Minor League Notes: Workout Groups, Judge, Sanchez

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

The Yankees have an off-day today, so here are a bunch of minor league links and notes to help you pass the time this afternoon.

Minor league workout groups

Chad Jennings posted the Spring Training workout groups over in minor league camp, if you’re interested. Keep in mind these are not season assignments. LHP Ian Clarkin will not open 2016 with Triple-A Scranton even though that’s his workout group, for example. Farm system head Gary Denbo told Jennings both RHP Ty Hensley and RHP Austin DeCarr are doing well in their rehab from Tommy John surgery. The team also intends to start C Luis Torrens with Low-A Charleston, which I figured after catching guru Michel Hernandez was moved to that level. Torrens is supposedly all the way back from labrum surgery.

Judge, Rowson discuss mechanical changes

Earlier this month, OF Aaron Judge and minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson confirmed to Brendan Kuty Judge did indeed make some mechanical changes to his swing over the winter. We noticed the changes in the very first Grapefruit League game. Here’s the GIF (2015 on the left, 2016 on the right):

Aaron Judge 2015 vs 2016

The bigger leg kick is most noticeable, but Judge also moved his hands away from his body a bit and raised the bat so it’s no longer parallel to the ground. Rowson told Kuty the changes were Judge’s idea, though the team’s coaches and instructors helped along the way over the winter. “We just talked about what we thought was good and what wasn’t. Once we got to talking about that, we said, ‘Let’s go out and put it together,'” said Rowson.

Judge was reassigned to minor league camp over the weekend, which was not surprising at all. He had close to zero chance to make the Opening Day roster and it’s time for everyone to start getting more at-bats to prepare for the season, minor leaguers included. The Yankees have enough upper level outfield depth that Judge could end up getting 500 plate appearances in Triple-A, so he’ll have time to work on his new mechanics and adjust to those outside pitches that gave him so much trouble a year ago.

Sanchez among Baseball America’s top 2016 rookies

Baseball America’s John Manuel (no subs. req’d) put together a list of the top 20 rookies for the 2016 season. This is different than a top prospects list because not every top prospect is big league ready. These are the guys who will play in MLB this year. Dodgers SS Corey Seager sits in the top spot with Twins OF Byron Buxton and Dodgers RHP Kenta Maeda rounding out the top three.

C Gary Sanchez ranks 18th, with playing time the obvious question. How much will he play behind Brian McCann? “Sanchez has the plus arm and plus power teams look for in backup catchers, and his righthanded bat complements lefthanded-hitting veteran starter Brian McCann well,” said the write-up. I’m not sure Sanchez will even make the Opening Day roster at this point, but I’m sure we’ll see him at some point this summer anyway.

Vidal, Valle among those on WBC qualifying rosters

The 2017 World Baseball Classic Qualifiers No. 2 and 3 will take place this weekend in Mexico and Panama, respectively. The winner of each four-team, six-game tournament gets a spot in the 2017 WBC. Germany, Mexico, Nicaragua, and the Czech Republic are playing in Mexico while Colombia, France, Panama, and Spain are playing in Panama. Australia won Qualifier No. 1 a few weeks ago and Qualifier No. 4 (Brazil, Great Britain, Israel, Pakistan) will take place in September in Brooklyn.

The Yankees have four players on rosters for the two qualifiers this weekend, according to Baseball America: C Sebastian Valle (Mexico), RHP Gio Gallegos (Mexico), OF Carlos Vidal (Colombia), and RHP Jonathan Loaisiga (Nicaragua). Vidal is the best prospect of the bunch and he has a good chance to start for Nicaragua. Valle was reassigned to minor league camp over the weekend. Loaisiga is a 21-year-old righty the Yankees scooped up as a minor league free agent this winter. Those four guys will be spending a few days away from camp next week.

Yankees release Arias, sign Jamison

The Yankees have released 3B Gian Arias and signed RHP Preston Jamison to a minor league deal, reports Matt Eddy. Arias, 24, has not actually played since 2011 for whatever reason. He hit .242/.377/.322 with six homers in 178 Dominican Summer League games from 2009-11. The Yankees gave Arias a $950,000 bonus back in the day, so he was a pretty significant prospect at one point. Alas.

Jamison, 23, was a 30th round pick by the Tigers in 2012. He had a 5.73 ERA (4.97 FIP) with a 16.0% strikeout rate and a 13.0 % walk rate in 66 mostly rookie ball innings from 2012-13 before being released. Jamison hasn’t pitched since, but he’s a 6-foot-6 lefty, so he’s right up the Yankees’ alley. I’m guessing he must have shown some nice velocity during a recent workout or something.

Heyman: Yankees and Braves talked 10-player blockbuster with Heyward, Simmons, Severino last year

Simmons and Heyward. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Simmons and Heyward. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Last offseason we learned the Yankees and Braves discussed a blockbuster trade that would have brought Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons to New York for a package of prospects. We later found out Luis Severino would have been part of that trade, which makes sense. The Braves were focusing on young pitching in all their trades last winter and Severino was the best young pitcher the Yankees had to offer.

