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.

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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.

Gary Sanchez fatigue and the prospect of a make or break year

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

With Spring Training right around the corner, prospect season is in full swing around baseball, as new team top ten and global top 100 lists are posted just about everyday. (My annual top 30 Yankees prospects list will be going live next Friday, by the way.) The lists ultimately don’t mean anything, they’re just someone’s opinion, but they are fun to discuss and debate. Prospects can be very polarizing.

Prior to both the 2013 and 2014 seasons, I ranked C Gary Sanchez as the Yankees’ top prospect. So did Keith Law. Baseball America had Sanchez third prior to 2013 and first prior to 2014. Sanchez was also a staple on top 100 lists those two years, ranking as the 57th and 35th best prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to 2013 and 2014, respectively. Law him 18th and 68th those two years. Baseball Prospectus had him 47th and 85th, and MLB.com had him 36th and 47th. On and on it goes.

This year though, Sanchez has slid down the rankings. Both Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the third best prospect in the system a few weeks ago while Baseball America had him fifth. That is partly due to other players in the organization (specifically OF Aaron Judge and RHP Luis Severino) breaking out, but people have also soured on Sanchez. He had not appeared on any top 100 lists this year. Not Law’s, not Prospectus’, not MLB.com’s, and almost certainly not Baseball America’s when it is released next week.

I’m not going to call Sanchez’s absence on the various top 100 lists crazy — they’re all excellent and well-informed lists, every one of ’em — but I guess I do find it surprising. Well, I do and I don’t. It isn’t surprising because people are clearly down on him. It is surprising because Sanchez is still a pretty damn good prospect. I mean, look at this snippet from Baseball America’s recent scouting report:

If everything clicks, he’s a frontline catcher with the potential for a .280 average and 20-25 home runs annually. His throwing arm remains an impressive tool as well, one that ranks between 70-80 on the scouting scale, and he threw out 39 percent of basestealers.

That’s pretty awesome. Sanchez isn’t that guy yet, obviously, if he was he’d be in the big leagues, but that’s the kind of talent he has. “Sanchez will show you flashes of the ability that once made him a top-25 prospect in all of baseball,” wrote Law in his top ten post before getting to the caveat, “but he’ll also take whole pitches or innings off mentally, and catching isn’t a position you can play half-fast.”

That last part is Sanchez’s biggest issue. He’s had some work ethic related mishaps — Sanchez infamously refused to catch a bullpen session with Low-A Charleston a few years ago and was sent back to Extended Spring Training for disciplinary reasons — and his defense hasn’t improved as hoped, and that’s the scouting reason why he’s tumbling down the prospect rankings.

I also think there’s another factor: prospect fatigue. It happens all the time. Sanchez signed with the Yankees as a 16-year-old in 2009, so he’s been in the system for five full seasons now. That’s a lot. People are getting sick of his seeing his name on prospect lists. Following prospects is not about instant gratification but people always love their new toys more than their old ones. Sanchez has been around a long time and people are getting tired of him.

And yet, Sanchez just turned 22 last month. He’s only four months older than LHP Jacob Lindgren, who the Yankees just drafted last summer. Sanchez hit .270/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) with 13 homers as a full-time catcher in Double-A last year at age 21, making him 3.7 years younger than the average Eastern League player according to Baseball Reference. Heck, he’s been three years younger than the competition every season of his career.

(Star-Ledger)
(Star-Ledger)

If the Yankees signed some college catcher out of the draft, sent him right to Double-A, and he did what Sanchez did age 21 last year, we’d all think it was pretty awesome. But instead everyone has been pretty underwhelming by Sanchez. Everyone’s waiting for the big breakout year — a Jesus Montero year, if you will — that still hasn’t come even though Sanchez hasn’t ever actually been bad.

This brings us to another point I want to discuss: 2015 being a make or break year for Sanchez. I mean, no. The idea that a 22-year-old kid is facing a make or break year that will determine if he’s a prospect going forward or someone to forget about is silly. No one with half a brain would write off a 22-year-old with Sanchez’s ability. That said, I do think it is a make or break year for Sanchez with the Yankees’ organization.

The Yankees clearly prioritize catcher defense and have for years — the only bad defensive catcher they’ve had since 2007 is Jorge Posada. They called Montero a future big league catcher as long as possible until finally trading him away because no, they really didn’t think he was a catcher. Peter O’Brien was traded for the very same reason last summer. Sanchez has better defensive tools and a much better chance of sticking behind the plate than either Montero or O’Brien, but he’s still rough at the position and the improvement hasn’t come as quickly as hoped.

