Over the last 14 months or so, the Yankees went from having a promising middle of the pack farm system to arguably the best system in all of baseball. They sold at the trade deadline for the first time in nearly three decades, and the trading of veterans for prospects continued this offseason. The Yankees have acquired six of my top 30 prospects (and five of my top 15) since last July, plus two others who were among the final cuts.
The trades are not the only reason New York’s farm system has morphed into one of baseball’s best, however. A strong 2016 draft as well as several breakout (and bounce back) seasons from prospects already in the system helped as well. It would be wrong to say everything went right in the farm system last year. Only most things went right. It’s hard to think of a better possible season on the minor league side.
Amazingly, the Yankees have arguably the game’s top system despite graduating four of last year’s top 30 prospects to MLB, most notably No. 2 prospect Gary Sanchez. Fellow 2016 top ten prospects Rob Refsnyder (No. 6) and Bryan Mitchell (No. 7) also graduated to the big leagues last year, as did Luis Cessa (No. 26). Four others from last year’s top 30 are no longer in the organization due to trades (Ben Gamel), releases (Slade Heathcott, Jacob Lindgren), and the Rule 5 Draft (Luis Torrens). Thirteen of last year’s top 30 prospects are not on this year’s list for whatever reason.
This is, ridiculously, my 11th top 30 prospects list here at RAB. It still feels like just yesterday we were dreaming on guys like Jose Tabata and Christian Garcia. Good times. Good times. You can see all my previous top 30 lists right here. Obligatory reminder: I do not claim to be an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to read about prospects and rank them on my free of charge weblog. Disagree with the rankings? That’s cool. Mock me as you see fit.
For prospect eligibility, I stick with the MLB rookie limits of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched. Why at-bats and not plate appearances? Who knows. Also, I don’t pay attention to service time — players lose rookie eligibility once they accrue 45 days of service time outside September — because it’s not worth the effort to track. As always, prospect ranking is about balancing upside with probability, present skills with projection, and performance with tools. Everyone balances those things differently. It would be boring if we all did it all the same.
I liked the way the format worked out last year, so I stuck with it again this time around. All head shot photos come from MLB.com and MiLB.com. This year’s top 30 is after the jump. Enjoy.
We’ve got 16 questions in the mailbag this weekend. I didn’t realize it was so many while I was writing it up. Send all your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.
Steve asks: $3M/1 for Carter vs $37M/3 for Trumbo. Compare and contrast.
Mark Trumbo is a better player and hitter than Chris Carter, but he’s not two years and $34M better. Some quick numbers:
Carter 2016: .222/.321/.499 (112 wRC+), 41 HR, 32.0 K%, 11.8 BB%, +0.9 fWAR
Trumbo 2016: .256/.316/.533 (123 wRC+), 47 HR, 25.5 K%, 7.6 BB%, +2.2 fWAR
Carter 2014-16: .218/.313/.477 (114 wRC+), 102 HR, 32.2 K%, 11.3 BB%, +3.3 fWAR
Trumbo 2014-16: .253/.309/.477 (110 wRC+), 83 HR, 24.8 K%, 7.3 BB%, +2.0 fWAR
Carter 2017 ZiPS: .211/.311/.484 (115 OPS+), 35 HR, 35.6 K%, 11.7 BB%, +1.2 WAR
Trumbo 2017 ZiPS: .251/.307/.491 (111 OPS+), 32 HR, 25.3 K%, 7.4 BB%, +1.4 WAR
Trumbo is going to hit for a considerably higher average, we’re talking as much as 30-40 points, and I think those extra hits more than make up for the difference in walk rate. Walks are good. Hits are better. Carter is almost a full year younger, though it wouldn’t surprise me if Trumbo came close to repeating his 2016 season in 2017. He’s made some real improvements with his plate discipline over the years.
That said, give me Carter at one year and $3.5M over Trumbo at three years and $37M all day, every day. Especially since Trumbo was attached to draft pick compensation.
Matt asks: Aaron Judge, Chris Carter, Gary Sanchez, or the field: Who hits the longest HR for the Yankees this season? Who hit the longest out of that trio last year? (I would assume Carter, but I know the kids hit some moonshots themselves.)
