The 2015 Draft and the Next Wave of Arms [2015 Season Review]

Kaprielian. (John Corneau Photos)
Kaprielian. (John Corneau Photos)

Coming into the season the Yankees had a very position player heavy farm system. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but their position player depth did far exceed their mound depth. You’d like more balance, ideally. Once LHP Ian Clarkin got hurt and it became obvious RHP Luis Severino would soon arrive in MLB, the farm system pitching picture looked even bleaker. The Yankees were light on arms.

The 2015 amateur draft didn’t erase that lack of pitching depth completely, but it did start to the move the team in the right direction. The Yankees selected pitchers with three of their first four picks, four of their first six picks, and 24 of their 41 total picks. Twenty-three of the 35 draft picks they signed were pitchers. Whether the emphasis on arms was intentional or just a coincidence, the Yankees added some much-needing pitching depth to the organization in the draft. Let’s review the class.

The Top Pick

The Yankees did not forfeit their first round pick to sign a free agent last offseason, so they held the 16th overall pick in the 2015 draft. They hadn’t picked that high since taking Florida HS RHP Matt Drews with the 13th pick way back in 1993. Years of good records and forfeiting high picks to sign free agents kept the Yankees away from top 16 picks for more than two decades.

“It did feel a little bit more like that,” said scouting director Damon Oppenheimer to reporters in June when asked if picking so high came with extra pressure. “It felt like you owe it to the Yankees and you owe it to the organization to get somebody with this pick who’s going to produce and be a quality Major League player. You feel like that about most of them, but when it comes to picking higher than we have since Matt Drews, before I was even here, it does feel that way. I’m not going to lie about it.”

The Yankees used that 16th overall pick to select UCLA RHP James Kaprielian, the fifth pitcher taken in the 2015 draft. Interestingly, a few reports — speculation more than factual reports, I’d say — indicated the Yankees were planning to take a high school bat with their top pick, but the guys they were targeting had already come off the board, namely Florida HS OF Kyle Tucker, George HS SS Cornelius Randolph, New York HS OF Garrett Whitley, and Texas HS OF Trent Clark.

Anyway, Kaprielian landed a slightly above-slot $2.65M bonus a few days before the signing deadline. He allowed six runs (five earned) in 11.1 regular season innings for the Rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate and Short Season Staten Island after turning pro, then he dominated in two postseason starts with the Baby Bombers: 12.1 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 10 K combined. The Yankees then sent him to Instructional League after the season.

“We do think this guy is at least a No. 3 starter and above” added Oppenheimer. “His stuff definitely is now stuff, and it’s now quality stuff. He has control to go along with mental maturity. It seems it could be (a guy who climbs the ladder quickly), but I don’t know the timetables on these guys. It’s too hard to tell. But he shouldn’t have to spend too much time at the lower levels.”

I think there’s a real chance we’ll see Kaprielian in the big leagues in the second half next season. He could follow something along the lines of Ian Kennedy’s path, meaning ten starts with High-A Tampa, eight with Double-A Trenton, six with Triple-A Scranton, then the big leagues in August and September. Obviously he has to perform and show big league stuff, but Kaprielian should move very quickly.

I normally like to be conservative with young pitchers, but Kaprielian’s an exception. There’s no reason to hold a polished college guy with command of multiple offspeed pitches back. Being ready soon is part of his appeal.

The Other Quick Moving Guy

Kaprielian has a chance to reach the show in the second half of next season and it’s entirely possible he will be only the second 2015 Yankees draftee to reach MLB. Dallas Baptist RHP Chance Adams (fifth round) reached High-A Tampa in his pro debut and had a 1.78 ERA (1.75 FIP) in 35.1 innings at three levels. He struck out 31.7% of batters faced and walked only 6.3%. Adams was overwhelming.

Obviously the numbers are great, but Adams also saw his stuff jump a notch in pro ball. He went from sitting low-to-mid-90s in college this spring to sitting mid-90s and touching as high as 99 after signing, and his already good slider gained consistency with pro instruction. Adams is a pure reliever and I think he’ll start next season with Double-A Trenton. If starts 2016 with the same stuff he had at the end of 2015, the only question about Adams’ readiness will be how soon the Yankees want to clear a 40-man roster spot for him.

The Bonus Baby Arms

In addition to Kaprielian, the Yankees signed two other pitchers to well-above-slot bonuses using the savings from the late-round draft pool manipulating picks. (They took cheaper prospects in rounds 7-10 to save pool space.) First they gave California HS RHP Drew Finley (third round) a $950,000 bonus, about 50% over slot. Then they gave Louisville LHP Josh Rogers (11th) a $485,000 bonus, nearly five times slot.

