Judge, Mateo, Kaprielian headline 2016 Spring Training invitees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Yankees announced their list of non-roster Spring Training invitees for the 2016 season. A total of 25 non-roster players were invited, so add in the guys on the 40-man roster, and the Yankees will have a total of 65 players in Spring Training this year. Last season they had 68.

Here are the 25 non-roster players who will be in Tampa this spring. As always, everyone on the 40-man roster will be there as well.

CATCHERS (6)
Carlos Corporan
Francisco Diaz
Kyle Higashioka
Eddy Rodriguez
Sebastian Valle
Santiago Nessy

INFIELDERS (6)
Jonathan Diaz
Pete Kozma
Jorge Mateo
Deibinson Romero (recently signed as a minor league free agent)
Donovan Solano
Tyler Wade

OUTFIELDERS (3)
Dustin Fowler
Aaron Judge
Cesar Puello

PITCHERS (10)
LHP Richard Bleier
RHP Tyler Cloyd (recently signed as a minor league free agent)
RHP Domingo German (rehabbing from Tommy John surgery)
RHP Chad Green
RHP James Kaprielian
RHP Brady Lail
RHP Diego Moreno
RHP Vinnie Pestano
RHP Anthony Swarzak
LHP Tyler Webb

Obviously some players have a much better chance of making the Yankees than others. Mateo, for example, has close to zero chance of making the Opening Day roster. He’ll be in camp so the big league coaching staff can get a firsthand look at arguably the top prospect in the organization. The same applies to Kaprielian, last summer’s first round pick, and Judge.

Right now the Yankees have five open big league roster spots: three in the bullpen, the backup catcher, and the final bench spot. Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine are the main candidates for the backup backstop job along with Corporan. It seems like the Yankees want Sanchez to be the guy, but there are service time reasons to send him to Triple-A for a few weeks (35 days in Triple-A equals an extra year of team control). All those extra catchers will be in camp to help catch bullpens and stuff.

Brian Cashman has confirmed the Yankees intendt the use their final bench spot as something of revolving door. They want to rotate players in and out based on their needs at the time, and that includes adding an eighth reliever on occasion. Remember, position battles do not end when Spring Training is over. Whoever gets those three bullpen spots and the two bench spots will have to produce during the regular season to keep the job.

Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Tampa on Thursday, February 18th. That’s two weeks from yesterday. Position players will report on Wednesday, February 24th, and the first full squad workout will follow on February 25th.

Aaron Judge claims top spot on Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects list

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Prospect season is in full swing now. One day after Baseball America published their top ten Yankees prospects list, the crew at Baseball Prospectus did the same. For BP, the top ten list plus the write-up for the top prospect are free. Everything else is behind the paywall. Here’s the top ten:

  1. OF Aaron Judge
  2. SS Jorge Mateo
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. RHP James Kaprielian
  5. OF Dustin Fowler
  6. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  7. RHP Drew Finley
  8. 3B Eric Jagielo
  9. RHP Brady Lail
  10. LHP Ian Clarkin

Again, as a reminder, both RHP Luis Severino and 1B Greg Bird are no longer prospect eligible, which is why they’re not on the list. They both exceeded the rookie playing time limits this past season.

Judge, Mateo, Sanchez, and Kaprielian are very clearly the top four prospects in the organization right now, as I said yesterday. We could argue the precise order until we’re blue in the face, but those are the four guys. It’s them, then everyone else right now.

The BP gang appears to be quite high on Fowler — “If he isn’t an everyday center fielder at the highest level, he could be a very good fourth outfielder,” said the write-up — and I’m glad to see someone shares my Finley affection. I’m not sure Finley’s a top ten guy, but he’s close.

Both Jagielo and Clarkin were understandably dinged in the rankings after losing so much time to injury in 2015, but the BP crew opted not to ignore their ceilings. I don’t know where Jagielo will play long-term, but he can mash. Clarkin didn’t have surgery and showed his pre-injury stuff in the Arizona Fall League.

“Recent success with early-round draft picks and aggressive tactics in the July 2nd market have given the Yankees a deep system with a healthy mix of almost-ready major-league regulars and teenagers with loud tools,” said the write-up, which also listed SS Wilkerman Garcia, OF Leonardo Molina, C Luis Torrens, 3B Dermis Garcia, and LHP Jacob Lindgren as other interesting prospects to watch. One of those things is not like the others.

The Baseball Prospectus feature also includes a ranking of the top ten players in the organization age 25 or younger. Severino sits in the top spot, followed by Judge, Mateo, Sanchez, Bird, Kaprielian, Fowler, Refsnyder, RHP Bryan Mitchell, and LHP Chasen Shreve. SS Didi Gregorius, 2B Starlin Castro, and RHP Nathan Eovaldi all missed the age cutoff by a few weeks and weren’t eligible for the 25 and under list.