Carter did have the longest home run of the three last season. He mashed this 465 foot bomb off former Yankee Wade LeBlanc in August:
The easy answer for the longest homer this coming season is Carter because the dude has so much power. I’ll take Judge though. I bet he’ll hit one over both bullpens at Camden Yards. How’s that sound?
Dan asks: Do the signings of Holliday and Carter mean that Tyler Austin is probably not in the Yankees plans going forward?
I don’t think so. Matt Holliday and Carter are on one-year contracts. Keep in mind that at this time last year, Austin was a complete non-factor. He had been dropped from the 40-man roster and no team bothered to claim him on waivers. It’s entirely possible Austin has turned a new leaf and last season was the real him. I don’t blame the Yankees for bringing in a little extra depth just in case though. Personally, I probably would have passed on Carter and given Austin the playing time, but I don’t think it’s an egregious move. (Also, we have no idea what’s going with Greg Bird‘s shoulder, and I’m sure that factored into the decision to sign Carter.) Austin was always going to have to prove he belongs in the long-term plans. Nothing has changed.
Matthew asks: In basketball a lot of the talk these days is about height vs. wingspan, so a guy like Draymond Green can effectively play way bigger than he is due to a relatively large wingspan. Why don’t we talk about this with pitchers? Like if a pitcher in your system is 5’10” but has a 6’4” wingspan wouldn’t he essentially be releasing the ball at a similar spot to a taller guy? On top of that wouldn’t having longer arms allow a guy to get more torque and therefore more velocity on his pitches?
That’s interesting. This could be something that shows up in a pitcher’s extension, right? How far away from the plate he releases the ball? Part of what makes Dellin Betances so hard to hit is not just the sheer quality of his stuff, but he’s also so tall and his arms are so long that he’s releasing the ball that much closer to the plate, which gives hitters even less time to react. There are no stats on extension as far as I know, which is also tied to stride length and would be an imperfect measure of the effect of wingspan, as far as I know.
It does stand to reason the guy with longer arms would generate more force on the ball since he’s using a longer level, though there would also be more resistance from the air during his arm swing. I’ve never heard anyone talk about a pitcher’s wingspan before, let alone do research to see what kind of benefits it offers. Perhaps the impact is negligible, or not large enough to justify seeking out pitchers with long arms. I wish I had a better answer, but this is definitely something I’d be interested in learning more about.
Geoffrey asks: What was Torreyes’ story when he was a prospect? I know he’s bounced around to a number of different teams in the last couple years, but he’s still quite young, I believe 23 for all of last season, and as you pointed out, filled the backup infielder role admirably. Is this really as good as teams think he’ll get though? No one really seemed to want him before the Yankees, but a 22/23 yr old infielder capable of hacking it in the big leagues, even just as a back up, doesn’t seem like the kind of player a team should give up on.
Ronald Torreyes was never a top prospect but he was a legitimate prospect. Last offseason, in their 2016 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America ranked him as the 26th best prospect in a stacked Dodgers system. (The Prospect Handbook went to print before the trade.) Torreyes is pretty well traveled, and here is where Baseball America has ranked him in his various organizations over the years:
Never a top prospect, but a prospect nonetheless. Baseball America’s scouting report last offseason dubbed Torreyes a future utility infielder. The year before, when he ranked 24th in the Astros system, their scouting report said he “profiles as a utilityman.” Go back to 2011 and Baseball America’s scouting report says “some scouts think he could handle the position as a utilityman.”
Torreyes has profiled as a bench player for a long time, mostly because he has no power and doesn’t walk a ton. He’s a rock solid reserve player because he makes contact easily and can handle the three non-first base infield positions well. Torreyes is listed at 5-foot-10, but having stood next to the guy, there’s no way that’s correct. He’s closer to 5-foot-7 or 5-foot-8. Unless he grows a few inches and adds more muscle, he’s not going to hit for more power, so I don’t see how he can improve his long-term outlook.
I’m not sure “teams gave up on Torreyes” is the best way to look at it. It seems like lots of teams wanted him, which is why every time he hit waivers, he was claimed. I mean, if you need to open a 40-man roster spot, isn’t the prospect who projects to be a utility infielder usually among the first to get cut? That’s usually how it works. Torreyes is a quality reserve infielder and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’ll make a heck of a living that way. I’m glad the Yankees have him.