If that defensive improvement doesn’t come this year, a year in which Sanchez is slated to head to Triple-A Scranton, then his days with the organization are probably over. The Yankees will cut bait like they did with Montero and O’Brien and cash Sanchez in as a trade chip even though he has a chance to be an impact bat. So it’s not a make or break year for Sanchez’s career overall, but I do think it’s a make or break year for him with the Yankees. That makes sense, right?

Because Sanchez was a huge money international signing ($3M!) and has been one of the top rated prospects in the system for years, people have been watching and waiting for that mammoth season that validates all the time we’ve put into following him. It hasn’t happened and people are getting tired of waiting — I think the same thing happened with Dellin Betances two or three years ago too — but that doesn’t make him any less of a prospect. Sanchez is still really good and has loads of ability. But, unless he improves his defense this year, chances are he’s going to find himself in another organization.

Aaron Judge tops Keith Law’s top ten Yankees prospects

Judge in the Arizona Fall League. (Presswire)
Judge in the Arizona Fall League. (Presswire)

One day after releasing his top 100 prospects list, Keith Law published his top ten prospects for each team on Friday. Here is the index and here is the Yankees list. The individual team lists are Insider only. Here is New York’s top ten:

  1. OF Aaron Judge (No. 23 on the top 100)
  2. 1B Greg Bird (No. 80 on the top 100)
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. RHP Luis Severino
  5. OF Tyler Austin
  6. SS Jorge Mateo
  7. RHP Domingo German
  8. LHP Ian Clarkin
  9. C Luis Torrens
  10. 3B Eric Jagielo

Also, based on the write-up, we know 2B Rob Refsnyder, 3B Miguel Andujar, LHP Jacob Lindgren, SS Tyler Wade, RHP Brady Lail, and RHP Ty Hensley are prospects 11-16. Law is lower on Severino and higher on Austin than most, but otherwise the top ten (top 16, really) seems pretty straight forward. No major surprises. You could argue someone should be a spot higher or whatever, but it’s not worth it.

With Stephen Drew in Refsnyder’s way at second base, Law lists Lindgren as the mostly likely prospect to have an impact in 2015. OF Mason Williams is the “fallen” prospect, the guy who was once one of the best in the game but is now an afterthought. Law’s sleeper for the Yankees is Mateo, who he says is “so well-regarded in the industry that other teams have already targeted him in trade talks.” He adds that Mateo has “tremendous tools, is an 80 runner and plus fielder who shows above-average raw power in BP.”

The Yankees have a very position player heavy farm system right now — seven of Law’s top ten and nine of his top 12 are position players — and that’s a good thing because quality position players are hard to find these days. Even better, several of those position players will be at Double-A or higher this coming season, including Judge, Bird, Sanchez, Austin, Jagielo, and Refsnyder. There’s a clear path for some of those guys to get MLB at-bats in the next year or two, and the team’s apparent commitment to getting younger means they’re going to get a chance. That’s exciting.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 17-19

Over these next two weeks we’re going to subjectively rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’re inevitably going to disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.

Mitchell.. (Presswire)
Mitchell.. (Presswire)

As we jump into the top half of our 40-man roster rankings, we are now looking at players who are projected to have significant roles with the 2015 Yankees as well as the 2016 and beyond Yankees. At least most of the time. There is still one exception to the “significant role with the 2015 Yankees” thing and we’ll cover him today.

Today we’re going to cover spots 17 through 19, which include two starters who are not expected to start the year in rotation, but seem likely to wind up there come the second half. The other spot belongs to the team’s best prospect on the 40-man roster. All three are important pieces to the future of the franchise. To the next batch of rankings …

No. 19: Bryan Mitchell

2015 Role: I don’t want to say sixth starter, but it’s something close to that. Mitchell made his MLB debut last season, including a spot start against the Orioles during a doubleheader, and he handled himself well. That doesn’t guarantee success this coming season, of course, but it’s better than getting lit up and leaving everyone with a bad taste in their mouth.

Mitchell will presumably get regular work in Spring Training and could win the final bullpen spot as a long man, I suppose, but an assignment to Triple-A Scranton seems more likely. That way he could remain stretched out and available for whenever the Yankees inevitably need another starter. Given the state of the rotation, there’s a good chance Mitchell will make double-digit starts in the big leagues in 2015.

Long-Term Role: Middle to back of the rotation starter. The 23-year-old Mitchell is well ahead of where Shane Greene was in his development at the same age, and he has similarly nasty stuff in his mid-90s fastball and curveball, though he’s not a finished product. They sort of project to be the same type of pitcher though. Workhorse starters with A+ stuff but maybe not A+ results all the time.

