Thoughts on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects

Frazier. (Presswire)
Frazier. (Presswire)

Last week, Keith Law released his annual top 100 prospects list, which included six Yankees. Then, on Saturday, the crew at MLB.com released their top 100 list as well. Law and MLB.com agree on one thing: Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi is the best prospect in baseball. The lists diverge after that.

A total of seven Yankees made MLB.com’s top 100 list, which is pretty awesome. As always, MLB.com’s list and scouting reports are completely free. It’s a fantastic resource. Here are the seven Yankees on the list:

3. SS Gleyber Torres
24. OF Clint Frazier
37. OF Blake Rutherford
45. OF Aaron Judge
47. SS Jorge Mateo
58. RHP James Kaprielian
79. LHP Justus Sheffield

Five top 50 prospects and six top 60 prospects is pretty great. No other team can make that claim. The White Sox and Pirates are the only other teams with as many as four top 50 prospects, and Pittsburgh is the only other team with five top 60 prospects. The Yankees and Braves lead the way with seven top 100 prospects apiece. Some quick thoughts:

1. Torres could be the No. 1 prospect very soon. The only reason Benintendi is still prospect-eligible is a minor knee injury that sidelined him three weeks in August and September. He finished the season with 105 at-bats, only 25 away from the rookie limit of 130. Once Benintendi clears 130 at-bats, he’ll drop off the list, and it’s not crazy to think Torres could surpass Moncada in prospect status in the first half of this season. Also, Braves SS Dansby Swanson, MLB.com’s No. 4 prospect, is literally one at-bat away from losing prospect status, so one of Gleyber’s primary competitors for the top spot will drop off the list on Opening Day. The Yankees have never had the No. 1 prospect according to MLB.com, though, to be fair, MLB.com hasn’t been producing top 100 lists all that long. According to Baseball America, the last time the Yankees had the No. 1 prospect in baseball was way back in 1992, when LHP Brien Taylor sat in the top spot.

2. Mateo is still highly regarded. Despite a poor statistical season and a two-week suspension for violating team rules, MLB.com still considers Mateo one of the best prospects in the game. (Law dropped Mateo out of the top 100 entirely.) He did slip in the rankings — last year Mateo was No. 30 on MLB.com’s original top 100 list — which is understandable, but the MLB.com folks still believe in the tools. And that’s most important. Not the numbers. Mateo won’t turn 22 until the end of June and he still has the incredible quick twitch athleticism that landed him on top 100 lists last year. Remember, Baseball Prospectus ranked Mateo as the third best prospect in the system behind Torres and Frazier. Law may have cut bait, but others still clearly believe in the kid.

3. Yet again, Kaprielian climbed big time. I’m still amazed at where Kaprielian is landing on these top 100 lists given his relatively serious arm injury last season. (Miss as much time as he did and it qualifies as a serious injury in my book.) He jumped 59 spots on Law’s top 100. Kaprielian didn’t even make MLB.com’s top 100 list last year and now he’s 58th. How impressive must he have been before and especially after the injury to earn so much support on the various prospects lists? Also, how much higher would he have ranked had he stayed completely healthy last season? Are we talking about a potential top five pitching prospect? As it stands, Kaprielian is already the 21st ranked pitcher on the top 100. A full season of healthy Kaprielian in 2017 could mean a) reaching the big leagues in September, and b) being ranked as a tippy top prospect next spring. Exciting!

4. Adams was really close to the top 100 too. On Twitter, Jim Callis said RHP Chance Adams very nearly made the top 100 as well. He fell in the 101-115 range. So, for all intents and purposes, the Yankees currently have five top 50 and eight top 115 prospects in all of baseball according to MLB.com. That’s pretty great. I don’t think Adams is a top 100 caliber prospect myself, but I understand why some think and hope he’ll slip into the back half. Just the fact he’s even in the conversation is great. I’m guessing others like RHP Albert Abreu and 3B Miguel Andujar were in the top 100 conversation too. Know what I’d really love to see? A top 500 prospect list. That’s the best way to measure the depth and strength of the farm system. We all focus on the top five or ten prospects and I get it. But compare each team’s 30th best prospect. That’s a better indicator of farm system depth.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 30th, 2017

2016 Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
View Results

Weekend Open Thread

Last June, Phillies pitching prospect Matt Imhof, who I once profiled as a possible draft target, lost his right eye in a freak accident at the ballpark. He was working out with resistance bands mounted to the wall when the base broke loose and hit him in the face. It was a tragic, freak accident.

