Thoughts on MLB.com’s farm system rankings and top 30 Yankees prospects

Tate. (Presswire)
Tate. (Presswire)

Last week the crew at MLB.com rolled out their annual team top 30 prospects lists. They also unveiled their farm system rankings, and again the Yankees came in at No. 2, behind the Braves. All four major scouting publications (MLB.com. Keith Law, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus) had the Braves and Yankees ranked first and second in their farm system rankings, respectively.

Anyway, I’m not going to list MLB.com’s entire top 30 Yankees prospect list here. Go click the link. As always, the whole thing is free. Scouting reports, videos, the whole nine. Here are the guys the Yankees had on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list instead:

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

Those seven are the top seven prospects in the top 30 list, in that order, because duh. I always think it’s kinda funny when the prospects are in a different order on the individual team list than the overall top 100 list. Anyway, here is my top 30 prospects list, and here are some thoughts on MLB.com’s top 30 list.

1. The Yankees will have the No. 1 system very soon. On day two of the regular season, basically. SS Dansby Swanson, Atlanta’s top prospect, is literally one at-bat short of exhausting his rookie status. So as soon as he plays on Opening Day, he’ll lose his prospect status, and the farm system rankings will be adjusted accordingly. I assume graduating Swanson, one of the two or three best prospects in the world, will be enough to knock the Braves under the Yankees on the farm system rankings. I mean, who cares, the rankings don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but it’s always cool to the see the Yankees at the top. That’ll happen very soon.

2. The Yankees let Tate be himself. Two years ago RHP Dillon Tate was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft. He then struggled so much in the first half of the 2016 season that the Rangers were willing to trade him (and two others!) for rental Carlos Beltran at the deadline. As it turns out, Texas tried to tweak Tate’s mechanics last year. “(Tate) had trouble incorporating some delivery changes the Rangers wanted him to make, with his fastball dropping into the upper 80s and his slider flattening out. After the trade, the Yankees told him to use whatever mechanics made him feel comfortable,” said the write-up. I’m not sure whether this is still the case under relatively new farm system head Gary Denbo, but once upon a time the Yankees had a policy where they’d give their top prospects a year in pro ball before making any major changes to their delivery, swing, whatever. They never would have changed Tate’s mechanics so soon after making him the fourth overall pick. The Rangers did and his stock dropped, and now the Yankees may benefit.

3. Refsnyder 2.0 is in the farm system. I had one 2016 draft pick in my top 30 list: first rounder OF Blake Rutherford. MLB.com has four in their top 30, including 2B Nick Solak. Last year’s second rounder hit .321/.412/.421 (155 wRC+) with nearly as many walks (10.8%) as strikeouts (14.0%) in 64 games with Short Season Staten Island following a productive three-year career at Louisville. MLB.com’s scouting report makes Solak sound like a Rob Refsnyder clone:

Solak has a long track record of hitting and getting on base. His right-handed swing is geared for stroking line drives from gap to gap, an approach that results in consistent contact but doesn’t provide much power … After DHing as a freshman and playing mostly the outfield corners as a sophomore, Solak shifted to second base last spring. He has the quickness and reliable hands for the position, though he doesn’t have the smoothest actions and some scouts believe he’s destined for center field.

Refsnyder played the outfield in college and moved to second base in pro ball. Solak made the transition to second during his junior year in college. Otherwise the two are pretty damn similar, and that’s not a bad thing, even with Refsnyder on the trade block. As a bat control guy with three years of experience at a major college program, Solak should rake in Single-A ball. He’s a good prospect, but I get the feeling he’s going to put up huge numbers this year and get overrated because of it, which is basically what happened with Refsnyder.

4. Widener is moving into the rotation. One of the four 2016 draftees to make the top 30 is RHP Taylor Widener, which surprised me. He was the club’s 12th round pick out of South Carolina, and his pro debut numbers were silly: 0.42 ERA (1.41 FIP) with 43.9% strikeouts and 4.7% walks in 42.2 innings. Widener was mostly a reliever in college, and the MLB.com’s scouting report says the Yankees are going to stick him in the rotation full-time. “Widener picked up velocity in his introduction to pro ball, as his fastball soared from 90-93 mph to 93-97. His mid-80s slider can be a wipeout pitch at times but lacks consistency. To prepare him for starting, the Yankees had him focus on refining his work-in-progress changeup during instructional league,” they wrote. (Widener is yet another pitching prospect who gained velocity in New York’s system.) The Yankees have a history of trying college relievers in the rotation, most notably Chance Adams, and it seems Widener is next. Turning Widener, a 12th round pick, into a legitimate starting pitcher prospect would be a hell of a thing.