Alex asks: Will the team have a problem finding enough innings for all of their SP Prospects, or is this something that usually works itself out, namely with injuries? If everyone stays healthy, are they more likely to go with six-man rotations, or opt for tandem starters?
Oh no. They won’t have any problem finding innings. No no no. If, by some miracle there aren’t enough innings, then the Yankees will probably be right in the thick of the AL East race. The Yankees will need all their pitchers and more throughout the season. That’s just the way it goes. Hopefully everyone makes it through camp healthy and the pitching staffs are clogged at the upper levels of the minors on Opening Day. That would take care of itself before long. Having too many pitchers is not something I will ever worry about.
Paul asks: Love the prediction post on the SWB starting roster. How accurate was last year’s prediction?
Here is last year’s post and here is the 2016 Triple-A Opening Day roster. I cheated a bit and gave more of a broad overview of the pitching staff, so it’s hard to say how accurate I was last year. I also took the easy way out and said the two catchers will come from this group of four players. I’m so lame. Four players I didn’t mention in last year’s post wound up on the Triple-A Scranton Opening Day roster: Tyler Cloyd, Diego Moreno, Chris Parmelee, and Deibinson Romero. Last year’s post went up before Greg Bird’s injury, so Parmelee wasn’t even in the organization at the time. This year’s post was a little more rigorous. We’ll get a better idea of how accurate it was come April.
Frankee asks: Could Otani be signed with a say, a seven year contract, with the first three years fitting under new international hard cap, and then balloon payments years four through seven with a player opt out to make up for the salary hit he’d take on the front end?
Nope. Players subject to the international spending rules can only sign minor league contracts. He gets his bonus and a minor league deal. That’s it. In theory, whichever team signs Otani could sign him to a massive long-term contract after his first big league season, though something tells me MLB would make a stink about that. The owners seem pretty dead set on suppressing salaries, and I’m guessing they’d want Otani to go through three pre-arbitration years like everyone else. That sets a precedent going forward.
Daniel asks: What, if anything, do you take away from the Yankees having Starlin Castro attending the recent events with some of the team’s top prospects? Between the panel discussion, and the senior citizen kitchen, I’ve noticed him a couple times with the young guys.
I don’t think it means anything. Chances are Castro was involved because he was available, that’s all. Didi Gregorius was away at the time in New Zealand, where he was promoting baseball and holding camps for kids, that sort of thing. Had Gregorius not been on the other side of the world, I’m sure he would have been involved in the Winter Warm-Up too. CC Sabathia, Chase Headley, and Holliday were involved along with Castro. Does it mean anything that Betances wasn’t involved? Probably not, despite his upcoming arbitration hearing. He’s one of the most popular players on the team and someone the Yankees would want involved in the Warm-Up. Betances probably wasn’t in town though. These things usually have as much to do with who is available at the time as who the team wants there.
Miguel asks: What are your early predictions for AL MVP and NL MVP, and why?
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, because they are the most talented players in each league. A boring answer? Yes. But they’re both pretty strong bets. Trout managed to break through and win MVP last year despite being on a terrible team, and he did it in a year there was a trendy alternative on a contender (Mookie Betts). I hope that’s a sign of things to come. Voters had gotten to the point where they were looking for reasons to not give him the MVP. Same with Clayton Kershaw and the NL Cy Young. He’s so damn good and the obvious answer each year that it gets boring talking about it.
As for Harper, I think his down season — imagine hitting .243/.373/.441 (112 wRC+) at age 23 and having people call it down a season, but that’s the standard Harper has set — has more to do with the nagging shoulder injury he reportedly played through most of the year. Here’s a fun game: how high could you go before you say there’s no way Harper could do that next year? .330/.470/.680? Maybe even .340/.480/.700? Remember, he hit .330/.460/.649 as a 22-year-old in 2015. There’s no need to overthink things with preseason awards picks. Who is the most talented player in the league? That’s who I’ll take for MVP.
Chris asks: Any Eovaldi updates? Until he signs with someone, he has access Yankee facilities correct? Do they assist with his recovery at all?
