The Suddenly Stellar Farm System [2016 Season Review]

Oh hell yes. (Presswire)
Oh hell yes. (Presswire)

What a difference ten months can make. Coming into the 2016 season the Yankees had a solid farm system that ranked in the middle of the pack among the 30 clubs. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked the system 13th in baseball during the spring. Baseball Prospectus had them 16th and Baseball America had them 17th. Hard to get more middle of the pack than that.

Now, after Spring Training and the regular season and postseason, the Yankees boast one of baseball’s very best farm systems. Jim Callis calls it the “deepest” system in the game. Along with the Brewers and Braves, two teams making little effort to be competitive so they can build a stockpile of young players, the Yankees have one of the three best farm systems in the game. Maybe the best.

That sudden and drastic improvement in the farm system is the result of many things, most notably the trade deadline. The Yankees traded proven veterans for prospects for the first time in decades. They added a dozen new prospects at the deadline. That’s nuts. Also, the Yankees imported new talent in the annual amateur draft, plus some guys already in the organization broke out.

I’m not going to lie, I was not looking forward to writing the farm system season review. Well, I was and I wasn’t. I was excited because there are so many good players to write about, and I was also dreading it because there are so many good players to write about. This assignment was … daunting. Anyway, let’s review the year that was in the farm system. ‘Twas a great year.

The Graduates

It seems appropriate to start with the guys who are no longer prospects. The Yankees graduated several prospects to the big leagues this summer — by graduate I mean exceed the rookie limits of 50 innings or 130 at-bats — including three of my top seven prospects coming into 2016. The most notable was, of course, C Gary Sanchez (season review), who hit 20 homers in 53 games as a full-time catcher (lol) and finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting to someone everyone will say “oh yeah, he was Rookie of the Year once” about in a few years.

UTIL Rob Refsnyder (season review), UTIL Ronald Torreyes (season review) RHP Bryan Mitchell (season review) all exceeded the rookie innings limit this summer, as did RHP Luis Cessa (season review). Sanchez is the catcher of the future present and is locked into a 2017 roster spot. The Brian McCann trade confirmed it. Torreyes is the odds-on favorite to hold the backup infielder’s job again. Refsnyder, Mitchell, and Cessa will all have to compete for a roster spot in Spring Training, and that’s fine. Competition is a good thing. Cessa and Mitchell had their moments as starters late in the season while Refsnyder did some solid platoon work.

The Erstwhile Top Prospects

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

Depending who you asked, New York’s top prospect coming into this season was either OF Aaron Judge (season review) or SS Jorge Mateo. Most folks jumped ship and went with Mateo. I stuck with Judge. To each his own. Judge made some adjustments and had a strong Triple-A stint before reaching the big leagues in the second half. He showed off some big power and some big swing-and-miss ability. Right now he’s the favorite to start in right field in 2017, though that’s not a lock. Judge will have to win the job in Spring Training.

Mateo’s season was disappointing by almost any measure. He stole the show during Grapefruit League play with his elite speed and high-end athleticism, and after a strong start to the High-A Tampa season, the 21-year-old basically stopped hitting in June. Mateo put up a .210/.255/.283 (56 wRC+) batting line in his final 72 games and 300 plate appearances of the season. He finished with a .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) line overall, and come playoff time, he was demoted to the bottom of the Tampa lineup. Yeesh.

The good news: Mateo set a new career high with eight homers, so he’s growing into some power. Last year he hit two homers, and one was an inside-the-parker. The bad news: Mateo went 36-for-51 (71%) in stolen base attempts one year after going 82-for-99 (83%). The other bad news: the Yankees suspended Mateo two weeks for an undisclosed violation of team rules in July. He did homer in his first game back, but alas, there is no redemption story here. Mateo didn’t play well the rest of the way.

The suspension and the disappointing season do no kill Mateo’s prospect value. Does it take a hit? Absolutely. But giving up on a 21-year-old kid with this kind of ability is foolish. Sanchez had his fair share of maturity issues in the minors too, remember. (He was once suspended for refusing to catch a bullpen session.) With any luck, the down season and suspension will be a learning experience for Mateo, who will come out of this year more focused and driven. That’d be cool.

The New Top Prospects

Judge and Mateo have been replaced as the top two position player prospects in the farm system. At the deadline the Yankees swung a pair of blockbuster trades that netted them new top prospects. Aroldis Chapman went to the Cubs for a package headlined by SS Gleyber Torres, and Andrew Miller went to the Indians for a package headlined by OF Clint Frazier. Torres and Frazier are the Yankees’ new top prospects, in whatever order.

Torres, who doesn’t turn 20 for two weeks, spent the entire 2016 season at the High-A level, where he was nearly four years younger than the average player. Despite the age disadvantage, Torres hit .268/.349/.413 (116 wRC+) overall with 31 doubles, eleven home runs, and 22 steals. After the season Gleyber went to the Arizona Fall League, hit .403/.513/.645 (218 wRC+) with nearly twice as many walks (14) as strikeouts (8), and became the youngest MVP and batting champion in league history.

There’s talk Torres may be one of the top ten prospects in all of baseball right now. It’s good to be a tooled up right-handed hitting shortstop with power potential, hitting know-how, and strong defense. Gleyber is not lacking ability, that’s for sure. The hype is starting to get a little out of control — the inevitable Derek Jeter comparisons have arrived — but there’s no doubt Torres is a special, special player. Heck of a return for a half-season of Chapman.

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

As for Frazier, who turned 22 in September, he split the season between Double-A and Triple-A, and played exclusively in Triple-A after the trade. He hit .276/.356/.469 (129 wRC+) with 13 homers and 13 steals in 89 Double-A games, then .229/.285/.359 (83 wRC+) with three homers and no steals in 38 Triple-A games. His strikeout rate jumped from 22.0% to 27.9% when he switched levels. That first exposure to Triple-A caliber pitching is not always pretty.

Frazier was nearly six years younger than the average International League player this summer, which is important context. The kid reached Triple-A at 21. Had he gone to college, he would have been draft eligible as a junior this year. Frazier is a righty hitter with big power potential and good hitting ability, plus he’s a good outfield defender who plays all out, all the time. He’ll be a fan favorite with his style of play. Frazier is likely to start 2017 in Triple-A and it would not be a surprise if he forces his way on to the big league roster in the first half. He has that type of ability.

Not to be overlooked here is LHP Justus Sheffield, who came over from the Indians with Frazier in the Miller trade. He’s a top 100 caliber prospect himself — Baseball America ranked Sheffield the 69th best prospect in baseball at midseason — who is arguably New York’s top pitching prospect right now. Sheffield spent almost the entire 2016 season as a 20-year-old in High-A — he did make one Double-A spot start — where he had a 3.19 ERA (3.48 FIP) with 23.7% strikeouts and 9.9% walks in 121.1 innings. Not bad for a kid three years younger than the competition.

Sheffield, who is not related to Gary, is a three-pitch southpaw with above-average velocity, which is the kinda guy the Yankees could use in the rotation long-term. Consistency with the curveball and changeup as well as general command will be the focal points going forward. Sheffield, like Torres, is ticketed for Double-A Trenton to start 2017. Because he’s still so young — Sheffield won’t turn 21 until May — I would bet on Sheffield spending almost the entire season in Trenton.

In Torres, Frazier, and Sheffield, the Yankees acquired three prospects at the deadline who would be a bonafide No. 1 prospect in an organization. Like, if Frazier was your favorite team’s top prospect, you’d be cool with it. Same with Torres and Sheffield. The Yankees made some difficult decisions at the deadline — no one actually wanted to see Miller go, right? — but they were necessary, and those decisions brought the team premium prospects. Turning two relievers into three top 100 prospects (and more!) at the deadline is a hell of a thing.

The Breakout Prospects

The farm system improved this summer and not only because of the trade deadline additions. Several incumbents took steps forward, and there was no bigger breakout prospect in the system this year than RHP Chance Adams, who went from promising bullpen prospect in 2015 to bonafide starting pitching prospect in 2016. The conversion couldn’t have gone any better. Adams, 22, had a 2.33 ERA (2.96 FIP) with 29.1% strikeouts and 7.9% walks in 127.1 innings split between High-A and Double-A. That’s best case scenario stuff right there.

Adams. (YouTube screen grab)
Adams. (YouTube screen grab)

Adams is still a fastball/slider pitcher at heart, though he made great strides with both his curveball and changeup this year, so much so that some scouting reports are calling him a true four-pitch pitcher. Also, Adams showed he can hold his mid-90s velocity deep into games, which is cool. That’s always a big question with reliever-to-starter conversions. At one point this year Adams allowed no more than one run 13 times in a 14-start span. Total domination. He’ll begin 2017 in Triple-A and could be a factor for the Yankees in the second half.

