Jake Cave may have a future in pinstripes after all

(Courtesy of Max Kassan)
(Courtesy of Max Kassan)

While the Yankees are undeniably improved from their deadline moves, the underrated part of Brian Cashman‘s trades are the 40-man roster spots it opens for this upcoming year. With Yefry Ramirez, Dietrich Enns, Jorge Mateo, Zack Littell, Ian Clarkin, Tito Polo and Dustin Fowler all gone, that helps lessen the 40-man roster crunch the Yankees were going to deal with after the season. Plenty of players would have been lost for no return, so Cashman acted.

One player who could directly benefit is Jake Cave. Cave, 24, was left off the 40-man this past year because he was expendable and seemed like he may be on his way out of the organization. After all, he’d hit .261/.323/.401 in his first extended taste of Triple-A and the acquisition of outfield depth made Cave the odd man out. However, the other 29 teams passed on him as a second-time Rule 5 pick and he remained a Yankee for the time being.

But this year has been different. Splitting his time between Trenton and Scranton, he’s done nothing but hit. In 171 PAs in Scranton, he’s batted .376/.427/.682 while hitting 12 home runs, more than he had posted in any entire season until now. In total, he’s hit .326/.377/.607 with 42 extra-base hits. That’s just one fewer XBH than last season in 159 fewer PAs. His strikeout rate remains about the same with a slight uptick in his walk rate while his home run per fly ball rate has skyrocketed. Maybe some of the power is a mirage, but he’s increased his flyball and line drive rates as well. Seeing him in person last week vs. a year ago around this time, he appears to have better command of the strike zone.

If you’re going to have a player repeat a level, you need them to show improvement and he’s clearly taken a step forward. He can play all three outfield positions well and now has shown the hit tool necessary to receive a look.

Where he benefits from this year’s deadline is the lessening of the Yankees’ outfield depth. Mateo, Fowler, Polo are no longer obstacles. Neither are Rob Refsnyder or Mason Williams, the latter who is still in the system but off the 40-man. The organization has five full-time OFs on the 40-man roster (Gardner, Ellsbury, Hicks, Judge and Frazier) and Tyler Wade as a utility man. At least one of the veterans, likely Ellsbury, could be gone this offseason, leaving room for a backup outfielder, or at least someone waiting in the wings in Scranton.

Billy McKinney complicates things. Acquired in last year’s Aroldis Chapman deal, McKinney is nearly two full years younger, comes with a higher pedigree (former top 100 prospect and first round pick) and has more power potential. Also a lefty, McKinney has hit nearly as well as Cave in his small sample with Scranton, hitting seven home runs and batting an impressive .343/.385/.676 in 110 PAs. Not bad for someone three weeks shy of turning 23. Cave’s calling card over McKinney is his ability to play center more often.

But there could be room for both on the 40-man, one in the majors and one in the minors, whereas both were borderline roster candidates at best prior to this deadline. The Yankees could utilize Gardner, Hicks, Judge and Frazier in the three OF spots and the DH role, leaving Wade and one of McKinney or Cave to back them up.

Cave went unprotected last season for good reason and there’s reason to believe the team didn’t see a future in the organization for the 2011 6th round pick. He’s a minor league free agent after this season, so adding him to the 40-man is the only way to keep him under team control. But that could now be in the cards, both with his performance and thanks to factors outside his control. As improbable as it may have seemed even a month ago, there may just be a role for Cave to play for the Yankees.

2017 Post-Draft Top 30 Prospects

Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Each year, soon after the draft signing deadline, I update my top 30 Yankees prospects list to welcome in all the new draftees. This year the signing deadline fell on a Friday, so I decided to wait until the next Friday to release the post-draft top 30 prospects list. Then the Yankees went out and made the big trade with the White Sox, so I decided to hold off until after the trade deadline because it felt like some stuff was about to go down.

Sure enough, it did. In addition to that big trade with the White Sox, the Yankees also used top 30 prospects to acquire Jaime Garcia and Sonny Gray in the days and hours leading up to Monday’s trade deadline. Six potential top 30 prospects were traded away in those deals. Eight of my preseason top 30 prospects are no longer eligible for the list, either because they’ve been traded away or graduated to MLB. Stunning turnover in just a few months.

And yet, the Yankees still have one of the better farm systems in baseball. They came into the season with arguably the best system — the consensus ranking was No. 2 behind the Braves — and just yesterday MLB.com ranked New York’s system the third best in baseball. Baseball America had them seventh. That’s even after all the trades and graduations. They still have some high-end talent, plus tons of depth. There are players who project to be everyday big leaguers outside of my top 30.

