Saturday Links: Top 50 Prospects, Cabrera, Forbes, Uniforms

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Pirates will resume their three-game series with the middle game later this afternoon. Until then, here are a few bits of news and notes to check out.

Three Yankees on Law’s updated top 50 prospects list

I missed this last week, but Keith Law (subs. req’d) posted an updated list of the top 50 prospects in baseball. This isn’t a re-ranking. It’s more of an update to Law’s preseason top 100 to reflect prospects who have either graduated to MLB or will soon. Here are the Yankees in the updated top 50 list:

2. SS Gleyber Torres (No. 4 preseason)
16. OF Blake Rutherford (No. 22 preseason)
20. OF Clint Frazier (No. 27 preseason)

Torres is behind only Mets SS Amed Rosario. He was also behind Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi and Braves SS Dansby Swanson on the preseason list, but those two have since graduated to the big leagues, which is why Gleyber has moved up two spots.

OF Aaron Judge ranked 44th preseason but recently graduated to MLB, so he’s no longer a prospect. RHP James Kaprielian went from 28th before the season to out of the top 50 in the update, presumably due to his continued elbow problems. LHP Justus Sheffield was 88th preseason and did not jump into the top 50. So, in the eyes of at least one prospect ranker, the Yankees currently have three of baseball’s 20 best prospects in their farm system. And Judge and Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird and Luis Severino at the MLB level. Hooray.

Cabrera among top DSL prospects

Ben Badler (subs. req’d) recently put together a list of the top 20 prospects who spent time in the Dominican Summer League last year. The players are listed alphabetically. Not ranked. The Yankees had one player in the top 20: SS Oswaldo Cabrera. He tore up the DSL in 26 games last year before the Yankees brought him stateside. Here’s a piece of Badler’s scouting report:

He’s a true all-fields hitter with a sound swing and natural hitter’s actions in the box. When he swings, he doesn’t miss much, with innate feel for the barrel and good plate coverage with a chance to develop into a plus hitter. Cabrera isn’t that big and will probably always have a hit-over-power profile … He should be able to stick at shortstop.

Badler also notes Cabrera, who signed for $100,000 in 2015, made a slight adjustment after signing that has paid big dividends. He backed up a bit in the batter’s box, giving him more time to react and allowing him to use his hands more efficiently. The just turned 18-year-old Cabrera is off a slow start with Low-A Charleston — he’s the youngest player in the South Atlantic League by several months — but he hit .345/.396/.523 (193 wRC+) in 52 rookie balls games last year. A spot in the organizational top 30 prospects list awaits.

MLB unveils 2017 special event uniforms

Earlier this month MLB unveiled their special event uniforms for the 2017 season. These cover Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and the All-Star Game. Rather than wear the special uniforms only on the day of the event, this year players will wear them the entire holiday weekend. Everything will then be auctioned off for charity. Here are the Yankees special event hats and jerseys, via Chris Creamer:

2017-special-event-uniforms

That stars and stripes hat for the Fourth of July is pretty awesome. These special event caps usually don’t do anything for me, but I dig that one. Also, during the All-Star Game this year, each player will wear a patch on their sleeve that includes the number of All-Star Games they’ve been selected to in their careers. That’s pretty cool.

Yankees are still the most valuable franchise in MLB

Surprise surprise, the Yankees remain the most valuable franchise in baseball, according to Forbes. By a lot, too. The Yankees are worth an estimated $3.7 billion. The Dodgers are a distant second at $2.75 billion. Yeah. This is the 20th consecutive year the Yankees have ranked as baseball’s most valuable franchise. They generated an MLB best $526M in revenue in 2016 despite a 10% drop in attendance the last few years.

Amazingly, the average MLB franchise is now worth $1.54 billion, up a whopping 19% from last year. Incredible. The league can thank new television contracts and the rapid growth of the MLB Advanced Media juggernaut for that. The Yankees were worth an estimated $3.4 billion last year. Back in 2010 they were worth a comparatively tiny $1.6 billion. The franchise could very well triple in value before the decade is over. Owning an MLB team is good work if you can get it.

Poll: The 2017 RAB Prospect Watch

From left to right: Jorge Mateo, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar. (Presswire)
From left to right: Mateo, Torres, Andujar. (Presswire)

One of our longest running features — I hesitate to call it a feature, but whatever — here at RAB is our annual Prospect Watch. We pick a prospect and track his progress throughout the season in the sidebar. Simple, right? Also kinda silly, but hey, people seem to like it, so it continues. Think of it as the player’s FanGraphs page in the sidebar.

Once upon a time I would make an executive decision and pick the Prospect Watch player myself, then a few years ago I decided to open it up to you folks, the readers, and that works well. This is a good year for a poll too. The Yankees are loaded with prospects. I had a hard time limiting myself to only eight Prospect Watch candidates for this year’s poll. I could have easily listed several more.

I don’t believe the Prospect Watch Curse is a thing so, once again, this year’s poll features top prospects. Shall we get to the candidates? We shall. They’re listed alphabetically and the number next to their name is where they ranked in my top 30 prospects list.

RHP Chance Adams (No. 11)

The Case For Adams: Few pitchers in all of minor league baseball had a better statistical season in 2016 than the 22-year-old Adams, who threw 127.1 innings with a 2.33 ERA (2.96 FIP) and 29.1% strikeouts between Double-A and Triple-A. He showed he can handle the rigors of starting after being drafted as a reliever in 2015, most notably holding his mid-90s velocity deep into starts. Adams also improved his curveball and changeup. He’ll begin 2017 in Triple-A, which means he’s knocking on the door of the big leagues.

The Case Against Adams: As we learned last year, pitchers have a tendency to get hurt, which means the Prospect Watch could potentially go dormant for weeks at a time. Also, Adams has spent only one year as a starter, and it’s possible his body won’t be too happy about going through a big workload for the second straight season. He also isn’t shy about walking hitters (7.9% in 2016) and that has a tendency to ugly up stat lines. And there’s the possibility the Yankees will call Adams up to work in relief at some point, and given Joe Girardi‘s tendency to ease young relievers into things, the Prospect Watch could morph into a Mop Up Reliever Watch.

3B Miguel Andujar (No. 8)

The Case For Andujar: Very quietly, the just turned 22-year-old Andujar broke out with a career year in 2016, setting a new career high with 12 home runs. He also struck out only 12.9% of the time against the best pitching he’s ever faced. Andujar has made some nice progress with his pitch recognition, so he’s doing a better job attacking hittable pitches and letting the less hittable ones go by. Making easy contact can be a curse. Last year felt like the start of something big for Andujar.

The Case Against Andujar: Andujar’s career season last year featured only a .271/.331/.403 (108 wRC+) batting line in nearly 700 total plate appearances between High-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton, and the Arizona Fall League. That’s good, but it’s not “hey let’s get this guy in the sidebar so I can see his stats everyday” good. Keep in mind a big chunk of Andujar’s prospect stock is tied up in his defense as well, specifically his cannon arm at third. That won’t show up in the Prospect Watch.

OF Clint Frazier (No. 2)

The Case For Frazier: Frazier, 22, ranked no lower than 39th on the four major top 100 prospect lists released this spring (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, MLB.com), so he has considerable upside. Even last season, before he hit some bumps in the road in Triple-A, he hit .276/.356/.469 (129 wRC+) with 13 home runs in 89 Double-A games despite being more than three years younger than the average Eastern League player. Frazier has the tools to hit for both average and power, and he’ll steal a few bases too.

