The Suddenly Productive Farm System [2015 Season Review]

Judge at the Futures Game. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Judge at the Futures Game. (Rob Carr/Getty)

This past season the Yankees received more production from their farm system than they did in any year since Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang arrived in 2005. And because of that, they’ll take a hit in the various farm system rankings next spring. Top prospects Luis Severino and Greg Bird graduated to MLB, as did the since traded John Ryan Murphy.

When you lose two high-end talents like Severino and Bird to the big leagues, your system is going to take a hit. That’s life. You’d rather the system take a hit because of graduations than failing prospects, and in recent years the Yankees were dealing with too much of the latter. With new farm system head Gary Denbo in charge, the system took a step forward this summer and gave the MLB team help, the kind of help that wasn’t always available in recent years. Let’s review the season on the farm.

The Top Prospect

Coming into the season it was debatable whether Severino or OF Aaron Judge was the Yankees’ top prospect. I went with Judge for a number of reasons, including the inherent injury risk with pitchers. Severino zoomed to the big leagues this summer while Judge split the season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, hitting .258/.332/.446 (124 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 127 total games.

Judge dominated the Double-A level (147 wRC+ with 12 HR in 63 games) but had a tougher time in Triple-A (98 wRC+ with 8 HR in 61 games), which isn’t all that uncommon. He was facing pitchers with big league experience for the first time and they picked him apart, mostly by taking advantage of his big strike zone — Judge is 6-foot-7, remember — with high fastballs and soft stuff away.

Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, Judge’s strikeout rate did not spike in Triple-A, at least not insanely so. He had a 25.3% strikeout rate at High-A, a 25.0% strikeout rate in Double-A, and a 28.5% strikeout rate in Triple-A. That’s three extra strikeouts per 100 plate appearances. Judge did have some ugly strikeout heavy slumps with the RailRiders, but overall the strikeout increase was not alarming.

That isn’t to say Judge’s strikeouts aren’t an issue. He’s always going to strike out a lot, he’s a huge guy with a big zone, but you’d rather see him hover around 25.0 K% rather than 28.0+ K% long-term. The power is there though. Judge hit three more homers and two more doubles in 2015 than 2014 despite getting 23 fewer plate appearances, playing against better competition, and playing in worse hitters parks.

The less than stellar showing at Triple-A ensures Judge will return to the RailRiders to start 2016 so he can work on controlling the strike zone a little better (his 9.8% walk rate was above-average, for what it’s worth) and laying off soft stuff off the plate. Judge has big power and his right field defense is easy to overlook. He’s a really good athlete with a strong arm who’s an asset in the field. Hiccup in Triple-A notwithstanding, Judge remains New York’s top prospect in my book.

Mateo. (Jerry Coli)
Mateo. (Jerry Coli)

The Big Name Breakout Prospects

It’s weird to consider C Gary Sanchez a breakout prospect because he’s been one of the best prospects in the organization for a few years now, but a few things finally clicked this year, mostly in terms of his maturity. It helped him reach the big leagues in September. Sanchez is now a candidate — if not the favorite — to replace Murphy as the Brian McCann‘s backup next summer.

SS Jorge Mateo, another one of the team’s top prospects, also broke out this past season in the sense that he played his first full season. The 20-year-old speedster hit .278/.345/.392 (114 wRC+) with a minor league leading 82 steals in 99 attempts (83% success rate) in 117 games with (mostly) Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. No other player stole more than 75 bases this year. If you want to argue Mateo (or Sanchez) is the Yankees’ top prospect and not Judge, I’d disagree, but I’d understand.

A few years ago RHP Rookie Davis was an interesting name literally because of his name. His real name is William but a nickname like Rookie gets you noticed. Davis took a big step forward this year, especially with the command of his mid-90s heater/curveball combination. Walk rate is a control stat, not a command stat, though it is notable he cut his walk rate from 7.6% last year to 4.7% his year. Davis had a 3.86 ERA (2.47 FIP) in 130.2 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

OF Dustin Fowler, 20, also made the jump from sleeper to bonafide prospect this summer by hitting .298/.334/.394 (113 wRC+) with 20 doubles, five homers, and 30 stolen bases in 123 games at Low-A and High-A. He then had a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Fowler has been playing baseball full-time for only two years now — he was also a top football recruit in high school — and he’s starting to turn his power/speed/defense tool package into baseball ability.

