Saturday Links: Gardner, Rule Changes, Farm System Rankings

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees continue the Grapefruit League season this afternoon on the road against the Tigers. Michael Pineda is making his first start of the spring. Unfortunately, the game will not be televised anywhere. Not on YES, not on FOX Sports Detroit, not on MLB Network, not online, nowhere. Sucks. Instead of a game, I offer you some links for the weekend.

Yankees had chances to salary dump Gardner

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees had trade offers for Brett Gardner this past offseason that involved no money changing hands. They could have sent Gardner and the $25M left on his contract elsewhere. Of course, chances are these offers were essentially salary dumps, meaning the Yankees wouldn’t have received much of anything in return. Gardner isn’t a star or anything, but giving him away as a salary dump would be kinda silly.

My guess is the Yankees will eventually trade Gardner, the longest tenured player on the big league roster and the longest tenured player in the organization, at some point in the next 12 months. And maybe that trade will be a pure salary dump. Who knows. Maybe the Yankees will eat some money to get actual prospects in return, a la Brian McCann. Gardner’s contract isn’t onerous and he’s the team’s best on-base player. I can’t blame the Yankees for not giving him away in a salary dump.

MLB implements new rule changes

Earlier this week MLB and the MLBPA announced a series of rule changes for the 2017 season. None of the changes figure to have a dramatic impact on the game. They didn’t raise the bottom of the strike zone or anything like that. Here’s the full press release and here are the highlights:

  • Intentional walks are now automatic. The manager gives a signal from the dugout and the batter is sent right to first base.
  • Managers have 30 seconds to ask for a replay review. Also, the review crew in New York has a “conditional two-minute guideline” to made their replay decision.
  • Carter Capps’ delivery is now illegal. Pitchers may not take a “second step towards home plate with either foot.”

The automatic intentional walk rule is whatever. I don’t like it but it’s not the end of the world either. The two-minute guideline for replay reviews does sound pretty great even though it’s not a hard limit, just a guideline. Some of those reviews take a long time. Waiting out a replay is easily my least favorite part of baseball these days.

As for Capps, both he and Padres manager Andy Green told A.J. Cassavell they believe his delivery is still legal, but we’ll see. Read the press release. The rule change reads as if it was written specifically for Capps (and Jordan Walden). All of these rule changes take effect right away, so they’re in place for the 2017 season.

(Future trivia answer: The last Yankee to receive a traditional four-pitch intentional walk was Mark Teixeira. Drew Smyly intentionally walked him in the sixth inning on September 20th of last season. The last player to get one is Addison Russell. He was intentionally walked in the tenth inning of Game Seven of the World Series.)

Torres. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

Yankees rank second in BA’s and BP’s farm system rankings

Both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) released their annual organizational rankings within the last few days. The Yankees ranked second behind the Braves on both lists. The same was true was on Keith Law’s farm system rankings. The BP list groups teams into tiers, and the Yankees and Braves were alone at the top. Here’s a snippet of the write-up:

I generally don’t care all that much if the seventeenth best prospect in your system has a chance to be a decent middle reliever or a useful bench piece. That’s true of the vast majority of systems in any given year. Now when you have thirty of those guys? It felt like half the Trenton pitching staff might pitch in the majors at some point … We didn’t rank Dustin Fowler on our Yankees (top ten, showing their depth) … These are two of the best systems I can remember in my six years of covering prospects.

The BA write-up (subs. req’d) mentioned OF Estevan Florial as the system’s high-upside sleeper and RHP Dillon Tate as the breakout prospect. Tate was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft, remember. The Yankees got him for rental Carlos Beltran and he’s not even one of the ten best prospects in the organization. Pretty cool.

Yankees had $4M to sign Carter

I thought this was interesting. According to Jared Diamond, Hal Steinbrenner okayed one last $4M signing late in the offseason, after it became clear there were bargains to be had. The Yankees didn’t even need the full $4M to sign Chris Carter. He took $3.5M guaranteed. Prior to signing Carter the Yankees had been connected mostly to lefty relievers like Travis Wood and Jerry Blevins. The 40-homer dude made more sense.