Of nothing else, the 25 and under list shows how much better shape the Yankees are in right now than a year ago. Last year Molina was in the top ten under 25 list and, uh, no. This year eight of the ten are either in MLB or will be very soon. “The Yankees of the future likely won’t take shape for a year or two at least,” said the write-up, “but if the end of 2015 was any indication, we’ll get an increased glimpse into its promise in 2016.”

Jorge Mateo tops Baseball America’s top ten Yankees prospects list

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

Baseball America’s annual look at the top ten prospects in each organization continued today with the Yankees and their improving farm system that figures to take a hit in the rankings. As always, the list and intro essay are free, but the individual scouting reports are not. You need a subscription for those. Here’s the top ten, as ranked by Josh Norris:

  1. SS Jorge Mateo
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. OF Aaron Judge
  4. RHP James Kaprielian
  5. RHP Domingo Acevedo
  6. RHP Rookie Davis
  7. SS Tyler Wade
  8. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  9. SS Wilkerman Garcia
  10. OF Dustin Fowler

As a reminder, neither RHP Luis Severino nor 1B Greg Bird are prospect eligible. They both exceeded the rookie playing time limits — 130 at-bats for position players and 50 innings for pitchers — this past season. Severino threw 62.1 innings and Bird had 167 at-bats in the big leagues.

I wouldn’t say Mateo moving into the top spot is surprising, though I don’t necessarily agree with it. Moving him ahead of Sanchez and especially Judge means fully buying into his projection. The scouting reports say Mateo “could be an above-average shortstop” while Sanchez “profiles as a front-line catcher,” yet the shortstop in Single-A is ranked above the catcher in Triple-A (or MLB). Eh, whatevs. I’m guessing the gap between No. 1 and No. 3 is pretty small anyway.

The team’s top four prospects — in whatever order — are pretty obvious. If you have anyone other than Mateo, Sanchez, Judge, and Kaprielian in the top four, you’re overthinking it. After the top four is where it gets interesting and I honestly have no idea who New York’s fifth best prospect is right now. Norris slots Acevedo in at No. 5 and he’s the next great divisive Yankees prospect. Some see him as an ace in the making and others see a big guy with a big fastball and not much else.

Davis and Wade both made nice strides this past season and Refsnyder is Refsnyder. We know all about him by now. Garcia had the best debut from the team’s massive 2014-15 international haul and the scouting report says he “has the potential to be a five-tool player, with some scouts even giving him future average power.” Fowler, a 2013 draftee, was a two-sport guy in high school who is starting to figure out this baseball thing now that he’s playing it full-time.

LHP Ian Clarkin and 3B Eric Jagielo stand out as the most notable omissions. Clarkin (elbow) was hurt all season before getting some innings in the Arizona Fall League, so it’s understandable to drop him. I’m not sure I’d drop him all the way out of the top ten, but to each his own. Jagielo probably isn’t a third baseman long-term, though he mashed at Double-A this summer before jamming his knee sliding into home plate and having surgery. I like Wade, but give me Clarkin and Jagielo before him.

The Yankees actually got some help from their farm system this past season, and the graduations of Severino and Bird all but guarantee the team will place lower in the various organizational rankings in 2016 than they did in 2015. Losing two high-end talents like Severino and Bird hurts. Then again, the farm system lost them for the right reason, not because they stalled out in the minors. Sanchez, Judge, Refsnyder and possibly Davis are the top ten prospects in position to help the Yankees in 2016.

The Suddenly Productive Farm System [2015 Season Review]

Judge at the Futures Game. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Judge at the Futures Game. (Rob Carr/Getty)

This past season the Yankees received more production from their farm system than they did in any year since Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang arrived in 2005. And because of that, they’ll take a hit in the various farm system rankings next spring. Top prospects Luis Severino and Greg Bird graduated to MLB, as did the since traded John Ryan Murphy.

When you lose two high-end talents like Severino and Bird to the big leagues, your system is going to take a hit. That’s life. You’d rather the system take a hit because of graduations than failing prospects, and in recent years the Yankees were dealing with too much of the latter. With new farm system head Gary Denbo in charge, the system took a step forward this summer and gave the MLB team help, the kind of help that wasn’t always available in recent years. Let’s review the season on the farm.

The Top Prospect

Coming into the season it was debatable whether Severino or OF Aaron Judge was the Yankees’ top prospect. I went with Judge for a number of reasons, including the inherent injury risk with pitchers. Severino zoomed to the big leagues this summer while Judge split the season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, hitting .258/.332/.446 (124 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 127 total games.

Judge dominated the Double-A level (147 wRC+ with 12 HR in 63 games) but had a tougher time in Triple-A (98 wRC+ with 8 HR in 61 games), which isn’t all that uncommon. He was facing pitchers with big league experience for the first time and they picked him apart, mostly by taking advantage of his big strike zone — Judge is 6-foot-7, remember — with high fastballs and soft stuff away.

Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, Judge’s strikeout rate did not spike in Triple-A, at least not insanely so. He had a 25.3% strikeout rate at High-A, a 25.0% strikeout rate in Double-A, and a 28.5% strikeout rate in Triple-A. That’s three extra strikeouts per 100 plate appearances. Judge did have some ugly strikeout heavy slumps with the RailRiders, but overall the strikeout increase was not alarming.

That isn’t to say Judge’s strikeouts aren’t an issue. He’s always going to strike out a lot, he’s a huge guy with a big zone, but you’d rather see him hover around 25.0 K% rather than 28.0+ K% long-term. The power is there though. Judge hit three more homers and two more doubles in 2015 than 2014 despite getting 23 fewer plate appearances, playing against better competition, and playing in worse hitters parks.

The less than stellar showing at Triple-A ensures Judge will return to the RailRiders to start 2016 so he can work on controlling the strike zone a little better (his 9.8% walk rate was above-average, for what it’s worth) and laying off soft stuff off the plate. Judge has big power and his right field defense is easy to overlook. He’s a really good athlete with a strong arm who’s an asset in the field. Hiccup in Triple-A notwithstanding, Judge remains New York’s top prospect in my book.

Mateo. (Jerry Coli)
Mateo. (Jerry Coli)

The Big Name Breakout Prospects

It’s weird to consider C Gary Sanchez a breakout prospect because he’s been one of the best prospects in the organization for a few years now, but a few things finally clicked this year, mostly in terms of his maturity. It helped him reach the big leagues in September. Sanchez is now a candidate — if not the favorite — to replace Murphy as the Brian McCann‘s backup next summer.

SS Jorge Mateo, another one of the team’s top prospects, also broke out this past season in the sense that he played his first full season. The 20-year-old speedster hit .278/.345/.392 (114 wRC+) with a minor league leading 82 steals in 99 attempts (83% success rate) in 117 games with (mostly) Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. No other player stole more than 75 bases this year. If you want to argue Mateo (or Sanchez) is the Yankees’ top prospect and not Judge, I’d disagree, but I’d understand.

A few years ago RHP Rookie Davis was an interesting name literally because of his name. His real name is William but a nickname like Rookie gets you noticed. Davis took a big step forward this year, especially with the command of his mid-90s heater/curveball combination. Walk rate is a control stat, not a command stat, though it is notable he cut his walk rate from 7.6% last year to 4.7% his year. Davis had a 3.86 ERA (2.47 FIP) in 130.2 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

OF Dustin Fowler, 20, also made the jump from sleeper to bonafide prospect this summer by hitting .298/.334/.394 (113 wRC+) with 20 doubles, five homers, and 30 stolen bases in 123 games at Low-A and High-A. He then had a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Fowler has been playing baseball full-time for only two years now — he was also a top football recruit in high school — and he’s starting to turn his power/speed/defense tool package into baseball ability.

And finally, the biggest breakout prospect of the summer was OF Ben Gamel, who’s spent the last few years as a depth player and not an actual prospect. Thee 23-year-old hit .300/.358/.472 (138 wRC+) with 28 doubles, 14 triples, ten homers, and 13 steals in 129 games, all at Triple-A. Gamel’s power finally started to blossom and he’s now a legitimate big league candidate. He and Davis were added to the 40-man roster last month.

The Emerging Depth

Farm systems will always be defined by their star power, that’s just the way it goes, though depth is important as well. The Yankees had several lower profile prospects — guys who don’t necessarily project to be stars but do have a chance to contribute at the big league level in a meaningful way — emerge this summer, including SS Tyler Wade, RHP Brady Lail, LHP Jordan Montgomery, RHP Cale Coshow, and RHP Domingo Acevedo.

Wade. (The Times of Trenton)
Wade. (The Times of Trenton)

Wade, 21, had an ugly 21-game cameo with Double-A Trenton (37 wRC+) late in the season after a strong showing with High-A Tampa (117 wRC+). He hit .262/.321/.333 (99 wRC+) in 127 total games overall in 2015 and is a contact-oriented left-handed hitting middle infielder with the defensive chops for either side of the second base bag. At the very least, Wade is in position to have a long career as a backup infielder.

The 22-year-old Lail is a major player development success for the Yankees. He was the team’s 18th round pick in the 2012 draft as an extremely raw high schooler from Utah. The Yankees have helped mold him into a four-pitch righty who is in position to give the team serviceable innings soon. Lail had a 2.91 ERA (3.51 FIP) in 148.1 innings for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton in 2015, though he didn’t miss any bats (13.8 K%). He offers a fastball, curveball, cutter, and changeup. The ceiling is not all that high here, but Lail can help.

Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old Montgomery was one of the best pitchers in the system this season, posting a 2.95 ERA (2.61 FIP) with very good strikeout (24.1%) and walk (6.6%) rates in 134 innings at Low-A and High-A. Montgomery spent three years in South Carolina’s rotation facing tough SEC lineups, so Single-A lineups were no challenge. He’s another four-pitch guy (fastball, cutter, curve, change) and we’ll find out if Montgomery is for real next season, when he heads to Double-A Trenton.