On the position player side, 3B Miguel Andujar finally put together the full consistent season we’ve been waiting to see. He has a history of starting slow and finishing strong. Andujar, who is still only 21, hit .270/.327/.407 (108 wRC+) with a career high 12 home runs in 137 games split between High-A and Double-A during the regular season before holding his own in the AzFL (109 wRC+). He did tire a bit late in the season, but by then he’d made his point.

Andujar is the closest thing the Yankees have to a third baseman of the future. His arm is true rocket — it’s a Gary Sanchez arm over at third base — and he has power potential, plus Andujar doesn’t get enough credit for his innate bat-to-ball ability. The kid struck out in only 12.7% of the time this season against the best pitching he’s ever faced. Andujar, who was added to the 40-man roster last month to avoid Rule 5 Draft exposure, will start the season back at Double-A and could earn a promotion to Triple-A at midseason.

RHP Domingo Acevedo, the massive 6-foot-7 hurler, started to answer questions about his long-term viability as a starter this season by improving his breaking ball. The 22-year-old throws extremely hard — Acevedo was clocked at 103 mph in 2015 — and has a good changeup, but without a reliable breaking ball, it was unclear whether he’d be able to turn over a lineup multiple times. The improvement he showed with his slider this summer was encouraging. Acevedo had a 2.61 ERA (2.49 FIP) with 27.4% strikeouts and 5.9% walks in 93 innings at Low-A and High-A in 2016. I’m guessing a return to High-A is in the cards to begin 2017.

Another massive pitcher, 6-foot-6 LHP Jordan Montgomery, had a statistically excellent season, throwing 152 innings of 2.19 ERA (2.91 FIP) ball at Double-A and Triple-A. He struck out 22.7% of batters faced and walked 7.7%, and at one point he allowed seven earned runs total in the span of eleven starts. Montgomery, 23, has a low-90s heater and three secondary pitches (curveball, cutter, changeup), and he throws from an extreme over-the-top arm slot:

(YouTube screen grab)
Montgomery’s arm slot. (YouTube screen grab)

Montgomery is 6-foot-6, the mound is ten inches high, and he’s releasing the ball from way overhead. How high off the ground is the ball when he releases it, you think? Ten feet, maybe? Whatever the number, Montgomery throws with extreme downhill plane on his pitches. I do wonder if that arm slot will help righties get a better look at the ball, though to date his minor league splits aren’t extreme. Montgomery is heading back to Triple-A this season and looks very much like a potential back of the rotation option, and soon.

Behind the plate, C Kyle Higashioka broke out after battling injuries for years. The 26-year-old hit .272/.339/.496 (131 wRC+) with a farm system leading 21 home runs in 110 games between Double-A and Triple-A. That power potential along with reputedly excellent defense landed Higashioka on the 40-man roster after the season because the Yankees didn’t want to risk losing him to minor league free agency; they re-signed Higashioka last winter as a minor league free agent. A catcher who pops 21 homers at the upper levels is a no-doubt keeper.

The most interesting backstory among breakout prospects this year belongs to RHP Yefrey Ramirez, a former infielder the Yankees selected from the Diamondbacks in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft last winter. Yefrey, 23, had a 2.82 ERA (3.13 FIP) with 26.8% strikeouts and 6.5% walks in 124.1 innings between Low-A and High-A this summer, which prompted the Yankees to add him to the 40-man roster after the season. They didn’t want someone to take him in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft this year. Ramirez is a low-90s fastball/slider/changeup pitcher and might fit best in relief long-term, but there’s no sense is moving him to the bullpen just yet.

LHP Dietrich Enns, RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP Jonathan Holder (season review), and RHP Chad Green (season review) all improved their stock this season. Enns, 25, continued the ridiculous run he’s been on since returning from Tommy John surgery last year, pitching to a 1.69 ERA (3.25 FIP) in 138.1 innings at Double-A and Triple-A. The 25-year-old Gallegos had a 1.17 ERA (1.97 FIP) in 84.2 relief innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He struck out 36.5% of batters faced and walked 5.7%. Both Enns and Gallegos landed on the 40-man roster earlier this month, and the odds are strongly in favor of them making their MLB debuts at some point in 2017.

If not for the trade deadline, Adams’ breakout would be the story of the season from the farm system. Andujar, Acevedo, and Montgomery emerging gives the Yankees that solid base of second tier prospects while guys like Enns, Gallegos, Holder, Green, Higashioka, and Ramirez give the team even more depth. That’s what stands out most about the system. The high-end prospects are great, but holy cow, the Yankees have a ton of prospects who project to be average big leaguers. Those are insanely valuable, both on the roster and in trades because it’s cheap production.

The Double-A Duo

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

I don’t know about you, but when I think about SS Tyler Wade, I can’t help but think about OF Dustin Fowler as well, and vice versa. The two spent the entire 2016 season hitting first and second for Double-A Trenton in whatever order, and I guess because of that it’s hard to think of them apart. It is for me, anyway. They should star in a buddy cop YouTube series or something.

Anyway, the 21-year-old Fowler had a strong season with the Thunder, hitting .281/.311/.458 (109 wRC+) with 30 doubles, 15 triples, 12 homers, and 25 steals in 132 games. Those 15 triples were second most in all of minor league baseball. Only Padres OF Franchy Cordero had more. He had 16. Fowler rarely walks (3.8%) but he doesn’t strike out a ton either (15.0%), plus he has a sweet lefty swing with gap power to go with great speed and athleticism. Not too bad for a kid picked in the 18th round pick.

Wade, 22, authored a .259/.352/.349 (101 wRC+) batting line with 16 doubles, seven triples, five homers, and 27 steals in 133 Double-A games. He hit four home runs total in the first three years and 306 games of his pro career. Wade’s skill set is not conducive to sexy stat lines. He’s a bat control guy who draws walks (11.3%), runs the bases well, and plays very good defense. It’s a really old school leadoff hitter profile. No power, good contact and OBP, and good baserunning.

Both Wade and Fowler figure to begin the 2017 season at Triple-A, which puts them on the doorstep of the big leagues. The Yankees had Wade get acquainted with the outfield in the AzFL, so they’re preparing him for a utility role. They’re creating a path to MLB for him. Wade and Fowler are still really young — neither guy is even Rule 5 Draft eligible yet — so they probably need a full season in Triple-A before helping the big league team, but they are bonafide prospects at Triple-A. That’s pretty cool.

The Rebound Players

Austin. (Presswire)
Austin. (Presswire)

Not everything is going to go well in the farm system each season. Players are going to hurt and players are going to disappoint. It happens. This season the Yankees had a few players bounce back from tough 2015 seasons to reestablish themselves as prospects in 2016.

1B/OF Tyler Austin (season review) is the best example. He was so bad last season that the Yankees dropped him from the 40-man roster and he went unclaimed him on waivers. This season Austin hit big at Triple-A and reached the show in August. OF Mason Williams (season review) rebounded well from his shoulder surgery and returned to MLB in September. He could get a pretty long look for a big league roster in Spring Training, especially if Brett Gardner gets traded.

LHP Ian Clarkin, who was one of the team’s three first round picks in 2013 along with Judge and the since traded 3B Eric Jagielo, missed the entire 2015 regular season with an elbow injury. The 21-year-old was able to accumulate some innings in the AzFL after the season, and this season he was able to throw 98 innings at High-A before catching a spike and tearing the meniscus in his knee. Blah. Clarkin needed season-ending surgery in July. At least it wasn’t his arm.

Before the injury Clarkin pitched to a 3.31 ERA (3.26 FIP) with 17.4% strikeouts and 7.3% walks in those 98 innings. I’ve seen mixed reports about his stuff. Some say it’s all the way back following the elbow injury, others say it’s down a tick. Both can be true — Clarkin was probably razor sharp some days and less than stellar on others. The fact he made it through the season with a healthy elbow is a big plus. Hopefully next season, which he should spend at Double-A, will give us some clarity about the quality of his stuff as he gets further away from the injury.

Further down in the minors is C Luis Torrens, 20, who missed the entire 2015 season following shoulder surgery. That was a brutal injury. He missed a year of development at a crucial age and shoulder injuries for catchers are significant because so much of their defensive value is tied up their arm. Torrens suffered a relatively minor setback in Spring Training, which was enough for the Yankees to really slow things down and take their time with him.