I know saving $500,000 with Carter doesn’t sound like much, and it’s really not in the grand scheme of things, but what if it was enough to finish off the Jon Niese signing? He’ll make $1.25M at the big league level. Steinbrenner gave the thumbs up for $4M and they wound up with Carter and Niese for $4.75M total, possibly less because Niese might not make the Opening Day roster, and his $1.25M salary will be pro-rated. Anyway, I’m just kinda interested in how this worked out. The Yankees were done for the offseason until the free agent market collapsed.

Yankees pursued Mexican League righty Hector Velazquez

(AP)
(AP)

According to Evan Drellich, the Yankees pursued Mexican League right-hander Hector Velazquez before he signed with the Red Sox earlier this month. This wasn’t exactly the second coming of the Jose Contreras chase, though the two AL East financial superpowers were after the same Latin American pitcher. Boston purchased Velazquez’s contract from his Mexican League team and he is in camp as a non-roster player.

“After the Caribbean Series they told me that the Red Sox were interested,” said Velazquez to Drellich. “So I spoke to (their scouts) and they told me about their interest in me. And then soon after, Campeche, which is the team that I play for, told me that the Yankees were also interested. The way things in work in Mexico is, Campeche is the one who decides exactly who do you go to. They asked me at the end of the day who I wanted to go to, and I chose the Red Sox because they were the first ones to come to me and reach out.”

Velazquez, who turned 28 in November, had a 2.46 ERA with 120 strikeouts and only 16 walks in 131.1 innings in the Mexican League last season. His career numbers aren’t nearly as good — Velazquez has a 4.01 ERA and a 2.05 K/BB in 1,019.2 innings career innings, all in Mexico — but this is a “what have you done for me lately” game, and Velazquez was pretty great last summer. Here’s some video.

By no means is Velazquez a top prospect or anything like that. He’s a just turned 28-year-old right-hander who had a lot of success in a league roughly equivalent to Triple-A last season, and when players do what he did, teams notice. The Yankees made a run at Velazquez and the Red Sox beat them to it. C’est la vie.

More than anything, this is a reminder the Yankees leave basically no stone unturned when it comes to looking for pitching depth. They rolled the dice on a successful Mexican League right-hander nine years ago and were rewarded with 84 pretty excellent relief innings from Al Aceves in 2009. Perhaps Velazquez could have been have provided similar impact. Alas.

Friday Links: A-Rod, YES, Judge, Frazier, Gagne, Littell

Guest instructor Al from Miami. (Presswire)
Guest instructor Al from Miami. (Newsday)

The Yankees are, at this very moment, playing their first Grapefruit League game of the season. Turn on YES or MLB.tv to watch. Here’s our game thread. Don’t miss it. Here are some bits of news and notes to check out in the meantime.

A-Rod to meet with YES

At some point this spring Alex Rodriguez will meet with executives from the YES Network, report George King and Bryan Hoch. The exact reason for the meeting is unclear. It could be something, it could be nothing. Maybe just a meet-and-great or some promo work. Or maybe the two sides will discuss a broadcasting role. YES has a small army of ex-Yankees on their rotating panel of analysts.

Rodriguez has done analyst work with FOX the last two postseasons and he’s been really good. Critics have praised him and diehard fans seem to like him too. A-Rod certainly knows the game and he seems comfortable talking about it in depth on camera. Again, I have no idea why exactly Alex and YES are meeting. It really could be nothing. I selfishly hope it’s about potential broadcasting work though. That would be awesome.

Judge among Law’s top impact prospects for 2017

Keith Law (subs. req’d) recently ranked his top 19 prospects based on potential 2017 impact. Not surprisingly, Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi and Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson sit in the top two spots. They’re the two best prospects in baseball in my opinion, and both are locked into big league starting jobs this year. Aaron Judge is seventh on Law’s list and Clint Frazier is among the honorable mentions.

I expect (Judge) to take some time to bring (his strikeouts) down this year, but that’s been his history with each promotion in pro ball. Judge is a giant, at 6-foot-7, 275 pounds, so his strike zone is just as big, but he has enormous raw power and is an above-average right fielder. As long as the contact he makes continues to be hard contact, he’ll have value even if he’s among the league leaders in Ks.

I don’t think the Yankees will hesitate to send Judge to Triple-A to start the season if they feel it’s best for him. I also think they understand he’s going to come with growing pains. We saw them late last year and they’re not necessarily over. At some point they’re just going to have to stick it out with Judge and let him work through the problems, and perhaps that means a .205 average with 185 strikeouts in 2017. Perhaps moreso than any other young player in the system, Judge is going to require a lot of patience, both from the Yankees and fans.