Coshow is an interesting prospect. For starters, the guy is listed at 6-foot-5 and 260 lbs., so he’s an intimidating presence on the mound. Secondly, he had a 2.45 ERA (2.80 FIP) with good strikeout (21.5%) and walk (6.2%) numbers in 114 innings at three levels in 2015. He topped out at Double-A. Coshow, 23, performed so well the Yankees moved him from a relief role into a starting role at midseason. He’s got a huge fastball, sitting 95-97 and hitting 100 mph in relief, and he backs it up with a wipeout slider. I don’t think Coshow’s a starter long-term, but gosh, that’s a nice looking relief prospect.

And finally, the 21-year-old Acevedo is either one of the best prospects in the organization or just an interesting arm with a long way to go, depending who you ask. Acevedo had a 1.81 ERA (2.89 FIP) with a lot of strikeouts (26.6%) and an average number of walks (7.9%) in 49.2 innings with mostly Short Season Staten Island this summer. He’s another huge guy (6-foot-7) who has touched triple digits, and his changeup is pretty good too. Acevedo needs to figure out a breaking ball at some point to avoid a future in the bullpen.

The Reclamation Prospects

At this time last year both OF Mason Williams and OF Slade Heathcott were afterthoughts. Williams didn’t hit at all from 2013-14 and he was dogged by maturity issues. Heathcott simply couldn’t stay healthy. The two came to Spring Training healthy this year and with positive attitudes, and they put themselves back on the prospect map. Both made their MLB debuts in the first half. It might not sound like much, but Williams and Heathcott went from non-factors to the show in about six months. That’s pretty darn cool.

The Best of the Rest

The Yankees had to be pleased with what they saw from 3B Eric Jagielo (141 wRC+ with Double-A Trenton) before he jammed his knee sliding into home plate in June and had to have it scoped, ending his season. Jagielo’s defense is still a huge question, but the guy can hit, especially for power. IF Abi Avelino and IF Thairo Estrada both had nice seasons in the low minors — Avelino stole 54 bases and Estrada had a 108 wRC+ with Short Season Staten Island.

OF Rob Refsnyder, LHP Jacob Lindgren, and RHP Bryan Mitchell gave the Yankees some mileage at the big league level, and the team turned OF Ramon Flores and RHP Jose Ramirez into Dustin Ackley. The 2014-15 international spending spree added a bevy of prospects to the system and the 2015 draft added even more talent, with RHP James Kaprielian, SS Wilkerman Garcia, RHP Drew Finley, SS Hoy Jun Park, 3B Dermis Garcia, and RHP Chance Adams among the most notable new additions. Also, 2B Tony Renda came over in the David Carpenter trade.

The Disappointing Prospects

It’s not all good news, of course. Several prospects had disappointing seasons, most notably OF Tyler Austin. He hit .240/.315/.343 (92 wRC+) in 94 regular season games and was demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Double-A Trenton at midseason. The Yankees dropped Austin from the 40-man roster in September and he slipped through waivers unclaimed.

3B Miguel Andujar did the bad first half/good second half thing again, though the end result was a .243/.288/.363 (98 wRC+) line in 130 High-A Tampa games. At some point Andujar has to put together a full productive season. Bonus baby OF Leonardo Molina hit .247/.290/.364 (96 wRC+) while repeating the Rookie Gulf Coast League. Age is on his side though — Molina turned 18 in July. Yes, he’s still only 18. Austin, Andujar, and Molina were the biggest disappointments among the team’s top 30 prospects.

Clarkin. (MLB.com screen grab)
Clarkin. (MLB.com screen grab)

The Inevitable Injures

Injuries are part of baseball. That’s just the way it is. The Yankees had several high-profile prospects suffer significant injuries in 2015. LHP Ian Clarkin (elbow inflammation), C Luis Torrens (shoulder surgery), RHP Domingo German (Tommy John surgery), RHP Austin DeCarr (Tommy John surgery), and RHP Ty Hensley (Tommy John surgery) combined for zero regular season games played this year. Zero.

That is two of the top six, three of the top eleven, and five of the top 18 prospects in the organization according to my preseason rankings. (Four of the top seven pitching prospects!) Ouch. Literally and figuratively. On the bright side, Clarkin did avoid the zipper and was able to throw 24.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League. But still, that’s a lot of really good prospects going down with major injuries. The Clarkin and Torrens injuries really took a bite out of the system. They have the most upside.

* * *

Overall, the 2015 season was a big success for the Yankees’ farm system because they graduated some impact talent to the big leagues. Severino and Bird look like keepers and future core players. Murphy had a very good season before being traded a few weeks ago. Sanchez and Mateo emerged, Kaprielian was drafted, and Judge reached Triple-A.

