Poll: The 2017 RAB Prospect Watch

From left to right: Jorge Mateo, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar. (Presswire)
From left to right: Mateo, Torres, Andujar. (Presswire)

One of our longest running features — I hesitate to call it a feature, but whatever — here at RAB is our annual Prospect Watch. We pick a prospect and track his progress throughout the season in the sidebar. Simple, right? Also kinda silly, but hey, people seem to like it, so it continues. Think of it as the player’s FanGraphs page in the sidebar.

Once upon a time I would make an executive decision and pick the Prospect Watch player myself, then a few years ago I decided to open it up to you folks, the readers, and that works well. This is a good year for a poll too. The Yankees are loaded with prospects. I had a hard time limiting myself to only eight Prospect Watch candidates for this year’s poll. I could have easily listed several more.

I don’t believe the Prospect Watch Curse is a thing so, once again, this year’s poll features top prospects. Shall we get to the candidates? We shall. They’re listed alphabetically and the number next to their name is where they ranked in my top 30 prospects list.

RHP Chance Adams (No. 11)

The Case For Adams: Few pitchers in all of minor league baseball had a better statistical season in 2016 than the 22-year-old Adams, who threw 127.1 innings with a 2.33 ERA (2.96 FIP) and 29.1% strikeouts between Double-A and Triple-A. He showed he can handle the rigors of starting after being drafted as a reliever in 2015, most notably holding his mid-90s velocity deep into starts. Adams also improved his curveball and changeup. He’ll begin 2017 in Triple-A, which means he’s knocking on the door of the big leagues.

The Case Against Adams: As we learned last year, pitchers have a tendency to get hurt, which means the Prospect Watch could potentially go dormant for weeks at a time. Also, Adams has spent only one year as a starter, and it’s possible his body won’t be too happy about going through a big workload for the second straight season. He also isn’t shy about walking hitters (7.9% in 2016) and that has a tendency to ugly up stat lines. And there’s the possibility the Yankees will call Adams up to work in relief at some point, and given Joe Girardi‘s tendency to ease young relievers into things, the Prospect Watch could morph into a Mop Up Reliever Watch.

3B Miguel Andujar (No. 8)

The Case For Andujar: Very quietly, the just turned 22-year-old Andujar broke out with a career year in 2016, setting a new career high with 12 home runs. He also struck out only 12.9% of the time against the best pitching he’s ever faced. Andujar has made some nice progress with his pitch recognition, so he’s doing a better job attacking hittable pitches and letting the less hittable ones go by. Making easy contact can be a curse. Last year felt like the start of something big for Andujar.

The Case Against Andujar: Andujar’s career season last year featured only a .271/.331/.403 (108 wRC+) batting line in nearly 700 total plate appearances between High-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton, and the Arizona Fall League. That’s good, but it’s not “hey let’s get this guy in the sidebar so I can see his stats everyday” good. Keep in mind a big chunk of Andujar’s prospect stock is tied up in his defense as well, specifically his cannon arm at third. That won’t show up in the Prospect Watch.

OF Clint Frazier (No. 2)

The Case For Frazier: Frazier, 22, ranked no lower than 39th on the four major top 100 prospect lists released this spring (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, MLB.com), so he has considerable upside. Even last season, before he hit some bumps in the road in Triple-A, he hit .276/.356/.469 (129 wRC+) with 13 home runs in 89 Double-A games despite being more than three years younger than the average Eastern League player. Frazier has the tools to hit for both average and power, and he’ll steal a few bases too.

The Case Against Frazier: Unfortunately, those Triple-A struggles did happen, and we can’t ignore them. He hit .229/.285/.359 (83 wRC+) with a 27.9% strikeout rate in 38 Triple-A games with the Indians and Yankees, and Frazier is going to return to that level to start the season. That doesn’t mean he’ll definitely struggle again. Frazier wasn’t the first player to have a hard time in his first trip through Triple-A and he won’t be the last. It’s just something we have to be aware of. Frazier struggled really for the first time in his life late last season.

RHP James Kaprielian (No. 5)

The Case For Kaprielian: With a healthy elbow, the just turned 23-year-old Kaprielian is poised to carve up hitters in the low minors this season. PitchFX data from the Arizona Fall League last year had his fastball averaging 95.7 mph and topping out at 99.1 mph. Add in three quality secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) and good enough command, plus a ton of competitiveness, and you’ve got a recipe for a top pitching prospect. The four scouting publications ranked Kaprielian as the 58th best prospect in baseball, on average.

The Case Against Kaprielian: As you know, Kaprielian was our Prospect Watch player last season, and he hurt his elbow and missed most of the regular season. Three starts with High-A Tampa and that was it. The Prospect Watch went unused from late April through the start of the AzFL season in October. That was so incredibly lame. Kaprielian is said to be healthy right now, but the best predictor of future injury is still past injury, and Grandmaster Kap is coming back from a fairly significant arm issue.

Kaprielian. (Presswire)
Kaprielian. (Presswire)

SS/CF Jorge Mateo (No. 7)

The Case For Mateo: I’m not sure any prospect in the farm system is better at filling up every column in the box score than Mateo. Doubles, triples, homers, steals, the whole nine. Mateo, 21, remains an excellent athlete with a true 80 tool (speed) and developing power — he set a career high with eight home runs last season after hitting one outside-the-park homer in 2015. The ongoing transition to center field means nothing for Prospect Watch purposes, though there is reason to believe Mateo will be playing with a big chip on his shoulder.

The Cast Against Mateo: There’s really no way to sugarcoat it: Mateo had a very disappointing 2016 season. He hit .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) with 36 steals in 51 attempts (71% success rate) in 507 plate appearances at High-A Tampa, and he was suspended two weeks for an undisclosed violation of team rules in July. Not great! The last thing we all want, aside from an injury, is to vote a prospect into the Prospect Watch and see him have a year like Mateo did in 2016.

OF Blake Rutherford (No. 4)

The Case For Rutherford: Rutherford, 19, was the Yankees’ first round pick last season, and he authored a .351/.415/.570 (171 wRC+) batting line with three homers and a 10.0% walk rate in 130 rookie ball plate appearances in his pro debut last year. He was a consensus top ten draft talent who slipped to the Yankees mostly for bonus reasons, and this spring the various scouting publications have ranked him as 38th best prospect in baseball, on average. Meet the Next Big Thing.