Gagne considering comeback attempt

Eric Gagne, who turned 41 last month, is considering a comeback attempt, according to Ken Gurnick. Gagne hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2008 — he was one-and-done on the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot — but he has thrown in various independent leagues the last few years, and he’ll pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Gagne’s agent told Gurnick he sat 93-95 mph in indy ball last year (eh) while Jon Heyman hears he’s throwing 92-93 mph in bullpen sessions right now.

Gagne at his peak was one of the most dominant forces in baseball history. From 2002-04 he had a 1.79 ERA (1.57 FIP) with 38.6% strikeouts and 6.1% walks in 247 innings. During his 2003 Cy Young season he struck out 137 and walked 18 unintentionally in 82.1 innings. Insane. This is the time of year for comeback attempt stories, and hey, if Gagne looks good during the WBC, I’m sure some team will offer him a minor league deal. Maybe even the Yankees.

Littell among top “control” prospects

A few weeks ago Matt Eddy put together a list of the best “control” prospects in the minors. In this case control is not referring to the ability to throw strikes. FIP is based on three things the pitcher controls: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. Eddy removed strikeouts and examined the best prospects at limiting walks and homers, and he also threw in the ability to hold runners for good measure. Zack Littell ranked third on his list.

Of the dozen prospects traded by the Mariners this offseason, Littell looks like one of the more promising. The Yankees acquired the 21-year-old North Carolina prep in a straight-up trade for lefty reliever James Pazos. Littell brings a cerebral approach to the mound, which helps his high-spin fastball and above-average breaking ball play up.

I’m still amazed the Yankees were able to get a solid starting pitcher prospect for Pazos, who throws hard and doesn’t do much else. Littell did not make my top 30 prospects list but Baseball America ranked him 24th in the system in their 2017 Prospect Handbook. The Yankees managed to use the industry’s obsession with lefties and velocity to turn Pazos and Justin Wilson into three pretty nice young arms at a time when reliable starters are hard to find and not cheap to acquire. Neat.

The 2017-18 international free agent class and the Shohei Otani question

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

For years and years and years, the Yankees built their farm system through international free agency. They were in contention every year and forfeiting their low first round picks to sign top free agents all the time, though they were able to spend freely in international free agency to compensate. That’s why so many of their top prospects from 1998-2012 or so were international signees. Alfonso Soriano, Wily Mo Pena, Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang, Melky Cabrera, Jesus Montero, and so on.

Nowadays teams can’t spend freely internationally. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement implemented a hard spending cap. Under the just completed CBA, each team was given a set bonus pool and punished harshly if they exceeded it. It was a soft cap. Three years ago the Yankees blew their bonus pool out of the water and signed many of the best available players. Four of my top 30 prospects were part of the 2014-15 international signing class.

As a result of that spending spree, the Yankees had to pay a 100% tax on every penny they spent over their bonus pool — the total payout between bonuses and taxes was north of $30M — plus they were unable to sign a player for more than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods. That restriction will be lifted when the 2017-18 international signing period begins July 2nd. Hooray for that.

Earlier this week Ben Badler (subs. req’d) reported the Yankees, who have a $4.75M international cap this year, have been connected to Venezuelan center fielder Everson Periera in advance of the 2017-18 signing period. I can’t find much on the kid at all, but apparently he’s a big deal. Here’s some video:

The Yankees and every other team have been scouting international players for years, and I’m certain there are some contract agreements already in place even though they aren’t allowed. It happens all the time. Badler is the best in the business, and if he says the Yankees are connected to Periera, I not only don’t doubt him one bit, I assume the two sides already have some kind of deal in place.

The international hard cap really stinks, especially for the kids, though at least the Yankees will be able to hand out large bonuses to talented kids like Periera again. Being limited to $300,000 bonuses the last two signing periods stunk. The big question to me right now is not necessarily who will the Yankee sign on July 2nd. It’s how are the Yankees planning for Shohei Otani, if at all?

Otani, as you surely know, is the best player in the world not under contract with an MLB team. He threw 140 innings with a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts for the Nippon Ham Fighters last year while also hitting .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers. Most agree Otani’s long-term future lies on the mound because he has ace potential. For now, he’s a monster two-way player for the (Ham) Fighters.