Thankfully, Imhof has recovered and is thriving. In a must-read piece at ESPN, he announced his retirement from baseball as a player not because of the injury, but because “I need a change of pace after 20 years of doing the same thing.” Imhof has since gone back to college and is currently an undergraduate assistant pitching coach with the Cal Poly baseball team.

I have no connection to Imhof and all I know about him is what I wrote in that draft profile four years ago. I was still devastated by the news of his accident last summer — how could you not feel terrible for the guy? — and I’m glad to hear he’s now doing well. That was a traumatic, life-changing day, but Imhof has refused to let him drag it down.

“My identity used to be wrapped around baseball, it was who I was. This injury allowed me to see past that,” he wrote. “I might not want the same things as I used to, but that’s only because I have learned more about myself than I ever thought I would … I’m a firm believer that baseball, through all my struggles on and off the field, prepared me for this moment. But the greatest thing baseball ever did for me was teach me who I could be without it.”

* * *

Friday: Here is the open thread for the night. The NHL is in their All-Star break this weekend, so there’s nothing going around the league tonight. The Knicks and Nets are both playing though, and there’s a ton of college hoops on the schedule too. You folks know how these work by now, so have at it.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. MLB.com is releasing their top 100 prospects list tonight during a live broadcast on MLB Network. It begins at 8pm ET and you can stream it on MLB.com as well. Also, the NHL All-Star Skills Challenge is on tonight (7pm ET on NBCSN), plus the Nets are playing and there’s a ton of college basketball on too.

Sunday: For the final time, this is the open thread. Both the NHL All-Star Game (3:30pm ET on NBC) and the Pro Bowl (8pm ET on ESPN) are on today. The Knicks are playing too, and there’s some college basketball on as well. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Judge a Key to Lengthening Lineup

(AP)
(AP)

It’s pretty damn difficult for a guy who’s over six and a half feet tall to get lost in the proverbial shuffle, but it seems that’s what’s happened to Aaron Judge during this offseason. Most of the focus has been on just about anyone and anything but him. Even guys yet to make their Major League debuts, like Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres, have gotten more attention than Judge has during this Hot Stove season. Despite the relative lack of chatter about the big outfielder, his role in 2017 is nonetheless strikingly important.

On a macro level, Judge, along with the other young players on the team, represents the future, the success or failure of this recent rebuild. Fairly or unfairly, he and Gary Sanchez will be under a lot of pressure to perform; and if they don’t, I foresee a lot of fans (though not necessarily those reading this site, who tend to be a bit more even tempered about these things) questioning the wisdom of abandoning ‘SPEND SPEND SPEND’ as a team building strategy in favor of rebuild/reload.

On a micro level, Judge’s presence in the lineup, even if he’s at a lower position in the batting order, will go along way in determining how strong the Yankees are at the plate. The top of the order seems fairly predictable, reliable, even; we pretty much know what we’re going to see from Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, as well as Matt Holliday. Sanchez’s bat is also a question, but not in terms of talent; we just need to see if he can keep up the power. In the middle and bottom of the order, Greg Bird‘s shoulder health is a question, as are the statuses of Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius; they both had great years (relatively speaking) in 2016 and repeating those isn’t a guarantee. Which Chase Headley will show up? With improvement from last year, Judge can be a steadying presence in the bottom of the lineup, adding value with power and patience.

Both of those things were on display last year. Judge socked four homers in his 95 plate appearances and posted a .167 ISO. Those aren’t horribly impressive numbers, but they’re not close to what his true talent level is. With adjustments, we’re likely to see those numbers climb. Additionally, he walked 9.5% of the time in 2016, a solid mark for anyone, let alone a rookie with a big strikeout problem.

Aside from those whiffs, Judge will need to improve against lefties, who exploited him big time last year. He hit just .067/.222/.067 against them last year with a 55.6% (!!!!) strikeout rate. The 16.7% walk rate is all well and good, but when it comes with nearly 60% strikeouts and literally zero power, it doesn’t mean too much. And how did they do it? Changeups.

Against that pitch, Judge whiffed on 81.82% (!!!!!) of the swings he took. Unsurprisingly, he hit .000 with a .000 slugging against left-handed changeups. If we take a look at this image from Mike’s post reviewing Judge’s year, we can see a pictorial representation of Judge’s struggles when pitchers pulled the string.

