What Went Wrong: Farm System

MLBPA chief Michael Weiner passes away at age 51
Mailbag: Niemann, Paulino, Gillaspie, Sizemore
Sanchez was one of the few things to go right in the minors in 2013. (Star-Ledger)
Sanchez was one of the few things to go right in the minors in 2013. (Star-Ledger)

It’s one thing for idiot fans like me to sit back and say the Yankees haven’t gotten enough out of their farm system in recent years. It’s another for the team itself to acknowledge that. In August, Hal Steinbrenner called a staff meeting to look into their development system and figure out why the farm was unable to provide help during an injury-riddled 2013 season. The system was examined over a several week stretch and while no major personnel changes were made, the Yankees did opt to make some procedural changes. They admitted things weren’t going right and did something to correct it.

The Yankees had eight players come up from the farm system to make their Major League debut this season and the best of the bunch was LHP Vidal Nuno at 0.7 bWAR. He appeared in five games and threw 20 innings before a groin injured ended his year in early-June. The other seven players — IF David Adams, OF Zoilo Almonte, C J.R. Murphy, IF Corban Joseph, RHP Preston Claiborne, RHP Brett Marshall, and LHP Cesar Cabral — totaled 0.1 bWAR in 150 combined games. C Austin Romine (-0.7 bWAR) spent most of the year in the big leagues and failed to establish himself. The most productive player to come out of the system this year was swingman RHP Adam Warren, who racked up 1.2 bWAR in 77 innings. Needless to say, the Yankees didn’t get much help from within this past season.

As always, there are a number of reasons why things went wrong in the farm system. It’s never just one thing. Here are the three biggest in my opinion, and for reference, I’m including my preseason ranking of each player in parentheses.

Injuries
Might as well start with the inevitable. Injuries are completely unavoidable; they are point of the game and they’re never going away. At least not anytime soon, who knows what will happen a hundred years down the line. The Yankees came into 2013 knowing LHP Manny Banuelos (#6 preseason prospect) would miss the season following Tommy John surgery in October, but they were dealt another pitching blow in Spring Training when RHP Ty Hensley (8) needed surgery to pair both hips. Just like that, the team’s top prospect from a year ago and their most recent first round pick were lost for the season before Opening Day.

Montgomery. (Presswire)
Montgomery. (Presswire)

Also lost to injury were RHP Mark Montgomery (10), who was limited to 45.1 innings due to shoulder and back problems. If he had stayed healthy, there’s a chance he would have been in the big leagues instead of Claiborne for much of the summer. OF Tyler Austin missed several weeks with a bone bruise in his wrist. 2B Angelo Gumbs (9) missed a month with a finger problem and had his season end in mid-August due to an unknown injury. RHP Jose Ramirez (12) missed the start of the season due to fatigue and was shut down in late-July with an oblique issue. 2B Corban Joseph (20, shoulder), RHP Nick Goody (21, Tommy John), and LHP Matt Tracy (22, hip) all had some kind of surgery while OF Ravel Santana (28) never made it onto the field because of a broken arm and lingering ankle problems.

Not that my rankings are definitive, but that’s nine of the team’s top 30 prospects — including four of the top ten and five of the top 12 — who missed considerable time in 2013. Two of New York’s three best pitching prospects did not throw a single pitch this summer while two of their closest to MLB arms were limited to 119 combined innings and zero after August 10th. That’s a lot of missed development time. Guys can’t get better if they’re not on the field. Injuries really ripped through the organization this year.

Steps Backwards
In addition to the health problems, the Yankees had a number of their best prospects not perform up to expectations. OF Mason Williams (2) followed up a 125 wRC+ in 2012 with an 87 wRC+ in 2013. Austin went from a 163 wRC+ to a 103 wRC+. OF Ramon Flores (5), who I was very high on coming into the year, put up a 104 wRC+ this summer after managing a 126 wRC+ a year ago. That’s three of the team’s top five prospects right there. Three of five failing to live up to expectations.

Others like RHP Brett Marshall (13) and OF Melky Mesa (26) did not force the issue after starting the year in Triple-A. Marshall pitched to a 5.13 ERA (4.62 FIP) in 138.2 innings while Mesa managed a 106 wRC+ with a 33.7% strikeout rate before being released. SS Austin Aune (14), who received a nearly double-slot $1M bonus as the team’s second round pick in 2012, posted a 46 wRC+ with a 43.6% strikeout rate (!) in Rookie Ball this year. I get that he’s inexperienced because his split his high school time between baseball and football, but my goodness. Gumbs and Montgomery didn’t perform well when healthy either. That’s a lot of important prospects — important in the sense that they were either ranked highly or knocked on the door at Triple-A — having down seasons.