The trade didn’t go through, obviously. Heyward was traded to the Cardinals, Simmons spent another year in Atlanta before being traded to the Angels, and Severino remains a Yankee. Late last night, Jon Heyman reported some more details of the blockbuster proposal, and it was a five-for-five swap. Check out this deal:

To Yankees: Heyward, Simmons, B.J. Melvin Upton, Chris Johnson, David Carpenter
To Braves: Severino, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Ian Clarkin, Manny Banuelos

Holy moly, that is a lot of players and a lot of talent. And also some dead roster weight. Heyman says Heyward was told the Yankees were close to getting him “many times” last offseason, for what it’s worth. Keep in mind Heyward was traded to the Cardinals on November 17th, so the Yankees and Braves discussed this blockbuster very early in the offseason. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this.

1. Heyman says the Yankees were the team that declined to pull the trigger, indicating the Braves suggested the five-for-five swap. That makes sense. I have a hard time believing the Yankees would have been willing to put that much young talent on the table — unproven minor league young talent, but young talent nonetheless — and take back what amounted to one long-term piece in Simmons. Heyward was a year away from free agency, Upton and Johnson had albatross contracts, and Carpenter was only a reliever. A good reliever (with the Braves, at least) but still only a reliever. I guess the Yankees could have signed Heyward to an extension, though that doesn’t really change the evaluation of the trade. It’s not like the Braves are giving you the extension. The trade and extension are separate transactions. Based on my 2015 Preseason Top 30 Prospects List, that trade would have sent New York’s four (!) best prospects to the Braves. Sheesh. Too much. Glad they didn’t pull the trigger.

2. I found it pretty interesting Simmons was traded this offseason to the Angels, who are now run by former Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler. I wonder if Eppler was the driving force behind the Yankees’ interest in Simmons. At the very least we know he was on board with trying to acquire Andrelton. That’s understandable. Simmons is the best defensive shortstop in the world and one of the best in history. That said, I am perfectly happy with Didi Gregorius, aren’t you?

Andrelton Simmons Didi Gregorius

Simmons is very good. I would so much rather have Gregorius at the price it took to acquire him than Simmons at the price it would have taken to acquire him, and that was true last offseason. And that’s coming from someone who expected Shane Greene to have a really good year last season. I didn’t foresee him struggling that much at all. Simmons is a very good shortstop with big name value. Didi’s production is comparable, he came at a much lower cost, and he’s cheaper. In the past the Yankees went for the big name, not the smart pickup. Who is this team and what have they done with the Yankees?

3. The Heyward angle is interesting because the Yankees had a full outfield. They had Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran last offseason. What they didn’t have was an idea what they’d get from Alex Rodriguez coming off his suspension. I guess the plan was to put Heyward in right field, move Beltran to DH, and then figure things out with A-Rod later. The Yankees approached last offseason as if Rodriguez was going to be a non-factor. They re-signed Chase Headley to play third base and one of the reasons they acquired Garrett Jones was to ensure they had a backup plan at DH. (Also, Beltran was coming off surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, so he was a question too.) They never needed that backup plan. Rod mashed from Day One. Making the four-man outfield work would have been tricky, but remember, Gardner missed a few games in April after taking a pitch to the wrist, and Ellsbury missed seven weeks after hurting his knee in May. These things have a way of working themselves out.

4. This trade was talked about very early in the offseason, so had it gone through, the Yankees probably would not have re-signed Chris Young and instead let Upton fill that role. What else would they do with him? Bossman Jr. was a total disaster in his two years with the Braves — he hit .198/.279/.314 (66 wRC+) in just over 1,000 plate appearances from 2013-14 — but he did actually have a nice year with the Padres in 2015, putting up a .259/.327/.429 (110 wRC+) batting line with five homers and nine steals in 228 plate appearances around a foot injury. That includes a .254/.369/.423 (124 wRC+) line against southpaws. Nice numbers, but as with Gregorius over Simmons, give me the guy the Yankees actually acquired (Young) over the guy they could have acquired (Upton), especially considering the acquisition cost.

Upton. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Upton. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

5. The Braves would have had to kick in money to make this trade work, right? I can’t imagine they realistically expected the Yankees to give up all that young talent and take on all that salary. Not counting the arbitration-eligible Carpenter, the four guys who would have come to New York in the trade were owed a combined $133.15M across 13 contract seasons. I know a $10.24M average annual value doesn’t sound bad, but it’s not actually spread out across 13 seasons. Most of those seasons overlap. Heyward’s very good and so is Simmons, but how could the Braves not kick in money to facilitate this trade? Substantial money too. They’d have to pay down something like $30M or even $40M of that $113.15M. Giving up all that talent and taking on all that money makes no sense for the Yankees, not when only one of the five players they were set to receive was a significant long-term asset (Simmons).

