Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez selected for 2015 Futures Game

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Outfielder Aaron Judge and catcher Gary Sanchez have been selected to participate in the 2015 Futures Game, MLB announced earlier today. Judge will suit up for Team USA and Sanchez will play for the World Team, because duh. The full rosters are right here. Baseball America has free mini-scouting reports on all the players as well: Team USA and World Team.

Judge, 23, is New York’s best prospect. He is hitting .277/.345/.500 (139 wRC+) with 16 doubles and 12 home runs in 66 games this season, most with Double-A Trenton and a handful with Triple-A Scranton. Judge stands out for his size (6-foot-7 and 230 lbs.) and his raw power, though he has a line drive approach in games, so he doesn’t always tap into his pop. His athleticism and right field defense are assets as well and often overlooked.

The 22-year-old Sanchez is currently on the Double-A DL with a bruised hand after being hit by a foul tip, though the injury is considered minor and he’s expected back soon. Sanchez is hitting .256/.313/.432 (113 wRC+) with seven doubles and eighth homers in 45 games with the Thunder in 2015. He’s a bat first prospect with big power who is still trying to improve behind the plate so he can catch long-term.

Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)
Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)

Teams do have input for the Futures Game — Bill Shaikin says the Dodgers didn’t approve Corey Seager’s selection even though he’s the best prospect in the minors right now, for example — so it’s possible the Yankees declined to allow right-hander Luis Severino to participate, possibly because they are considering calling him up at some point. Then again, players who are called up are simply replaced on the Futures Game roster. Who knows?

It’s also possible the Yankees pushed for Sanchez to be included so they could showcase him for trades. Crazy? Maybe. But Peter O’Brien was a Futures Gamer last summer and was then traded a few weeks later. If Sanchez goes 0-for-2 in the Futures Game, no one blinks an eye. But if he homers off a top pitching prospect, well hey now, someone will take notice of that. It’s a no-lose situation for the Yankees. Well, unless Sanchez gets hurt, but you know what I mean.

This is the first Futures Game selection for both Judge and Sanchez. Severino and O’Brien represented the Yankees last season and Rafael DePaula the year before that. The Futures Game is Sunday, July 12th in Cincinnati. The final day before the All-Star break. Congrats to Judge and Sanchez. It’s always cool to be recognized as one of the best prospects in the game.

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Taking stock of the Yankees’ trade chips leading up to the deadline

Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)
Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)

Over the last few seasons the Yankees have focused on rental players at the trade deadline while doing their long-term shopping in the offseason. That isn’t always the case — Martin Prado had two and a half years left on his contract at the time of the trade last year — but that definitely seems to be their preference. Hal Steinbrenner already confirmed rentals are the plan this summer as well.

Earlier this week we heard the Yankees have “sworn off” trading their top prospects for rentals, and that’s all well and good, but every team says that this time of year. If the Tigers offer David Price for Luis Severino, are the Yankees really going to say no to that? Probably not. Anyway, the Yankees have some needs heading into the trade deadline as always (righty reliever, second base, etc.), so let’s sort through their trade chips to see who may and may not be dealt this summer.

The Untouchables, Sorta

The Yankees rarely trade players off their big league roster at the trade deadline, and, when they do, it’s usually a Vidal Nuno or Yangervis Solarte type. Not someone who was a key part of the roster. I think Dellin Betances is the team’s best trade chip right now — best as in he’d bring the largest return by himself — but they’re not going to trade him for obvious reasons. Same with Michael Pineda and, yes, even Didi Gregorius.

Among prospects, Severino and Aaron Judge are the closest to untouchable, and I don’t think they should be completely off the table. They’re very good prospects, not elite best in baseball prospects, and the Yankees should at least be willing to listen. (I suspect they are.) Does that mean they should give them away? Of course not. The Yankees would need a difference-maker in return, likely a difference-maker they control beyond this season.

The Outfielders

Alright, now let’s get to the prospects who might actually be traded this summer. We have to start with the outfielders. The Yankees have a ton of them. You could argue too many, though I won’t. Just this season the Yankees have had Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and Ramon Flores make their big league debuts. Judge was just promoted to Triple-A Scranton, where the Yankees also have Ben Gamel and Tyler Austin. Jake Cave is with Double-A Trenton.