Aaron Judge whiffs

Improvement in general and improvement against lefties are the goals for Judge in 2017. Any progress on those fronts obviously means something good for him, but it also lends credence to a lineup with a lot of questions. Even if he’s in the seven, eight, or nine spot, a big year from Judge can make a big difference in the Yankees’ offensive production.

Saturday Links: Lefty Reliever, Top 100, Captain’s Camp

Soon. (Presswire)
Soon. (Presswire)

Only three more weekends without baseball after this one. Spring Training games aren’t that far away! Thank goodness. I am so ready for this offseason to be over. Here are some links to check out today:

Yankees still looking for a cheap lefty reliever

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees remain in the hunt for a left-handed reliever, but only want a player who will take a low base salary or minor league deal. Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins, the two best free agent southpaws, are seeking two-year deals worth at least $12M, says Rosenthal. If they stick to that demand, the Yankees won’t get either. I assume Travis Wood is a non-option too given the low base salary thing.

The Yankees have Tommy Layne, Chasen Shreve, and Richard Bleier as their top middle innings lefty reliever candidates at the moment, and Brian Cashman talked up Joe Mantiply at the town hall last week. “He’s a soft-tossing situational lefty that I know that people were coming up to me saying, you snookered us when you claimed him off waivers,” he said. Would Charlie Furbush take a minor league deal after a shoulder injury sidelined him all of 2016? He might be the best available cheap southpaw.

Five Yankees on ZiPS top 100 prospects

In a companion piece to Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list, Dan Szymborski put together a list of the top 100 prospects according to his ZiPS projection system (sub. req’d). ZiPS is entirely data-driven, so you’ve got to take the projections with a big grain of salt, though I still always like seeing where the scouting reports and stats disagree.

The best prospect in baseball per ZiPS is Braves SS Dansby Swanson, who Law ranked second. Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi is first on Law’s list and seventh on the ZiPS list. The Yankees had five ZiPS top 100 prospects:

8. SS Gleyber Torres (Law’s rank: 4th)
9. OF Clint Frazier (Law’s rank: 27th)
34. OF Aaron Judge (Law’s rank: 44th)
44. OF Blake Rutherford (Law’s rank: 22nd)
65. 3B Miguel Andujar (Law’s rank: DNR)

RHP James Kaprielian and LHP Justus Sheffield made Law’s list but not the ZiPS list, though ZiPS tends to skew towards position players because they don’t carry as much injury risk. The top nine and 21 of the top 25 prospects in baseball are position players according to ZiPS, so yeah. Interesting to see Andujar a middle of the top 100 guy according to ZiPS. The system likes his low strikeout rate and developing power, it seems.

New Spring Training hats leaked

For the umpteenth straight spring, teams will wear different hats for Spring Training this season. A photo of the new Yankees hat was leaked over at SportsLogos.net and my goodness, it’s hideous:

spring-training-hat

It should be noted MLB and the Yankees have not officially revealed their new Spring Training hats, so it’s entirely possible that hat is a rejected design or something like that. I can’t. I just can’t anymore. Stop messing with the classic interlocking NY, yo.

Captain’s Camp now underway

Remember yesterday’s mailbag question about Captain’s Camp? Well now we have an update, courtesy of Brendan Kuty. Farm system head Gary Denbo said Captain’s Camp is currently underway and will run from January 18th to February 24th this year. Andy Pettitte, Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rodriguez, and Tino Martinez are among the scheduled guest instructors. Several current Yankees will help out as well once Spring Training beings. Derek Jeter has taken the prospects out to a surprise dinner the last two years and Denbo hopes he does the same this year.

Denbo came up with the idea for Captain’s Camp a few years ago and says the goal is to “develop championship-type complete players for our Major League club.” The Yankees bring in a bunch of prospects for Captain’s Camp and basically teach them how to be professionals, how to be accountable, and help them become the best player they can be. Workouts and drills are part of Captain’s Camp, no doubt, but most of it is geared towards the off-the-field aspects of being a Yankee. They’re the most recognizable brand in sports, which creates unique demands.

Prospect Profile: Dustin Fowler

(The Times-Tribune)
(The Times-Tribune)

Dustin Fowler | OF

Background

The 22-year-old Fowler was born and raised in Cadwell, Georgia, a town with a population of under 500 during his formative years. He attended West Laurens High School a few miles down the road, where he split his time between baseball, wrestling, and football through his junior season. His high school career took off once he focused on the best sport of the three, and he won the All-Middle Georgia GHSA Baseball Player of the Year Award in his senior season. He batted .598 that year, with 8 home runs and 39 RBI.