No new updates on Nathan Eovaldi since we heard the Yankees had talked to him about a reunion. And yes, the Yankees have to assist him during his rehab. For rehab purposes, it’s like he’s still on the roster. He has access to the team facilities and all that. Eovaldi doesn’t have to use them, he could rehab on his own, but the Yankees have to make their facilities available to him. That’s true until he signs with a new team. I wouldn’t be surprised if Eovaldi went unsigned all summer a la Greg Holland, especially since this is his second Tommy John surgery. Not too many of these “give this injured guy a two-year deal and hope he helps in a year” deals have worked out. Seems now teams are saying forget it, we’ll wait until he’s almost done rehabbing before getting involved.
Anthony asks: Assuming there is no trade market for Ellsbury and they have to pay him anyway, do you think he will eventually get the A-Rod treatment, i,e. benching –> release? Is there any other way to free up a spot for one of the young outfielders?
Not anytime soon. Not with four years left on his contract. Brian Cashman said the Yankees have talked about breaking up Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury atop the lineup, and while that sounds great, I can’t help but feel it’ll be Gardner who gets demoted to the bottom of the order. We’ll see. If there was one or two years left on Ellsbury’s contract, then maybe they’d be more open to reducing his playing time or even releasing him. He has four years left though. Four. They’re going to spend the next two or three years trying to make him more productive, not reducing his role.
Anonymous asks: You’ve got a time machine that’ll take you back a couple of months. A Deleon for Didi swap is up for discussion. Who hangs up first (assuming Didi agrees to a position change) Yankees or Dodgers?
Both teams, probably. The Dodgers wanted a right-handed batter at second base because they were so dreadful against lefties a year ago (.213/.290/.332!) and Didi Gregorius wouldn’t have helped them. I mean, yeah, he had a great year against southpaws in 2016, but it’s a little too early to dub him a lefty masher at this point. Also, I don’t think the Yankees would take De Leon for their starting shortstop. De Leon comes with some real red flags (shoulder injury in 2016, average fastball, fly ball and home run prone, etc.) that seem to get ignored because because OMG Friedman is a genius!, but they’re real red flags nonetheless. There are valid reasons to think De Leon is a terrible fit for Yankee Stadium and the AL East in general.
(How the heck does six years of De Leon for two years of Logan Forsythe get more hate than six years of Andrew Heaney for one year of Howie Kendrick? Heaney then > De Leon now.)
Swisher was a pretty good defender during his prime, you know. There are definitely similarities in their games and Frazier turning into Swisher 2.0 would be a really good outcome. Swisher had his ups and down during his first full season in the show (105 wRC+), then from ages 25-31, he hit .258/.365/.471 (122 wRC+) overall and averaged 27 homers and +3.4 fWAR per season. That’s really good! Frazier has the talent to hit for a higher average, though I’d be shocked if he drew as many walks (Swisher had a 13.7% walk rate from ages 25-31), so their on-base percentages may be similar, though they’ll get there in different ways. I know Swisher got on some people’s nerves, but he was a really good hitter for a seven-year stretch there. Swisher 2.0 would be a great outcome for Frazier. (Don’t forget Swisher was a switch-hitter. Always having the platoon advantage is a nice luxury.)
Brent asks: Who is the most important player for the rebuild to be successful.
Good question! I’m not sure there’s a correct answer. Sanchez seems like an obvious choice because having a great catcher is such a huge advantage. Maybe it’s James Kaprielian? The Yankees need arms going forward and he offers the best combination of present stuff and MLB readiness in the system. What about Gleyber Torres? A star up-the-middle player is crucial too. Then again, the Yankees have so many bats in the farm system that maybe they don’t need Sanchez or Torres or Judge to hit. They have enough offensive depth to cover. I’m going to go with Sanchez. Look at pretty much any team that has sustained success over several years and chances are they had a high-end catcher on the roster.
Bob asks: I noticed that Luis Torrens is only the 23rd ranked prospect with the Padres. How can he possibly stick with the ML team all year? Are the Padres that stacked? Where do you think he would rank with the Yankees now?
Torrens did not make San Diego’s top 30 in Baseball America’s shiny new 2017 Prospect Handbook, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) said Torrens “at one point was a serious prospect behind the plate, but after shoulder surgery his arm really hasn’t come back” in his recent Padres top ten list. Law ranked 22 prospects and Torrens was outside the top 22. MLB.com has Torrens ranked 23rd on their end-of-season 2016 list. When they release their 2017 rankings in the coming weeks, he’ll probably rank lower.