Finley was a potential late-first round pick who slipped into the third round. He allowed a shocking number of walks (12.6%) and homers (2.53 HR/9!) in his 32-inning pro debut with the new Rookie Pulaski affiliate, but he still missed bats (27.2%) and showed a bat-missing curveball. Finley’s not a hard-thrower — he was mostly 89-91 mph this summer — but he has a pretty good plan on the mound and is already making strides with his changeup.

The Yankees were able to lure Rogers, a draft-eligible sophomore, away from school following his strong showing in the Cape Cod League. He allowed six runs in 13.1 innings for Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Charleston, striking out 16 and walking three. Rogers is a three-pitch southpaw — low-90s gas, good slider, improving changeup — who can locate well, so he has a chance to remain a starter.

Degano. (Robert Pimpsner)
Degano. (Robert Pimpsner)

The Other Top Picks

The Yankees picked up a supplemental first round pick when David Robertson signed with the White Sox, and they used that pick (30th overall) on San Diego SS Kyle Holder. Holder didn’t hit in his pro debut — .213/.273/.253 (57 wRC+) around a nagging thumb injury with Short Season Staten Island — but his bat is not his calling card anyway. He’s an elite defender at shortstop, and that’s one heck of a carrying tool.

Indiana State LHP Jeff Degano was New York’s second round pick and third selection overall. He spent some time piggybacking with Kaprielian for Short Season Staten Island and allowed eleven runs in 21.1 pro innings, striking out 22 and walking nine. Degano missed the entire 2014 college season following Tommy John surgery, though he worked off the rust in the spring, and showed a low-90s heater with a sharper low-80s breaking ball. He’s not as polished as Rogers but offers more upside as a high strikeout lefty.

Late-Round Pitching Depth

In Alabama RHP Will Carter (14th) and BYU RHP Kolton Mahoney (16th), the Yankees added two promising depth arms who could follow in the footsteps of guys like Chase Whitley (15th round in 2010) and David Phelps (14th round in 2018) to give the Yankees serviceable innings. Is that exciting? No, but we’re talking about the double-digit rounds here.

Carter has maybe the best fastball the Yankees drafted this year — he sat 96-97 mph with his sinker for Short Season Staten Island. I saw him pitch a few times this summer and couldn’t believe a guy with that kind of fastball lasted until the 14th round. Carter had a 2.04 ERA (3.91 FIP) in 17.2 innings for the Baby Bombers and, not surprisingly, he generated 5.4 ground balls for every fly ball. He’s a reliever.

Mahoney has an interesting backstory. He didn’t pitch at all from 2012-13 because he was on a Mormon mission, so his arm is relatively fresh. Mahoney had a 2.29 ERA (2.99 FIP) in 55 innings for Short Season Staten Island and is a four-pitch starter: low-90s fastball plus a curveball, slider, and changeup. His command is good considering his relative inexperience and he has the stuff to stay in the rotation.

Position Player Prospects

The 2015 draft wasn’t all pitchers, just mostly pitchers. In addition to Holder, the best position player prospects the Yankees drafted this summer are Florida Southern OF Jhalan Jackson (seventh) and Florida JuCo OF Isiah Gilliam (20th). Florida JuCo OF Trey Amburgey (13th) had an incredible pro debut — he hit .335/.388/.502 (161 wRC+) in 62 games split between the GCL and Short Season Staten Island — and has tools, but is more interesting sleeper than bonafide prospect.

Jackson hit .266/.338/.452 (133 wRC+) with Short Season Staten Island and showed off both his raw power (five homers and .186 ISO) and swing-and-missability (29.8 K%). He has classic right field tools, meaning power, a strong arm, and some speed. Jackson can hit a mistake a mile but must improve against breaking balls and with pitch recognition in general to succeed at the upper levels.

The Yankees gave Gilliam a well-above slot $450,000 bonus and he showed a more advanced approach than expected in pro ball, hitting .296/.359/.415 (132 wRC+) with a 15.0% strikeout rate and a 9.8% walk rate in 42 GCL games. He hit only one homer, but power remains his calling card. Gilliam’s a switch-hitter with thump from both sides, and his athleticism allowed him to move to the outfield after being drafted as a first baseman.

Oregon State OF Jeff Hendrix (fourth), Texas JuCo IF Brandon Wagner (sixth), and Arizona HS 3B Donny Sands (eighth) are other position player draftees worth keeping an eye on. Wagner has the most power, Sands the most two-way ability, and Hendrix the highest probability. He could help as a speedy fourth outfielder down the line.

* * *

The draft is always a lot of fun and super exciting … then the novelty quickly wears off. It usually doesn’t take long for the prospects to separate themselves from the suspects. Even the lowest levels of professional baseball are hard. Almost every pro player was the best player on his college or high school team, after all.

The Yankees landed themselves a very good starter pitching prospect (Kaprielian) and a very good bullpen prospect (Adams) in the 2015 draft. They added three more solid arms (Degano, Finley, Rogers), several position players with carrying tools (Holder, Jackson, Gilliam), and a few promising late-rounders (Carter, Mahoney). There’s still plenty of time for others to emerge, but right now, six months after the draft, those guys are the keys to the 2015 draft for the Yankees.

