Via Jorge Arangure: Gary Sanchez has been traded for infielder Pedro Ciriaco … in the Dominican Winter League, where each player is contracted to play winter ball. The trade has no impact whatsoever on their big league affiliations — Sanchez remains with the Yankees and Ciriaco with the Padres. I just felt the need to freak some people out, sorry.
Jason Parks at Baseball Prospectus published his midseason list of the the top 50 prospects in baseball yesterday (subs. req’d), a list that is predictably topped by Twins OF Byron Buxton. The second overall pick in last year’s draft put up a 173 wRC+ with eight homers and 32 steals in 68 Low-A games before being promoted a few days ago. Cardinals OF Oscar Taveras and Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts round out the top three.
The Yankees have just one player on the list: C Gary Sanchez ranks 26th overall. That is up from 47th overall on the preseason list. “[Sanchez] somehow feels overrated at the mid-season point … high upside but equally high risk; bat is very good; positional home is still subject of debate,” wrote Parks. With nearly every one of New York’s top prospects taking a step back this year, their only real candidates for a top 100 list right now are Sanchez, RHP Rafael DePaula, and CF Slade Heathcott. That’s it.
Keith Law posted an updated ranking of the top 25 prospects in the minor leagues today (subs. req’d), with the top spot belonging to Cardinals OF Oscar Taveras. Rangers SS Jurickson Profar was baseball’s top consensus prospect coming into the season, but he is ineligible the updated list because he’s currently in the big leagues. Twins OF Byron Buxton and Red Sox SS Xander Boegarts round out the top three.
C Gary Sanchez, who ranked 18th on Law’s preseason list, climbed two spots to 16th. “Although there’s still some question of whether he will remain a catcher long term, I think he’s going to stay there, as he’s enough of an athlete to become an adequate backstop in time — and his bat will be MVP-caliber for that position,” wrote Law. Sanchez is hitting .271/.345/.475 (131 wRC+) with eight homers in 199 plate appearances for High-A Tampa this year, and he’s in line for a midseason promotion to Double-A Trenton. That is probably a few weeks away. No other Yankee farmhands made the updated top 25.
I’ve decided to modify DotF (in an undetermined way) this year for the sake of saving time and my sanity, but one feature that will not be changed is the Prospect Watch. Well, the featured player may change, but the format will remain mostly the same.
Last year we tracked outfielder Mason Williams’ progress through the summer, and he rewarded us by hitting .298/.346/.474 (~125 wRC+) with 11 homers and 20 steals in 397 plate appearances before separating his left shoulder diving for a ball in late-July. The Prospect Watch was unused after the injury. In prior years we’ve tracked Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Andrew Brackman, Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, and a bunch of others I’m forgetting. It’s been a while.
We should have a healthy debate for this year’s watch subject because the Yankees have four pretty awesome position player prospects, all of whom are worthy of a spot in our sidebar. There’s not much on the pitcher side right now, but that’s alright. Position players are more fun because they play everyday anyway. Just as we did last year, let’s vote on the 2013 Prospect Watch. First, the candidates with their rank on my Preseason Top 30 Prospects List in parenthesis.
OF Tyler Austin (3)
I’m listing these guys alphabetically, but it’s also appropriate to start with Austin. The 21-year-old former catcher is the best statistical performer among the organization’s top prospects, hitting .322/.400/.559 (~163 wRC+) with 17 homers and 23 steals (in 25 attempts) in 472 plate appearances across four levels last summer. He’s expected to open the year with Double-A Trenton and has an outside chance of cracking the big league roster come September.
RHP Jose Campos (7)
I wanted to get at least one pitcher in the conversation, and the 20-year-old Campos was the obvious choice — Banuelos (#6 in my top 30) will miss the season due to Tommy John surgery while last year’s first rounder Ty Hensley (#8) could start the year back in Extended Spring Training and not even appear in an official game until June. Campos, who pitched to a 4.01 ERA and 3.24 FIP in five starts before a season-ending elbow injury last year, is healthy and ready to start the season back with Low-A Charleston. An assignment to High-A Tampa might even be in the cards, but that would be aggressive.
