2017 Preseason Not Top 30 Prospects

Littell. (@MLBPipeline)
Littell. (@MLBPipeline)

The Yankees have remade their farm system with a series of high profile trades over these last eight months or so. As a result, they have one of the best and deepest farm systems in the game. Guys like Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier get a ton of attention and rightfully so. It’s the quality of the prospects that don’t make my 2017 Preseason Top 30 Prospects List, which will be posted tomorrow, that makes the system stand out.

Before we can get to the top 30 prospects, we must first cover the not top 30 prospects. These are five prospects who did not crack this year’s top 30 list, but I believe could make next year’s if they continue to have success with their development and put together solid 2017 seasons. Just to be perfectly clear, these are not prospects 31-35. Call them sleepers, if you want. Some of them seem a little too high-profile for that, however.

Only one of last season’s not top 30 prospects jumped into this year’s top 30 list. That’s a bummer. I usually like to get at least two in there. It’s not simply because of the depth of the farm system either. None of the four who failed to make this year’s stacked top 30 list would have made a “normal” year’s top 30 list either. For shame. Bad job by me. Anyway, here are this year’s not top 30 prospects, listed alphabetically.

RHP Jorge Guzman
Guzman, who turned 21 last month, came over from the Astros in the Brian McCann trade earlier this offseason. He split last season between the rookie Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues, where he had a 4.05 ERA (2.64 FIP) with 32.1% strikeouts and 10.1% walks in 40 innings. Guzman is a pure arm strength prospect. He sits in the 97-100 mph range even as a starter — Baseball America says he topped out at 103 mph in 2016 — but shows better command when he scales it back to 96-98 mph, which is still premium velocity. Both his changeup and slider are rudimentary, so right now he’s essentially a one-pitch pitcher. Guzman has good size (6-foot-2 and 182 lbs.) and he’s not a max effort guy at all. He gets to that velocity pretty easily. It goes without saying Guzman, who could start the year in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island, is a long way away from the big leagues, but his upside is enormous.

RHP Zack Littell
I wanted to squeeze Littell into the top 30 list. I really did. Just couldn’t find room for him though. Acquired from the Mariners in the James Pazos trade earlier this winter, the 21-year-old Littell threw a ridiculous 173 innings between Low-A and High-A last summer. The former 11th round pick (2013 draft) had a 2.60 ERA (3.07 FIP) with very good strikeout (21.0%) and walk (5.0%) rates in those 173 innings. Littell is a classic bulldog with a low-90s fastball and quality secondary offerings in his curveball and changeup. The changeup is the more consistent of the two pitches right now, though both are legitimate weapons. Littell’s stuff plays up because he has good overall control and excellent fastball command, and also because he’s a baseball rat who spends a lot of time reviewing scouting reports and observing opposing hitters on days he doesn’t pitch. It seems likely he will start 2017 with High-A Tampa — he threw only 68 innings at the level last year — before getting bumped up to Double-A at midseason.

RHP Nolan Martinez
Martinez is another guy I really wanted to squeeze into the top 30 list. He was New York’s third round pick (98th overall) in last year’s draft, and his hefty $1.15M bonus was one of two overslot bonuses the Yankees gave out last year. (First rounder Blake Rutherford received the other, duh.) Martinez barely pitched after turning pro, throwing only seven innings in three rookie ball starts. His pro debut, a one-inning start in the rookie GCL, was rained out and the canceled, meaning the stats didn’t count, so he truly threw eight innings in four starts last year. Unique pro debut story, eh?

Anyway, the 18-year-old Martinez sits anywhere from 88-93 mph with his heater, and his upper-70s curveball is devastating when he’s on. PitchFX data from pre-draft showcase events at big league ballparks showed the curveball already has an above-average Major League spin rate. Martinez doesn’t have much of a changeup at this point, he’s never really needed one, but he throws strikes and has a good delivery. He’s seemingly ticketed for ExST and rookie Pulaski this summer, where the changeup will be a point of emphasis.