Scouting The Trade Market: Marcell Ozuna

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Over the last 14 months or so, the Yankees have made five trades in an effort to get younger and add more athleticism to the roster. The trend started with Didi Gregorius, then continued with Nathan Eovaldi, Dustin Ackley, Aaron Hicks, and Starlin Castro. Each time the Yankees targeted a talented young player who needed a change of scenery.

Another young and talented player in need of a change of scenery is currently on the trade market: Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna. He’s been mentioned in all sorts of trade rumors this offseason, and since owner Jeffrey Loria wants him gone, it feels like only a matter of time until he’s traded. It was reported during the Winter Meetings last week that the Yankees have interest in Ozuna. Is he a fit for the Bombers? Let’s take a look.

The Offense

Ozuna, 25, has spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues already. In 2013 he played four games at High Class-A, ten games at Double-A, then was summoned to the big leagues. The Marlins skipped him right over Triple-A, and given his lack of time at Double-A, they basically brought him to the show straight from Single-A. Here are Ozuna’s career offensive stats:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR K% BB% wRC+ vs. RHP wRC+ vs. LHP
2013 291 .265/.303/.389 91 3 19.6% 4.5% 79 131
2014 612 .269/.317/.455 115 23 26.8% 6.7% 118 102
2015 494 .259/.308/.383 89 10 22.3% 6.1% 76 145
Total 1,397 .265/.311/.416 101 36 23.7% 6.0% 95 123

Ozuna is a right-handed hitter, which explains why he’s been quite a bit better against southpaws so far in his young career. He does have power — 23 homers in 612 plate appearances while playing your home games is Marlins Park is nothing to sneeze at — but he doesn’t draw very many walks, so his OBPs won’t be anything great.

As you’d expect given those strikeout and walk rates, Ozuna has swung at 34.3% of the pitches he’s seen outside the strike zone the last three years, a bit above the 31.3% league average but not insanely so. Ozuna’s chase rate is on par with guys like Robinson Cano (35.3%) and Eric Hosmer (34.8%), and they’re quality hitters despite taking some bad swings.

Ozuna’s contact rate (73.2%) is much lower than Cano’s (85.4%) and Hosmer’s (81.7%) though, and lower than the league average in general (79.3%). So while he’s not a total hacker who swings at everything like, say, Pablo Sandoval (44.6% chase rate) or Adam Jones (43.3%), Ozuna doesn’t have the contact ability to make it work like some other guys.

Here’s a snippet off Baseball America’s scouting report (subs. req’d) heading into the 2013 season, the last time Ozuna was prospect eligible. They ranked him as Miami’s fifth best prospect behind Jose Fernandez, Christian Yelich, Andrew Heaney, and Jake Marisnick.

He has the power to drive the ball well out of any part of the park, though he tends to get pull-happy at times, flying open with his front side instead of staying back and punishing the ball. Plate-discipline issues that plagued him early in his career have eased significantly as he has advanced, though at times he’ll revert to guessing and chasing breaking balls down and out of the strike zone. When he swings at strikes, he rarely misses, thanks to excellent hand-eye coordination.

Ozuna’s overall contact rate may be below-average, but his career contact rate on pitches in the zone is 85.6%, which is more or less league average (86.7%). So the problem is discipline and not necessarily pitch recognition or bad hitting mechanics. He wouldn’t make as much contact in the zone if he couldn’t recognize pitches or had an ugly swing.

That is more or less the Alfonso Soriano hitting profile. Ozuna will dive you crazy when he chases sliders off the plate, but man, when he gets something to handle, he does major damage. Soriano is a big time outlier among players with this approach — most guys like this wind up Quad-A types — though Ozuna has over 1,300 big league plate appearances of league average production under his belt. That’s not insignificant.

The Baseball America scouting report also praises Ozuna’s passion for the game and says he “oozes tools,” though his “slightly above-average speed and average instincts” have yet to translate into big stolen totals. He’s 10-for-15 in big league stolen base attempts and has only one minor league season with more than eight steals. Ozuna has taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) 45% of the time in his career. The league average is 40%.

Ozuna has some serious offensive upside thanks to his power — he has 70 doubles in addition to those 36 career homers, and Marlins Park has done his career .151 ISO no favors — but his lack of plate discipline is a major drawback. It wouldn’t be completely unprecedented for a guy like Ozuna to improve his discipline and approach, though it won’t be an easy adjustment either. Being a hacker is in his DNA.

The Defense

Ozuna is a pretty big dude — he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 225 lbs. — but he’s so athletic that he moves well in the outfield and has rated as an above-average gloveman according to the various defensive metrics. And yes, sample size warnings still apply at this point of his career.