The Padres have a phenomenal farm system right now, on par with the Yankees and Braves. (Law had San Diego third behind the Braves and Yankees in his recent farm system rankings.) I have a really hard time thinking Torrens can stick in the big leagues all year. So very few Rule 5 Draft catchers stick, even the veteran-ish guys who have Triple-A time. Torrens is going to be making the jump from Low-A. Yikes. The Padres are going to be so bad that maybe they just don’t care and will keep him all season anyway. Hopefully not, but we’ll see.
As for where Torrens would rank with the Yankees right now, you’re just going to have to wait until I post my annual Top 30 Prospects List later today. I answered that question within the post. Intrigue!
Here is the open thread for the evening. Both the Rangers and Islanders are playing, and there’s some college basketball on too. Discuss those games, the snow, and anything else here as long as it’s not religion or politics.
According to Jesse Sanchez, the Yankees made a “strong push” for free agent right-handed reliever Sergio Romo before he agreed to a one-year deal with the Dodgers over the weekend. Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman report the Yankees never did make a formal offer to Romo, who wanted to stay close to home on the West Coast anyway.
Romo, 34 in March, had a 2.60 ERA (3.80 FIP) with 28.2% strikeouts and 6.0% walks in 30.2 innings last year. He missed two months with a flexor strain, the same injury that sidelined James Kaprielian most of the season. Romo pitched in winter ball in Mexico this offseason to show teams he’s healthy and effective. I’ve got some thoughts on this.
1. Romo is exactly the kind of pitcher the Yankees target. The Yankees are firm believers in DIPS Theory, which says pitchers should be evaluated based on things they control (strikeouts, walks, homers) and not so much on things out of their control (did the defense make the play?). That’s good, though these days we know pitchers do have some control over the type of contact they allow (see: Michael Pineda giving up rockets despite a sexy FIP). The Yankees know that too.
Anyway, Romo has long been a guy with phenomenal strikeout and walk rates. From 2010-16, a span of seven seasons and 371.2 innings, he had a 2.70 FIP with a 29.0% strikeout rate and a 4.8% walk rate. That’s the kind of pitcher the Yankees (and every team, really) loves. Lots of strikeouts and few walks. Furthermore, Romo has been throwing high-leverage innings for the Giants for the better part of a decade. He closed out a World Series (2012) and helped win two others (2010, 2014). The whole “how will this guy perform under pressure?” question has been answered.
2. Romo has his limitations at this point, however. Romo is not your typical reliever in that he never threw all that hard. His sinker sat in the upper-80s during his prime, and last year it was down to 85.9 mph on average. Romo succeeds by throwing his no-dot slider (GIF via Reddit)…
… a ton. I’m talking roughly 60% of the time in recent years. He pitches backwards. His slider sets up his sinker, not the other way around. The continued loss of velocity and the fact he’s never been much of a ground ball guy (career 38.8%) gives Romo less margin for error nowadays. His 1.47 HR/9 and 13.9 HR/FB% last year were both career highs — that was in pitcher friendly AT&T Park too, remember — and over the last three seasons lefties (.362 wOBA) have had much more success against him than righties (.232 wOBA).
At this point of his career, with his best years almost certainly in the past, it’s fair to consider Romo a middle innings right-on-right matchup guy, not a late-innings high-leverage option who faces batters on both sides of the plate. The presence of Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances ensured Joe Girardi wouldn’t have had to use Romo as a high-leverage reliever. The Yankees didn’t sign him though, so it doesn’t matter anyway. Whatever.
3. The Yankees are still looking for help. This became clear when they signed Chris Carter. The Yankees hadn’t done anything of note since (re-)signing Chapman during the Winter Meetings, but that didn’t mean they weren’t trying to improve the roster. I mean, I don’t think anyone seriously believed they stopped trying to get better. Their interest in Romo is a reminder that they remain engaged in the market though.
The free agent market has little to offer at this point, so even though the Yankees were willing to spend X on Romo, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will turn around and spend it on someone else now. (Heck, that money may have gone to Carter.) I’m not even sure who they could go after. Joe Blanton? Travis Wood?? Those fellows represent the best available free agent arms right now, at least among guys who finished the season healthy. The Yankees want to get better and they did with Carter. There just aren’t many other ways to do it right now.
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?
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.
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 Gregorius‘ Instagram, 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.