The Case Against Frazier: Unfortunately, those Triple-A struggles did happen, and we can’t ignore them. He hit .229/.285/.359 (83 wRC+) with a 27.9% strikeout rate in 38 Triple-A games with the Indians and Yankees, and Frazier is going to return to that level to start the season. That doesn’t mean he’ll definitely struggle again. Frazier wasn’t the first player to have a hard time in his first trip through Triple-A and he won’t be the last. It’s just something we have to be aware of. Frazier struggled really for the first time in his life late last season.

RHP James Kaprielian (No. 5)

The Case For Kaprielian: With a healthy elbow, the just turned 23-year-old Kaprielian is poised to carve up hitters in the low minors this season. PitchFX data from the Arizona Fall League last year had his fastball averaging 95.7 mph and topping out at 99.1 mph. Add in three quality secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) and good enough command, plus a ton of competitiveness, and you’ve got a recipe for a top pitching prospect. The four scouting publications ranked Kaprielian as the 58th best prospect in baseball, on average.

The Case Against Kaprielian: As you know, Kaprielian was our Prospect Watch player last season, and he hurt his elbow and missed most of the regular season. Three starts with High-A Tampa and that was it. The Prospect Watch went unused from late April through the start of the AzFL season in October. That was so incredibly lame. Kaprielian is said to be healthy right now, but the best predictor of future injury is still past injury, and Grandmaster Kap is coming back from a fairly significant arm issue.

Kaprielian. (Presswire)
Kaprielian. (Presswire)

SS/CF Jorge Mateo (No. 7)

The Case For Mateo: I’m not sure any prospect in the farm system is better at filling up every column in the box score than Mateo. Doubles, triples, homers, steals, the whole nine. Mateo, 21, remains an excellent athlete with a true 80 tool (speed) and developing power — he set a career high with eight home runs last season after hitting one outside-the-park homer in 2015. The ongoing transition to center field means nothing for Prospect Watch purposes, though there is reason to believe Mateo will be playing with a big chip on his shoulder.

The Cast Against Mateo: There’s really no way to sugarcoat it: Mateo had a very disappointing 2016 season. He hit .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) with 36 steals in 51 attempts (71% success rate) in 507 plate appearances at High-A Tampa, and he was suspended two weeks for an undisclosed violation of team rules in July. Not great! The last thing we all want, aside from an injury, is to vote a prospect into the Prospect Watch and see him have a year like Mateo did in 2016.

OF Blake Rutherford (No. 4)

The Case For Rutherford: Rutherford, 19, was the Yankees’ first round pick last season, and he authored a .351/.415/.570 (171 wRC+) batting line with three homers and a 10.0% walk rate in 130 rookie ball plate appearances in his pro debut last year. He was a consensus top ten draft talent who slipped to the Yankees mostly for bonus reasons, and this spring the various scouting publications have ranked him as 38th best prospect in baseball, on average. Meet the Next Big Thing.

The Case Against Rutherford: I don’t think this will happen, but it is entirely possible the Yankees will hold Rutherford back in Extended Spring Training to start the season, which would mean the Prospect Watch sits unused for a few weeks, possibly until the short season leagues open in late-June. Again, I don’t think that will happen, but it is a possibility. Also, even if the Yankees do send Rutherford to Low-A Charleston, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the 19-year-old has some ups and down during his first full pro season.

LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 6)

The Case For Sheffield: Sheffield is the team’s best pitching prospect with no sort of injury history. The 20-year-old reached Double-A last season and he threw 134 total innings with a 3.36 ERA (3.61 FIP) in 2016. He also struck out 24.2% of the batters he faced, which is pretty darn good for a kid this age. Sheffield has good velocity despite being on the short side, plus both his slider and changeup are put-away pitches on their best days. It can be easy to forget how good Sheffield is given the depth of this farm system.

The Case Against Sheffield: Again, there’s the whole “pitchers break” thing that has to be considered. Sheffield hasn’t had any injury problems in his career thus far, but then again neither did Kaprielian until last year. Such is life. It’s also worth noting Sheffield walked 10.4% of the batters he faced last season, which is pretty high. The weird thing is he’s a great athlete who repeats his delivery well, so it’s hard to explain why he’s had problems throwing strikes.

SS Gleyber Torres (No. 1)

The Case For Torres: Torres, 20, is the best prospect in the farm system and one of the very best in baseball. Baseball Prospectus was the low site on him, ranking him 15th in their top 101 list, while the other three scouting publications (Baseball America, Keith Law, MLB.com) all had Torres among the top five prospects in the game. Gleyber hit .283/.368/.438 (128 wRC+) with 14 homers and 25 stolen bases last season, plus his walk (11.1%) and strikeout (19.3%) rates were strong for a teenager who spent the entire season in High-A. Torres has star caliber tools and his placement in the various top 100 lists tells you everyone expects big things.

The Case Against Torres: I’m having a tough time coming up with one, to be honest. There’s the obvious “being a 20-year-old in Double-A is hard” caveat, and I suppose we should keep in mind the Yankees figure to move Torres around the infield a bit, and all the position changing could drag down his offense. Hopefully not, but it is possible. Every prospect carries some level of risk. That’s the way it is. Gleyber is so insanely talented that he carries less risk than most.

* * *

I ranked Aaron Judge as the third best prospect in the farm system, but I’m leaving him out of the Prospect Watch poll because he’s expected to spend most of the season in the big leagues. We’re going to see him nearly every day. I originally started the Prospect Watch as a way to keep tabs on the guys in the minors, who we don’t get to see play.

Anyway, with all due respect to guys like Albert Abreu and Dustin Fowler and Dillon Tate, those are the eight players eligible for this year’s Prospect Watch. The poll is open right now and will remain open until 12pm ET this Friday, so you’ve got a little less than 48 hours to vote. I’ll reveal the winner Friday afternoon. Now … go vote!

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Ten bold predictions for the 2017 Yankees season

lol (Presswire)
lol (Presswire)

This coming Sunday the Yankees will open the 2017 regular season with the first of three games against the Rays in Tampa. I can’t wait. They’re going to play literally the first game of the entire season, you know. The season opener is a 1:10pm ET start on Sunday. There are two other games later that day before the traditional Opening Day around the league Monday.

So, with Spring Training nearing an end and the regular season only four days away, I figured I’d come up with some bold and completely unnecessary predictions for the 2017 season, because why not? I came up with ten because ten is a nice round number, and if three are correct, I’ll be pretty pleased. Four would be cool. Anyway, here are my ten stupidly bold predictions for the 2017 season, in no particular order.

1. Pitchers not currently on the 40-man roster combine for 30+ starts.

Some of these predictions are more bold than others, and this one is lacking in the boldness, I’d say. Even if the Yankees don’t carry Jordan Montgomery on the Opening Day roster, he’s put himself in position for an early call-up. It’s not at all difficult to imagine him making, say, 20 starts for the Yankees this season. Chance Adams and the lesser hyped Daniel Camarena will be looming in Triple-A Scranton too, and I get the feeling the Yankees will wind up bringing in a little outside help at some point as well.

2. Judge finishes in the top three of the Rookie of the Year voting.

Many folks have jumped off the bandwagon, scared away by those 42 strikeouts in 95 plate appearances last season. Me? I am still very much on board because Aaron Judge is a better pure hitter than he gets credit for, because he’s shown the willingness and ability to make adjustments throughout his career, and because few make as much loud contact. My prediction is the very idea Judge had to compete with Aaron Hicks for the right field job this spring is going to look silly in a few weeks, and big power numbers will have Judge firmly in the Rookie of the Year conversation come September.