OF Slade Heathcott (4)
Heathcott, 22, is the old man of the group. He missed the first half with his second left shoulder surgery last year, then hit .307/.378/.470 (142 wRC+) in 265 plate appearances with High-A Tampa before destroying the Arizona Fall League (192 wRC+). Heathcott is healthy now (for the time being, anyway) and has the loudest package of tools in the organization. He’s slated to join Austin in the Double-A Trenton outfield.
C Gary Sanchez (1)
The team’s top prospect (in my opinion), the 20-year-old Sanchez hit .290/.344/.485 (~125 wRC+) in 474 plate appearances split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa last summer. His 18 homers led all minor league catchers. Sanchez is expected to begin the season back with Tampa, but a midseason promotion to Double-A Trenton is well within reach.
OF Mason Williams (2)
We’ve never had a two-time Prospect Watch guy, but there’s no rule that says we can’t do it. Williams, 21, has recovered from his shoulder injury — an injury that required surgery — and will join Sanchez back with High-A Tampa to open the summer. Although I ranked him as the team’s second best prospect, Baseball America had Williams in the top spot.
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A few times in the past the Prospect Watch choice was obvious, but that’s not really the case here. Some of these guys might put up gaudier stats than others, but they’re all quality prospects worth monitoring as the season progresses.
Starting today and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.
The Yankees made a lot of moves (and non-moves) this winter, but I don’t think any was quite as curious as letting catcher Russell Martin depart via free agency. The club offered him a three-year contract worth $20M+ a year ago, but something changed and they didn’t even bother making an offer this time around. I don’t think we’re ever going to know what happened behind the scenes there. Martin now plies his trade with the Pirates after taking a two-year pact worth $17M.
Since New York never bothered to find a replacement starting catcher, they’re left with a hodgepodge of has-beens and never-wases behind the plate. The Yankees are very likely to receive their worst offensive output from the position since before Jorge Posada broke into the league in the late-90s. Brian Cashman & Co. have preached defense defense defense at the position since Martin left for Pittsburgh, which is fine. Punting a position offensively is no way to win the AL East, however.
The actual starting catcher is still to be determined, but based on the way the team’s decision makers talk about things, it sure sounds like Chris Stewart is the favorite. The 31-year-old was a zero at the plate — .241/.292/.319 (65 wRC+) in 157 plate appearances — as Martin’s backup last summer, and there’s nothing in his track record to suggest more offensive is coming. Pretty much the only thing Stewart has going for him offensively is his ability to make contact (career 12.2 K%), so maybe he’ll fluke into a .350 BABIP or something.
The defensive side of the ball is where Stewart earns his money. The various catcher defense rankings (2010, 2011, 2012) consistently rate him as average or better, plus those newfangled pitch framing studies say he’s one of the game’s best at turning would-be called balls into strikes. Whether that defensive value is enough to overcome his offensive shortcomings remains to be seen, but the Yankees have painted themselves into a corner and must hope that’s the case.
With Stewart the likely starter, Frankie Cervelli is the odds on favorite to serve as his backup. Those two roles could easily be switched, but you know that already. Both guys are out of minor league options and Cashman has all but confirmed that ensures they will open the season in the big leagues.
Cervelli, 26, is another poor offensive player, but he is slightly better than Stewart — career .271/.339/.353 (88 wRC+) — and a bit more likely to surprisingly turn in a league-average performance. Despite coming up with a strong defensive reputation, Frankie’s defense was pretty awful from 2010-2011 and was part of the reason the team replaced him last year. The club had him work on some stuff in Triple-A last summer and the early returns are positive, especially with his throwing. That has been demonstrably better in camp.
Knocking on the Door
As they tend to do, the Yankees are faking a competition this year. The three “candidates” for the starting catching spot are Stewart, Cervelli, and 24-year-old Austin Romine, who has missed much of the last two years with back problems. He can hit a little and has a good defensive reputation, but he’s unrefined and in need of regular at-bats. Romine has the best long-term potential of the three catching options, but he’s very likely to open the year with Triple-A Scranton. Given all the lost time, playing everyday in the minors instead of playing half-time in the big leagues is the best thing for his development at this point. He’s miss a lot of at-bats since the close of 2010.
