2013 Minor League Awards

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Chase the Bat Dog passed away this year. (MiLB.com)
Chase the Bat Dog passed away at age 13 this year. (MiLB.com)

To call this a disappointing year for the farm system would probably be an understatement. Many top prospects either got hurt or underperformed while just handful had true breakout seasons. An excellent draft with three first round picks will help their overall rankings, but Hal Steinbrenner was right to hold a staff meeting last month to figure out why the team’s farm system has been so unproductive. Hard to think of another team that gets less out of more in terms of prospects.

For the first time in at least 30 years, the Yankees seven domestic minor league affiliates combined for a losing record (373-381, .495) this season. Double-A Trenton opens the best-of-five Eastern League Championship Series tonight, but the only other affiliate to make the postseason was the Rookie GCL Yanks2, who were bounced in the one-game playoff before the title round. Thankfully, minor league win-loss records mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things — organizational players decide things far more than the prospects do — but it is symbolic of the farm system in general. Things aren’t looking too good.

As a reminder, these awards have nothing to do with prospect status. They are not a ranking or anything like that. They’re just a recognition of players who had great years regardless of age or anything like that. Pure production with potential takes a back seat. In order to keep things interesting, the Player of the Year is not eligible for the Hitter or Pitcher of the Year awards. It would be pretty redundant otherwise. Here are my 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 awards posts for reference. Onto the awards:

Minor League Player of the Year: 1B Greg Bird
Although he was a just fifth round pick, the Yankees gave Bird the largest signing bonus ($1.1M) of any player in their 2011 draft class. A back injury slowed the start of his career and forced him out from behind the plate, but the 20-year-old responded by having one of the very best seasons in all of minor league baseball this year. He hit a whopping .288/.428/.511 in 573 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston this year, which works out to a 170 wRC+ that was the eighth best in all of the minors (not counting the unaffiliated Mexican League). Among players with at least 300 plate appearances, Bird led the farm system in OBP, OPS, wRC+, and walks (107) while ranking second in total bases (234) and third in hits (132), doubles (36). and homers (20). It was arguably the best offensive season by a Yankees prospect since Nick Johnson in 1999 and more than worthy of the Player of the Year award.

Minor League Pitcher of the Year: RHP Shane Greene
Nowhere is the decline of the farm system more evident than on the mound. No pitching prospect shined from start to finish this year, which is why Greene gets the Pitcher of the Year nod despite leading the organization in hits allowed (by a lot) with 175. The 24-year-old also led the system in innings (154.1) while ranking third in strikeouts (137) and second in K/BB ratio (4.57) among guys who threw at least 70 innings. Greene pitched to a 3.38 ERA and ~3.06 FIP between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton with a very good strikeout rate (8.0 K/9 and 20.7 K%) and an excellent walk rate (1.7 BB/9 and 4.5 BB%). We’re talking about a guy who posted a 5.1 BB/9 (12.1 BB%) just last season, so his control really take a major step forward. Greene stands out from a crop lacking an obvious Pitcher of the Year candidate.
Honorable Mention: LHP Nik Turley, RHP Rafael DePaula

Minor League Hitter of the Year: C/3B Peter O’Brien
It’s amazing that a season in which O’Brien hit .291/.350/.544 (~149 wRC+) in 506 plate appearances split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa was only the second best offensive season in the farm system this year. The 23-year-old led the system in SLG, doubles (39), homers (22), extra-base hits (65) and total bases (243) while placing second in OPS. O’Brien’s defense both behind the plate and at the hot corner leaves something to be desired (putting it nicely), but this away is about offense only. The team’s second round pick last summer was a monster at two levels in 2013.
Honorable Mention: 2B Rob Refsnyder, 1B Dan Johnson

The Edwar Ramirez Award (Breakout Player of the Year): C J.R. Murphy
I hesitate to call Murphy a breakout player because it’s not like he came out of nowhere, but the pickin’s are slim. The 22-year-old was the team’s second round pick in 2009 and he’s had some good seasons before, but he topped them all by hitting .269/.347/.426 (~117 wRC+) in 468 plate appearances split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. Murphy set or tied career-highs in plate appearances, games behind the plate (107), hits (111), doubles (29), homers (12), walks (47), OBP, and OPS. He was rewarded with a September call-up even though the Yankees didn’t need to add him to the 40-man roster until November.