Stalled Out
Having a bad year really stinks but it does not doom a prospect. Countless guys have rebounded from subpar minor league seasons and went on to be successful, like Robinson Cano (.695 OPS in 2003) or Ivan Nova (4.98 ERA in 2007). Back-to-back bad years is a problem and at least somewhat of an indication they aren’t developing as expected. Back-to-back bad years in which the second year is worst than the first is an enormous red flag and what happened to 3B Dante Bichette Jr. (27). After putting up a 84 wRC+ with a 18.0% strikeout rate with Low-A Charleston in 2012, he hit to an 82 wRC+ with a 24.5% strikeout rate at the same level in 2013. That’s a major problem and a big reason why the kid is a borderline (and that’s being kind) non-prospect two years after being the 51st overall pick in the country.

* * *

Not everything went wrong in the farm system this year, of course. C Gary Sanchez (1) and OF Slade Heathcott (4) both had very good years while RHP Jose Campos (7) rebounded very well after missing most of last season with an elbow problem. Murphy (15) took a huge step forward — he led all minor league catchers with 105 games caught, according to Josh Norris — and RHP Dellin Betances (23) finally found success after moving into the bullpen. The team’s draft haul in June was outstanding as well. Overall, however, the farm system took a hit this past season and the Yankees don’t have any impact prospects knocked on the big league door. It’s a problem both this winter (no good trade chips) and when planning for the roster down the road.

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MLBPA chief Michael Weiner passes away at age 51
Mailbag: Niemann, Paulino, Gillaspie, Sizemore
  • Tisha

    Start with not having decent scouts , rotten player development and not firing Oppenhemier and Newman and promoting Epplier to Cashman’s assistant GM. The 3 stooges and Cashman is not far behind,

    • Farewell Mo

      Pretty much this

    • toad

      Yes.

      When you are consistently unlucky it’s not bad luck at all.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        “When you are consistently unlucky it’s not bad luck at all.”

        Over a big enough sample size.

  • Brian S.

    :_(

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Well look who’s back from hibernation.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Very well-written and a nice change of pace from the gloom and doom which seems to accompany talk about the farm system at any time.

    Injury, re-injury, and too much development time lost is what kills me as to what I’ve seen here. Manny Banuelos lost almost two entire seasons, and thank God he was about five years old when he entered our system. Could that have gone differently? Did he really need to miss so much of 2012 BEFORE the surgery? Not easy to answer.

    Setbacks don’t seal one’s fate, but 2014 will tell the tale. I agree that back-to-back is when you really start to worry. I do like to see how someone deals with some adversity early on, though. It was an injury-shortened extreme SSS, but Tyler Austin seemed to be responding well.

    2014, in the end, will say a lot about what we saw in 2013.

    Excellent write-up.

    • Dr. TJ Eckelberg

      I agree. Maybe I’m perpetually a glass-half-full guy, but after such a disappointing year last year for all the reasons listed the Yankees really have a chance to see some growth this year. There appears to be some real talent down there, and if they had a good year instead of a horrible year we would all be singing for joy.

      I think there’s a lot to like DOTF, and I’m excited for some positive progression this year.

      • entonces

        Tremendous opportunity for turnaround this year. I count at least 15 top-tier prospects coming off injury or somewhat disappointing years — if just five bounce back, this system will look very strong.

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

          Man, I’d be happy if just Manny lived up to expectations.

          • I’m One

            If Manny lives up to expectations, Sanchez, Murphy & Heathcott continue where they left off and Austin reverts back to what we saw in 2012, that would be fantastic. Add in Jagielo, Clarkin, Judge and continued progress from Katoh …. Yeah, there’s a lot to like down there. BUT, they all need to perform. I’m hopefull more will go right in 2014 than they did in 2013, but only time will tell.

            • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

              “they all need to perform”

              That’s a good way to set yourself up for disappointment. I think we just need more positives than we had last year. People forget how positive the outlook was before 2013.

          • The Big City of Dreams

            If he did that would be a big boost for the minor and major league team in general. It would definitely add some punch to the rotation.

  • TWTR

    As I have said, they should start to have some developmental success if only by accident (not that they can’t get better at it). No team should be this bad. Apart from that, they need to also develop the stomach/patience to endure a young player surmounting his learning curve. Without that, nothing else really matters.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Can’t imagine how the 10-14 teams worse than us feel, then.

      • TWTR

        I can’t imagine how anyone continues to pretend that a farm system ranking reveals more about a franchise’a (in)ability to develop talent than actually being able to integrate young players on to the ML roster and then watching them have prolonged success with that team.

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

          Yeah until someone shows me how the Yankees are TEH WORST at that, I’m going to continue to believe the research that currently exists.

          Maybe if you took off your Yankee blinders and paid any attention to the rest of baseball, you’d have a clue.

