The Yankees will soon have to make some decisions about their outfield prospect logjam

Cave. (AP)
Cave. (AP)

When the season started, the Yankees were obviously very deep in left-handed hitting outfield prospects at Triple-A and Double-A. That is still the case even after Slade Heathcott was released a few weeks ago. The Yankees not only still have Ben Gamel, Mason Williams, Jake Cave, and Dustin Fowler, they just added another lefty hitting outfield prospect in Billy McKinney. He’s in Double-A too.

Depth is never a bad thing, but the Yankees are starting to reach a bit of a breaking point with these players. There are only so many roster spots to go around after all, and soon it’ll be difficult if not impossible to put all of these players in places that are appropriate for their development. Rushing players is bad. So is holding them back and having them go stale. There’s depth and there’s excess. The Yankees have an excess.

The trade deadline is Monday and the Yankees could always move one or two of these lefty outfielders for help at other positions, but it’s not like these guys have a ton of trade value. McKinney was the second piece (arguably the third piece) in a package for a rental reliever. (Okay fine, a great rental reliever.) Are Cave and Fowler and Gamel worth more than, say, Ramon Flores? I don’t think so. It’s easy to say “trade them!,” but to which team and for what?

Let’s sort through these five guys and try to figure out where they fit long-term and what the Yankees should do with each of them. The players are listed alphabetically.

Cave: The Rule 5 Guy

The Pluses: Cave, 23, is one of those guys who does a little of everything but nothing exceptionally well. He’s a solid defender in all three outfield spots and he can hit a little. So far this season he owns a .286/.349/.472 (131 wRC+) line with a 21.6% strikeout rate and an 8.0% walk rate in 352 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. It’s worth noting Cave has already hit seven homers this year after hitting two all of last season and eleven total from 2013-15, so he may be growing into some power.

The Minuses: The biggest knock on Cave is his roster situation. He didn’t stick with the Reds as a Rule 5 Draft pick this spring, and he will be Rule 5 Draft eligible again this winter. If he’s selected and doesn’t stick, he’ll be able to elect free agency as a two-time Rule 5 guy. So either the Yankees add Cave to the 40-man roster after the season or they’ll lose him. There’s no middle ground, realistically. Also, he has a major knee injury in his history (broken knee cap in 2012) and there’s some concern he won’t hit lefties at the next level.

Fowler: The Fast Rising Prospect

The Pluses: Fowler is the youngest player in this post at 21 and he’s really come a long way since being an 18th round pick in 2013. He was a three-sport guy in high school (baseball, football, wrestling) whose athleticism has translated into baseball tools and ability. Fowler has some raw pop and a good idea of what he’s doing at the plate, plus he’s a ballhawk in center. He won’t be Rule 5 Draft eligible until after next season, and given his age — he’s more than three years younger than the average Eastern League player — sending him back to Double-A Trenton to start 2017 wouldn’t be crazy.

The Minuses: Fowler is not having a great statistical season, hitting .278/.307/.408 (96 wRC+) with four homers in 19 steals in 95 games with the Thunder. He’s also not a fan of drawing walks (4.2 BB% in 2015 and 4.6 BB% career), so he’ll probably never be a high on-base guy. It’s more of a Jacoby Ellsbury-esque low-walk/low-strikeout profile than a true hacker low-walk/high-strikeout profile. A good defensive outfielder with an okay-ish OBP is a decent player, but what if the power doesn’t come?

Gamel: The “Safe” Bet

Gamel. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Gamel. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Pluses: Gamel, like Cave, does a little of everything but nothing at an above-average clip. He can play all three outfield spots and run a little, and he’s flat out destroyed Triple-A pitching for two years now. Gamel, 24, has a .303/.362/.448 (133 wRC+) line with an 8.5% walk rate and an 18.7% strikeout rate in nearly 1,000 Triple-A plate appearances since the start of last season. He’s already on the 40-man roster and has two options left for 2017 and 2018, which gives the team flexibility.

The Minuses: There aren’t a ton, really. I think Gamel’s the safest bet to be a useful big leaguer of anyone in this post. Yeah, he might be a ‘tweener who doesn’t have enough power for a corner or enough defense for center, but even ‘tweeners can carve out long careers as fourth outfielders. Gamel can hit a little bit, he’s adequate in the field, and he plays with a ton of energy. He’s one step down from Heathcottian in that regard.