RHP Freicer Perez
The Yankees signed Perez as part of their landmark 2014-15 international class, though he was a low-profile prospect who received a $10,000 bonus at age 18. Since then, he’s developed into a high-upside prospect with one of the most powerful arms in the system. Perez spent last summer with Short Season Staten Island, where he had a 4.47 ERA (3.81 FIP) with 20.6% strikeouts and 10.5% walks in 52.1 innings. Although he already sits 95-97 mph and has touched 99 mph with his heater, his tall (6-foot-8) yet thin (190 lbs.) frame suggests there may be more velocity coming. Freicer is working to improve his curveball and changeup, neither of which is a reliable offering at the moment, and it’s no surprise he’s still refining his mechanics as well. Those long arms and legs don’t always cooperate. Perez will turn 21 in March and even though he remains fairly raw, there’s a good chance the Yankees will send him to Low-A Charleston to begin 2017.

C Donny Sands
Sands, 20, was under-scouted in high school because he didn’t get invited to many showcase events in talent-rich Arizona. The Yankees landed him with their eighth round pick in 2015, gave him a below-slot $100,000 bonus, then moved him from third base to catcher following the season. Sands is still rough around the edges defensively, understandably so, but he moves well behind the plate and has a strong arm. He has the athleticism, tools, and baseball aptitude to turn into a quality defensive backstop. At the plate, Sands never took his defensive work into the batter’s box, and hit .286/.328/.375 (102 wRC+) with two homers and a ton of contact (10.2% strikeouts) in 122 rookie ball plate appearances in 2016. He has promising power and the innate ability to get the fat part of the bat on the ball. The Yankees are a great catcher development organization — Francisco Cervelli, John Ryan Murphy, and Luis Torrens didn’t become full-time catchers until the Yankees got their hands on them, for example — and Sands is their next conversion project.

Embracing the reality (and beauty) of a prospect-laden Yankees

Looking to the future. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Looking to the future. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The recent Yankees’ Winter Warmup was a nice touch to the offseason. Deep within the monotony of the winter when you’re mostly refreshing Didi GregoriusInstagram, the Yankees gave fans a chance to interact with their players. Yet, at the same time, fans also got a glimpse of a completely different version of the Bronx Bombers.

If this type of event had been held six years ago, the headliners would have been obvious. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, CC Sabathia, etc. The veteran stalwarts you know and love. The guys you’ve watched win titles and know exactly what to expect when they hit the field come that spring.

But those weren’t the guys put front and center (yes, CC took part on the Thursday of the event). How about a lineup of Chance Adams, Clint Frazier, James Kaprielian, Justus Sheffield, Gleyber Torres? Readers of River Avenue Blues are no doubt familiar with the next wave of the ‘Baby Bombers’ but they are far from household names for the average Yankees fan at the moment.

But they are the ones that the Yankees put front and center. That’s startling. For 20 years, it’s been essentially one core, a high-priced roster of aging stars with a rotating cast around them. The farm system has had its ups and downs, mostly downs, and filled in a few roster spots, producing a star (Robinson Cano), trade chips and some regulars since the turn of the century.

Cano or Brett Gardner were able to ease into the lineup to an extent, finding their footing while the veterans were the ones relied upon to produce wins. Sure, a Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain came with extraordinary expectations, but that was primarily once they put up big numbers. Jesus Montero would have been hyped to no end in 2012 after one month of beautiful home runs and general hitting promise, but he was instead one of the aforementioned trade chips.

Now it’s the prospects that are in the spotlight. Not just Gary Sanchez or Aaron Judge, guys who at least have received their first cups of coffee. Frazier, Sheffield and Torres have been in the organization for six months. Adams has been a starter for one year. Kaprielian threw 18 innings before the Arizona Fall League last year. Those five players, all among MLB.com’s top-100 prospects besides Adams, have played 30 combined games above Double-A, all by Frazier. Besides Judge, the Yankees’ other members of the top-100 are Jorge Mateo, who is still in Tampa, and Blake Rutherford, perhaps the prospect with the most upside but one who was drafted less than a year ago.