And finally, the biggest breakout prospect of the summer was OF Ben Gamel, who’s spent the last few years as a depth player and not an actual prospect. Thee 23-year-old hit .300/.358/.472 (138 wRC+) with 28 doubles, 14 triples, ten homers, and 13 steals in 129 games, all at Triple-A. Gamel’s power finally started to blossom and he’s now a legitimate big league candidate. He and Davis were added to the 40-man roster last month.

The Emerging Depth

Farm systems will always be defined by their star power, that’s just the way it goes, though depth is important as well. The Yankees had several lower profile prospects — guys who don’t necessarily project to be stars but do have a chance to contribute at the big league level in a meaningful way — emerge this summer, including SS Tyler Wade, RHP Brady Lail, LHP Jordan Montgomery, RHP Cale Coshow, and RHP Domingo Acevedo.

Wade. (The Times of Trenton)
Wade. (The Times of Trenton)

Wade, 21, had an ugly 21-game cameo with Double-A Trenton (37 wRC+) late in the season after a strong showing with High-A Tampa (117 wRC+). He hit .262/.321/.333 (99 wRC+) in 127 total games overall in 2015 and is a contact-oriented left-handed hitting middle infielder with the defensive chops for either side of the second base bag. At the very least, Wade is in position to have a long career as a backup infielder.

The 22-year-old Lail is a major player development success for the Yankees. He was the team’s 18th round pick in the 2012 draft as an extremely raw high schooler from Utah. The Yankees have helped mold him into a four-pitch righty who is in position to give the team serviceable innings soon. Lail had a 2.91 ERA (3.51 FIP) in 148.1 innings for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton in 2015, though he didn’t miss any bats (13.8 K%). He offers a fastball, curveball, cutter, and changeup. The ceiling is not all that high here, but Lail can help.

Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old Montgomery was one of the best pitchers in the system this season, posting a 2.95 ERA (2.61 FIP) with very good strikeout (24.1%) and walk (6.6%) rates in 134 innings at Low-A and High-A. Montgomery spent three years in South Carolina’s rotation facing tough SEC lineups, so Single-A lineups were no challenge. He’s another four-pitch guy (fastball, cutter, curve, change) and we’ll find out if Montgomery is for real next season, when he heads to Double-A Trenton.

Coshow is an interesting prospect. For starters, the guy is listed at 6-foot-5 and 260 lbs., so he’s an intimidating presence on the mound. Secondly, he had a 2.45 ERA (2.80 FIP) with good strikeout (21.5%) and walk (6.2%) numbers in 114 innings at three levels in 2015. He topped out at Double-A. Coshow, 23, performed so well the Yankees moved him from a relief role into a starting role at midseason. He’s got a huge fastball, sitting 95-97 and hitting 100 mph in relief, and he backs it up with a wipeout slider. I don’t think Coshow’s a starter long-term, but gosh, that’s a nice looking relief prospect.

And finally, the 21-year-old Acevedo is either one of the best prospects in the organization or just an interesting arm with a long way to go, depending who you ask. Acevedo had a 1.81 ERA (2.89 FIP) with a lot of strikeouts (26.6%) and an average number of walks (7.9%) in 49.2 innings with mostly Short Season Staten Island this summer. He’s another huge guy (6-foot-7) who has touched triple digits, and his changeup is pretty good too. Acevedo needs to figure out a breaking ball at some point to avoid a future in the bullpen.

The Reclamation Prospects

At this time last year both OF Mason Williams and OF Slade Heathcott were afterthoughts. Williams didn’t hit at all from 2013-14 and he was dogged by maturity issues. Heathcott simply couldn’t stay healthy. The two came to Spring Training healthy this year and with positive attitudes, and they put themselves back on the prospect map. Both made their MLB debuts in the first half. It might not sound like much, but Williams and Heathcott went from non-factors to the show in about six months. That’s pretty darn cool.

The Best of the Rest

The Yankees had to be pleased with what they saw from 3B Eric Jagielo (141 wRC+ with Double-A Trenton) before he jammed his knee sliding into home plate in June and had to have it scoped, ending his season. Jagielo’s defense is still a huge question, but the guy can hit, especially for power. IF Abi Avelino and IF Thairo Estrada both had nice seasons in the low minors — Avelino stole 54 bases and Estrada had a 108 wRC+ with Short Season Staten Island.

OF Rob Refsnyder, LHP Jacob Lindgren, and RHP Bryan Mitchell gave the Yankees some mileage at the big league level, and the team turned OF Ramon Flores and RHP Jose Ramirez into Dustin Ackley. The 2014-15 international spending spree added a bevy of prospects to the system and the 2015 draft added even more talent, with RHP James Kaprielian, SS Wilkerman Garcia, RHP Drew Finley, SS Hoy Jun Park, 3B Dermis Garcia, and RHP Chance Adams among the most notable new additions. Also, 2B Tony Renda came over in the David Carpenter trade.

