The Yankees will soon have to make some decisions about their outfield prospect logjam

Cave. (AP)
Cave. (AP)

When the season started, the Yankees were obviously very deep in left-handed hitting outfield prospects at Triple-A and Double-A. That is still the case even after Slade Heathcott was released a few weeks ago. The Yankees not only still have Ben Gamel, Mason Williams, Jake Cave, and Dustin Fowler, they just added another lefty hitting outfield prospect in Billy McKinney. He’s in Double-A too.

Depth is never a bad thing, but the Yankees are starting to reach a bit of a breaking point with these players. There are only so many roster spots to go around after all, and soon it’ll be difficult if not impossible to put all of these players in places that are appropriate for their development. Rushing players is bad. So is holding them back and having them go stale. There’s depth and there’s excess. The Yankees have an excess.

The trade deadline is Monday and the Yankees could always move one or two of these lefty outfielders for help at other positions, but it’s not like these guys have a ton of trade value. McKinney was the second piece (arguably the third piece) in a package for a rental reliever. (Okay fine, a great rental reliever.) Are Cave and Fowler and Gamel worth more than, say, Ramon Flores? I don’t think so. It’s easy to say “trade them!,” but to which team and for what?

Let’s sort through these five guys and try to figure out where they fit long-term and what the Yankees should do with each of them. The players are listed alphabetically.

Cave: The Rule 5 Guy

The Pluses: Cave, 23, is one of those guys who does a little of everything but nothing exceptionally well. He’s a solid defender in all three outfield spots and he can hit a little. So far this season he owns a .286/.349/.472 (131 wRC+) line with a 21.6% strikeout rate and an 8.0% walk rate in 352 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. It’s worth noting Cave has already hit seven homers this year after hitting two all of last season and eleven total from 2013-15, so he may be growing into some power.

The Minuses: The biggest knock on Cave is his roster situation. He didn’t stick with the Reds as a Rule 5 Draft pick this spring, and he will be Rule 5 Draft eligible again this winter. If he’s selected and doesn’t stick, he’ll be able to elect free agency as a two-time Rule 5 guy. So either the Yankees add Cave to the 40-man roster after the season or they’ll lose him. There’s no middle ground, realistically. Also, he has a major knee injury in his history (broken knee cap in 2012) and there’s some concern he won’t hit lefties at the next level.

Fowler: The Fast Rising Prospect

The Pluses: Fowler is the youngest player in this post at 21 and he’s really come a long way since being an 18th round pick in 2013. He was a three-sport guy in high school (baseball, football, wrestling) whose athleticism has translated into baseball tools and ability. Fowler has some raw pop and a good idea of what he’s doing at the plate, plus he’s a ballhawk in center. He won’t be Rule 5 Draft eligible until after next season, and given his age — he’s more than three years younger than the average Eastern League player — sending him back to Double-A Trenton to start 2017 wouldn’t be crazy.

The Minuses: Fowler is not having a great statistical season, hitting .278/.307/.408 (96 wRC+) with four homers in 19 steals in 95 games with the Thunder. He’s also not a fan of drawing walks (4.2 BB% in 2015 and 4.6 BB% career), so he’ll probably never be a high on-base guy. It’s more of a Jacoby Ellsbury-esque low-walk/low-strikeout profile than a true hacker low-walk/high-strikeout profile. A good defensive outfielder with an okay-ish OBP is a decent player, but what if the power doesn’t come?

Gamel: The “Safe” Bet

Gamel. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Gamel. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Pluses: Gamel, like Cave, does a little of everything but nothing at an above-average clip. He can play all three outfield spots and run a little, and he’s flat out destroyed Triple-A pitching for two years now. Gamel, 24, has a .303/.362/.448 (133 wRC+) line with an 8.5% walk rate and an 18.7% strikeout rate in nearly 1,000 Triple-A plate appearances since the start of last season. He’s already on the 40-man roster and has two options left for 2017 and 2018, which gives the team flexibility.