          Or should I say “I can’t imagine how anyone continues to believe that they have any idea what ‘average’ is without paying any attention to any teams besides the Yankees, Cardinals, and perennial world champion Rays.”

          • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

            And you can go ahead and have the last word, which will be a scathing retort, I’m sure.

        • Dick M

          It’s called moving the goal posts (no pun intended). Happens all the time around here.

          • Havok9120

            Moving the goal posts from what to what exactly?

            Almost no one has denied that the farm has not produced up to expectations and I think even most of the more moderate/optimisitic people would agree that a lot of prospects haven’t done what they “should” have.

            Nonetheless, saying we’re the worst at it while presenting no evidence to back it up and when every professional ranking has up middle of the pack is silly. Why should that kind of argument, with that lack of evidence, convince anybody?

            • Dick M

              Where the goal post is — as the OP said “integrate young players on to the ML roster and then watching them have prolonged success with that team”.

              Where it gets moved to — an example is “every professional ranking has us middle of the pack”.

    • Dick M

      The stomach/patience thing is a huge issue as is the “learning curve” stuff (we need to live with a young guy who we believe in who hits .240 in his first year). The FA market is really drying up which means we need to begin to rely on developing our own.

  • Lukaszek

    This year is quite unfortunate

  • jim p

    “they need to also develop the stomach/patience to endure a young player surmounting his learning curve”

    And very much so. They’ll stay with a guy until he slumps, then stop playing him, then with less playing time the get less sharp and more anxious. Sometimes it’s right to do that, the pitchers have figured out his weakness or whatnot. But not every time. When Romine, for example, started to get more regular time he got better. I don’t think we can write off a lot of the guys who came up in 2013.

    It wasn’t a team of superstars which had that run in the ’90s. Future super-stars and more, yeah, but mainly it was solid role players throughout. Just like That Team of Monsters North of Us this year. Maybe we’ve got us one or three coming out of this past season.

    • Dick M

      We retarded Romine’s development for Chris Stewart. And now, with 3 legit catching prospects who will be in the majors or upper levels next year, we are considering the signing of a 30 yr old catcher whose best year’s are behind him to a long term contract.

  • http://www.twitter.com/mattpat11 Matt DiBari

    I for one think the picture here should have just been a mushroom cloud.

  • Farewell Mo

    It’s not just a one year blip on the screen, the lack of production has been going on for years.

    They haven’t introduced a decent everyday position player since Gardner in 2008 and Cano in 2005. After Hughes and Joba bombed out, the best they could do for starting pitching has been Nova in 2011 and he’s probably no better than a 4th starter on a playoff caliber team.

    About the only thing the farm has been good for in years has been some relievers. Deny it all you want but the farms have been a relative failure for quite some time.

    • Hardy

      Don’t forget Austin Jackson. All his development was in the Yankees’ system. He was traded to the Tigers in the offseason and never played a non-rehab game for them in the minor leagues.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        Or Ian Kennedy. Or even Z-Mac.

        No one’s saying we have had a fantastic farm system of late. Even us polyannas are only saying we’ve been average relative to the rest of baseball.

      • Dick M

        It’s fair to ask though if Austin Jackson would have turned into the Austin Jackson that he has become (I’m no huge Jackson fan, he’s a decent player and a solid starting CF) if he had stayed here. (See comments above re patience and the learning curve.)

      • Caballo Sin Nombre

        I’m kind of sorry we traded Austin. In other Austin news, Austin failed to establish himself as a major leaguer, Austin had a disappointing year after showing so much promise, and Austin just plain stunk.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      When 2013 Mike Axisa gets called a Pollyanna, we’ve got problems.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      You must have read this piece with a pre-existing bias. I’ve been annoyed at Mike’s negativity all year, and I actually thought this was a well-written, unbiased report of what happened.

      I’m failing to find a point where he was worshiping at the altar of Cash over any of the past 5-6 years of our farm system.

  • PunkPitch

    What I Know: Even the most inept Management team gets lucky every now and then, producing a player who helps the big club in some capacity. It’s bound to happen out of sheer luck, and numbers.
    What I Don’t Know (Or Care): Who is at fault. From the recent decision by Hal to make “procedural” changes, there was a lot of finger pointing, but ;little admission of guilt. The CULTURE is responsible. And when that happens….

    • TWTR

      I wonder what Big Hal’s timetable is for determining whether or not procedural changes will be sufficient to change their current record of development failure.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        Probably a couple of yrs because they will take sample sizes into account.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Fire Hal?

  • Coolerking101

    Don’t forget the injury to Rob Segedin. Dude was tearing the cover off the ball at AA after ripping A+ the year before. We could have been taking about him as an internal option at 3B for the Yankees this year.