The Disappointing Prospects

It’s not all good news, of course. Several prospects had disappointing seasons, most notably OF Tyler Austin. He hit .240/.315/.343 (92 wRC+) in 94 regular season games and was demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Double-A Trenton at midseason. The Yankees dropped Austin from the 40-man roster in September and he slipped through waivers unclaimed.

3B Miguel Andujar did the bad first half/good second half thing again, though the end result was a .243/.288/.363 (98 wRC+) line in 130 High-A Tampa games. At some point Andujar has to put together a full productive season. Bonus baby OF Leonardo Molina hit .247/.290/.364 (96 wRC+) while repeating the Rookie Gulf Coast League. Age is on his side though — Molina turned 18 in July. Yes, he’s still only 18. Austin, Andujar, and Molina were the biggest disappointments among the team’s top 30 prospects.

Clarkin. (MLB.com screen grab)
Clarkin. (MLB.com screen grab)

The Inevitable Injures

Injuries are part of baseball. That’s just the way it is. The Yankees had several high-profile prospects suffer significant injuries in 2015. LHP Ian Clarkin (elbow inflammation), C Luis Torrens (shoulder surgery), RHP Domingo German (Tommy John surgery), RHP Austin DeCarr (Tommy John surgery), and RHP Ty Hensley (Tommy John surgery) combined for zero regular season games played this year. Zero.

That is two of the top six, three of the top eleven, and five of the top 18 prospects in the organization according to my preseason rankings. (Four of the top seven pitching prospects!) Ouch. Literally and figuratively. On the bright side, Clarkin did avoid the zipper and was able to throw 24.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League. But still, that’s a lot of really good prospects going down with major injuries. The Clarkin and Torrens injuries really took a bite out of the system. They have the most upside.

* * *

Overall, the 2015 season was a big success for the Yankees’ farm system because they graduated some impact talent to the big leagues. Severino and Bird look like keepers and future core players. Murphy had a very good season before being traded a few weeks ago. Sanchez and Mateo emerged, Kaprielian was drafted, and Judge reached Triple-A.

The Yankees dipped into their farm system for help whenever possible this season, and I have to think that serves as motivation for the guys still in the minors. They see that if they stay healthy and produce, they’ll get a chance too. Calling up guys like LHP Matt Tracy and OF Taylor Dugas shows the Yankees will now give anyone and everyone an opportunity if they’re the right man for the job.

Poll: Protection decisions for the 2015 Rule 5 Draft

Hebert. (Presswire)
Hebert and his poorly buttoned jersey. (Presswire)

This Friday is the deadline for clubs to set their 40-man rosters for the Rule 5 Draft. (They also have to set their Triple-A and Double-A rosters for the minor league phase, though that isn’t significant.) The Rule 5 Draft isn’t as helpful as it once was, but some useful players still slip through the cracks, including Odubel Herrera (3.9 fWAR!) and Delino DeShields Jr. this past season.

Generally speaking, high school players selected in the 2011 draft and earlier are eligible for this offseason’s Rule 5 Draft. So are college players drafted in 2012 or earlier and international free agents signed during the 2010-11 signing period or earlier. There are some exceptions — eligibility is determined by the player’s age the day he signs, and we rarely know the exact date — but those are the general guidelines.

The Yankees got a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection moves this year, adding Luis Severino, Greg Bird, and James Pazos to the 40-man roster during the regular season. Severino and Bird were locks to be added while Pazos was on the bubble. Obviously the Yankees like him as a hard-throwing lefty.

The club still has several players eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft, including some notable prospects. Whether they are worth protecting is another matter. Here’s a look at the biggest names.

3B Miguel Andujar

The case for protecting: Andujar has some of the best tools in the organization, and while his performance hasn’t been great — 99 wRC+ at Low-A Charleston in 2014 and a 98 wRC+ at High-A Tampa in 2015 — he’s been among the youngest players in the league at each stop. There is a shocking shortage of quality third basemen in baseball these days. Andujar has the defensive chops for the hot corner and the tools to be a two-way player down the road.

The case against protecting: The tools outshine the production at this point. The 20-year-old Andujar offers little versatility (he’s a third baseman only), so a team is unlikely to scoop him up for a utility tole. He hasn’t hit enough in the low minors to think he could handle big league pitching at this point either. Simply put, Andujar isn’t ready for MLB. You could argue he isn’t even ready for Double-A.