The Case Against Rutherford: I don’t think this will happen, but it is entirely possible the Yankees will hold Rutherford back in Extended Spring Training to start the season, which would mean the Prospect Watch sits unused for a few weeks, possibly until the short season leagues open in late-June. Again, I don’t think that will happen, but it is a possibility. Also, even if the Yankees do send Rutherford to Low-A Charleston, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the 19-year-old has some ups and down during his first full pro season.

LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 6)

The Case For Sheffield: Sheffield is the team’s best pitching prospect with no sort of injury history. The 20-year-old reached Double-A last season and he threw 134 total innings with a 3.36 ERA (3.61 FIP) in 2016. He also struck out 24.2% of the batters he faced, which is pretty darn good for a kid this age. Sheffield has good velocity despite being on the short side, plus both his slider and changeup are put-away pitches on their best days. It can be easy to forget how good Sheffield is given the depth of this farm system.

The Case Against Sheffield: Again, there’s the whole “pitchers break” thing that has to be considered. Sheffield hasn’t had any injury problems in his career thus far, but then again neither did Kaprielian until last year. Such is life. It’s also worth noting Sheffield walked 10.4% of the batters he faced last season, which is pretty high. The weird thing is he’s a great athlete who repeats his delivery well, so it’s hard to explain why he’s had problems throwing strikes.

SS Gleyber Torres (No. 1)

The Case For Torres: Torres, 20, is the best prospect in the farm system and one of the very best in baseball. Baseball Prospectus was the low site on him, ranking him 15th in their top 101 list, while the other three scouting publications (Baseball America, Keith Law, MLB.com) all had Torres among the top five prospects in the game. Gleyber hit .283/.368/.438 (128 wRC+) with 14 homers and 25 stolen bases last season, plus his walk (11.1%) and strikeout (19.3%) rates were strong for a teenager who spent the entire season in High-A. Torres has star caliber tools and his placement in the various top 100 lists tells you everyone expects big things.

The Case Against Torres: I’m having a tough time coming up with one, to be honest. There’s the obvious “being a 20-year-old in Double-A is hard” caveat, and I suppose we should keep in mind the Yankees figure to move Torres around the infield a bit, and all the position changing could drag down his offense. Hopefully not, but it is possible. Every prospect carries some level of risk. That’s the way it is. Gleyber is so insanely talented that he carries less risk than most.

* * *

I ranked Aaron Judge as the third best prospect in the farm system, but I’m leaving him out of the Prospect Watch poll because he’s expected to spend most of the season in the big leagues. We’re going to see him nearly every day. I originally started the Prospect Watch as a way to keep tabs on the guys in the minors, who we don’t get to see play.

Anyway, with all due respect to guys like Albert Abreu and Dustin Fowler and Dillon Tate, those are the eight players eligible for this year’s Prospect Watch. The poll is open right now and will remain open until 12pm ET this Friday, so you’ve got a little less than 48 hours to vote. I’ll reveal the winner Friday afternoon. Now … go vote!

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The Year Ahead in the Farm System [2017 Season Preview]

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

This is still a weird and awesome and completely true statement: the Yankees are loaded with exciting up-and-coming young talent. Last year’s trade deadline activity combined with breakouts from incumbent prospects give New York the game’s consensus No. 2 farm system behind the Braves. The 2016 draft helped too. That was cool.

The Yankees are, in their words, a team in transition. They’re trying to get younger while remaining competitive, which is both an excellent goal and difficult to do. Young players tend to come with growing pains. Even the most talented ones. Not everyone hits the ground running like Gary Sanchez. Usually they hit some bumps in the road, like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino.

The “remaining competitive” stuff is a topic for another time. This entry into our season preview series is dedicated to all the ladies out there the great farm system the Yankees have built. Let’s preview the upcoming season in the minors. Here is my top 30 prospects list, if you’ve somehow missed it.

Top Prospects Who Could Help In 2017

Depending on the scouting publication, the Yankees have anywhere between six (Keith Law) and nine (Baseball Prospectus) top 100 caliber prospects in the farm system. One of those players is Judge, who we previewed two weeks ago. As always, top 100 prospects are not all created equal. Some are much closer to the big leagues than others. The Yankees have a little of everything with their top 100 guys.

The best prospect in the farm system and one of the very best in all of baseball is, as you know, SS Gleyber Torres. He came over in last summer’s Aroldis Chapman trade and blew everyone away in Spring Training. Torres hit .448/.469/.931 with six doubles and two homers in 32 Grapefruit League plate appearances, which was enough for folks to want him to replace the injured Didi Gregorius. That won’t happen. The Yankees have already sent Gleyber to minor league camp and he’ll open the season in Double-A.

That said, I definitely believe the 20-year-old Torres has a chance to help the Yankees later this year, likely in the second half. Similar prospects have made their MLB debuts at age 20 after starting the season in Double-A. Some things will have to happen first — Torres has to hit, the Yankees have to need him, etc. — but there’s a chance Gleyber will force the issue at some point and make the team think about calling him up. Special talents have accelerated timetables.

OF Clint Frazier, who would be the No. 1 prospect for many other teams, is the No. 2 prospect in the farm system. He came over in the Andrew Miller trade. Frazier, 22, reached Triple-A last season and will return there to start this season. (He hit .308/.300/.487 in camp. I do love silly AVG > OBP lines.) Given his proximity to MLB, Frazier is much more likely to reach the show this season than Torres. The Yankees will have to make room for him somehow, but they’ll figure it out. Frazier is a potential impact bat and lineup cornerstone, and we’ll see him in the Bronx at some point this summer. I’m sure of it.

Among New York’s other top 100 prospects, the only other one I could see reaching the big leagues this season is RHP James Kaprielian, and that’s a long shot. Kaprielian is healthy after missing nearly the entire 2016 regular season with a flexor strain, though the Yankees are going to take it slow with him early in the season. He threw nothing but simulated games the first few weeks of Spring Training before finally getting into a Grapefruit League two weeks ago. Kaprielian threw two innings and was sent to minor league camp the same day.

What needs to happen for Kaprielian to reach MLB in 2017? He has to stay healthy, for starters. Secondly, he’s going to have to pitch well enough to climb from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A to MLB. Climbing three levels in one year isn’t easy, but it has been done before. Both Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain did it in 2007. And third, the Yankees have to believe Kaprielian is one of their best rotation options. They won’t call him up for the hell of it. There are 40-man and service time considerations in play.

My guess right now is no, Kaprielian will not make his MLB debut this season. Sorry to be a buzzkill. As long as he stays healthy, I expect Kaprielian to pitch very well — he should carve up High-A hitters — and reach Triple-A late in the season. We’ll then complain the Yankees aren’t calling him because he is clearly better than one of the starters the Yankees are running out there every five days, right? That’s usually how it goes.

