Thoughts on Keith Law’s top ten Yankees prospects

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects

Frazier. (Presswire)
Frazier. (Presswire)

Last week, Keith Law released his annual top 100 prospects list, which included six Yankees. Then, on Saturday, the crew at MLB.com released their top 100 list as well. Law and MLB.com agree on one thing: Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi is the best prospect in baseball. The lists diverge after that.

A total of seven Yankees made MLB.com’s top 100 list, which is pretty awesome. As always, MLB.com’s list and scouting reports are completely free. It’s a fantastic resource. Here are the seven Yankees on the list:

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

Five top 50 prospects and six top 60 prospects is pretty great. No other team can make that claim. The White Sox and Pirates are the only other teams with as many as four top 50 prospects, and Pittsburgh is the only other team with five top 60 prospects. The Yankees and Braves lead the way with seven top 100 prospects apiece. Some quick thoughts:

1. Torres could be the No. 1 prospect very soon. The only reason Benintendi is still prospect-eligible is a minor knee injury that sidelined him three weeks in August and September. He finished the season with 105 at-bats, only 25 away from the rookie limit of 130. Once Benintendi clears 130 at-bats, he’ll drop off the list, and it’s not crazy to think Torres could surpass Moncada in prospect status in the first half of this season. Also, Braves SS Dansby Swanson, MLB.com’s No. 4 prospect, is literally one at-bat away from losing prospect status, so one of Gleyber’s primary competitors for the top spot will drop off the list on Opening Day. The Yankees have never had the No. 1 prospect according to MLB.com, though, to be fair, MLB.com hasn’t been producing top 100 lists all that long. According to Baseball America, the last time the Yankees had the No. 1 prospect in baseball was way back in 1992, when LHP Brien Taylor sat in the top spot.

2. Mateo is still highly regarded. Despite a poor statistical season and a two-week suspension for violating team rules, MLB.com still considers Mateo one of the best prospects in the game. (Law dropped Mateo out of the top 100 entirely.) He did slip in the rankings — last year Mateo was No. 30 on MLB.com’s original top 100 list — which is understandable, but the MLB.com folks still believe in the tools. And that’s most important. Not the numbers. Mateo won’t turn 22 until the end of June and he still has the incredible quick twitch athleticism that landed him on top 100 lists last year. Remember, Baseball Prospectus ranked Mateo as the third best prospect in the system behind Torres and Frazier. Law may have cut bait, but others still clearly believe in the kid.

3. Yet again, Kaprielian climbed big time. I’m still amazed at where Kaprielian is landing on these top 100 lists given his relatively serious arm injury last season. (Miss as much time as he did and it qualifies as a serious injury in my book.) He jumped 59 spots on Law’s top 100. Kaprielian didn’t even make MLB.com’s top 100 list last year and now he’s 58th. How impressive must he have been before and especially after the injury to earn so much support on the various prospects lists? Also, how much higher would he have ranked had he stayed completely healthy last season? Are we talking about a potential top five pitching prospect? As it stands, Kaprielian is already the 21st ranked pitcher on the top 100. A full season of healthy Kaprielian in 2017 could mean a) reaching the big leagues in September, and b) being ranked as a tippy top prospect next spring. Exciting!

4. Adams was really close to the top 100 too. On Twitter, Jim Callis said RHP Chance Adams very nearly made the top 100 as well. He fell in the 101-115 range. So, for all intents and purposes, the Yankees currently have five top 50 and eight top 115 prospects in all of baseball according to MLB.com. That’s pretty great. I don’t think Adams is a top 100 caliber prospect myself, but I understand why some think and hope he’ll slip into the back half. Just the fact he’s even in the conversation is great. I’m guessing others like RHP Albert Abreu and 3B Miguel Andujar were in the top 100 conversation too. Know what I’d really love to see? A top 500 prospect list. That’s the best way to measure the depth and strength of the farm system. We all focus on the top five or ten prospects and I get it. But compare each team’s 30th best prospect. That’s a better indicator of farm system depth.