Flores. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Flores. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

That’s a lot of outfielders! Obviously some are more valuable than others, especially with Heathcott (quad) and Williams (shoulder) on the DL, but that’s a legitimate surplus the Yankees can use in a trade(s) at the deadline. Judge is the big prize here, though he’s supposedly untouchable. My guess is healthy Williams and Flores have the most trade value out of everyone else because teams could realistically plug them right onto their MLB roster. The Yankees are in position to trade a young outfielder or two while still having enough depth for themselves.

The “Blocked” Prospects

Prospects who don’t necessarily fit into a club’s long-term plans are prime trade bait. Gary Sanchez sure seems likely to be made available this summer assuming he returns from his bruised hand reasonably soon. (He was hit by a foul tip last week.) The Yankees value defense behind the plate very highly. They’ve made that clear. Sanchez, while improving slowly and steadily, isn’t much of a defender at all. The bat is more projection than results — 108 wRC+ in just over 800 Double-A plate appearances from 2013-15 — which isn’t uncommon for a 22-year-old.

Sanchez is still only 22 but he is also in his second minor league option year, meaning he has to stick in MLB or be exposed to waivers come the 2017 season. That’s still a long way away in the grand scheme of things. Long enough for his defense to improve to the Yankees’ high standards? Probably not. It’s not impossible, just unlikely. As with Jesus Montero and Peter O’Brien before him, Sanchez seems very likely to be dealt no matter how promising his bat appears simply because it doesn’t look like he’ll be a good catcher and doesn’t really have another position.

Eric Jagielo is blocked but not really — the Yankees did just sign Chase Headley to a four-year contract, but Jagielo probably won’t stay at third base long-term anyway. He might be headed for left field or, more likely, first base. And, if that is the case, Jagielo’s future impacts Greg Bird, a true first base prospect. Mark Teixeira‘s contract will expire after next season and ideally one of these two will step into to replace him at first. It’s easy to say the Yankees should look into their crystal ball, decide whether Jagielo or Bird will be the first baseman of the future and trade the other, but that’s not realistic. Either way, Jagielo and Bird shouldn’t be off-limits in trade talks.

Stock Down

Coming into the season, I would have said prospects like Ian Clarkin, Domingo German, Ty Hensley, and Luis Torrens fit into the “candidates to be traded” group for different reasons. Maybe even Jacob Lindgren too. They’ve all since suffered significant injuries. German and Hensley both had Tommy John surgery, Torrens had shoulder surgery, and Lindgren had a bone spur taken out of his elbow this week. He might be back in September. German, Hensley, and Torrens are done for the year.

Clarkin has not pitched in an official game this year because of some kind of elbow problem. He was shut down with tendinitis in Spring Training and reportedly pitched in an Extended Spring Training game back in May, but we haven’t heard any updates since, and he hasn’t joined any of the minor league affiliates. (Extended Spring Training ended a few days ago.) It’s hard not to think the worst in a situation like this. Clarkin and these other guys are still eligible to be traded, but injured non-elite prospects usually don’t have much value. The Yankees are better off holding onto them and hoping they rebuild value with a healthy 2016.

Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)
Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)

Not As Valuable As You May Think

Like the fans of the other 29 teams, we overvalue the Yankees’ prospects. We’re not unique. Everyone does it. Rob Refsnyder? He’s slightly more valuable than Tony Renda, who New York just acquired for a reliever who had been designated for assignment. An all-hit/no-glove prospect pushing a .750 OPS at Triple-A isn’t bringing back a whole lot. Think Pete O’Brien without the power.

Jorge Mateo? He’s loaded with ability. He’s also 20 and in Low-A, so three years away from MLB, give or take. The further away a player is from MLB, the less trade value he has. Same deal with Miguel Andujar and Tyler Wade. These guys absolutely have trade value. Just not as a centerpiece in a significant deal. They’re second or third pieces in a big deal, headliners in a smaller deal.