Top Prospects Who Probably Won’t Help In 2017

Sheffield. (Presswire)
Sheffield. (Presswire)

The Yankees have three consensus top 100 prospects who are unlikely to play in the big leagues this year, at least not in a meaningful way. LHP Justus Sheffield, another part of the Miller trade, is a three-pitch southpaw with good velocity. He is still only 20 and is ticketed for Double-A. I expect him to spend just about the entire season there. He might make a late-season Triple-A cameo, but that’s about it. Besides being so young, Sheffield needs to improve his command before being an MLB option.

SS Jorge Mateo might soon be CF Jorge Mateo. The Yankees have been moving their shortstop prospects around — Torres has played second base and has worked out at third, for example — in an effort to increase their versatility. Mateo is a good defender at short, though center field would better allow him to use his elite speed on the defensive side of the ball. Either way, shortstop or center field, Mateo has to do more with the bat. He didn’t hit much last season and hitting coach Alan Cockrell is working with him to widen his stance this spring.

Now, that all said, I do think Mateo has a chance to make his MLB debut in 2017. He was added to the 40-man roster over the winter to avoid Rule 5 Draft exposure, which means the Yankees could turn to him as their annual September designated pinch-runner. They very much believe in that role — they picked up Eric Young Jr. and Rico Noel at midseason to fill that role the last two years — and Mateo is an 80 runner, so it’s hard to think they’ll drum up a better option at some point.

There are two things to keep in mind though. One, Mateo wasn’t a great basestealer last season — he went 36-for-51 (71%) in steal attempts in 2016 — and the Yankees are said to be working with him to improve his reads and things like that. And two, being in the big leagues is a privilege and something a player has to earn. If Mateo has another disappointing season, the Yankees could very well turn to another pinch-runner option rather than reward Mateo will a month in MLB. I think it’s possible we’ll see him as the September pinch-runner, but it’s far from certain.

The best top 100 caliber prospect in farm system we 100% will not see in the big leagues this coming season is OF Blake Rutherford, last year’s first round pick. Rutherford was a consensus top ten talent in the draft class — Keith Law (6th), MLB.com (8th), and Baseball America (9th) all ranked him highly among draft prospects — who slipped to the Yankees with the 18th pick for kinda dopey reasons. One, he turned 19 in May and was a few months older than most high school draftees. And two, he wanted a large bonus. Those seem like not great reasons to pass on him, but whatever.

Rutherford projects as a classic No. 3 hitter who can hit for average and power, and also draw a healthy amount of walks. His placement in the various top 100 lists tells you how highly he’s regarded. He didn’t just sneak onto the back of those lists. He was in the top half. At the same time, Rutherford will spent most of the season at age 20 and he’s going to start at Low-A. Not a big league option. A very talented prospect? Hell yes. But not a big league option in 2017. Not close.

Two consensus non-top 100 prospects who I consider among New York’s better prospects are RHP Albert Abreu and 3B Miguel Andujar. Abreu came over in the Brian McCann deal and he might have the highest upside of any pitcher in the farm system. He’s got mid-90s gas and both his slider and changeup look like out pitches on their best days. At the same time, Abreu is a 21-year-old with only 11.2 High-A innings under his belt. He’s going to spend the majority of this season at that level. An MLB call-up ain’t happening. Not this year.

Andujar is a personal fave and I feel like he gets lost in the depth of the farm system. His best tools are his raw power and throwing arm, and last year he started to make some real strides with his approach at the plate. Andujar wasn’t a big time hacker or anything, but he makes easy contact and had a tendency to swing at anything in the zone. He did a better job recognizing which pitches he could hammer and which he should let go last year. I’m expecting big things in 2017. A September call-up isn’t out of the question because Andujar is on the 40-man roster, though I would be surprised if helped the Yankees in a more substantial way this summer.

The Secondary Prospects Likely To Help In 2017

Montgomery. (Presswire)
Montgomery. (Presswire)

The depth of the farm system is on display when you look at the second and third tier prospects who figure to help the Yankees in 2017. LHP Jordan Montgomery has already put himself in the mix for an Opening Day roster spot with a strong spring. SS Tyler Wade added the outfield to his skill set in the Arizona Fall League and he’s now being considered as Gregorius’ replacement at short. I’m not sure that’ll happen, but the fact he’s being considered shows the Yankees think he’s at least close to MLB.

OF Dustin Fowler and RHP Chance Adams are both slated to open the season in Triple-A — Wade and Montgomery will be there as well if they don’t make the Opening Day roster — and are coming off very strong 2016 seasons. Breakout seasons, really. (Definitely in Adams’ case.) The odds of the Yankees needing a pitcher are much greater than the odds of them needing an outfielder for obvious reasons — besides, Frazier and OF Mason Williams figure to be ahead of Fowler on the call-up depth chart — but the fact these two are starting in Triple-A makes them big league possibilities. Once you get to that level, everyone is a call-up candidate.

Other prospects we could see in the Bronx this year include Williams, C Kyle Higashioka, RHP Ben Heller, RHP Jonathan Holder, LHP Dietrich Enns, RHP Ronald Herrera, RHP Gio Gallegos, and RHP J.P. Feyereisen. All except Feyereisen are on the 40-man roster. Heller is the best bullpen prospect in the farm system in my opinion, though Holder, Enns, and Gallegos all have great minor league numbers. Those dudes will all be part of the bullpen shuttle this summer. No doubt about it. Higashioka will, at worst, be a September call-up. He’s the third catcher.

Breakout Candidates

Abreu has already been mentioned and he’s the biggest breakout candidate in the farm system, I think, at least among pitchers. He’s already got four pitches — well, the makings of four pitches, I should say — and is in need of more refinement than anything. Better command, get more consistently with the delivery, things like that. Abreu doesn’t have to learn a changeup or anything like that. The pieces are there for him to become no-doubt top 100 prospect next spring.

On the position player side, 3B Dermis Garcia is a dude I’m very excited to follow this summer. He has 80 raw power on the 20-80 scouting scale — 80 raw power and 80 game power are different things! — and is a better pure hitter than his .206/.326/.454 (114 wRC+) batting line and 34.3% strikeout rate with rookie Pulaski last year would lead you believe. Garcia turned only 19 in January and it’s looking like he’ll spend the season at Low-A. Some progress with his approach, meaning not swinging out of his shoes each time he deems a pitch hittable, could turn Dermis into a top 100 guy. That’s a lot to ask, but the talent is there.

