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.

DotF: Winter ball season comes to an end

Last month, OF Clint Frazier called in to MLB Network to talk about 2016 and some things he’s been working on this winter. The video is above. “As far as physicality goes, I think my power’s still the best thing, but as we get further I think I’ve done a lot of work on my mental game right now and I think I’m in a good spot right now,” said Frazier when asked about his best attribute. Here are some other links and notes to check out:

  • The Staten Island Yankees are still the Staten Island Yankees. The name change as been put on hold, the team announced. Womp womp. “Over time it became clear that the approval and acceptance of the new name and artwork would take longer than initially anticipated,” said the release. The potential names (Bridge Trolls, Heroes, Killer Bees, Pizza Rats, Rock Pigeons) reportedly didn’t sit well with city officials.
  • In a mailbag column, Jim Callis teased his personal top 50 prospects list. He said SS Gleyber Torres is second, sandwiched between White Sox IF Yoan Moncada and Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi. Hot damn. On Twitter, Callis added Frazier is 26th and OF Blake Rutherford is 37th. They’re his top three Yankees prospects.
  • Jonathan Mayo surveyed 20 executives about the best prospect in baseball. Benintendi received ten first place votes, most among any player, while Torres received two first place votes of his own. Moncada and Braves SS Dansby Swanson split the other first place votes.
  • In a separate piece, Mayo listed ten players who didn’t make MLB.com’s upcoming top 100 list, but could in the future. RHP James Kaprielian was one of the ten. “The good news is that he looked very good in the Arizona Fall League, and if he stays healthy in ’17, there should be more of that to come,” said the write-up.
  • Not surprisingly, Callis said the Yankees improved their farm system more than any other team in 2016. “The Yanks haven’t had this much talent in the Minors since Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams were developing in the early 1990s,” he wrote.
  • Mike Rosenbaum ranked the ten best prospects traded this offseason. Moncada tops the list, because duh. RHP Albert Abreu is eighth. “Abreu has the chance to pitch in the front half of a big league rotation based solely on stuff, and his control and command should improve as he learns to better repeat his delivery,” said the write-up.
  • And finally, sad news to pass along: LHP Alexander Figueredo was shot and killed in his native Venezuela back in November. He was only 20. Figueredo signed with the Yankees in 2013 and had a 1.89 ERA in 57 career innings, all in the Dominican Summer League. He didn’t pitch at all in 2016 due to a suspension. Our condolences go out to Figueredo’s family.

It’s been a few weeks since the last winter ball update because of the holidays, so we have some catching up to do. The regular season for the various winter leagues in the Caribbean are over, so these stats are final. That means this is the final winter ball update of the offseason. I’ll still post links and whatnot as they come along, but the next stats update won’t come until the minor league regular season begins in April. See you then.

The Arizona Fall League season ended in November. Torres became the young batting champion and MVP in league history. Here are the final stats.

Australian Baseball League

  • RHP Brandon Stenhouse: 6 G, 5.2 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 1 WP (7.94 ERA and 2.12 FIP)

Dominican Winter League

  • IF Abi Avelino: 27 G, 12-53, 4 R, 1 2B, 5 RBI, 3 BB, 8 K, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.226/.281/.245)
  • SS Jorge Mateo: 20 G, 7-42, 8 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 10 K, 5 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.167/.239/.238) — played his final game on November 26th … a three-game stint might have been the plan all along … either way, not the best finish to a tough 2016 for Mateo
  • RHP Anyelo Gomez: 3 G, 2.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K (6.75 ERA and 1.50 WHIP)

Mexican Pacific League

  • OF Tito Polo: 18 G, 15-66, 13 R, 4 2B, 1 RBI, 5 BB, 19 K, 8 SB, 1 CS, 4 HBP (.227/.320/.288) — he got hurt, came back, then got hurt again … so it goes

No Yankees played in the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico) this year.