I know I’m not alone in feeling weird. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited beyond belief to see the development that will come in 2017, whether it’s from highlight packages or Down on the Farm posts. But where there’s excitement is also the dread. Because there will be growing pains … a lot of them. There are going to be times when we will shake our heads. At the big league level, Sanchez likely won’t be on a 60-homer pace in 2017. Judge is going to keep striking out as he has done at every level early on before he fully adjusts if he even can make that next step with his biggest challenge yet. Greg Bird is not going to be Mark Teixeira defensively and that shoulder surgery is a concern for him offensively.

In the minors, there will be even more growing pains. Torres faces the challenge of a pitcher-friendly Eastern League and Waterfront Park. Frazier continues to try and overcome his strikeout woes as he plays his first full season in Triple-A. Adams, Kaprielian and Sheffield (as well as Jordan Montgomery, Ian Clarkin and others) will need to prove themselves at new levels.

It’s important to keep in mind with all of these guys that development for a prospect is almost never a straight path. Sanchez is a great example with his early promise, his setbacks with questions of maturity and then having everything come together all at once last year. Judge seemingly struggles at the start of each new level before finding his footing and learning how to excel.

But we also can’t get too high when one of the guys in the minors has a hot week or two. The second Didi Gregorius makes an error or goes into a prolonged slump that coincides with a losing stretch, there will be a clamor from some to call up Torres all the way from Trenton. There needs to be plenty of patience, even if someone hits the way people hope Torres will hit.

There are also going to be the guys who take steps back – or at least sideways – like Mateo did last year, but with so many top prospects, some guys are also bound to take that next step, realize their potential and get us more excited than we are now. This season will be about embracing those big steps and even the little ones. To borrow a phrase from another franchise on the ride, it’s time to “trust the process.”

And that brings me back to the Winter Warmup. Sure, Adams and Kaprielian aren’t guys who the average fan might know right now. Many might only know Frazier or Torres by the head shots put on TV broadcasts explaining what the Yankees got back for Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. But this season will be about embracing those fresh faces, warts and all, the Yankees put front and center at the Winter Warmup, with the hope that they’ll be front and center for the next championship runs.

Ten Yankees among 2017 World Baseball Classic rosters

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Earlier this evening, the various World Baseball Classic rosters were announced during a live MLB Network broadcast. Bits and pieces of the rosters have leaked over the last several months. Now they’re all official.

A total of ten Yankees, including three-sevenths of their projected Opening Day bullpen, will participate in the tournament. Here are the full rosters (PDF link) and here are the various Yankees:

Michael Pineda was listed on a version of the Dominican Republic roster that leaked earlier today, but he wasn’t on the final roster. Huh. Severino is part of the Dominican Republic’s “Designated Pitcher Pool” and won’t play in the first round. Teams can add two pitchers from their DPP after each round.

Bleier is on the DPP for Israel, and since they’re not expected to make it out of the first round, chances are he won’t leave Spring Training. Everyone else is on the WBC active roster. Gallegos is ostensibly competing for a big league bullpen spot, and I can’t help but wonder if being away from the Yankees will hurt his chances.

I kinda had a feeling Clippard would sneak on to the Team USA roster. They were never going to get all their top relievers, and he figured to be among the second tier arms they turned to. Clippard will join former Yankees Andrew Miller and David Robertson in the Team USA bullpen. That’ll be fun. Bring them back with you, Tyler.

Cuba doesn’t allow expatriates to represent the country, so no Aroldis Chapman in the WBC. Gary Sanchez declined an invitation to play for the Dominican Republic because he wants to spend his first Spring Training as the starting catcher learning the pitch staff and whatnot. Masahiro Tanaka also declined to play for Japan.

Aside from those guys, the only other players in the Yankees organization who I thought might sneak on to a WBC roster were Luis Cessa (Mexico), Evan Rutckyj (Canada), and Carlos Vidal (Colombia). Vidal was on Colombia’s roster for the qualifying round last spring, but has since being dropped.