5. McKinney didn’t make the top 30. OF Billy McKinney, who has impressed this spring, did not make MLB.com’s top 30 list. That’s a pretty good reminder how much his prospect stock dropped last year. McKinney’s .545/.643/1.371 batting line looks great, and gosh his swing sure is pretty, but eleven at-bats in Spring Training does erase his underwhelming .256/.349/.363 (107 wRC+) line in 130 Double-A games last year. Hopefully McKinney will regain some prospect stock this year. That would be cool. I ranked him as the No. 22 prospect in the system, but I don’t think it’s completely crazy to leave him out of the top 30. He needs to rebuild his value and this spring is a strong start, if nothing else.

6. The talent extends beyond the top 30. MLB.com prospect guru Jim Callis has maintained the Yankees have baseball’s deepest farm system since the trade deadline last year, and on Twitter he said he “easily could have written up 45 prospects” for the top 30. He also said 3B Dermis Garcia was in the 31-35 range and IF Thairo Estrada was among the final cuts too. “Type of guy to steal in trade,” said Callis about Estrada. Thairo is a personal fave — he smacked homers in back-to-back games earlier this spring when he was up from minor league camp — but it’s hard to see where he fits going forward because the Yankees are so loaded at shortstop. Estrada will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so decision time is coming. Trade? Add him to the 40-man roster? Roll the dice in the Rule 5 Draft? The Yankees are going to have to do something with Thairo (and several others) this year.

Open Thread: February 19th Camp Notes

Today was the first full squad workout of Spring Training. Position players reported yesterday and everyone was out on the field working today. Hooray for that. The Yankees will play their first Grapefruit League game in just a few days. Here’s what went on down in Tampa:

  • If you’re interested in such things, Brendan Kuty posted the day’s batting practice groups, fielding groups, and pitcher assignments. Masahiro Tanaka and Chad Green were among those to throwing live batting practice. Adam Warren, who has already thrown multiple live BP sessions, threw a bullpen. He seems to be ahead of the other pitchers and that could mean he’ll start the Grapefruit League opener Friday. We’ll see.
  • The Yankees have added outfielder Billy McKinney to their non-roster invitees, the team announced. There are 66 players in big league camp now, though Richard Bleier is currently in limbo after being designated for assignment. The Yankees will be without Tyler Austin (foot) and Mason Williams (patella tendon) for a little while, so McKinney gives them another outfielder. He was part of last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade.
  • Brett Gardner, the longest tenured player in the organization and longest tenured member of the big league roster, said he tried not to pay attention to trade rumors over the winter. “On one hand, obviously I don’t want to get traded. But, on the other hand, the fact that maybe some other teams have interest in me, I see that as a compliment. But I don’t want to play anywhere else. I want to be here,” he said. [Mike Mazzeo]
  • Joe Girardi said he is still debating whether to split up Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the lineup. If he does, he wouldn’t bat them first and ninth, because that means lefties hitting back-to-back. I guess it’s okay if the lefties hit back-to-back when they hit first and second, but not ninth and first. /shrugs [Bryan Hoch, Jack Curry]
  • Dellin Betances said he’s putting the arbitration situation behind him and doesn’t feel the need to talk to team president Randy Levine. “I don’t regret anything I said yesterday. I had to get it off my chest,” he said. [Erik Boland, Curry]
  • Clint Frazier is pushing the limits of the hair policy (photo), though Girardi said it is fine at that length. No big deal. [Andrew Marchand]

Here is the open thread for the rest of the day. The NBA All-Star Game is on tonight (8pm ET on TNT) plus the Devils and Islanders are playing each other. There’s a handful of college hoops games on too. Talk about that stuff, the day in camp, or anything else here, just not religion or politics.

Thoughts on Keith Law’s top ten Yankees prospects

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Last Friday, Keith Law released his annual top 100 prospects list, which included six Yankees. This week ESPN is publishing Law’s individual team reports, and those include not only the top ten prospects in each organization, but guys beyond that as well. It’s a crazy deep dive for each club.

Here is Law’s organizational report for the Yankees. This is all behind the Insider paywall, so I can’t give away too much. These are the top ten prospects, which are the six top 100 prospects plus four new names (duh):

  1. SS Gleyber Torres (No. 4 on top 100)
  2. OF Blake Rutherford (No. 22)
  3. OF Clint Frazier (No. 27)
  4. RHP James Kaprielian (No. 28)
  5. OF Aaron Judge (No. 44)
  6. LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 88)
  7. SS Jorge Mateo
  8. SS Tyler Wade
  9. RHP Chance Adams
  10. 3B Miguel Andujar

In all, Law goes through and lists his top 24 Yankees prospects. I won’t list all 24, but Brendan Kuty has you covered. I have some thoughts on the non-top 100 guys.