3. A pitcher other than Tanaka, Betances, and Chapman makes the All-Star Team.

Along with Gary Sanchez, the pitching trio of Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman are the super early candidates to represent the Yankees at the All-Star Game. I think they’ll send a pitcher other than those three to the Midsummer Classic as well. Who? Well that’s the mystery. My guess right now would be Michael Pineda. He certainly has the stuff and swing-and-miss ability. It’s just a matter of better location and perhaps a little more luck on balls in play. Pineda was an All-Star with the Mariners back in 2011, remember. I think this guy was lost forever following the shoulder surgery:

(Fun Fact: Betances is one of only five pitchers to go to the All-Star Game in each of the last three seasons along with Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Madison Bumgarner. The four best starters and the best reliever on the planet, basically.)

4. Green emerges as the next great Yankees reliever.

I like Chad Green. The Yankees did a nice job identifying an unheralded pitching prospect in another organization who had room for growth, and they helped him take that next step last season. Green improved the quality of his slider in Spring Training thanks to pitching coach Larry Rothschild, then, while in Triple-A, he learned a cutter as well. His MLB debut last season wasn’t great (4.73 ERA and 5.34 FIP in 45.2 innings) though he has some tools on the mound.

One of those tools is not a changeup. Green has been working to add either a changeup or splitter to his arsenal over the years and it just isn’t working. At some point this year he will inevitably find himself working out of the bullpen, and I think once that happens, Green will be so dominant the Yankees will just leave him there. His fastball averaged 95.4 mph as a starter last season with a 26.3% strikeout rate. Let him air it out as a fastball/slider pitcher for one inning at a time in relief, and Green will join Betances and Chapman to form a three-headed bullpen monster.

5. Neither Sanchez nor Bird will lead the Yankees in home runs.

These two are the obvious candidates to lead the Yankees in home runs this season, right? Sanchez socked 20 homers in 53 games last year, and while I don’t think anyone expects him to repeat that pace, Sanchez clearly has a ton of power and knows how to hit. Greg Bird has a tremendous approach and the kind of left-handed pop that plays very well in Yankee Stadium. Those two should sock a lot of dingers this summer. Can’t wait.

That said, I’m boldly predicting Sanchez and Bird will finish second and third on the Yankees in home runs, in either order. Judge could sock 25+ dingers, which would probably be enough to lead all rookies, though I don’t think he’ll lead the Yankees either. Not Matt Holliday or Chris Carter either. My pick? Starlin Castro. Boom. Castro turned 27 last week and is at the age where maximum power output could be reasonably expected. He set a career high with 21 dingers last year, and now that he’s entering his second year with the Yankees and is presumably more comfortable with things, I’m saying he’ll get to 30 this year.

6. The Yankees do more buying than selling at the trade deadline.

The Yankees sold at the trade deadline last season and I’m glad they did. It was time. The trades netted them an incredible farm system and have set the team up for success in the coming years. It’s exciting. I don’t expect that to happen again though, and for a few reasons.

  1. Hal Steinbrenner doesn’t want to sell. Remember, Brian Cashman spent weeks trying to convince Hal to sell before he agreed to it last year. The only reason Chapman was traded was because he rejected a contract extension first. I don’t think Steinbrenner wants to go down that road again.
  2. I think the Yankees will be in the race. They’re not front-runners or a no-doubt postseason team by any means, but I think they’ll get much more out of the young players this year than the veterans last year, putting them in the thick of the race come late-July. If they’re in the race, they won’t sell.
  3. The stars won’t line up again. The Chapman and Andrew Miller trades were a perfect storm last year. Everything came together at the right time for the Yankees. They do have some quality trade chips to peddle at the deadline (Tanaka and Betances, most notably), but I don’t think anyone will blow them away with an offer.

Rather than sell, I expect the Yankees to buy. Not necessarily in a huge way though. I don’t think they’re going to make a deal for Jose Quintana, for example. I do think they’re going to end up acquiring a starting pitcher though — keep in mind I said the same thing at the outset of the offseason and was dead wrong — and also package some prospects together for other pieces, similar to last year’s Tyler Clippard trade. The 40-man roster and upcoming Rule 5 Draft situation tell us something is very likely to happen here.

7. Ellsbury, not Gardner, is the outfielder traded away.

I am going to predict one big trade and it will be Jacoby Ellsbury who gets dealt away, not Brett Gardner. Ellsbury’s contract is a sunk cost. The Yankees owe him that money no matter what. With outfield prospects like Clint Frazier and Dustin Fowler knocking on the door, I think Cashman will be able to convince Steinbrenner salary dumping Ellsbury and saving, say, $7M a year over the four years left on his contract to open a spot for a prospect is the better big picture move than keeping Ellsbury at full price and trading the $25M owed to Gardner the next two years. Now, will Cashman be able to convince Ellsbury to waive his no-trade clause? I think so. I just don’t expect them to get much in return.

8. Rutherford will take over as the No. 1 prospect in the organization.

Rutherford. (@MLBPipeline)
Rutherford. (@MLBPipeline)

I love Gleyber Torres. He’s awesome. He hits, he defends, he runs the bases well, and he manages to play the game with both a lot of energy and a quiet confidence. You couldn’t create a better shortstop prospect in a video game. I also love Blake Rutherford. He doesn’t have Gleyber’s defensive chops at a premium position, but he’s an excellent offensive prospect thanks to his potential to hit for average and power, as well as his ability to draw walks, and I think that’ll vault him over Torres in the prospect rankings this summer. I’m not saying Torres will be bad! I expect them to both be top 15-ish prospects come the midseason rankings, with Rutherford a few spots higher than Gleyber.

9. The Yankees will have the most productive DH spot in baseball.

Alex Rodriguez was so bad last season it might come as a surprise Yankees’ designated hitters hit .261/.312/.450 with 28 home runs last year. You can thank Carlos Beltran for that. He spent a lot of time at DH. Of course, that slash line works out to a 96 OPS+, which ranked ninth among the 15 AL teams. Not good. The Yankees didn’t get enough offense from a position that exists solely to provide offense.

This year I expect the Yankees will not only get more production from the DH spot, I think it’ll be the most productive DH position in baseball. David Ortiz is retired and Edwin Encarnacion is moving into a less hitter friendly ballpark in a division without nearly as many hitter’s parks as the AL East. Nelson Cruz will give Holliday a run for his money, but don’t forget, it won’t just be Holliday at DH. Sanchez will surely get a few at-bats there, as will Carter, who led the NL in homers a year ago. Holliday will get most DH at-bats and he’ll pepper the short porch with opposite field homers. The other guys will chip in some as well.

10. The Yankees will spend more days in first place than last year.

Okay, I’m cheating, because the Yankees didn’t spend any time in first place last season. Literally zero days. That’s what happens when you lose Opening Day, drop six of your first ten games, and don’t get over .500 for good until August. In all seriousness though, I think the 2017 Yankees will spend more days in first place than the 2013 Yankees (17 days) and possibly the 2014 Yankees (24 days), though I don’t think they’ll win the AL East. Even with the questions at the back of the rotation, I believe this team is better than last year, and it’ll show when they get off to a better start in April. They’ve had some trouble keeping their head above water early on the last few seasons.

The Year Ahead in the Farm System [2017 Season Preview]

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

This is still a weird and awesome and completely true statement: the Yankees are loaded with exciting up-and-coming young talent. Last year’s trade deadline activity combined with breakouts from incumbent prospects give New York the game’s consensus No. 2 farm system behind the Braves. The 2016 draft helped too. That was cool.

The Yankees are, in their words, a team in transition. They’re trying to get younger while remaining competitive, which is both an excellent goal and difficult to do. Young players tend to come with growing pains. Even the most talented ones. Not everyone hits the ground running like Gary Sanchez. Usually they hit some bumps in the road, like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino.

The “remaining competitive” stuff is a topic for another time. This entry into our season preview series is dedicated to all the ladies out there the great farm system the Yankees have built. Let’s preview the upcoming season in the minors. Here is my top 30 prospects list, if you’ve somehow missed it.

