MOOSIC — It is clear what Tyler Wade needs to do to return to the big leagues.
His glove has never been a problem. He possesses a natural gift of speed, allowing him to reach ground balls and snare line drives that most middle infielders couldn’t.
Within the seven weeks he has been back with the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders — after being optioned from the Yankees on April 1 — Wade is more than worthy of his own highlight reel. Positioned straight up the middle, his glove can find grounders that try to sneak into the right field grass. He appears smooth and comfortable manning most infield positions and can even patrol the outfield on occasion.
Wade knows speed is a large part of his game and the defense that comes with it.
“My game is pretty damn good,” he said.
Defense is not the reason Wade cannot earn more than 70 at-bats in a Major League season. It is his offensive shortcomings. He’s played in 86 games and collected 173 at-bats spread across three seasons in the big leagues with the Yankees. With nearly a third of a season’s worth of at-bats, Wade has produced a .484 OPS and 32 wRC+.
And when he suited up for Scranton Wilkes-Barre in early April for the first time in 2019, the struggles continued. He slashed .205/.279/.256 through his first ten games with the RailRiders.
Frustrated and looking for answers, Wade starting making acute adjustments to his swing. He was mainly focused on the lower half and started adopting more of a line drive approach.
“He’s doing some things to simplify and trying to utilize his tools; his gifts,” RailRiders manager Jay Bell said. “He’s simplified the game to a great extent and I’m excited about what he’s doing.”
Since his slow start in Scranton Wilkes-Barre, Wade has posted one of the best stretches of his career. He’s hit over .300 and has a .385OBP in his last 14games while producing a .885 OPS. Overall, his line drive percentage increased from 13.2 percent in 2018 to 21.7 percent so far this season.
“I feel like my approach is where it needs to be,” Wade said. “Coming off a good spring and then once I played every day in the big leagues I figured out what I needed to do and had some success on that West Coast trip (with the Yankees). I took all that to where I’m at right now and I’m just running with it.”
Being in a more relaxed environment has also allowed Wade to make those subtle tweaks and “work on some things with no pressure.”
“You don’t have the bright lights of New York on you.”
When Wade can find the gaps with line drives, his speed takes over. He can turn singles into doubles. Doubles into triples.
But that’s not to say that he can’t slug a home run here and there. On the RailRiders most recent road trip, Wade did just that against Norfolk, where he finished 2-for-5 with a pair of RBI. It was his second home run of the season.
“It was really pretty and it was a line drive swing,” Bell said. “As you look at the field, there’s nothing wrong with hitting the ball out of the park as long as you have the mindset, for him in particular, to stay on a line.”
On Wednesday night, when the RailRiders hosted the Tides at PNC Field, Wade tied the game in the ninth inning. He took lefty Tanner Scott’s second pitch into the left-center field gap — a slicing line drive that short-hopped the wall. It brought it two runs to make it 6-6 in Scranton Wilkes-Barre’s eventual 7-6 extra-inning victory.
Bell described it at the “at-bat of the game.”
“It’s a tough lefty in a huge situation.”
Wade has raised his season line to .279/.348/.426. He’s got 11 multi-hit games after Wednesday night.
Four of them have come in the last six games.
“The biggest thing I learned (in my last MLB stint) was just not trying to hit homers because we got guys who can do that. I’ll run into a few here and there,” Wade said.
He knows he could get the call back to the majors at any time. The Yankees have had over 20 players hit the injured list with the season not even halfway over.
“Everyday is a new opportunity and I’m trying to get back to the big leagues,” Wade said. “I’m just playing every day like I’m going back to the big leagues tomorrow.”
There’s also another call he could receive.
The Yankees have a surplus of serviceable middle infielders, and a player with Wade’s skill set becomes a trade target to opposing front offices.
“It’s not something that’s really on my mind,” says Wade of potentially being traded. ‘I’m going to keep working as hard as I can and get back to the big leagues whether it’s with (the Yankees) or another team.”
Wherever Wade ends up after the July 31 trade deadline, he is currently one of the RailRiders hottest hitters. Consistency will determine whether he can establish himself as an everyday major leaguer or continue with short spells.