The Yankees dipped into their farm system for help whenever possible this season, and I have to think that serves as motivation for the guys still in the minors. They see that if they stay healthy and produce, they’ll get a chance too. Calling up guys like LHP Matt Tracy and OF Taylor Dugas shows the Yankees will now give anyone and everyone an opportunity if they’re the right man for the job.

The 2015 Draft and the Next Wave of Arms [2015 Season Review]

Kaprielian. (John Corneau Photos)
Kaprielian. (John Corneau Photos)

Coming into the season the Yankees had a very position player heavy farm system. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but their position player depth did far exceed their mound depth. You’d like more balance, ideally. Once LHP Ian Clarkin got hurt and it became obvious RHP Luis Severino would soon arrive in MLB, the farm system pitching picture looked even bleaker. The Yankees were light on arms.

The 2015 amateur draft didn’t erase that lack of pitching depth completely, but it did start to the move the team in the right direction. The Yankees selected pitchers with three of their first four picks, four of their first six picks, and 24 of their 41 total picks. Twenty-three of the 35 draft picks they signed were pitchers. Whether the emphasis on arms was intentional or just a coincidence, the Yankees added some much-needing pitching depth to the organization in the draft. Let’s review the class.

The Top Pick

The Yankees did not forfeit their first round pick to sign a free agent last offseason, so they held the 16th overall pick in the 2015 draft. They hadn’t picked that high since taking Florida HS RHP Matt Drews with the 13th pick way back in 1993. Years of good records and forfeiting high picks to sign free agents kept the Yankees away from top 16 picks for more than two decades.

“It did feel a little bit more like that,” said scouting director Damon Oppenheimer to reporters in June when asked if picking so high came with extra pressure. “It felt like you owe it to the Yankees and you owe it to the organization to get somebody with this pick who’s going to produce and be a quality Major League player. You feel like that about most of them, but when it comes to picking higher than we have since Matt Drews, before I was even here, it does feel that way. I’m not going to lie about it.”

The Yankees used that 16th overall pick to select UCLA RHP James Kaprielian, the fifth pitcher taken in the 2015 draft. Interestingly, a few reports — speculation more than factual reports, I’d say — indicated the Yankees were planning to take a high school bat with their top pick, but the guys they were targeting had already come off the board, namely Florida HS OF Kyle Tucker, George HS SS Cornelius Randolph, New York HS OF Garrett Whitley, and Texas HS OF Trent Clark.

Anyway, Kaprielian landed a slightly above-slot $2.65M bonus a few days before the signing deadline. He allowed six runs (five earned) in 11.1 regular season innings for the Rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate and Short Season Staten Island after turning pro, then he dominated in two postseason starts with the Baby Bombers: 12.1 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 10 K combined. The Yankees then sent him to Instructional League after the season.

“We do think this guy is at least a No. 3 starter and above” added Oppenheimer. “His stuff definitely is now stuff, and it’s now quality stuff. He has control to go along with mental maturity. It seems it could be (a guy who climbs the ladder quickly), but I don’t know the timetables on these guys. It’s too hard to tell. But he shouldn’t have to spend too much time at the lower levels.”

I think there’s a real chance we’ll see Kaprielian in the big leagues in the second half next season. He could follow something along the lines of Ian Kennedy’s path, meaning ten starts with High-A Tampa, eight with Double-A Trenton, six with Triple-A Scranton, then the big leagues in August and September. Obviously he has to perform and show big league stuff, but Kaprielian should move very quickly.

I normally like to be conservative with young pitchers, but Kaprielian’s an exception. There’s no reason to hold a polished college guy with command of multiple offspeed pitches back. Being ready soon is part of his appeal.

The Other Quick Moving Guy

Kaprielian has a chance to reach the show in the second half of next season and it’s entirely possible he will be only the second 2015 Yankees draftee to reach MLB. Dallas Baptist RHP Chance Adams (fifth round) reached High-A Tampa in his pro debut and had a 1.78 ERA (1.75 FIP) in 35.1 innings at three levels. He struck out 31.7% of batters faced and walked only 6.3%. Adams was overwhelming.

Obviously the numbers are great, but Adams also saw his stuff jump a notch in pro ball. He went from sitting low-to-mid-90s in college this spring to sitting mid-90s and touching as high as 99 after signing, and his already good slider gained consistency with pro instruction. Adams is a pure reliever and I think he’ll start next season with Double-A Trenton. If starts 2016 with the same stuff he had at the end of 2015, the only question about Adams’ readiness will be how soon the Yankees want to clear a 40-man roster spot for him.

The Bonus Baby Arms

In addition to Kaprielian, the Yankees signed two other pitchers to well-above-slot bonuses using the savings from the late-round draft pool manipulating picks. (They took cheaper prospects in rounds 7-10 to save pool space.) First they gave California HS RHP Drew Finley (third round) a $950,000 bonus, about 50% over slot. Then they gave Louisville LHP Josh Rogers (11th) a $485,000 bonus, nearly five times slot.