Top Prospects Who Could Help In 2017

Depending on the scouting publication, the Yankees have anywhere between six (Keith Law) and nine (Baseball Prospectus) top 100 caliber prospects in the farm system. One of those players is Judge, who we previewed two weeks ago. As always, top 100 prospects are not all created equal. Some are much closer to the big leagues than others. The Yankees have a little of everything with their top 100 guys.

The best prospect in the farm system and one of the very best in all of baseball is, as you know, SS Gleyber Torres. He came over in last summer’s Aroldis Chapman trade and blew everyone away in Spring Training. Torres hit .448/.469/.931 with six doubles and two homers in 32 Grapefruit League plate appearances, which was enough for folks to want him to replace the injured Didi Gregorius. That won’t happen. The Yankees have already sent Gleyber to minor league camp and he’ll open the season in Double-A.

That said, I definitely believe the 20-year-old Torres has a chance to help the Yankees later this year, likely in the second half. Similar prospects have made their MLB debuts at age 20 after starting the season in Double-A. Some things will have to happen first — Torres has to hit, the Yankees have to need him, etc. — but there’s a chance Gleyber will force the issue at some point and make the team think about calling him up. Special talents have accelerated timetables.

OF Clint Frazier, who would be the No. 1 prospect for many other teams, is the No. 2 prospect in the farm system. He came over in the Andrew Miller trade. Frazier, 22, reached Triple-A last season and will return there to start this season. (He hit .308/.300/.487 in camp. I do love silly AVG > OBP lines.) Given his proximity to MLB, Frazier is much more likely to reach the show this season than Torres. The Yankees will have to make room for him somehow, but they’ll figure it out. Frazier is a potential impact bat and lineup cornerstone, and we’ll see him in the Bronx at some point this summer. I’m sure of it.

Among New York’s other top 100 prospects, the only other one I could see reaching the big leagues this season is RHP James Kaprielian, and that’s a long shot. Kaprielian is healthy after missing nearly the entire 2016 regular season with a flexor strain, though the Yankees are going to take it slow with him early in the season. He threw nothing but simulated games the first few weeks of Spring Training before finally getting into a Grapefruit League two weeks ago. Kaprielian threw two innings and was sent to minor league camp the same day.

What needs to happen for Kaprielian to reach MLB in 2017? He has to stay healthy, for starters. Secondly, he’s going to have to pitch well enough to climb from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A to MLB. Climbing three levels in one year isn’t easy, but it has been done before. Both Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain did it in 2007. And third, the Yankees have to believe Kaprielian is one of their best rotation options. They won’t call him up for the hell of it. There are 40-man and service time considerations in play.

My guess right now is no, Kaprielian will not make his MLB debut this season. Sorry to be a buzzkill. As long as he stays healthy, I expect Kaprielian to pitch very well — he should carve up High-A hitters — and reach Triple-A late in the season. We’ll then complain the Yankees aren’t calling him because he is clearly better than one of the starters the Yankees are running out there every five days, right? That’s usually how it goes.

Top Prospects Who Probably Won’t Help In 2017

Sheffield. (Presswire)
Sheffield. (Presswire)

The Yankees have three consensus top 100 prospects who are unlikely to play in the big leagues this year, at least not in a meaningful way. LHP Justus Sheffield, another part of the Miller trade, is a three-pitch southpaw with good velocity. He is still only 20 and is ticketed for Double-A. I expect him to spend just about the entire season there. He might make a late-season Triple-A cameo, but that’s about it. Besides being so young, Sheffield needs to improve his command before being an MLB option.

SS Jorge Mateo might soon be CF Jorge Mateo. The Yankees have been moving their shortstop prospects around — Torres has played second base and has worked out at third, for example — in an effort to increase their versatility. Mateo is a good defender at short, though center field would better allow him to use his elite speed on the defensive side of the ball. Either way, shortstop or center field, Mateo has to do more with the bat. He didn’t hit much last season and hitting coach Alan Cockrell is working with him to widen his stance this spring.

Now, that all said, I do think Mateo has a chance to make his MLB debut in 2017. He was added to the 40-man roster over the winter to avoid Rule 5 Draft exposure, which means the Yankees could turn to him as their annual September designated pinch-runner. They very much believe in that role — they picked up Eric Young Jr. and Rico Noel at midseason to fill that role the last two years — and Mateo is an 80 runner, so it’s hard to think they’ll drum up a better option at some point.

There are two things to keep in mind though. One, Mateo wasn’t a great basestealer last season — he went 36-for-51 (71%) in steal attempts in 2016 — and the Yankees are said to be working with him to improve his reads and things like that. And two, being in the big leagues is a privilege and something a player has to earn. If Mateo has another disappointing season, the Yankees could very well turn to another pinch-runner option rather than reward Mateo will a month in MLB. I think it’s possible we’ll see him as the September pinch-runner, but it’s far from certain.

The best top 100 caliber prospect in farm system we 100% will not see in the big leagues this coming season is OF Blake Rutherford, last year’s first round pick. Rutherford was a consensus top ten talent in the draft class — Keith Law (6th), MLB.com (8th), and Baseball America (9th) all ranked him highly among draft prospects — who slipped to the Yankees with the 18th pick for kinda dopey reasons. One, he turned 19 in May and was a few months older than most high school draftees. And two, he wanted a large bonus. Those seem like not great reasons to pass on him, but whatever.

Rutherford projects as a classic No. 3 hitter who can hit for average and power, and also draw a healthy amount of walks. His placement in the various top 100 lists tells you how highly he’s regarded. He didn’t just sneak onto the back of those lists. He was in the top half. At the same time, Rutherford will spent most of the season at age 20 and he’s going to start at Low-A. Not a big league option. A very talented prospect? Hell yes. But not a big league option in 2017. Not close.

Two consensus non-top 100 prospects who I consider among New York’s better prospects are RHP Albert Abreu and 3B Miguel Andujar. Abreu came over in the Brian McCann deal and he might have the highest upside of any pitcher in the farm system. He’s got mid-90s gas and both his slider and changeup look like out pitches on their best days. At the same time, Abreu is a 21-year-old with only 11.2 High-A innings under his belt. He’s going to spend the majority of this season at that level. An MLB call-up ain’t happening. Not this year.

Andujar is a personal fave and I feel like he gets lost in the depth of the farm system. His best tools are his raw power and throwing arm, and last year he started to make some real strides with his approach at the plate. Andujar wasn’t a big time hacker or anything, but he makes easy contact and had a tendency to swing at anything in the zone. He did a better job recognizing which pitches he could hammer and which he should let go last year. I’m expecting big things in 2017. A September call-up isn’t out of the question because Andujar is on the 40-man roster, though I would be surprised if helped the Yankees in a more substantial way this summer.

The Secondary Prospects Likely To Help In 2017

Montgomery. (Presswire)
Montgomery. (Presswire)

The depth of the farm system is on display when you look at the second and third tier prospects who figure to help the Yankees in 2017. LHP Jordan Montgomery has already put himself in the mix for an Opening Day roster spot with a strong spring. SS Tyler Wade added the outfield to his skill set in the Arizona Fall League and he’s now being considered as Gregorius’ replacement at short. I’m not sure that’ll happen, but the fact he’s being considered shows the Yankees think he’s at least close to MLB.