Torres made his season debut with Short Season Staten Island in mid-June, and he finished the year at Low-A. He hit .236/.336/.318 (97 wRC+) with two homers, 15.0% strikeouts, and 11.9% walks in 52 total games. There was some rust, for sure. Torrens has always stood out most for defense. He’s a converted infielder and he took to catching extremely quickly, so much so that he already projects to be above-average at the position. Offensively, contact and walks are his game, not power. I’m looking forward to seeing what Torrens does as he gets further away from shoulder surgery in 2017. He has the talent to be a top ten organizational prospect, even in a farm system this deep.

Both RHP Domingo German and RHP Austin DeCarr returned at midseason after missing 2015 with Tommy John surgery. German, 24, had a 3.29 ERA (3.82 FIP) with 19.6% strikeouts and 5.9% walks in 54.2 innings split between Low-A and High-A. Baseball America says he hit 100 mph with his fastball, so the Yankees added him to their 40-man roster after the season to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent. DeCarr, 21, had a 4.12 ERA (4.14 FIP) with 17.4% strikeouts and 9.6% walks in 39.1 innings with Short Season Staten Island. He struggled with location, which isn’t unusual after elbow reconstruction.

The Inevitable Injuries

Grandmaster Kap. (Presswire)
Grandmaster Kap. (Presswire)

Like I said, injuries happen. To every farm system every year. They’re unavoidable. Teams just hope to limit them. The biggest injury in the farm system this year was, by far, RHP James Kaprielian‘s flexor strain. He made only three starts with High-A Tampa before his elbow started barking. Kaprielian did not need surgery and he healed up in time to pitch in the AzFL, where he made seven starts. All told, the 22-year-old had a 3.20 ERA (3.61 FIP) with 27.3% strikeouts and 6.3% walks in 45 total innings.

The good news is every report from the AzFL said Kaprielian’s stuff had returned following the flexor injury. His fastball was still living in the mid-90s and all three secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) were there too. That’s great news. Losing all that time stunk — there’s a pretty good chance we’d be talking about Kaprielian as a 2017 Opening Day rotation candidate had he stayed healthy in 2016 — but at least Kaprielian finished the season strong and will go into next season with a healthy arm and feeling good about things.

Other pitchers weren’t so lucky. The Yankees lost three relievers, all of whom pitched in MLB in 2015, to Tommy John surgery this year: RHP Nick Rumbelow, LHP Jacob Lindgren, and RHP Branden Pinder (season review). Rumbelow, 25, started the season in Triple-A and the Yankees were actually planning to try him as a starter this season, but during warms-up for the second inning of his first appearance of the Triple-A season, he felt the pop in his elbow. Blah.

The warning signs with Lindgren were there in Spring Training. He walked seven and hit two batters in 9.2 Grapefruit League innings, then went to High-A and walked nine in seven innings before the elbow started to bark. (He also hit a batter and uncorked six wild pitches.) Location issues are a common symptom of elbow trouble. Lindgren landed on the DL in April but didn’t have his Tommy John surgery until August. He had been throwing bullpens as part of his rehab in Tampa when the elbow gave out. Lindgren will miss the entire 2017 season.

OF Carlos Vidal, 21, was a potential breakout prospect coming into the season, but a variety of injuries limited him to only 19 games, and in those 19 games he hit .194/.280/.239 (62 wRC+). LHP Chaz Hebert missed the entire season following Tommy John surgery. The 24-year-old broke out with a 2.73 ERA (3.19 FIP) with 20.0% strikeouts and 6.7% walks in 148.1 innings at four levels a year ago. He’ll try to build on that with a new elbow in 2017.

Among the other prospects to lose significant time to injury this past season were RHP Brody Koerner (elbow), RHP James Pazos (unknown), RHP Drew Finley (elbow), and OF Trey Amburgey (hamstring). Koerner got hurt early in the season but returned in the AzFL. Pazos and Amburgey missed a chunk of the time early in the year but returned at midseason. Finley got hurt late in the year and has since returned to the mound during offseason workouts. I like Finley an awful lot, but in this farm system, I’m not sure he cracks the top 30 prospects after a relatively minor injury.

The Fond Farewells

Gamel. (Presswire)
Gamel. (Presswire)

Inevitably, the Yankees said goodbye to several prospects this season. Former first round pick OF Slade Heathcott had a tough 23-game stint (58 wRC+) with Triple-A Scranton before hurting his knee again. The Yankees released him after that. Slade, now 26, hooked on with the White Sox and hit .258/.407/.366 (131 wRC+) in 34 Triple-A games. He became a minor league free agent after the season and remains unsigned.

RHP Vicente Campos, the second piece in the Jesus MonteroMichael Pineda trade back in the day, stayed healthy and pitched very well (3.20 ERA and 3.08 FIP) at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton before being traded for Tyler Clippard at the deadline. The Diamondbacks called the 24-year-old Campos up in September and he allowed three runs (two earned) in 5.2 innings. The poor kid broke his damn elbow throwing a pitch and will be out until midseason 2017. Arizona dropped Campos from the 40-man roster earlier this offseason and the Angels claimed him on waivers.

Both LHP James Pazos (season review) and RHP Conor Mullee (season review) spent the entire season in the Yankees organization. Mullee was lost on waivers to the Cubs last month — they claimed him a few hours before Game Seven of the World Series — and Pazos was traded to the Mariners in a minor deal to clear a 40-man roster spot for Rule 5 Draft eligible players a few weeks ago.

OF Ben Gamel (season review) spent most of the season with the Yankees and did make his Major League debut in May. He went up and down a few times before being traded to the Mariners for two pitching prospects on August 31st, the last day teams could acquire a player and have him be postseason eligible. Gamel had such a good season in Triple-A (126 wRC+) that he was named International League MVP. His few weeks in Seattle didn’t go as well (72 wRC+).

It’s worth noting the Yankees recently released Rumbelow, so he belongs in this group too, I suppose. He was designated for assignment to clear 40-man spot for Rule 5 Draft eligible guys last month. The Yankees will probably look to bring Rumbelow back on a minor league contract. Either that or his elbow rehab is not going well and they don’t think he’s worth bringing back. we’ll see.

The Other New Additions

All told, the Yankees acquired 12 new prospects at the trade deadline, including Torres, Frazier, and Sheffield. They then brought in five additional prospects with the Gamel, McCann, and Pazos trades. Here are the 14 non-Torres/Frazier/Sheffield prospects: RHP Albert AbreuOF Rashad Crawford, RHP Juan DePaula, RHP J.P. Feyereisen, RHP Nick Green, RHP Jorge Guzman, RHP Zack Littell, RHP Billy McKinney, RHP Jio Orozco, OF Tito Polo, LHP Stephen Tarpley, RHP Dillon Tate, RHP Erik Swanson, and RHP Ben Heller (season review). Got all that?

The best of those 14 prospects is Abreu, who came over in the McCann trade. He might pop up on some top 100 lists next spring, though it’ll probably be a year too soon. The 21-year-old had a 3.71 ERA (4.07 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts and 12.9% walks in 104.1 innings at mostly Low-A. Abreu throws really hard and flashes a dominant slider, plus his changeup is coming along. He needs to iron out his command more than anything. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say he has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the farm system right now. Abreu figures to open 2017 in High-A.

Tate. (Presswire)
Tate. (Presswire)

Tate (prospect profile), who was part of the Carlos Beltran trade, is probably the biggest “name” prospect among those 14. He was the fourth overall pick in the draft last year. Not three years ago. Last year. 2015. Tate, 22, had a hamstring injury this year and his stuff really backed up while with the Rangers. The Yankees put him in relief so he could work on his mechanics, his stuff reportedly ticked back up, and they’re going to put him back in the rotation in 2017. Probably in High-A, where he’ll presumably join Abreu, Kaprielian, and Acevedo in the rotation (/drools).

I have two personal favorites among these 14 trade pickups: McKinney (Chapman trade) and Littell (Pazos trade). McKinney was the 24th overall pick in the 2013 draft and the Athletics later traded him to the Cubs in the Addison Russell/Jeff Samardzija deal. This season the 22-year-old hit .256/.349/.363 (107 wRC+) with five homers in 130 total Double-A games. That’s down from his .300/.371/.454 (135 wRC+) line at High-A and Double-A last year.