Venezuelan Winter League

  • IF Angel Aguilar: 19 G, 4-26, 7 R, 12 K, 1 SB (.154/.154/.154) — not the best winter ball showing after a tough regular season
  • C Francisco Diaz: 44 G, 25-126, 11 R, 5 2B, 2 3B, 5 RBI, 10 BB, 22 K, 1 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.198/.263/.270)
  • RHP Luis Cedeno: 4 G, 2 GS, 11.1 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 6 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 2 HB, 2 WP (5.56 ERA and 1.68 WHIP)
  • RHP David Kubiak: 9 G, 3 GS, 22 IP, 21 H, 15 R, 13 ER, 10 BB, 16 K, 1 HR, 3 HB, 3 WP (5.32 ERA and 1.91 WHIP)
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 5 G, 3.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K (7.36 ERA and 1.91 WHIP) — went unpicked in the Rule 5 Draft for the second straight year

Prospect Profile: Blake Rutherford

(@MiLB)
(@MiLB)

Blake Rutherford | OF

Background
Rutherford, 19, was born in Morristown, New Jersey, and he lived there until age two, when his family moved to Southern California. He played both baseball and football at Chaminade College Preparatory School in Simi Valley, and as a senior last spring, Rutherford hit .577 with 13 doubles and nine home runs in 27 games. He was invited to play in the Under Armour All-America Game in 2015 and spent two summers with Team USA’s 18-and-under team, helping them win gold in Japan last year.

Rutherford has been on the radar as a prospect a very long time, so much so that he committed to UCLA following his freshman year of high school. Prior to the 2016 amateur draft, Rutherford was ranked as a top ten prospect in the draft class by Keith Law (6th), MLB.com (8th), and Baseball America (9th). The Yankees selected him with their first round pick, No. 18 overall, and maxed out their bonus pool to sign him to a well-above-slot $3,282,000 bonus.

“Blake’s a guy that we’ve scouted for a long time, and we couldn’t be happier with him falling to us,” said scouting director Damon Oppenheimer after the draft. “He’s hit at a high level, he can run, he’s a really good defender in center field, and he’s got power. He’s got a chance to have all the tools to profile. The fact that he’s performed on a big stage with Team USA, where he’s been a quality performer, makes it really exciting for us.”

Rutherford slipped out of the top ten for two reasons. One, his age. He turned 19 in May, which makes him older than most high school draftees. And two, he had big bonus demands, which isn’t surprising because he was a projected top ten pick. There are rumors Rutherford had a pre-draft deal in place with the Mets, who held the 19th pick, but the Yankees grabbed him one pick earlier and met his asking price.

“Oh man, I don’t think it’s hit me yet. It will hit me soon,” said Rutherford to Tony Ciniglio after the draft. “I grew up a Yankees fan. I loved the Yankees and the organization, I loved the people. It’s an amazing legacy, and it’s a pretty incredible situation.”

Pro Debut
Following a quick tune-up stint in the rookie Gulf Coast League, the Yankees bumped Rutherford up to the rookie Pulaski Yankees so he could face a higher caliber of competition. Rutherford was the best player on the field pretty much every game, hitting .382/.440/.618 (186 wRC+) with seven doubles, four triples, and two homers in 25 games and 100 plate appearances with Pulaski. Add in the GCL stint and he hit .351/.415/.570 (171 wRC+) with three homers in 130 plate appearances in his pro debut earlier this year.

Rutherford’s season ended prematurely due to a pair of minor injuries. He tweaked his knee running through first base on August 8th and missed Pulaski’s next eleven games. Then, on August 24th, Rutherford hurt his hamstring running out a ground ball. Pulaski had already been eliminated from postseason contention and the regular season was ending in a week, so the Yankees played it safe and shut their first round pick down. Rutherford’s knee and hamstring were healthy enough for him to participate in Instructional League in September.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-3 and 195 lbs., Rutherford is well built with all sorts of physical projection. He’s a left-handed hitter with good bat speed and a level swing that allows him to cover the entire plate. Rutherford’s hit tool is highly regarded and he has a plan at the plate, plus he’s already shown power in games. He projects as a classic No. 3 hitter. A guy who can hit for both average and power down the road. Here’s some video:

There are two knocks on Rutherford’s offensive game. One, he can sometimes get into a little mechanical funk at the plate and start stepping in the bucket. And two, his swing right now produces line drives more than anything, and there’s some thought he won’t reach his full power potential unless he learns how to get the ball in the air more often. It could be worse.