Other recent international signees like SS Hoy Jun Park, RHP Domingo Acevedo, SS Wilkerman Garcia, SS Diego Castillo, OF Leonardo Molina, and especially OF Estevan Florial are potential breakout candidates this year. Acevedo needs to continue to improve his breaking ball if he wants to remain in the rotation long-term. Florial has outrageous tools. His power, speed, and throwing arm all rate near the top of he scale. He just needs to tone down his ultra aggressive approach. Florial can swing-and-miss with the best of ’em.

It’s odd to consider a former fourth overall pick a breakout candidate, but RHP Dillon Tate qualifies. He came over from the Rangers in the Carlos Beltran trade after Texas soured on him. Tate, who was drafted in 2015, hurt his hamstring early last season and had difficulty adjusting to some mechanical changes the Rangers asked him to incorporate. The Yankees told him to forget about that and go back to his old mechanics, and by time the AzFL rolled around, his fastball was averaging 98.0 mph and topping out at 99.6 mph, per PitchFX. Yeah.

Of course, that 98.0 mph average heater came in a short burst and no one expects him to sit there as a starter. The Yankees will return Tate to the rotation this year — he worked multi-inning stints out of the bullpen after the trade last year so they could work on his mechanics — though it should be noted that even at his best, there was some thought Tate would wind up in the bullpen long-term because his fastball is straight and his changeup is still a work in progress. Point is, the Yankees bought low on Tate and are working to get him back to his fourth overall pick form, and he looked better in the AzFL than he did at any point with the Rangers before the trade.

If you’re looking for an Adams caliber breakout candidate, that reliever-turned-starter prospect, don’t. Seriously. What Adams did last year was best case scenario stuff. Hard to expect that again, though I’d happily welcome it. The best reliever-turned-starter prospect candidate in the system is Tate, though that’s not a true reliever-to-starter conversion. In that case, RHP Taylor Widener is the best bet. He was the team’s 12th round pick in last year’s draft.

Widener is the latest in a string of Yankees prospects to gain velocity in pro ball — Kaprielian, Montgomery, and Adams all did that — and he has a good slider, albeit an inconsistent one. His changeup has been a point of emphasis since the draft. I’m not sure Widener can make the transition to the rotation as seamlessly as Adams, though then again I never thought Adams would take to the role as easily as he did. Widener is more of a sleeper than a true breakout prospect.

Bounceback Candidates

McKinney. (Presswire)
McKinney. (Presswire)

Last year was a great year for the farm system, though it wasn’t perfect. A few players had disappointing seasons, most notably Mateo. The Yankees are hoping he bounces back in a big way this summer. Kaprielian too following the elbow injury. Tate is another bounceback candidate. Can a player be a bounceback candidate and a breakout candidate in the same season? I guess so. Garcia (Wilkerman, not Dermis) is a bounceback candidate despite being 18. He was great in 2015 and looked like a potential top 100 guy. He then battled through a shoulder issue and had a poor statistical season in 2016.

Aside from Mateo, I think the biggest bounceback candidate in the farm system on the position player side is OF Billy McKinney, who put together an impressive Grapefruit League showing (.417/.517/.917 with four walks and one strikeout in 29 plate appearances) before being reassigned to minor league camp. McKinney came over in the Chapman trade and was better with the Yankees than the Cubs, though his overall 2016 season was underwhelming. The former first rounder hit .256/.349/.363 (107 wRC+) at Double-A. Meh.

The spring performance was nice, though that’s not the reason McKinney is a bounceback candidate. He hit .300/.371/.454 (135 wRC+) between High-A and Double-A two years ago, and was ranked as a top 100 prospect prior to both 2015 (Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus) and 2016 (MLB.com, Keith Law, BP). McKinney’s 2015 season ended early because he fouled a pitch into his knee and suffered a hairline fracture, and there’s some belief it took him longer to get over the injury than expected, hence last year’s performance. With his sweet lefty swing and innate hitting ability, a healthy McKinney could regain significant prospect stock in 2017.

LHP Ian Clarkin was not bad by any means last season — he threw 98 innings with a 3.31 ERA (3.26 FIP) in High-A — though he finished the season hurt (knee) after missing the entire 2015 regular season (elbow). Reports on his stuff were mixed last season, so the Yankees haven’t really seen the supplemental first round pick version of Clarkin since 2014. This isn’t a make or break year for Clarkin (he just turned 22!) though the Yankees very much want him to stay healthy and regain his former top prospect status in 2017.

Prospects I Am Irrationally Excited About

I was originally planning to call this section sleepers or something, but I figured I might as well be straightforward about it. I’ve been waxing poetic about IF Thairo Estrada for two years now, and the just turned 21-year-old could reach Double-A in the second half of the season. RHP Zack Littell is kind of the anti-Yankees pitching prospect. He’s not physically huge with a big fastball. He’s a pitchability guy with three pitches who puts in an insane amount of work studying opposing hitters.

The Yankees are short on catching prospects at the moment — I still expect C Luis Torrens to be returned from the Padres as a Rule 5 Draft pick at some point soon — and their best backstop prospect is C Donny Sands, a converted third baseman. He’s a great bat-to-ball hitter with some power potential. Sands is still new to catching and is rough around the edges, but he’s attacked the transition and has already made some big strides defensively. He should be a top 30 organizational prospect at this time next year. (Some say he is right now.)

IF Oswaldo Cabrera had a ridiculous statistical season last summer — he hit .345/.396/.523 (163 wRC+) in 52 rookie ball games as a 17-year-old — and comes with interesting offensive upside. It seems likely he’s destined for second base rather than shortstop though. That’s okay. OF Rashad Crawford was the fourth piece in the Chapman trade and he’s loaded with tools and athletic ability, and is just now starting to figure out how to translate those tools into baseball skills. OF Isiah Gilliam is a switch-hitter with pop from both sides of the plate. He quietly finished fourth in the rookie Appalachian League with ten homers as a 19-year-old in 2016.

On the mound, I’m really looking forward to a full, healthy season of RHP Domingo German. He’s kind of a forgotten prospect given the Tommy John surgery. German is basically an older, shorter version of Acevedo in that he’s a righty with a big fastball and a very good changeup. Unlike Acevedo, German is on the 40-man roster. The Yankees will have him work as a starter this season, though I think we might see him pitch out of the big league bullpen at some point, likely as a September call-up. German can still bring it.