6. I think both the Yankees and Braves are better off now than they would have been had the trade gone through. The Yankees kept Severino, kept their other prospects, and acquired Gregorius to take over at short. The Braves turned Heyward into Shelby Miller, then Miller into three really good young players (Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair). Simmons fetched a top 20 pitching prospect (Sean Newcomb), another very good pitching prospect (Chris Ellis), and a tradeable veteran (Erick Aybar). Upton’s contract was dumped on the Padres in the Craig Kimbrel trade with actual prospects going back to Atlanta, and Johnson was sent to the Indians for Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn in a trade that rearranged money to make things more favorable for both teams. (The Indians got a lower average annual value and the Braves now have the money coming off the books a year earlier than they would have.) And then Banuelos and Carpenter ended up being traded for each other anyway. I’m sure both the Yankees and Braves were disappointed they weren’t able to work out a trade last year. From the looks of it, both teams are better off with the way things worked out.

7. I’m (very) glad the Yankees walked way from this trade — I don’t mean that in a prospect hugging way, it’s just a lot of talent to give up for two impact players, one of whom was a year away from free agency — and I’m also glad to see they’re at least willing to discuss their top prospects in trades. Too many teams out there seem completely unwilling to even consider making their best prospects available. Young talent is important! It’s also fairly unpredictable and risky. I really like Judge and think he has a chance to be a +4 WAR outfielder down the road, but at the same time, I also recognize he might never get there because he’s so damn big and strikeouts will always be an issue. Banuelos hasn’t been the same since Tommy John surgery. Clarkin got hurt a few weeks after the blockbuster was discussed. I’m glad the Yankees are emphasizing young talent now. That’s what they need to do at this point. They’d also be smart to not make all their top prospects off-limits. There’s always a point where dealing a highly touted young player makes sense, and teams owe it to themselves to explore those opportunities. They’re often fleeting.

If backup catcher race is between Sanchez and Romine, the choice is obvious for the Yankees

(Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Over the years the Yankees have been known to stage Spring Training competitions. Competition is healthy and they try to foster it in camp whenever possible, even if it means saying a job is up for grabs when we all know it really isn’t. The fifth starter competition in 2010 always stands out to me. If it was truly based on spring performance, Sergio Mitre would have gotten the job. Instead, it went to Phil Hughes, who was going to get it all along.

This spring the Yankees do have some true competitions, mostly in the bullpen but also on the bench. That last bench spot is up for grabs and it sounds like it will go to a backup third baseman. The Yankees must also pick a backup catcher from a group that includes top prospect Gary Sanchez, post-hype youngster Austin Romine, and veteran journeyman Carlos Corporan. From the sound of it, the race is between Sanchez and Romine.

“In evaluating Sanchez and Romine you want to give them equal starts and see how they do and how they adapt to the different pitchers … They re going to play,” said Joe Girardi to George King over the weekend. Player usage can be telling during Spring Training, and it’s worth noting Sanchez started Sunday’s game behind the plate with Masahiro Tanaka on the mound. Romine came off the bench to catch the Triple-A guys.

“I think it has shown how much he has grown, that he is getting starts now as opposed to coming in and backing up and (catching) guys he knew from the minor leagues. Now he is getting guys he doesn’t know and you want to see how he adjusts,” said Girardi. Sanchez started and caught Ivan Nova last week, another big league pitcher he’s not too familiar with. Romine’s only start this spring came with Bryan Mitchell on the mound, and those two know each other from Triple-A last season.

Romine is out-hitting Sanchez very early in Grapefruit League play — he’s 4-for-8 with three booming doubles, Sanchez is 0-for-3 with two walks and a hit-by-pitch — and while that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, it’s not going to hurt Romine’s case. He said it himself the other day. To make the Opening Day roster, he’s going to have to hit all spring. Another .171/.216/.200 showing like last spring won’t cut it. Romine has to force the issue.

The Yankees have been going young whenever possible over the last 16 months or so, and handing the backup catcher reins over the Sanchez is an obvious move. He’s their top catcher prospect, he had success at Double-A and Triple-A last season, and he put an exclamation point on his season in the Arizona Fall League. Sanchez has reportedly matured over the last year and his defense improving. Giving him the job makes sense. At the same time, more time in Triple-A is justifiable.

“I think you have to see where his game is as we go through Spring Training,” said Girardi. “Sometimes you talk about players who have high ceilings and sometimes people say, ‘Let’s finish (his development) off in the minor leagues before we call them up.’ I think Gary does have a high ceiling but he is a guy who might be able to help us a lot, too. If you think he is ready then you have to weigh that. Is he better off playing every day and really finish everything off? Or do you see if he can help you out and make a difference.”

(Presswire)
Romine. (Presswire)

Beyond the on-field development — Sanchez is improving defensively but he’s still not great back there — there’s also roster and service time considerations. Thirty-five days in the minors pushes Sanchez’s free agency back a year. Romine, meanwhile, is out of options and has been outrighted before, which means if the Yankees want to send him to the minors, they have to pass him through waivers. And even if he clears waivers, he can elect free agency thanks to the prior outright.

If the backup catcher competition is truly between Sanchez and Romine — Corporan is a bystander who was brought in as depth, in that case — then the decision seems pretty obvious to me. The Yankees should go with Romine and keep him around a little longer. (I assume he’d elect free agency if outrighted to find a better opportunity.) That allows them to maintain some catcher depth and, more importantly, push Sanchez’s free agency back. That almost feels like the top consideration here, not his on-field development.