Baseball America ranked Fowler as the 22nd best prospect from Georgia heading into the 2013 draft (a class headlined by Clint Frazier), though he did not crack the BA 500. The Yankees took him in the 18th round (554th overall), and gave him a well over-slot $278,000 signing bonus to buy him out of a commitment to Georgia State University.

Pro Career

Fowler kicked-off his professional career in the GCL, where he hit just .241/.274/.384 with zero homers and three steals in 117 PA (89 wRC+). He would then spend the entirety of an injury-abbreviated 2014 at Charleston, where he hit .257/.292/.459 with 9 HR and 3 SB in 272 PA (104 wRC+). The uptick power jumps off the page, as does the modest bump in OBP, thanks to Fowler’s walk rate jumping from 3.4% in 2013 to 4.8% in 2014.

Fowler broke out in 2015, batting .307/.340/.419 (114 wRC+ with 4 HR and 18 SB in 256 PA) in a return engagement with Charleston, and earning a promotion to High-A Tampa on June 22. His power sagged a bit in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, but he still batted .289/.328/.370 with a home run and 12 steals (111 wRC+) in 262 PA. His walk rate ticked up once at High-A, from 4.3% to 5.7%, which helped to mask the slip in power.

He earned a ticket to the Arizona Fall League after the 2015 season, and it was more of the same in the desert, as he slashed .279/.313/.410 with 2 HR and 7 SB in 65 PA. It’s an offense-happy environment, so his 96 wRC+ was actually a bit below-average, but he impressed nevertheless.

The 22-year-old’s ascent up the Yankees prospect list continued in 2016, as he performed admirably in a full season at Double-A. Fowler batted .281/.311/.458 for Trenton, with 12 HR and 25 SB (109 wRC+) in 574 PA, and drew praise for his continued refinement. His walk rate sagged dramatically, dipping to 3.8%, but it was mitigated a bit by his career-best 15.0% strikeout rate and well above-average .177 ISO.

All told, Fowler is a .279/.313/.429 hitter in 1,546 professional plate appearances.

Scouting Report

Most any report that you read on Fowler revolves around two things: his rawness, and his athleticism. The former is largely a product of his amateur career, as he was a three sport athlete for a few years, and played for a small school in a small division. And the latter is simply something that he oozes, with his 6’0″, 185-pound frame (he’s added about 15 pounds of muscle since signing with the Yankees) and well above-average to plus speed.

It isn’t just about athleticism for Fowler, though. He’s a left-handed hitter and thrower, with above-average to plus bat speed and the ability to barrel the ball anywhere in the strike zone. He also has average to above-average raw power, particularly to the pull side (hello, short porch), and he has been able to actualize that power in-game more often than many expected. Fowler’s approach at the plate may be best described as controlled aggression, and his ability to work the count remains his most glaring flaw as a prospect.

Defense is where Fowler truly shines, owing to his aforementioned speed and athleticism. He takes good routes in the outfield, accelerates quickly, and has the arm strength to stay in center long-term.

That speed and acceleration should make him an asset on the basepaths, as well. It has not as of yet, though, as he has been successful on just over 71% of his 95 career attempts, or right around the break-even mark. Fowler’s still just 22 (and a young 22, as his birthday was on December 29), so there is reason to hope that he’ll figure it out.

Baseball America ranked him ninth on the Yankees’ top-ten back in October, which says quite a bit given the team’s extraordinary farm system.

2017 Outlook

Fowler is set to open this coming season at Triple-A, where he’ll bounce between left and center. He’s not on the 40-man roster at this point, but he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next off-season, so this is an important year in his development. I expect to see him in Spring Training this season, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he spent a significant amount of time in the Majors this season (perhaps in some sort of carousel with Mason Williams and Jake Cave).

My Take

The walk rates are a red flag, as I worry that Fowler will be too easily exploited by pitchers who are more capable of painting the corners (as well as umpires who call more consistent strike zones). His tools are so obvious, though, and the praise is so universal that I hold out hope that he could be a league-average regular in center. There’s a great deal of work to be done, but he’s already at Triple-A, and it’s clear that the Yankees believe in him.