The Minuses: There aren’t a ton, really. I think Gamel’s the safest bet to be a useful big leaguer of anyone in this post. Yeah, he might be a ‘tweener who doesn’t have enough power for a corner or enough defense for center, but even ‘tweeners can carve out long careers as fourth outfielders. Gamel can hit a little bit, he’s adequate in the field, and he plays with a ton of energy. He’s one step down from Heathcottian in that regard.

McKinney: The New Guy

The Pluses: McKinney is the second youngest guy in this post — he’s four months older than Fowler — and, depending who you ask, he was a top 100 prospect as recently as this spring. The talent is there, particularly his pure left-handed swing and innate bat-to-ball skills. McKinney is the best pure hitter in this group and one of the best in the entire farm system. He also doesn’t need to be added to the 40-man roster until after next season, and because he is so young, sending him back to Double-A next April wouldn’t be unreasonable.

The Minuses: For starters, McKinney hasn’t hit much this year, so his stock is down. He owns a .252/.355/.322 (101 wRC+) batting line with only one homer and two steals in 88 Double-A games. His strikeout (19.5%) and walk (13.5%) rates are fine, but still. McKinney is coming off a fairly significant knee injury (hairline fracture from a foul ball) and he’s going to be limited to left field by his arm and range. Also, his swing is so level he might never be more than a 15-homer guy. McKinney’s swing is beautiful and he can spray line drives from line to line. Besides that, there’s not much else going on here.

Williams: The High Upside Guy

The Pluses: I think Williams has the most natural ability out of anyone in this post. He’s an outstanding athlete and a great runner, and he has a strong arm, all of which makes him a top notch center field defender. Offensively, Williams makes contact (career 12.9 K%) and knows the strike zone (career 7.6 BB%), and he’s got some sneaky power too. The proverbial light bulb went on last year and Williams hit .318/.397/.398 (133 wRC+) with more walks (11.5%) than strikeouts (9.8%) in Double-A and Triple-A before his impressive (albeit short) big league debut. He’s on the 40-man roster but does have an option left for 2017.

Williams. (Getty)
Williams. (Getty)

The Minuses: There are more than you’d like to see, for sure. For starters, Williams is coming off major shoulder surgery. He’s been back about a month. That’s all. Secondly, Williams did not hit a lick from 2013-2014, putting up a .223/.290/.304 (66 wRC+) batting line at Double-A. There were also some issues with his maturity and effort, which led to a few benchings. It appeared Williams grew up a bit last season, but who knows? Between the less than impressive track record and recent shoulder injury, there are some significant red flags here to go along long with his natural talent.

* * *

The Yankees are pretty much out of time with Gamel and Cave. If they keep Gamel at Triple-A any longer, he might stagnate. Cave has to go on the 40-man roster after the season to avoid being lost to the Rule 5 Draft or free agency, and really, how many of these guys can the Yankees carry on the 40-man at once? Game, Cave, and Williams? That’s a lot of spots tied up in similar players. It hinders flexibility.

Things aren’t quite as pressing with McKinney and Fowler. The Yankees have another year before they’re Rule 5 Draft eligible, and based on their performances this year, an assignment back to Double-A next year wouldn’t be unreasonable. There’s only about six weeks left in the minor league season, you know. There’s not enough time to really turn things around. Williams? I don’t know what to think. Love the ability, but there are a few too many red flags.

Don’t forget the Yankees have other minor league outfielders too. It’s not like these are their only options at Double-A and Triple-A. There’s Aaron Judge, first and foremost, and also Cesar Puello and Mark Payton (he’s a lefty too) and Michael O’Neill. Carlos Beltran likely won’t be back next year, so even if Judge or Gamel or Williams gets that big league right field job, there’s still going to be an outfield crunch next year. That’s a problem. (Also, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are lefties too.)

My guess is the Yankees will end up jettisoning Cave at some point, either at the trade deadline or the offseason. McKinney and Fowler wind up back in Double-A to start next season, leaving Gamel and Williams as Triple-A up-and-down options. This is definitely one of those things that will take care of itself. Hopefully it works itself out in a positive way and these players all prove useful to the Yankees, either as MLB players or trade chips.