LHP Daniel Camarena has long been a personal favorite, and he bounced back well from elbow surgery last season. Because he’s left-handed and breathing, and also likely to open the season in Triple-A, he has to be considered a potential call-up candidate. RHP Jorge Guzman came over in the McCann trade and will live in the 98-100 mph range as a starter. He’ll be a Big Deal in a few months. RHP Drew Finley and RHP Nolan Martinez are lower level pitchability guys I am excited about. Also, RHP Nick Nelson. The post-draft scouting reports last year were almost too good to be true. Plus fastball, plus curveball, potentially plus command? Sign me up.

Will They Trade Any Of These Guys?

Yeah, probably. The question is who and for what? The Yankees have a lot of quality prospects coming up on Rule 5 Draft eligibility after the season. A lot. They can either try to keep everyone by adding the guys they really like to the 40-man roster and hoping everyone else gets passed over in the Rule 5 Draft, or trade a few of them to ensure some kind of return. You don’t want to lose someone like, say, Estrada or Littell for nothing more than the $100,000 Rule 5 Draft fee.

Aside from the Rule 5 Draft concerns, I have to imagine the Yankees are at least tempted to dip into their prospect base to land a pitcher with long-term control. They could really use one of those. Jose Quintana is the big name right now, though who knows who will be available at the trade deadline? Maybe the Phillies will put Jerad Eickoff or Vince Velasquez on the market, or the Diamondbacks will float Robbie Ray and Archie Bradley in trade talks. I get the Yankees want to build from within, but they’d be foolish to not consider available trades.

Either way, the Yankees figure to do some farm system shuffling this year. Not necessarily blockbuster trades, but asset management. Last year the Yankees traded Ben Gamel and James Pazos, two fringe big league players, for lower level prospects to make the 40-man situation a little better. I think we’ll see some deals like that this year, perhaps involving Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects not yet on the 40-man. Trades are coming. They’re inevitable. And given the depth of the farm system, I don’t think we can rule out a blockbuster, however unlikely it may seem right now.

Where Does The System Go From Here?

I believe the likelihood of the following two statements being true in eight months is quite high:

  1. The Yankees will have a worse farm system than they do right now.
  2. The Yankees will still have one of the game’s best farm systems.

As it stands, the Yankees are likely to graduate two of my top 30 prospects to the big leagues (Judge, Chad Green) and potentially a handful of others as well (Frazier, Wade, Montgomery,  Williams, Tyler Austin). Inevitably a few pitchers will get hurt and other players will stall out. That’s baseball and that’s why you want as many prospects as possible. It’s hard to see how, after this season, the farm system can be even better than it right now.

That said, the chances New York will still have one of the game’s better farm systems are pretty darn good. They’ll still have Torres and Rutherford (and Sheffield and Mateo), hopefully a healthy Kaprielian, plus whoever the 2017 draft brings in. Others like Andujar, Adams, and Acevedo all have the potential to be top 100 caliber prospects. Unless the Yankees gut the system to make some trades or they experience a catastrophically bad season in the minors, the club will still be loaded with prospects year from now.

The farm system right now is the focal point of the organization. We’re used to looking at a star-laden big league roster around these parts, and while the Yankees figure to be an entertaining team this season (if nothing else), everyone is talking about the farm system. Even the Yankees themselves. Their Winter Warm-Up event was built around prospects and the commercials feature kids, not veterans. This is a new era for the Yankees and that’s pretty exciting.

Denbo confirms Jorge Mateo will begin playing center field this season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Jorge Mateo, the No. 7 prospect in the farm system, will begin playing center field a few days a week this coming season, farm system head Gary Denbo told Brendan Kuty. He’ll also see time at shortstop, his natural position, as well as second base, another position he’s played in the past. Center field is brand new though.

Denbo also confirmed Mateo will begin the regular season back at High-A Tampa, which doesn’t surprise me. He hit .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) there last season, including .210/.255/.283 (56 wRC+) from June 1st through the end of the season. Yuck. The Yankees have held guys back for less. Here’s more from Denbo, via Kuty:

“We feel like he still has adjustments to make offensively that we would like for him to start in the Florida State League this year and get off to a good start and see what happens, whether he’s able to make it to the next level or higher,” Denbo said. “But from all indications that we’ve got this spring, he’s already in the process of making those adjustments.”

“We don’t take a lot of stock in Spring Training statistics. But what we do put stock in is when we see a player come back in better shape, bigger, stronger, his mindset is better, he’s working harder and he’s making adjustments offensively. The statistics don’t always bear out how successful you are in Spring Training,” Denbo said.

The center field move has been in the works for a while now. The Yankees had Mateo work out in center during Instructional League last fall as well as in Spring Training, though he’s yet to play an actual game out there. Right now he’s limited to taking fly balls and whatever else they do. Mateo is a good defensive shortstop, but with his speed, he might be a top of the line defensive center fielder.

I’m more interested in the offensive adjustments Denbo is talking about than the center field stuff. Mateo’s position isn’t going to matter much unless he starts bringing more to the table offensively. His biggest issue is a lack of plate discipline, which leads to a lot of chasing out of the zone and soft contact. Mateo’s fast, but he’s not going to make a career out of swinging at bad pitches and beating out infield singles.

The good news is the offensive ability is in there. Mateo is a freak athlete who showed more power last season than ever before — he went from two homers in 2015, one of which was an inside-the-parker, to eight homers in 2016 — plus his .278/.345/.392 (114 wRC+) line as a 20-year-old in Low-A and High-A in 2015 is pretty impressive. Mateo is not lacking physical ability. Not at all. He just needs to refine his game a bit.

This is a what have you done for me lately world, and when you have a poor season and get suspended like Mateo did last year, folks are going to be down on you. That’s the way it goes. It’s important to remember this is a 21-year-old kid though. A 21-year-old kid with an 80 tool (speed) and the athleticism to be a two-way threat regardless of whether he’s at shortstop or center field. With any luck, Mateo will learn from last season and break out this year.

Saturday Links: Wade, Best Tools, Farm System Rankings

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Welp, it appears this afternoon’s game will not be televised. It was on the original YES Network broadcast schedule and it’s still listed on today’s MLB.tv schedule as of this writing, but it’s been removed from the updated YES schedule and they’re advertising a 2pm ET NYCFC game on Twitter. Womp womp. If the game is on YES or MLB.tv or whatever, use this as a game thread (here’s the lineup). Otherwise here are some links to check out.