Miscellaneous depth arms fit here as well. Jose Ramirez, Tyler Webb, Branden Pinder, guys like that. They’re all interesting for different reasons and hey, they might have some MLB value for a few years, but they’re basically throw-ins. And no, lumping two or three good prospects together doesn’t equal one great prospect. Most teams already have prospects like the guys in this section in their farm system. They aren’t game-changers in trade negotiations.

Straight Cash, Homey

The Yankees’ single greatest trade chip is their payroll and their ability to absorb salary. That helped them get Prado at the trade deadline last year, for example. Or Bobby Abreu years ago. Whether Hal Steinbrenner is willing to take on substantial money to facilitate a trade is another matter. I mean, I’d hope so, especially for a rental player who won’t tie down future payroll when the team tries to get under the luxury tax threshold again. The team’s ability to take on big dollars separates them from most other clubs in trade talks. Their financial might is absolutely valuable when talking trades.

* * *

Even if the Yankees do make Severino and Judge off-limits — all indications are they will — I think they have enough mid-range prospects to acquire upgrades at the trade deadline. Not huge ones, we can forget all about Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto is Severino and Judge are off the table, but Sanchez, Jagielo, and the various outfielders will generate some interest. Finding a match will be more difficult than scratching together tradeable prospects, which was an issue for New York for several years in the mid-2000s.

DotF: Flores and Severino lead RailRiders to a win

Got some notes to pass along:

  • Matt Kardos says C Gary Sanchez has been placed on the Double-A Trenton DL with a hand injury. He was hit by a foul tip the other day and has a bone bruise. X-rays showed no fracture. Sanchez is a few days away from returning to baseball activities according to Trenton manager Al Pedrique.
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren has been placed on the Triple-A Scranton DL, reports Chad Jennings. Not sure what’s wrong there but he hasn’t pitched since being demoted this past weekend. If it’s something Lindgren suffered while in MLB, the Yankees will have to call him back up and place him on the big league DL, allowing him accrue service time and receive MLB salary.
  • According to his Twitter feed, SS Kyle Holder is heading to Short Season Staten Island, which makes sense. He was the team’s supplemental first rounder last week ($1.8M bonus). Also, Robert Pimpsner says IF Thairo Estrada and RHP Domingo Acevedo will be with Staten Island as well. The season starts Friday.
  • Nick Peruffo says LHP James Pazos has been bumped up to Triple-A Scranton while RHP Caleb Cotham was send down to Double-A Trenton to clear a roster spot

Triple-A Scranton (6-4 win over Rochester)

  • CF Ben Gamel, RF Jose Pirela & 2B Rob Refsnyder: all 0-4 — Gamel and Pirela both drew a walk and struck out
  • LF Ramon Flores: 3-4, 3 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI
  • SS Gregorio Petit: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K
  • RHP Luis Severino: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 2/7 GB/FB — 59 of 103 pitches were strikes (57%) … this strikes me as the kind of performance that would have been much uglier against big leaguers … lots of fly balls, same number of walks as strikeouts, inefficient, etc.
  • RHP Jaron Long: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 4/1 GB/FB — 14 of 19 pitches were strikes (74%) … temporarily working out of the bullpen because Ivan Nova is in his rotation spot
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — nine of 13 pitches were strikes (69%)
  • RHP Branden Pinder: 0 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K — only one of four pitches were strikes … he was ejected in the middle of an at-bat, hence the pitch count weirdness … also he’s allowed five runs in six innings since being sent down

[Read more…]

DotF: Gary Sanchez injured in Trenton’s one-hitter

Got a slew of roster moves to pass along, courtesy of Nick Flammia, Matt Kardos, and the River Dogs:

  • LHP Matt Tracy, RHP Joel De La Cruz, and OF Taylor Dugas were all demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Double-A Trenton. OF Ramon Flores and UTIL Jose Pirela are joining the roster.
  • OF Mark Payton, LHP Eric Wooten, RHP Chris Smith, and RHP Alex Smith were demoted from Double-A Trenton to High-A Tampa. Tracy, De La Cruz, Dugas, and the recently signed RHP Sergio Santos will fill those roster spots, plus 2B Joe Renda is on the way.
  • LHP Conner Kendrick, RHP Angel Rincon, and RHP Phil Walby were demoted from High-A Tampa to Low-A Charleston. Those roster spots are for Payton, Wooten, and the Smiths.
  • RHP Manolo Reyes, RHP Luis Cedeno, and RHP Yoel Espinal were demoted from Low-A Charleston to Extended Spring Training. Those are the Kendrick, Rincon, and Walby roster spots.