IF Abi Avelino

The case for protecting: Avelino, 20, has good tools and top of the line instincts, so the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. He had a solid 2015 season, hitting .260/.314/.334 (97 wRC+) with 54 steals in 72 attempts (81%) in 123 games split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. Avelino is also a capable defender at both middle infield positions, so it’s not out of the question he could stick as a backup infielder/pinch-runner in 2016.

The case against protecting: For starters, the Yankees don’t really have room on the 40-man roster for a player who isn’t projected to help in 2016. Also, Avelino’s good but not great production indicates he’d be overwhelmed at the MLB level at this point of his career. He’s of limited use right now — defense and running, that’s it. The Yankees would effectively be working with a 39-man roster next year.

RHP Johnny Barbato

The case for protecting: Every team needs bullpen help, and the 23-year-old Barbato managed a 3.19 ERA (3.45 FIP) with a 24.8 K% and a 9.2 BB% in 67.2 innings between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton in 2015. Barbato, who the Yankees acquired in the Shawn Kelley trade, is a mid-90s fastball/upper-70s curveball guy who has missed bats and had success at the highest levels of the minors. He is a prime piece of Rule 5 Draft fodder.

The case against protecting: The Yankees have approximately 67 right-handed relievers for the bullpen shuttle on the 40-man roster already. Okay, maybe not that many, but they have a lot. I count six and that’s just the righties. Obviously one or two of those guys could lose their 40-man spots in the roster crunch this winter, but there’s still plenty to go around. Is yet another righty reliever good use of a precious 40-man spot?

OF Jake Cave

The case for protecting: Cave, 22, has both tools and performance. He’s hit .285/.344/.386 (110 wRC+) in 266 games over the last two years, climbing from High-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton. Cave isn’t a huge power threat but he does almost everything else, including hit for average, draw walks, steal bases, and play capable defense in all three outfield spots. It’s not hard to see him in a fourth outfield role at the MLB level reasonably soon.

The case against protecting: As with Barbato and righty relievers, the Yankees are loaded with left-handed hitting outfielders. Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams are on the 40-man roster, and we can probably include Dustin Ackley in that group. The Yankees had enough lefty outfield depth that they traded Ramon Flores, who I think has a better long-term outlook than Heathcott or Williams. How many spots can you tie up with players who fill the same role?

RHP Rookie Davis

The case for protecting: Thanks to some mechanical tweaking, the 22-year-old Davis took a huge step forward with his control this year, cutting his walk rate to 4.7% of batters faced. He’s always had good stuff — low-to-mid-90s heater, curveball, changeup — but now he has the command to go with it. Davis had a 3.86 ERA (2.47 FIP) in 130.2 innings at High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton this year.

The case against protecting: Davis has barely pitched above Single-A ball. He made only five starts (and one relief appearance) with the Thunder last this summer, throwing 33.1 innings. That’s all. Making the jump from limited Double-A time to the big leagues isn’t unprecedented, and it sure is easy for a bad team to hide someone like Davis in long relief, though chances are Davis won’t help the Yankees in 2016.

LHP Dietrich Enns

The case for protecting: Enns, 24, is a stats before scouting report guy. He returned from Tommy John surgery earlier this year and managed a 0.61 ERA (2.39 FIP) in 58.2 innings at mostly High-A Tampa. A total of 1,901 pitchers threw at least 50 innings in the minors this summer. None had a lower ERA than Enns. He’s a low-90s fastball, slider, changeup guy from the left side.

The case against protecting: Not counting Andrew Miller, who is in a league of his own, the Yankees have four optionable lefty relievers on the 40-man: Pazos, Jacob Lindgren, Chasen Shreve, and Justin Wilson. (I don’t think Wilson will ever be optioned, but you never know.) Enns will almost certainly be selected if he is exposed to the Rule 5 Draft — teams can’t help themselves when it comes to lefty relievers — but, for the Yankees, he would be nothing more than their fifth best lefty bullpen option on the 40-man.

Gamel. (Bill Tarutis/Times Leader )
Gamel. (Bill Tarutis/Times Leader )

OF Ben Gamel

The case for protecting: After spending a few years as an interesting prospect who was more tools than performance, Gamel broke out in 2015, hitting .300/.358/.472 (138 wRC+) at Triple-A with a farm system leading 52 extra-base hits. This was a guy who never slugged over .400 in a full season’s worth of playing time coming into the season. Gamel is also a solid defender in all three spots who can steal the occasional base. He could easily be someone’s fourth outfielder — or starting lefty platoon outfielder — come Opening Day. (I can’t help but notice GM Billy Eppler’s Angels need a low cost left-handed bat for left field.)

