Thoughts on Baseball America’s top 10 Yankees prospects

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frazier. (Presswire)
Frazier. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

DotF: Acevedo returns, Amburgey extends hitting streak in Tampa’s win

Here are the day’s notes:

  • RHP Domingo Acevedo (back) was activated off the High-A DL, reports Josh Norris. He only missed two weeks. Acevedo was reportedly on the verge of being promoted to Double-A Trenton before getting hurt, so we’ll see how long it is until he finds himself with the Thunder.
  • Make sure you check out this Randy Miller feature on the caring and charitable side of OF Clint Frazier. He obviously a very talented baseball player, but Frazier also seems like a genuinely great person. It’ll be easy to root for him. That’s for sure.
  • And finally, congrats to Jorge Posada, who will be inducted into the NY-Penn League Hall of Fame this year, the league announced. Posada hit .235/.388/.359 with four homers in 71 games as a 19-year-old with the 1991 Oneonta Yankees.

Triple-A Scranton Game One (2-1 win over Norfolk in eight innings, walk-off style) makeup of the May 29th rainout

  • CF Mason Williams: 2-4, 1 R, 1 K — one of the two hits was an infield single, so the quad must be feeling good
  • RF Ben Gamel: 1-3, 1 CS
  • 3B Rob Refsnyder: 1-3, 1 BB
  • DH Chris Parmelee: 0-2, 2 BB
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 1-3, 1 K
  • C Eddy Rodriguez: 0-0, 1 RBI — walk-off sac fly after replacing Higashioka, who was lifted for a pinch-runner in the bottom of the seventh … the pinch-runner (Cesar Puello) eventually scored the tying run
  • LF Jake Cave: 0-3 — in a brutal 5-for-48 (.104) slump
  • LHP Dietrich Enns: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 5/4 GB/FB — 53 of 92 pitches were strikes (58%) … 13th time in 22 starts he’s allowed no more than one earned run
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2/4 GB/FB — 25 of 34 pitches were strikes (74%)

[Read more…]

DotF: Frazier and Heller debut, Judge returns in AAA loss

Here are all the damn notes:

  • J.J. Cooper at Baseball America updated their midseason top 100 prospects list. The rankings did not change. They just updated the list to reflect the trade deadline activity. The Yankees and Brewers lead the way with seven top 100 prospects each.
  • In a separate piece, Cooper ranked the top 50 prospects traded from June 30th to August 1st. The Yankees added the No. 2 (Clint Frazier) and No. 3 (Gleyber Torres) prospects. Three of the top seven, six of the top 25, and ten of the top 50 (!) all came to the Yankees in various trades.
  • Josh Norris spoke to RHP James Kaprielian, who is currently working his way back from a flexor strain. Kaprielian won’t pitch in games in the regular season, but it’s possible he will be ready to go in time for Instructional League and/or the Arizona Fall League.
  • RHP Domingo Acevedo was placed on the High-A Tampa DL with a back injury, reports Erik Boland. Sucks. At least it’s not his arm. Matt Kardos says Acevedo received a cortisone shot and will be shut down a few days. Double-A Trenton manager Bobby Mitchell told Kardos that Acevedo was due to join the Thunder soon.
  • The Yankees are sending minor league pitching coordinator Danny Borrell to Low-A Charleston specifically to work with RHP Dillon Tate, reports Brendan Kuty. Turns out farm system head Gary Denbo coached Tate with Team USA in 2014, so there is some familiarity there.
  • Tate and RHP Erik Swanson, who also came over in the Carlos Beltran trade, are scheduled to make their debuts with Low-A Charleston on Friday, the River Dogs announced. Tate and Swanson made their final starts with the Rangers last Thursday and Friday, respectively.

Also, it’s been a while since I last updated the standings, so let’s do that now. The eight domestic affiliates came into today with a combined 322-251 (.562) record, which is pretty awesome.