Although he’s a natural center fielder, Ozuna has played both right and left field on occasion for the Marlins, so he’s familiar with all three outfield spots. Baseball America’s scouting report says he also has a “cannon arm,” and, well, look:

Oh yeah. That’s the good stuff. As much as I love dingers and speed and all that, a rocket arm is the most exciting tool in baseball in by book. Throws like the ones Ozuna is capable of making can be breathtaking at times.

Anyway, Ozuna is a two-way player who offers above-average glovework in addition to his promising power potential and thus far league average offense. The defense is a carrying tool, really. That’s the reason Ozuna has contributed 6.5 fWAR in 346 career games, or roughly 3.0 fWAR per 162 games. He’s not a guy who needs to hit and hit big to be a positive contributor. His glove alone makes his valuable.

Injury History

Ozuna has suffered three significant injuries in his career and every single one was the result of an aggressive play in the outfield. He broke a bone in his left wrist making a diving catch in the minors in 2010. He then broke the same wrist crashing into the wall in Spring Training 2013. Then, in July 2013, he broke his left thumb and tore ligaments making a diving play.

Hand and wrist injuries are very bad, though the silver lining here is that Ozuna rebounded from the two 2013 injuries to have a stellar 2014 campaign, so there are no lingering effects. It’s easy to say these are fluke injuries since they happened on dives and stuff, but Ozuna plays hard, and when you dive in the outfield and crash into walls, you’re prone to injuries like this. They’re the result of his style of play.

Contract Situation

The Marlins really are a weaselly organization. They’re the cartoon bad guy twirling his mustache of baseball organizations. Ozuna got off to a slow start this past season, so Miami took advantage and sent him to Triple-A for six weeks, which was juuust long enough to prevent from becoming a Super Two after the season. He fell six days short of the service time cutoff.

Ozuna was hitting .249/.301/.337 (75 wRC+) at the time of the demotion, so it wasn’t entirely undeserved, but the Marlins deserve no benefit of the doubt. They did the same thing with Logan Morrison a few years ago, so this is not the first time they’ve done it. Scott Boras, Ozuna’s agent, ripped the Marlins for their service time shenanigans after the season, then there was the whole thing about the racist recording someone apparently tried to use to get team president David Samson fired. I dunno, man. I’m just the messenger.

So anyway, thanks to that well-timed six-week demotion, Ozuna is currently sitting on two years and 124 days of service time. He has four years of control remaining. One as a pre-arbitration player and then the usual three years of arbitration eligibility. His eventual new team can thank the Marlins for saving them some cash by preventing Ozuna from becoming a Super Two.

What Would It Take?

For what it’s worth, Jayson Stark hears the Marlins have put an Ozuna trade on the back-burner for the time being. They’re still willing to listen but are no longer actively shopping him. Miami was said to be seeking young pitching for Ozuna, and Jerry Crasnick reports they asked the Mariners for Taijuan Walker, the Royals for Yordano Ventura, and the Indians for Danny Salazar, so yeah.

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

Regardless of what the Marlins are asking, four years of a young two-way outfielder with power potential is pretty valuable, even though the plate discipline issues are a significant red flag. Guys like that don’t get traded very often. I’ve found one comparable trade: Carlos Gomez. During the 2009-10 offseason the Twins traded four years of Gomez to the Brewers for two years of J.J. Hardy, straight up.

In a way, Ozuna now is similar to Gomez then. Both had incredible tools but struggled with plate discipline, and they were both very good center fielders. At the time Gomez was a better defender, but Ozuna has put up much better offensive numbers in his career than Gomez did back then. Gomez is one of those hacky hitters who learned just enough plate discipline to become a very good everyday player. Ozuna has similar upside.

Unfortunately, the Gomez trade doesn’t really help us determine Ozuna’s trade value. If the Marlins are sticking to their guns about young pitching, the Yankees simply don’t have any to offer outside Luis Severino, and that’s just not happening. I don’t think two years of Michael Pineda would entice Miami given his injury history, not without a really nice second piece.

Wrapping Up

The Yankees have been targeting these young, talented, out of favor players over the last year or so and Ozuna fits the bill perfectly. The only real issue is that they’re already loaded with outfielders, both at the MLB and Triple-A levels. Acquiring Ozuna means the Yankees almost would have to trade Brett Gardner just to make the roster work.

I do like Ozuna’s tools — how could you not? — and I think he could do some real damage in Yankee Stadium. Add in the strong defense and you’ve got a nice player on your hands. That he hits right-handed and would balance New York’s lineup is a bonus. The plate discipline problem is real though, and it creates a lot of risk. Ozuna’s pretty boom-or-busty.

On paper, Ozuna is the type of player the Yankees have been acquiring of late. He’s very much available — Loria is said to hate Ozuna, and if the owner hates you, you’re pretty much a goner — but finding a deal that works with the Marlins won’t be easy, especially if they stick to their young pitcher demand. I get the feeling we’ll hear the Yankees connected to Ozuna again in the coming weeks.