Yankees making Wade a super utility player

As suspected, the Yankees are indeed trying to turn Tyler Wade into a super utility player. Their Ben Zobrist, basically. Farm system head Gary Denbo told Brendan Kuty they approached Wade with the idea last August, and he was all for it. “Does it get me to the big leagues? … Then sign me up,” Wade told Denbo at the time. Here’s what Joe Girardi had to say:

“(Wade) gives you a ton of options. He loves it. And that’s why I think he’s done so well with it. He loves the idea. You think about it, you have your everyday players, but realistically does it hurt to give him a day off a week? No. So if you’ve got a guy who can play six positions, he could actually play five or six days a week.”

Wade told Kuty being a super utility guy is “a good thing for me, a good thing for the team.” He got his first taste of the outfield in the Arizona Fall League, and this spring he’s already played second, short, third, left, and center. (He played right in the AzFL.) I had a feeling the Yankees were going to try to turn one of their shortstop prospects into a 400-500 plate appearance supersub, and Wade is a good candidate given his athleticism.

Yankees prospects among best tools lists

Over at Baseball America (subs. req’d), J.J. Cooper polled scouts and executives about the best individual tools in the minor leagues. The best tools among legitimate prospects, that is. They didn’t worry about the light hitting journeyman outfielder with an 80 arm. Several Yankees prospects appeared on the lists. A quick recap:

  • Best Athlete: SS Jorge Mateo (fourth)
  • Best Power Hitter: OF Aaron Judge (fourth)
  • Fastest Baserunner: SS Jorge Mateo (fourth)
  • Best Fastball: RHP Domingo Acevedo (eighth)
  • Best Defensive Infielder: SS Kyle Holder (seventh)

Again, these rankings cover the entire minor leagues, so they’re saying Mateo is the fourth best athlete and baserunner among the hundreds of prospects in the minors. Baseball America puts together league specific best tools lists each year as well, and the Yankees will be heavily featured when those are released.

MiLB.com ranks Yankees system second in baseball

These last few weeks every major scouting publication said the Yankees have the second best farm system in baseball, behind the Braves. Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, and MLB.com all agree. The crew at MiLB.com takes their farm system lists a step further and ranks teams based on different criteria. Here’s where the Yankees rank:

The Yankees are heavy on position player prospects at the moment — the top four and seven of the top ten prospects on my top 30 list are position players — but there’s no shame in ranking 13th among pitchers. Not when you have guys like RHP James Kaprielian and LHP Justus Sheffield in the system.

Besides, I am totally cool with a position player heavy farm system. Pitchers are very risky. You need them, but they get hurt often and it’s hard to build around young arms long-term. Give me a lineup loaded with high-end young position players and I’ll figure out the pitching as we go. Offense is becoming harder find these days because of all the velocity and shifts and whatnot. Focusing on a great offense is the way to go in my books.

Gleyber Torres could help the Yankees in 2017, but a few things need to happen first

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

All things considered, this has been one of the most exciting Spring Trainings I can remember. The Yankees are winning and leading the league in home runs, and that’s always fun even if we are talking about meaningless Grapefruit League games. Most of the young prospects are thriving too. Seriously, we haven’t seen anyone looked overmatched this month. It’s been fun.

Gleyber Torres, the just turned 20-year-old wunderkind who came over in the Aroldis Chapman trade, has authored a .478/.480/1.043 batting line with five doubles, one triple, and two home runs in 25 Grapefruit League plate appearances this far. Both home runs were hit to the opposite field, and the first was pretty ridiculous. Torres reached out and poked a two-strike fastball off the plate from actual big leaguer Justin Wilson into the right field stands:

Impressive. Gleyber’s physical gifts are obvious and he looks like a big leaguer given his quiet confidence and the way he carries himself. Sometimes when you see a young kid in big league camp for the first time, he’s got that deer in the headlights look. Not Torres. He’s good and he knows it. He carried himself like he belongs because guess what? He does. Fewer minor leaguers offer as much promise.

“He’s mature for his age,” said Joe Girardi to Dan Martin earlier this week. “He puts good at-bats up one after another. And he uses the whole field. He’s a good-looking young hitter … I don’t think he’s fazed by the situation. He’s just here to play. He’s definitely showing people what he can do.”

At some point fairly soon, the Yankees will send Torres to minor league camp and he’ll begin the season with Double-A Trenton. Gleyber was the youngest player in the Low-A Midwest League on Opening Day 2015 and he was the second youngest player in the High-A Carolina League on Opening Day 2016. When Opening Day 2017 rolls around, he’ll be one of the two or three youngest players in the Double-A Eastern League as well.

As I noted a few weeks ago, prospects similar to Torres tend to shoot up the minor league ladder. Both Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts started their age 20 season in Double-A and ended it in the big leagues. Addison Russell and Javier Baez were in the big leagues very early in their age 21 season after starting the previous season at Double-A. It’s hard to hold down an insanely talented young player like this. They force the issue.

Is it possible for Torres to reach the big leagues and help the Yankees in 2017? Yes, I think it is, and I tend to err on the side of “be patient with the kids.” Special talents comes with special timetables. A few things need to happen before Gleyber can help the Yankees this coming season, of course.

1. Torres has to perform. Duh. Torres is not going to put himself in position to get called up by going out and hitting .250/.320/.375 at Double-A for two months. He’ll be facing the best minor league pitching he’s ever faced, and he’ll spend the first few months playing in the cold. Torres has played in cold weather before — the Cubs’ Low-A affiliate plays in South Bend, so yeah — but it doesn’t mean it won’t be a challenge in 2017. Bottom line, this is the single most important piece of the puzzle. Gleyber has to make the Yankees want to call him up with his performance.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

2. Torres will have to learn second base, and possibly third too. It’s difficult to see how Gleyber could unseat Didi Gregorius at shortstop, especially right now, this year. Injuries happen, they always do, but in a perfect world everyone is healthy. The Yankees had Torres play some second base last year and in the Arizona Fall League, and again this spring, and he’ll have to continue to learn the position in the minors this year. This isn’t rocket science. The more positions he can play, the easier it’ll be for the Yankees to get Torres into the lineup.

3. The Yankees must have an opening. This is important, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a full-time opening either. The Yankees just need to have a plan for Gleyber when they do call him up, and that plan could be four starts a week instead of six. Remember, when they called up Greg Bird in 2015, the plan was to spell Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez a few times a week. That’s it. Teixeira’s injury forced Bird into regular playing time.