McKinney’s 2015 season ended in August because he fouled a pitch off his knee and suffered a hairline fracture Mark Teixeira style, and he was coming back from the injury this season. McKinney’s pure hit tool is excellent and the reason he was drafted so high. Whether he can hit for enough power and play enough defense to avoid becoming a ‘tweener is another matter. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next year, as he gets further away from knee surgery. The Yankees might start McKinney back at Double-A for the time being.

Littell, 21, threw an insane 173 innings between Low-A and High-A this year — the last Yankees farmhand to throw 170+ innings in a minor league season was Steven White in 2006 (175.1) — during which he had a 2.60 ERA (3.07 FIP) with 24.0% strikeouts and 5.0% walks. Littell is a low-90s fastball/curveball pitcher with an okay changeup and a very aggressive approach. He’s a bulldog who goes right after hitters. That’s a pretty nice return for a guy like Pazos, who was arguably the 40th man on the 40-man roster.

Swanson (Beltran trade) is the sleeper here. The 23-year-old missed most of the 2015 season with a flexor injury, and when he came back this year, he had a 3.46 ERA (3.07 FIP) with 23.1% strikeouts and 7.5% walks in 96.1 innings, all at Low-A. Swanson’s velocity returned to the low-to-mid-90s this summer and he has three secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) he can locate. With good health, he has a chance to climb the ladder quickly and be a swingman candidate in the David Phelps/Adam Warren mold.

Feyereisen (Miller trade) hit 100 mph with Double-A Trenton and could carve out a bullpen role long-term. Tarpley (Ivan Nova trade) has good stuff from the left side but needs to work on his location. Guzman (McCann trade) hit 103 mph this summer and is really raw. Domingo Acevedo two years ago raw. Crawford (Chapman trade) has crazy tools and is still working to put them together. Polo (Nova trade) has a fourth outfielder’s skill set. Green (Beltran trade) has a big fastball and iffy secondary stuff. Orozco and DePaula (both Gamel trade) are rookie ball kids.

The Step Back Prospects

It’s not all good news, of course. Some players had poor seasons overall and saw their prospect stock take a hit. RHP Brady Lail managed a 4.34 ERA (4.27 FIP) with 14.6% strikeouts and 7.5% walks in 137 innings at mostly Triple-A this season. The Yankees deserve a ton of credit for turning an 18th round pick out of a Utah high school into a legit prospect, but at this point Lail lacks the put-away pitch needed to be successful at the next level. Triple-A hitters have made it abundantly clear.

LHP Jeff Degano, the team’s second round pick last year, developed a case of the yips in 2016. It was a bit odd when he wasn’t assigned to Low-A Charleston to start the season despite being completely healthy, but when he showed up to rookie Pulaski in June and walked 25 batters with ten wild pitches in 5.2 innings, we knew why. Yeah. Degano throws hard and has a good breaking ball, at least when things are going right. The 24-year-old is dealing with extreme control issues right now though.

The Best of the Rest

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

But wait! We’re still not done. Callis wasn’t joking when he said the Yankees have the deepest system in the game. In addition to everyone above, the Yankees have several others who deserve at least an acknowledgement of their status as prospects. Top prospects? No. But potential big leaguers in some form. Here’s the best of the rest this season:

  • IF Abi Avelino, 21: Hit .252/.313/.352 (93 wRC+) with 21 steals between High-A and Low-A. Speedy middle infielder with maybe the best baseball instincts in the system. He’ll be someone’s utility infielder at some point. You watch.
  • RHP Will Carter, 23: Last year’s 14th rounder reached Double-A and had a 4.76 ERA (3.63 FIP) in 117.1 total innings. It was worth trying him as a starter, but I’m guessing Carter and his 97 mph sinker (65.4% grounders in 2016) find themselves back in the bullpen soon.
  • OF Jake Cave, 23: Managed a .274/.339/.435 (119 wRC+) batting line in 124 games at Double-A and Triple-A. Lefty swinger with a little pop and good defense. He’s Rule 5 Draft eligible again.
  • LHP Nestor Cortes, 21: A total of 553 pitchers threw 100+ innings in the minors in 2016. None had a lower ERA than Cortes (1.53). The finesse southpaw also had a 2.74 FIP and made it as high as Triple-A.
  • IF Thairo Estrada, 20: Personal fave hit .283/.338/.378 (110 wRC+) with eight homers and 18 steals at Low-A and High-A. Thairo makes consistent hard contact and has already shown he can play any non-first base infield position.
  • OF Isiah Gilliam, 20: Just a dude who hit ten homers in 57 rookie ball games. Gilliam hit .239/.301/.440 (102 wRC+) overall and has power from both sides of the plate. The Yankees moved him from first base to the outfield to get more value out of him.
  • 1B Chris Gittens, 22: Tied Higashioka for the system lead with 21 homers. Hit .253/.359/.478 (140 wRC+) overall, but also struck out 27.9% of the time against Low-A pitchers. Huge power, questionably hit tool.
  • OF Jeff Hendrix, 23: Streakiest player in the system hit .293/.380/.378 (125 wRC+) between Low-A and High-A. At one point he went 53-for-113 (.469) during a 29-game span. Hendrix is a bit of a ‘tweener. Not enough power for a corner and maybe not enough defense for center.
  • RHP Ronald Herrera, 21: Threw 132 innings with a 3.75 ERA (3.27 FIP) in Double-A. Finesse four-pitch pitcher with very good command. The Yankees got him in the Jose Pirela trade with the Padres and added him to the 40-man roster last month.
  • SS Kyle Holder, 22: Defensive whiz hit .290/.323/.347 (93 wRC+) in Low-A. Holder is a better prospect than he gets credit for. Dude can get the bat on the ball and save about 20 runs a year in the field.
  • OF Jhalan Jackson, 23: Muscled his way to a .236/.311/.415 (108 wRC+) line with eleven homers in Low-A. Jackson has power and a strong arm. It’s just a question of whether he can refine his approach and hone his hit tool.
  • OF Leonardo Molina, 19: One of the most tooled up players in the system hit .226/.290/.382 (87 wRC+) between Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Charleston. A 19-year-old kid hitting nine homers in 85 games is no small feat.
  • OF Alex Palma, 21: Quietly hit .265/.292/.420 (102 wRC+) with six homers in 64 Low-A games. Also had ten outfield assists. Palma is a bit of a hacker, but he’s got some tools, most notably his power and defense.
  • OF Mark Payton, 24: The 5-foot-8 outfielder hit .280/.356/.424 (119 wRC+) with 20 doubles and ten homers at three levels in 2016. He’s a scrappy lefty hitter who does enough things to carve out a career as a fourth outfielder.
  • LHP Josh Rogers, 22: Had a 2.50 ERA (2.88 FIP) in 147 innings at Low-A and High-A. Low-90s heater from the left side with an okay slider and a much improved changeup. Definitely someone worth keeping an eye on.
  • C Donny Sands, 20: Hit .286/.328/.375 (102 wRC+) with only 10.7% strikeouts in 30 games with various rookie ball affiliates. The former third baseman converted to catching full-time this year. In most other systems, he’s probably a top 20 prospect.
  • LHP Tyler Webb, 26: Had a 3.59 ERA (2.76 FIP) in 72.2 innings while repeating Triple-A. As a lefty with some velocity and a history of missing bats, he’s as good as gone in the Rule 5 Draft.

Some players who had a strong statistical seasons and could be considered fringe prospects: LHP Daniel Camarena, RHP Simon De La Rosa, RHP Jordan Foley, RHP Mark Montgomery, LHP James Reeves, RHP Adonis Rosa, LHP Caleb Smith, RHP Daris Vargas, and OF Zack Zehner. Smith is probably a goner in the Rule 5 Draft as a hard-throwing southpaw who has had success at Double-A.

Keep in mind that even with all the players mentioned in this post — I unofficially count 83 of them, is that overkill? that seems like overkill — I didn’t mention 2016 draft picks or the 2014-15 international free agent class at all. Those players got their own season review posts and yes, they include more very good prospects, including 2016 first rounder Blake Rutherford, who Keith Law recently said he’d take over every other hitter in the 2016 draft.

The Yankees have build their strongest farm system in a very long time. Since the early-1990s when they had two future Hall of Famers (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera) and two borderline Hall of Famers (Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte) in the system, plus useful other dudes like Sterling Hitchcock, Carl Everett, Russ Springer, and Russ Davis. Does that mean the Yankees are going to pump out a few future Hall of Famers soon? Of course not. That’s an unrealistic expectation. But the Yankees do have an incredible farm system right now, one loaded with high-end talent and an unbelievable amount of depth.