Sanchez and Romine are not oblivious to the situation. Sanchez reached the big leagues as a September call-up last year and said over the winter his goal is to make the team for good this year. Romine is basically fighting for his career. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. This might be his last chance at a big league roster spot. If this doesn’t work out, he’s in danger of becoming a journeyman teams pick up to fill Triple-A roster holes. That’s one hell of a motivator, don’t you think?

“It doesn’t feel different,” said Sanchez to Bryan Hoch when asked about the general belief he is the favorite for the backup catcher’s job. “To me, I’m just focusing on my job. I’ve got to keep working hard every day, call a good game and whatever decision is up to them. It’s exciting to be in the mix. For us, all players, we want to make it to the big leagues. But that’s not my decision.”

Whoever the Yankees pick to be their backup catcher, that player doesn’t figure to actually play much early in the season. Brian McCann is going to start most games, and all the April off-days mean it’ll be easier to keep him in the lineup. That’s another reason to send Sanchez down. He won’t actually start much in April. Going with Romine as the backup catcher is not so much about having Romine on the roster. It’s about trading a handful of games now for an extra season of Sanchez later, and that’s an easy call.

Minor League Links: Campos, Heathcott, Impact Prospects

Campos. (Presswire)
Campos. (Presswire)

The Yankees continue the Grapefruit League season later today and there will be a television (and online) broadcast, so hooray for that. We’ll have a regular game thread when the time comes. Here are some miscellaneous minor league notes to hold you over until first pitch.

Campos to work as a starter in 2016

Earlier this week Brian Cashman told Chad Jennings that RHP Vicente Campos will indeed continue to work as a starting pitcher this season. Campos, who came over from the Mariners in the Jesus MonteroMichael Pineda trade, missed the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery. The 23-year-old had a 6.29 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 54.1 innings across 13 starts with mostly High-A Tampa after returning last year. The Yankees re-added him to the 40-man roster over the winter to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent.

The ERA was ugly but Campos showed good control following surgery last summer (18.9 K% and 4.2 BB%) and his stuff reportedly returned to its pre-surgery levels, meaning a mid-90s heater and a hard upper-70s curveball. Campos, who used to go by Jose, has thrown only 166 innings over the last three years due to injuries, so he hasn’t had much time to work on his changeup. I think he’s likely to end up in the bullpen long-term because of that, but it makes sense to keep him in the rotation for the time being, if only to build up innings. There are a ton of guys ahead of him on the bullpen depth chart, though I wouldn’t rule out Campos making his MLB debut at some point in 2016.

Heathcott studying the swings of MLB’s best

In an effort to fine tune his swing, OF Slade Heathcott told Ryan Hatch he has been studying video of the game’s best hitters, such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Josh Donaldson. “Just their approach, the load, the path to the ball,” he said. “Hitting the ball on a plane. That’s what works for me. Not trying to hit home runs, but get the ball in the air.”

Heathcott, now 25, had a 38.1% ground ball rate during his limited big league time last season. It was 51.6% in Triple-A last year and 51.5% with Double-A Trenton in 2013. (Injuries limited him to only nine games in 2014.) Heathcott has speed, so he can leg out some infield hits, but he’s going to have to get the ball in the air more often to really have an impact offensively. If watching videos of guys like Trout and Harper helps, great.

No Yankees among Law’s top 25 impact prospects for 2016

Keith Law (subs. req’d) recently put together a list of the top 25 impact prospects for the 2016 season, which is different than a general top 25 prospect list. Not everyone in a general top 25 list is big league ready. Dodgers SS Corey Seager predictably tops the top 25 impact prospects list, which features no Yankees. In his weekly chat, Law said C Gary Sanchez wasn’t really considered for the list because of a lack of playing time. Even if Sanchez makes the Opening Day roster, Brian McCann is going to get the lion’s share of the playing time behind the plate. Understandable.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Baseball America’s position rankings

The crew at Baseball America finished posting their prospect position rankings this week. They released the catcher, right-handed pitcher, and left-handed pitcher lists two weeks ago. Here’s a quick recap with all of the relevant Yankees:

Keep in mind the No. X prospect at one position is not necessarily of equal caliber to the No. X prospect at another position. Talent isn’t linear across positions. Baseball America’s top ten Yankees’ prospects list had Refsnyder one spot behind Wade, for example. Add in Sanchez, who ranked No. 1 on the catcher list, and the Yankees had a top ten prospect at five of the nine positions. That’s pretty good.

Misc. Links

Here are a bunch of miscellaneous links that are worth checking out and come with RAB’s highest level of recommendation.

  • Sweeny Murti has a must read interview with farm system head Gary Denbo (part one, part two). Denbo confirmed Judge made some adjustments with his lower half over the winter, which we noticed the other day.
  • Joel Sherman profiled OF Estevan Florial, who is the shiny new toy in the farm system. Florial, 18, signed for $200,000 last March after being suspended for a year by MLB for falsified documents, which he used to enroll in school a few years back. Lots of folks are talking about Florial as the next great Yankees prospect.
  • Mark Feinsand wrote about RHP James Kaprielian, who lost his mother to breast cancer two years ago. Kaprielian explained how the experience shaped him as a man and helps him deal with adversity on the field.

