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.

Nine Yankees make Baseball America’s top 100 also-rans list

When Baseball America released their annual top 100 prospects list last month, the Yankees only had two representatives, and one (RHP Masahiro Tanaka) isn’t really a prospect. C Gary Sanchez was the only true prospect to make the list but he was far from the only Yankees’ farmhand to receive consideration. In fact, nine others were within shouting distance of the top 100.

J.J. Cooper published the top 100 also-rans list today, meaning the players who appeared on the personal top 150 prospects lists of the various editors but not the final top 100. The nine Yankees: OF Aaron Judge (one vote, peaked at #150), 3B Eric Jagielo (four, 131), 2B Gosuke Katoh (one, 147), 1B Greg Bird (one, 97), LHP Ian Clarkin (one, 135), C John Ryan Murphy (two, 122), RHP Luis Severino (one, 150), OF Mason Williams (six, 90), and OF Slade Heathcott (six, 89). Seems like Williams and Heathcott were the closest to the top 100, understandably so.

Baseball America’s Top Ten Yankees Prospects

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

Baseball America published their list of the top ten Yankees prospects today, and the list is free for all. The scouting reports, however, are not. You’ll need a subscription to read them. The name atop the list won’t be a surprise, but things are pretty wide open after that. They could have gone in any number of directions. Here’s the top ten:

  1. C Gary Sanchez
  2. OF Slade Heathcott
  3. OF Mason Williams
  4. C J.R. Murphy
  5. 3B Eric Jagielo
  6. OF Aaron Judge
  7. LHP Ian Clarkin
  8. 1B Greg Bird
  9. RHP Luis Severino
  10. 2B Gosuke Katoh

The feature also includes a list of the organization’s top 15 players under the age of 25 and none of the 15 are big leaguers. Can’t say I’m surprised. Those ten guys up there are the top ten and are followed (in order) by LHP Manny Banuelos, SS Abi Avelino, RHP Jose Ramirez, RHP Jose Campos, and RHP Rafael DePaula. I suspect those guys will be prospects 11-15 when the Prospect Handbook comes out in a few weeks. The notable omission is OF Tyler Austin, who had an okay year but dealt with injury problems, specifically a bone bruise in his right wrist. It forced him from the Arizona Fall League after only four games. His stock took a hit this summer.

Heathcott. (Presswire)
Heathcott. (Presswire)

Sanchez, who has “effortless, well-above-average raw power and an above-average hit tool,” is an easy call for the top spot, especially now that his defense has improved. After him? I don’t see how there could be a consensus. I think it’s somewhat interesting that the top three prospects all have some kind of makeup concern — Sanchez was suspended for insubordination in 2011, Heathcott has had drug an alcohol problems, Williams was arrested for DUI earlier this year and has had run-ins with coaches — despite the team’s renewed emphasis on character. In the end, talent always reigns supreme. Can’t teach it.

A few things from the write-ups stand out. Williams “adopted an Ichiro-style slapping approach” this year and didn’t show the same tools as he had last year. Like Austin, he took a step back. The Yankees project Murphy as a “potential future .280 hitter with 10-12 homer power” while Sanchez is regarded as more of a “.260-.270 hitter with at least 20 home runs annually.” Both profiles fit just fine behind the plate. As for Bird, “some scouts and SAL managers questioned his future power” despite his awesome year. The plate discipline and everything else is fine, but low-power first baseman aren’t exactly a hot commodity. Severino is said to have “raw stuff that is as good as any Yankees farmhand” with a fastball that “sits between 93-95 mph and touches the upper 90s often.” His slider was his best secondary pitch when he signed but his changeup has since surpassed it. Neat.

Heathcott and Murphy are the only players in the top ten slated to open next season with Triple-A Scranton, and I suppose there’s a chance Heathcott will be sent back to Double-A Trenton to start the year. That’s unlikely though. The Yankees didn’t have any big league ready help this past season and for the most part, that will be the case again in 2014. Their farm system took a slight step back overall but not as big as it would have been without those three first rounders. The team needed to add some impact talent and it did with that draft. Most of their highest ceiling prospects are in the low minors — the short season leagues — and will need time to develop.

Prospect Profile: Gosuke Katoh

(Jeff Gross/Getty)
(Jeff Gross/Getty)

Gosuke Katoh | 2B

Background
Katoh was born but not raised in Tokyo — his family moved from Japan to Southern California when he was a child. He got into baseball when his parents enrolled him in Little League to help him learn English and socialize. Katoh starred at Rancho Bernardo High School — he hit .451 with 12 doubles and eight homers as a senior — and really jumped onto the prospect map during the Area Code Games last year. He was a very good student with a strong commitment to UCLA.

Prior to the 2013 draft, Baseball America (no subs. req’d) ranked Katoh as the 39th best draft prospect in California and the 189th best draft prospect overall. The commitment to UCLA had many clubs thinking he was going to be a tough sign, but the Yankees rolled the dice and selected Katoh with their second round pick, the 66th overall selection. He signed within two weeks of the draft for a straight slot $845,700 bonus.