Best Pro Debut: 2B Gosuke Katoh
Thanks to three first round picks and a healthy crop of international players coming to the United States for the first time, the Yankees had plenty of strong pro debuts this summer. Katoh, the team’s second round pick in June, stands out from the pack. The high school second baseman from California hit .310/.402/.522 (172 wRC+) in 215 plate appearances while leading the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League in homers (six) and OPS. Considering the pre-draft scouting report said scouts were concerned about his size and strength — he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 180 lbs. — Katoh handed himself extremely well in his pro debut these last few weeks.
Honorable Mention: SS Abi Avelino, RHP Rafael DePaula

Comeback Player of the Year: RHP Jose Campos
Every year when I write this post, there’s always a player who sneaks up on me because he had a better year than I realized. The 21-year-old Campos is that player this year. He missed all but five starts last season due to some kind of elbow injury — he said it was a fracture but VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman said it was a bone bruise — and the Yankees limited him to very short and controlled starts in 2013. He threw four full innings just 12 times and five full innings just once in 26 total appearances. Campos pitching to a 3.41 ERA (2.83 FIP) with a good strikeout rate (7.97 K/9 and 21.6 K%) and an excellent walk rate (1.66 BB/9 and 4.5 BB%) in 87 total innings this summer, and his 4.81 K/BB ratio was easily the best in the system among pitchers to throw at least 70 innings. The team was understandably careful with the other guy in the Michael Pineda trade and Campos rebounded well after what amounted to a lost season.

Bounceback Player of the Year (started slow, rebounded): RHP Dellin Betances
In his seventh full season in the farm system, the Yankees finally moved the 25-year-old Betances to the bullpen full-time this May and watched him go from disaster starter to dominant reliever. He pitched to a 6.00 ERA with a 25/16 K/BB in 24 innings across six starts before being moved to the bullpen, where he posted a 1.90 ERA with a 86/27 K/BB in 61.2 innings across 34 plate appearances. Betances was called up briefly in August and again when rosters expanded in September, and for the first time since being drafted way back in 2006, he finally appears to have carved out a place for himself in the team’s plans going forward.
Honorable Mention: OF Slade Heathcott

Most Disappointing Player of the Year: OF Mason Williams
At this time last season, Williams was arguably the number one prospect in the system. His strong and exciting performance with Low-A Charleston and earned a late promotion to High-A Tampa, where he opened in 2013. Instead of building on that success, the 22-year-old Williams hit just .261/.327/.350 (95 wRC+) with three homers and 15 steals (in 24 attempts) in 406 plate appearances before a late bump up to Double-A Trenton, where he seemed overmatched in 76 plate appearances (8 wRC+). Williams did post a career-best 7.5% walk rate, but he was benched several times for insubordination and not hustling. He still has a ton of talent and athletic ability, no doubt about it, but Mason made sure everyone knew how far away he was from realizing his potential this summer.
Dishonorable Mention: The whole damn system (well, almost)

Individual Level Awards (click for larger)

2013 MiLB Awards

All Minor League Teams

2013 MiLB Teams

Lifetime Achievement Award: SwP Pat Venditte
This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner stands out for more than just his performance. Twice-drafted by the Yankees — 45th round in 2007 and 20th round in 2008 — Venditte is baseball’s only full-time ambidextrous pitcher and the man who forced the creation of a new rule. Following a nine-minute encounter with a switch-hitter in June 2008, the Professional Baseball Umpire Association ruled the pitcher, not the hitter, must first declare while side he’ll play from. Not many guys rewrite the rules.

In parts of six minor league reasons, the 28-year-old Venditte has a 2.41 ERA with excellent strikeout (10.2 K/9 and 28.3 K%) and walk (2.4 BB/9 and 6.6 BB%) rates in 306.1 career innings. He’s allowed only 15 homers (0.4 HR/9) during that time. Right shoulder surgery cost Venditte all of last season but he returned to pitch left-handed exclusively for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic before throwing 28.2 innings of 3.45 ERA ball across four minor league levels this season.