Finley was a potential late-first round pick who slipped into the third round. He allowed a shocking number of walks (12.6%) and homers (2.53 HR/9!) in his 32-inning pro debut with the new Rookie Pulaski affiliate, but he still missed bats (27.2%) and showed a bat-missing curveball. Finley’s not a hard-thrower — he was mostly 89-91 mph this summer — but he has a pretty good plan on the mound and is already making strides with his changeup.

The Yankees were able to lure Rogers, a draft-eligible sophomore, away from school following his strong showing in the Cape Cod League. He allowed six runs in 13.1 innings for Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Charleston, striking out 16 and walking three. Rogers is a three-pitch southpaw — low-90s gas, good slider, improving changeup — who can locate well, so he has a chance to remain a starter.

Degano. (Robert Pimpsner)
Degano. (Robert Pimpsner)

The Other Top Picks

The Yankees picked up a supplemental first round pick when David Robertson signed with the White Sox, and they used that pick (30th overall) on San Diego SS Kyle Holder. Holder didn’t hit in his pro debut — .213/.273/.253 (57 wRC+) around a nagging thumb injury with Short Season Staten Island — but his bat is not his calling card anyway. He’s an elite defender at shortstop, and that’s one heck of a carrying tool.

Indiana State LHP Jeff Degano was New York’s second round pick and third selection overall. He spent some time piggybacking with Kaprielian for Short Season Staten Island and allowed eleven runs in 21.1 pro innings, striking out 22 and walking nine. Degano missed the entire 2014 college season following Tommy John surgery, though he worked off the rust in the spring, and showed a low-90s heater with a sharper low-80s breaking ball. He’s not as polished as Rogers but offers more upside as a high strikeout lefty.

Late-Round Pitching Depth

In Alabama RHP Will Carter (14th) and BYU RHP Kolton Mahoney (16th), the Yankees added two promising depth arms who could follow in the footsteps of guys like Chase Whitley (15th round in 2010) and David Phelps (14th round in 2018) to give the Yankees serviceable innings. Is that exciting? No, but we’re talking about the double-digit rounds here.

Carter has maybe the best fastball the Yankees drafted this year — he sat 96-97 mph with his sinker for Short Season Staten Island. I saw him pitch a few times this summer and couldn’t believe a guy with that kind of fastball lasted until the 14th round. Carter had a 2.04 ERA (3.91 FIP) in 17.2 innings for the Baby Bombers and, not surprisingly, he generated 5.4 ground balls for every fly ball. He’s a reliever.

Mahoney has an interesting backstory. He didn’t pitch at all from 2012-13 because he was on a Mormon mission, so his arm is relatively fresh. Mahoney had a 2.29 ERA (2.99 FIP) in 55 innings for Short Season Staten Island and is a four-pitch starter: low-90s fastball plus a curveball, slider, and changeup. His command is good considering his relative inexperience and he has the stuff to stay in the rotation.

Position Player Prospects

The 2015 draft wasn’t all pitchers, just mostly pitchers. In addition to Holder, the best position player prospects the Yankees drafted this summer are Florida Southern OF Jhalan Jackson (seventh) and Florida JuCo OF Isiah Gilliam (20th). Florida JuCo OF Trey Amburgey (13th) had an incredible pro debut — he hit .335/.388/.502 (161 wRC+) in 62 games split between the GCL and Short Season Staten Island — and has tools, but is more interesting sleeper than bonafide prospect.

Jackson hit .266/.338/.452 (133 wRC+) with Short Season Staten Island and showed off both his raw power (five homers and .186 ISO) and swing-and-missability (29.8 K%). He has classic right field tools, meaning power, a strong arm, and some speed. Jackson can hit a mistake a mile but must improve against breaking balls and with pitch recognition in general to succeed at the upper levels.

The Yankees gave Gilliam a well-above slot $450,000 bonus and he showed a more advanced approach than expected in pro ball, hitting .296/.359/.415 (132 wRC+) with a 15.0% strikeout rate and a 9.8% walk rate in 42 GCL games. He hit only one homer, but power remains his calling card. Gilliam’s a switch-hitter with thump from both sides, and his athleticism allowed him to move to the outfield after being drafted as a first baseman.

Oregon State OF Jeff Hendrix (fourth), Texas JuCo IF Brandon Wagner (sixth), and Arizona HS 3B Donny Sands (eighth) are other position player draftees worth keeping an eye on. Wagner has the most power, Sands the most two-way ability, and Hendrix the highest probability. He could help as a speedy fourth outfielder down the line.

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The draft is always a lot of fun and super exciting … then the novelty quickly wears off. It usually doesn’t take long for the prospects to separate themselves from the suspects. Even the lowest levels of professional baseball are hard. Almost every pro player was the best player on his college or high school team, after all.