So, now that the trade deadline has passed and the dust has settled, it’s time to update my top 30 Yankees prospects. I’ve included each player’s pre-draft ranking for reference, and for fun, I included where each of the traded prospects would have slotted in had they not been traded. I get a lot of “where would this guy rank if he were still in the system?” questions, so I figured I’d answer those right in the list. Here’s my latest top 30. Feel free to make fun of it.

The Top Tier

1. SS Gleyber Torres, Triple-A (Pre-draft: No. 1)
2. OF Clint Frazier, MLB (Pre-draft: No. 2)
OF Blake Rutherford, Traded (Pre-draft: No. 3)
3. LHP Justus Sheffield, Double-A (Pre-draft: No. 4)

Frazier is about two weeks away from losing his prospect status. He’s at 98 big league at-bats right now and the rookie limit is 130. Once he graduates, the top tier will be down to two prospects. Lame! Then again, it’ll be down to two prospects because Frazier and Aaron Judge are in MLB, and Rutherford was traded for pieces who are helping the Yankees try to win the division, so I can’t complain.

Torres is still the undisputed the best prospect in the system right now, even after Tommy John surgery to his non-throwing arm. Everyone seems to expect him to come back just fine next year and that’s good enough for me. Every surgery has risks. This one seems to carry less than most elbow reconstructions. Sheffield is out with an oblique strain himself, which stinks, but at least it’s not his arm. He’s pretty clearly the best pitching prospect in the system in my opinion. Three-pitch lefty with swing-and-miss stuff? Sign me up.

The Other Top Prospects

SS/OF Jorge Mateo, Traded (Pre-draft: No. 5)
4. 3B Miguel Andujar, Triple-A (Pre-draft: No. 6)
5. OF Estevan Florial, High-A (Pre-draft: No. 14)
6. RHP Albert Abreu, High-A (Pre-draft: No. 7)
7. SS/OF Tyler Wade, MLB (Pre-draft: No. 8)
OF Dustin Fowler, Traded (Pre-draft: No. 9)
8. RHP Chance Adams, Triple-A (Pre-draft: No. 10)
9. RHP Dillon Tate, High-A (Pre-draft: No. 12)

This is where I think the depth of the farm system really shines. I’m the low man on Adams but Baseball America (56th) and MLB.com (61st) just ranked him as a top 50-ish prospect in their midseason top 100 lists. I have him eighth in the system. Both Abreu (82nd) and Wade (101st) snuck onto Baseball Prospectus’ top 101 prospects list before the season. Tate was the fourth overall pick — and first pitcher taken — in the draft just two years ago. That’s the kind of talent we’re talking about here.

Andujar is my dude and has been for a while, and he’s making me look smart this year, so thanks Miguel. I get the feeling that, in a year or two, lots of people are going to wonder why he never made a top 100 list. Florial is the biggest riser in the farm system this year. His strikeout rate is a red flag but the tools and athleticism are off the charts, and so is the performance, really. He hit .297/.372/.483 (145 wRC+) with eleven homers and 17 steals in 91 Low-A games as a 19-year-old before being promoted earlier this week. For a while there it looked like Florial would get traded at the deadline, but nope. He remains and Fowler went instead.

The Upside Arms

RHP James Kaprielian, Traded (Pre-draft: No. 11)
10. RHP Matt Sauer, Rookie (Pre-draft: Not eligible)
11. RHP Domingo Acevedo, High-A (Pre-draft: No. 13)
12. RHP Domingo German, Triple-A (Pre-draft: No. 15)
13. RHP Clarke Schmidt, Rehab (Pre-draft: Not eligible)
14. RHP Jorge Guzman, Short Season (Pre-draft: Unranked)

Things just kinda fell into place here. A bunch of power arms with upside and also some risk were bunched together in my rankings. Sauer, Acevedo, and Guzman all throw heat but come with command questions. German is in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery and Schmidt is rehabbing from elbow construction right now. A healthy Schmidt would have ranked higher, though not much. Probably ahead of German and that’s about it.