Venditte was never considered much of a big league prospect because his stuff from both sides of the plate was okay at best, but he gave the organization a lot of high quality relief innings and helped High-A Tampa to the 2010 Florida State League Title. He could win another win with Double-A Trenton in the coming days. It’s hard to believe Venditte has been in the system for more than five full seasons already — my only requirement in this silly little thing — and even harder to believe his switch-hitting act got him all the way to Triple-A. He’s very worthy of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Yankees shut down by Tillman as playoff hopes fade away
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  • Nick

    Im surprised Monty didnt get special mention for disappointment

    • Travis L.

      I’m surprised Culver did enough to get his name on the 3rd team list!

  • pat

    Damn, Mike. Almost brought a tear to my eye with that Venditte award.

  • Vern Sneaker

    Thanks, Mike. Very interesting and fun to read. What jumps out, obviously, is that while there are (as always) more than a few guys to keep your eyes on, no help is available from the system any time soon with the possible exception of Murphy and Betances.

  • Travis L.

    I’d DFA Miller and call up Venditte, just to get him in the Majors. If he sucks whenever he is used, then they can DFA him later, but at least the Yankees can say they attempted to use him. That would a sight to see.

    • MannyGeee

      In fairness, if he is going to be little more than org depth fodder, then call him up and have some fun in the bigs. It would be interesting to say the least to see him do the SwP thing up in the Show.

      • TCMiller30

        I know that the pitcher has to designate his throwing hand first (which is ridiculous), but how early do they have to do it. I would imagine it’d be right before the hitter steps into the box, but say a guy like Saltalamachia comes up to bat. Will he have both helmets in the on deck circle waiting for Pat V to say, “Bring that one, I’m pitching to you lefty.”?

    • Wolfgang’s Fault

      The Jim Miller’s of the world don’t get a whole lot of respect, but they should. He had a very decent year at Scranton, & off of that, his stuff, and a very reasonable salary for 2014+, he should get the chance to spend some meaningful time in the show — perhaps even here w/the Yankees.

  • Improbable Island’s Dirty Midget Whores (formerly RRR)

    Always loved Venditte, and I remember that rule change. I hope the Yankees give him a September cup of coffee one day, just so he could say he made it. The dude’s earned it. Really cool player to watch.

    • Travis L.

      I think he is a minor league free agent after this year. He is at the very least a Rule V candidate.

  • YankeeFan

    Hopefully the injury bug isn’t as drastic next year and the big league team can get possible contributions from the likes of Betances, Phelps, Marshall, Nuno, Pineda, Murphy, and potentially one of the 3 outfielders. Sucks that Slade went down because he was really starting to rake, I could definitely see him being a factor on the ML team next summer.

  • Kosmo

    imo Scottie Allen belongs on the 1st team .

  • Mike HC

    Great article! And congrats to the winners of these very prestigious awards!

  • Pseudoyanks

    Enjoyable read … content and style!

  • MB923

    Off topic but I’m sure it might get posted soon, the Yankees might be moving to WFAN next year

    http://www.newsday.com/sports/.....-1.6044600

  • JLC 776

    I really want Venditte to get a shot at the show – just for the novelty.

  • The Other Sam

    Well this was fun. I was glad to see Abi Avelino get a well-deserved mention. Bettance’s turn around in the bullpen was a good thing too. I got to see him pitch in Rochester, fun to watch with his presence on the mound and that sort of freaky delivery.

    Disappointing for me was Montgomery. He was supposed to come up after the AS break. And also disappointed to see Slade still hampered by injury. Hopefully he will get over that in the minors so he can do big things for the club in the future.

  • Jack

    Looks like the AAA Cy Young and MVP are already no longer in the system, correct?

  • Cool Lester Smooth

    Gotta say, I’m not sure how accurate it is to call O’Brien “a monster at two levels in 2013″ (emphasis added). He was basically a god in Low-A, but .265/.314/.486 isn’t exactly monster production from a 22 year old.

    • YankeeGrunt

      He changed his approach after a few weeks in Tampa, tried to take more pitches and work the counts a little more. As with his defense, give him a little bit of time to adjust. Not to say he’s going to come in next year and be .300/.400/.500, just to say that sometimes the stat line is an incomplete picture.