Triple-A Scranton (9-2 win over Rochester)

  • RF Ramon Flores: 1-5, 1 RBI, 1 K — threw a runner out at second base
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 HBP
  • C Austin Romine: 1-3, 1 RBI
  • CF Ben Gamel: 0-4
  • RHP Kyle Davies: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 6/8 GB/FB — 62 of 97 pitches were strikes (64%)
  • RHP Branden Pinder: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/3 GB/FB — 13 of 17 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Poll: The 2015 Prospect Watch

"I will be the Prospect Watch." "Okay Aaron."
“I will be the Prospect Watch.” “Okay Aaron.” (Presswire)

One of our long-running features here at RAB is the annual Prospect Watch, where we pick a prospect, then keep track of his progress throughout the season in the sidebar. Some say the Prospect Watch is a curse, I say the Yankees aren’t particularly good at player development. RAB’s pixels don’t influence career paths.

We’ve been running the Prospect Watch so long now that I’m starting to forget who has been featured. I know it all started with Phil Hughes, and last year we had Eric Jagielo, but I can’t remember all the names between those two. Jesus Montero and Mason Williams for sure, and I think Manny Banuelos as well. The Andrew Brackman Watch sounds like it was once a thing too.

Anyway, with the minor league season set to start on Thursday, it’s time to vote on this year’s Prospect Watch prospect. In the past I made an executive decision and picked my favorite prospect, but the last few years I’ve opened it up to a reader poll, and that seems better. It’s worked well so why stop? I do still get to pick the candidates, however. Here are the six players up for this summer’s Prospect Watch, listed alphabetically.

1B Greg Bird (No. 5 on my Top 30 Prospects)
Brian Cashman called Bird “by far the hitter” in the farm system a few weeks ago and the numbers back it up. The 22-year-old Bird followed up his dominant 2013 season (170 wRC+ in Low-A) by hitting .271/.376/.472 (139 wRC+) with 30 doubles, 14 homers, 14.3 BB%, and 22.2 K% in 102 games split between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2014. Then he hit .313/.381/.556 (156 wRC+) with six homers in the Arizona Fall League and was named MVP. Then he hit .353/.421/.706 with three doubles and a homer during Grapefruit League play. All Bird does is hit. He’ll start the season back with Double-A Trenton.

OF Aaron Judge (No. 1)
Judge, 22, was the second of the team’s three first round picks in 2013, but he couldn’t make his pro debut until 2014 due to a quad injury. Judge proceeded to hit .308/.419/.486 (158 wRC+) with 24 homers, 17 doubles, 15.8 BB%, and 23.3 K% in 131 games across two Single-A levels last season. He showed a more advanced hit tool and approach than even the Yankees expected when they drafted him. Like Bird, Judge is ticketed for Double-A Trenton this month.

SS Jorge Mateo (No. 8)
Mateo is the new hotness. The 19-year-old is the fast riser everyone is touting as the next great Yankees prospect. A wrist injury limited him to only 15 rookie ball games last year (119 wRC+) but that isn’t enough to stop the team from sending him to Low-A Charleston this year. Mateo has elite speed, solid contact skills and patience, and surprising pop. He’s not going to hit a ton of homers, but he will steal a boatload of bases and could hit for a sky high average.