The big riser here is Guzman, who came over from the Astros with Abreu in the Brian McCann trade. He did not make my pre-draft top 30 list, which was an oversight on my part. I should have had him in the top 30. Guzman has been electric with Short Season Staten Island so far this year, throwing 42.2 innings with a 2.53 ERA (3.03 FIP) and a 56/13 K/BB ratio. Fastball that routinely touches 100 mph, promising secondary stuff, and improving control? Guzman is someone who will really shoot up the rankings over the next year.

The Mid-Range Bats

15. 3B Dermis Garcia, Low-A (Pre-draft: No. 21)
16. SS Thairo Estrada, Double-A (Pre-draft: No. 18)
17. SS Hoy Jun Park, Low-A (Pre-draft: No. 16)
18. C Donny Sands, Low-A (Pre-draft: No. 24)
RHP Zack Littell, Traded (Pre-draft: No. 29)
LHP Ian Clarkin, Traded (Pre-draft: No. 19)
19. SS Wilkerman Garcia, Short Season (Pre-draft: No. 17)
20. 2B Nick Solak, Double-A (Pre-draft: Unranked)

Even considering that last pitcher tier, this might be the riskiest prospect tier in my rankings. Garcia — Dermis, not Wilkerman — has easily the most power in the system, but he’s also swing-and-miss prone and not that great defensively. The other Garcia has solid all-around tools but has struggled to put it all together and stay healthy the last 18 months. Sands is a third baseman learning to catch, and a high-contact hitter without much power. His prospect stock is really riding on the whole catching thing working out.

Estrada and Solak are the “safest” bets among the players in this tier — I say “safest” because there’s no such thing as a safe prospect — because they’re both all-fields hitters who have the uncanny ability to get the fat part of the bat on the ball, and they’ll both take their walks too. Thairo is a better defender and capable of playing shortstop, which is why he’s higher in my rankings. I see similar offensive upside and more defensive value. And he’s a full year younger too.

The Bottom Ten

21. OF Jake Cave, Triple-A (Pre-draft: Unranked)
22. OF Billy McKinney, Triple-A (Pre-draft: No. 27)
23. 1B Tyler Austin, MLB (Pre-draft: No. 20)
24. RHP Freicer Perez, Low-A (Pre-draft: Unranked)
25. RHP Nolan Martinez, Rookie (Pre-draft: No. 26)
26. RHP Drew Finley, Short Season (Pre-draft: No. 25)
27. SS Kyle Holder, High-A (Pre-draft: No. 23)
28. LHP Josh Rogers, Double-A (Pre-draft: No. 22)
29. RHP Ben Heller, Triple-A (Pre-draft: Unranked)
30. RHP Trevor Stephan (Pre-draft: Not eligible)

Lots and lots and lots of candidates for the back of the top 30, so it comes down to personal preference. Among those who were considered: SS Oswaldo Cabrera, RHP Cody Carroll, SS Diego Castillo, RHP J.P. Feyereisen, OF Isiah Gilliam, RHP Nick Green, RHP Ronald Herrera, RHP Jonathan Holder, OF Leonardo Molina, OF Pablo Olivares, RHP Erik Swanson, C Saul Torres, RHP Taylor Widener, and RHP Alex Vargas.

Cave and McKinney were two of the hardest players to rank. I feel like I’m going out on a limb a bit with Cave. He’s always had ability and he’s been in my top 30 lists before, but now the performance has been so great that it’s hard to ignore. Even if he’s a platoon left-handed bat long-term — Cave is hitting .358/.405/.672 against righties and .250/.315/.440 against lefties this year — Cave can play center field and run. He does a lot of things.

McKinney, on the other hand, is basically all bat. He’s not much of a defender and he’s relegated to an outfield corner. McKinney might also be a platoon left-handed bat — he’s hitting .289/.365/.532 against righties and .252/.319/.437 against lefties — except you’re not getting the defense and baserunning. I know he’s a former first round pick and all that, but I feel like the end game here is … Seth Smith? Seth Smith is a good player! He’s been in the league a decade. But that feels like McKinney’s upside to me.

I really like Martinez and Finley and just wish they’d get healthy, stay healthy, and put together consistently strong performances at some point. That’s unfair to Martinez because he was just drafted last year, but you know what I mean. I’m eager to see more from him. With Holder, I’m still betting on the elite defense being a carrying tool. If he can hit enough to be, say, a 90 OPS+ guy who bats ninth long-term, he’ll end up a +3 WAR player with his glove. Heller … man I just wish the Yankees would give him a look already. Something more than shuttle call-ups here and there.