1. The gap between Mateo and Wade is small. It’s no secret Mateo had a disappointing 2016 season. He didn’t just perform poorly, he also got himself suspended for two weeks for violating an unknown team policy. It was a tough year for Jorge. No doubt. In the write-up, Law calls Wade a superior shortstop and hitter, though there is still “enough industry faith in Mateo’s speed and body” that he gets the higher ranking. We know Law’s rankings do not reflect the consensus — Baseball Prospectus ranked Mateo third and Wade ninth in the system while Baseball America had Mateo fourth and Wade outside the top ten, so those sites had a much larger gap between the two — and the story here should be the positive report on Wade, not Mateo’s tumble down Law’s rankings. The Yankees had Wade play the outfield in the Arizona Fall League because they’re clearing a path for him to get to the big leagues. He may not offer the upside of Mateo (or Torres), but Wade is a damn good prospect himself.

2. Law has the good Clarkin scouting report. Scouting reports on LHP Ian Clarkin were all over the place last season. On his best days, he’d sit in the low-90s with a hammer curveball and a quality changeup. On his worst days, he was in the upper-80s with a loopy breaking ball. Law gives the positive scouting report on Clarkin, saying he spent last season “pitching in the low 90s with a good curveball.” Now that he’s a full year removed from the elbow injury that sidelined him for all of 2016, I’m hopeful we’ll see more of the good version of Clarkin this year. He’s going to be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, remember. This is a big year for him. “Double-A will be a good test of his ability to use his two above-average pitches to get guys on both sides of the plate, as hitters there will lay off the curveball if he can’t locate it,” added Law’s write-up.

3. McKinney’s stock is tumbling. Last season was a tough one for OF Billy McKinney, who came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade. He was a first round pick back in 2013, though the combination of a knee injury and poor performance have him slipping down the rankings. Law says McKinney, who he dubbed the system’s falling prospect, has a sound swing and a plan at the plate, but the “projections from high school that had him getting to average power aren’t coming to fruition.” The Yankees got McKinney as the third piece in the Chapman trade — Torres was the headliner (duh) and Adam Warren was the second piece, right? that how I’ve always seen it — and it was only a year ago that Law ranked him 69th on his top 100 list, so the kid has talent. As Brian Cashman likes to say, McKinney is an asset in distress. The Yankees have to build him back up.

4. The 2016 draft gets some love. The Yankees had a very good 2016 draft thanks to Rutherford all by himself. He was one of the best prospects in the draft class. Unfortunately, the current draft pool system doesn’t allow teams to spend freely, so the Yankees had to skimp elsewhere to pay Rutherford. Eight of their top ten picks received below-slot bonuses. The team’s draft haul was top heavy, but two other 2016 draftees still made Law’s top 24 Yankees prospects. RHP Nolan Martinez placed 21st because he “throws 88-93 mph with a huge spin rate on his fastball and good depth on his curve,” though he’s still working to develop his changeup. RHP Nick Nelson, who Law seems to love based on what he’s written dating back to the draft, ranked 22nd after “pumping 96-97 mph in instructional league with a big curveball.” Hmmm. Anyway, point is, the Yankees landed some other nice prospects in last summer’s draft. It wasn’t only Rutherford.

5. A few lesser known prospects make the top 24. Lesser known probably isn’t the correct term. Less thought about? Maybe that’s better. Anyway, among the players to pop up on Law’s farm system deep dive are SS Kyle Holder (“at least a 70 defender”), RHP Freicer Perez (“6-foot-8 and throws up to 98 mph already with good angle”), SS Oswaldo Cabrera (“an average defender with a promising hit tool”), and RHP Jorge Guzman (“has hit 103 mph and will sit at 99-100”). Guzman is the other guy the Yankees got from the Astros in the Brian McCann trade. We all focus on the top prospects and understandably so. They’re the headliners, and there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to see several of them in the big leagues this summer. Further down in the minors, it’s guys like Cabrera and Guzman that separate New York’s farm system from the rest of the pack. Talented players like those two don’t even crack the top 20 prospects in the farm system — Cabrera ranks 23rd and Guzman ranked 24th in the system, per Law — yet they’d be top ten in more than a few other organizations.

Previewing the Yankees’ potential Spring Training invitees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Four weeks from yesterday, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa and the Yankees will open Spring Training. It’s the best non-news day of the year. Nothing really happens that day, but hey, it’s the start of Spring Training, and that’s exciting. The offseason is boring. This one especially so.

At some point in these next three weeks and six days the Yankees will announce their Spring Training non-roster invitees. There are usually 20-something of them. The number varies year to year. The 20-something non-roster players plus the 40-man roster means 60-something players in big league camp. This is a World Baseball Classic year though, so the Yankees might bring a few extra bodies to camp to cover for the guys who leave to play for their country.

Non-roster players take on all shapes and sizes. Some are veteran journeymen trying to hang on. Others are top prospects. Heck, some are middling prospects. Very few of them actually have a chance to win an Opening Day roster spot. Most non-roster players are hoping to open eyes in camp and earn an early-season call-up whenever reinforcements are inevitably needed. That’s what Preston Claiborne did a few years back. He pitched well in camp and made himself a name to remember.