McKinney: The New Guy

The Pluses: McKinney is the second youngest guy in this post — he’s four months older than Fowler — and, depending who you ask, he was a top 100 prospect as recently as this spring. The talent is there, particularly his pure left-handed swing and innate bat-to-ball skills. McKinney is the best pure hitter in this group and one of the best in the entire farm system. He also doesn’t need to be added to the 40-man roster until after next season, and because he is so young, sending him back to Double-A next April wouldn’t be unreasonable.

The Minuses: For starters, McKinney hasn’t hit much this year, so his stock is down. He owns a .252/.355/.322 (101 wRC+) batting line with only one homer and two steals in 88 Double-A games. His strikeout (19.5%) and walk (13.5%) rates are fine, but still. McKinney is coming off a fairly significant knee injury (hairline fracture from a foul ball) and he’s going to be limited to left field by his arm and range. Also, his swing is so level he might never be more than a 15-homer guy. McKinney’s swing is beautiful and he can spray line drives from line to line. Besides that, there’s not much else going on here.

Williams: The High Upside Guy

The Pluses: I think Williams has the most natural ability out of anyone in this post. He’s an outstanding athlete and a great runner, and he has a strong arm, all of which makes him a top notch center field defender. Offensively, Williams makes contact (career 12.9 K%) and knows the strike zone (career 7.6 BB%), and he’s got some sneaky power too. The proverbial light bulb went on last year and Williams hit .318/.397/.398 (133 wRC+) with more walks (11.5%) than strikeouts (9.8%) in Double-A and Triple-A before his impressive (albeit short) big league debut. He’s on the 40-man roster but does have an option left for 2017.

Williams. (Getty)
Williams. (Getty)

The Minuses: There are more than you’d like to see, for sure. For starters, Williams is coming off major shoulder surgery. He’s been back about a month. That’s all. Secondly, Williams did not hit a lick from 2013-2014, putting up a .223/.290/.304 (66 wRC+) batting line at Double-A. There were also some issues with his maturity and effort, which led to a few benchings. It appeared Williams grew up a bit last season, but who knows? Between the less than impressive track record and recent shoulder injury, there are some significant red flags here to go along long with his natural talent.

* * *

The Yankees are pretty much out of time with Gamel and Cave. If they keep Gamel at Triple-A any longer, he might stagnate. Cave has to go on the 40-man roster after the season to avoid being lost to the Rule 5 Draft or free agency, and really, how many of these guys can the Yankees carry on the 40-man at once? Game, Cave, and Williams? That’s a lot of spots tied up in similar players. It hinders flexibility.

Things aren’t quite as pressing with McKinney and Fowler. The Yankees have another year before they’re Rule 5 Draft eligible, and based on their performances this year, an assignment back to Double-A next year wouldn’t be unreasonable. There’s only about six weeks left in the minor league season, you know. There’s not enough time to really turn things around. Williams? I don’t know what to think. Love the ability, but there are a few too many red flags.

Don’t forget the Yankees have other minor league outfielders too. It’s not like these are their only options at Double-A and Triple-A. There’s Aaron Judge, first and foremost, and also Cesar Puello and Mark Payton (he’s a lefty too) and Michael O’Neill. Carlos Beltran likely won’t be back next year, so even if Judge or Gamel or Williams gets that big league right field job, there’s still going to be an outfield crunch next year. That’s a problem. (Also, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are lefties too.)

My guess is the Yankees will end up jettisoning Cave at some point, either at the trade deadline or the offseason. McKinney and Fowler wind up back in Double-A to start next season, leaving Gamel and Williams as Triple-A up-and-down options. This is definitely one of those things that will take care of itself. Hopefully it works itself out in a positive way and these players all prove useful to the Yankees, either as MLB players or trade chips.

Game 92: Rain, rain, go away

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees and Orioles are supposed to begin their four-game series in Yankee Stadium tonight, but I gotta tell ya, the forecast doesn’t look too promising and the sky is scary. It’s been dark and cloudy most of the afternoon. There’s rain in the forecast and I received a severe thunderstorm warning notification on my phone, so yeah.