The 16-team tournament begins March 6th and will end with the Championship Game at Dodger Stadium on March 22nd. Here is the full WBC schedule.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Less than a week until pitchers and catchers report to Tampa, folks. Of course, many players are there already. Erik Boland says Masahiro Tanaka threw a bullpen at the complex today. Remember, at this time last year Tanaka was coming back from surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, and the Yankees had to bring him along slowly in camp. Now he’s already throwing bullpens before the official reporting date. Neat.

Anyway, this is tonight’s open thread. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing and there is some college basketball on the schedule too. You folks know how these thread work by now, so have it at. Anything goes aside from religion and politics.

Pineda, Severino among the Dominican Republic’s eligible pitchers for the WBC

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Earlier today, the Dominican Republic announced their official roster for the upcoming 2017 World Baseball Classic. As expected, Dellin Betances is on the roster while Gary Sanchez is not. Here’s the roster. Robinson Cano at second, Manny Machado at short, and Adrian Beltre at third is one heck of an infield, eh? Tony Pena has a fun roster to manage.

Both Michael Pineda and Luis Severino are included in the team’s “Designated Pitcher Pool,” which is a new wrinkle in the WBC. Each team will designate ten pitchers who can be added to the roster later in the tournament. They’re allowed to add two pitchers at the end of the first round and another two at the end of the second round. So up to four of the ten extra pitchers can join the roster.

The Designated Pitcher Pool is a pretty blatant attempt by MLB and the WBC folks to get Clayton Kershaw to commit to Team USA. The Championship Game is at Dodger Stadium on March 22nd, and if Team USA advances, they want Kershaw on the mound because it’ll create serious buzz. The rule allows Kershaw to remain with the Dodgers in Spring Training and make the one start for Team USA.

The Dominican Republic won the 2013 WBC, and, based on their roster, they’re going to contend for a title again this year. They’re in a first round pool with Canada, Colombia, and Team USA. Pineda’s rotation spot with the Yankees is secure, but Severino has to win one in camp. I wonder if he’d decline to be added to the WBC roster should the Dominican Republic ask him to join the team. We’ll see.

Sherman: The Yankees have “let some clubs know” Starlin Castro is available

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees have “let some clubs know” second baseman Starlin Castro is available in trade talks. This was apparently part of their efforts to trade Brett Gardner and Chase Headley earlier this winter. Seems they made any veteran making decent money available.

Castro, who will turn 27 next month, managed a .270/.300/.433 (94 wRC+) batting line with a career high 21 home runs last year, his first as a Yankee and his first as a full-time second baseman. Starlin is owed $30M from 2017-19 with a $16M club option ($1M buyout) for 2020, so he’s making decent money. I have some thoughts on this.

1. Of course the Yankees made Castro available. At this point, there is absolutely no one on the roster the Yankees should make off-limits in trade talks. Gary Sanchez is the closest thing to an untouchable, and even then it makes sense to listen. It never hurts to listen. What if the Angels come calling and say Mike Trout is up for grabs, but only if Sanchez is in the package? Exactly.

Anyway, the best way to describe Castro is … adequate. He offers promise because he’s still young and his raw talent is obvious, though his lack of plate discipline holds him back, and we haven’t seen any improvement in that department. His 3.9% walk rate last year was the second lowest of his career. His career low is 3.6% in 2015, so he’s more of a free-swinger than ever before right now.

We’re getting to the point where Starlin is what he is. This is a guy with nearly 4,400 big league plate appearances to his credit already. If he was going to improve his plate discipline, we’d probably be seeing it by now, right? At the same time, you’d hate to give up on Castro and have him blossom elsewhere. That’s not enough of a reason not to trade him though. By all means, make him available.