This spring should be extra exciting because the Yankees have such a robust farm system, and so many of their top prospects are close to the big leagues. Spring Training is a great time of year for prospect watchers. The Yankees will surely bring a bunch of their top youngsters to camp, even if only for a few weeks, just to expose them to big league life. So, with all of that in mind, let’s preview this year’s crop of potential non-roster players. Let’s call this … educated speculation.

Catchers

The Yankees, like every other team, invite a ton of non-roster catchers to Spring Training. Why? Well, who else is supposed to catch all those bullpen sessions? That’s really all it is. Teams need lots of catchers in camp because there are lots of pitchers in camp, and someone has to behind the plate for those guys. Last year the Yankees brought six non-roster catchers to camp. The year before it was five.

New York is pretty devoid of catching prospects at the moment, now that Luis Torrens is (temporarily?) a member of the Padres. Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, and Kyle Higashioka are all on the 40-man roster, so they’ll be in camp. Donny Sands and Miguel Flames, the team’s two best catching prospects, are rookie ball kids still transitioning behind the plate, so they won’t be in big league Spring Training. Too soon. Their time will come. That means an unexciting crop of minor league signees and journeyman roster fillers behind the plate.

Mike’s Prediction: Wilkin Castillo, Kellin Deglan, Francisco Diaz, Jorge Saez, plus one or two others yet to be signed. Diaz was in camp as a non-roster player last year and re-signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent earlier this offseason. Castillo and Deglan signed as minor league free agents over the winter. Saez, 26, was a minor league Rule 5 Draft pick from the Blue Jays. The Yankees brought Santiago Nessy to camp last spring after picking him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft. I’m guessing Saez gets the same treatment.

Infielders

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

Alright, now we’re talking. Gleyber Torres, the best prospect in the system and one of the best prospects in all of baseball, is a lock to be invited to big league camp, I believe. The Yankees have historically brought their tippy top prospects to camp — Jorge Mateo was there last year, remember — and Gleyber is the best they have to offer. Torres could hang around until mid-to-late March too, depending on how much playing time is available.

Among the other prospects, Tyler Wade is the other non-roster lock in my opinion. He’s not a Torres-caliber prospect, but he’s pretty darn good himself, and he’s slated to open the 2017 season in Triple-A. The Yankees had Wade play some outfield in the Arizona Fall League last year, so they’re starting to groom him for a big league utility job. Getting him in camp so he can work with the big league instructors is the next logical step.

The Yankees have a small army of infield prospects in the low minors, guys who are better served going to minor league camp. Wilkerman Garcia, Hoy Jun Park, Kyle Holder, and Thairo Estrada fit into this group. I thought maybe the Yankees would bring Mike Ford to camp as an extra first baseman, but the recent Ji-Man Choi signing takes care of that. Choi will “compete” with Greg Bird and Tyler Austin (and Rob Refsnyder?) for the first base job.

Mike’s Prediction: Choi, Torres, Wade, Cito Culver, Donovan Solano, and Ruben Tejada. Solano and Tejada are big league veterans on minor league deals, so yeah, they’ll be in camp. Culver gets the call because both Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro could end up playing in the WBC, meaning the Yankees will need infielders. Cito re-signed with New York as a minor league free agent a few weeks ago, and it wouldn’t surprise me if an invite to Spring Training was part of the deal. Keep in mind Mateo and Miguel Andujar are on the 40-man roster and will be in Spring Training automatically.

Outfielders

Remember last spring, when the Yankees had both Mateo and Aaron Judge in camp as non-roster players? That was so fun. They even hit home runs in the same game (against the Red Sox!). To the very necessary action footage:

Ah yes, that’s the good stuff. Anyway, I bring this up because Torres and Clint Frazier and going to be this year’s Mateo and Judge. The top prospect infielder-outfielder tandem we all tune in to see every Spring Training broadcast. Frazier is one of the Yankees’ best prospects and he’s already played in Triple-A, making a non-roster invitation to Spring Training is a no-brainer.

One top outfield prospect I don’t expect to see in big league camp is Blake Rutherford. The Yankees bought James Kaprielian to camp last year and that was a rarity — Kaprielian was the first first round pick the Yankees brought to Spring Training as a non-roster player one year after the draft in at least a decade. Not even Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain got non-roster invites in 2007. Rutherford is fresh out of high school. Big league camp isn’t the appropriate place for him. Lame, but it is what it is.

Mike’s Prediction: Frazier, Dustin Fowler, Mark Payton, and Jake Cave. I’m going to go against the grain and say Payton over the more heralded Billy McKinney. Payton is not a top prospect by any stretch, but he can do a little of everything and is a performer. He’s going to carve out a career as a fourth outfielder, and I think the Yankees will want to get him in camp at least once before he becomes Rule 5 Draft eligible next winter. Cave is a Triple-A vet, hence the non-roster invite. Fowler is one of the team’s top prospects and he’ll be in Triple-A this year, so I expect to see him too. Mason Williams (and Judge) is already on the 40-man.