OF Dustin Fowler and RHP Chance Adams are both slated to open the season in Triple-A — Wade and Montgomery will be there as well if they don’t make the Opening Day roster — and are coming off very strong 2016 seasons. Breakout seasons, really. (Definitely in Adams’ case.) The odds of the Yankees needing a pitcher are much greater than the odds of them needing an outfielder for obvious reasons — besides, Frazier and OF Mason Williams figure to be ahead of Fowler on the call-up depth chart — but the fact these two are starting in Triple-A makes them big league possibilities. Once you get to that level, everyone is a call-up candidate.

Other prospects we could see in the Bronx this year include Williams, C Kyle Higashioka, RHP Ben Heller, RHP Jonathan Holder, LHP Dietrich Enns, RHP Ronald Herrera, RHP Gio Gallegos, and RHP J.P. Feyereisen. All except Feyereisen are on the 40-man roster. Heller is the best bullpen prospect in the farm system in my opinion, though Holder, Enns, and Gallegos all have great minor league numbers. Those dudes will all be part of the bullpen shuttle this summer. No doubt about it. Higashioka will, at worst, be a September call-up. He’s the third catcher.

Breakout Candidates

Abreu has already been mentioned and he’s the biggest breakout candidate in the farm system, I think, at least among pitchers. He’s already got four pitches — well, the makings of four pitches, I should say — and is in need of more refinement than anything. Better command, get more consistently with the delivery, things like that. Abreu doesn’t have to learn a changeup or anything like that. The pieces are there for him to become no-doubt top 100 prospect next spring.

On the position player side, 3B Dermis Garcia is a dude I’m very excited to follow this summer. He has 80 raw power on the 20-80 scouting scale — 80 raw power and 80 game power are different things! — and is a better pure hitter than his .206/.326/.454 (114 wRC+) batting line and 34.3% strikeout rate with rookie Pulaski last year would lead you believe. Garcia turned only 19 in January and it’s looking like he’ll spend the season at Low-A. Some progress with his approach, meaning not swinging out of his shoes each time he deems a pitch hittable, could turn Dermis into a top 100 guy. That’s a lot to ask, but the talent is there.

Other recent international signees like SS Hoy Jun Park, RHP Domingo Acevedo, SS Wilkerman Garcia, SS Diego Castillo, OF Leonardo Molina, and especially OF Estevan Florial are potential breakout candidates this year. Acevedo needs to continue to improve his breaking ball if he wants to remain in the rotation long-term. Florial has outrageous tools. His power, speed, and throwing arm all rate near the top of he scale. He just needs to tone down his ultra aggressive approach. Florial can swing-and-miss with the best of ’em.

It’s odd to consider a former fourth overall pick a breakout candidate, but RHP Dillon Tate qualifies. He came over from the Rangers in the Carlos Beltran trade after Texas soured on him. Tate, who was drafted in 2015, hurt his hamstring early last season and had difficulty adjusting to some mechanical changes the Rangers asked him to incorporate. The Yankees told him to forget about that and go back to his old mechanics, and by time the AzFL rolled around, his fastball was averaging 98.0 mph and topping out at 99.6 mph, per PitchFX. Yeah.

Of course, that 98.0 mph average heater came in a short burst and no one expects him to sit there as a starter. The Yankees will return Tate to the rotation this year — he worked multi-inning stints out of the bullpen after the trade last year so they could work on his mechanics — though it should be noted that even at his best, there was some thought Tate would wind up in the bullpen long-term because his fastball is straight and his changeup is still a work in progress. Point is, the Yankees bought low on Tate and are working to get him back to his fourth overall pick form, and he looked better in the AzFL than he did at any point with the Rangers before the trade.

If you’re looking for an Adams caliber breakout candidate, that reliever-turned-starter prospect, don’t. Seriously. What Adams did last year was best case scenario stuff. Hard to expect that again, though I’d happily welcome it. The best reliever-turned-starter prospect candidate in the system is Tate, though that’s not a true reliever-to-starter conversion. In that case, RHP Taylor Widener is the best bet. He was the team’s 12th round pick in last year’s draft.

Widener is the latest in a string of Yankees prospects to gain velocity in pro ball — Kaprielian, Montgomery, and Adams all did that — and he has a good slider, albeit an inconsistent one. His changeup has been a point of emphasis since the draft. I’m not sure Widener can make the transition to the rotation as seamlessly as Adams, though then again I never thought Adams would take to the role as easily as he did. Widener is more of a sleeper than a true breakout prospect.

Bounceback Candidates

McKinney. (Presswire)
McKinney. (Presswire)

Last year was a great year for the farm system, though it wasn’t perfect. A few players had disappointing seasons, most notably Mateo. The Yankees are hoping he bounces back in a big way this summer. Kaprielian too following the elbow injury. Tate is another bounceback candidate. Can a player be a bounceback candidate and a breakout candidate in the same season? I guess so. Garcia (Wilkerman, not Dermis) is a bounceback candidate despite being 18. He was great in 2015 and looked like a potential top 100 guy. He then battled through a shoulder issue and had a poor statistical season in 2016.

Aside from Mateo, I think the biggest bounceback candidate in the farm system on the position player side is OF Billy McKinney, who put together an impressive Grapefruit League showing (.417/.517/.917 with four walks and one strikeout in 29 plate appearances) before being reassigned to minor league camp. McKinney came over in the Chapman trade and was better with the Yankees than the Cubs, though his overall 2016 season was underwhelming. The former first rounder hit .256/.349/.363 (107 wRC+) at Double-A. Meh.

The spring performance was nice, though that’s not the reason McKinney is a bounceback candidate. He hit .300/.371/.454 (135 wRC+) between High-A and Double-A two years ago, and was ranked as a top 100 prospect prior to both 2015 (Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus) and 2016 (MLB.com, Keith Law, BP). McKinney’s 2015 season ended early because he fouled a pitch into his knee and suffered a hairline fracture, and there’s some belief it took him longer to get over the injury than expected, hence last year’s performance. With his sweet lefty swing and innate hitting ability, a healthy McKinney could regain significant prospect stock in 2017.

LHP Ian Clarkin was not bad by any means last season — he threw 98 innings with a 3.31 ERA (3.26 FIP) in High-A — though he finished the season hurt (knee) after missing the entire 2015 regular season (elbow). Reports on his stuff were mixed last season, so the Yankees haven’t really seen the supplemental first round pick version of Clarkin since 2014. This isn’t a make or break year for Clarkin (he just turned 22!) though the Yankees very much want him to stay healthy and regain his former top prospect status in 2017.

Prospects I Am Irrationally Excited About

I was originally planning to call this section sleepers or something, but I figured I might as well be straightforward about it. I’ve been waxing poetic about IF Thairo Estrada for two years now, and the just turned 21-year-old could reach Double-A in the second half of the season. RHP Zack Littell is kind of the anti-Yankees pitching prospect. He’s not physically huge with a big fastball. He’s a pitchability guy with three pitches who puts in an insane amount of work studying opposing hitters.

The Yankees are short on catching prospects at the moment — I still expect C Luis Torrens to be returned from the Padres as a Rule 5 Draft pick at some point soon — and their best backstop prospect is C Donny Sands, a converted third baseman. He’s a great bat-to-ball hitter with some power potential. Sands is still new to catching and is rough around the edges, but he’s attacked the transition and has already made some big strides defensively. He should be a top 30 organizational prospect at this time next year. (Some say he is right now.)

IF Oswaldo Cabrera had a ridiculous statistical season last summer — he hit .345/.396/.523 (163 wRC+) in 52 rookie ball games as a 17-year-old — and comes with interesting offensive upside. It seems likely he’s destined for second base rather than shortstop though. That’s okay. OF Rashad Crawford was the fourth piece in the Chapman trade and he’s loaded with tools and athletic ability, and is just now starting to figure out how to translate those tools into baseball skills. OF Isiah Gilliam is a switch-hitter with pop from both sides of the plate. He quietly finished fourth in the rookie Appalachian League with ten homers as a 19-year-old in 2016.