Now that I think about it, Gleyber’s path to MLB could resemble Bird’s pretty closely. Bird went to the Arizona Fall League in 2014 and was named MVP. He started 2015 in Double-A, earned a midseason promotion to Triple-A, then a few weeks later he was in the big leagues to lighten the load on Teixeira and A-Rod. Torres was named AzFL MVP last fall and he’s going to start this season in Double-A. A midseason promotion to Triple-A and a bump to MLB a few weeks later could be in the cards as well.

The Yankees could call Torres up with the intention of letting him spell Gregorius at short and Starlin Castro at second, and maybe even Chase Headley at third, though to this point Gleyber has not manned the hot corner in game. (He recently started working out there though.) There’s also the designated hitter spot as well. It sure seems like there’s a path to playing Torres four or five times a week at second (and third?) base, shortstop, and designated hitter in the second half of the season.

“I don’t really think about (making it to MLB),” said Torres to Martin. “I’m taking it a day at a time, trying to enjoy the moment. This is my first (big league) Spring Training. It’s a lot of fun, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself … This is the first time I’ve faced big league pitching. I’m surprised. I’m happy to be having really good results.”

I suppose the big variable in all this is the team’s performance. If the Yankees are a surprise contender, they might stick with what’s working for them. It’s not like Gregorius and Castro are older players who need regular rest, a la Teixeira and Rodriguez in 2015. But if the Yankees are out of it, or not close enough to the race to be a real threat, they could opt to bring Torres up to get his feet wet. That’s what they did with Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin last year.

For now, let’s remember Torres turned 20 three months ago and he’s yet to play above High Class-A. He’s having a marvelous Spring Training, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Gleyber has a chance to help the Yankees this season because he’s an extremely talented player with the skills to take his game to another level this summer. There are a few conditions that will have to be satisfied before the Yankees call Torres up, but it’s not out of the question that he could make his MLB debut in 2017.

Wednesday Notes: Astros, Nats, Quintana, Prospects, A-Rod

Musgrove. (Presswire)
Musgrove. (Presswire)

The Yankees return to television tonight with a home game against the Phillies, thankfully. We haven’t seen them play since Saturday. Tonight’s game will start at 6:35pm ET and we’ll have a regular game thread at that time. Here are some bits of news to check out in the meantime.

Yankees scouted Astros, Nationals

According to Brendan Kuty, the Yankees had scout (Matt Daley!) in Port St. Lucie over the weekend when the Astros and Nationals visited the Mets. Righty Joe Musgrove started for Houston on Friday while righty Erick Fedde was on the mound for Washington on Saturday. Both pitchers allowed one hit and one walk in three scoreless innings in their outings. Musgrove struck out four. Fedde fanned one.

The Yankees have been connected to both Musgrove and Fedde over the last year or so, but only through speculation. Not hard “they want this guy” rumors. Musgrove was mentioned as a possible target during Brian McCann trade talks (I even wrote a Scouting The Market post) while Fedde’s name came up as a potential piece in an Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman trade at least year’s deadline. Obviously neither deal came to fruition.

We could connect some serious dots here. The Astros are said to want another high-end starting pitcher, and with Masahiro Tanaka‘s opt-out looming, could the Yankees move him? The Nationals don’t have a closer right now and gosh, Dellin Betances sure makes sense for them, no? That said, teams scout either other all the time, and this could be nothing. Still, with the Yankees perpetually seeking young controllable pitching, this report sure is interesting.

Nothing happening with Quintana

According to Jack Curry (video link), the Yankees have “nothing simmering, nothing very hot going on right now” with regards to trade talks with the White Sox about Jose Quintana. Quintana is very much available and last week we heard the White Sox have been scouting the Yankees this spring. See? Teams scout each other all the time. Anyway, point is there’s nothing imminent here, which isn’t surprising.

Quintana started against Team USA in the World Baseball Classic last week and was masterful, taking a no-hitter into the sixth before allowing a two-out single and hitting his pitch count. (The bullpen then blew it.) That said, Quintana’s stock didn’t go up or anything. Teams know he’s good. The only way one game can change a veteran pitcher’s trade stock is if he gets hurt. My guess is the White Sox will ramp up their efforts to trade Quintana pretty soon, before he goes all Tyson Ross on them or something.

FanGraphs releases top Yankees prospects, top 100 prospects lists

Over at FanGraphs, Eric Longenhagen recently released his top 33 Yankees prospects list as well as his top 100 prospects list for all of baseball. White Sox IF Yoan Moncada claims the top spot on the top 100. Here are the eight Yankees in the top 100:

7. SS Gleyber Torres
34. OF Clint Frazier
40. OF Blake Rutherford
53. RHP James Kaprielian
61. OF Aaron Judge
87. OF Dustin Fowler
91. SS Jorge Mateo
97. LHP Justus Sheffield

This is the only top 100 list Fowler has made this year. Interesting. As for the top 33 Yankees prospects list, gosh, it’s massive. I still haven’t finished reading the entire thing. I’m doing it bit by bit. The write-up covers 68 players total. 68!

“Fawning over the system’s obvious talent ignores its most fascinating aspect: the bizarre collection of pop-up arms. New York appears to be in possession of a player-development machine that has conjured several interesting pitching prospects seemingly out of thin air,” says the write-up, referring to guys like Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, and Chad Green, all of whom came to the Yankees as okay prospects and have since seen their stock rise considerably. Now hopefully some of these guys will turn into productive big leaguers.

Man of the people. (Chicago Tribune)
Man of the people. (Chicago Tribune)

A-Rod joins FOX full-time

Alex Rodriguez is officially a full-time broadcaster. Last week FOX announced A-Rod has joined the network and will “serve as a game analyst for select FOX MLB SATURDAY telecasts as well as feature reporter for FOX’s MLB pregame coverage and FS1 studio show MLB WHIPAROUND,” according to the press release. It doesn’t sound like he will be in the broadcast booth, does it? Sounds like a studio gig.

FOX owns a big chunk of the YES Network following the News Corp. deal a few years back, though it doesn’t sound like there will be any crossover work here. A-Rod will be on FOX and FOX Sports 1. Not YES. Lame. I assume Alex will continue his special advisor duties with the Yankees in the meantime. His agreement with the club called for him to remain in that role through the end of this year. Either way, A-Rod was really good on television the last two postseasons, and it was only a matter of time until some network scooped him up.

MLB approves wearable biometric device

For the first time MLB has approved a wearable on-field biometric device for players, reports Darren Rovell. The device, which is made by a company called WHOOP, is meant to be worn all day and night, and will record data on sleep, heart rate, recovery, strain, etc. It is not a mandated piece of equipment and teams can’t force their players to wear the WHOOP device. It is the player’s decision given the private data involved.