Otani has expressed interest in coming over to MLB as soon as next offseason, though because he is only 22, he will be subject to the international hard cap. He’d have to wait three years until he’s 25 to be able to sign for any amount like a true free agent. Should Otani be posted after this coming season, all 30 clubs figure to shovel their remaining international cap space in front of him and hope it’s enough to sign him. What else could you do?

If you’re the Yankees — or any other team, for that matter — do you pass on Periera and everyone else on July 2nd and instead conserve your international cap space for Otani in the offseason? It’s awfully risky. Otani is not guaranteed to be posted. You’re walking away from the top international talent in July with no assurances Otani will be available after the season, and even if he is available, it’s far from a guarantee you’ll sign him. The odds of ending up with no talent and a bunch of international money burning a hole in your pocket is quite high.

At the same time, Otani is so insanely talented that you’d hate to take yourself out of the market for a big league ready impact player to sign a bunch of 16-year-old kids who are years away from reaching MLB. (The Yankees signed Gary Sanchez, a top international prospect, in July 2009 and it wasn’t until August 2016 that he reached the show for good, so yeah.) Otani would fit New York’s youth movement so well. He’d be the young rotation cornerstone they need going forward.

There’s always a chance the (Ham) Fighters will announce in advance they’re going to post Otani after the season, but I can’t remember that ever happening. If anything, it’s usually the opposite. We wait weeks and weeks in the offseason waiting for the team to decide whether to post the player. That’s what happened with Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish. We didn’t know for sure they would be posted until their teams actually posted them.

I can’t imagine the (Ham) Fighters want to announce they’re moving their best player after the season ahead of time. That won’t sit well with fans. Then again, perhaps they could make a great event out of it and have a big farewell tour. That’d be kinda cool. Point is, it’s far from certain Otani will be available after the season. He may decide to wait out the next three years, make good money in Japan, then come over to MLB when he’s 25 and no longer subject to the international hard cap.

That the Yankees are already connected to a guy like Periera indicates they plan on approaching the 2017-18 international free agency period as if it’s business as usual. Badler’s report says eleven other clubs, including traditional big international spenders like the Red Sox, Mariners, and Blue Jays, are also connected to Latin American players for the 2017-18 signing period, so the Yankees aren’t the only team taking this approach.

(The Athletics, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Padres, Reds, and Royals will all be limited to $300,000 bonuses during the 2017-18 international free agency period as a result of past spending, so that’s the max they could offer Otani next offseason.)

My guess right now is that, despite the rumblings, Otani will not be posted next winter. The max bonus he can receive under the international hard cap is only a touch more than his projected salary with the (Ham) Fighters in 2018. He could remain in Japan until 2019, make close to what he’d make in MLB in the meantime, then come over when he can sign a monster contract at 25. The Yankees and plenty of other clubs seem to be proceeding as if that will be the case.

Clint Frazier’s possible paths to the big leagues in 2017

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

When the Yankees went about their trade deadline business last summer, they appeared to focus on acquiring the best possible talent rather than addressing specific needs. That’s why they acquired Gleyber Torres despite a farm system already loaded with shortstops, and Clint Frazier despite a farm system with more than a few upper level outfielders. They were the best players, so the Yankees took them. Figure out the rest later.

Aside from Ben Heller, a one-inning reliever, Frazier is closest to big league ready among the prospects the Yankees acquired last July. He had been promoted to Triple-A about a week before the trade and he spent the rest of the season at that level. Frazier struggled, hitting .229/.285/.359 (83 wRC+) in his first exposure to the highest level of the minors. He’s not the first kid to have a hard time when he first reached Triple-A and he won’t be the last.

The various prospect rankings tell us the 22-year-old Frazier is highly regarded. Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, and MLB.com all ranked him somewhere between the 16th and 39th best prospect in baseball in their recent top 100 lists. His average rank on the top 100 lists was 26.5. Frazier is really good and he’s going to start the season back in Triple-A, which means a big league call-up isn’t far away at all.

“I want to play in the big leagues, and I’ve got to go out there and prove myself,” said Frazier to Randy Miller earlier this month. “I’ve got to be a good teammate and a good player and stay healthy, so when all three of those things come together I think I’ve got a good chance to accomplish the dream.”