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 loss to Lehigh Valley) they’re 67-43 and one game back in the North Division … they have a five-game lead on a postseason spot

  • CF Jake Cave: 0-4, 1 K
  • LF Clint Frazier: 0-4, 3 K — first game since the trade … bust!
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-3, 1 2B — got picked off second … played six innings as scheduled in his first game back from the knee injury
  • C Gary Sanchez: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 0-3, 1 K
  • 3B Cito Culver: 1-3 — this isn’t his Triple-A debut … he played eight games here last season
  • LHP Jordan Montgomery: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 9/2 GB/FB — 65 of 102 pitches were strikes (64%) … nice Triple-A debut for the team’s 2014 fourth rounder
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 2 K — nine pitches, six strikes
  • RHP Ben Heller: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — six pitches, five strikes … first game since coming over in the Andrew Miller trade with Frazier

[Read more…]

2016 Midseason Review: The Farm System

Now that the All-Star break has arrived, it’s time to look back and review the first half of the season. We’ve already looked at the catchers, infielders, outfielders, bench, rotation, bullpen, and role players. Now let’s go down into the farm system.

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

The Yankees are a team in transition. They’re trying to get younger wherever possible while waiting out the last few years of all those big money contracts. Most of them will be off the books by the end of next season. There’s no denying the Yankees have had their problems developing players over the last few years, but that doesn’t lessen the importance of the farm system. If anything, it makes the farm system more important going forward. Let’s review the first half of 2016 in the minor league system.

The Top Prospects

The order may vary, but pretty much everyone was in agreement OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, and SS Jorge Mateo were the Yankees’ three best prospects coming into the season. I ranked them in that order in my Preseason Top 30 Prospects List. Others had Mateo first and Judge third. The order doesn’t really matter. Those were the three guys.

Judge and Sanchez both opened the year in Triple-A and they’ve had very different seasons. Judge has been up and down. He started well, slumped hard in May, then caught fire in June. At one point he hit nine home runs in 15 games. Overall, Judge is hitting .261/.357/.469 (139 wRC+) with 16 homers and a strong 11.4% walk rate in 83 games. His strikeout rate, which was the No. 1 concern coming into 2016, sits at 23.2%, down from 28.5% in Triple-A last year. Judge unfortunately hurt his knee last week and will be out a month.

Sanchez, meanwhile, has mashed pretty much all season. He hasn’t had the big peaks and valleys like Judge. Sanchez, who is still only 23, is hitting .286/.328/.489 (133 wRC+) with nine homers in 56 games around a fractured thumb caused by a foul tip. My favorite thing about Sanchez is the progression of his strikeout rate:

Low-A: 25.0%
High-A: 19.2%
Double-A: 18.7%
Triple-A: 16.3%

Sanchez is making more contact as he climbs the ladder, and his defense is improving too. That’s pretty awesome. He and Judge factor prominently into the team’s long-term plans. The Yankees envision these two as not only as their catcher and right fielder of the future, but their middle of the lineup of the future too. They’re both having success in Triple-A right now, which is exactly what the Yankees wanted to see this summer.

As for Mateo, he’s down in High-A and gosh, he had an incredible start to the season. He was hitting .299/.364/.485 (149 wRC+) with five homers on June 1st — last year Mateo hit two homers, one of which was an inside-the-parker — and he looked very much like an electric power-speed threat at shortstop. Since then though, Mateo has hit only .211/.250/.246 (46 wRC+) in 122 plate appearances, and last week the Yankees suspended him for violating team policy. He reportedly complained to team officials about not being promoted. Not great, Jorge.

Both Sanchez and Judge are performing as hoped in Triple-A, which puts them in position to assume fairly prominent roles with the 2017 Yankees. It’s not out of the question we see them with the Yankees in the second half. Mateo has had a fine statistical season — he’s hitting .266/.323/.396 (112 wRC+) overall even with the recent slump — but this suspension is a bummer, regardless of why it happened.