Monday Night Open Thread

As you’ve probably heard, commissioner Rob Manfred officially rejected Pete Rose’s latest application for reinstatement today. Apparently when Manfred and Rose met in September, Rose admitted he still bets on horses and other sports, including baseball. That … seems like a bad idea. There was little chance he would be reinstated anyway, but that clinched it. No sports league in the world can survive the integrity hit that comes with players or coaches gambling on games. Rose may be the hit king, but he’ll never be allowed in the Hall of Fame or back into baseball, and I am totally on board with that.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Giants and Dolphins are the Monday Night Football game and the Nets are playing too. There’s no college hoops though. Talk about those games, Pete Rose, or anything else right here.

Another starter off the board: Giants land Johnny Cueto

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

The last free agent ace is off the board. The Giants have agreed to a six-year contract worth $130M with right-hander Johnny Cueto, according to multiple reports. The deal also includes an opt-out clause after two years, which I’ve been told makes it team friendly, or something.

Cueto, 29, had a 3.44 ERA (3.53 FIP) in 212 innings for the Reds and Royals in 2015. He did struggled down the stretch with Kansas City, but he also had some ace-like moments in the postseason — ALDS Game 5 and World Series Game 2, most notably — and his track record is stellar. This guy has a 2.71 ERA (3.41 FIP) in his last 889.1 innings.

Like David Price and Zack Greinke, the Yankees were never in on Cueto as far as we know. They’ve apparently sworn off spending big this offseason and have instead focused on trades for younger players. Mike Leake and Scott Kazmir are the best of what’s left on the free agent market.

Murti: Yanks “briefly” talked to Nats about Gio Gonzalez

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

5:29pm: Murti tells me the Yankees and Nationals talked about Gonzalez at the Winter Meetings last season in San Diego.

4:30pm: According to Sweeny Murti, the Yankees “briefly” talked to the Nationals about left-hander Gio Gonzalez last year. I don’t know if that means at the 2014 trade deadline — the Yankees made a bunch of moves then, remember — or last offseason, or even earlier this year. Doesn’t sound recent though.

Jon Heyman says Washington asked for Christian Yelich when the Marlins called earlier this offseason, so obviously they’re not looking to give Gio away. Considering Gonzalez had the extra year of control last year and was better in 2014 than 2015, I’m guessing the asking price was even higher when the Yankees inquired. Yelich is both awesome and signed dirt cheap. No wonder Miami said no.

Gonzalez, 30, had a 3.79 ERA (3.05 FIP) in 175.2 innings in 2015. Look at his runs allowed numbers and you’d think he was on the decline — he’s gone from a 2.89 ERA in 2012 to 3.36 in 2013 to 3.57 in 2014 to 3.79 in 2015. His FIP has been sub-3.10 in three of those four years though, plus both his strikeout and walk rates have held steady. He also posted a career high grounder rate (53.8%) in 2015.

The Yankees are said to be looking for starting pitchers under control beyond 2017 and Gonzalez fits the bill, but only barely. He’s owed $12M next year with a $12M club option for 2017 and a $12M vesting option (based on innings) in 2018. So there’s a chance Gio would become a free agent after 2017 like pretty much every non-Luis Severino starter on New York’s roster right now.

At the moment, Gonzalez is penciled in as Washington’s third starter behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Some combination of Tanner Roark, Joe Ross, and A.J. Cole are slotted into the fourth and fifth spots at the moment. The Nats are looking to add a starter this offseason and I guess they could look to move Gio to offset salary, but that seems unlikely to me.

I don’t love Gonzalez but he would be a clear upgrade for the rotation and add a somewhat reliable innings guy. (Gio has thrown at least 175 innings in five of the last six seasons.) There are some available pitchers who wouldn’t move the need a whole bunch — think Doug Fister or Bartolo Colon — and are just extra bodies. Gonzalez would be a legitimate upgrade, and the Nationals understandably want a lot in return.

Yankees attempting to rebuild on the fly because a total tear down isn’t possible

The new second baseman. (Andy Lyons/Getty)
The new second baseman. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Over the last three years, the Yankees have been stuck somewhere between serious contention and rebuilding. They did make the postseason this past season, so they did have a chance to win the World Series, but they were hardly set up to be a force in October. At the same time, they weren’t bad enough that scaling back and rebuilding was necessary. They were in the middle of World Series contention and total rebuild.

Normally the middle is a bad place to be, especially for a smaller market team that may not have the resources to go for it and doesn’t want to risk alienating fans with an Astros style rebuild. A big market team like the Yankees can go all-in on contention at pretty much any time though. Sign some big name free agents and boom, you’ve at least generated buzz and given off the illusion of World Series contention, especially during the offseason.