Right-handers

Kaprielian. (Presswire)
Kaprielian. (Presswire)

We’re going to see some nice prospects arms in camp this year, me thinks. Kaprielian, Chance Adams, and Dillon Tate are the three big names. Kaprielian was in Spring Training last season, and since he was healthy enough to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, I don’t think the Yankees will hesitate to bring him to camp this year. Adams broke out last year and is going to start the season in Triple-A. Prime non-roster fodder.

Tate is the interesting one and I don’t think a non-roster invite is a lock, but I do think it’s likely. He regained velocity after the trade last year and threw well in the AzFL. Tate is going back to starting this season and I think the Yankees will look to move him quickly. And you know what? I think the Yankees want to show him off too. Tate was the fourth overall pick in the draft two years ago and one of the big name prospects they acquired at the deadline last summer. They’ll strut him out there and let him air it out for a few Grapefruit League innings because hey, why not?

Other big name prospects, like Domingo Acevedo and Albert Abreu, seem unlikely to get an invite to big league Spring Training this year. There are only so many innings to go around, and the Yankees will need them to a) decide the fourth and fifth starter race, and b) sort through a bunch of candidates for the remaining bullpen spots. This might be a year ahead of schedule for Acevedo and Abreu. I’m open to being wrong. We’ll see.

Mike’s Prediction: Adams, Kaprielian, Tate, J.P. Feyereisen, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, plus two or three others yet to be signed. At some point soon the Yankees will sign some pitchers to minor league deals for depth and Triple-A roster filler. The Anthony Swarzaks of the world we all love to hate. Feyereisen is a reliever with a chance to pitch in the show next year, hence the invite. Pinder and Rumbelow are still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, so they won’t actually pitch this spring, but they have big league service time and the non-roster invite is basically a courtesy. They’ll get big league meal money and lodging. It’s better than rehabbing in minor league camp.

Left-handers

As with the righties, I think we’ll see some good left-handed pitching prospects in Spring Training, most notably Jordan Montgomery and Justus Sheffield. Montgomery pitched very well at Double-A and Triple-A last summer, and the odds are strongly in favor of him making his MLB debut at some point in 2017. Spring Training is a chance for Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild to get their eyes on him. Giving Montgomery a non-roster invite makes all the sense in the world.

Montgomery. (Jason Farmer/Scranton Times-Tribune)
Montgomery. (Jason Farmer/Scranton Times-Tribune)

As for Sheffield, I do think he’ll get the invite to big league camp even though the odds of him pitching in the show this year are extremely small. Sheffield is a top prospect who reached Double-A last year, and he’s going to spend much of 2017 there as well, which could be enough to make him a non-roster candidate. And like Tate, I think the Yankees are going to want to show him off a bit. Sheffield could be one of those guys who makes one Grapefruit League appearance before being sent to minor league camp.

Mike’s Prediction: Montgomery, Sheffield, Jason Gurka, Joe Mantiply, plus one yet to be signed. Gurka signed a minor league deal a few weeks ago and has big league time with the Rockies, so he’ll get the non-roster invite. Mantiply is in a similar situation. Other southpaw prospects like Ian Clarkin, Nestor Cortes, Stephen Tarpley, and Josh Rogers will have to settle for minor league camp and a possible one-day call-up for a split squad game or something.

* * *

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the chances of me being wrong (very wrong) here are quite high. This is all nothing more than guesswork based on the farm system and New York’s recent non-roster tendencies. Okay, so after all of that, I came up with 30 possible non-roster invitees:

  • Catchers (6): Castillo, Deglan, Diaz, Saez, plus up to two others yet to be signed.
  • Infielders (6): Choi, Culver, Solano, Tejada, Torres, and Wade.
  • Outfielders (4): Cave, Fowler, Frazier, and Payton.
  • Pitchers (14): Adams, Feyereisen, Gurka, Kaprielian, Mantiply, Montgomery, Pinder, Rumbelow, Sheffield, Tate, plus as many as four yet to be signed.

Last year the Yankees brought 25 non-roster players to camp. The year before it was 26 and the year before that it was also 26, so my total of 30 is in ballpark when you consider each team will probably bring a few more players to camp to help cover for the WBC. If anything, 30 might be a little light since Pinder and Rumbelow won’t actually pitch. (The Yankees brought 44 players to camp in 2013, the last WBC year, which was insane.)

The Yankees announced their non-roster invitees on February 5th each of the last two years. Three years ago it was January 29th. They tend to do it very late in the offseason, so we still have a few weeks to go before things are made official. Either way, this promises to be a very prospect filled Spring Training. Guys like Torres, Frazier, Kaprielian, Montgomery, Fowler, and Wade will all be in camp, plus all the 40-man guys like Mateo, Andujar, Judge, and Bird. Should be fun.