2. Which teams need a second baseman? Sherman’s report says the Yankees made “some clubs” aware Castro was available, which seems to indicate they phoned around and let teams with a middle infield opening know they were willing to part with Starlin. This wasn’t a mass “hey Castro is available make me an offer” text situation. It was a “hey, I noticed you need a second baseman, we’re willing to talk Castro” thing. Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

The Dodgers had, by far, the biggest need at second base this offseason. They were connected to Brian Dozier for weeks and weeks before completing the Logan Forsythe trade. Looking around the league, only the Braves, Royals, Padres, and Diamondbacks appear to have middle infield openings. The Braves have top prospect Ozzie Albies coming soon and the Padres are in tank mode, so forget them.

Point is, the market for a middle infielder is fairly limited at this point, which is unusual. So many clubs are rebuilding right now that they prefer to stick with their young internal options at second (or short) rather than scoop up a guy like Castro. I don’t think Starlin has much trade value — remember, the Yankees got him for Adam Warren, not some top prospect — but still, not many teams are desperate for middle infield help.

3. Who would play second for the Yankees? Okay, so let’s say the Yankees find a taker for Castro. Who would they then play at second base? I’ll tell you the answer right now: Chase Utley. Sorry, Rob Refsnyder fans. The Yankees very clearly do not believe in his defense at second. Ronald Torreyes, Ruben Tejada, and Donovan Solano are also internal candidates, but c’mon, a cheap one-year deal for Utley would be inevitable. Maybe he and Refsnyder would platoon.

The real question is who would play second base long-term? I’m not even sure Castro is the answer himself. The Yankees have a ton of shortstop prospects on the way. Tyler Wade is going to open the season at Triple-A and many believe he’s best suited for second because of his arm. Gleyber Torres isn’t far away either. Stopgap free agents like Neil Walker and (ew) Brett Lawrie, both of whom will hit the market next winter, are always options in the interim.

The best case scenario is Starlin figures out some semblance of plate discipline and become a reliably above-average hitter going forward, as he enters what should be the best seasons of his career. That would force the Yankees to make tough decisions with Wade and Torres, among others. That’s a good thing. Too many options is a luxury. For now, Starlin simply isn’t good enough to be considered a long-term core player, and that’s exactly the kind of player you put on the trade market.

Prospect Profile: J.P. Feyereisen

(MLB.com video screen grab)
(MLB.com video screen grab)

J.P. Feyereisen | RHP

Background
Feyereisen, who turned 24 yesterday, grew up in River Falls, Wisconsin, which is about 30 miles from downtown Minneapolis. In his four years as a varsity player at River Falls High School, he was named to several All-State and All-Conference Teams, and was named the State Tournament Most Valuable Player as a senior.

Despite his high school success, Baseball America did not rank Feyereisen among their top prospects from Wisconsin — a state not exactly known for producing baseball talent — prior to the 2011 draft. He went undrafted out of high school and wound up at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a Division III school.

Feyereisen made six starts and five relief appearances as a freshman, throwing 40.2 innings with a 2.66 ERA. He struck out 37 and walked 17. After the season he pitched for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters of the Northwoods League, a collegiate summer league, where he allowed three runs in 8.2 innings.

As a sophomore in 2013, Feyereisen threw 77 innings across a dozen starts and one relief appearance at UWSP, striking out 59 and walking 28. He had a 2.69 ERA and was named the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year. The Pointers advanced to the Division III College World Series that year.

Feyeresen returned to the Rapids Rafters for summer ball, which is when he got his first exposure to full-time bullpen work. He saved eleven games and made the All-Star Team after throwing 31 innings with a 1.16 ERA and 38 strikeouts. Baseball America ranked Feyereisen as the eighth best prospect in the Northwoods League that summer.

During his junior season at UWSP Feyereisen made eight starts and four relief appearances, throwing 62.1 innings with a 3.75 ERA to go with 45 strikeouts and 13 walks. Baseball America ranked Feyereisen as the best Division III prospect in the 2014 draft class and the 464th best prospect overall. He was the No. 2 prospect in Wisconsin.

The Indians selected Feyereisen in the 16th round (488th overall) and signed him to an $80,000 bonus. He became only the third junior to be drafted in UWSP history, joining former Red Sox farmhand Cody Koback (tenth round in 2011) and two-time All-Star Jordan Zimmermann (second round in 2007).