The offensive potential is what got Rutherford drafted in the first round, but he’s not a bat-only prospect. He runs well and has good outfield instincts, which allow him to play center field. There are mixed reports on his arm; some say it’s strong while others indicated it’s below-average. They all agree it’s not a top tier arm, so should Rutherford move out of center at some point, left field is the more likely destination than right.

Beyond the athletic ability, Rutherford draws rave reviews for his makeup — he helped out at a baseball league for kids with disabilities throughout high school, as Mike Persinger writes — and work ethic. A player who projects to hit for average and power, provide value on the bases and in the field, play with energy, and be a genuinely good dude off the field is a potential franchise cornerstone.

2017 Outlook
The Yankees have not been shy about sending prep draftees to full season ball the year after the draft and Rutherford figures to follow that path. Unlike, say, Gosuke Katoh and Dante Bichette Jr., Rutherford is more than ready for the assignment because he’s a polished hitter, not just a guy with big rookie ball stats. He turns 20 in March and will be one of the youngest players in the Low-A South Atlantic League to open the 2017 season, assuming that’s where the Yankees send him.

My Take
How could you not love Rutherford? There’s very little not to like about him. He’s a true four-tool player — his arm is the only thing that’s lacking — and a good athlete with baseball smarts. His upside is significant and he could be a rare quick moving high school bat. Splitting next season between Low-A and High-A wouldn’t completely shock me. Rutherford has that kind of ability.

The Yankees have a loaded farm system right now. They have several high-end prospects and a ton of depth, and Rutherford has as much long-term ceiling as anyone in the system. There’s a good chance, maybe even a great chance, that at this time next year Rutherford will be the top prospect in the organization, even ahead of the totally awesome Gleyber Torres. It’s been a long time since the Yankees landed a talent like Rutherford in the draft.

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.

The Top Heavy 2016 Draft Haul [2016 Season Review]

Rutherford. (@MiLB)
Rutherford. (@MiLB)

Thanks largely to the trade deadline, the Yankees improved the depth and quality of their farm system substantially over the last six months or so. They added a dozen prospects at the deadline and two more in the recent Brian McCann deal. It sure feels like another trade is inevitable (Brett Gardner?), so chances are more prospects are on the way.

The Yankees also added to their farm system this summer with the annual amateur draft. This year they held a top 20 pick for the second straight year after having only two top 20 picks total from 1994-2014. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement severely limits draft spending, and while it wouldn’t be fair to say the Yankees put all their eggs in one basket, their 2016 draft haul has a clear centerpiece who will essentially make or break this draft class.

The Top Pick

Following the end of the 2015 season, the Yankees held the 22nd overall pick in the 2016 draft. They moved up to 18th when the Diamondbacks (Zack Greinke), Orioles (Yovani Gallardo), Nationals (Daniel Murphy), and Giants (Jeff Samardzija) forfeited their first round picks to sign qualified free agents. That was pretty awesome. Moving up one or two spots happens each year. But four? That rarely happens.

Prior to the draft the Yankees were connected to high school pitchers and college bats, so, naturally, they used that 18th overall selection to take a high school position player. Go figure. That player: outfielder Blake Rutherford from Chaminade College Preparatory School in the Los Angeles suburbs. Rutherford was a consensus top ten draft pick who slipped to the Yankees for reasons we’ll get to in a minute. Here’s a sampling of his pre-draft rankings and write-ups:

  • Baseball Prospectus (4th best draft prospect): “Every tool but the arm is above-average.”
  • Keith Law (6th): “Rutherford has a unique combination of hit and power and has shown an ability to spray well-hit balls to all fields … he projects to be an average or above everyday player in a corner outfield who hits near the middle of a big league lineup.”
  • MLB.com (8th): “Rutherford has the chance to be an above-average hitter with above-average raw power … Some evaluators wish they had seen more from him (before the draft).”
  • Baseball America (9th): “Rutherford has size, strength, athleticism and power potential for scouts to dream on … Some scouts see him as a potential power-hitting center fielder in the Jim Edmonds mold.”