Getting to the big leagues is one thing. Staying in the big leagues and carving out a defined role is another, and with young players, those two things can be pretty tough. With that in mind, let’s look at some possible paths Frazier could take to reach the show this summer, using some recent Yankees as examples. These are listed in order of what I think is most likely to happen.

The Aaron Judge Path

Similar to Frazier this year, Judge reported to Spring Training last year after a tough finish in Triple-A the prior season. He got a long look in camp before being sent back to Triple-A for a few hundred plate appearances (410, to be exact). Once he sufficiently mastered Triple-A, the Yankees called Judge up in the second half last season and played him everyday in right field.

It seems very possible Frazier will follow a similar path this year. Go back to Triple-A for a few hundred at-bats, then join the big league team in the second half for an extended audition. Judge’s playing time was created by the Carlos Beltran trade, and the Yankees will have to do something similar for Frazier. Brett Gardner has been on the trade block all winter and he is most likely to go. We’ll see. (We could also call this the Greg Bird path.)

The Robinson Cano Path

The 2005 Yankees and 2017 Yankees are in very different places on the contention curve. The 2005 Yankees were very much a win-now team, and they were coming off their embarrassing ALCS collapse in 2004. The 2017 Yankees are a team in transition, which is YankeeSpeak for rebuild, and the emphasis is on young players. Do they want to win? Sure. But the kids are the priority right now.

In May 2005, the Yankees overhauled their lineup by moving Tony Womack to left field, sliding Hideki Matsui to center, reducing Bernie Williams‘ playing time, and calling Cano up from Triple-A to play second base. Robbie spent the second half of the 2004 season in Triple-A and he destroyed the level early in 2005, hitting .333/.368/.574 with eight doubles and four homers in 24 games. The Yankees needed a spark and Cano provided it.

Frazier has the talent to go to Triple-A this year and completely destroy the competition, a la Cano in 2005. And if the Yankees are in need of offense at the MLB level a few weeks into the season, calling him up will be awfully tempting in that case. Doing so would require clearing playing time. Maybe Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury goes to the bench, or Judge strikes out his way back to the minors. Point is, an early season call-up can’t be ruled out should Frazier rake.

The Jesus Montero Path

Unlike Judge in 2016 and Cano in 2005, Montero already had a full Triple-A season under his belt when he returned to the level in 2011. Montero hit .289/.353/.517 (133 wRC+) with 21 homers in 123 Triple-A games in 2010, his age 20 season. He was seven years younger than the average International League player. Montero was so highly regarded at the time that Baseball America ranked him as the game’s third best prospect prior to the 2011 season.

montero

Sigh. Anyway, Montero returned to Triple-A in 2011 and spent almost the entire season at the level again. He hit .288/.348/.467 (121 wRC+) with 18 homers in 109 games with the RailRiders that year. The Yankees then called Montero up that September and he took over as their regular DH, and gosh, it was glorious. Montero hit .328/.406/.590 (166 wRC+) with four homers in 18 games that September. He also went 2-for-2 in the postseason.

Keeping Frazier in Triple-A all summer before bringing him to the show as a September call-up and installing him as a lineup regular is definitely a possibility in 2017. The Yankees wouldn’t need to clear a roster spot, and it’s easier to give veterans like Gardner and Ellsbury and Matt Holliday days off in September, when they’re feeling the effects of the long season. The September call-up plan is probably the cleanest way to incorporate Frazier into the MLB lineup this year, barring injury.

The Brett Gardner Path

Following a 45-game cameo at Triple-A in 2007, Gardner opened the 2008 season back at that level, then made a few shuttle trips over the summer. Here’s how his 2008 season played out:

  • Opening Day: Sent down to Triple-A.
  • June 30th: Called up to MLB for the first time.
  • July 26th: Send back down to Triple-A.
  • August 15th: Called back up to MLB for good.

Gardner was first called up because both Matsui and Johnny Damon were banged up, and the Yankees needed another outfielder. He was sent back down after the Xavier Nady trade. Gardner was then called back up in August because the Yankees had gotten tired of waiting for Melky Cabrera to turn it around. Melky was sent down with his batting line sitting at .242/.296/.337 (65 wRC+).