The Baby Bombers [2016 Series Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I don’t think it’s a stretch to call the 2016 trade deadline one of the most important periods in recent Yankees’ history. You probably have to go all the way back to the 2008-09 offseason for the last time the club made moves that so greatly impacted the future of the organization. The Yankees sold productive veterans at the deadline and not only added quality prospects, but they also opened big league playing time for young players.

Aside from Gary Sanchez, who had more impact than any other AL rookie position player in 2016, the two youngsters who most benefited from that suddenly available playing time were Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge. The Yankees traded Carlos Beltran, released Alex Rodriguez, and reduced Mark Teixeira‘s playing time, which created a path for Austin and Judge to play nearly everyday.

History on Day One

Austin and Judge both made their MLB debuts on the same day. August 13th, the day after A-Rod was released. They batted back-to-back in the starting lineup too. Austin hit seventh as the first baseman and Judge hit eighth as the right fielder. Sanchez was batting sixth as the DH. It was a hell of an afternoon.

In their first big league at-bats, Austin and Judge made history by becoming the first set of teammates to hit their first career home runs in their big league debuts in the same game. And they did it back-to-back. And in their first at-bats. Like I said, it was a hell of an afternoon.

Hilariously, Austin’s home run was one of New York’s shortest of the season while Judge’s was one of the longest. The Yankees went young in the second half this season and were rewarded immediately. Sanchez was a force for two months, and Austin and Judge did something historic in their debuts. That sure was fun, wasn’t it? The back-to-back jacks were one of the best moments of the season.

Clutch Homers & Sporadic Playing Time

This was an incredibly important season for Austin. Last year the 25-year-old hit .246/.320/.361 (96 wRC+) with nine home runs in the minors and was so bad he had to be demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Double-A Trenton at midseason. When September rolled around, the Yankees dropped Austin from the 40-man roster to create space for someone else. He went unclaimed on waivers, then went unpicked in the Rule 5 Draft. Ouch.

“You never want to go backward in this game but I think it was a great learning experience for me,” said Austin back in June. “This game humbled me very fast and I found out the hard way. I’m going to try and not let anything like that happen again and continue to work hard and go from there.”

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Greg Bird went down with shoulder surgery in February, and during Spring Training, Brian Cashman said Austin wasn’t even on the team’s radar as a potential first base solution. He was that far down the depth chart. Austin didn’t get an invite to big league Spring Training either. If he was going to get back on the 40-man roster and to the big leagues, he was going to have to earn it. The Yankees didn’t give him much of a look in camp.

When the regular season started, Austin returned to Double-A Trenton — this was the fifth straight year he’d spent time with the Thunder — and you know what? He didn’t exactly destroy the competition. Austin hit .260/.367/.395 (117 wRC+) with four homers in 50 games at Double-A. The Yankees only bumped him up to Triple-A because they called Chris Parmelee to the Bronx, and the RailRiders needed a first baseman.

Austin made the most of the opportunity. His game took off once he arrived in Triple-A in early-June. Austin hit .323/.415/.637 (201 wRC+) with 13 homers in 57 games with Scranton before called up to the Yankees in early-August. He hadn’t had that much success in the minors, even in a short stint, since his breakout 2012 season way back when. Austin forced the issue, exactly has the Yankees hoped. He made them take notice.

Things quickly went downhill for Austin following his debut home run. He fell into an ugly 5-for-36 (.139) slump with 13 strikeouts after that, which landed him on the bench for long stretches of time. The Yankees managed to climb back into the race in August and Teixeira simply gave the team a better chance to win at the time, so he played. Austin looked overmatched.

Joe Girardi gave Austin another look in early-September, and he wound up hitting two of the most important home runs of the season. On September 6th, Austin cracked a go-ahead two-run home run against noted ground ball machine Aaron Sanchez. It was his birthday too. Quite a way to turn 25, eh?

Two days later, Austin hit his third big league home run, this one a walk-off blast against the Rays. So, to recap, his first homer was part of the first set of back-to-back homers by rookies in their MLB debut, his second was a birthday blast, and his third was a walk-off. That’s a hell of a thing.

Austin hit two more home runs later in the month and finished his first big league stint with a respectable .241/.300/.458 (102 wRC+) batting line and five home runs in 90 plate appearances. Four of his five home runs gave the Yankees the lead. The other tied the game. All five were hit to right field in Yankee Stadium too. Austin showed off some serious opposite field power. Check out his spray chart, via Baseball Savant:

Tyler Austin spray chart

That’s a pretty interesting exit velocity spray chart. (Yes, I broke out an exit velocity spray chart.) Austin hit all of his home runs the other way, but he also pulled the ball with authority as well. He wasn’t a dead pull hitter and he wasn’t a pure opposite field guy either. Austin sprayed the ball all around. I don’t think that tells us much of anything in a 90-plate appearance sample, but it’s cool to see.

After being drafted as a catcher and dabbling at third base in the low minors, Austin is a pure first baseman at this point of his career. A first baseman who can play right field in an emergency situation. The Yankees ran him out there in right a few times late in the season and it was not pretty. I don’t recommend doing it often. Austin isn’t Teixeira at first base but he’s solid defensively. Makes all the plays he should make. He’s in the lineup for his bat though, not his glove.

With Teixeira retired, the Yankees now have a great big opening at first base, and Austin figures to come to Spring Training with a chance to win the job. It’ll be him and Bird, and you know what? The job could very easily go to both of them next season. I see them platooning and splitting time at first base and DH. A year ago Austin was so far off the radar that no team claimed him off waivers. The strong 2016 season and impressive display of opposite field pop put him in position to have a role with the Yankees doing forward.

The Adjustment Period

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

When the season started, Judge was in a very different yet similar place as Austin. Austin had played his way out of the picture while Judge was the Yankees’ top prospect, someone who was going to get every opportunity to succeed. That was the big difference between the two. Austin and Judge were also similar in that they were going to have to prove themselves before getting a big league opportunity. Neither would be handed anything.

Judge, now 24, reached Triple-A in the second half last season and struggled, hitting .224/.308/.373 (98 wRC+) with eight home runs and a 28.5% strikeout rate in 61 games. Experienced pitchers picked apart the inevitable swing holes that come with being 6-foot-7. Judge spent much of his offseason in Tampa, working the team’s minor league hitting coordinators, and he reworked his hitting mechanics quite a bit. Here’s a GIF I’ve posted a few times now:

Aaron Judge 2015 vs 2016That’s Spring Training 2015 on the left and Spring Training 2016 on the right. Judge added a bigger leg kick over the winter, and he also dropped his hands a bit. In fact, by time he arrived in New York, his hands were even lower. Judge kept dropping them and dropping them until he found a comfortable spot that more easily allowed him to get the bat into the hitting zone.

Judge started the Triple-A season fairly slowly, slow enough that some folks were saying his development had stalled out. He was sitting on a .221/.285/.372 (87 wRC+) batting line with seven home runs and a 26.2% strikeout rate through his first 50 games. That included an ugly 10-for-72 (.139) slump with 24 strikeouts. Judge looked overmatched, at least based on the box score, and there was reason to be worried.

That all changed pretty quickly. Following those tough 50 games, Judge went on an insane tear and hit .328/.463/.630 (216 wRC+) with nine home runs in his next 33 games. He dropped his strikeout rate to 18.8% and drew nearly as many walks (17.4%). That hot streak raised his season batting line to .261/.357/.469 (139 wRC+). Unfortunately, on July 8th, Judge suffered a sprained knee ligament and bone bruise diving for a ball in the outfield. The injury sent him to the DL for a little less than a month.

Judge returned in early-August, went 12-for-34 (.353) with three home runs in ten games with the RailRiders, then was called up to the Yankees. He not only hit a home run in his first big league at-bat, he also went deep the following day too. Judge hit home runs in back-to-back games to start his big league career. He had two hits in his third game as well.

Like Austin, Judge fell into a slump after his big debut, going 4-for-36 (.111) with 20 (!) strikeouts in his next eleven games after the hot start. Girardi gave Judge a few days off here and there, but, generally speaking, he was in the lineup everyday. The Yankees were willing to live with the growing pains even while the team scratched their way closer to a wildcard spot.

Judge’s season came to a premature end on September 13th, when he tweaked his oblique taking a swing. Obliques are tricky. They’re very easy to re-injury if they’re not allowed to heal properly. The Yankees shut Judge down for the season and the good news is he’s already healthy and reportedly again working in Tampa with the team’s hitting instructors.