The case against protecting: The Yankees do have a number of upper level lefty hitting outfielders already on the 40-man roster, including a few guys with more tools and more two-way game than Gamel. Also, Gamel’s production is ahead of the scouting report. He had a marvelous year but isn’t believed to have the same explosive extra-base potential at the next level. Gamel might be something of a ‘tweener: not enough power for a corner and not enough defense for center.

LHP Chaz Hebert

The case for protecting: Hebert quietly had a breakout year. The team’s 27th round pick in the 2011 draft had a 2.55 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 134 innings at three levels this summer, including a few spot starts with Triple-A Scranton. Hebert had good strikeout (20.0%) and walk (5.6%) rates, and he’s a true four-pitch guy with a low-90s fastball, a changeup, a cutter, and a slider. Lefties with four pitches are pretty valuable, even if they only project to be back-end starters long-term. Even Vidal Nuno can get you a half-season of Brandon McCarthy, after all.

The case against protecting: Hebert, 23, was not much of a prospect prior to this season. In fact, this season was the first time the Yankees trusted him to be a regular starter for one of their affiliates. They sent Hebert to the Arizona Fall League to buy themselves more time to evaluate him, indicating they aren’t sold on his breakout just yet. Lefties are always good to have, but, like Enns, if he’s only going to be the fifth best southpaw option on the 40-man roster, Hebert might not be worth the spot.

IF Tony Renda

The case for protecting: The Yankees acquired the 24-year-old Renda from the Nationals for David Carpenter at midseason. He’s a contact freak, hitting .269/.330/.358 (100 wRC+) with more walks (8.1%) than strikeouts (7.3%) at Double-A this summer. Renda also has speed as well as the mobility and hands for the middle infield. The Yankees do not have a long-term second baseman — not until Ackley or Rob Refsnyder proves otherwise, anyway — and right now Renda is lined up to start the season in Triple-A, putting him on the cusp of helping the MLB team.

The case against protecting: Although he has good range and hands, Renda is a second baseman only because he doesn’t have the arm to handle shortstop on anything more than an emergency basis. Heck, he struggles with throws from second. Renda has zero power — six career homers in 1,944 plate appearances — and his walk rate may be the result of an experienced college hitter facing minor league hurlers with limited control. His throwing arm means he lacks the kind of versatility teams look for in Rule 5 Draft bench players.

* * *

OF Tyler Austin is also Rule 5 Draft eligible this offseason, though I didn’t include him above because he slipped through waivers unclaimed in September. Any team could have grabbed him then and not had to worry about the Rule 5 Draft roster rules. (Has to stay on the 25-man roster all year in 2016.) It didn’t happen so I assume Austin will be left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft this winter.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that sometimes the best way to keep a player is to leave him unprotected. If he’s not MLB ready, leave him off the 40-man roster, let him go through Spring Training and whatnot, then take him back when he doesn’t make the team. This is exactly what happened with Ivan Nova. Nova’s a big leaguer now, but he wasn’t in 2008, when the Padres grabbed him in the Rule 5 Draft. He got hammered in camp and was back with the Yankees before Opening Day.

The Yankees currently have 38 players on the 40-man roster, so they can add two Rule 5 Draft eligible players with no problem. Every additional player requires cutting someone loose, which is a real cost to the organization. If you’re adding a third player, you better be sure he’s better than the guy losing his spot. Time for a poll. Pick as many players as you like. (Click here to see the poll results.)

I didn’t include my Rule 5 Draft protection votes and explanations in the post because I tend to sway the vote, it seems. So vote first, then click this link to see what I’d do.

Minor League Notes: Assignments, Spring Reports, Judge, International Spending

Pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)
The new pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)

The Yankees open the 2015 regular season tomorrow, and a few days later the minor league season will get underway as well. Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston all begin their seasons this coming Thursday. Here are some minor league notes to hold you over until then.