Saturday Links: Lefty Reliever, Top 100, Captain’s Camp

Soon. (Presswire)
Soon. (Presswire)

Only three more weekends without baseball after this one. Spring Training games aren’t that far away! Thank goodness. I am so ready for this offseason to be over. Here are some links to check out today:

Yankees still looking for a cheap lefty reliever

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees remain in the hunt for a left-handed reliever, but only want a player who will take a low base salary or minor league deal. Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins, the two best free agent southpaws, are seeking two-year deals worth at least $12M, says Rosenthal. If they stick to that demand, the Yankees won’t get either. I assume Travis Wood is a non-option too given the low base salary thing.

The Yankees have Tommy Layne, Chasen Shreve, and Richard Bleier as their top middle innings lefty reliever candidates at the moment, and Brian Cashman talked up Joe Mantiply at the town hall last week. “He’s a soft-tossing situational lefty that I know that people were coming up to me saying, you snookered us when you claimed him off waivers,” he said. Would Charlie Furbush take a minor league deal after a shoulder injury sidelined him all of 2016? He might be the best available cheap southpaw.

Five Yankees on ZiPS top 100 prospects

In a companion piece to Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list, Dan Szymborski put together a list of the top 100 prospects according to his ZiPS projection system (sub. req’d). ZiPS is entirely data-driven, so you’ve got to take the projections with a big grain of salt, though I still always like seeing where the scouting reports and stats disagree.

The best prospect in baseball per ZiPS is Braves SS Dansby Swanson, who Law ranked second. Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi is first on Law’s list and seventh on the ZiPS list. The Yankees had five ZiPS top 100 prospects:

8. SS Gleyber Torres (Law’s rank: 4th)
9. OF Clint Frazier (Law’s rank: 27th)
34. OF Aaron Judge (Law’s rank: 44th)
44. OF Blake Rutherford (Law’s rank: 22nd)
65. 3B Miguel Andujar (Law’s rank: DNR)

RHP James Kaprielian and LHP Justus Sheffield made Law’s list but not the ZiPS list, though ZiPS tends to skew towards position players because they don’t carry as much injury risk. The top nine and 21 of the top 25 prospects in baseball are position players according to ZiPS, so yeah. Interesting to see Andujar a middle of the top 100 guy according to ZiPS. The system likes his low strikeout rate and developing power, it seems.

New Spring Training hats leaked

For the umpteenth straight spring, teams will wear different hats for Spring Training this season. A photo of the new Yankees hat was leaked over at SportsLogos.net and my goodness, it’s hideous:

spring-training-hat

It should be noted MLB and the Yankees have not officially revealed their new Spring Training hats, so it’s entirely possible that hat is a rejected design or something like that. I can’t. I just can’t anymore. Stop messing with the classic interlocking NY, yo.

Captain’s Camp now underway

Remember yesterday’s mailbag question about Captain’s Camp? Well now we have an update, courtesy of Brendan Kuty. Farm system head Gary Denbo said Captain’s Camp is currently underway and will run from January 18th to February 24th this year. Andy Pettitte, Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rodriguez, and Tino Martinez are among the scheduled guest instructors. Several current Yankees will help out as well once Spring Training beings. Derek Jeter has taken the prospects out to a surprise dinner the last two years and Denbo hopes he does the same this year.

Denbo came up with the idea for Captain’s Camp a few years ago and says the goal is to “develop championship-type complete players for our Major League club.” The Yankees bring in a bunch of prospects for Captain’s Camp and basically teach them how to be professionals, how to be accountable, and help them become the best player they can be. Workouts and drills are part of Captain’s Camp, no doubt, but most of it is geared towards the off-the-field aspects of being a Yankee. They’re the most recognizable brand in sports, which creates unique demands.

Thoughts on Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list

Grandmaster Kap. (Presswire)
Grandmaster Kap. (Presswire)

All throughout the week, ESPN has been publishing Keith Law’s annual top 100 prospects list bit by bit. Here are Nos. 1-20, 21-40, 41-60, 61-80, and 81-100. It’s all behind the Insider wall. You should buy it. It’s worth it for Law’s stuff alone. Anyway, Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi sits in the top spot. Braves SS Dansby Swanson and Mets SS Amed Rosario round out the top three. Six Yankees made the top 100:

4. SS Gleyber Torres
22. OF Blake Rutherford
27. OF Clint Frazier
28. RHP James Kaprielian
44. OF Aaron Judge
88. LHP Justus Sheffield

Last week Law ranked New York’s farm system as the second best in baseball, behind only the hard-tanking Braves. SS Jorge Mateo went from No. 55 on Law’s list last year to out of the top 100 this year, which isn’t a total shock following his poor statistical season and suspension. It’s possible Mateo will make an appearance on Law’s list of prospects who just missed the top 100 when it’s released tomorrow. Until then, here are some thoughts on the top 100.