The Yankees used Gardner first as an injury fill-in, then as a permanent replacement when a regular wasn’t performing well. Should injuries strike this summer, the Yankees could very well call up Frazier as a fill-in, even if it’s only temporary. He’d be a shuttle player, basically. And up-and-down player who comes and goes as needed. I don’t think it’s likely Frazier will be used in that way, but we shouldn’t rule it out completely.

The Melky Cabrera Path

A few months after calling up Cano, the Yankees determined Womack was unplayable and shifted Matsui back to his natural left field. They made the ill-advised decision to promote Melky, who had only a handful of Triple-A games under his belt at the time, and insert him into the lineup as their regular center fielder. Cabrera went 4-for-19 (.211) at the plate in six games and was demoted after a defensive miscue that resulted in a Trot Nixon inside-the-park homer. It was not pretty.

The parallels here aren’t perfect. Melky started that 2005 season in Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A, and he only played a handful of games at that level before being called up. Frazier already has 38 Triple-A games under his belt and will return there to start the season. More than anything, the Melky plan means calling Frazier up before he’s big league ready and throwing him right into the fire. I don’t think this will happen, which is why this plan is last in this post. Still though, the Yankees have done this sort of thing before, and you can’t rule out doing it again.

Tyler Wade, Top 101 Prospect

(Beverly Schaefer | The Trenton Times)
(Beverly Schaefer | The Trenton Times)

On Monday morning, Baseball Prospectus released their annual Top 101 Prospects list. It was a particularly exciting list for Yankees fans, as nine of the team’s prospects made the cut – more than any other team in baseball. That was not necessarily unexpected, given that Keith Law and Baseball America placed six and seven Yankees, respectively, on their top-hundreds, and noted that a few more just missed the cut. What was surprising, however, was the name sitting at number 101 on BP’s list: Tyler Wade.

The last time we saw Wade, he was slashing .241/.391/.278 with 10 steals in 18 games (69 PA) in the Arizona Fall League. He did so while learning a new position – or three, depending upon your point of view – as he played all three outfield positions for the Scottsdale Scorpions. And, by all accounts, he took to the outfield grass quite well, demonstrating range and the ability to track the ball off of the bat.

As a result of this, few doubt Wade’s ability to serve as a true super-utility player at the highest level. While there are undoubtedly some kinks to work out, his transition to the outfield went as well as anyone could have expected, and his ability to play solid defense at second base and shortstop has never been in question (though his arm does limit his ability to make the tougher throws at short). There’s a great deal of value in a player that can provide more than adequate defense in the infield and the outfield, and Wade stands to do so – and up the middle, at that.

Offensively, the best description of Wade’s game that I’ve read comes from Mike’s 2017 Preseason Top 30 Prospects list: “It’s almost like a mini-Brett Gardner offensive skill set, minus the high-end speed — Wade is a good runner but not a truly great one — and before Gardner started socking double-digit dingers a few years back.”

Wade spent the entirety of the 2016 season at Double-A as a 21-year-old, where he hit .259/.352/.349 (101 wRC+) with 5 HR, 27 SB (8 CS), 11.3% walks, and 17.7% strikeouts. That’s essentially his career norm, as he’s a career .267/.350/.344 hitter with 10.4% walks and 18.7% strikeouts in 1907 minor league plate appearances, averaging 3 HR and 32 SB per 650 PA. It’s kind of uncanny, isn’t it?

His lack of power is noteworthy, and it stems from both his build and his approach. The most generous scouting reports will throw a 35 to 40 on his raw power (on the 20-80 scale, with 50 being average), and there’s no real uppercut to his swing. He’s something of a slap-and-dash hitter, as well, and MLBfarm reveals that 50.92% of his batted balls were of the groundball variety. The combination of well below-average power and hitting the ball on the ground puts a very real cap on his actualized power potential.

Despite his modest offensive potential, the BP staff has been a fan of Wade for quite some time. They referred to him as “the perfect utility player” last April, and named his as a candidate for the 2017 Top 101 a couple of months later. In the second piece, Elvis Andrus with less defense was mentioned as a comp, and it was said that “Wade offers high upside combined with a high floor.”

And, lo and behold, Wade made the BP Top 101 just seven months later.

The question here is twofold, though – should we have expected this, and is it deserved?