The Yankees have stayed away from that approach this offseason. They haven’t signed any free agents — big name or small name! — and they insist they won’t spend much money. It’s clear the “World Series or bust” mentality no longer exists. Well, maybe it still exists, but it’s not being put into action right now. Trading Justin Wilson for two Triple-A arms is not a move that gets made by a team prioritizing contention in 2016.

At the same time, the Yankees are not undergoing a full blown rebuild because they can’t. Ownership insists they can’t rebuild in the New York market — “We can’t rebuild here. That’s not what we’re about, our fan base,” said team president Randy Levine to Brian Heyman recently — and while I’m sure many fans would accept a true rebuild, I think they’re in the minority. The casual fan still dominates the market and casual fans usually aren’t patient.

That said, there’s more to it than the market. The Yankees are not going through with a massive tear down rebuild because the roster doesn’t allow it. There are too many unmovable players on the roster. Unmovable because of no-trade clauses or declining performance or both. Wilson and Adam Warren were two of the few Yankees with positive trade value and they were dealt last week. Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller are two others and they’ve been in all sorts of rumors this offseason.

Beyond them, the Yankees don’t have a ton of desirable players to offer. They’re building a new young core — Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks, Dellin Betances, Luis Severino, and Greg Bird appear to be the main pieces of that new core — and those guys are presumably off-limits. Maybe not completely off-limits, but the Yankees don’t figure to move them unless they get a substantial return. As Brian Cashman said last week, they don’t do “old and expensive” anymore.

Even if the Yankees were willing to tear the whole damn thing down and rebuild from the ground up, they can’t. The rosters clogged and there’s little they can do about it. So, instead, they wait. They’re waiting for the big contracts to expire, and thankfully that will start next offseason with Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran. CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez and maybe Masahiro Tanaka will be gone the following offseason. Those are some huge contracts.

Shedding those salaries will give the Yankees a lot of money to play with — I can’t shake the feeling the team will prioritize getting under the luxury tax threshold at some point the next two years — and it also frees up some roster spots. Teixeira’s departure clears a spot for Bird. Beltran’s departure clears a spot for Aaron Judge. A-Rod‘s departure clears the DH spot for Brian McCann and thus the catcher’s spot for Gary Sanchez. So on and so forth.

It’s not quite that simple, but you get the idea. I’m sure the Yankees would love to trade Teixeira this offseason and install Bird as their full-time first baseman. They can’t do that though. Teixeira has full no-trade protection and has said in the past he doesn’t plan on going anywhere. So if you can’t trade him, what’s the best best thing? Try to win with him because the second wildcard makes it easier to get to the postseason than ever before.

So that’s the Yankees’ plan. Rebuild as much as possible and feign contention with the guys they’re stuck with. It sounds simple but it rarely is. The Yankees have made it pretty clear getting younger is the priority right now, not winning. If winning were the priority, the trade deadline would have gone differently and this offseason would be going differently. They are still good enough to at least be interesting, to win 80-something games and remain relevant for most of the summer. That’s better than a tear down in my book.

“I think at the end of the day, this is becoming a young players’ game, and I think it’s important to recognize that,” said Levine. “So I think you can win — and I think you need a blend of good young players and veterans and a lot of luck to go through the playoffs.”

The Early Returns from the 2014-15 International Spending Spree [2015 Season Review]

Wilkerman. (MLB.com)
Wilkerman. (MLB.com)

Four years ago, the MLBPA collectively bargained away the earning potential of amateur players. Spending restrictions were put in place for both the draft and international free agency, and while the spending limits are a soft cap, they do come with harsh penalties. Teams are given a bonus pool for the draft and international free agency, and exceeding the bonus pool comes with a hefty price.

Two summers ago, the Yankees decided to flex their financial muscle and go on a massive international spending spree. Their bonus pool was only $2.2M, but they spent upwards of $16M on bonuses during the 2014-15 signing period. As a result, they were taxed 100% on the overage — that’s another $14M or so in tax, mean the total cost was $30M+ — and are unable to hand out a bonus larger than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods.

The Yankees were willing to pay the penalties to haul in the vast majority of the top talent available. They signed about four years worth of high-end international prospects in one signing period. Other teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Diamondbacks, and Royals followed suit this past summer and blew their bonus pools out of the water. I’m guessing MLB and the MLBPA will look to change the system when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires next offseason.

Anyway, the 2014-15 signing period was very heavy on position player prospects. There weren’t a ton of high quality arms to go around, so almost all the prospects the Yankees landed are hitters. Yeah, some balance would have been nice, but more pitching prospects weren’t going to pop out of thin air. The Yankees hoarded position player talent and those players made their pro debuts during the 2015 season. Let’s look at the early returns.