The Breakout Prospect

Andujar. (MLB.com video screen grab)
Andujar. (MLB.com video screen grab)

There has been no bigger breakout prospect in the system this year than 3B Miguel Andujar, who always had the tools to be a high-end prospect, but had not yet turned those tools into baseball skills. He’s doing that this year, hitting .291/.343/.446 (128 wRC+) with ten homers and a measly 11.4% strikeout rate in 83 games split between High-A and Double-A. We’ve been waiting a while for Andujar to put it all together, and it’s happening this year.

The other notable breakout prospect this year is a reliever turned starter. The Yankees took last year’s fifth rounder, RHP Chance Adams, and moved him into the rotation this season because of his stuff and pitchability. The results have been better than anyone expected. Adams has a 2.63 ERA (2.97 FIP) with a 29.4% strikeout rate and a 7.5% walk rate in 85.2 innings between High-A and Double-A. He still has work to do with his changeup, but Adams is able to hold his stuff deep into games, which is always a big question with these reliever-to-starter conversation guys.

Perhaps the most interesting breakout prospect is an older guy: 26-year-old C Kyle Higashioka. Higashioka was the Yankees’ seventh round pick back in 2008, and this year he’s hitting .321/.379/.589 (168 wRC+) with 14 homers in 62 games between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s dealt with a bunch of injuries over the years, including Tommy John surgery, but he’s finally healthy now. Higashioka has always had power and he’s the best defensive backstop in the system. Catchers tend to be late-bloomers moreso than any other position. Higashioka may be 26, but they don’t check IDs on the field. A good defensive catcher with power is a legitimate big league prospect.

Other prospects who have raised their stock in the first half this season include RHP Vicente Campos, OF Jake Cave, and SS Tyler Wade. All three have been on the prospect map for a while. Campos is healthy for the first time in years and is having success as a starter, really for the first time since coming over in the Jesus MonteroMichael Pineda trade. Cave has developed some power after being returned as a Rule 5 Draft pick this spring. Wade is doing the bat control/strike discipline/good defense thing in Double-A.

The Inevitable Injuries

Kaprielian. (MLB.com video screen grab)
Kaprielian. (MLB.com video screen grab)

Injuries come with the territory and they’re unavoidable. The biggest injury in the system this year is RHP James Kaprielian‘s elbow injury, which was only recently diagnosed as a flexor tendon strain. Kaprielian, who was the Yankees’ first rounder last year, was limited to three High-A starts this year. That’s a bummer. He was expected to shoot up the ladder rather quickly. There’s no timetable for Kaprielian’s return, as far as we know.

Elsewhere in the system, LHP Jacob Lindgren came down with an elbow injury after completely losing the strike zone in High-A. He threw seven innings and hasn’t been heard from since. RHP Ty Hensley had to undergo a second Tommy John surgery, unfortunately. The team’s first rounder in 2012 has thrown 42.1 innings in parts of five seasons. Ouch. RHP Nick Rumbelow and RHP Branden Pinder had their elbows rebuilt early in the season too.

One of the biggest names — and longest tenured players — in the system saw his time with the organization come to an end following an injury. OF Slade Heathcott, who the Yankees selected in the first round way back in 2009, hit .230/.271/.310 (58 wRC+) with a 32.0% strikeout rate in 23 Triple-A games before coming down with another knee problem. He’s had a bunch of those over the years. The Yankees released Slade in May and he hooked on with the White Sox a few weeks later.

The Prospects Returning From Injury

Clarkin. (MLB.com video screen grab)
Clarkin. (MLB.com video screen grab)

Last year the Yankees seemed to have an inordinate number of full season injuries in the farm system. Several big name prospects missed the entire season, including C Luis Torrens (shoulder), LHP Ian Clarkin (elbow), RHP Domingo German (elbow), and RHP Austin DeCarr (elbow). Clarkin avoided the knife. The other three guys all had surgery. All things considered, their 2016 seasons have gone well to date.