By all accounts, Rutherford was one of the ten best players available in the 2016 draft. The Yankees were able to get him with the 18th pick for two reasons:

1. He was already 19. Rutherford was old for a high school prospect. He turned 19 on May 2nd, a month before the draft, whereas most prep prospects are drafted at 18 or even 17 with their 18th birthday coming in the summer. Rutherford has always been slightly older than his competition, both in high school and in showcase events, which made it difficult to evaluate him. Was it really an above-average hit tool, or just an older kid beating up on younger competition? Based on the draft rankings above, everyone seems to believe it’s the former.

2. He wanted a lot of money. Aside from injury, nothing causes a draft pick to slip more than bonus demands. Rutherford was strongly committed to UCLA and he was expecting top ten money because, well, he was a top ten talent. The Yankees had a $5,831,200 bonus pool this year, so if they were going to pay Rutherford top ten money, they’d have to skim elsewhere. That’s exactly what they did. The Yankees signed Rutherford to a $3,282,000 bonus on June 29th, well above his $2,441,600 slot value. They essentially gave him 11th overall pick money ($3,286,700). When it was all said and done, New York was left with $177 in draft pool space. Not $177,000. $177. The Yankees were like two Xbox games away from forfeiting their 2017 first round pick. They maxed out their spending limit to sign Rutherford.

The Yankees rarely have access to top of the draft caliber talent and they were able to acquire three such players this year by selecting Rutherford and trading for Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier. Acquiring Torres and Frazier took some hard work. There was a lot of luck involved in getting Rutherford. The Yankees had zero control over the 17 selections made before their first round pick. It just so happened those 17 teams passed on Rutherford, giving the Yankees a premium draft talent at a non-premium pick.

Rutherford’s pro debut did nothing to dispel the notion he was a top ten draft talent. The kid hit .351/.415/.570 (171 wRC+) with eight doubles, four triples, and three home runs in 33 rookie ball games before a minor hamstring injury sidelined him for the final week of the regular season. He was healthy enough to participate in Instructional League a few weeks later. Here, via MLB Farm, is Rutherford’s spray chart:

blake-rutherford-spray-chart

Base hits to all fields and over-the-fence power to the pull side as a left-handed hitter. It’s a beautiful thing for a 19-year-old kid in his first few weeks in pro ball. Baseball America recently ranked Rutherford as third best prospect in the farm system behind Torres and Frazier, so all aboard the hype train.

When we look back at the 2016 season in a few years, it’ll be remembered as the year the Yankees traded veterans for prospects at the deadline and rightfully so. They’ve built up one heck of a farm system through those trades. The opportunity (and willingness) to draft Rutherford shouldn’t be overlooked though. The Yankees haven’t selected a draft talent this highly regarded since Gerrit Cole in 2008.

The Other Over-Slot Signee

Because the Yankees needed to rob Peter (other draftees) to pay Paul (Rutherford), they didn’t have much extra draft pool money to throw around. Their only other 2016 draftee to receive an over-slot bonus was third rounder Nolan Martinez, a right-hander from a Southern California high school. Martinez received a $1,150,000 bonus, nearly double his $608,200 slot value.

The Yankees selected Martinez with the 98th pick in the draft, which is essentially where the various scouting publications had him ranked. Baseball America was high on him (67th) while Keith Law (94th), MLB.com (99th), and Baseball America (108th) had Martinez right where New York selected him. He’s the second best prospect the Yankees drafted this year (in my opinion) as a three-pitch righty with some semblance of command. Underwhelmed? Well, that’s the system. The Yankees went with players they knew they could afford after rolling the dice with Rutherford.

The Numbers Prospect

Solak. (Robert M. Pimpsner/RMP Sports Media, Inc.)
Solak. (Robert M. Pimpsner/RMP Sports Media, Inc.)

