted, there’s always a risk of him being completely overmatched, but again, that’s a risk worth taking at this point. Something needs to change with the Yankees’ lineup, and Gittens seems like the easiest band-aid for now.
Aside from team-need, I really hope Gittens gets a chance for his own sake. He’s been in the system for a long time and has done nothing but hit. He may not be a flashy five-tool prospect, but he certainly deserves a chance some time soon. And if it’s not with the Yankees this year, I hope another big league club takes a flyer on Gittens in 2022.