The Top Prospect
New York’s top prospect behind the plate also happens to be their top prospect overall, 20-year-old Gary Sanchez. He hit .290/.344/.485 (~125 wRC+) in 474 plate appearances split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa last summer, and his 18 homers led all minor league catchers. Sanchez doesn’t have the innate hitting ability of Jesus Montero, but he does have a bit more power — career minor league ISOs: .193 vs. .210 in favor of Sanchez — and a far better chance of remaining behind the plate long-term. Give the catching situation at the upper levels, that’s pretty good news. Sanchez is expected to return to Tampa to start 2013 and should receive a midseason promotion to Double-A Trenton, meaning the only way he will be a factor at the big league level this summer is as trade bait.
The Deep Sleeper
The good news is that the Yankees are blessed with quite a bit of catching depth, which is absolutely intentional. J.R. Murphy will start the year back with Double-A Trenton, sandwiched between Romine in Scranton and Sanchez in Tampa. Further down the later is 16-year-old Luis Torrens, who signed out of Venezuela for $1.3M last July 2nd. Despite converting from third base to catcher within the last year or so, the Yankees are expected to bring Torrens to the United States with one of their two Rookie Level Gulf Coast League affiliates this summer. His defense lags behind his offense at this point (duh), but he still has breakout potential because he has an advanced approach at the plate and can hit to all fields.
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The 2013 outlook behind the plate at the big league level is pretty grim at the moment, and it will almost certainly be New York’s least productive position this summer. That isn’t surprising in and of itself, but the possibility of the catching tandem being several standard deviations below average is. Say what you want about Martin and his low batting averages, but he was close to a league average hitter with the Yankees (98 wRC+) while being above-average defensively and even on the bases. That’s an above-average player and the team will go into this season with a clear downgrade.
Jason Parks at Baseball Prospectus released his list of baseball’s 101 best minor leaguers today (no subs. req’d), which is topped by Rangers SS Jurickson Profar. Cardinals OF Oscar Taveras ranked second while Pirates RHP and former Yankees first rounder Gerrit Cole placed third. He’s an easy top ten guy, but top three? Might be pushing it. Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy is fourth.
The Yankees landed just two prospects on the top 101, C Gary Sanchez at #47 and OF Mason Williams at #51. It’s seems odd that OF Slade Heathcott didn’t make the list, especially since Parks admits “a bias against safe and secure in favor of high and hazardous.” I can understand leaving OF Tyler Austin off using that criteria, but Heathcott too? In Park’s defense, he did say he doesn’t believe Heathcott’s ceiling is as high as some others. Either way, all four guys were among the top 100 prospects in baseball according to Keith Law and Baseball America.
Baseball America published their annual (and long-awaited) list of the best 100 prospects in baseball today, a list that is predictably topped by Rangers SS Jurickson Profar. Unlike last year, when their were two legitimate number one candidates in Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, Profar is the clear top prospect this year. Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy and Cardinals OF Oscar Taveras round out the top three.
Like last year, the Yankees placed four players on the top 100. OF Mason Williams ranked the highest at #32, and was followed by C Gary Sanchez (#57), OF Slade Heathcott (#63), and OF Tyler Austin (#77). Those four were ranked #35, #18, #57, and #52, respectively, by Keith Law earlier this month, so Baseball America isn’t quite as high on them. Here is the publication’s top ten prospects list for reference.
The crew at Baseball America slapped 20-80 scouting scale grades on each of the top 100 prospects in a subscriber-only feature, which is nice and easy for the Yankees since they’re all position players.
Those are future grades, not present, meaning the players are expected to grow into that kind of power, etc. down the line. Three of the four project to have five average-or-better tools down the line, which is pretty amazing. Baseball America may be high on Austin’s right field defense and speed and a little low on Sanchez’s bat, but they’re the experts. Still a nice collection of tools, especially in the hit and power departments.
The Yankees ranked 11th in Baseball America’s preliminary farm system rankings back in January, and the official list will be released in the coming weeks. There haven’t been many big farm system-altering trades since the preliminary rankings came out, so I don’t expect them to change much. As I wrote in my Top 30 List a few weeks ago, the Yankees have a top-heavy farm system with quite a big drop-off between these four and everyone else. Four top-100 guys is still pretty strong though, not many organizations can match that.