      • Cool Lester Smooth

        Do you think the change in approach caused his second half slump, such as it was?

        • YankeeGrunt

          It probably had something to do with it. It’s a difficult transition to make. He is by all accounts a very diligent worker, so I’m interested to see what he can be offensively and defensively next year.

    • Tj

      Look at the production idiot! He’s top 3 in the org in every major offensive category while making a major position change. Watch him blow your mind in Arizona this fall then you will be the one saying this guy is a machine! Pisses me off when people just like you throw stuff out there. So bird walks, If Obrien k’s just as much as bird walks and is still driving in runs what else matters!! Give him time at 3rd, people who are paid to know a hell of a lot more than you are think with some reps he can handle it so just sit back and enjoy! I can’t wait to see you write next year that you told us Peter Obrien is a stud!

  • Robert

    I nominate Mason Williams for the Jose Tabata award.

    • YankeeGrunt

      Why not the Gary Sanchez award? Give the team, and the kid, a chance to address the ‘tude concerns and see if things improve.

  • Robert

    Did any team pick up Melky Mesa yet?

  • YankeeGrunt

    No doubt this year was a disappointment. Serious injuries to a few top prospects (Hensley and Encinas in particular), underperformance from three of the top four position prospects. But between existing depth and the additions of draftees and the IFA imports from this year the farm has a lot of MLB-caliber prospects. Fans knew that even if Heathcott and Austin performed to expectations it would be a coup for one or both to even play his way into a September call-up. We knew the lull was coming and yet we profess to be surprised by it.

    What this org has is a glut of low-level talent that is starting, slowly but surely, to filter its way upward. Look, for instance, at the glut of OFs for AA next year: Dugas, Gamel, Mason Williams, Austin, Heathcott and Flores. One or two of them almost certainly starts in Scranton, but all are legit MLB prospects, albeit with very different ceilings. It is a very very deep system; if you compiled a Top 50 list you’d almost certainly leave out a couple future big leaguers. Yes the attrition rate for these prospects will be substantial, even if they improve their prospect development, but the depth is there and it is at almost every position on the diamond. The problem is it is light on elite prospects and particularly elite prospects who are close to being major league contributors. With the possible exception of Murphy and Banuelos what is MLB-ready is not elite, and the prospects with elite upsides are at minimum a year away. That doesn’t mean it’s a terrible farm, it just means that help is not near at hand.

    • Cool Lester Smooth

      You gotta put Slade in Scranton, IMO. He played well this year and really came on in the second half.

      • YankeeGrunt

        I think Flores has played his way to Scranton. Slade is a maybe, as is Austin (AFL and ST should have a lot to do with Austin).

        • Cool Lester Smooth

          Flores had the exact same wOBA as Slade last year.

          • RetroRob

            I agree on Slade in Scranton. In the end, the team will determine who gets bumped not so much on their final numbers, but how they were handling their league as the season progressed. So some player might have better looking overall numbers, but get left back at the same level than a player with weaker looking numbers, but a better approach.

          • YankeeGrunt

            Fair point, I was looking more at the fact that he didn’t quite have a full season but you’re right, their performances were pretty comparable.

  • RetroRob

    A down year, no doubt, and it’s a little extra disappointing considering the shape of the big league club. It would be great to think there were some young and exciting players on the way.

    Yet it can all change quickly. Heathcott rebounded after a slow start, and Austin was also charging after a slow start, only to hit a big slump right before or because of the wrist injury. Perhaps they were related. AA is the big jump in the minors, so not shocking they regressed some. Both could be in position for strong 2014 seasons and should be in AAA and a phone call away at some point in 2014. Hensley will be back for his first full year; the three top picks from this year — Jagielo, Clarkin and Judge — will be in their first full seasons; Banuelos will return; Campos can be unleashed beyond three and four inning games; DePaula should be in better shape to handle a full season in his second year; Sanchez will be up to AA; and, oh yeah, Bird, him. Perhaps even Cito Culver will show progress in his second year batting RH’d and can follow up on his .355/.394/.484 (SSS alert) showing in A+. He’s still be only 21. Dare to dream!

    Sure, this is the glass half-full (all full!) view, but I do think the pieces are in place for a stronger showing in 2014. I sure hope so. The big league club is going to need help.