Stellar Debuts in the States

Rather than be held back in the Dominican Summer League, a few of the international signees were brought to the U.S. to begin their pro careers this season. The best of the bunch was Venezuelan SS Wilkerman Garcia ($1.35M bonus), a 17-year-old switch-hitter who hit .299/.414/.362 (140 wRC+) with 25 walks and 19 strikeouts in 39 Rookie Gulf Coast League games. He’s a solid defender and may wind up at second base long-term, but he offers high-end bat-to-ball skills.

Hoy Jun Park
Park. (@myKBO)

Korean SS Hoy Jun Park ($1.16M) also had a strong debut. Park signed out of high school and is already 19, so it’s no surprise the Yankees brought him stateside for his first pro season. He hit .239/.351/.383 (109 wRC+) with five homers, 12 steals, a 19.1% strikeout rate, and a 13.0% walk rate in 56 games for the new Rookie Pulaski affiliate. Park is a legitimate shortstop with strong defensive tools, and the left-handed batter showed this summer he can handle pro pitching, especially big fastballs. His pro debut was rather impressive considering he did not face great competition growing up.

Venezuelan RHP Gilmael Troya ($10,000) is an interesting case because, as his bonus suggests, he was not a high profile prospect at all. The 18-year-old saw his velocity tick up in pro ball, and he now sits in the low-90s consistently. He also has a plan on the mound and the makings of an out-pitch curveball. Troya had a 1.80 ERA (2.97 FIP) with a 27.4% strikeout rate and a 9.0% walk rate in 60 GCL innings this summer. He, Garcia, and Park were the standouts who debuted in the U.S. in 2015.

The Big Money Prospects

When it comes to international free agency, bonuses can tell you quite a bit. The larger the bonus, the more the team likes the player. The bonus doesn’t necessarily reflect the market — you had to offer this much to get him because another team was offering a comparable bonus, for example — because teams zero in on these kids when they’re 14 or 15 years old. They agree to bonuses months or even years in advance, before other teams get a chance to scout them. I’m not joking when I say they hide these kids at their complexes so other scouts don’t see them.

The Yankees gave out seven seven-figure bonuses during the 2014-15 signing period: Dominican SS Dermis Garcia ($3.2M), Dominican 3B Nelson Gomez ($2.25M), Dominican OF Juan DeLeon ($2M), Venezuelan OF Jonathan Amundaray ($1.5M), Venezuelan C Miguel Flames ($1M), Wilkerman, and Park. Like Wilkerman and Park, Dermis Garcia made his pro debut in the U.S. this summer, hitting .159/.256/.188 (46 wRC+) with 25 strikeouts and nine walks in 23 scattered GCL games. (There was a ton of rain in Tampa this year. They went two or three days between games for a few weeks there.)

Garcia, 17, signed as a shortstop but has already moved to third base because he’s a big dude (6-foot-3 and 200 lbs.) and lacks the defensive chops for short. He has huge right-handed raw power and a very strong arm, though he needs refinement at the plate and is very much a long-term project. The unteachable skills are there (power, arm, etc.). Now Garcia just needs to work on his approach and things like that.

The other four seven-figure bonus guys debuted in the Dominican Summer League this year. Gomez, 18, put up a .243/.350/.435 (123 wRC+) line with eleven homers, a 24.3% strikeout rate, and a 12.4% walk rate in 58 DSL games. Similar to Dermis Garcia, Gomez is a big bodied (6-foot-1 and 220 lbs.) masher with righty raw power and a strong arm. He might have more power, actually. His defense is fine and his approach is much more advanced than Garcia’s.

DeLeon, 18, had a statistically underwhelming season, hitting .226/.344/.336 (108 wRC+) with three homers and a 66/25 K/BB in 53 DSL games, but he might be the most tooled up player from the international class. He has high-end bat speed from the right side and strong center field skills, including a very good arm that would be more than fine in right. Don’t read too much into DSL numbers. DeLeon is arguably the best prospect the Yankees signed as part of their spending spree.

The 17-year-old Amundaray was limited to 13 games in the DSL this summer, hitting .111/.346/.167 (72 wRC+) with 12 walks and 12 strikeouts. He’s another guy who is more athletic tools than baseball skills, if you catch my drift. Amundaray has good bat speed and he’s a good runner, but he’s very raw at the plate with less than stellar bat-to-ball ability. He has power from the right side but sells out for it even though he doesn’t need to.

Flames, 18, had the best statistical debut of the big bonus guys, hitting .317/.398/.454 (142 wRC+) with three homers, an 18.5% strikeout rate, and a 9.2% walk rate in 54 DSL games. He did spend most of his time at first base though (only nine games behind the plate) because he’s not a great defender, so he did most of his defensive work behind the scenes. Flames has a pro body (6-foot-2 and 210 lbs.) and his right-handed hit tool/raw power combo is awfully impressive. He was a third baseman who converted to catching shortly before signing.