[Read more…]

Minors Notes: Hensley, Katoh, Montgomery

Montgomery. (Presswire)
Montgomery. (Presswire)

The Arizona Fall League season begins next Tuesday while the various Caribbean winter leagues start a few weeks later. Until then, here are some minor league notes:

  • Chad Jennings reports RHP Dellin Betances has asked the Yankees for permission to pitch in winter ball in the Dominican Republic. He wants to stay sharp and continue throwing following a very successful transition to the bullpen. Betances will be out of minor league options next season and is a super-early favorite for the Opening Day bullpen, so his workload is worth monitoring. You don’t want the kid pitching ten months out of the year.
  • RHP Ty Hensley is done with physical therapy, according to his Twitter feed. He started a throwing program last month but probably hasn’t progressed to the point of throwing off a mound yet. I imagine the Yankees are taking it slow with last summer’s first rounder. Hensley missed the entire season after having surgery to correct an impingement in his right hip.
  • According to Sanspo (translate article), 2B Gosuke Katoh recently tore a finger ligament during Instructional League in Tampa. He saw a specialist in New York and the recovery time is four weeks, but he can continue taking batting practice with his finger taped. The article says Katoh may head to Instructional League at the Dominican Republic complex later this month if the finger is healed.
  • RHP Mark Montgomery has recently started throwing off a mound, according to his Twitter feed. His season ended in mid-August due to continued shoulder problems. The team’s top relief prospect coming into the season had a 3.38 ERA (4.00 FIP) with a lot of strikeouts (11.03 K/9 and 28.0 K%) and a lot of walks (5.63 BB/9 and 14.3 BB%) in 40 innings for Triple-A Scranton this summer. I wonder if Montgomery will play winter ball.
  • Ben Badler (subs. req’d) named Cuban LHP Omar Luis one of ten sleepers from the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League. “Luis didn’t pick up a baseball for eight months in Haiti [because of visa problems], which led to considerable rust … He showed swing-and-miss stuff with his 89-95 mph fastball, slider and changeup,” wrote Badler of the $4M southpaw. Luis had a 5.68 ERA (~3.08 FIP) with a good strikeout rate (12.22 K/9 and 26.2 K%) and an awful lot of walks (8.24 BB/9 and 17.7 BB%) in 31.2 innings.

Badler: Yankees may give Gosuke Katoh time at shortstop

Via Ben Badler (subs. req’d): The Yankees may give second round pick Gosuke Katoh some time at shortstop in the future. “I did hear some rumblings about possibly giving him some time at shortstop, but my money’s on second base,” wrote Badler, who ranked the infielder as the 15th best prospect in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League yesterday.

Katoh, an 18-year-old high school second baseman out of Southern California, signed for a straight slot $845,700 bonus as the 66th overall in this June’s draft. He hit .310/.402/.522 (172 wRC+) with a GCL-leading six homers in 215 plate appearances after signing. “Katoh’s an excellent athlete with good range, smooth actions and clean hands. He’s a quality defensive second baseman, but his below-average arm prevents him from playing shortstop, though he does have a quick release,” wrote Badler in yesterday’s subscriber-only write-up. If the Yankees are going to give Katoh a try at short — and there’s no reason not to, really — this is the time to do it. Nice and early in his career.

Yankees place six on Baseball America’s top 20 Gulf Coast League prospects list

Katoh worked out with the Yankees soon after the draft. (Jeff Gross/Getty)
Katoh worked out with the Yankees soon after the draft. (Jeff Gross/Getty)

Baseball America has started publishing their annual top 20 prospects lists for each of the 16 minor leagues this week, and the series continued today with the Rookie Gulf Coast League. Ninth overall pick OF Austin Meadows (Pirates) topped the list, predictably. The Yankees landed six (!) players in the top 20: C Luis Torrens (#10), 3B Miguel Andujar (#11), SS Abi Avelino (#13), 2B Gosuke Katoh (#15), RHP Luis Severino (#17), and SS Thairo Estrada (#20). LHP Ian Clarkin didn’t not have enough innings to qualify.

In the subscriber-only scouting report, Baseball America says Torrens “has a sound hitting approach and a loose, easy swing with good hand-eye coordination” while lauding his ability to recognize breaking balls and power potential because “his swing generates loft.” He is rough around the edges defensively, mostly due to a lack of experience — he moved from shortstop/third base to catcher last year — but his arm is strong and accurate. The Yankees gave Torrens a $1.3M bonus as their top international signing last summer.

Andujar “did a better job recognizing breaking pitches and taking a better hitting approach to use the whole field” this year than he did at the same level last year, though the write-up says he’ll sell out for power and still needs to improve his approach. “Avelino has a mature hitting approach for his age, with good barrel awareness that allows him to use the whole field and the discipline to not expand his strike zone,” said Baseball America while also cautioning that his lack of power has some concerned about how his bat will play at the upper levels. “At shortstop he has a good internal clock, shows smooth hands and footwork along with an above-average arm,” they added.

Katoh, who led the GCL in homers (six) and was second is SLG (.522), was described as a “difficult out” because of his “plate discipline and bat-to-ball ability … (he) works the count, uses the whole field and has plus speed.” Baseball America says his defense at second is a plus despite not having the arm for short. Severino “sits in the low- to mid-90s and has reached 98,” but can get radar gun happy at times. His changeup has jumped ahead of his slider, but the latter still shows signs of being a put-away pitch. Estrada, who is praised for his defense, is also said to have “excellent instincts and is an advanced hitter for his age. He has good bat control, makes plenty of contact and has a good hitting approach.”

Six prospects in a league top 20 list is an awful lot, though the obvious caveat here is that this is rookie ball. It’s the lowest level of domestic minor league baseball and literally every team has interesting prospects this far down. These six guys — I’m a fan of Avelino and Severino, in particular — are going to be real important to the Yankees going forward and not just because they might be able to plug them into the lineup down the road. Developing into trade bait would be a big help as well.

Anyway, the next league top 20 of interest to Yankees fans is the Short Season NY-Penn League, which will be released on Friday. 3B Eric Jagielo will definitely make that list while OF Michael O’Neill, OF Brandon Thomas, RHP Rookie Davis, and RHP Gio Gallegos are on the fence.