C Gary Sanchez (No. 3)
It seems like Sanchez is the black sheep of top Yankees prospects. He’s been around for a while and people are bored of him. And yet, Sanchez is a month younger than Bird, seven months younger than Judge, and he put up a .270/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) batting line with 19 doubles, 13 homers, 9.0 BB%, and 19.1 K% as a full-time catcher in a full season at Double-A last year. The Yankees are sending Sanchez back to Trenton this summer, where he will still be two years young for the level.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

RHP Luis Severino (No. 2)
The Yankees have a very position player farm system, so the 21-year-old Severino is only pitcher in this post. He had an absurd 2014 season, pitching to a 2.46 ERA (2.40 FIP) with 27.8 K% and 5.9 BB% in 113.1 innings while jumping from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton. Severino had the lowest FIP among the 551 minor league pitchers to throw at least 100 innings last summer. He was that good. The Yankees will have Severino start this season back in Trenton, but don’t expect him to be there long.

2B Rob Refsnyder (No. 13)
Since being the team’s fifth round pick in 2012, Refsnyder’s done nothing but hit. The 24-year-old has put up a .307/.400/.457 (145 wRC+) line with 70 doubles, 20 homers, 12.1 BB%, and 16.1 K% in 267 games at four minor league levels since the start of 2013. His worst performance at an individual level is the .300/.389/.456 (137 wRC+) batting line he put up in 77 games with the RailRiders last year. Refsnyder will go back to Triple-A to start the season but will surely make his MLB debut at some point this year, likely once he learns to play passable defense.

* * *

If you were hoping to vote for someone like LHP Ian Clarkin or 3B Miguel Andujar, sorry. Their time will come. I focused on players capable of putting up big numbers this year because hey, everyone wants to follow a prospect who’s dominating, right? The guys just holding their own are boring. To the poll.

Who should be the 2015 Prospect Watch?

Minor League Notes: Assignments, Spring Reports, Judge, International Spending

Pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)
The new pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)

The Yankees open the 2015 regular season tomorrow, and a few days later the minor league season will get underway as well. Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston all begin their seasons this coming Thursday. Here are some minor league notes to hold you over until then.

Opening Day assignments for top prospects

The full minor league rosters have not yet been released and won’t be a few days, though Josh Norris was able to get his hands on Opening Day assignments for most of the Yankees’ top prospects. The list:

Norris says the assignments could change slightly before the start of the season, but for the most part they’re set. Sanchez is going back to the Thunder to continue working on his defense with coaches and ex-catchers Michel Hernandez and P.J. Pilittere, which I don’t love, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I assume Avelino, Katoh, and Mateo will rotate between second, short, and DH like Avelino, Katoh, and Wade did last year before Avelino got hurt. I’m little surprised Mateo is going to Charleston — he’s played only games in 15 rookie ball, that’s it — but the Yankees have never been shy about aggressively promoting their best teenage players. Otherwise these assignments are fairly straight forward. No major surprises.

Notes from the backfields in Tampa

Both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Jeff Moore (no subs. req’d) recently posted a collection of notes after watching minor league games on the backfields all around Florida. Law got a look at Mateo, saying he likes “how well he keeps his hands inside the ball” and added he “liked the potential of the hit tool but was hoping to see more polish on both sides of the ball.” The polish will come. It’s only Spring Training and Mateo is still just a 19-year-old kid.

Meanwhile, Moore saw Judge, Bird, and RHP Bryan Mitchell. “What’s impressive is (Judge) seems to get a little better each time I see him. The at-bats have gotten tougher and more advanced, with a better plan each time out,” wrote Moore. He also said he sees Bird as “a potential regular first baseman” and his “power is very real, more real than he gets credit for.” As for Mitchell, Moore says his fastball/curveball combination “screams reliever, and possibly a darn good one.”

Law still ranks Judge 23rd in latest Top 50 Prospects list

Last week, Law released an updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in baseball (subs. req’d). There are only very minor changes from his top 100 list in February, with the most notable being the addition of Red Sox IF Yoan Moncada, who slots in at No. 16. Even with Moncada joining the list, Judge stays in the same No. 23 spot because he jumped over Rockies RHP Jon Gray, who hasn’t looked like himself this spring. Judge remains the third outfielder on the list behind Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler. Law is the high man on Judge based on all this spring’s other top 100 lists. That’s cool with me.