Believe it or not, this is the O’s first visit to Yankee Stadium this season, so the two teams will have plenty of time to play a makeup game if it does get rained out. In fact, the Yankees and Orioles wrap up the season with three games in the Bronx. Maybe they’d push the makeup game back until then and only play it if it’ll impact the postseason race. I’m getting ahead of myself. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 2B Starlin Castro
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. 1B Rob Refsnyder
    RHP Ivan Nova

Like I said, the forecast is not good tonight. The game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES, though who knows if there will be a delay or anything. We’ll see. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Mark Teixeira (foot) remains day-to-day and is receiving treatment. He fouled a pitch off his foot over the weekend … Conor Mullee (hand) played catch today and could throw a bullpen Wednesdays. He’s out with nerve irritation.

Roster Move: The Yankees activated Mason Williams (shoulder) off the 60-day DL and optioned him to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. They had an open 40-man roster spot after cutting Ike Davis loose, so no other moves were required.

DotF: Hensley needs second Tommy John surgery

Awful news: RHP Ty Hensley needs a second Tommy John surgery, Brian Cashman and farm system head Gary Denbo confirmed to Chad Jennings. Hensley had his first Tommy John last year. He was the team’s first round pick in 2012 (30th overall) and he’s thrown only 42.1 innings in parts of five seasons due to various injuries (hips, hernia, elbow). Poor kid. Here are some other notes, including more injury updates from Jennings:

  • RHP James Kaprielian (elbow inflammation) will begin a throwing program shortly. We recently heard he’s expected to be back on a mound within 4-6 week. LHP Jacob Lindgren (elbow) is still shut down. Doesn’t sound like Lindgren’s return is imminent.
  • OF Mason Williams (shoulder), OF Slade Heathcott (knee), C Luis Torrens (shoulder), OF Trey Amburgey (hamstring), and RHP Domingo Acevedo (hamstring) are all said to be working their way back with no issues.
  • RHP Austin DeCarr and RHP Domingo German are both progressing well in their rehab from Tommy John surgery. There’s no timetable for their return to game action yet.
  • LHP Nestor Cortes landed in Baseball America’s Prospect Report today after striking out 12 last night. It’s not behind the paywall, so make sure you check it out.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 loss to Indianapolis)

  • LF Ben Gamel: 0-4
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 RBI
  • DH Nick Swisher: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K — back-to-back games with an extra-base hit for the first time since signing
  • CF Cesar Puello: 1-3, 1 2B, 1 K, 1 E (throwing) — missed some time with a concussion, but he’s quietly hitting .283/.443/.400 so far
  • LHP Dietrich Enns: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HB, 8/3 GB/FB — 53 of 91 pitches were strikes (58%) … he still has a 1.74 ERA on the season
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 1.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 29 of 45 pitches were strikes (64%)
  • RHP Conor Mullee: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 1/0 GB/FB — four pitches, three strikes

[Read more…]

DotF: Refsnyder goes deep twice in Scranton’s win

A non-update on OF Mason Williams: he is progressing well following shoulder surgery, but there is still no timetable for hims return to the field, according to Shane Hennigan. He had surgery in early-August last year, so he’s nine months out now.

Triple-A Scranton (7-1 win over Indianapolis)

  • DH Ben Gamel: 2-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 E (throwing)
  • C Gary Sanchez: 0-4 — Chris Sale broke him, bust!
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-4, 3 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI — first two homers of the season
  • CF Jake Cave: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI — two singles, two doubles, a triple, and a homer in five games since the promotion
  • LHP Dietrich Enns: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HB, 2/1 GB/FB — 61 of 95 pitches were strikes (64%) … very nice Triple-A debut … if he keeps pitching like this, the Yankees are going to have no choice but to consider calling him up whenever they need an arm later this summer
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 2/1 GB/FB — 22 of 36 pitches were strikes (61%)

[Read more…]

Yankees acquire J.R. Graham from Twins

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

The Yankees have acquired right-hander J.R. Graham from the Twins for cash or a player to be named later, the team announced. He’s been optioned to Double-A Trenton. Mason Williams was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot.