All told, Judge hit .270/.366/.489 (147 wRC+) with 19 home runs and a 23.9% strikeout rate in 43 Triple-A games — that was his lowest strikeout rate since he was in Low-A two years ago (21.2%) — and .179/.263/.345 (63 wRC+) with three home runs and a 44.2% strikeout rate in 27 big league games. The good news: his hard contact rate was an insane 48.8%. (His soft contact rate was 9.3%!) Only Nelson Cruz had a higher average exit velocity.

Now, the bad news: Judge’s contact rate was only 59.7%. Only one of the 452 players to bat at least 90 times this season had a lower contact rate. It was Madison Bumgarner at 59.2%. So yeah. (Austin had the third lowest contact rate at 62.0%, by the way.) Here are the pitch locations of Judge’s swing and misses, via Baseball Savant:

Aaron Judge whiffs

Many of the empty swings came on pitches that move and were on the outer half or out of the zone entirely. Sliders, curveballs, that sort of thing. Not all of them though. Judge’s contact rate on pitches in the strike zone was only 74.3%, which ranked 447th among those 452 batters with at least 90 plate appearances. Contact was a clear issue during Judge’s relatively brief big league stint. No doubt about it.

This wasn’t entirely unexpected, however. Judge has a history of starting slow each time he’s promoted before making the adjustment and getting on track. He did it at Double-A and he did it at Triple-A. Now he has to do it in MLB. The good news is Judge has made those adjustments in the past. It’s easy to stereotype this guy as a big dumb masher who grips it and rips it, but that’s not the case. His hit tool is solid. “He’s got more feel to hit than one would expect for a man his size,” said Baseball America’s scouting report before the season.

Strikeouts are always going to be part of Judge’s game. You can only shorten your swing so much when you’re 6-foot-7. The hope is Judge will be able to trim his strikeout rate down into the 23.0% range down the road while tapping into his obvious power potential. Judge is also a sneaky good athlete for his size too. He’s not a liability in right field at all. Heck, he robbed a home run without even jumping. His arm is a rocket as well. The guy flicked his wrist and the ball carried from the warning track to second base.

The right field job is Judge’s for the taking. The Yankees want him to take it and run with it in Spring Training, and never look back. They’re also not going to hand him the job either. They have other outfielders. Cashman said Judge will have to earn his roster spot like everyone else and I believe it. A poor, strikeout heavy spring could land him back in Triple-A. Either way, Judge is clearly the right fielder of the future, and hopefully the future starts on Opening Day 2017.

Thoughts on Baseball America’s top 10 Yankees prospects

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

Last week, the crew at Baseball America began their annual offseason series breaking down the top ten prospects in each Major League organization. Their Yankees list, compiled by Josh Norris, went live last Friday. Here’s the list, the insider, and the chat. You need a subscription to read the scouting reports for prospects two through ten. Everything else is free. Here’s the top ten:

  1. SS Gleyber Torres
  2. OF Clint Frazier
  3. OF Blake Rutherford
  4. SS Jorge Mateo
  5. RHP James Kaprielian
  6. OF Aaron Judge
  7. LHP Justus Sheffield
  8. RHP Chance Adams
  9. OF Dustin Fowler
  10. RHP Domingo Acevedo

“The Yankees took the unusual step of selling off their veterans to embark on a rebuilding phase, but the young players they brought up provided more immediate impact than expected and kept the team in playoff contention until the season’s final week,” wrote Kyle Glaser in the insider write-up. I have some amateur-ish thoughts on the top ten, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Holy crap the top ten is stacked. That’s the best Yankees top ten I can remember. You can even go all the way back to 1999 and 2000, when they had Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano at the top of the farm system, with Drew Henson, D’Angelo Jimenez, Wily Mo Pena, and Jake Westbrook behind them. Laugh at those names now if you want, but those dudes were a big deal back in the day. The Yankees have a ton of depth in their farm system. I’m talking players with a chance to be regular big leaguers, and that was true before the trade deadline. The deadline deals added star power like Frazier and Torres. You could put any one of the guys Baseball America ranked among the top seven in the top spot and he’d be a more than respectable No. 1 organizational prospect.

2. The Yankees have a shot at seven top 100 prospects. In the chat, Norris said he could “very easily see Nos. 1 through 8 in this system making the Top 100,” which would be amazing. I’m not quite as high on Adams as everyone else seems to be — he’s good! I’m just not sure he’s top 100 caliber good — so I see seven top 100 candidates, which is still incredible. Four top 100 prospects is pretty darn good. Seven is off-the-charts good. Prospects are suspects until proven otherwise, but generally speaking, that kind of top 100 prospect depth correlates well to future success. The Yankees have a lot of high-end talent and a lot of depth too. I can’t remember the last time the system was set up this well.

3. The top three weren’t in the organization five months ago. The Yankees’ top three prospects according to Baseball America are all new to the organization. Torres and Frazier came over in separate trades at the deadline, and Rutherford was the team’s first round pick in June. None of those three guys were in the system as recently as June 8th. Later than that, really, since Rutherford didn’t officially sign until June 29th. That’s an awful lot of top talent added to the system in a short period of time.

Frazier. (Presswire)
Frazier. (Presswire)

4. Frazier over Torres has become Torres over Frazier. At the trade deadline, just about every scouting publication had Frazier ranked ahead of Torres. In fact, Baseball America’s midseason top 100, which was published exactly three weeks prior to the deadline, had Frazier ranked 21st and Torres ranked 27th. That’s really close. Almost a negligible difference, really. Since the trade, Gleyber continued to mash in High-A and show the skills necessary to stay at shortstop. Frazier struggled in his few weeks at Triple-A. It’s not a surprise to see them flipped and it’s in no way unreasonable. This isn’t an overreaction or anything. Torres has star caliber tools and so does Frazier, but we saw them from Gleyber more than Frazier in the second half. Torres passing Frazier has more to do with Torres taking another step forward than Frazier taking a step back. I don’t have a strong opinion at the moment either way, Torres over Frazier or Frazier over Torres. The cool thing is the Yankees have both.

5. People sure do love Rutherford. I am surprised to see Rutherford ranked so high, but hey, I’m not complaining. Baseball America’s scouting report says he “projects as a four-tool player” with the only shortcoming being his arm, which isn’t a huge deal. If you’re going to miss a tool, that’s an okay one to miss. Also, in his most recent chat, Keith Law said he’d take Rutherford over every other hitter in the 2016 draft class. That is some serious praise. The Yankees have a stacked system right now and Rutherford still ranks near the top of their prospect list despite being a 19-year-old kid with 130 pro plate appearances. I am: excited.

6. Judge behind Mateo and Kaprielian is, uh, interesting. There is no right way to rank prospects. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. And really, the gap between many of these prospects is very small, so ranking one over the other is not a big deal. I’m still surprised to see Judge drop behind Mateo and especially Kaprielian. What was the goal for Judge coming into the season? To make the adjustment to Triple-A pitching, mash for a few weeks, then get to the show. He did exactly that. What was the goal for Mateo? To continue turning that high-end athleticism and those raw tools into baseball skills. Instead, he struggled most of the year and got suspended as well. The hope was Kaprielian would reach the show in September, or at least reach Triple-A. He made three High-A starts before getting hurt. Mateo and Kaprielian took steps back this year. They did! Don’t get mad at me for saying it. Judge made his adjustments and got to the big leagues, and now he has to make another adjustment. That is in no way unusual. Dropping him behind Mateo and Kaprielian strikes me as an overreaction to his swing-and-miss issues in August and September. The ranking indicates those strikeout woes are a bigger concern than Mateo not hitting in general and Kaprielian getting hurt. Eh.

7. Not a surprise to see no Tate. The Yankees made three big trades at the deadline and three of the prospects they acquired are in their top ten. Torres came over in the Aroldis Chapman deal and both Frazier and Sheffield came over in the Andrew Miller trade. Dillon Tate, the headliner in the Carlos Beltran trade, did not make the top ten and it’s not only because the Yankees have so many quality prospects. Tate took a step back this year, especially during his time with the Rangers. He had a hamstring injury, his velocity was down, and his command wavered. The Yankees bought low on him — Tate was the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft — and will try to build him back up. Reports from the Arizona Fall League indicate his stuff has returned, which is an important first step. Tate may not be a top ten organizational prospect right now, but he’s on his way to being one next year.