Yankees spent $17.83M on international players in 2014

According to Ben Badler, the Yankees spent a ridiculous $17.83M on international prospects last year, easily the most in baseball. They spent more than the number two (Rays, $6.11M), three (Red Sox, $5.63M), and four (Astros, $5.42M) teams combined and more than the bottom ten teams combined ($16.9575M). Just to be clear, this is for the 2014 calendar year, not the 2014-15 signing period.

The Yankees handed out three of the five largest, six of the 14 largest, and 12 of the 40 largest signing bonuses to international prospects during the 2014 calendar year, according to Badler. We still don’t have a final number for the total bonuses the Yankees handed out during the 2014-15 signing period, but the total investment is clearly going to be north of $30M between bonuses and penalties. Most of that $17.83M last year was spent on July 2nd, the first day of the 2014-15 signing period. Now the Yankees just have to turn these kids into big leaguers and tradeable prospects.

Yankees release nine more minor leaguers

The Yankees have released seven more minor leaguers according to Matt Eddy: OF Yeicok Calderon, RHP Tim Giel, OF Robert Hernandez, RHP Stefan Lopez, RHP Matt Noteware, 1B Dalton Smith, and IF Graham Ramos. Dan Pfeiffer says OF Adonis Garcia was released as well, and OF Adam Silva announced on Facebook he was also released.

First things first: no more Yeicokshots!, sadly. Hernandez was signed in January, so his stint with the organization didn’t last long. Lopez led NCAA in saves in 2012 and had some potential, but he fell in love with his fastball so much in college that he lost all feel for his slider and became a one-pitch guy. The Yankees signed Giel, Noteware, and Ramos as undrafted free agents within the last two years to help fill out minor league rosters. That’s about it.

Old Timers’ Game coming to Triple-A Scranton

And finally, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre franchise is holding an Old Timers’ Game on June 21st, reports Donnie Collins. The event will raise money for Parkinson’s disease research. “I expect the ballpark to be sold out — and standing room only. That’s the goal,” said RailRiders’ co-managing partner to Grant Cagle to Collins. A bunch of ex-Yankees will be in attendance — not sure who, exactly — to play in the Old Timers’ Game and/or mingle with fans during a meet-and-greet and autograph session. That should be fun.

Farm System Offers Some Help Now, More Help Later [2015 Season Preview]

Severino. (Presswire)
Severino. (Presswire)

Two years ago, the Yankees had a miserable season down in the farm system, with several top prospects either getting hurt, underperforming, or simply failing to move forward in their development. When big leaguer after big leaguer went down with an injury, the farm system had little to no help to offer. It was bad enough that Hal Steinbrenner and his staff essentially audited the player development system after the season, though they only made procedural changes.

Things were not nearly as bad last year, though they weren’t as good as they could have been either. Having three first round picks in the 2013 draft helped infuse high-end talent, and several other young lower level players took quicker than expected steps forward in their development. That didn’t stop the team from replacing longtime VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman and farm director Pat Roessler, both of whom were let go last October. (Newman retired, but his contract was up and all indications are he wasn’t going to be brought back anyway.)

Gary Denbo, who has worn many hats with the Yankees over the years, was tabbed as Newman’s replacement and he now oversees the player development system. (His official title is vice president of player development.) Eric Schmitt dropped the “assistant” from his old assistant director of minor league operations title and was promoted this offseason. Several other coaching and development staff changes were made as well, including the return of Greg Colbrunn (Low-A hitting coach) and Eric Duncan (Short Season defensive coach).

The Yankees are hoping those changes lead to a more productive farm system and soon. Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, and Steinbrenner all said his past offseason that young players were going to play a big role in the franchise going forward, which makes sense given Hal’s plan to get under the luxury tax threshold in two years or so. The system isn’t quite ready to graduate impact talent to the big league level, but there are several of those types of prospects on the horizon for 2016. Time to look ahead to the coming year in the minors.

The Top Prospects: Bird, Clarkin, Judge, Sanchez, Severino

You can rank them in whatever order, but I think most will agree 1B Greg Bird, LHP Ian Clarkin, OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, and RHP Luis Severino are the five best prospects in the system. Judge and Severino are a notch above the other three thanks to their sky high upside, though Cashman recently called Bird “by far the best hitter” in the organization and Clarkin might have the highest probability of the bunch. Sanchez has been around seemingly forever and I think people are getting sick of him, yet he just put up a 108 wRC+ at age 21 as an everyday catcher at Double-A. That’s pretty impressive.