On the mound, I’m really looking forward to a full, healthy season of RHP Domingo German. He’s kind of a forgotten prospect given the Tommy John surgery. German is basically an older, shorter version of Acevedo in that he’s a righty with a big fastball and a very good changeup. Unlike Acevedo, German is on the 40-man roster. The Yankees will have him work as a starter this season, though I think we might see him pitch out of the big league bullpen at some point, likely as a September call-up. German can still bring it.

LHP Daniel Camarena has long been a personal favorite, and he bounced back well from elbow surgery last season. Because he’s left-handed and breathing, and also likely to open the season in Triple-A, he has to be considered a potential call-up candidate. RHP Jorge Guzman came over in the McCann trade and will live in the 98-100 mph range as a starter. He’ll be a Big Deal in a few months. RHP Drew Finley and RHP Nolan Martinez are lower level pitchability guys I am excited about. Also, RHP Nick Nelson. The post-draft scouting reports last year were almost too good to be true. Plus fastball, plus curveball, potentially plus command? Sign me up.

Will They Trade Any Of These Guys?

Yeah, probably. The question is who and for what? The Yankees have a lot of quality prospects coming up on Rule 5 Draft eligibility after the season. A lot. They can either try to keep everyone by adding the guys they really like to the 40-man roster and hoping everyone else gets passed over in the Rule 5 Draft, or trade a few of them to ensure some kind of return. You don’t want to lose someone like, say, Estrada or Littell for nothing more than the $100,000 Rule 5 Draft fee.

Aside from the Rule 5 Draft concerns, I have to imagine the Yankees are at least tempted to dip into their prospect base to land a pitcher with long-term control. They could really use one of those. Jose Quintana is the big name right now, though who knows who will be available at the trade deadline? Maybe the Phillies will put Jerad Eickoff or Vince Velasquez on the market, or the Diamondbacks will float Robbie Ray and Archie Bradley in trade talks. I get the Yankees want to build from within, but they’d be foolish to not consider available trades.

Either way, the Yankees figure to do some farm system shuffling this year. Not necessarily blockbuster trades, but asset management. Last year the Yankees traded Ben Gamel and James Pazos, two fringe big league players, for lower level prospects to make the 40-man situation a little better. I think we’ll see some deals like that this year, perhaps involving Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects not yet on the 40-man. Trades are coming. They’re inevitable. And given the depth of the farm system, I don’t think we can rule out a blockbuster, however unlikely it may seem right now.

Where Does The System Go From Here?

I believe the likelihood of the following two statements being true in eight months is quite high:

  1. The Yankees will have a worse farm system than they do right now.
  2. The Yankees will still have one of the game’s best farm systems.

As it stands, the Yankees are likely to graduate two of my top 30 prospects to the big leagues (Judge, Chad Green) and potentially a handful of others as well (Frazier, Wade, Montgomery,  Williams, Tyler Austin). Inevitably a few pitchers will get hurt and other players will stall out. That’s baseball and that’s why you want as many prospects as possible. It’s hard to see how, after this season, the farm system can be even better than it right now.

That said, the chances New York will still have one of the game’s better farm systems are pretty darn good. They’ll still have Torres and Rutherford (and Sheffield and Mateo), hopefully a healthy Kaprielian, plus whoever the 2017 draft brings in. Others like Andujar, Adams, and Acevedo all have the potential to be top 100 caliber prospects. Unless the Yankees gut the system to make some trades or they experience a catastrophically bad season in the minors, the club will still be loaded with prospects year from now.

The farm system right now is the focal point of the organization. We’re used to looking at a star-laden big league roster around these parts, and while the Yankees figure to be an entertaining team this season (if nothing else), everyone is talking about the farm system. Even the Yankees themselves. Their Winter Warm-Up event was built around prospects and the commercials feature kids, not veterans. This is a new era for the Yankees and that’s pretty exciting.

Wednesday Notes: Astros, Nats, Quintana, Prospects, A-Rod

Musgrove. (Presswire)
Musgrove. (Presswire)

The Yankees return to television tonight with a home game against the Phillies, thankfully. We haven’t seen them play since Saturday. Tonight’s game will start at 6:35pm ET and we’ll have a regular game thread at that time. Here are some bits of news to check out in the meantime.

Yankees scouted Astros, Nationals

According to Brendan Kuty, the Yankees had scout (Matt Daley!) in Port St. Lucie over the weekend when the Astros and Nationals visited the Mets. Righty Joe Musgrove started for Houston on Friday while righty Erick Fedde was on the mound for Washington on Saturday. Both pitchers allowed one hit and one walk in three scoreless innings in their outings. Musgrove struck out four. Fedde fanned one.

The Yankees have been connected to both Musgrove and Fedde over the last year or so, but only through speculation. Not hard “they want this guy” rumors. Musgrove was mentioned as a possible target during Brian McCann trade talks (I even wrote a Scouting The Market post) while Fedde’s name came up as a potential piece in an Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman trade at least year’s deadline. Obviously neither deal came to fruition.

We could connect some serious dots here. The Astros are said to want another high-end starting pitcher, and with Masahiro Tanaka‘s opt-out looming, could the Yankees move him? The Nationals don’t have a closer right now and gosh, Dellin Betances sure makes sense for them, no? That said, teams scout either other all the time, and this could be nothing. Still, with the Yankees perpetually seeking young controllable pitching, this report sure is interesting.

Nothing happening with Quintana

According to Jack Curry (video link), the Yankees have “nothing simmering, nothing very hot going on right now” with regards to trade talks with the White Sox about Jose Quintana. Quintana is very much available and last week we heard the White Sox have been scouting the Yankees this spring. See? Teams scout each other all the time. Anyway, point is there’s nothing imminent here, which isn’t surprising.

Quintana started against Team USA in the World Baseball Classic last week and was masterful, taking a no-hitter into the sixth before allowing a two-out single and hitting his pitch count. (The bullpen then blew it.) That said, Quintana’s stock didn’t go up or anything. Teams know he’s good. The only way one game can change a veteran pitcher’s trade stock is if he gets hurt. My guess is the White Sox will ramp up their efforts to trade Quintana pretty soon, before he goes all Tyson Ross on them or something.

FanGraphs releases top Yankees prospects, top 100 prospects lists

Over at FanGraphs, Eric Longenhagen recently released his top 33 Yankees prospects list as well as his top 100 prospects list for all of baseball. White Sox IF Yoan Moncada claims the top spot on the top 100. Here are the eight Yankees in the top 100:

7. SS Gleyber Torres
34. OF Clint Frazier
40. OF Blake Rutherford
53. RHP James Kaprielian
61. OF Aaron Judge
87. OF Dustin Fowler
91. SS Jorge Mateo
97. LHP Justus Sheffield

This is the only top 100 list Fowler has made this year. Interesting. As for the top 33 Yankees prospects list, gosh, it’s massive. I still haven’t finished reading the entire thing. I’m doing it bit by bit. The write-up covers 68 players total. 68!

“Fawning over the system’s obvious talent ignores its most fascinating aspect: the bizarre collection of pop-up arms. New York appears to be in possession of a player-development machine that has conjured several interesting pitching prospects seemingly out of thin air,” says the write-up, referring to guys like Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, and Chad Green, all of whom came to the Yankees as okay prospects and have since seen their stock rise considerably. Now hopefully some of these guys will turn into productive big leaguers.