The Yankees landed themselves a very good starter pitching prospect (Kaprielian) and a very good bullpen prospect (Adams) in the 2015 draft. They added three more solid arms (Degano, Finley, Rogers), several position players with carrying tools (Holder, Jackson, Gilliam), and a few promising late-rounders (Carter, Mahoney). There’s still plenty of time for others to emerge, but right now, six months after the draft, those guys are the keys to the 2015 draft for the Yankees.

Prospect Profile: James Kaprielian

(Staten Island Advance)
(Staten Island Advance)

James Kaprielian | RHP

Background
Kaprielian is a Southern California kid who was born in Orange County and grew up in Tustin. He played football as well as three years of varsity baseball at Beckman High School, going 33-3 with a 0.96 ERA overall. Kaprielian threw eleven shutouts and two no-hitters in his career, and he didn’t walk a batter his junior year. “He was a special player to get to coach,” said coach Zach Reeder to Tim Burt.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Kaprielian as the 73rd best prospect in the 2012 draft, though bonus demands and a strong commitment to UCLA caused him to fall to the 40th round, when the Mariners grabbed him. Kaprielian did not sign out of high school and instead went to college. By the way, his name is pronounced “ka-pril-ian.”

As a freshman, Kaprielian had a 1.55 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 24 walks in 40.2 innings across 34 relief appearances. He pitched for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod League after the season, where he posted a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings. He struck out 28 and participated in the league All-Star Game.

The Bruins moved Kaprielian into the rotation his sophomore year and he immediately took over as their Friday night starter. He blossomed into one of the best starters in the nation, pitching to a 2.29 ERA with a conference leading 108 strikeouts and 34 walks in 15 starts and 106 innings. That performance earned him All-Pac-12 honors.

Kaprielian pitched for the US Collegiate National Team during the summer and struck out a dozen in six shutout innings against Chinese Taipei. He pitched soon after losing his mother to breast cancer and his effort was recognized as the USA Baseball International Performance of the Year.

Kaprielian had a 2.02 ERA with 114 strikeouts and 33 walks in 106.2 innings spread across 16 starts and one relief appearance as a junior this spring, earning him Second Team All-American honors. On May 15th, he threw nine no-hit innings against Arizona in the first no-hitter in UCLA history. (They won in ten innings.)

Prior to the 2015 draft, Baseball America and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Kaprielian as the 19th and 27th best prospect in the draft class, respectively. The Yankees, who were linked to Kaprielian all spring, grabbed him with their first round pick, the 16th overall selection. He signed a few days before the deadline for a $2.65M bonus, slightly more than the $2.43M slot value.

Pro Debut
UCLA’s season ended June 1st and Kaprielian didn’t sign until July 15th, so the Yankees eased him into things to start his pro debut. He made two quick tune-up appearances with the Rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees before moving up to Short Season Staten Island, where he made three more starts. Kaprielian allowed six runs (five earned) on ten hits and four walks in 11.1 innings in his pro debut. He fanned 14.

The Yankees turned Kaprielian loose during the NY-Penn League postseason. He made two starts for the Staten Island Yanks in the playoffs and they were both great: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K in the first one, then 6.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 6 K in the second one. The Baby Bombers were swept in the Championship series but Kaprielian, who started Game One in both postseason series, was pretty great. Between college and pro ball, Kaprielian threw 130.1 total innings in 2015. He then participated in Instructional League after the season.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-4 and 200 lbs., Kaprielian is a big and sturdy guy with an ideal pitcher’s frame. He has the basic four-pitch mix — fastball, curveball, slider, changeup — and he uses all four pitches regularly. This isn’t a guy with a show-me changeup or something like that. Kaprielian has good feel for each of his pitches and all four are weapons. His deep arsenal is the reason he was fifth pitcher taken in this summer’s draft.

Kaprielian’s fastball sat 90-93 mph for most of his college career before jumping to 92-95 mph with a few 96s late this spring. He sustained his newfound velocity in his pro debut as well. Depending on the day, either the curveball or slider is Kaprielian’s best breaking ball, though both are above-average pitches. The slider is a mid-80s offering with short and sharp break, so much so that it almost looks like a cutter. The curve mostly sits in the 78-82 mph range and Kaprielian can throw it for strikes or bury it in the dirt for swings and misses.

The changeup is Kaprielian’s fourth pitch and was a point of emphasis after turning pro. The Yankees had him throw it a bunch with Staten Island and it’s really more of a circle change with tumbling action in the low-80s. He tends to spike it in the dirt when he misses. Kaprielian’s command rates as above-average and he pitches aggressively, going after hitters rather than nibbling and trying to set them up.

Kaprielian’s delivery is not textbook — he lifts his leg up then brings it down before striding forward, and his shoulders dip along with his lower half — but it’s not violent or anything that needs to be changed. It’s almost like a halfway drop-and-drive delivery. The Yankees really value good makeup and it’s no coincidence Kaprielian drew raves for his maturity and work ethic at UCLA.