As a reminder, the four full season minor league affiliates begin their regular season on Thursday, April 7th this year. That’s three days after the big league Yankees behind their season.

Mateo tops MLB.com’s top 30 Yankees prospects list

(Main St. Rock)
Mateo. (Main St. Rock)

Yesterday afternoon the crew at MLB.com published their list of the top 30 Yankees prospects, which is topped by SS Jorge Mateo. That’s not surprising based on their annual top 100 list. OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, and RHP James Kaprielian round out the top four, because duh. Who else would it be?

Jim Callis wrote a real quick system overview that’s worth checking out. As always, MLB.com’s prospect information is completely free. You can see the list, read the scouting reports, and watch all the videos for zero American dollars. It’s pretty awesome. Click the link for the complete top 30. Here’s the top ten real quick:

  1. Mateo
  2. Judge
  3. Sanchez
  4. Kaprielian
  5. SS Wilkerman Garcia
  6. OF Dustin Fowler
  7. RHP Domingo Acevedo
  8. SS Tyler Wade
  9. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  10. LHP Ian Clarkin

Looks good to me. I’m not the biggest Acevedo fan in the world — I ranked him 19th in my top 30 list — but I am in the minority. Sticking him in the top ten is not unreasonable. A few things stuck out to me while reading through the list and scouting reports, so here are my thoughts.

1. There are seven 2015 draftees in the top 30: Kaprielian, RHP Drew Finely (No. 16), RHP Chance Adams (No. 21), SS Kyle Holder (No. 23), LHP Jeff Degano (No. 24), 3B Donny Sands (No. 29), and OF Trey Amburgey (No. 30). Seven! That’s an awful lot for a team that had a pretty good farm system to begin with. Usually when so many recent draftees populate your top 30 it’s because your system stunk and you had few prospects to being with. Either that or you had a killer draft. I’m always wary of small sample performances when ranking recent draftees — Sands and Amburgey in particularly were great after signing — but the reports indicate the rankings are more scouting based than performance based, which is the way it should be. The Yankees tend to do a very good job in the middle rounds of the draft and MLB.com’s top 30 indicates they found some nice talent last year.

2. Speaking of Amburgey, the scouting report notes he “generates some of the best exit velocities among New York farmhands,” which is fun to read. I remember reading something similar about Judge a year or two ago. Following last year’s draft we heard Finley ranked among the best in the draft class in fastball spin rate, fastball extension, and curveball spin rate as measured by Trackman (i.e. PitchFX) at the 2014 Area Code Games. As fans and analysts we’re just now starting to use information like this and we don’t even fully understand it yet. Teams are already tracking this stuff for their minor leaguers and potential draft targets. You’ll never be able to scout prospects with just numbers, but all of this information can help you confirm reports, raise some questions, identify a sleeper, stuff like that. The more information the better, and that definitely extends into the minors too.

3. OF Leonardo Molina fascinates me more than maybe any other prospect in the system. He hasn’t hit much in his two years in pro ball (75 wRC+ in 410 plate appearances) but MLB.com’s scouting report says “scouts remain dazzled by his potential.” Here’s a little more of the scouting report:

Molina’s quick right-handed bat and his projectable strength give him the potential for plus power. While he has yet to enjoy much success at the plate, he shows signs of pitch recognition and doesn’t swing and miss excessively. Add in his plus speed, and he could be a 20-20 player once he matures physically and as a hitter … Molina’s speed and well-above-average arm allow him to play any of the outfield positions. He’s still learning how to make proper reads and routes but should be able to stay in center field.

That’s the scouting report of a future star, but because he hasn’t hit yet and is still so far from MLB — Molina is still only 18 and he’s yet to play outside rookie ball — he’s not a top prospect. A year or two ago I read something that described Molina as the kind of prospect who could take small steps forward each year and develop incrementally, though in my non-expert opinion I feel the opposite may be true. He strikes me as the kind of prospect where it might just click all of a sudden and bam, he’s a top 100 caliber guy overnight. Either way, folks who glance at stat lines are missing what Molina (and 3B Miguel Andujar, for that matter) has the potential to be.

If you’re interested, Callis held a Twitter chat yesterday and took a bunch of Yankees prospects questions, so scroll through his feed for some more info. He mentioned OF Jhalan Jackson and 1B Chris Gittens as sleepers. Jackson seems a little too well known to be considered a sleeper at this point.

Minor League Notes: Kaprielian, Acevedo, Sanchez, Mateo, Refsnyder, Florial

Spring Training has begun and we are only eleven days away from the first Grapefruit League game. The Yankees tend to start someone other than one of their five projected starters in the first spring game, so I’m curious to see who gets the ball this year. Watch it be a journeyman like Anthony Swarzak or Tyler Cloyd, not an interesting prospect. Anyway, I have some minor league links and notes to pass along.