The international market is not the place for instant gratification. These kids sign at 16 and begin playing at 17, so they’re extremely raw and underdeveloped. The tools are far, far, far more important than the performance. Wilkerman and Park are more advanced than the rest, though Dermis, Gomez, and DeLeon have loud tools and star upside. There’s just a lot of work to be done to reach that ceiling.

Low Cost Prospects

The Yankees have excelled at finding low cost Latin American prospects over the years. You can go back to Robinson Cano, who signed for a $150,000 bonus back in 2001. More recently, the Yankees landed Luis Severino ($225,000) and Jorge Mateo ($250,000) on relatively small bonuses. The million dollar guys get the most attention, understandably, but the mid-range market is where organizational depth is built.

The best six-figure bonus prospect is arguably Venezuelan SS Diego Castillo ($750,000), who put up a .331/.373/.444 (130 wRC+) line with five steals, an 11.6% strikeout rate, and a 6.1% walk rate in 56 DSL games. He’s similar to current Yankees farmhand IF Abi Avelino in that he has no standout tool, but is solid across the board with great instincts that allow everything to play up. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Venezuelan OF Antonio Arias ($800,000) hit .235/.316/.316 (87 wRC+) in 39 DSL games. The 17-year-old is a pure projection play: he’s a high-end athlete with bat speed who is still working to turn those natural gifts into baseball skills. Dominican OF Frederick Cuevas ($300,000), 18, put up a .256/.376/.365 (117 wRC+) line in 57 DSL games. The lefty swinger doesn’t have exciting tools but does know his game as a lefty gap hitter.

The international period begins on July 2nd each year, but it wasn’t until November that the Yankees snagged Colombian OF Brayan Emery ($500,000). He was originally expected to land a $1M+ bonus, but that didn’t happen. The 17-year-old Emery hit .192/.330/.308 (92 wRC+) with three homers, a 29.7% strikeout rate, and a 14.7% walk rate in 61 DSL games this summer. He’s a very exciting prospect, with a smooth left-handed swing and power potential to go with right field defensive tools. Emery needs experience more than anything.

Here are some of the other smaller bonus guys the Yankees landed during the 2014-15 international signing period. Again, “smaller bonus” is a relative term.

  • Dominican OF Lisandro Blanco ($550,000), 18: .291/.391/.355 (122 wRC+) in 41 DSL games. Top notch tools, including great bat speed and high-end athleticism.
  • Venezuelan OF Leobaldo Cabrera ($250,000), 17: .298/.367/.382 (116 wRC+) in 59 DSL games. His best tools are top of the line arm strength and an advanced approach at the plate.
  • Dominican IF Griffin Garabito ($225,000), 18: .256/.328/.312 (94 wRC+) in 62 GCL games. Versatile infielder who is known for his bat-to-ball ability. The Yankees liked him enough to bring him stateside in 2015.
  • Venezuelan C Jason Lopez ($100,000), 17: .240/.337/.301 (91 wRC+) in 42 DSL games. Recently converted third baseman with a very strong arm and some power potential.
  • Dominican OF Erick Mendez ($250,000), 19: .281/.381/.465 (140 wRC+) in 51 DSL games. Good all-around ability — bat speed, power potential, arm, speed — but needs to face age appropriate competition to really develop.
  • Venezuelan OF Raymundo Moreno ($600,000), 17: .067/.125/.067 (-33 wRC) in six DSL games. Standout defensive center fielder with bat speed and a knack for trying to muscle up for power at the plate.
  • Venezuelan OF Pablo Olivares ($400,000), 17: .267/.370/.359 (116 wRC+) in 32 DSL games. Another great defender in center with excellent athleticism. His line drive approach doesn’t project to produce much power down the road.
  • Venezuelan IF Danienger Perez ($300,000), 19: .245/.311/.382 (104 wRC+) in 69 games between the DSL, GCL, and Short Season Staten Island. Perez is a slap-hitting defense first prospect.

The Yankees also signed Venezuelan RHP Servando Hernandez ($200,000), Venezuelan IF Wander Hernandez (unknown), and Dominican LHP Luis Pache (unknown) during the 2014-15 international signing period, but I can’t find any information on them. They didn’t play at all in 2015. It’s possible their contract agreements hit a snag, maybe due to age and identity issues. That stuff still happens on occasion even though MLB enlisted Sandy Alderson to crack down a few years back.

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International free agency is a much different animal than the amateur draft. International prospects usually sign at 16 years old, so we’re talking sophomore in high school age. They’re very raw, and while recent pop-up leagues have helped, there’s not much high-caliber competition in Latin America. These kids aren’t on the high school showcase circuit strutting their stuff against other top high school talent from around the country, you know?

All the players the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period are just starting their pro careers. One season — it’s not even a full season, these guys played in short season leagues this year and are lucky to have 60 games under their belt — doesn’t tell us a whole lot. You’ve got to start somewhere though. That no one suffered a catastrophic injury or went through a growth spurt that sapped their athleticism makes year one a success.