1. Law is a big Rutherford fan. Such a big fan that Rutherford ranks ahead of Phillies OF Mickey Moniak, the first overall pick in last year’s draft. The Yankees got Rutherford with the 18th pick. Only Reds 3B Nick Senzel (second overall pick) and Red Sox LHP Jason Groome (12th overall pick) rank higher among 2016 draftees. This isn’t a complete surprise, of course. Law ranked Rutherford as the sixth best prospect in last year’s draft (subs. req’d), and that was before he went out and wrecked rookie ball competition in his pro debut. Still, going from high schooler to the 22nd best prospect in baseball in the span of eight months is a hell of a thing. Baseball America recently ranked Rutherford third in the system behind Torres and Frazier and I was surprised to see him that high. Now Law has him second behind only Torres? I guess I’m underrating the kid.

2. The Frazier scouting report might not match your preconceived notions. Following the trade last year Frazier struggled with Triple-A Scranton, hitting .228/.278/.396 (90 wRC+) with three home runs and a 27.8% strikeout rate in 25 games. As a result, many folks seem to have assumed Frazier’s a bit of a hacker who is going to hit for middling averages and sock some massive dingers. Law’s scouting report is almost the exact opposite. A snippet:

He has absolutely electric bat speed that produces above-average power, probably never in the 30-homer range but certainly 15-20 on a consistent basis with high batting averages and a lot of doubles … Given how he’s hit to date, with consistently high BABIPs because he makes hard contact, he’s one of the best bets in the minors to hit .300+, and with moderate power and 50-60 walks a year that would make him at least an above-average regular.

Did Frazier struggle at Triple-A? Of course he did. But he’s not the first prospect to do that and he won’t be the last. Frazier will be under the microscope after being the headliner in a major trade, so the scrutiny is inevitable, but objectively speaking, the kid is incredibly talented and he has a chance to be an impact two-way player for the Yankees. Oh, and by the way, Frazier jumped from No. 72 on Law’s list last year to No. 27 this year. That is: cool.

3. Kaprielian climbs big time despite injury. In most cases, when a pitcher misses close to an entire season with an arm injury, he drops in the rankings. Kaprielian instead climbed from No. 87 on Law’s list last year to No. 28 this year. A 59-point jump despite a flexor strain! Incredible. As always, Law’s ranking considers everything, from present stuff to upside to injury risk, and the fact Kaprielian returned from his injury and looked like his normal self in the Arizona Fall League was encouraging. Encouraging and enough for Law to run Kaprielian way up the rankings. “I’ve got him ranked here to reflect the greater risk of a catastrophic injury that I think he has compared to pitchers who have never missed this kind of time,” said the write-up. “But do not mistake the ranking for a lack of faith in Kaprielian the pitcher, who has ace probability commensurate with those near the top of the 100.”

4. Judge slips, but not by much. Even though he remains a no-doubt top 100 caliber prospect, Judge has slipped in the various rankings this winter. That’s not a complete shock given his strikeout heavy big league debut in the second half a year ago. Last year Law ranked Judge as the No. 36 prospect in the game. This year he’s No. 44. Eight spots isn’t much of a drop at all, especially once you get this deep in the rankings. The difference between, say, No. 42 and 44 is nothing. The difference between No. 36 and No. 44 really isn’t all that significant either. “He has real 30-homer power, even at that contact rate, and he has shown enough patience that I think he’ll walk 60-plus times a year. With his athleticism — he’s an average runner — and plus arm, he’d be an asset in right field, all of which adds up to more than just an everyday player,” wrote Law. Judge is a big time post-hype sleeper. Folks are down on him but his talent level is unchanged.

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.