There is more stat line scouting these days than I can ever remember. That isn’t to say stats aren’t important, because they are, but they only tell you so much of the story. And the further away from MLB you get, the less the stats mean. Nick Solak, a second baseman out of Louisville, figures to be one of those prospects who gets an inordinate amount of attention due to his stats, a la Rob Refsnyder.

Solak, who was selected in the second round by the Yankees, hit .321/.412/.421 (155 wRC+) with three homers, eight steals, and nearly as many walks (10.8%) as strikeouts (14.0%) in his 64-game pro debut with short season Staten Island after signing for a below-slow $950,000 bonus. Solak has contact skills and knows the strike zone, but he doesn’t have much power and his ability to stay at second is questionable at best.

After three excellent years at a major college program, we’re not going to be able to glean much from Solak’s performance until he gets to Double-A, and it’s entirely possible that will happen at some point in 2016. A guy like him should have no trouble with Single-A pitchers. Solak is a good prospect whose long-term outlook will improve drastically if he shows he can handle second full-time. His stats may cause him to get overrated though.

The Best of the Rest

Outside of the top three picks, the two best prospects the Yankees drafted this summer were fourth rounder (duh) Nick Nelson, a JuCo righty from Florida, and 12th rounder Taylor Widener, a righty out of Alabama. Keith Law‘s (subs. req’d) scouting report on Nelson sounds too good to be true — “(Nelson) works with a plus fastball up to 95 and a plus curveball, with good command for his age, and his arm action and delivery point to future plus command as well,” wrote Law — and while I’m not quite that optimistic, he has good velocity and can spin a breaking ball. That works for me.

Widener had an insane pro debut, pitching to a 0.42 ERA (1.41 FIP) with 65 strikeouts and seven walks in 42.2 innings. That’s a 43.9% strikeout rate and a 4.7% walk rate. Widener does it with a low-90s fastball and a wipeout slider out of the bullpen, and while the Yankees could be tempted to move him quickly as a bullpen arm, his changeup and control are good enough that giving him a try in the rotation might be worthwhile. The Yankees have a history of trying college relievers as starters in pro ball, most notably Chance Adams and Jonathan Holder, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Widener is next in line in 2017.

Other notables include 11th rounder Connor Jones, 17th rounder Mandy Alvarez, and 21st rounder Timmy Robinson. Jones is a hard-throwing southpaw likely destined for relief long-term because he lacks quality secondary pitches and command. Alvarez had a solid pro debut and can get the bat on the ball, but he’s short on power and might not remain at third base long-term. Robinson is a tool shed; the former USC standout has legitimate power and good athleticism, which serves him well in the outfield. The holes in his swing will likely limit him to reserve outfielder status.

* * *

Needless to say, Rutherford is the centerpiece of the Yankees’ draft haul this summer. Solak and Martinez can do some things, and I’m interested to see what happens with Nelson and especially Widener from here on out, but Rutherford is the guy. He was a top draft prospect who fell into the team’s lap and prompted them to max out their bonus pool. The Yankees tend to do well in the late rounds of the draft, unearthing players who are used in trades or get a cup of coffee in the show, and hopefully that will happen again this year. Right now, this draft class is all Rutherford. He deserves all the attention.

Thoughts on Baseball America’s top 10 Yankees prospects

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frazier. (Presswire)
Frazier. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

Saturday Links: A-Rod, Kaprielian, Mateo, Adams, Torres

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Assuming the weather cooperates, the Yankees and Orioles will continue their three-game series with the middle game this afternoon. Here are a few links — with a heavy dose of minor league stuff — to help you pass the time before the penultimate game of the 2016 season.

A-Rod arrives at Instructs

Alex Rodriguez‘s post-playing career is officially underway. A-Rod made his debut as a guest instructor in Instructional League yesterday and will be there today as well, report Kevin Kernan and Mark Didtler. A-Rod worked specifically with Clint Frazier, Blake Rutherford, and Jorge Mateo, three of the Yankees’ very best prospects.