Opening Day assignments for top prospects

The full minor league rosters have not yet been released and won’t be a few days, though Josh Norris was able to get his hands on Opening Day assignments for most of the Yankees’ top prospects. The list:

Norris says the assignments could change slightly before the start of the season, but for the most part they’re set. Sanchez is going back to the Thunder to continue working on his defense with coaches and ex-catchers Michel Hernandez and P.J. Pilittere, which I don’t love, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I assume Avelino, Katoh, and Mateo will rotate between second, short, and DH like Avelino, Katoh, and Wade did last year before Avelino got hurt. I’m little surprised Mateo is going to Charleston — he’s played only games in 15 rookie ball, that’s it — but the Yankees have never been shy about aggressively promoting their best teenage players. Otherwise these assignments are fairly straight forward. No major surprises.

Notes from the backfields in Tampa

Both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Jeff Moore (no subs. req’d) recently posted a collection of notes after watching minor league games on the backfields all around Florida. Law got a look at Mateo, saying he likes “how well he keeps his hands inside the ball” and added he “liked the potential of the hit tool but was hoping to see more polish on both sides of the ball.” The polish will come. It’s only Spring Training and Mateo is still just a 19-year-old kid.

Meanwhile, Moore saw Judge, Bird, and RHP Bryan Mitchell. “What’s impressive is (Judge) seems to get a little better each time I see him. The at-bats have gotten tougher and more advanced, with a better plan each time out,” wrote Moore. He also said he sees Bird as “a potential regular first baseman” and his “power is very real, more real than he gets credit for.” As for Mitchell, Moore says his fastball/curveball combination “screams reliever, and possibly a darn good one.”

Law still ranks Judge 23rd in latest Top 50 Prospects list

Last week, Law released an updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in baseball (subs. req’d). There are only very minor changes from his top 100 list in February, with the most notable being the addition of Red Sox IF Yoan Moncada, who slots in at No. 16. Even with Moncada joining the list, Judge stays in the same No. 23 spot because he jumped over Rockies RHP Jon Gray, who hasn’t looked like himself this spring. Judge remains the third outfielder on the list behind Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler. Law is the high man on Judge based on all this spring’s other top 100 lists. That’s cool with me.

Yankees spent $17.83M on international players in 2014

According to Ben Badler, the Yankees spent a ridiculous $17.83M on international prospects last year, easily the most in baseball. They spent more than the number two (Rays, $6.11M), three (Red Sox, $5.63M), and four (Astros, $5.42M) teams combined and more than the bottom ten teams combined ($16.9575M). Just to be clear, this is for the 2014 calendar year, not the 2014-15 signing period.

The Yankees handed out three of the five largest, six of the 14 largest, and 12 of the 40 largest signing bonuses to international prospects during the 2014 calendar year, according to Badler. We still don’t have a final number for the total bonuses the Yankees handed out during the 2014-15 signing period, but the total investment is clearly going to be north of $30M between bonuses and penalties. Most of that $17.83M last year was spent on July 2nd, the first day of the 2014-15 signing period. Now the Yankees just have to turn these kids into big leaguers and tradeable prospects.

Yankees release nine more minor leaguers

The Yankees have released seven more minor leaguers according to Matt Eddy: OF Yeicok Calderon, RHP Tim Giel, OF Robert Hernandez, RHP Stefan Lopez, RHP Matt Noteware, 1B Dalton Smith, and IF Graham Ramos. Dan Pfeiffer says OF Adonis Garcia was released as well, and OF Adam Silva announced on Facebook he was also released.

First things first: no more Yeicokshots!, sadly. Hernandez was signed in January, so his stint with the organization didn’t last long. Lopez led NCAA in saves in 2012 and had some potential, but he fell in love with his fastball so much in college that he lost all feel for his slider and became a one-pitch guy. The Yankees signed Giel, Noteware, and Ramos as undrafted free agents within the last two years to help fill out minor league rosters. That’s about it.

Old Timers’ Game coming to Triple-A Scranton

And finally, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre franchise is holding an Old Timers’ Game on June 21st, reports Donnie Collins. The event will raise money for Parkinson’s disease research. “I expect the ballpark to be sold out — and standing room only. That’s the goal,” said RailRiders’ co-managing partner to Grant Cagle to Collins. A bunch of ex-Yankees will be in attendance — not sure who, exactly — to play in the Old Timers’ Game and/or mingle with fans during a meet-and-greet and autograph session. That should be fun.

Yankees place six on Baseball America’s top 20 Gulf Coast League prospects list

Katoh worked out with the Yankees soon after the draft. (Jeff Gross/Getty)
Katoh worked out with the Yankees soon after the draft. (Jeff Gross/Getty)

Baseball America has started publishing their annual top 20 prospects lists for each of the 16 minor leagues this week, and the series continued today with the Rookie Gulf Coast League. Ninth overall pick OF Austin Meadows (Pirates) topped the list, predictably. The Yankees landed six (!) players in the top 20: C Luis Torrens (#10), 3B Miguel Andujar (#11), SS Abi Avelino (#13), 2B Gosuke Katoh (#15), RHP Luis Severino (#17), and SS Thairo Estrada (#20). LHP Ian Clarkin didn’t not have enough innings to qualify.