A Spectrum of Expectations

This year's rookie hazing theme: Baby Bombers! (@Yankees)
This year’s rookie hazing theme: Baby Bombers! (@Yankees)

If you’re reading this site, then it you would probably find it superfluous for me to rehash the success the Yankees had when it came to integrating young talent into the Major League team or adding it to the minor league system. And it would also be repetitive to parrot the lines about excitement going forward, 2017 and beyond. Of those two things, though, I’d rather do the latter. When it comes to young players, talking about the future is always more fun than talking about the past, however recent.

Two players in particular are going to have quite lofty expectations thrown on them on 2017. In the minors, there’s Gleyber Torres, who more than held his own in a league in which he was almost four years younger than the average age. People are going to expect big things from him going forward, and I suppose I can’t blame them. He’ll be, however, just 20 years old for all of next season. On the Major League side of things, there’s Gary Sanchez.

Rookie of the Decade. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Rookie of the Decade. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Whatever adjectives you want to use to describe El Gary’s 2016 are fine with me and likely don’t even do it justice. To an even greater degree than Torres, Sanchez tore up a league he wasn’t supposed to yet, forcing himself into AL Rookie of the Year talks despite just two months of playing time. I’m worried that a segment of fans–not the ones who read this site, really–will be disappointed in Sanchez unless he puts up some ridiculous, Mike Piazza-like year. In reality, if Sanchez just repeats what he did this year over a full year, that would be pretty remarkable in and of itself. Offense like that doesn’t come from a catcher too often.

When it comes to players like Aaron Judge, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green, improvement ought to be the expectation. For Cessa and Green, that improvement needs to come in the form of pitching well enough for their roles to be defined. This does and should leave some wiggle room for them to be considered successful in 2017, whether that’s as starters or relievers. For Judge, the improvement needed is obvious: he has to make more contact and cut down on the strikeouts.

Then there’s Luis Severino. I have no earthly idea what to expect from this guy going forward. Were he to bounce back and show his 2015 form more often, I wouldn’t be shocked. Were he to repeat 2016, I wouldn’t be surprised either. But in my gut of guts, heart of hearts, whatever you want to call it, I’m expecting Severino to turn into a reliever by the end of 2017. Maybe that’s overly pessimistic, but…what else can I expect after a year of no consistent third pitch?

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

The young players in the Yankee organization are the ones that will determine its success in the coming years. With a team less reliant on old talent as those players age out, the performances of the relatively inexperienced will matter all that much more. It’s never easy to set expectations for players and there’s always a range of possibilities; hopefully, they come up more positive than negative.

DotF: Gleyber Torres raking in the Arizona Fall League

The Arizona Fall League is in full swing and the various Caribbean winter leagues are getting underway as well. Before we get to the winter ball action, here are some minor league links and notes:

  • LHP Nestor Cortes has been added to the Scottsdale Scorpions roster, according to the AzFL transactions page. He’s replaced an injured pitcher with another organization. Cortes will pitch in relief and RHP Brody Koerner will move into the Scottsdale rotation.
  • SS Gleyber Torres landed in the top spot of this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. “Torres is a powerful hitter who’s shown the ability to hit for both average and power as well as the ability to stick at shortstop … He is ready for his first taste of the upper levels next season at Double-A Trenton,” said the write-up.
  • It appears OF Aaron Judge (oblique) is healthy. George King (subs. req’d) says Judge is currently working with minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson. “It’s not about making any major overhaul. He just needs to get back to doing what got him here, and the important thing is not to panic. We know that’s not going to happen because he’s been through this before,” said Rowson.
  • A few things on RHP Dillon Tate: Keith Law (subs. req’d) said his stuff has come back, but he might need to try a two-seamer to keep hitters off his “pin-straight” fastball. A scout told Randy Miller that Tate works hard but is too stubborn to succeed in MLB. How silly. Bill Mitchell spoke to Tate about his stint in the AzFL.
  • Miller has a series of posts with things to know about Torres, 3B Miguel Andujar, RHP J.P. Feyereisen, and SS Tyler Wade. Also, Mark Cannizaro spoke to 1B Greg Bird about his summer rehabbing from shoulder surgery. He hated it. “I mean, when was the last time I took a summer off from baseball?” said Bird.
  • And finally, the Yankees have re-signed C Francisco Diaz, reports Matt Eddy. The 26-year-old depth catcher hit .212/.294/.237 (56 wRC+) in 65 games at three levels in 2016. Diaz figures to again spend next season going from level to level depending where a catcher is needed at any given time.

AzFL Scottsdale

  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 7 G, 9-23, 4 R, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 4 BB, 3 K (.391/.481/.478) — he cooled down a bit towards the end of the regular season, so it’s good to see him starting strong out here
  • 1B Greg Bird: 6 G, 6-23, 2 R, 4 2B, 3 RBI, 3 BB, 3 K (.261/.346/.435) — so far so good following shoulder surgery
  • SS Gleyber Torres: 6 G, 9-21, 5 R, 2 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 4 BB, 4 K, 2 SB, 2 CS (.429/.520/.810) — reminder: he’s 19
  • SS/OF Tyler Wade: 4 G, 1-14, 4 R, 4 BB, 5 K, 1 SB (.071/.278/.071) — he’s played one game at second, one in left, and two in center
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 4 H, 5 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 4 K (7.20 ERA and 2.20 WHIP)
  • RHP James Kaprielian: 2 G, 2 GS, 6 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K (1.50 ERA and 0.83 WHIP) — like Bird, so far so good following the injury
  • RHP Brody Koerner: 2 G, 3.1 IP, 9 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 1 HR (24.30 ERA and 3.90 WHIP) — he missed most of the season with an unknown injury
  • RHP Dillon Tate: 3 G, 4 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 2 HR (9.00 ERA and 1.50 WHIP)

The Dominican Winter League season started last weekend. IF Jorge Mateo, IF Abi Avelino, OF Cesar Puello, UTIL Jose Rosario, RHP Anyelo Gomez, and RHP Adonis Rosa are all on rosters but haven’t played yet. And they might not, either. Being on the roster just means that team controls their winter ball rights, not that they will actually play.

Mexican Pacific League

  • OF Tito Polo: 4 G, 3-16, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 5 K, 3 SB (.188/.235/.250) — he was one of the guys the Yankees got in the Ivan Nova trade
  • C Sebastian Valle: 6 G, 3-21, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 8 K (.143/.250/.190) — he’ll be a minor league free agent soon
  • No other Yankees farmhands are on league rosters.

The Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico) season begins next week. Only partial rosters have been released so far. IF Cito Culver, IF Vince Conde, and OF Aaron Judge are listed on rosters. Maybe Judge will actually play after missing time with knee and oblique injuries this summer. He only played 120 games this year.

Venezuelan Winter League

  • SS Angel Aguilar: 1 G, 0-1, 1 K
  • C Francisco Diaz: 9 G, 8-25, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 3B, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 7 K, 1 SB (.320/.393/.520) — well look at that, a catcher with two triples and a steal in the span of nine games
  • RHP Luis Cedeno: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K
  • RHP David Kubiak: 2 G, 1 GS, 6.2 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 6 K , 1 HR (6.75 ERA and 1.65 WHIP) — the Yankees signed the 6-foot-7 righty out of an independent league over the summer
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 4 G, 2.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2 K (10.13 ERA and 2.25 WHIP)
  • LHP Miguel Sulbaran, RHP Daniel Alvarez, 3B Daniel Barrios, RHP Alex Mejias, 3B Andres Chaparro, OF Andres Fernandez, and C David Vergel are all on rosters.

Sanchez and Judge rank among Baseball America’s top Triple-A prospects

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Earlier today, Baseball America wrapped up their annual look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league with the Triple-A International League (subs. req’d). Three big leaguers claimed the top three spots: Nationals SS Trea Turner, Twins OF Byron Buxton, and Yankees C Gary Sanchez. Hooray for that. OF Aaron Judge placed 19th.

“Sanchez stood out for his plus raw power even before mashing 11 home runs for the Yankees in August. He offers more at the plate than just raw power, however. He can use the whole field to hit, and he cut his strikeout rate this year,” said the write-up. The scouting report also lauds his “top-of-the-scale arm strength” and improved receiving while noting there’s still work to do defensively. Pretty much exactly what we saw this year, right? Right.

As for Judge, the scouting report says he is “more than just a masher” at the plate because he has discipline and uses the whole field, but “his size makes his swing long, and more advanced pitchers have been able to exploit some of his holes.” He’s also said to be a prototypical right fielder defensively, with a strong arm and better athleticism and mobility than you’d expect given his 6-foot-7 frame.