2017 Rule 5 Draft status suggests the Yankees will have to trade some prospects this year

Gleyber will be protected, because duh. (Presswire)
Gleyber will be protected, because duh. (Presswire)

The busiest day for the Yankees this offseason — and most teams, for that matter — was November 18th, the day clubs had to finalize their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft. The Yankees made 12 transactions involving 13 players that day. The team’s deep farm system meant six players were added to the 40-man roster. Even then, the Yankees still lost four players in the MLB phase of the Rule 5 Draft.

The Rule 5 Draft and 40-man roster crunch was pretty significant this offseason. The Yankees lost several potentially useful players, most notably Jacob Lindgren and Nick Goody, simply because there was no room for them. Having a great farm system comes with a cost. The Rule 5 Draft crunch is poised to be even more severe next offseason too. Check out the (partial) list of prospects who will have to be added to the 40-man after the 2017 season:

Catchers: None
Infielders: Abi Avelino, Thairo Estrada, Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade
Outfielders: Rashad Crawford, Dustin Fowler, Clint Frazier, Billy McKinney, Leonardo Molina, Tito Polo
Pitchers: Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Ian Clarkin, Nestor Cortes, J.P. Feyereisen, Zack Littell, Jordan Montgomery, Eric Swanson, Stephen Tarpley

That list doesn’t include outfielder Jake Cave, righty Nick Rumbelow, and lefties Daniel Camarena and Chaz Hebert, all of whom will become minor league free agents after the 2017 season. I know those guys are easy to overlook, but who knows what’ll happen this summer. Who would have guessed Kyle Higashioka would play his way on to the 40-man last year?

Also, that “none” under catchers may only be temporary. If Luis Torrens doesn’t stick with the Padres as a Rule 5 Draft pick, he’ll come back to the Yankees and have to be added to the 40-man roster after the season. That’s a must. If Torrens is picked in the Rule 5 Draft again in December, he’ll be able to elect free agency rather than come back to New York. Can’t let that happen. If Torrens does come back, he’ll land on the 40-man in November.

Okay, so anyway, that’s an awful lot of quality prospects, huh? Torres and Frazier are in a league of their own as top 100 prospects, but many of the other guys figure to be worth protecting too. Wade and Fowler are slated to spend 2017 with Triple-A Scranton. A successful season there means they’re a lock to be picked in the Rule 5 Draft. Others like Abreu and Acevedo have considerable upside, and those guys are always worth protecting.

The Yankees had to make compromises in November because 40-man roster spots are a finite resource. Would they have liked to protect, say, Torrens and Tyler Webb, and keep Lindgren? Yeah, probably, but there’s only so much space to go around. The Yankees will run into a similar problem next offseason, only to a much greater degree. They not only have more prospects eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, they have more high-end prospects eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

The solution is simple though, isn’t it? Just trade some of them. It’s basically impossible to protect them all, so rather than lose them for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft, just trade them. Package three or four together for one player, preferably a young starting pitcher with several years of control. Boom, problem solved. Two problems solved, really. The Yankees clear up the Rule 5 Draft logjam and add the young pitcher they’ve seemingly been craving for months. It’s perfect!

Except it’s not that easy. It never is. For starters, you have to find another team with the available 40-man roster space to make such a trade. No team is going to trade for these prospects only to expose them to the Rule 5 Draft. The other team’s 40-man situation is an obstacle. Prospects are like kids, teams always love their own more than they love everyone else’s. Not many clubs may be willing to cut one or two of their own players to make room for your players in a hypothetical four-for-one trade. There’s a reason trades like this are rare.

More realistically, we may see the Yankees make a series of smaller moves. One-for-one, two-for-one trades. Trades that swap a Rule 5 Draft eligible prospect for a non-Rule 5 Draft eligible prospect. That’s similar to the James Pazos-for-Zack Littell trade. The Yankees needed the 40-man space, so they sent Pazos to the Mariners for Littell, who is a year away from Rule 5 Draft eligibility. It bought them some time, basically. Not the sexiest move, but necessary.

There’s eleven months between now and the deadline to set the 40-man roster for the 2017 Rule 5 Draft, so this is hardly a pressing issue. It is something the Yankees have to plan for, obviously, and you can be sure it’ll affect their decision-making over the summer. In fact, Brian Cashman even admitted Rule 5 Draft status was a consideration when making trades last summer. How could it not be?

The Yankees did some great work rebuilding their farm system over the last few months and it’s set them up for sustainable success in the near future. Baseball doesn’t allow teams to keep prospects forever though, and rightfully so. There comes a time when you have to ether commit to the player (add him to the 40-man) or give him a chance to reach MLB with another organization (Rule 5 Draft). The Yankees will reach that point with several of their best prospects next winter, and since they can’t protect everyone, they figure to move a few in trades to clear the logjam.