In the subscriber-only scouting report, Baseball America says Torrens “has a sound hitting approach and a loose, easy swing with good hand-eye coordination” while lauding his ability to recognize breaking balls and power potential because “his swing generates loft.” He is rough around the edges defensively, mostly due to a lack of experience — he moved from shortstop/third base to catcher last year — but his arm is strong and accurate. The Yankees gave Torrens a $1.3M bonus as their top international signing last summer.

Andujar “did a better job recognizing breaking pitches and taking a better hitting approach to use the whole field” this year than he did at the same level last year, though the write-up says he’ll sell out for power and still needs to improve his approach. “Avelino has a mature hitting approach for his age, with good barrel awareness that allows him to use the whole field and the discipline to not expand his strike zone,” said Baseball America while also cautioning that his lack of power has some concerned about how his bat will play at the upper levels. “At shortstop he has a good internal clock, shows smooth hands and footwork along with an above-average arm,” they added.

Katoh, who led the GCL in homers (six) and was second is SLG (.522), was described as a “difficult out” because of his “plate discipline and bat-to-ball ability … (he) works the count, uses the whole field and has plus speed.” Baseball America says his defense at second is a plus despite not having the arm for short. Severino “sits in the low- to mid-90s and has reached 98,” but can get radar gun happy at times. His changeup has jumped ahead of his slider, but the latter still shows signs of being a put-away pitch. Estrada, who is praised for his defense, is also said to have “excellent instincts and is an advanced hitter for his age. He has good bat control, makes plenty of contact and has a good hitting approach.”

Six prospects in a league top 20 list is an awful lot, though the obvious caveat here is that this is rookie ball. It’s the lowest level of domestic minor league baseball and literally every team has interesting prospects this far down. These six guys — I’m a fan of Avelino and Severino, in particular — are going to be real important to the Yankees going forward and not just because they might be able to plug them into the lineup down the road. Developing into trade bait would be a big help as well.

Anyway, the next league top 20 of interest to Yankees fans is the Short Season NY-Penn League, which will be released on Friday. 3B Eric Jagielo will definitely make that list while OF Michael O’Neill, OF Brandon Thomas, RHP Rookie Davis, and RHP Gio Gallegos are on the fence.

2013 Season Preview: The Shortstops

Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Yankees have been getting above-average production from the shortstop position for nearly two decades now thanks to Derek Jeter, who continued to prove doubters/me wrong by hitting .316/.362/.429 (117 wRC+) with a league-leading 216 hits at age 38 last summer. His postseason ended prematurely due to a fractured left ankle — after playing on a bone bruise pretty much all September — that required offseason surgery, and he’s yet to play this spring as he rehabs. The shortstop position is a question mark for New York and it’s not just because of Jeter’s injury.

The Starter
It will be Jeter, hell or high water. Despite his lack of Grapefruit League action to date, he hasn’t suffered any kind of setback and is expected to be ready in time for Opening Day. The Yankees will, however, use the Cap’n as their DH against left-handed pitchers quite a bit (i.e. all the time) in April to give him the occasional break and day off his feet. They did something similar last year and will do it again this year, but it’s a bit more of a necessity now.

Offensively, the projections hate Jeter because he’s a 38-year-old shortstop coming off a major injury, but he’s been legitimately driven the ball since working with former hitting coach Gary Denbo during his midseason DL stint in 2010. He’s managed a .321/.369/.434 overall batting line in over 1,000 plate appearances since then — including a respectable .298/.351/.377 against righties, who handled him very well from 2010 through the start of the DL stint — which is no small sample. Those hits weren’t ground balls with eyes or bloops in front of poor defensive outfielders, it’s been vintage Jeter slashing the ball to right and occasionally over the fence.