The answer to the former is somewhat straightforward, as BP all but choreographed it over the last ten months or so. In addition to the aforementioned articles, they slapped Wade with an overall future potential of 55 as a starter at second or in center their Yankees Top 10 Prospects list, which would essentially make him a solid average to slightly above-average regular. They key word there is ‘starter,’ which brings visions of Ben Zobrist, Steve Pearce, and Sean Rodriguez playing everyday at different positions. They note that scouts rave about “his energy, playing style, and instincts,” and the value of a competent offensive contributor with strong defense at two up the middle positions is undoubtedly fairly high.

The second question is far trickier to answer. I am inclined to chalk it up to personal preference, noting that each list is different and every scout has a player that they like or dislike more than others. Additionally, we don’t know how close he was to making the lists of Baseball America or Keith Law. However, we do know that John Sickels did not include Wade in his Top 200 prospects, though ten other Yankees do.

And should we take anything away from the team’s handling of Wade? That is, shifting him between positions and leaving him at Double-A for the entirety of the season? The answer is almost certainly no, given that almost every Yankees shortstop prospect has played elsewhere – and that includes Gleyber Torres, even if it was only for one game. It does seem that the team views him as a utility player, as Brian Cashman routinely praises him for his versatility and athleticism, and notes how well he handled his outfield learning curve. As has been said before, though, that could me a great deal of nothing – after all, Cashman’s not going to call him the second baseman, shortstop, or center-fielder of the future.

Inevitably, this is most noteworthy for the discussion that it brings. Is the ranking justified? If so, what are we missing? If not, what is BP missing (or exaggerating)? Or are we as fans simply putting too much stock in lists of this nature? Regardless, we will probably see Wade in the Majors at some point this season, and he’ll need to be added to the 40-man roster after the season – so we should find out something sooner rather than later.

Finding players similar to Gleyber Torres using MLB.com’s scouting grades

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the last seven months or so, Gleyber Torres has gone from being relatively unknown to Yankees fans to their latest prospect crush. Torres came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade, and while he was an excellent prospect to start with, he’s since improved his stock with a dominant Arizona Fall League showing. He became the youngest batting champ and MVP in league history.

In recent weeks Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law and MLB.com ranked Torres as one of the very best prospects in baseball. All except Baseball Prospectus ranked Gleyber as one of the five best prospects in the game. (Baseball Prospectus had him 15th.) Clearly, the scouting community believes Torres is a budding star and potential franchise cornerstone type of player. The Yankees haven’t had one of those since Robinson Cano.

As part of their prospect coverage, MLB.com provides scouting grades for individual tools on the 20-80 scouting scale. A quick 20-80 scale primer: 20 is terrible, 80 is outstanding, and 50 is average. There are few 20 tools out there and even fewer 80 tools. Brian McCann is a 20 runner, for example. Chapman has an 80 fastball. I’m not sure there are any other 80 tools on the Yankees right now. Maybe Aaron Hicks‘ arm?

Anyway, the scouting grades allow us to compare prospects on a deeper level than “here’s where they ranked on a top 100 list.” I used them to compare Blake Rutherford to other top high school bats following the draft last year. Now I want to do something similar with Torres. Before we go any further, I should note two things:

  1. MLB.com’s scouting grades are future grades. They’re what that specific tool projects to be down the line, not necessarily how that tool plays right now. MLB.com says Mickey Moniak, the first overall pick in last year’s draft, has 60 hit and 45 power. If those were present tools, that would mean he’s ready to hit .280 with 15 homers in the big leagues right now. No. Just … no.
  2. The grades tend to be conservative. Scouts and writers don’t take these things lightly. Very few prospects are given future 70s because 70 tools in the show are quite uncommon. If a scout is going to slap a 70 hit on a 20-year-old kid in Single-A, that person better be damn sure he’s going to rake.

For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to compared Torres to players just like him, which means 20-year-old right-handed hitting middle infielders. Age and position are obviously important criteria. Don’t overlook handedness. The vast majority of pitchers are right-handed — 74% of all innings were thrown by righties in 2016 — so a right-handed hitter doesn’t have the platoon advantage as often.

MLB.com has listed scouting grades every year since 2014, and based on our criteria, there have been ten comparable prospects to Torres over the last three years:

gleyber-torres-comps

That is some list of names, huh? A few of those guys have gone on to become some of the best players in baseball, regardless of position. The green cells indicate tools that match or exceed Gleyber’s grades, and as you can see, the only prospect since 2014 to at least match Torres in all five tools is Correa, one of the best young hitters on the planet. Russell, a +4 WAR player in 2016, matched or bettered Torres in four of the five tools. A few observations.