Yankees rolling the dice on upside with Billy McKinney

(Martin Griff/Pinstriped Prospects)
(Martin Griff/Pinstriped Prospects)

When the Yankees took the plunge and sold at the trade deadline, they wound up acquiring a dozen prospects (and one Adam Warren) in their four seller trades. Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, and Clint Frazier were the headliners and the prospects everyone is talking about, understandably so. They’re all legitimate top 100 prospects and among the best young players in the organization.

The trades were not only geared towards impact players, however. The Yankees also added a ton of depth — again, they acquired 12 prospects — and the secondary pieces shouldn’t be overlooked. Ben Heller has already pitched in the big leagues. Erik Swanson and J.P. Feyereisen have sneaky good arms. Tito Polo is a pretty good bet to carve out a Major League career as an extra outfielder. Those guys have value too.

The most high-profile secondary piece the Yankees added at the deadline is outfielder Billy McKinney, who came over from the Cubs with Torres and Warren in the Aroldis Chapman trade. McKinney was the 24th overall pick in the 2013 draft — he had been connected to the Yankees often enough at the time that I wrote a draft profile — and was later traded from the A’s to the Cubs in the Addison Russell/Jeff Samardzija trade.

The Yankees picked up McKinney while his stock was down. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked the 22-year-old as the 69th best prospect in baseball coming into the season — not last year or the year before, this year, 2016 — but, at the time of the trade, he was hitting .252/.355/.322 (102 wRC+) with one home run in 349 Double-A plate appearances while repeating the level. Last year he hit .285/.346/.420 (116 wRC+) at Double-A.

McKinney performed quite a bit better after the trade, putting up a .265/.337/.444 (117 wRC+) batting line with four homers in 169 plate appearances with Double-A Trenton, including the postseason. That looks good on the surface, but for close to a bat-only dude repeating the level, it’s not nearly enough to maintain top 100 prospect status. McKinney is, to paraphrase Brian Cashman, an asset in distress. They bought low and hope to build him back up.

There are reasons to believe McKinney can be built back up. For starters, his age. He turned 22 in August. Had he gone to college, McKinney would have been a draft-eligible junior this year. Secondly, his raw talent. He wasn’t a first rounder by accident. McKinney has impressive hitting tools, which were on display just last season. And third, his health. His 2015 season ended in mid-August after he fouled a pitch into his knee and suffered a hairline fracture, Mark Teixeira style.

Everything in baseball starts from the ground up, including hitting. It’s tough to hit when you don’t have a solid base underneath you, and thanks to the knee injury, McKinney’s lower half was compromised this year. How much? We don’t know exactly. Player development chief Gary Denbo thinks the injury was at least somewhat a factor in McKinney’s disappointing season. From Jim Callis:

“He had issues with his knee and didn’t have all his balance and stability in his lower half, which makes it difficult to be a consistent hitter,” Denbo said. “He’s just now getting healthy. He’s working very hard to improve his timing and lower-half stability, and also to let his raw power play in games. He started to do that late in the season and he has been one of our best performers down here.”

It’s not crazy to think a healthy McKinney could bounce back next season. Not considering his age and talent. That’s what the Yankees are hoping, anyway. They got him almost as a throw in, after all. McKinney is not the centerpiece of the farm system or anything like that. He’s a reclamation project.

Now, what happens if McKinney does rebound next season? First, celebrate! That’d be cool. Secondly, the logjam of upper level outfielders could become even logjam-ier. Right now, the Triple-A Scranton outfield figures to feature some combination of Frazier, Mason Williams, Jake Cave, and Dustin Fowler. Maybe Aaron Judge too. That leaves McKinney back in Double-A for a third straight season. Not ideal, but what can the Yankees do?

Given the state of the organization right now, it appears the best thing for both McKinney and the Yankees is that he plays well enough to re-establish some trade value. Instead of being the No. 3 piece like he was in the Chapman deal, he could maybe be the No. 2 piece in a deal at some point in future. Or maybe even the headliner in a smaller trade that brings immediate MLB help. That seems to be the best case scenario. McKinney rebuilds value and the Yankees flip him elsewhere, where he’ll have a better opportunity for MLB playing time.

As far as the Yankees are concerned, anything they get from McKinney is gravy. He’s not one of their top prospects and they’re not relying on him to fill a roster spot long-term. They rolled the dice on his talent as the third piece in the Chapman trade, and if he rebounds, great! If not, well, that’s baseball. When a guy like McKinney is one of your second tier prospects and almost an afterthought in your system, things are looking up.