Clarkin was one of New York’s three first round picks in 2013, and so far this season he has a 3.12 ERA (3.16 FIP) in 95.1 innings with High-A Tampa. He’s not only avoided another injury, he’s gotten stronger as the season has gone on. When it comes to the first 100 innings back following a lost season, Clarkin’s season has gone about as well as hoped this year. He’s healthy and he’s getting outs.

Torrens, German, and DeCarr all returned within the last few weeks and haven’t played much. German and DeCarr went through the usual 14-16 month Tommy John surgery rehab — it used to be 12 months, but nowadays teams are stretching it out a bit more — while Torrens was said to be ready to go in Spring Training. He had to be shut down with shoulder discomfort though. Torrens is the healthy now and he’s picked up right where he left off before the injury.

Other Notables

RHP Domingo Acevedo is having an excellent statistical season but still has to work on his secondary pitches … OF Dustin Fowler has climbed the ladder rather quickly after being a two-sport guy in high school and an 18th round pick in 2013. He’s have a good but not great season in Double-A … LHP Jordan Montgomery is inching closer to being a big league option after a strong half-season in Double-A … SS Hoy Jun Park, who was part of that big 2014-15 international class, is having a solid two-way season in Low-A … SS Kyle Holder is still playing the heck out of shortstop, but he’s not hitting much in Low-A … LHP Jeff Degano spent most of the first half in Extended Spring Training, apparently because he’s no longer able to throw strikes.

* * *

Kaprielian’s injury and Mateo’s recent suspension have put a bit of a damper on the top prospects in the system, but Judge and Sanchez are having strong seasons in Triple-A, Andujar and Adams are breaking out, and both Clarkin and Torrens have returned well after missing last season with injury. The Yankees haven’t been able to dip into their farm system for help like they did last year, when RHP Luis Severino and 1B Greg Bird had an impact in the second half, but the tippy top prospects are performing well and the key injured prospects have come back strong. That qualifies as a good season in the minors to me.

DotF: Hensley needs second Tommy John surgery

Awful news: RHP Ty Hensley needs a second Tommy John surgery, Brian Cashman and farm system head Gary Denbo confirmed to Chad Jennings. Hensley had his first Tommy John last year. He was the team’s first round pick in 2012 (30th overall) and he’s thrown only 42.1 innings in parts of five seasons due to various injuries (hips, hernia, elbow). Poor kid. Here are some other notes, including more injury updates from Jennings:

  • RHP James Kaprielian (elbow inflammation) will begin a throwing program shortly. We recently heard he’s expected to be back on a mound within 4-6 week. LHP Jacob Lindgren (elbow) is still shut down. Doesn’t sound like Lindgren’s return is imminent.
  • OF Mason Williams (shoulder), OF Slade Heathcott (knee), C Luis Torrens (shoulder), OF Trey Amburgey (hamstring), and RHP Domingo Acevedo (hamstring) are all said to be working their way back with no issues.
  • RHP Austin DeCarr and RHP Domingo German are both progressing well in their rehab from Tommy John surgery. There’s no timetable for their return to game action yet.
  • LHP Nestor Cortes landed in Baseball America’s Prospect Report today after striking out 12 last night. It’s not behind the paywall, so make sure you check it out.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 loss to Indianapolis)

  • LF Ben Gamel: 0-4
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 RBI
  • DH Nick Swisher: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K — back-to-back games with an extra-base hit for the first time since signing
  • CF Cesar Puello: 1-3, 1 2B, 1 K, 1 E (throwing) — missed some time with a concussion, but he’s quietly hitting .283/.443/.400 so far
  • LHP Dietrich Enns: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HB, 8/3 GB/FB — 53 of 91 pitches were strikes (58%) … he still has a 1.74 ERA on the season
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 1.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 29 of 45 pitches were strikes (64%)
  • RHP Conor Mullee: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 1/0 GB/FB — four pitches, three strikes

[Read more…]

DotF: Judge homers again, Refsnyder extends hit streak in Scranton win

Some notes:

  • RHP Domingo Acevedo has been placed on the Low-A Charleston DL with a lower body injury, reports Josh Norris. At least it’s not his arm. Acevedo has a 2.43 ERA (2.35 FIP) with 37 strikeouts and only five walks in 33.1 innings this season.
  • Both C Gary Sanchez and SS Jorge Mateo were including in MLB.com’s Prospect Team of the Week. Those two went a combined 23-for-45 (.511) with three doubles, two triples, and five home runs in ten games last week. That is: good.
  • LHP Nestor Cortes was including in Baseball America’s daily prospect report today, so check that out. It’s not behind the paywall. Cortes has been one of the best pitchers in the system statistically since being a 36th round pick in 2013.
  • OF Carlos Vidal, OF Mark Payton, and RHP Brody Koerner were all placed on the High-A Tampa DL, per Nick Flammia. RHP Travis Hissong and OF Cesar Diaz were moved up to fill roster spots.
  • The Yankees have signed RHP Jean Peralta, reports Matt Eddy. I can’t find any information about him, and usually that means he is an amateur player signed as an international free agent.

Triple-A Scranton (6-0 win over Pawtucket)

  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI — fifth homer in his last nine games
  • C Gary Sanchez: 1-4, 1 K
  • DH Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K — hitting streak is up to 13 games
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • 1B Nick Swisher: 2-4 — first multi-hit game in 15 days
  • RHP Chad Green: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 2 WP, 6/2 GB/FB — 69 of 103 pitches were strikes (67%) … 24.3% strikeout rate in Triple-A this year after a 20.9% strikeout rate in Double-A last year
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 2 IP, zeroes, 4 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 16 of 21 pitches were strikes (76%)

[Read more…]

The Farm System [2016 Season Preview]

Kaprielian. (Presswire)
Kaprielian. (Presswire)

The Yankees ignored their farm system for a number of years in the early and mid-2000s. They forfeited first round picks left and right to sign free agents, and they traded the few prospects they had for big leaguers every chance they got. I don’t think that’s automatically a bad thing! There’s a time and a place to go for it, and when you’re winning 90+ games every year, you go for it.

Things changed not too long ago. The Yankees decided to scale back the “go for it” mentality and instead focus on getting younger and building from within. Draft picks are precious, especially now that it’s harder to get extra ones, and top prospects are off limits in trades. Or at least the team says they are. Last summer the Yankees dipped into their farm system to fill a number of holes, most notably by sticking Luis Severino in the second half rotation.

The Yankees doubled down on their farm system this offseason. They signed zero Major League free agents for the first time in franchise history (as far as I can tell), and they didn’t go bonkers with trades either. They added a new second baseman, a new fourth outfielder, and a new closer. That’s about it. Any additional help is going to come from within in 2016. Let’s preview the farm system.

The Top Prospects

The Yankees have four prospects who are clearly a notch above everyone else in the system: OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, SS Jorge Mateo, and RHP James Kaprielian. Put them in any order you want. I won’t argue (much). Those are the four guys though. They’re the cream of the farm system crop. And cool part is all four could play in MLB in 2016. I wouldn’t call it likely, but it’s not completely impossible.

Judge is a behemoth — he’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 lbs. — with the kind of raw power you’d expect from that frame, though he doesn’t fit the one-dimensional slugger stereotype because he has a good hit tool and can play quality right field defense. Triple-A pitchers beat him with soft stuff away last year, so he’ll focus on the outer half this year. He’s already made some adjustments. Judge is not on the 40-man roster and the Yankees do have a lot of Triple-A outfield depth, but he will be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason, so the team could add him to the 40-man ahead of time and bring him up in September. Perhaps even sooner.

As soon as John Ryan Murphy was traded, Sanchez became the favorite for the backup catcher’s job. Over time it became clear sending him down was the right move, and not only because he went 1-for-21 (.048) in Spring Training. Five weeks in the minors equals an extra year of team control down the line and that is too good to pass up. Sanchez will continue to work on his defense in Triple-A for the time being. It’s only a matter of time until he takes over as Brian McCann‘s backup.