Man of the people. (Chicago Tribune)
Man of the people. (Chicago Tribune)

A-Rod joins FOX full-time

Alex Rodriguez is officially a full-time broadcaster. Last week FOX announced A-Rod has joined the network and will “serve as a game analyst for select FOX MLB SATURDAY telecasts as well as feature reporter for FOX’s MLB pregame coverage and FS1 studio show MLB WHIPAROUND,” according to the press release. It doesn’t sound like he will be in the broadcast booth, does it? Sounds like a studio gig.

FOX owns a big chunk of the YES Network following the News Corp. deal a few years back, though it doesn’t sound like there will be any crossover work here. A-Rod will be on FOX and FOX Sports 1. Not YES. Lame. I assume Alex will continue his special advisor duties with the Yankees in the meantime. His agreement with the club called for him to remain in that role through the end of this year. Either way, A-Rod was really good on television the last two postseasons, and it was only a matter of time until some network scooped him up.

MLB approves wearable biometric device

For the first time MLB has approved a wearable on-field biometric device for players, reports Darren Rovell. The device, which is made by a company called WHOOP, is meant to be worn all day and night, and will record data on sleep, heart rate, recovery, strain, etc. It is not a mandated piece of equipment and teams can’t force their players to wear the WHOOP device. It is the player’s decision given the private data involved.

Clubs have been studying pitcher deliveries using biometrics for years now, though the WHOOP device extends beyond that. Teams are focusing more and more on rest and recovery, because nowadays having the most talent isn’t enough. You need the most talented players performing at their best as often as possible. Rest and recovery are part of that. The Yankees start their Spring Training workouts later in the morning to give players time to sleep in, plus they’ve looked for ways to improve travel in recent years too. I wonder how many players will wear the WHOOP device. It seems like the data could be really useful.

The Long-Term Future in Center Field

Ellsbury. (Presswire)
Ellsbury. (Presswire)

This is an exciting time to be a Yankees fan. The big league team might not be any good this season, and frankly they haven’t been all that good over the last four years anyway, but at least now the farm system is loaded and there are a ton of quality young players in the organization. Soon young guys like Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier will join Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird in the Bronx.

At some point in the near future, perhaps sooner than anyone realizes, the Yankees will have to figure out their center field situation. The two best center fielders on the roster, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, will both turn 34 later this year. Over the last ten years there has been one full-time center fielder age 34 or older: Mike Cameron, who continued to play center full-time from ages 34-36 in 2007-09. No one else has done it.

Center field is a young man’s position because it involves lots and lots of running, day after day after day. The Yankees had Johnny Damon begin the process of moving to left field at age 33 because Melky Cabrera was the superior defensive option, remember. By center fielder standards, Gardner and Ellsbury are pretty darn old, and it stands to reason they won’t be viable options at the position much longer. Speed usually doesn’t age all that well.

This creates two questions for the Yankees. One, who plays center field long-term? And two, what do the Yankees do with Gardner and/or Ellsbury? I’ll answer the second one first: they’re probably going to trade Gardner at some point. Would they prefer to trade Ellsbury? Yeah, I’m sure of it. But that’s not happening, so Gardner it is. They’ve been listening on him for over a year, and it feels like only a matter of time until a trade goes down.

I get the feeling the eventual outcome here is Gardner gets traded away, then Ellsbury slides over to left field for the tail end of his contract, similar to Damon back in the day. (Or worse, to designated hitter full-time.) That creates an opening in center field, and as good as the farm system is these days, the Yankees don’t have an elite center field prospect. Torres is a shortstop, Frazier and Aaron Judge are corner outfielders, and so on.

That doesn’t mean the Yankees lack potential center field options, however. Not at all. They actually have quite a few, both short-term and long-term. That’s good. Multiple options are good. As much as we all love the prospects, the reality is they won’t all work out, and you’d hate to pin your hopes on that one guy to take over a position long-term. Here, in no particular order, are the club’s various long-term center field options.

The Almost Ready Option

Fowler. (Presswire)
Fowler. (Presswire)

When the 2017 regular season begins, Dustin Fowler figures to roam center field for Triple-A Scranton. Fowler is New York’s best pure center field prospect — I ranked him as the 12th best prospect in the system overall — and last year he hit .281/.311/.458 (109 wRC+) with 30 doubles, 15 triples, 12 homers, and 25 steals in Double-A. He really fills up the box score. Fowler is also a very good defender with plenty of range.

There are two glaring weaknesses to Fowler’s game. One, he doesn’t have much of a throwing arm. And two, he’s pretty undisciplined at the plate. Minor league walk rates aren’t everything, though his career 4.4% walk rate in over 1,500 minor league plate appearances is emblematic of his approach. Those are negatives, clearly, but Fowler also offers enough positives to be an everyday player. He makes contact, has some pop, steals bases, and defends well. Similar skill set to peak Ellsbury now that I think about it.

For all intents and purposes, Fowler is a call-up candidate right now. He’s going to start the season in Triple-A and will be added to the 40-man roster no later than next winter (when he’s Rule 5 Draft eligible), and any time those combination of things exist, there’s a chance for the player to wind up in the show. Fowler is, by far, the Yankees’ best close to MLB ready center field prospect. He is easily the favorite to take over the position in the short-term.

The Square Peg, Round Hole Option

Although his tools point to a long-term future in left field, Frazier has enough speed and athleticism to handle center field right now, if necessary. He has plenty of experience at the position — he’s played more minor league games in center (260) than he has in left and right combined (117) — and still possesses enough speed to cover the gaps. Would Frazier be a perfect fit in center? No, but it’s doable. The question is whether mid-30s Ellsbury in left and Frazier in center is a better defensive alignment than mid-30s Ellsbury in center and Frazier in left. It’s not so cut and dried.

The Conversion Candidates

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

The Yankees are loaded with shortstop prospects at the moment, so much so that they’ve had Tyler Wade and Jorge Mateo get acquainted with the outfield. Wade played all three outfield spots in the Arizona Fall League last year and he’s been out there this spring as well. Mateo worked out in center field in Instructional League and is doing the same this spring. He’s yet to play an actual game out there, however.

Wade, like Fowler, will open this season in Triple-A, though he’s not an immediate center field option given his inexperience at the position. He’s not someone the Yankees could call up and stick in center for two weeks in May to cover for injuries, you know? That’s a little too soon. Besides, it seems the Yankees are looking to make Wade a super utility player, not a full-time outfielder. He’s too good defensively on the infield to throw that away entirely.

As for Mateo, I am pretty intrigued with the idea of putting him in center field full-time. He’s a good defender at shortstop, that’s not much of a problem, but his truly elite speed may be put to better use in center. Mateo is a good defender at short. He might be a great defender in center. Either way, Mateo is not close to the big leagues like Fowler, Frazier, and Wade. He’s yet to play above High-A and has to answer some questions about his bat before we can start to think about him as a realistic center field option. (And, you know, he has to actually play some games in center too.)

The Reclamation Candidate(s)

Earlier I mentioned Gardner and Ellsbury are the two best center fielders on the roster, which is true when taking all things into account. The best defensive center fielder on the roster is Aaron Hicks (despite a few funky routes last season). He’s got top notch closing speed and a rocket arm. Right now, in the year 2017, Hicks is a better gloveman than either Gardner or Ellsbury in center.

The best defensive outfielder in the entire organization is another reclamation project: Mason Williams. He’s a premium runner who gets great reads, and while his arm isn’t Hicks caliber, it is comfortably above average. Even after shoulder surgery two years ago. It’s unclear whether Williams will ever hit enough to play regularly, but his glove is unquestioned. The Yankees could play him everyday in center and he could handle it defensively.

That “will he ever hit?” question is a big one though, and it applies to Hicks as well. Hicks and Williams are so talented that you can never rule out things coming together, especially at their ages, but for them to have any shot at replacing Ellsbury in center field full-time, they’re going to have to do more at the plate. No doubt. (To be fair to Williams, he’s been hurt more than ineffective the last two seasons.)