Clubs have been studying pitcher deliveries using biometrics for years now, though the WHOOP device extends beyond that. Teams are focusing more and more on rest and recovery, because nowadays having the most talent isn’t enough. You need the most talented players performing at their best as often as possible. Rest and recovery are part of that. The Yankees start their Spring Training workouts later in the morning to give players time to sleep in, plus they’ve looked for ways to improve travel in recent years too. I wonder how many players will wear the WHOOP device. It seems like the data could be really useful.

Plate discipline is Dustin Fowler’s biggest weakness, and he’s working on it this spring

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ever since last year’s trade deadline, nearly every conversation about the Yankees has focused on their farm system. It’s unquestionably one of the best in baseball, and we’ve seen much of that young talent this spring. The big names like Gleyber Torres and Aaron Judge have been excellent. Others like Billy McKinney have opened eyes too. It’s been a fun spring so far.

Outfielder Dustin Fowler has also been a standout this spring, going 7-for-23 (.304) with two triples and two steals. He’s also played a very nice center field aside from one hilarious miscue two weeks ago — the ball deflected off his glove and bonked Clint Frazier in the head — which had more to do with a lack of communication than some sort of skill deficiency. The young talent has been exciting in Spring Training and Fowler is one of the guys making it happen.

“He’s swung the bat well, he’s played good defense, he’s run the bases well,” said Joe Girardi to Bryan Hoch. “You kind of see a young man growing up in front of you. He had a tremendous year last year, for the age that he was in Double-A. That’s not always the easiest place to hit, the first couple months of the year, with the weather. It’s not really a hitter’s ballpark. He’s made some big, big strides.”

Fowler, who turned 22 in December, would receive more attention in a farm system not quite as deep as New York’s. The Yankees have a ton of prospects and it’s easy to overlook players as a result. Fowler was a three-sport guy in high school (baseball, football, wrestling) and he’s really blossomed since being the club’s 18th round pick in 2013. His ability is breaking through now that he is focusing on baseball full-time. And he’s had some help, of course.

“(Double-A Trenton hitting coach P.J. Pilittere) really changed my career from a hitting aspect,” said Fowler to Mike Mazzeo. “I was always a guy with my hands above my head, so he shortened me up, which allowed me to put the barrel on the ball more. Last year, my power numbers went up and my average went up a bit, so he’s helped me out getting shorter and making contact more.”

There is, however, one glaring deficiency in Fowler’s game. I mean, it’s tough to knock a left-handed batter who can get the bat on the ball (15.0 K% in Double-A in 2016), has some pop (.177 ISO), can run (25 steals), and can play above-average center field defense. But, in Fowler’s case, he just doesn’t walk. He had a 3.8% walk rate in a full season at Double-A last year, and in his career, it’s a 4.4% walk rate in nearly 1,500 plate appearances.

Minor league walk rates are fickle and not very predictive — there are so many pitchers in the minors who have no idea where the ball is going, plus most talented hitters drive something in the zone before taking four balls — but in Fowler’s case, the walk rate is emblematic of his approach. He’s a free swinger. Not a wild hacker who swings and misses a lot, but someone who swings at anything he can reach and puts it in play. From MLB.com’s scouting report:

Fowler makes repeated hard contact with a short, quick left-handed stroke. His bat speed, strength and plus speed give him 20-20 upside, though he’s still learning to be an efficient basestealer. To reach his offensive ceiling, he’ll need to get more selective at the plate because he walks infrequently and puts too many early-count pitches in play rather than waiting for one to drive.

The lack of walks and plate discipline hurts Fowler in two ways. One, it drags his OBP down. Duh. The guy hit .281 with a .311 OBP last year. It’s .279 and .313 for his career. Yeesh. Nice AVG, yucky OBP. And two, Fowler doesn’t get himself into as many hitter’s counts as you’d like. It’s possible he’d show even more pop with a few more 2-0 and 3-1 counts. Fortunately, Fowler recognizes this and is working on his plate discipline this this year.

“Get the walk rate up little bit, trying to figure out the zone a little bit better,” said Fowler to George King and Ken Davidoff when asked what he’s working on this spring. “It’s going to help me in the long run. It will help everything. Strikeout rate will be better, squared-up contact will be better … I’ve always been an aggressive hitter. Just picking pitches that are in the zone that (I should) probably take, get to the next pitch, get a little deeper.”

So far this spring Fowler has drawn three walks in 26 plate appearances. Yay? I guess. I wouldn’t read much into that. Unfortunately there is no PitchFX data for the Grapefruit League nor is there reliable swing rate data for Double-A, so we can’t look at Fowler’s approach more in-depth. It’s entirely possible he is showing more patience this spring and getting himself into better hitter’s counts — Fowler is hitting .304/.385/.478 in those 26 plate appearances, after all — but we need more information.

Fortunately, there is some evidence a player Fowler’s age (22) will see his walk rate improve as he gets into his mid-to-late-20s. Is it guaranteed to happen? Of course not. Being a free-swinger is in your DNA and it’s a difficult thing to change. It’s not impossible though. Here is a walk rate aging curve via Jeff Zimmerman:

bb-aging-curve

Keep in mind that aging curve is from 2014, so it could use an update. Point is, plate discipline is clearly something Fowler can improve, and it’s the kind of skill that could allow him to make the jump from good prospect to great prospect. The ability to drive the ball is there, as is the speed and defense, which makes for an exciting package of tools. Only plate discipline is lacking.

“(Baseball is) something I always loved and something I was really talented at … I believe in my abilities,” added Fowler while talking to Mazzeo. “I don’t really get into the hype and everything. I try to stay away from that as much as possible, but I believe in my abilities and I do everything I can on and off the field to help my career. Hopefully I can keep it going, stay healthy and get better and better.”

The Yankees, even with Jacoby Ellsbury under contract for all eternity (through 2020, to be exact), are going to need a new full-time center fielder fairly soon. Ellsbury will turn 34 this summer and not too many players that age man center full-time. Perhaps he’ll be an exception. If not, Fowler is the obvious candidate to get the first crack at being the new full-time center fielder given his career to date, and the fact he’ll begin 2017 in Triple-A. He’s on the cusp of the show.

The raw tools are there for Fowler to be an impact two-way player. He makes contact and will surprise you with his power, plus he can cover center field gap to gap. His ability to improve his plate discipline could very well determine whether he’s a nice bottom of the order player, or someone who could legitimately hit first or second for a contending team, and Fowler seems to be aware of that. Working the count and refining his approach seems to be a priority for him this year.