Graham, 26, stuck with the Twins as a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Braves last year. He has a 5.10 ERA (4.63 FIP) in 65.1 career big league innings, all with Minnesota since the start of last season. Graham is a mid-90s fastball guy with a mid-80s slider that is his go-to offspeed pitch. He also has a changeup. Here’s some video.

Fun fact: Graham wears old school stirrups on the mound because his mother is legally blind, and they help her pick him out on the field. That’s sweet.

The Yankees have been hit hard by upper level pitching injuries early this year. A quick list of the walking wounded: Luis Severino (triceps), CC Sabathia (groin), Bryan Mitchell (toe), Nick Rumbelow (Tommy John surgery), Branden Pinder (Tommy John surgery), Jacob Lindgren (elbow), Tyler Cloyd (elbow), Kyle Haynes (lat), and Vinnie Pestano (unknown). Yeesh.

The Twins designated Graham for assignment a few days ago as part of a roster shake-up and the Yankees picked him up to help cover for all those injuries. He’s a warm body for depth. That’s all. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team pick up a few more scrap heap arms in the coming weeks.

Aroldis Chapman and the changing dynamic of the bullpen

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Later today, the Yankees’ prized offseason addition will finally join the active roster. Aroldis Chapman‘s 30-game suspension is up — he only served 29 games thanks to a rainout — and he’ll be in the bullpen tonight ready to close. Joe Girardi has already confirmed Chapman will take over the ninth inning. He’s the closer.

The Yankees are not exactly one reliever away from turning things around, but Chapman will no doubt help. He is arguably the best reliever in the world and adding an elite player like that instantly makes the team better. Chapman’s return — is it really a return if he’s never been here before? no, right? — has a trickle down effect on the rest of the bullpen and the pitching staff in general. Let’s run it all down.

The Roster Move

Might as well start here. Chapman did not count against the 40-man roster during his suspension, so the Yankees had an open spot for much of the first five weeks of the season. That open spot went to Phil Coke the other day, however, so the Yankees have to clear a 40-man spot for Chapman today.

That’s not a problem though. The Yankees have four 60-day DL candidates: Greg Bird (shoulder), Mason Williams (shoulder), Bryan Mitchell (toe), and Branden Pinder (Tommy John surgery). My guess is Pinder gets transferred to the 60-day DL because the Yankees know for certain he’ll miss the rest of the season, but it could be any of the four. Doesn’t matter who it is, really. Point is, the Yankees don’t have to designate anyone for assignment to make room for Chapman.

As for getting Aroldis on the active roster, Nick Goody seems like the obvious candidate to be shipped down to Triple-A. The Yankees could dump Coke, but with Ivan Nova in the rotation for the time being, they need a new long man, and Coke is stretched out after working as a starter in an independent league. Keeping Coke around and sending Goody down makes the most sense given the current roster situation.

New Roles

Girardi loves to assign his relievers set innings, so it stands to reason Andrew Miller will now take over as the eighth inning guy with Dellin Betances sliding back into the seventh inning. That pushes Chasen Shreve back into a lower leverage middle innings role with Johnny Barbato joining Kirby Yates, where he belongs at this point give his recent bout of longballitis.

The Yankees and Girardi have talked about using only two of the three big relievers per game to ensure one of them is always fresh the next day, which is sounds great, but it may be tough to pull off. Could you imagine losing a game because, say, Barbato is on the mound in the late innings while Miller is available in the bullpen and not being used? Wait, yes I can. Dammit to hell.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Anyway, the “only use two per day” plan only works if the starter gives enough length and the lead is big enough. You’re going to have a tough time convincing me Girardi should not use the three big relievers if the starter is out of the game after six innings and the Yankees are tied or nursing a small lead. The Yankees are not in any position to prioritize tomorrow over today at the moment.

I would like to see Betances and Miller match up in the seventh and eighth rather than be assigned a specific innings, though I’m not sure it really matters. Those two are great against batters on both sides of the plate. Still, if the other team is sending their best lefty hitters to the plate in the seventh, why not use Miller there instead of Betances simply because it’s his inning? I’m actually hopefully this will happen. We’ll see.

Either way, Chapman’s return means everyone in the bullpen gets knocked down a peg and that’s a good thing. Miller is an overqualified eighth inning guy. Betances is an extremely overqualified seventh inning guy. Shreve is now the No. 4 instead of the No. 3. The added depth is going to help a lot. The Yankees will automatically have an advantage on the mound in any close game in the late innings.