“It feels great to be back in pinstripes, to be with the young players. It’s our debt. We owe the game. In many ways it’s our responsibility to pay it forward,” said Alex. “There is as much good young talent that I’ve seen here in all my years with the Yankees … The talent jumps off the page. Right now I’m just collecting a lot of information, trying to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and try to understand their personalities.”

A-Rod, who will again be part of FOX’s postseason coverage, is expected to address the 55 players at Instructs today. It sounds as though he spent most of his time yesterday working with players in the batting cage, not out on the field defensively. I’ve seen rumors that A-Rod is going to stop by the Arizona Fall League at some point, though that’s unconfirmed. Either way, he’s at Instructs now. (Brendan Kuty has some photos of the minor league complex, if you’re interested.)

Kaprielian pitches, Mateo tries the outfield

Two other notes from Instructs: James Kaprielian, who missed most of the season with an elbow injury, threw two innings in an Instructional League game yesterday, Joe Girardi confirmed. The Yankees hope he’ll complete his rehab in Instructs and then pitch in the AzFL. Weirdly enough, he was re-added to the Scottsdale roster soon after being removed earlier this week. Point is, Kaprielian is on the mend and pitching. That’s good.

Also, the Yankees have had Mateo working out in center field in Instructional League, according to Kernan. That’s pretty interesting. It’s not necessarily a permanent move — it’s not uncommon for players to try new positions in Instructs (someone sent me a photo of Gary Sanchez playing third base once) — but it makes sense to try it out. With so many shortstops in the system, center field would make better use of Mateo’s speed and athleticism than second base.

Kaprielian among best unqualified prospects

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Baseball America is currently rolling out their top 20 prospects lists for each minor league, and in a companion piece (no subs. req’d), Kaprielian was listed as one of the best prospects who did not qualify for a top 20 list. He simply didn’t throw enough innings. Here’s a snippet of the write-up:

His fastball velocity, erratic in his junior college season and generally in the 89-92 mph range as an amateur, sat 92-96 mph and reached 97. His feel for his breaking balls was a key asset in his amateur days, and he was up to 87-89 mph with his slider on Opening Day, with a true power curve in the low 80s. All three pitches earned plus grades … Kaprielian has the highest ceiling of any Yankees pitcher and was the best pitcher in the Florida State League this season but essentially lost a year of development.

The lost season really stinks because it’s not out of the question that a healthy Kaprielian could have made his MLB debut in September. If nothing else, there was a good chance he could have finished the season in Triple-A and been a big league option early next year. The good news is he’s healthy now and pitching in Instructs. Hopefully Kaprielian gets some innings in the AzFL.

Adams among prospects to make most progress

With the minor league season now over, the folks at Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) broke down the prospects who made the most progress this season. The guys who developed best over the summer and finished the season as much better players than they started, basically. Chance Adams was included. Here’s a piece of his write-up:

While starting, he still showed off the two plus pitches that got him drafted, but showed more feel for his changeup and curveball as the season progressed. His command also improved as the season progressed, having a better idea of where to locate and execute his pitches in specific counts … While I don’t think durability will be an overall issue for him, it is just something to keep notice of for the following year.

I’ve yet to see a remotely negative scouting report about Adams this year. Usually you’ll come across one or two throughout the season, especially with pitchers who might wind up in the bullpen, but there’s nothing like that with Adams yet. He figures to start next season in Triple-A, which makes him a potential big league option. I’m looking forward to seeing how Adams’ second season as a starter goes.

Torres among potential top ten prospects for 2017

Soon after the end of the minor league season, Jim Callis looked at players who could emerge as one of the top ten prospects in baseball next season. Nationals outfielder Victor Robles sat in the top spot. Gleyber Torres, who came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade, was fifth. “Torres is a very advanced hitter and his defense keeps improving,” said the write-up.

On Twitter, Callis said he prefers Torres to Frazier because he believes in his bat more, plus he plays a more valuable position. I don’t necessarily agree, but preferring Torres to Frazier is not in any way unreasonable. Either way, the Yankees have both these guys. It’s not one or the other. They’re both in the organization. The fact both are among the best prospects in baseball is pretty awesome. The Yankees built quite the prospect base these last few months.