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Severino is the sexy flame-throwing starter, but I consider Judge the more exciting and more polished prospect. He’s shown much better contact skills and a better approach than even the Yankees realized he had when they draft him 32nd overall in 2013, plus he also has huge raw power and is an asset defensively in right field. Judge needs to learn when to turn it loose so he can best tap into that power, but otherwise he’s a very complete prospect. Severino has big upside but still needs to improve his breaking ball and delivery.

With it looking more and more likely Sanchez will return to Double-A Trenton for yet another season, four of the Yankees’ top five prospects will be with the Thunder to start the 2015 season. Only Clarkin won’t be there — he’s slated to open the season with High-A Tampa, and while he could be promoted to Trenton later in the summer, the other four guys could be bumped up to Triple-A Scranton by then. Between Bird, Judge, Sanchez, Severino, and others like 3B Eric Jagielo and OF Jake Cave, Double-A is going to be a very fun affiliate to watch this summer.

Ready To Help Now: Flores, Lindgren, Pirela, Refsnyder

Inevitably, the Yankees will need help from within this year. Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to underperform, and the team will have to dip into the farm system for help. UTIL Jose Pirela suffered a concussion running into the outfield wall a week ago, but before that he was first in line to be called up whenever infield or outfield help is needed. His defense isn’t good anywhere; Pirela’s simply hit his way into the MLB picture.

With Pirela hurt, OF Ramon Flores figures to be first in line should outfield reinforcements be needed. I get the feeling Flores is going to spend about ten years in the league as a left-handed platoon outfielder, a Seth Smith type. He’s not a flashy prospect but he can hit, especially righties, and won’t kill his team in the field. 2B Rob Refsnyder isn’t ready for the big leagues defensively, but the Yankees could stick him at second base on an everyday basis this year and no one would think they’re crazy. He’s done nothing but hit since turning pro. Refsnyder just needs more reps on the infield after playing the outfield in college.

LHP Jacob Lindgren is New York’s best bullpen prospect and the most MLB ready, so much so that I think he should be on the Opening Day roster. Yeah, he could probably use a little more minor league time — Lindgren has yet to play at Triple-A, for what’s it worth — to work on his command, which is why he was sent to minor league camp yesterday, but Lindgren can get big leaguers out right now if the Yankees need him to. Pirela made his MLB debut last September and I expect Flores, Refsnyder, and Lindgren to make their debuts this year, sooner rather than later.

Ready To Help Soon: Austin, Bird, Judge, Rumbelow, Severino

As I mentioned earlier, much of the Yankees’ potential impact talent is likely to arrive in 2016, not 2015, including Bird, Judge, and Severino. I wouldn’t be surprised if Severino debuts this summer though. The Yankees have moved him very aggressively. RHP Nick Rumbelow is also likely to debut in 2015 as a strikeout heavy reliever, though he wasn’t as much of an Opening Day roster candidate as Lindgren. OF Tyler Austin figures to be a September call-up after spending the summer roaming the outfield with Triple-A Scranton.

Getting a cup of coffee and being ready to contribute are different things, however. Guys like Lindgren, Refsnyder, and Pirela are able to help the Yankees at the MLB level right away, at least in some aspects of the game. Others like Bird, Judge, Austin, and Severino aren’t big league ready and the Yankees shouldn’t plan on calling them up for help this year. They all need more seasoning in the minors. Next year we’ll be talking about them as players ready to help at the MLB level. They’re not ready at this very moment though.

Rumblin' Rumbelow. (Presswire)
Rumblin’ Rumbelow. (Presswire)

Breakout Candidates: DeCarr, Hensley, Mateo

You could make the case SS Jorge Mateo broke out last year, albeit in only 15 rookie ball games, but I think he has top 100 prospect in the game potential. Mateo, 19, is insanely fast with surprising power and a good approach at the plate to go with strong defensive chops at short. He received a ton of love last year and a full, healthy season in 2015 could have him atop New York’s prospect list and ranked among the best shortstop prospects in baseball.