Mateo and Kaprielian are both going to start the season in High-A and they could conceivably reach MLB late in the season. Kaprielian, a polished college arm, could follow the Ian Kennedy path and zoom up the ladder, capping off his season with a few big league starts. Mateo, a speedster who can do a little of everything, could be the team’s designated pinch-runner in September. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so the Yankees could add him to the 40-man roster a few weeks early and put those legs to good use.

Judge, Sanchez, Mateo, and Kaprielian are the club’s tippy top prospects, and even if they don’t help at the MLB level this season, they’re all big parts of the future. Judge is the obvious long-term replacement for Carlos Beltran. Sanchez is McCann’s long-term replacement. The Yankees have one big league starter under team control beyond 2017 (Severino), so Kaprielian’s place is obvious. Mateo? They’ll figure that out when the time comes. For now, these four will continue to hone their skills and inch closer to an MLB job.

Ready To Help

In addition to the four top prospects, the Yankees have a few minor leaguers on the cusp of helping at the MLB level right now. First and foremost, they have about a dozen arms for the bullpen shuttle, and frankly I’m kinda sick of talking about them. We know the names, right? LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Nick Goody, RHP Branden Pinder, LHP James Pazos, on and on the list goes. We’re going to see them all at some point in 2016. I’m sure of it.

Gamel. (Presswire)
Gamel. (Presswire)

Beyond the bullpen shuttle, the Yankees have a small army of Triple-A outfielders who can help at a moment’s notice. Need a bat? OF Ben Gamel is there. Need defense? OF Mason Williams is the best bet once he fully recovers from shoulder surgery. Need a little of both? There’s OF Slade Heathcott. 2B Rob Refsnyder provides infield depth, or at least he will once he spends more time at third base. IF Ronald Torreyes, who will open the season in the show, is another infield candidate.

RHP Bryan Mitchell is also going to open to season in MLB, though he’s still a piece of rotation depth. If he’s the best man for the job, the Yankees will pull him out of the bullpen and stick him in the rotation whenever a starter is needed. RHP Luis Cessa, who came over in the Justin Wilson trade, looked very good this spring and is probably next in line for a call-up. RHP Brady Lail and RHP Chad Green are behind him. Cessa is on the 40-man. Lail and Green are not.

Unlike last season, the Yankees don’t have a Severino waiting in the wings. They don’t have that prospect who can come up and provide immediate impact. Well, I should rephrase that. They don’t have a prospect you would reasonably project to come up and have an impact right away. Cessa could come up and throw 60 innings with a sub-2.00 ERA, but no one expects that. Either way, the Yankees have depth pieces in Triple-A. Expect them to dip into their farm system for short-term help again this year, regardless of what they need at the MLB level.

The Next Top Prospects

A year ago at this time Mateo looked like a prospect who was ready to explode onto the scene and become a top tier prospect. Two years ago it was Severino. This summer, the best candidate for such a breakout is SS Wilkerman Garcia, who was part of that massive international spending spree two years ago. He’s a switch-hitter with good defense and I swear, every scouting report I read about him is better than the last. I’m excited to see what Wilkerman does this year.

Beyond Wilkerman, OF Dustin Fowler and C Luis Torrens have a chance to become top prospects this year. Fowler is a do-it-all outfielder and Torrens is a defense-first catcher with a promising bat. He’s coming back from shoulder surgery though, so maybe expecting a breakout after missing the entire 2015 season is too much to ask. 3B Miguel Andujar has high-end tools. We’re just waiting for the performance to match. SS Hoy Jun Park is another toolsy shortstop like Garcia.

The Yankees have a very position player heavy farm system, though they do have some pitching prospects poised to break out this summer. RHP Drew Finley is the No. 1 guy. He’s got three pitches and he locates. I feel like he’s going to sneak up on people this year. RHP Domingo Acevedo is the quintessential huge fastball guy. He just has to figure everything else out. LHP Jeff Degano needs to develop a changeup but already has the fastball and breaking ball.