1. Correa, Russell, and Torres are in a class of their own, sorta. Those three guys all had a future 65 overall value (or better in Correa’s case) while no one else on the list cleared 60. Not even Bogaerts and Baez, and Baez would go on to hit 37 home runs in his age 20 season. Correa received a future 70 because his bat is so special. He’s been dubbed “the next A-Rod,” which I think is a tad unrealistic, but you can understand where it comes from.

Russell and Torres earned their 65s with all-around play. Russell has a half-grade edge in power and running while Torres makes it up with his hit tool. Bogaerts lagged behind the two in power, the most high-profile tool, which is why he came in at 60 future value heading into the 2013 season. Point is, the scouting grades put Torres right alongside some of the games great young players when they were the same age. Very few righty hitting shortstops looked this promising at age 20.

2. Only four of the ten players started their age 20 season at Double-A. Torres will be the fifth, joining Correa, Bogaerts, Arcia, and Adames. Russell, Baez, Rosario, and Peraza all reached Double-A during their age 20 seasons as well, but only after a midseason promotion. They started their age 20 seasons in High Class-A. The difference of a few months isn’t much in a grand scheme of things, but it is important to note it’s not often a 20-year-old kid starts a season in Double-A.

Of those ten non-Torres players in the table, two (Correa and Bogaerts) reached the big leagues in their age 20 season. Correa was called up at midseason and went on to hit 22 homers in 90 games en route to being named AL Rookie of the Year. Bogaerts only received a September call-up in 2013, though he played well enough to take over as the Red Sox’s starting third baseman in the postseason.

Four other players from the table (Russell, Baez, Arcia, Peraza) reached the big leagues one year later, in their age 21 season. It’s entirely possible Rosario and Adames will make their debuts this coming season, which would make it six reaching the show no later than their age 21 season. Torres absolutely has a chance to do that as well. It’s uncommon to reach MLB that young, yet this demographic has produced several such players.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

3. These guys tend to become cornerstones, not role players. Correa, Russell, and Bogaerts are bonafide stars in my opinion. (Russell would get more attention if he weren’t the third best player on his own infield.) Baez looks poised to break out as one in 2017. Peraza, who wasn’t ranked as high as those guys on MLB.com’s annual top 100 list, looks like a potentially useful player. Arcia struggled during his brief MLB debut in 2016 but has high-end tools.

The jury is still out on Robertson, Mateo, Rosario, and Adames. Robertson’s prospect stock has tumbled since landing on MLB.com’s top 100 list in 2014. He hasn’t hit outside the hitter friendly California League and has had to move to second base full-time due to his defensive shortcomings. Keith Law (subs. req’d) recent ranked him as the 14th best prospect in Tampa’s system and said he “looks like a quality utility infielder.”

Rosario is an elite prospect like Torres while Adames ranks a tick below those two. Mateo, who went from 87th on MLB.com’s top 100 list prior to 2015 (his age 20 season) to 30th prior to 2016, had a disappointing season a year ago and slipped to 47th on MLB.com’s list prior to 2017. So, out of those ten players, we have three stars (Correa, Russell, Bogaerts), one budding star (Baez), one useful player (Peraza), four with the jury still out (Arcia, Mateo, Rosario, Adames), and one whose stock has fallen considerably (Robertson).

The success rate of these prospects is quite high, relatively speaking. Getting three legitimate big league stars (and possibly more!) out of ten highly ranked players from any prospect demographic is pretty incredible. Shortstops are traditionally the best athletes and most tooled up players on the field though, so if you were going to bet on a certain type of prospect becoming a top notch big leaguer, chances are it would be a shortstop, even if he ends up changing positions, which Torres very well might in deference to the defensive superior Didi Gregorius.

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Comparing the MLB.com scouting grades is far from a perfect science. We all know that. All this does for us is put in perspective exactly how talented and highly regarded Torres is at the moment. His peers are guys like Correa and Russell and Bogaerts. Does this guarantee big league success? Of course not. Nothing does. Generally speaking, players similar to Torres at age 20 have gone on to be productive big leaguers, often within 12-18 months. With any luck, Gleyber will do the same for the Yankees in the near future.