2016 Trade Deadline Rumors Open Thread: Monday

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The 2016 non-waiver trade deadline is exactly one week away, and for the first time since they traded away Rickey Henderson and Mike Pagliarulo in 1989, the Yankees have to seriously consider selling this year. They’re 4.5 games out of a wildcard spot with three teams ahead of them, and, more importantly, at no point this season have the Yankees looked capable of making the kind of extended run it’ll take to get back into the race.

Over the weekend learned the Yankees are inching closer to trading Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for top prospect Gleyber Torres and a second piece. That could happen as soon as today. Our Scouting the Market: Cubs post will tell you everything you need to know about Torres and various other Cubs prospects. Several other teams were in the mix for Chapman as well, and I suppose someone could sneak in at the last minute and make a big offer. We’ll see. We’re going to keep track of the day’s trade rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. All time stamps are ET.

  • 10:15am: The Yankees are expected to receive Torres, ex-Yankee Adam Warren, and likely two others (!) for Chapman if the trade is completed. Jorge Soler and Jeimer Candelario are not in the deal. It’s still a 4-for-1 trade and, uh, wow. [Joel Sherman, Ken Rosenthal]
  • 10:15am: The Yankees “internally debated” Torres or Eloy Jimenez as the center piece of the trade. They’re opting for the potential up-the-middle impact player over the corner outfield bat. For what it’s worth, Torres is the higher-ranked prospect too. [Sherman]
  • 10:15am: The Yankees have discussed shortstop prospect Yu-Cheng Chang in trade talks with the Indians. Chang is Cleveland’s No. 12, per MLB.com. The 20-year-old is hitting .275/.345/.494 (128 wRC+) with eleven homers and nine steals in 87 High-A games this year. [Buster Olney]
  • 10:15am: Once the Yankees wrap up the Chapman trade, they’re expected to continue sifting through trade offers for Andrew Miller. It’s not a guarantee they’ll move him. They’re going to do their due diligence and see what teams put on the table. [Olney]
  • 10:15am: The Giants are getting “radio silence” from the Yankees with regards to their relievers. We heard a few days ago that the Yankees don’t consider San Francisco a good trade match because they’re short on high-end prospects. [Hank Schulman]
  • 11:05am: One of the other two pieces in the Chapman trade is outfield prospect Billy McKinney. He was a first rounder in 2013 and I remember the Yankees being connected to him prior to the draft. McKinney went to the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzija/Addison Russell trade. [Sahadev Sharma]
  • 11:29am: The Yankees have been pushing Ivan Nova in trade talks. That’s not a surprise. They shopped him over the winter, and Nova will be a free agent after the season, so it’s better to get something for him now than nothing after the season. [Olney]
  • 4:10pm: The Chapman trade is official. It’s Chapman for Torres, Warren, Billy McKinney, and Rashad Crawford. That’s a hell of a deal.

Reminder before you comment: Your trade proposal sucks.

Yankees send Aroldis Chapman to Cubs for four players

(Presswire)
Bye Aroldis. (Presswire)

4:10pm: Both teams have announced the trade, so it’s official. Officially official. The trade is as reported: Chapman for Torres, Warren, McKinney, and Crawford. Torres and Crawford are going to High-A Tampa and McKinney is going to Double-A Trenton. Warren is going to join the Yankees in Houston.

“I want to thank the New York Yankees for trusting and supporting me, and I wish nothing but the best for the Yankees organization and my former teammates,” said Chapman in a statement. “I am excited about today’s trade and look forward to joining the Chicago Cubs and meeting my new teammates. It is a privilege to wear the Cubs uniform and to play for the fans of Chicago.”

12:13pm: For the first time in a long time, the Yankees have made a true “sellers” trade. The Yankees and Cubs have an Aroldis Chapman deal in place, reports Jon Heyman. Shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres, outfield prospect Billy McKinney, right-hander Adam Warren, and a fourth player are coming back to New York. Patrick Mooney identifies the fourth player as outfield prospect Rashad Crawford. We’re still waiting for an official announcement from the team, just FYI.