Thoughts on Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects

The man kid they call Gleyber. (Presswire)
The man kid they call Gleyber. (Presswire)

I totally missed this two weeks ago, but the crew at Baseball Prospectus posted their annual look at the top ten prospects in the Yankees’ farm system. The list is available for everyone. The rest of the piece is behind the paywall, unfortunately. Here’s the top ten with some thoughts:

  1. SS Gleyber Torres
  2. OF Clint Frazier
  3. SS Jorge Mateo
  4. OF Blake Rutherford
  5. LHP Justus Sheffield
  6. RHP James Kaprielian
  7. OF Aaron Judge
  8. RHP Albert Abreu
  9. SS Tyler Wade
  10. RHP Chance Adams

1. Still high on Mateo. It’s very easy to be down on Mateo these days. He didn’t have a great regular season, he was suspended two weeks for an undisclosed violation of team policy, and he hasn’t done much in winter ball either. There’s no other way to slice it, 2016 has been really disappointing for Mateo. At the same time, he just turned 21 in June and is immensely talented. He has the most exciting tools in the farm system, I think, even moreso than Gleyber. Development isn’t always linear. There are often bumps in the road and hopefully that’s all Mateo experienced this year, a bump(s) in the road. Something he can learn from and use as a development tool going forward. Baseball Prospectus still has Mateo very high on their top ten list and it’s not in any way unreasonable given his tools.

2. Down on Judge. On the other hand, the Baseball Prospectus crew is down on Judge, who they ranked as the 18th best prospect in baseball prior to 2016. Based on their preseason rankings, both Mateo (No. 65) and Kaprielian (not ranked) managed to jump Judge despite a disappointing season and an injury-marred season, respectively. I get why folks are down on Judge. He struggled in his brief big league cameo and there have long been concerns about whether big league pitchers would exploit his massive strike zone. We saw a 95 plate appearance manifestation of those concerns. Unless Judge shrinks about five inches, there’s not much he can do about the strike zone. That’s life. But he has a history of starting slow at each new level before making the necessary adjustments, and until he shows otherwise, I feel like we have to assume the same is happening at the MLB level. The biggest difference between Judge and other prospects on this list, like Mateo and Kaprielian and Gleyber, is that he’s had a chance to fail at the big league level. Everyone else is getting the benefit of the doubt because they haven’t had that same opportunity.

3. Wade gets some love. I’m a pretty big Tyler Wade fan and it seems I’m not alone. Ranking him ninth in this system is pretty lofty. “Wade is a favorite of many scouts and evaluators because of his energy, playing style, and instincts. He’ll grow on you the more you see him,” said the write-up. Wade is not a future star or anything, and that’s kind of a problem in a system with this many shortstops. Torres and Mateo, two guys with star-caliber tools, are right behind him climbing the minor league ladder. Others like Hoy Jun Park and Wilkerman Garcia have higher ceilings too. Unseating Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro at the MLB level won’t be easy either. The Yankees had Wade play some outfield in the Arizona Fall League to prepare him for a utility role, which is by far his best path to MLB playing time with New York. If I were another team with a long-term need a shortstop (coughPadrescough), I’d be all over the Yankees trying to get Wade in a deal. He hits for no power and won’t wow you with big OPS or wRC+ numbers, but a lefty hitter who can hit for average, draw walks and get on base, steal bases, and play good defense at shortstop is a nifty little player.

Tyler Wade, outfielder. (Presswire)
Tyler Wade, outfielder. (Presswire)

4. Others of note. Each year the Baseball Prospectus farm system write-ups include information on players beyond the top ten. Among the other Yankees singled out: 3B Miguel Andujar, LHP Jordan Montgomery, OF Dustin Fowler, OF Billy McKinney, RHP Dillon Tate, and RHP Erik Swanson. Swanson’s an interesting guy who is easy to overlook in this system. He came over in the Carlos Beltran trade. “Swanson touched as high as 98 in a June viewing, regularly sitting 91-96. He also flashed a hard slider and a more usable change than one often sees from a power profile at the Low-A level,” said the write-up. Swanson turned 23 in September and he missed most of 2015 with a forearm issue, but he’s healthy now and has enough stuff to possibly start long-term. If not, don’t be shocked if he moves very quickly as a fastball/slider reliever.

5. The top ten 25-and-under talents. My favorite part of Baseball Prospectus’ annual system write-ups is their list of the top ten talents age 25 and under in the organization. For the Yankees, the 25-and-under list is essentially the same as top ten above, except with C Gary Sanchez at the top, 1B Greg Bird sixth (between Rutherford and Sheffield), and RHP Luis Severino tenth (behind Judge). A year ago Judge and Severino were first and second. Now they’re ninth and tenth. Part of that is Judge’s strikeouts and Severino’s inability to pitch well as a starter, but it also speaks to how the Yankees’ long-term outlook has improved over the last 12 months. Sanchez emerged as a force and so many young players — five of the team’s top eight prospects, according to Baseball Prospectus — have been added to the system within the last six months or so. It’s really hard to read these prospect lists and not get very, very excited about where the Yankees are heading.