RHP Ty Hensley‘s career has been slowed considerably by injuries, most notably two hip surgeries and a hernia that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season and the start of 2014 as well. He is healthy now and I get the sense the Yankees are ready to turn him loose with Low-A Charleston. Get him out there and let him pitch as much as possible early in the year just to make sure he gets those innings in, know what I mean? If they have to shut Hensley down in August to control his workload, so be it. He needs to make up for all the lost development time.

RHP Austin DeCarr was the Yankees’ third round pick last summer and is surprisingly refined for a kid just a year out of high school, throwing three good pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup) for strikes. It’s unclear where the club will send DeCarr to start the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he opened the year alongside Hensley in Charleston’s rotation. Other potential breakout candidates include OF Mark Payton, RHP Gabe Encinas, OF Leonardo Molina, OF Alex Palma, and SS Angel Aguilar.

Sleepers: Acevedo, De La Rosa, Haynes

Over the last few weeks RHP Domingo Acevedo has generated some buzz for his imposing frame (listed at 6-foor-7 and 190 lbs.) and a fastball that has touched triple digits. Perhaps he’s more of a breakout candidate than a sleeper? Is there a difference? Who knows. Anyway, Acevedo’s size and stuff make him super interesting, though his full season debut is likely a year away. He’s a deep sleeper.

RHP Kyle Haynes is a more traditional sleeper. The 24-year-old reliever came over from the Pirates in the Chris Stewart trade and has good stuff, specifically a mid-90s fastball and an average-ish slider. Command holds him back, which along with his age and role is the reason you haven’t heard much about him. The Yankees have had some success getting these big stuff, bad command guys to throw strikes in recent years (Shane Greene most notably), and Haynes could be next.

The most intriguing sleeper — even moreso than Acevedo — in my opinion is RHP Simon De La Rosa. The 21-year-old is a late bloomer who didn’t sign until age 19 in 2013 — he received a measly $50,000 bonus at that — but he packs mid-90s heat into his 6-foot-3, 185 lb. frame and also throws a curveball and a changeup. Despite his age, I don’t think the Yankees will aggressively move De La Rosa up the ladder because he’s so raw. The tools are there for a quality pitching prospect though.

The New Batch: DeLeon, Emery, Garcia, Gomez

Last summer the Yankees went on an unprecedented spring spree and signed many of the top available international prospects. I haven’t seen a final number anywhere, but estimates have the club shelling out more than $30M between bonuses and penalties. The two best prospects the Yankees signed are OF Juan DeLeon and 3B Dermis Garcia, though 3B Nelson Gomez, OF Bryan Emery, OF Jonathan Amundary, and C Miguel Flames are among the other notables. These guys will all make their pro debuts this season. That’s a big talent infusion in such a short amount of time.

Slade. (Presswire)
Slade. (Presswire)

Last Chance?: Campos, Heathcott, Williams

As is the case every year, the Yankees have several former top prospects facing make or break seasons in 2015. RHP Vicente Campos is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and is only throwing bullpen sessions now, so he’s unlikely to return to the mound until midseason. He’s thrown just 111.2 innings over the last three years. OF Slade Heathcott played only nine games in 2014 due to a pair of knee surgeries. He’s looked healthy in camp and needs to finally have a full season in 2015. Both Campos and Heathcott were non-tendered this offseason and re-signed to minor league contracts.

Some have called this a make or break season for Sanchez but I don’t agree with that at all. His defense needs to progress, absolutely, but he’s consistently been an above-average hitter throughout his career despite being three-ish years young for the level each step of the way. OF Mason Williams is definitely facing a make or break year, on the other hand. He hasn’t hit and has had to be benched for lack of effort on multiple occasions. Williams certainly doesn’t lack tools, he just hasn’t displayed the makeup and work ethic needed to be a big leaguer. More of the same will end his time as a prospect. Talent is important, but it will only buy you so many chances if you don’t put he work in.