Then, of course, there’s whoever the Yankees take with their first round pick (18th overall) in this June’s amateur draft. That player — the smart money is on a college player based on the team’s recent draft tendencies — figures to be one of their better prospects a year from now. Wilkerman, Fowler, and Finley are my picks. Those are the guys I see having big 2016 seasons developmentally and becoming true top prospects year from now.

Returning From Injury

Torrens missed all of last season with his injury, but man, he’s not the only one. LHP Ian Clarkin missed the regular season with elbow inflammation, which stinks. The good news is he did not need surgery and was able to throw some innings in the Arizona Fall League. RHP Ty Hensley, RHP Austin DeCarr, and RHP Domingo German all had Tommy John surgery last spring and are still working their way back. Lindgren (elbow), Heathcott (quad), and Williams (shoulder) all missed big chunks of the season too. That’s a lot of talent coming back. Hopefully all of them come back at full strength, or at least something close to it.

Sladerunner. (Presswire)
Sladerunner. (Presswire)

Last Chance?

Prospects are fun and everyone loves them, but they will break your heart. Over and over again. Some players are entering make or break years, and I don’t mean 2015 Gary Sanchez make or break years. I mean real make or break years. 1B/OF Tyler Austin is the most obvious last chance guy. He’s battled injuries and ineffectiveness the last few years, and he lost his 40-man roster spot in September. The 2016 season is his last chance to show the Yankees he’s worth keeping around.

Heathcott’s another make or break player for me. The Yankees gave him a second chance last year and he rewarded them with his big September home run against the Rays. That said, he again missed a bunch of time due to injury, and when healthy he didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball in Triple-A. Another year like that might spell the end of Slade’s time in the organization, especially since he will be out of options following the season.

I’m also inclined to include RHP Vicente Campos in the make or break category. He’s had a lot of injuries over the years, most notably missing the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery, which has really cut into his development time. This is his final minor league option year, and if he doesn’t show the Yankees he can help as soon next year, it may be time to move on. Baseball is cruel, man.

The Deep Sleepers

Remember that “The Next Top Prospects” section? Consider this the Next Next Top Prospects section. These are the deepest sleepers in the farm system. They’re way off the beaten path. The new hotness right now is OF Estevan Florial, an ulta-tooled up 18-year-old the Yankees got on the cheap because identity issues — he used a relative’s identity to enroll in school in the Dominican Republic — put him in purgatory before signing. He’s going to make his stateside debut this year and jump onto the prospect map in a big way.

SS Diego Castillo and OF Brayan Emery were part of the 2014-15 international spending spree, and both possess tools that far exceed their six-figure bonuses. Castillo in particular already looks like a steal at $750,000. He should come to the U.S. this year and is in line to follow Mateo and Wilkerman as the next great Yankees shortstop prospect. RHP Luis Medina, who signed last July, is already running his fastball up to 98-100 mph. And then there’s OF Leonardo Molina, who is still only 18. It feels like he’s been around forever. Florial is the big name to know here, but Castillo’s not far behind. Expect to hear a lot about those two in 2016 and beyond.

The Best of the Rest

There is nothing sexy about being a mid-range prospect, but you know what? Mid-range prospects are often the difference between good teams and great teams. They provide depth and they’re valuable trade chips. Guys like Adam Warren and Brett Gardner don’t grow on trees, you know. You’d rather draft and develop them yourself than have to go out and buy them from someone else.

SS Tyler Wade, SS Kyle Holder, LHP Jordan Montgomery, IF Thairo Estrada, IF Abi Avelino, OF Carlos Vidal, 1B Chris Gittens, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Chance Adams, OF Trey Amburgey, and OF Jhalan Jackson all fit into this group. They’re good prospects, not great prospects, and they all project to be big leaguers of varying usefulness. I’m not sure if we’ll see any of these players in the show this year, but I bet several pop-up in trade rumors, and one or two could be moved for help at the MLB level. That’s what the farm system is for, after all. Call-ups and trades.