About The Ninth Inning

No, Andrew Miller does not deserve to lose the closer’s job. He’s been outstanding in that role since the start of last season. It is an undeserved demotion. No doubt about it. I also don’t it matters at all. Miller has been talking about doing whatever the team needs since the day he signed and it seems sincere. Here’s what Miller told Chad Jennings yesterday:

“What do you want me to do?” he said. “You want me to throw a fit? The goal here is to win. I think if you go around and ask, there’s 25 lockers in here and I think everyone is going to say that. We haven’t gotten off to the start that we want to. I think we’ve played well in the last couple of days, and the goal is to keep that going. Wins are what’s fun at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter if you’re saving games for a last-place team.”

It’s refreshing to hear that. Drew Storen complained and sulked after the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon last year. Kenley Jansen said he wanted to close after the Dodgers almost acquired Chapman over the winter. Closer is a prestigious job and every reliever wants it. Miller would have every right to be upset, but he truly seems okay with it.

I would be surprised if Miller’s performance suffered at all following the move into the setup role. Same with Betances, though he’s going from eighth inning setup man to seventh inning setup man. If one of those two — or Chapman, for that matter — blows a game at some point in the next few days, the new roles are going to be talked about a lot. It’s unavoidable. I’m not worried about this at all though. Chapman’s been closing for a long time and Miller and Betances seem perfectly happy with their roles.

Spread The Workload Around

The Yankees don’t seem to win blowout games anymore. Saturday was an outlier. Seven of the team’s eleven wins have been by three or fewer runs, meaning Miller and Betances have worked a lot. Through 29 games Miller has 12 appearances and 11.2 innings. Betances has 15 appearances (!) and 14 innings. The other day Miller was asked to get a four-out save and Betances recently pitched in three consecutive days. He was the first Yankees reliever to do that since David Robertson in September 2014, when he had one foot out the door as a free agent and the team wasn’t all that invested in his long-term future.

Girardi has had to lean on Miller and Betances and awful lot early on, and adding Chapman means the late-inning workload can be spread out a bit going forward. Like I said a bit earlier, this is easier said than done because it’s going to be tough to stay away from those guys in the late innings, but having that third high-end bullpener will lighten the load a bit. Whenever the starter gets through seven Girardi won’t have to use all three. The Yankees now have three guys soaking up high-leverage innings, not only two. That’s huge.

Trade Bait

Even if the Yankees completely turn things around and claw their way back into contention, trading Chapman is the best thing for the team long-term. The Yankees were able to get him at a very discounted rate because of the uncertainty surrounding his potential suspension, and now the suspension has been served. The mystery is gone. Chapman is back today and is a game-ready pitcher.

Chapman is a Grade-A piece of trade bait as a rental elite closer. Literally every team in the league could use someone like him — including the Yankees! — though obviously contenders figure to show the most interest. Any team with championship aspirations will check in, so the Yankees have an opportunity to create a bidding war to maximize their return. The Mets, Nationals, Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Tigers, Mariners, Rangers … they’ll all get involved.

As I said last week, I think the Yankees should look to trade Chapman sooner rather than later. The sooner they trade him, the longer his new team gets him, meaning the Yankees can ask for more in return. There’s also the injury factor. Pitchers get hurt, and the longer the Yankees wait, the more risk they’ll assume. It takes two to tango, another team has to be willing to make a trade right now, but I think the Yankees should be shopping Chapman right now. Put him out here and start the process.

* * *

For now, the Yankees are adding another dominant reliever to their already dominant end-game bullpen. They’re a better team today than they were in the first 29 games of the season because Chapman is back. He can help them climb back into the playoff race in the short-term and accumulate young assets via trade in the long-term. Even though his time in pinstripes may be limited, it’s not a stretch to call Chapman one of the most important Yankees in 2016.

The Farm System [2016 Season Preview]

Kaprielian. (Presswire)
Kaprielian. (Presswire)

The Yankees ignored their farm system for a number of years in the early and mid-2000s. They forfeited first round picks left and right to sign free agents, and they traded the few prospects they had for big leaguers every chance they got. I don’t think that’s automatically a bad thing! There’s a time and a place to go for it, and when you’re winning 90+ games every year, you go for it.