* * *

I didn’t love the Yankees’ draft this year, though I do think the “take the injured guy first and an over-slot guy second” strategy was Plan B. I think they were planning to use their first rounder on a player who came off the board before their pick came around, so they called an audible. In my idiot blogger opinion, there were comparable arms still on the board when the Yankees picked Schmidt, except those guys were healthy. Healthy pitchers are cool.

Last year the Yankees really stocked the system at the trade deadline and this year has been about unpacking the system. Get the guys to the big leagues you plan to build around and trade from the depth before you start losing players for nothing through the Rule 5 Draft or on waivers. Littell and Clarkin were both potential 40-man roster crunch casualties after the season, as were other traded prospects like Dietrich Enns, Yefry Ramirez, and Tito Polo.

The farm system right now is not as strong as it was six months ago, though for the right reasons. The Yankees have graduated players to the big leagues and used others in trades to bolster the MLB roster for a postseason push. And those trades brought in controllable players like Gray and Tommy Kahnle. Not only rentals. New York still has a deep system with upside, and the big league roster is looking better and more exciting than it has in years.

DotF: Hicks doubles and walks in second rehab game

Some links to check out before we get to what might be the largest DotF (12 games!) in DotF history:

  • MLB.com released their post-trade deadline farm system rankings. Even after all the trades and graduations, the Yankees rank third. “They still may have the deepest (farm system), with an abundance of infielders (led by Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade, Miguel Andujar) and a seemingly endless supply of power arms (Chance Adams, Domingo Acevedo, Albert Abreu, Jorge Guzman, Freicer Perez, Matt Sauer and on and on and on),” says the write-up.
  • Baseball America (subs. req’d) also released their updated farm system rankings. The Yankees rank seventh overall and are included in the “Elite Farm Systems” section, so that’s cool. “Even after trading to help bullpen and rotation, Yankees are still loaded,” says the write-up.

Triple-A Scranton (4-2 loss to Buffalo)

  • CF Mason Williams: 0-4
  • DH Aaron Hicks: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 SB — hurry up Hicksie, the offense needs you … the fact he stole a base indicates he’s feeling pretty good physically … you don’t do that if you’re still a little tentative after the injury
  • LF Jake Cave: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI — hitting streak is up to 18 games
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 0-2 — played five innings as scheduled in his first rehab game
  • RF Billy McKinney: 2-4, 2 K
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 2 WP, 4/4 GB/FB — 54 of 85 pitches were strikes (64%) … first start since being sent down
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 25 of 39 pitches were strikes (64%)
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1 HB, 0/2 GB/FB — eight of 14 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

DotF: Hicks begins rehab assignment in Scranton’s loss

Two quick injury notes:

  • C Kyle Higashioka (back) is doing better, Triple-A Scranton Al Pedrique told Conor Foley. He’s taking swings and all that. The sooner he comes back, the better. Catching depth is important.
  • 1B Tyler Austin (hamstring) did not play his first minor league rehab game with the RailRiders tonight for whatever reason. D.J. Eberle says Austin will play five innings at first base tomorrow. Maybe there was some miscommunication or something.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 loss to Buffalo)

  • RF Jake Cave: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K — hitting streak is up to 17 games
  • CF Aaron Hicks: 1-3 — played five innings as scheduled … here’s video of the single … he’s going to play the full game at DH tomorrow
  • CF Mason Williams: 0-1, 1 K
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-4 — his hitting streak is up to 16 games
  • 1B Garrett Cooper: 0-4, 1 K
  • LF Billy McKinney: 1-4, 2 K
  • DH Ji-Man Choi: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 11 K, 2 WP, 9/2 GB/FB — 64 of 105 pitches were strikes (61%) … 2.73 ERA with 36/6 K/BB in his last five starts and 33 innings down here … I wish the Yankees had given those two starts to Mitchell rather than LHP Caleb Smith, but what can you do?