Mitchell was drafted out of high school as a raw hard-thrower and has worked hard to improve his control over the years. He had a 13.6% walk rate in Low Class-A, a 9.3% walk rate in High Class-A, a 9.8% walk rate in Double-A, and an 8.9% walk rate in Triple-A, so he is moving in the right direction. There is more work to be done and it appears much of it will happen at the big league level. The Yankees need Mitchell to help both now and in the future.

No. 18: Gary Sanchez

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

2015 Role: Doesn’t really have one outside of being a September call-up and the emergency extra catcher. A lot would have to go wrong for Sanchez to get a chance behind the plate before rosters expand, I think. His defense, specifically his receiving — he has thrown out 42% of attempted base-stealers the last two seasons and that’s outstanding — is still a work in progress and so is his bat, really. Sanchez will spend the season as the regular catcher with the RailRiders.

Long-Term Role: Impact bat. Hopefully at catcher, but if not, at first base or even DH. Either way, Sanchez is a bat-first prospect and that’s why he is so highly regarded. When Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the team’s fifth best prospect a few weeks ago, they said he has “the potential for a .280 average and 20-25 home runs annually,” and that’s what the Yankees are hoping to see within a year or two.

Sanchez has shown quite a bit of improvement at making contact and controlling the strike zone as a pro — he had a 25.0% strikeout rate in Low Class-A, a 19.2% strikeout rate in High Class-A, and an 18.2% strikeout rate in Double-A. As with Mitchell, he’s trending in the right direction. Sanchez has power and a strong arm, so the physical tools are there. And he just turned 22 last month, making him the youngest player on the 40-man roster.

The Yankees very clearly value defense behind the plate. It all started years ago, really. They acquired Jose Molina from the Angels in the middle of the 2007 season and the only poor defensive catcher they’ve had since was Jorge Posada. Despite that gaudy caught stealing rate, Sanchez could find himself in another organization if the Yankees don’t like his defense enough. He could wind up being used as trade bait a la Jesus Montero.

Nova. (Presswire)
Nova and his braces. (Presswire)

No. 17: Ivan Nova

2015 Role: Rehabber, at least at first. Nova had Tommy John surgery in late-April and isn’t expected back until May or June of this year. He hasn’t had a setback or anything, the Yankees are just playing it a little safe. A lot of pitchers have recently needed a second Tommy John surgery soon after the first one — Kris Medlen, Jarrod Parker, Cory Luebke, Daniel Hudson, and Brandon Beachy just to name a few — and a lot of people (including Dr. James Andrews) say it may be because they are pushing too hard during the rehab of the first procedure. That’s why the Yankees are taking their time with Nova.

Once healthy and rehabbed, Nova will be expected to jump right back in the starting rotation and contribute. Every team needs more than five starters in a given season and these Yankees figure to be no different considering the injury risks present in the current projected rotation. If Nova comes back in May or June and the team doesn’t have an obvious spot for him, that’s a good thing. Let him get healthy first, then worry about where he fits. My guess is it won’t be a problem.

Long-Term Role: Like I said, Nova will jump right back into the starting rotation once healthy and he’s expected to be in the rotation in 2016 as well. That’s the extent of Nova’s ties to the Yankees though. He will become a free agent after the 2016 season and either he could decide to go elsewhere or the team could decide to move on.

That decision is still a long ways away, of course. Nova has to finish rehabbing his rebuilt elbow, get over the initial strike-throwing issues that so commonly plague recent Tommy John patients, then show in 2016 he is back to where he was before surgery. Now that I think about it … what was Nova before his injury? There were times he looked like an ace and other times he was throwing batting practice. We still don’t really know who the real Nova is at the MLB level. Isn’t that weird?

Coming Friday: Nos. 15 and 16. A young player about to get his first extended taste of big league action and a versatile reliever.

Aaron Judge tops Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects list

Judge putting a hurtin' on a baseball. (MiLB.com)
Judge putting a hurtin’ on a baseball. (MiLB.com)

The crew at Baseball Prospectus is currently in the middle of their annual top ten prospects series breaking down the best young minor leaguers in each organization. They published their top ten Yankees prospects list yesterday, though it is behind the paywall. You can see the list itself for free, but you have to pay for the scouting reports and everything else. Here’s the top ten:

  1. OF Aaron Judge
  2. RHP Luis Severino
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. LHP Ian Clarkin
  5. SS Jorge Mateo
  6. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. CF Leonardo Molina
  9. LHP Jacob Lindgren
  10. C Luis Torrens

Nine of those ten names are fairly straight forward and not surprisingly included in a Yankees top ten in whatever order. The one surprise is the 17-year-old Molina, who hit a weak .193/.267/.260 (58 wRC+) with one homer, six steals, and a 23.5% strikeout rate in 53 games with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Yankees this summer. That was his pro debut after signing for $1.4M in August 2013, making him the team’s top international pickup during the 2013-14 signing period.