The Far Away Options

Fowler and Frazier (and Wade) are knocking on the door. Mateo is a little further away. Ever further away are Blake Rutherford and Estevan Florial, two high-upside center field prospects. Both figure to start the season at Low-A Charleston. They were teammates with Rookie Pulaski last year, where Rutherford played center field and Florial manned left. (First rounder gets priority.)

It goes without saying there is a lot of risk involved with players this far away from the big leagues. There’s so much that can go wrong these next few years. The obstacles facing Rutherford and Florial are very different too. The expectation is Rutherford will shift to a corner spot at some point as he fills out and adds some bulk. Florial is a graceful defender who happens to be a total hacker at the plate. He might not make enough contact to reach MLB.

Give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m sure they’d tell you they want Rutherford to be their long-term center fielder. Frazier, Rutherford, and Judge from left to right would be the perfect world long-term outfield picture. The odds are against that actually happening though, mostly because prospects have a way of breaking hearts. Rutherford and Florial are definitely long-term center field candidates. They’re just far away and carry a lot of risk relative to the other guys in this post.

The External Options

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

These are the Yankees, and even though they’re trying to scale back spending to get under the luxury tax threshold, you can never really rule them out going outside the organization for help. I, personally, am hoping for a Rob Refsnyder for Mike Trout trade. Fingers crossed. If that doesn’t happen, here are some potential free agent center fielders:

  • After 2017: Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Carlos Gomez, Andrew McCutchen (if option is declined)
  • After 2018: Charlie Blackmon, Adam Jones, A.J. Pollock, McCutchen (if option is exercised)

A few of those guys would look pretty good in pinstripes, no? Cain is pretty damn awesome. He’s a fun player and I am pro-fun. Blackmon hit .324/.381/.552 (130 wRC+) with 29 homers and 17 steals last season, you know. Pollock missed a bunch of time with an elbow injury last year, but he’s quietly been one of the best players in baseball the last three or four years.

There’s also Bryce Harper, who will become a free agent following the 2018 season, when he’ll still be only 26 years old. He’s a really good athlete and has played center field for the Nationals at times. Could the Yankees view him as a potential center fielder? That’d be interesting. It’s not like he’d be over the hill or anything. Perhaps Harper in center could work for a few years. Frazier in left, Harper in center, Judge in right? Sign me up.

Anyway, the problem with the non-Harper free agents is the same problem that currently exists with Ellsbury. The Yankees would be paying big money to someone over 30 and in their decline years. Before you know it, we’d be talking about moving Cain or Blackmon or Pollock or whoever to left in favor of a better defensive center fielder. Signing a free agent center fielder is definitely possible. It just seems unlikely given the team’s direction at this point.

The Worst Case Scenario

This is going to sound mean, but the worst case scenario would be keeping Ellsbury in center field through the end of his contract. Maybe he can make it work defensively in his mid-30s like Cameron did once upon a time. He’d be an outlier in that case, but hey, stranger things have happened. I’m sure the Yankees would prefer to keep Ellsbury in center as long as possible too. That’s where he’s most valuable. History suggests his days in center are numbered, however. There simply aren’t many players age 34 and over roaming center nowadays.

* * *

The center field situation is not a pressing matter, fortunately. The Yankees don’t need to figure this out right now. They can let the season play out, see how Ellsbury handles it defensively and how the kids progress in the minors, then figure out what’s next. And maybe nothing is next. Maybe keeping Ellsbury in center through the end of his contract is plausible. The Yankees do have some center field options, both short and long-term, just in case things don’t work out. Sooner or later the team will have to go in a new direction in center field, and odds are it’ll be before the end of Ellsbury’s contract.

Yanks dominate Baseball America’s and Baseball Prospectus’ top prospects lists

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

The final preseason top 100 prospects lists have arrived. Baseball America released their annual top 100 prospects list last Friday, which is free to read. You do need a subscription to check out the scouting reports, however. Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi claims the top spot, with White Sox 2B Yoan Moncada and Braves SS Dansby Swanson rounding out the top three.

Seven Yankees farmhands made Baseball America’s top 100 list. Here are the seven:

5. SS Gleyber Torres
39. OF Clint Frazier
45. OF Blake Rutherford
85. SS Jorge Mateo
87. RHP James Kaprielian
90. OF Aaron Judge
91. LHP Justus Sheffield

Torres went from No. 41 last year to No. 5 this year. Kaprielian did not make the top 100 last year, missed most of the 2016 season with a flexor strain, and now ranks as the 87th best prospect in baseball. He must have been awfully impressive in his 45 innings.

Baseball America’s top 100 list came out last week. Then, earlier today, Baseball Prospectus published their annual top 101 prospects list. That one is free to read as well. Cardinals RHP Alex Reyes, not Benintendi sits in the top spot. Benintendi was No. 1 on every other top 100 list this year. Swanson and Benintendi are Nos. 2 and 3.

The Yankees had a whopping nine players make Baseball Prospectus’ top 101 list. The nine:

15. Torres
16. Frazier
43. Mateo
49. Rutherford
52. Sheffield
58. Kaprielian
63. Judge
82. RHP Albert Abreu
101. SS Tyler Wade

Neither Abreu nor Wade made any of the other top 100 lists this year. I didn’t expect Wade to come close to one of these lists, really. I thought I was the high man on him. Apparently not. Also, RHP Chance Adams did not make any of the top 100 lists this spring. I thought he’d sneak on to the back end of one. Alas.

Anyway, I said all I have to say about top 100 lists when Keith Law and MLB.com released theirs, so I don’t have anything to add now. Just pleasantly surprised to see Wade grab the last spot on the Baseball Prospectus list. Now that the four major publications have posted their lists, we can average out the rankings:

BA BP Law MLB Average Rank
Torres 5 15 4 3 6.8
Frazier 39 16 27 24 26.5
Rutherford 45 49 22 37 38.3
Kaprielian 87 58 28 58 57.8
Judge 90 63 44 45 60.5
Sheffield 91 52 88 79 77.5
Mateo 85 43 NR 47 81.3
Abreu NR 82 NR NR 133.0
Wade NR 101 NR NR 137.8

The guys who did not rank on a particular list (NR) went in to my quick little spreadsheet as a 150 for calculation purposes. So Mateo’s composite ranking of 81.3 is the result of averaging 85, 43, 47, and 150. Got it? Good. This applied to Mateo because he didn’t make Law’s list, and Abreu and Wade because they only made Baseball Prospectus’ list.

The top six guys in the table made all four top 100 lists. Based on the rankings, the Yankees have one bonafide top ten prospect in Torres — Baseball Prospectus is the low man on him and they’re dragging his composite ranking down — plus two other top 40 prospects (Frazier, Rutherford) and two other top 60-ish prospects (Kaprielian, Judge). That’s pretty great.

Among those top six guys, Judge is the only safe bet to graduate to the big leagues this year. Forty-six more at-bats and he’ll no longer be prospect eligible. Others like Frazier and Kaprielian could reach the big leagues this summer, though it seems unlikely either will spend enough time in New York to lose prospect eligibility. Moreso in Kaprielian’s case given last year’s injury.

Point is, most Yankees prospects who appeared in the various top 100 lists this year figure to remain prospect eligible next year, and again appear in the top 100 lists. That’s the hope, anyway. Hopefully no one’s stock drops. Add in a possible breakout from someone like, say, 3B Miguel Andujar or 3B Dermis Garcia, plus the team’s 2017 first round pick (16th overall), and the Yankees could have another eight or nine top 100 prospects next year, and by then most will be MLB ready. Fun fun fun.