I didn’t realize the International League was so deep this year. There are 19 legitimate top 100 prospects in the top 20. Guys like 2B Rob Refsnyder, 1B Tyler Austin, RHP Luis Cessa, and RHP Chad Green had no chance to make it. OF Clint Frazier certainly would have made the top 20 had he spent enough time in the league to qualify for the list. You can see the top 20s right here (no subs. req’d).

Girardi’s End-of-Season Press Conference Recap: Youth Movement, Severino, Pitching

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Prior to Sunday’s season finale, Yankees manager Joe Girardi held his annual end-of-season press conference, during which he discussed the state of the franchise and where the team is heading in the future. Things like that. The usual, basically.

You can watch the entire 20-minute press conference right here, if you’re so inclined. I compiled what I thought were the most interesting tidbits and grouped them together below. I also added some thoughts, because why not? Here is our annual recap of Girardi’s end-of-season press conference. Brian Cashman‘s is Wednesday. That’s the most important one.

The Youth Movement

  • On expectations Girardi had for the kids going into 2016: “I was pretty convinced in my mind that (Gary) Sanchez would help us at some point this year. When you look at Aaron (Judge), I thought he had a possibility of helping. I was not sure about Tyler (Austin) just because — the year before was pretty good — he had some physical issues. He was making a position change. But I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s adapted to first base. I hope he’s going to continue to get better. He works really hard and he’s done some things that at times I’ve been surprised what he’s done for us.”
  • Do you have to manage kids differently than veterans? “You manage every group somewhat different because they’re different types of players, but yes. I mean, obviously with (veterans) they’ve been through a lot … You have a history of how they handle those experiences and maybe those slumps. You’re not sure how (young players are) going to react and what they are capable of being, the situation, how they’re going to handle it. But again, you manage differently depending on their strengths and weaknesses.”
  • Who is Girardi looking forward to seeing in 2017? “(I’m) most excited to see some guys that I haven’t seen a lot of. I’m not sure who’s going to be in my 40-man roster either … There are some guys I haven’t seen because of the trades we’ve made. And next year could be an interesting Spring Training as a WBC year.”
  • On expectations for Gary Sanchez next year: “My hope is the expectations aren’t so large that no matter what he does, he can’t reach those expectations. But I think you can expect a talented player and a good player to go out there and improve.”

The expectations for Sanchez next season will be interesting. Interesting and scary. The kid hit like Babe Ruth for three weeks, and as good as Gary is, it’s completely unrealistic to expect him to do that again. Expectations for Luis Severino got out of control last season. I don’t think that contributed to his poor season, but a lot of fans set themselves up for disappointment by expecting an instant ace.

Hopefully Sanchez can be a middle of the order bat next season. I’m sure the Yankees will count on him to be exactly that. But asking him to be one of the best hitters on the planet again, especially across a full season, is not fair at this point. The learning curve for catchers can be steep. Sanchez hitting, say, .270/.320/.450 with 25 homers in 2017 would make him one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. I also feel like many folks would consider that a disappointment.

The Offense

  • On situational hitting: “As far as the situational hitting, when I said at times we didn’t hit well, that was a big part. Situational hitting with runners in scoring position, we did not do a good job. There are years that are better years than other years, and the teams that score runs are the teams that do really well in that category, and that’s something that we learned last season.”
  • On the offense wearing down late in the season: “I mean, guys get beat up physically and they get run down in the month of September, and we’re not the only team that goes through that … Your pitching needs to remain constant and sometimes they have to pick each other up. But you know, there’s definite problems. I feel that this club is capable (of having a good offense). I think they’re capable.”

I’m honestly not too worried about the situational hitting. That stuff is so unpredictable from one year to the next. A year ago the Yankees hit .256/.341/.465 (114 wRC+) with runners in scoring position and this year it was .228/.308/.350 (73 wRC+) even though they had the same damn lineup most of the season. As far as moving runners over and that stuff … if the Yankees start obsessing over that, they deserve what they get.

There’s no need to overthink this. Get as many quality above-average hitters as possible, and let the rest take care of itself. Want good hitters with runners in scoring position? Then get good hitters overall. The correlation is pretty damn strong. The Yankees have gone defense over offense at a few too many positions (center, left, short, third) and it’s dragging down the offense overall. The Yankees don’t need better situational hitters. They just need better hitters.

Luis Severino’s Future

  • Is he a starter or reliever? “I think it’s really up to him and the way he pitches. If he’s going to be a starter, commanding the fastball is extremely important. Changeup is coming. Slider is much improved (from earlier this season) … My expectation is he’s still going to be a starter.”
  • Does his final role need to be determined soon? “When you look at the way things went down, he was stuck in the bullpen (because that’s where we needed him). He’s fairly young and aggressive. He’s going to make a case. We’re going to work here with him.”

At no point this season did Severino look like a capable Major League starter. Not once. Not in April, not in his brief August cameo, and not in September. He looked great in relief though. That said, the kid will be 23 in February, and it’s way too early to think about a move to the bullpen full-time. Let him start next season. All season. If that means he has to go to Triple-A, so be it.

Severino’s issues are mostly command related. He admitted he lost confidence in his changeup this year, but he has a pretty good one. We saw it last year. He just lost a feel for it. Severino needs to get comfortable with his changeup again, and do a better job locating pretty much everything. The Yankees could let him work on that in the big leagues next year. I say let him earn it. If the command and changeup don’t look good in camp, Triple-A it is. I’m not counting on Severino to be a big piece of the puzzle next year.

The Upcoming Offseason

  • On the biggest area of need: “(I will) sit down with Brian and let him handle those questions. You know he is the architect of the team. My job is to get the most out of the players, and I don’t want to speak before we’ve had a chance to talk … The other thing is, you know, we talk about it and the players start to wonder how we think about them, and I don’t think that’s fair.”
  • Do they need rotation help? “Well I think we have good players if we stay healthy, but that doesn’t happen very often so I’m sure we will look into that as well.”

Listening to Girardi the last few days, it seems pretty clear he believes the Yankees need to improve everything. The offense, the defense, the pitching staff … all of it. You can’t look at the 2016 Yankees and point to one problem area of the roster. Yes, the offense was the main culprit, but the back of the rotation and the middle of the bullpen were weak too. So was the defense at times. The baserunning too. So bad. So, so bad.

How do the Yankees overhaul most of the roster? Well, plugging in young players is a good start, plus many of the big contracts will soon be off the books. Others like Brett Gardner and Brian McCann could be traded this offseason. The Yankees underwent a lot of change this past season. I don’t think that’s going to stop anytime soon. I think this was only the beginning.

Miscellany

  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s improvement: “What he improved on was the amount of innings and starts, and staying healthy — we’re shutting him down in a sense, if (Saturday’s game) meant something, he would have started — so I think that’s a big improvement. And just keep moving forward in that sense. I thought he played well, and when you can count on 200 innings every year, I think it’s the best thing.”
  • On Mark Teixeira‘s final game: “You know, I saw him earlier today and he was smiling and seemed very happy. And I think this day is going to be filled with every type of emotion. I think there’s going to be happiness, there’s going to be sadness, and there’s going to be appreciation for having the opportunity to play this game and to play here and play in front of the fans.”
  • What move would Girardi like to do over? “I was asked yesterday about, are there any decisions that I want like to have a chance to redo? I said no because I don’t have hindsight. I make decisions based in real time. I make decisions based on information that I have. And then you have to deal with the human element. So you know, in every play, in every case, you could second guess if you want to.”
  • On selling at the trade deadline: “I understood why they they traded veterans away. I mean, we were in a situation where we weren’t getting it done. And I think Brian’s job is (evaluate the team), but he also has to look at the future … As an organization, we thought it was in our best interest to make trades to try and get back to the World Series.”
  • Does the World Series or bust mantra need to change? “No, no. I think you should all set your goals. You know I don’t think you should be satisfied with just making the playoffs.”
  • Girardi’s message to fans: “We will do everything we can to bring a championship here. That’s everyone’s job in this organization.”

Girardi’s comments on the trade deadline were pretty interesting. He seemed excited about all the young players and also disappointed that the Yankees were forced to sell. As he said, the goal is to win the World Series every year, and the Yankees had to sell because they were far from World Series contenders. Selling was a result of the team’s failure to perform, and ultimately that (or at least part of that) falls on Girardi.

Don’t expect the goal to change, either. Girardi was clear about that. The Yankees are going to try to win next season, even while incorporating younger players into the lineup. Those things don’t always work well together, not unless every position player comes up and hits like 2016 Sanchez while every pitcher performs like 2015 Severino. I’m curious to see what gets prioritized next year, the development of young players or winning.