Needless to say, the BP gang is very high on Molina. They grade all five of his tools as at least average — in fact, only the hit tool is average, everything else is above-average — and say the “tools are very loud, though far from being polished and playing together collectively as a group.” The write up also says Molina’s emergence as a top prospect “should be more subtle” rather than one huge breakout year. “It’s a boom-or-bust prospect, for sure, with a heavy serving of risk on the plate, but there’s a feel this one is going to start emerging over the next couple of seasons.”

Also in the article, 3B Miguel Andujar, RHP Austin DeCarr, and RHP Ty Hensley are listed as three prospects on the rise. Andujar and DeCarr are just starting their careers while Hensley is returning from hip and hernia surgery. RHP Jose Ramirez, RHP Danny Burawa, and OF Tyler Austin are listed among the non-top ten prospects who could have an MLB impact in 2014. And, finally, BP ranks the organization’s ten best players age 25 and under. It’s basically the top ten prospects list with SS Didi Gregorius sandwiched between Severino and Sanchez. RHP Michael Pineda is no longer eligible because he turns 26 next month.

“This system is thinner in the upper levels with potential impact talent, where the near-term contribution is likely to be more modest, but a wave brewing in the lower levels is starting to breathe some life and offer more promise,” said the write-up, summing up the state of the system. Every club has interesting prospects in the low levels, but I do think the Yankees have more than most, especially following their huge international free agent spending spree this summer. It’ll be a little while before those players begin to make a name for themselves and emerge as top prospects, of course.

Luis Severino tops Baseball America’s top ten Yankees prospects list

Severino at the 2014 Futures Game. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Severino at the 2014 Futures Game. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Earlier this week, Baseball America started their annual look at each team’s top ten prospects. The series continued today with the Yankees, and, as always, the list is free but the scouting reports are not. The link also includes free video for six of the ten prospects, so make sure you check that out. Here is Baseball America’s entire top ten index and here is New York’s top ten:

  1. RHP Luis Severino
  2. OF Aaron Judge
  3. SS Jorge Mateo
  4. 1B Greg Bird
  5. C Gary Sanchez
  6. LHP Ian Clarkin
  7. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  8. LHP Jacob Lindgren
  9. C Luis Torrens
  10. 3B Miguel Andujar

Severino and Judge are 1A and 1B in my opinion. I consider Judge the team’s top prospect because of the general attrition rate of 20-year-old pitchers plus the fact that offense is the scarce commodity these days, not pitching. That’s just my opinion. They’re both excellent and both are Yankees though, so the order doesn’t really matter.

The Mateo ranking might be a bit aggressive but people have been raving about him all summer. He’s clearly one of the team’s top prospects even though a hand injury limited him to only a handful of games in 2014. Bird over Sanchez seems to be based on performance as much as anything. The scouting report calls Bird an average defensive first baseman who “projects to hit 18-20 homers in the big leagues,” then says Sanchez can be a “frontline catcher with the potential for a .280 average and 20-25 home runs annually.” Plus Sanchez has at least a grade 60 bat flip tool:

Gary Sanchez

Anyway, Refsnyder and Lindgren are basically MLB-ready pieces while Clarkin, Torrens, and Andujar are lower level guys who are still years away. The scouting report notes that, with the help of pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, Clarkin added a cutter to his fastball-curveball-changeup mix this summer. Torrens is going to be the next great Yankees catching prospect very soon — the write-up says his defense draws raves even though he didn’t move behind the plate full-time until the team signed him in July 2012 — and the scouting report says Andujar has a “future of an everyday third baseman whose bat profiles for the position.”

Compared to last year’s top ten, I think this year’s has much more upside and depth. 3B Eric Jagielo didn’t make the cut — I assume he’s prospect No. 11 — despite having a pretty damn good year with High-A Tampa (132 wRC+ with 16 homers in 85 games) around an oblique injury. Last year he would have been in the top five no questions asked following a season like that. The farm system still isn’t in a great shape but it is definitely on the way up, especially after the club’s international spending spree this summer. There’s a ton of upside in the lower levels right now, way more than usual. I think the Yankees have been very good at acquiring talent in recent years. Developing it has been the problem.