2016 Outlook
After three years in the Pac-12, including the last two as the best starting pitcher in the conference, Kaprielian is on the very fast track. He’s ready for High-A Tampa and his time there may be brief. As a four-pitch guy with command and maturity, Kaprielian could jump on the Ian Kennedy track and make his MLB debut late in 2016. Kennedy made ten starts with High-A Tampa, nine with Double-A Trenton, six with Triple-A Scranton, then three with the Yankees in 2007, his first full pro season. Even if Kaprielian doesn’t make his MLB debut in 2016, he should be a big league option no later than the first half of 2017. This isn’t a guy you draft in the middle of the first round then hold back in the minors. Kaprielian’s potential to move very quickly was part of his appeal at the time of the draft.

My Take
I really like Kaprielian and think he got a raw deal from may fans at the time of the draft, being labeled low upside and things like that. If the velocity spike is legit — he held it from spring all through the summer in pro ball — Kaprielian has significant ceiling and could pitch near the front of a big league rotation. Even if the velocity increase doesn’t last and he reverts back to 90-93 mph, he’s still a no doubt starter with the frame to be a workhorse. The Yankees have started to lean on their farm system a little more and I’m excited to see Kaprielian cut through the minors quickly and make his debut as soon as next season.

Kaprielian, Degano among Baseball America’s standout top 20 non-qualifiers

(John Corneau Photos)
Grandmaster Kap. (John Corneau Photos)

Baseball America is still in the middle of their series looking at the top 20 prospects in each minor league. Inevitability, playing time criteria has left a lot of prospects on the outside looking in. They have to draw the qualifying line somewhere, and some talented players simply fall short of the top 20 list due to playing time. Recent draftees fall short more than anyone.

Earlier today, J.J. Cooper posted a look at the top prospects who failed to qualify for one of their league top 20 lists. It’s not a ranking, just a list of 13 players who stood out to scouts in limited playing time. Among the 13 are two of the Yankees top 2015 draft picks: rapper/RHP James Kaprielian (first round) and LHP Jeff Degano (second round). Neither made a top 20 list because they only threw a handful of innings after turning pro.

Kaprielian, 21, threw 23.2 innings with the Rookie GCL Yanks and Short Season Staten Island — 11.1 innings in the regular season and another 12.1 innings in the postseason — and finished with a 2.28 ERA (2.23 FIP). He struck out 24, walked six, and had a 56.5% ground ball rate. Cooper’s write-up is free, you don’t need a subscription, so here’s part of the blurb on Kaprielian:

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound righthander commands a four-seamer at 92-93 mph and touched 95 for Staten Island. Kaprielian’s plus 12-to-6 curveball was his go-to pitch with UCLA, but he mainly threw it early in counts with Staten Island, focusing instead on his changeup and slider. Both pitches generated swings and misses. His circle-change had firm, split-like downward action at 82-83 mph with good finish at the bottom of the strike zone, while the slider showed hard, late break … With his deep arsenal, above-average command and maturity, the righthander could be a quick mover in the Yankees system.

For what it’s worth, Michael Lananna heard Kaprielian’s changeup has progressed nicely in his short time as a pro. Kaprielian’s scouting report is damn impressive. Four pitches, command, and poise? It’s easy to understand why he was the fifth pitcher selected in the 2015 draft. The only reason the Yankees didn’t turn him loose this summer was his workload at UCLA — he threw 106.2 innings for the Bruins before the draft.

Degano, meanwhile, had a 3.80 ERA (3.72 FIP) with 24 strikeouts, eleven walks, and a 50.0% ground ball rate in 23.2 innings for the GCL Yanks and Staten Island. That’s regular season and postseason. The 22-year-old southpaw actually piggybacked with Kaprielian for a while at Staten Island to keep their workloads down after heavy springs in college. (Degano threw 99 innings for Indiana State.) Here’s part of the Degano blurb:

Degano did show excellent command of his 90-94 mph fastball inside to righthanded hitters, and his plus 78-82 mph breaking ball neutralized lefties. The development of Degano’s fringy changeup, however, will be crucial if he’s going to make it as a starter. It showed flashes of being an effective pitch, but Degano threw the change sparingly with Indiana State and still needs to gain a consistent feel for it.

Degano turns 23 later this month and is older than your typical college pitcher, but his development was delayed by Tommy John surgery. He made only three starts in 2013 before blowing out his elbow and then didn’t pitch at all in 2014 either. This spring was the only opportunity for scouts to get a look at Degano before he was draft-eligible, and he was working his way back from elbow reconstruction. The Yankees liked him enough to take him in the second round.

The Yankees have a very position player heavy farm system, especially now that Luis Severino has graduated to the big leagues, so Kaprielian and Degano help replenish the pitching pipeline a bit. The Yankees didn’t draft them for need, things just worked out that way. Kaprielian could help very soon. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in the big leagues next August or September a la 2007 Ian Kennedy.