Feyereisen was traded to the Yankees as part of the Andrew Miller trade last summer. Feyereisen, outfielder Clint Frazier, lefty Justus Sheffield, and righty Ben Heller came to New York in the four-for-one swap.

Pro Career
Cleveland never bothered to try Feyereisen as a starter. They grabbed him in the 16th round and moved him to the bullpen immediately. He made his pro debut with the club’s Short Season NY-Penn League affiliate, where he threw 17 innings without allowing a run. Feyereisen struck out 24 and walked one. Zoinks.

The Indians assigned Feyereisen to their Low-A affiliate in the Midwest League to begin 2015, his first full pro season. He allowed two runs in 16.2 innings while striking out 25 and walking six. Feyereisen was quickly promoted to High-A, and he finished the season with a 2.08 ERA (2.51 FIP) in 47.2 total innings. His strikeout rate (30.1%) was excellent, his walk rate just okay (8.1%).

Feyereisen opened 2016 with Double-A Akron and had a 2.23 ERA (3.04 FIP) in 40.1 innings that featured lots of strikeouts (33.1%) and lots of walks (11.8%). The Yankees sent him to Double-A Trenton after the trade, where he threw 18 innings. All told, Feyereisen had a 1.52 ERA (2.76 FIP) in 34.0% strikeouts and 11.3% walks in 65 Double-A innings in 2016.

The Yankees sent Feyereisen to the Arizona Fall League after the season for a little extra work. He allowed five runs (four earned) with 18 strikeouts and seven walks in 14 innings for the Scottsdale Scorpions last fall.

Scouting Report
Feyereisen is built solidly at 6-foot-2 and 215 lbs., and after working at 89-91 mph as a starter in college, he now sits 94-96 mph as a reliever and even touched 100 mph in 2016, according to Baseball America. PitchFX data from the AzFL says Feyereisen averaged 95.3 mph and topped out at 96.8 mph during his 14-inning stint. (That was at the end of a long season and fatigue may have been a factor.)

A mid-80s slider is Feyereisen’s second pitch. Despite his strikeout rates, the slider is not a reliable put-away offering yet. He’s still working to gain consistency with the pitch. He also throws a changeup but very rarely uses it. Feyereisen was sent to the AzFL specifically so he could continue to work on his secondary pitches.

Feyereisen is a strong kid with a good delivery that has some herky-jerkiness to it. His control is just okay and his command is below average. Feyereisen is very much a “here’s the ball, try to hit it” guy with a big fastball at this point, and to his credit, he’s fearless on the mound and a hard-worker off it.

2017 Outlook
After spending a full season at Double-A and having plenty of success, an assignment to Triple-A Scranton is in the cards to begin the upcoming 2017 season. The Yankees are bringing Feyereisen to Spring Training as a non-roster player and that’s not in any way a surprise. A Triple-A reliever is a call-up candidate, so the team is giving Joe Girardi and his coaching staff a chance to get to know Feyereisen this spring. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason and it’s very possible he’ll make his MLB debut at some point this summer.

Miscellany
Relief prospects are unlike every other type of prospect out there. They put up ridiculous minor league numbers that make you believe they’re ready to be setup men and closers at the big league level, but the fact of the matter is most of them are airing it out for an inning at a time and dominating overmatched minor leaguers, many of whom won’t a) sniff the show, and b) face the pitcher again that series and have a chance to adjust. It’s hard to separate the stats from the potential, I know it is, but it’s necessary.

That isn’t to say Feyereisen isn’t a good prospect. He’s a solid relief prospect who will undoubtedly pitch in the big leagues at some point, perhaps as soon as this year, and I think he has a chance to carve out a nice career as a middle reliever. The velocity is great, but the lack of a reliable secondary pitch presently holds Feyereisen back from high-leverage work. Hopefully he improves his slider and proves me wrong. For now, I see a possible middle reliever who relies on his fastball, and considering he was the fourth piece in the trade, that’s a pretty nice return.