Trading Chapman before the deadline was close to a no-brainer. The Yankees acquired him from the Reds in the offseason for pennies on the dollar because of his pending suspension under the league’s domestic violence policy. Once the suspension was served, they could market him for what he is: an elite rental reliever. Generally speaking, this all boils down too:

Rookie Davis
Eric Jagielo
Caleb Cotham
Tony Renda
35 innings of Adam Warren
Brendan Ryan
a few months of bad PR stemming from Chapman’s domestic violence incident

for

31.1 innings of Aroldis Chapman
Starlin Castro
Gleyber Torres
Billy McKinney
Rashad Crawford

That is a pretty incredible. The Yankees did not surrender any of their top prospects to acquire Chapman and now they’re netting Torres, who Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Baseball America respectively ranked as the 26th and 27th prospect in baseball in their midseason updates, plus some decent secondary pieces. That’s pretty great.

Using Andrew Miller as a benchmark, the going rate for an elite rental reliever was one top 50-ish prospect just two years ago. The Yankees got a top 25-ish prospect and more for Chapman. That’s a function of a) Chapman having a much longer track record than Miller, and b) the market for bullpen help being insane right now. The Yankees would be wise to gauge the market for Miller and Dellin Betances next. It doesn’t hurt to listen, after all.

Torres, 19, is obviously the center piece of the deal. He’s hitting .275/.359/.433 (122 wRC+) with nine homers, 19 steals, a 21.3% strikeout rate, and a 10.3% walk rate in 94 High-A games. Torres is doing that despite being nearly four years younger than the average Carolina League player. He’s outperforming Jorge Mateo, who is an excellent prospect himself, at the same level while being a year younger. Here’s a piece of MLB.com’s free scouting report:

Torres signed for $1.7 million out of Venezuela on the strength of his advanced bat and potential for solid tools across the board. He has a quick right-handed swing and a mature approach, recognizing pitches well and using the entire field. Once Torres gets stronger and learns to pull pitches more often, he could produce 15 or more homers per season … While Torres’ range may be just average, his instincts and strong arm allow him to make plays. If he has to change positions, he’d profile well offensively and defensively at either second or third base.

It wouldn’t be crazy to consider Torres the Yankees’ top prospect now. I haven’t thought enough about it to have a firm opinion, but he’s definitely in the conversation along with Mateo, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez. For what it’s worth, Law ranked Judge higher than Torres in his midseason top 50 while Baseball America ranked Mateo higher than Torres in their midseason top 100. So yeah. This is a bit up in the air.

The other big name in the trade is McKinney, who went to the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzija/Addison Russell trade two years ago. The Yankees were connected to him prior to the 2013 draft — I even wrote up a draft profile on him — and last year McKinney ranked 83rd on Baseball America’s top 100 list. He’s had a rough 2016 though, hitting .252/.355/.322 (101 wRC+) with one homer, a 19.5% strikeout rate, and a 13.5% walk rate in 88 Double-A games.

The good news is McKinney is still only 21 — he’s three years younger than the average Southern League player — and just last year he was a top 100 guy who hit .300/.371/.454 (135 wRC+) between High-A and Double-A. The bad news is McKinney’s 2015 season ended in August when he fouled a pitch off his knee and suffered a hairline fracture. His bad 2016 season may be the result of the injury. Here’s a piece of MLB.com’s free scouting report:

McKinney has hit everywhere he has gone, the result of his quick left-handed swing, tremendous hand-eye coordination and mature approach. He also draws enough walks to record healthy on-base percentages, though some evaluators question how much over-the-fence power he’ll develop. He has bat speed and makes hard contact easily, so he should produce plenty of doubles with 15 or more homers per season … He’s a decent athlete with average speed and fringy arm strength, which doesn’t make him much of a factor on the bases or in the outfield.

The knee injury and down 2016 season stink, but without them the Yankees wouldn’t be able to get McKinney as part of this trade. They’re buying low on a good pure hitter who was a top 100 prospect just last season. Considering McKinney is not the center piece of the package that’s coming to the Yankees, he’s a pretty nice little lottery ticket. Shrewd pickup.

Crawford, 22, is currently hitting .255/.327/.386 (99 wRC+) with three homers, 22 steals, a 19.8% strikeout rate, and an 8.9% walk rate in 83 High-A games. He is not a top prospect in any way. In fact, neither MLB.com nor Baseball America ranked Crawford among the Cubs’ top 30 prospects coming into the season. He’s a fringe prospect, though J.J. Cooper calls him a “perfect” fourth piece for the Yankees because of his tools, specifically above-average speed and center field defense.