Kaprielian already turning heads in Spring Training

I guess this is more of a Spring Training update than a minor league update, but whatever. RHP James Kaprielian is already getting some very high praise in camp even though pitchers and catchers officially reported only a few days ago. He’s been in Tampa for several weeks now and recently took part in Captain’s Camp.

“He’s shown some leadership ability among the players. He’s been a big part of things (in Captain’s Camp) and he’s another guy we think that, over the long term, has an excellent chance to be part of our Major League rotation,” said farm system head Gary Denbo to Brendan Kuty. “He’s shown the ability to locate his fastball. His breaking ball has the chance to be a plus pitch for him. The changeup also has improved the more he’s pitched and will as he develops. He’s shown improvement in velocity in the course of last season.”

Kaprielian, 21, threw his first official bullpen session of the spring yesterday and Joe Girardi came away impressed. “Thought he had good command today,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings. “You know, the focus early on in Spring Training is the command of that fastball, and I thought he had good command. I thought he was not overwhelmed by his surroundings. He was comfortable. That’s always a concern of mine for kids their first year in camp. He was talkative, and it was good to see.”

Kaprielian among Baseball America’s top 100 just misses

A week ago Baseball America published their annual top 100 prospects list, which included three Yankees. Kaprielian was not one of them, but he was one of six players who just missed the top 100, says Josh Norris. Here’s the blurb:

Kaprielian, the Yankees’ 2015 first-rounder from UCLA, was one of the last few players in consideration for the final spot on the list. His fastball bumped 96-97 mph in pro ball with short-season Staten Island and in fall instructional league. Each of his other three pitches—curveball, slider and changeup—grades as at least average. He should start this year at high Class A Tampa and could zoom through the minor leagues.

J.J. Cooper says RHP Domingo Acevedo, 2B Rob Refsnyder, and SS Wilkerman Garcia all received top 100 votes in addition to Kaprielian when the Baseball America team was compiling their top 100 list. A total of 208 players received at least one top 100 vote, so that’s not that exclusive of a club, but I’d be pretty happy to get a vote. Being a top 208 prospect would be pretty cool.

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

Prospect position rankings

Last week both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Baseball America released their prospect position rankings. Well, Baseball America is in the process of releasing their rankings. They’ve only published a few so far. MLB.com published their prospect position rankings a few weeks ago (catcher, second base, shortstop, outfield).

Law ranked C Gary Sanchez second among catchers, SS Jorge Mateo 15th among shortstops, OF Aaron Judge ninth among outfielders, and LHP Jacob Lindgren seventh among relievers. Kaprielian did make Law’s annual top 100 list but he was not among the top 20 starting pitching prospects only because so many pitchers were ahead of him on the top 100. Refsnyder did not rank among his top 10 second base prospects.

As for Baseball America, they ranked Sanchez as the best catching prospect in the game, Kaprielian and Acevedo as the 35th and 55th best right-handed pitching prospects, respectively, and Lindgren as the 22nd best left-handed pitching prospect. None of the other positions have been released yet. Those are coming next week. Good to see Sanchez so high among catchers.

Florial a deep sleeper

I don’t pay much attention to the Dominican Summer League because there is so much misinformation about those kids out there, and also because they’re just so very far away from MLB. Most don’t even make it stateside. Ben Badler is one of the best international baseball reporters in the game though, and he says OF Estevan Florial is a deep sleeper to keep an eye on.

Florial, 17, was part of the Yankees’ big 2014-15 international spending spree, but I can’t find any bonus information, which usually indicates he didn’t get a ton of money. Florial hit .313/.394/.527 (154 wRC+) with seven homers, 15 steals, an 11.3% walk rate, and a 22.9% strikeout rate in 57 DSL games last year. I can’t find anything else on him and I don’t trust DSL stats at all, but if Badler says he’s a sleeper, then he’s a sleeper. File his name under players to remember.

Misc. Links & Notes

Here are some links and notes not worth a full write-up but are worth checking out:

  • Jeff Zimmerman used WAR-to-scouting grade equivalencies and Baseball America’s 2016 Prospect Handbook to calculate farm system surplus values. The Yankees rank 18th at +23.5 WAR after ranking 17th in Baseball America’s farm system rankings.
  • As part of their top 100 list, Baseball America is running a series called “Split Decisions” where they compare two prospects at the same position who ranked close together. Mateo was paired up with Royals SS Raul Mondesi Jr. Seems like the consensus is Mondesi has more ceiling but Mateo is a safer bet.
  • Baseball America posted updated team top ten prospect lists a few days ago to reflect all the offseason activity. RHP Rookie Davis went from No. 6 in New York’s system to No. 9 in the Reds system, and that’s pretty much it. 3B Eric Jagielo did not make Cincinnati’s top ten. RHP Bryan Mitchell jumped into the top ten with Davis gone.
  • Longtime Florida area scout Jeff Deardorff has been promoted and will now focus on analyzing amateur hitters for the draft, reports George King (subs. req’d). I could have sworn Deardorff played with the Yankees at some point, but no. He appeared in 122 games with Triple-A Columbus in 2004. That’s all.

Just a heads up, the four full season minor league affiliates begin their regular season on Thursday, April 7th this year. That’s three days after the big league Yankees behind their season.