The defense is what really concerns me. The Cap’n has pretty much always been a below-average defender and he hasn’t gotten any better with age, but now we’re adding the ankle injury on top of it. If he loses any more mobility, forget it. He’d be completely unplayable at shortstop even though the Yankees would never consider moving him down the defensive spectrum. Jeter’s arm is fine and his glovework — he handles whatever he can get to — is strong, but his limited range could be even worse in 2013. With a ground ball heavy rotation (outside of Phil Hughes), it could be a major problem. For now the Yankees will count on Jeter to again ignite the offense from atop the lineup and live with his flaws, which is what they’ve been doing for several years now.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Backup
It’s obvious the Yankees want it to be Eduardo Nunez. They’re giving him every opportunity to show he can handle the position, starting last year with his demotion and continuing this spring with his 36 defensive innings, two shy of team leader Melky Mesa. They’ve worked with him on shortening his arm action and all sorts of stuff, but nothing has taken. Still, they’re apparently intrigued by the 25-year-old’s offensive potential, which stems almost exclusively from his contact ability and speed. If they get their way, it will be Nunez soaking up all those shortstop innings while Jeter spends the day at DH against left-handed starters.

Jayson Nix is the only alternative here and is more of an emergency option at shortstop that someone you’d want to run out there several days in a row if need be. Neither he nor Nunez inspires much confidence, really.

Knocking on the Door
The Bombers do not have a shortstop prospect in Triple-A at all. There’s an outside chance Nunez will get sent down to start the season, but I wouldn’t count on it. The Scranton club will rely on the likes of 33-year-old Gil Velazquez and 26-year-olds Addison Maruszak and Reegie Corona at the infield’s most important position. Velazquez and Corona are no-hit/all-glove types while Maruszak doesn’t really do much of anything well. The team’s only real in-house shortstop options are Jeter, Nunez, and Nix. They’d sooner make a trade than run Velazquez, Corona, or Maruszak out there semi-regularly.

(ESPN)
(ESPN)

The Top Prospect
The Yankees don’t have a standout shortstop prospect but they do have a very interesting one in 19-year-old Austin Aune, the team’s 14th best prospect overall. Last summer’s second rounder received a $1M bonus and hit .273/.358/.410 (130 wRC+) with one homer and five steals in 163 plate appearances for the rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate, though his inexperience was evident in his 27.6% strikeout rate. Aune was a top quarterback recruit who passed on a commitment to TCU to sign with New York, so the Yankees are hoping that focusing on baseball full-time will allow him to reach his considerable ceiling. Aune has big power potential from the left side to go along with his strong throwing arm and athleticism, but there is a lot of work to be done. He’ll likely begin the season in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island at midseason, so he’s far from being a big league factor.

The Deep Sleeper
Cito Culver and Claudio Custodio are New York’s most well-known lower-level shortstop prospects, but neither hit much last season or projects to be a real impact player. The Yankees’ most intriguing shortstop prospect way down in the minors is 18-year-old Abi Avelino, who signed for $300k back in 2011. He’s a standout defender with a good arm, good instincts, and good body control, and his offensive game is built around an easy right-handed swing that produces an awful lot contact. Avelino obviously has a long, long way to go before he becomes a factor in the Major Leagues, but he has all the tools to breakout and establish himself as one of the team’s best prospects. The Yankees are expected to bring him stateside with one of their two rookie level GCL affiliates this summer.

* * *

The Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira injuries mean Jeter’s return from his ankle surgery is extremely important to the team’s early season success. He needs to get on the field, stay on the field, and get on-base so Robinson Cano has someone to drive in. The Yankees will ease him back into the shortstop position with those DH days, but the Cap’n’s bat is the most important thing. There is no real immediate help at the position coming up behind Jeter just in case, that is unless Nunez suddenly figures out how to make routine throws. I’m not counting on it.

Other Previews: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen

DePaula & Avelino among top Dominican Summer League prospects

Ben Badler at Baseball America posted a list of the 20 best prospects in the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues today (no subs. req’d), though it’s just an alphabetical listing and not an actual ranking. RHP Rafael DePaula unsurprisingly made the list after his dominant showing this summer, and in the subscriber-only write-up Badler says he “has an electric fastball that sits at 93-96 mph and touches 98-99 (plus he) mixes in a sharp, power curveball that should be an out pitch and shows feel for a changeup.”

The only other Yankees farmhand on the list is SS Abi Avelino, who New York signed for $300k back in 2011. Badler says he “could be an above-average defender at shortstop (because) his actions are clean, his hands and feet work well and he has good body control.” Avelino’s offensive approach is described as “a simple, line-drive swing with good bat path that helps him make plenty of contact … He squares up balls regularly but doesn’t have much power, so his offensive game will be more about getting on base than extra-base hits.” Both Avelino and DePaula should make their stateside debut in 2013, the former with the Rookie GCL Yankees and the latter with Low-A Charleston.