I assume the Yankees will send Torres and Crawford to High-A while McKinney goes to Double-A. That’s where they were playing with the Cubs. The Torres-Mateo dynamic will be interesting in Tampa. Will Mateo finally get the promotion he reportedly complained about, or will Torres get the promotion because he’s had a better year? Perhaps they’ll both stay in High-A and split time at second and short. Intrigue!

Welcome home, Adam. (Getty)
Welcome home, Adam. (Getty)

As for Warren, well, we’re all familiar with him. He pitched well for the Yankees in a variety of roles from 2013-15 before being traded for Castro this offseason. Warren, 29 next month, has not had a good season with the Cubs, pitching to a 5.91 ERA (5.83 FIP) in 35 innings. His walk (12.5%) and homer (1.80 HR/9) rates are far higher than they ever were in New York. He’s even had to spend some time in Triple-A.

My guess is Warren will step right into Chapman’s roster spot and reclaim his old jack of all trades bullpen role, which might make him the seventh inning guy right off the bat. Basically, he’s in the Circle of Trust™ until he pitches himself out of it, which just might happen based on the way he’s pitching with the Cubs this year. We’ll see what happens. I’m pretty stoked to have Warren back. He’s always been a personal fave.

There was talk the Cubs would not do the trade without signing Chapman to an extension first, and who knows if that happened. As far as the Yankees are concerned, who cares? They didn’t have to do any of the legwork (negotiate the extension, etc.) and apparently the Cubs were compelled to give them some extra players anyway. Hey, I’m not complaining. Whatever it took to get done. For what it’s worth, Joel Sherman says the Yankees did talk to Chapman about an extension at one point, and when he wasn’t interested, it swayed ownership to trade him.

The Yankees haven’t made a move like this — a big leaguer for prospects trade designed to improve the long-term future of the franchise — in a very long time. Since trading Rickey Henderson and Mike Pagliarulo in 1989, basically. The trade hurts in the short-term, there’s no doubt about that. We’ve all seen the impact Chapman can have. The Yankees will miss that in their bullpen even with Miller and Betances still around.

This trade helps improve the 2017 and beyond Yankees though, and considering the team’s current place in the standings, it was time to prioritize the future. Based on everything we know right now, this trade looks like a major coup for New York. They capitalized on Chapman’s stock being down over the winter and flipped him for a 25-ish prospect plus other stuff. Pretty cool.

2013 Draft: Billy McKinney

The 2013 amateur draft will be held from June 6-8 this year, and between now and then I’m going to highlight some prospects individually rather than lump them together into larger posts.

Billy McKinney | OF

Background
A Texas kid out of Plano West High School, McKinney played for the Texas Scout Team Yankees last fall — the Yankees use the club to familiarize themselves with Texas high school prospects (2012 second rounder Austin Aune played for the squad a year ago) — and starred at the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association World Championship in Florida back in November. He’s committed to TCU.

Scouting Report
McKinney, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 lbs., stands out for his offensive potential from the left side of the plate. He consistently gets the fat part of the bat on the ball thanks to his smooth and easy left-handed swing. McKinney is a line drive gap-to-gap hitter with some power potential, and the hitting tools all play up because of his advanced approach. He’s one of the best pure hitters in the draft class, high school or college.

Although he plays center field in high school and shows good speed with an okay arm, McKinney might end up in a corner outfield spot down the line as he fills out and slows down. Regardless, his bat is his calling card and the reason teams are looking at him prior to the draft. Here’s some more video. Love that swing.

Miscellany
Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked McKinney as 23rdth best prospect in the class in today’s updated rankings while Keith Law (subs. req’d) had him 27th last month. He looks to be very much in that late-first round/supplemental round mix at the moment, and we know he’s on the Yankees’ radar since he played for their Texas Scout Team just a few months ago. The Yankees love pure high school hitters like J.R. Murphy and Tyler Austin even if their position is unsettled, so McKinney sure seems like someone they could target with one of their top three picks (26th, 32nd, 33rd).