Sanchez, Lindgren, Rumbelow among prospects who could most help the Yankees in 2016

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

The days of the Yankees signing free agents to plug their roster holes are over, at least temporarily. The team is focused on getting younger at the moment, and it’s not just talk. Last season they dipped into their farm system whenever a need arose, either short or long-term. It was pretty exciting. It’s been a while since the Yankees have been run this way.

The focus on youth will continue this season. The Yankees did not sign a single Major League free agent this offseason, which is weird as hell, and they have several prospects on the cusp of helping at the big league level. Prospects are suspects until proven otherwise, but the Yankees seem committed to giving these guys a chance. Using my Preseason Top 30 Prospects List as a guide, here’s a look at the prospects who could help at some point in 2016.

OF Aaron Judge (RAB Top 30 Rank: 1)
2016 ZiPS Projection: .226/.287/.464 (105 OPS+), 30 HR, +1.5 WAR
How Does He Fit? Developmentally, the Yankees are in a pretty good place with Judge. He is their top prospect, but he could use some more Triple-A time to adjust to advanced pitching, and the team has the outfield depth to give him that Triple-A time. Judge will be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason, so the Yankees could add him to the 40-man roster a few weeks early and give him a September call-up. Otherwise I get the sense the only way he helps the 2016 Yankees involves mashing in Triple-A for a few weeks and injuries to a few guys ahead of him on the outfield depth chart. The primary goal this summer is getting Judge ready to replace Carlos Beltran in 2017.

C Gary Sanchez (2)
2016 ZiPS Projection: .240/.291/.434 (99 OPS+), 20 HR, +1.9 WAR
How Does He Fit? Sanchez has a clear path to big league playing time as Brian McCann‘s backup. The Yankees could — and absolutely should, in my opinion — send him to Triple-A for the requisite five weeks to delay his free agency another year, and once that happens, the MLB backup job is all his. Sanchez took some pretty big steps forward last season. He’s not a finished product — no 23-year-old catcher is — but he is ready to help right now with his bat while continuing to work on his defense.

SS Jorge Mateo (3)
2016 ZiPS Projection: none
How Does He Fit? Realistically, there are only two ways Mateo helps the 2016 Yankees: 1) as trade bait, 2) as the designated pinch-runner in September. Mateo has only played 21 games above Low-A ball, so he is at least one and more likely two years away from an MLB job. He will be Rule 5 Draft eligible next winter though, meaning the Yankees could add him to the 40-man roster early and bring him up to run in September. They’ll have a hard time finding a better option given his speed and base-running aggressiveness. Aside from coming up to run once rosters expand, I would be stunned if Mateo saw big league time in 2016.

RHP James Kaprielian (4)
2016 ZiPS Projection: none
How Does He Fit? The Yankees invited last year’s first round pick to big league Spring Training this year and that’s pretty significant. It’s been a long time since they’ve invited a first rounder to camp the year after he was drafted. Not even Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain were invited to camp in 2007. Kaprielian comes billed as a quick moving college starter and he’s capable of following the 2007 Kennedy path this season, meaning some time in High-A, some time in Double-A, some time in Triple-A, then MLB debut. I doubt the Yankees would call Kaprielian up and rely on him a la Luis Severino last year, but he could come up to make some spot starts in September, for sure.

Refsnyder. (Presswire)
Refsnyder. (Presswire)

2B Rob Refsnyder (6)
2016 ZiPS Projection: .248/.318/.395 (98 OPS+), 13 HR, +1.9 WAR
How Does He Fit? At one point this offseason it looked like the Yankees were ready to hand the second base job over to Refsnyder, or at least have him platoon with Dustin Ackley, but now he’s stuck behind Starlin Castro on the depth chart. For now Refsnyder is infield depth the Yankees are going to stash in Triple-A. If Castro gets hurt, Refsnyder will come up to play second base. If Didi Gregorius or Chase Headley get hurt, Castro will slide over to the left side of the infield and Refsnyder will come up to play second. I know it seems like he is buried right now, but my guess is we’ll see more of Refsnyder in 2016 than you may expect. Something like 200-300 plate appearances wouldn’t surprise me. That’s just the way this stuff goes. It looks like a player is buried and before you know it he’s taking regular at-bats and the team is scrambling for help.

RHP Bryan Mitchell (7)
2016 ZiPS Projection: 5.48 ERA (5.15 FIP), -0.6 WAR
How Does He Fit? Mitchell is a starter by trade and the case can be made he is as high as seventh on the rotation depth chart. The Yankees do have three open bullpen spots — it’s more than likely four since Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension is looming — and they’ve shown they will take whoever they think is the best man for the job. I can’t help but think back to 2014, when they took Vidal Nuno north rather than leave him in Triple-A as rotation depth despite already having two long men in David Phelps and Adam Warren. Mitchell did look pretty darn good in short relief last summer before taking that line drive to the face. Either way, starter or reliever, we figure to see plenty of Mitchell this year. The Warren void is waiting to be filled.

