Chris Gittens’ time is here, and it is long overdue

·4 min read

A year ago, Chris Gittens was hitting into a net he had purchased from a local Walmart on the top level of his parking garage. He was running the stairs to stay in shape and finding ways to stay ready for when he would get another chance.

Saturday night, he was starting at first base and hitting sixth for the Bombers against the Red Sox.

“It is incredible,” Gittens said before the game Saturday. “Just from having spring training 2020 and going playing the Nationals (on the last day before the COVID-19 shutdown) and then all of a sudden it is over with. ... I just knew that okay, whatever you do try to get your work in. Do everything right. And whenever the season comes just be ready. That was my biggest thing was to be ready. Be ready to go whenever I do get the shot. And now being here is unbelievable. It really is.”

It should have happened weeks ago.

The Yankees offense, built to win on power hitting, has been inconsistent and struggling to score runs. It’s in desperate need of a spark.

“There’s something to that especially with where we’ve struggled for some consistency offensively,” Aaron Boone said. “To add a guy with an offensive profile who’s off to a good start down there and playing well, I think there is something to the ‘Hey, let’s, let’s get a little spark up here.’ A guy that can swing the bat that maybe can add a little something to the mix, coupled with his personality, the kind of guy and the person he is. Hopefully it’s a really good fit for us right now.”

The Bombers have been particularly impotent at first base, a position they were counting on for power coming into the season. Luke Voit, who led the majors in home runs (22) during the 2020 60-game season, began the season on the injured list after surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his left knee. He played just 12 games before going back on the IL with a strain oblique. Jay Bruce retired in April and Mike Ford was finally demoted after slashing .135/.278/.283 with three homers and 23 strikeouts in 74 plate appearances.

Combined, the Yankees have the second worst batting average (.176), OPS (.531), and slugging percentage (.231) at first base in all of the big leagues.

While Voit was on the field working on defense and running before Saturday’s game and Boone said he is beginning to take dry swings, he is likely going to be out a few weeks. The Yankees can’t wait that long for their offense to kick into gear.

After not playing any baseball after spring training last year, Gittens has been solid in his first chance at Triple-A, showing an improved strike zone discipline. He has hit .283/.486/.585 with four home runs over 74 PA for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In his seven years in the minors, Gittens has a track record of hitting for power, with 75 homers and a .265/.375/.476 slash line in 1727 plate appearances.

The knock on Gittens was that his big swing led to big power or big strikeouts. He has 476 strikeouts, but has noticeably cut down with just 16 this season, while working 20 walks.

“It’s been something that he’s been pretty good at and continues to do a really good job of,” Boone said. “Ultimately that’s a lot of times the separator between really good hitters and guys that aren’t and and, look, his power is undeniable. If you can control the strike zone along with that, you give yourself a good chance.”

Gittens earned this chance.

A 12th-round draft pick of the Yankees in 2014, he has spent seven years toiling in the minors. He got his first taste of big league spring training in 2020 and was on the field in the last game played before the shut down. Then, the Yankees did not even invite him to work out at the alternate site last season.

“He’s got raw power that is impressive. He’s worked to cut down his strikeouts, he’s still a big swinger, but it seems like he has a better idea of the strike zone,” on National League scout said. “He is fine defensively over there. I am glad to see them give him a shot. They need help at first.”