The 2019 season was an amazing turnaround for Chris Gittens, the 6’4″, 250 pound right-hand hitting Yankees first base prospect. He hit just .193 in 2018 while battling though an injury to his hip that limited the slugger to just 57 games. He also missed about a third of the 2017 season due to an injury. The Yankees sought to limit his playing time early in the 2019 campaign, especially during the early morning contests after a night game. The strategy worked, as Gittens stayed healthy all season playing in 115 games. Gittens went on to be named the Trenton Thunder Player of the Year AND the 2019 Eastern League Most Valuable Player. His team also won the Eastern League Championship. In doing so he became the second player in franchise history to win the award, joining 2010 MVP Brandon Laird.
Gittens is a patient hitter that goes deep in the count, led the EL in home runs (23), RBI (77), on-base percentage (.393), slugging percentage (.500), and OPS (.893), while hitting .281 which was good for fourth in the league. Gittens also hit 16 doubles and walked 71 times while striking out 139 times. He also had two multiple home run games along the way. He became the 18th Thunder player to reach the 20 HR mark and the first since Peter O’Brien hit 23 in 2014. Baseball America also polled the Eastern League managers towards the end of the season and Gittens was voted best defensive first baseman by them as well.
— 🏆Trenton Thunder🏆 (@TrentonThunder) August 29, 2019
Gittens is about to complete his sixth season since he was drafted in the 12th round in 2014 out of Grayson Junior College in Texas, making him Rule-5 eligible if the Yankees don’t move him onto the 40-man roster. I feel the biggest issue with protecting him is the depth at first base/DH the Yankees have and also his age. He’ll be 26 when the 2020 season starts. With New York having plenty of options for first base and DH at the upper levels, I can see them either trying to trade Gittens for something (maybe a middle reliever), or just letting him go in the Rule 5 draft. The Yankees have a few names that will probably need to be protected ahead of Gittens: Estevan Florial, Nick Nelson, Brian Keller, Rony Garcia, Daniel Alvarez, James Reeves, Miguel Yajure and Brooks Kriske are some that come to mind.
Finding a place for Gittens on the 40-man roster may be tough. I personally hope they give him a chance and somehow and he can stick within the organization for depth, starting at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Mike Ford did an excellent job filling in when injury hit this year and I believe Gittens can do the same. Depending on if he goes to another organization I can see him projecting to split time with someone at first or a player with some pop off the bench and a good defensive replacement. Only time will tell.