LHP Jacob Lindgren (11)
2016 ZiPS Projection: 3.76 ERA (3.73 FIP), +0.3 WAR
How Does He Fit? Again, the Yankees have three if not four open bullpen spots, and Lindgren will get a chance to win a job in Spring Training. And even if he doesn’t land a spot on the Opening Day roster, he’ll be up at some point this season as part of the bullpen shuttle. Lindgren’s season ended in June last year due to surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, but he’s reportedly 100% now, and is already in Tampa preparing for the season. I think Lindgren has by far the highest upside of the team’s bullpen prospects and can envision a scenario in which he establishes himself as Joe Girardi‘s No. 4 reliever by the end of the season.

OF Mason Williams (14), OF Ben Gamel (20) & OF Slade Heathcott (28)
2016 ZiPS Projection, Williams: .230/.283/.320 (68 OPS+), 4 HR, +0.1 WAR
2016 ZiPS Projection, Gamel: .243/.292/.377 (85 OPS+), 10 HR, +0.9 WAR
2016 ZiPS Projection, Heathcott: .231/.274/.350 (73 OPS+), 5 HR, +0.4 WAR
How Do They Fit? It make sense to lump these three together since they’re all Triple-A bound left-handed hitters who can play all three outfield spots. Williams is the best defender of the three, Gamel is the best hitter of the three, and Heathcott is probably the best two-way player of the three. His injury history though … yeesh. The Yankees have three starting outfielders at the MLB level plus a quality fourth outfielder in Aaron Hicks plus a fifth outfield option in Ackley. It’ll probably take two injuries for one these youngsters to see meaningful MLB playing time this year. They’re available as depth though, and if they aren’t traded themselves, they make it easier for the Yankees to part with Brett Gardner at some point.

RHP Brady Lail (22)
2016 ZiPS Projection: 5.52 ERA (5.12 FIP), -0.7 WAR
How Does He Fit? Like Mitchell, the case can be made Lail is as high as seventh on the rotation depth chart. Unlike Mitchell, Lail hasn’t had a whole lot of Triple-A experience or success to this point. He got hammered in his seven starts with the RailRiders last year — 4.62 ERA (5.32 FIP) with more walks (17) than strikeouts (13) in 37 Triple-A innings — and the Yankees probably want to see Lail have some success at that level before calling him up. Add in the fact he is not yet on the 40-man roster and we might not see Lail until late in the season. The fact he is in Triple-A makes him a bullpen shuttle candidate though. That much is clear.

RHP Chance Adams (24)
2016 ZiPS Projection: none
How Does He Fit? This is probably a stretch because the Yankees are going to give Adams a chance to start this year, which makes sense. He has two quality pitches (fastball, slider) and an improving third pitch (changeup), plus the team has all that upper level bullpen depth, so now’s the time to let Adams try to hack it in the rotation. Should the Yankees abandon the starter plan at some point, Adams could shoot up the ladder in short order and become part of the bullpen shuttle. I will admit that is unlikely, however. Out of everyone in this post, I’d say Adams has the lowest odds of seeing MLB time in 2016. Even lower than Mateo.

Cessa. (Toledo Blade)
Cessa. (Toledo Blade)

RHP Luis Cessa (26)
2016 ZiPS Projection: 5.41 ERA (4.80 FIP), -0.4 WAR
How Does He Fit? Once again, we have a guy who could be as high as seventh on the rotation depth chart. Cessa came over in the Justin Wilson trade — the Mets traded him to the Tigers for Yoenis Cespedes last year — and like Lail, he got knocked around a bit in Triple-A (6.97 ERA and 3.57 FIP in 62 innings), but the underlying performance was pretty good (20.1 K%, 6.6 BB%, 52.1 GB%), and that’s what matters. Cessa is yet another bullpen shuttle candidate, but I think he has the best chance of making multiple starts for the Yankees in 2016 of anyone in this post, including Mitchell. Not sure why. Call it a hunch.

RHP Nick Rumbelow (27)
2016 ZiPS Projection: 4.39 ERA (3.99 FIP), -0.1 WAR
How Does He Fit? We saw Rumbelow on the shuttle last season and I’m sure we’ll see him on the shuttle again this season, even if he makes the Opening Day roster. He does have quality stuff and a history of missing bats, so I think Rumbelow has a good chance to carve out a full-time role for himself this summer. The Yankees just need to give him an opportunity. There were too many times last season where a young pitcher was sent down simply because he had just worked and wouldn’t be available for a day or two. The team has to give a few of these guys an extended audition in 2016, starting with Lindgren and Rumbelow.

* * *

Among those who did not make my Preseason Top 30 Prospects List, we could see RHP Nick Goody (ZiPS: +0.4 WAR), LHP James Pazos (+0.0 WAR), RHP Johnny Barbato (-0.2 WAR), RHP Branden Pinder (-0.4 WAR), RHP Vicente Campos (-1.1 WAR), RHP Chad Green (none), and LHP Tyler Webb (none) at the MLB level this summer. All seven of those guys are in the same position: they’re relievers who figure to ride the bullpen shuttle. Well, Green is a starter, so I suppose he could make a spot start at some point. Either way, expect to see many more young players come up to help the Yankees this season, even if their big league stint is only temporary.