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DotF: Garcia homers in fifth straight game in Charleston loss

Got some notes and links to pass along, including several promotions that have been announced by the affiliates. These are all a big chain reaction to the recent trades opening up roster spots:

  • 2B Nick Solak and OF Jeff Hendrix have been promoted from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton. OF Estevan Florial and SS Hoy Jun Park have been promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa. 3B Dermis Garcia and OF Steven Sensley have been promoted from Rookie Pulaski to Low-A Charleston. Got all that?
  • OF Jake Cave was named the Triple-A International League Player of the Month (PDF link). He hit .390/.439/.667 (206 wRC+) with seven homers in 26 games in July. Cave will be a minor league free agent after the season. Curious to see what happens with him.
  • Both MLB.com and FanGraphs ranked the prospects traded prior to the deadline. Four of the top ten on both lists are former Yankees farmhands. The Yankees definitely traded away some high-end talent these last few weeks.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 win over Buffalo)

  • CF Mason Williams: 1-3, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 SB
  • RF Jake Cave: 2-3, 2 R, 1 BB — hitting streak is up to 16 games
  • LF Billy McKinney: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K — third homer in his last four games … my guess is he winds up on the 40-man roster after the season … I think the Yankees would have traded him at the deadline if they had no intention of protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft
  • RHP Chance Adams: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 5/8 GB/FB — 65 of 101 pitches were strikes (64%) … third time in his last four starts he’s had more walks than strikeouts
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 18 of 29 pitches were strikes (62%)
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — seven of 12 pitches were strikes … 58/17 K/BB in 43 innings down here

[Read more…]

DotF: Dermis Garcia homers again in Pulaski’s win

Here are the day’s notes:

  • Baseball America (no subs. req’d) posted their trade analyses of the Jaime Garcia trade and Sonny Gray trade. It has their latest scouting reports on OF Dustin Fowler, LHP Dietrich Enns, RHP James Kaprielian, RHP Zack Littell, and SS/OF Jorge Mateo, if you’re interested in such things.
  • MLB.com updated their top 30 Yankees prospects list now that Fowler, Kaprielian, and Mateo have been traded away. RHP Luis Medina, OF Everson Pereira, and RHP Gio Gallegos all jumped into the top 30. Not sure about putting the teenagers in there, but okay.
  • The Yankees made another trade today in addition to the Gray trade. They acquired more international bonus money from the Orioles for RHP Yefry Ramirez. Turning a minor league Rule 5 Draft pick into a tradeable commodity was a neat move.
  • OF Billy McKinney was named the Triple-A International League Offensive Player of the Week while RHP Brian Keller was named the High-A Florida State League Pitcher of the Week. McKinney went 11-for-25 (.400) with two doubles, two triples, and two homers last week.
  • Remember that random “RHP Dillon McNamara to the Giants” trade a few weeks ago? The Yankees received cash in that deal, reports Matt Eddy. No surprise there. Fringe bullpen prospects aren’t exactly in high demand.
  • And finally, make sure you check out Josh Norris’ feature on OF Estevan Florial, who was not traded today. That surprised me a bit. Anyway, make sure you check it out. Really great stuff.

Both Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton had scheduled off-days.

High-A Tampa (1-0 loss to Daytona, walk-off style)

  • SS Kyle Holder & 2B Nick Solak: both 0-3 — Solak drew two walks and stole two bases
  • LF Trey Amburgey: 1-4, 1 BB
  • RHP Dillon Tate: 7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 8/3 GB/FB — 76 of 109 pitches were strikes (70%) … 2.68 ERA with 44/14 K/BB in 50.1 innings since coming back from his shoulder issue

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DotF: Cave extends hitting streak in Scranton’s win

In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees have acquired Jaime Garcia from the Twins for RHP Zack Littell and LHP Dietrich Enns. With Littell traded, sleeper RHP Cody Carroll has jumped into MLB.com’s top 30 Yankees prospects. Carroll has a 2.24 ERA (3.09 FIP) with 31.6% strikeouts and 10.2% walks in 52.1 relief innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton this year. He’s one of those random college arms the Yankees grab in the late rounds of the draft and then bam, a year later he’s throwing 96-97 with a nasty slider.

Triple-A Scranton (3-2 win over Charlotte)

  • CF Jake Cave: 2-4, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 K, 1 CS — 28-for-61 (.459) with three doubles, one triple, and five homers during his 16-game hitting streak
  • RF Billy McKinney: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K, 1 E (fielding) — remember how much he struggled earlier this year? he’s up to .279/.354/.500
  • 2B Cito Culver: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI — that’s his career high tenth homer … he took White Sox RHP Lucas Giolito deep
  • LHP Nestor Cortes: 4.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 41 of 65 pitches were strikes (63%) … pretty excellent spot start … he started today in place of Enns, and I imagine LHP Caleb Smith will take over this rotation spot next time around
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 1 IP, zeroes, 3 K — threw an Immaculate Inning (nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts) … 58/9 K/BB in 32.2 innings down here

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