Things changed not too long ago. The Yankees decided to scale back the “go for it” mentality and instead focus on getting younger and building from within. Draft picks are precious, especially now that it’s harder to get extra ones, and top prospects are off limits in trades. Or at least the team says they are. Last summer the Yankees dipped into their farm system to fill a number of holes, most notably by sticking Luis Severino in the second half rotation.

The Yankees doubled down on their farm system this offseason. They signed zero Major League free agents for the first time in franchise history (as far as I can tell), and they didn’t go bonkers with trades either. They added a new second baseman, a new fourth outfielder, and a new closer. That’s about it. Any additional help is going to come from within in 2016. Let’s preview the farm system.

The Top Prospects

The Yankees have four prospects who are clearly a notch above everyone else in the system: OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, SS Jorge Mateo, and RHP James Kaprielian. Put them in any order you want. I won’t argue (much). Those are the four guys though. They’re the cream of the farm system crop. And cool part is all four could play in MLB in 2016. I wouldn’t call it likely, but it’s not completely impossible.

Judge is a behemoth — he’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 lbs. — with the kind of raw power you’d expect from that frame, though he doesn’t fit the one-dimensional slugger stereotype because he has a good hit tool and can play quality right field defense. Triple-A pitchers beat him with soft stuff away last year, so he’ll focus on the outer half this year. He’s already made some adjustments. Judge is not on the 40-man roster and the Yankees do have a lot of Triple-A outfield depth, but he will be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason, so the team could add him to the 40-man ahead of time and bring him up in September. Perhaps even sooner.

As soon as John Ryan Murphy was traded, Sanchez became the favorite for the backup catcher’s job. Over time it became clear sending him down was the right move, and not only because he went 1-for-21 (.048) in Spring Training. Five weeks in the minors equals an extra year of team control down the line and that is too good to pass up. Sanchez will continue to work on his defense in Triple-A for the time being. It’s only a matter of time until he takes over as Brian McCann‘s backup.

Mateo and Kaprielian are both going to start the season in High-A and they could conceivably reach MLB late in the season. Kaprielian, a polished college arm, could follow the Ian Kennedy path and zoom up the ladder, capping off his season with a few big league starts. Mateo, a speedster who can do a little of everything, could be the team’s designated pinch-runner in September. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so the Yankees could add him to the 40-man roster a few weeks early and put those legs to good use.

Judge, Sanchez, Mateo, and Kaprielian are the club’s tippy top prospects, and even if they don’t help at the MLB level this season, they’re all big parts of the future. Judge is the obvious long-term replacement for Carlos Beltran. Sanchez is McCann’s long-term replacement. The Yankees have one big league starter under team control beyond 2017 (Severino), so Kaprielian’s place is obvious. Mateo? They’ll figure that out when the time comes. For now, these four will continue to hone their skills and inch closer to an MLB job.

Ready To Help

In addition to the four top prospects, the Yankees have a few minor leaguers on the cusp of helping at the MLB level right now. First and foremost, they have about a dozen arms for the bullpen shuttle, and frankly I’m kinda sick of talking about them. We know the names, right? LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Nick Goody, RHP Branden Pinder, LHP James Pazos, on and on the list goes. We’re going to see them all at some point in 2016. I’m sure of it.

Gamel. (Presswire)
Gamel. (Presswire)

Beyond the bullpen shuttle, the Yankees have a small army of Triple-A outfielders who can help at a moment’s notice. Need a bat? OF Ben Gamel is there. Need defense? OF Mason Williams is the best bet once he fully recovers from shoulder surgery. Need a little of both? There’s OF Slade Heathcott. 2B Rob Refsnyder provides infield depth, or at least he will once he spends more time at third base. IF Ronald Torreyes, who will open the season in the show, is another infield candidate.

RHP Bryan Mitchell is also going to open to season in MLB, though he’s still a piece of rotation depth. If he’s the best man for the job, the Yankees will pull him out of the bullpen and stick him in the rotation whenever a starter is needed. RHP Luis Cessa, who came over in the Justin Wilson trade, looked very good this spring and is probably next in line for a call-up. RHP Brady Lail and RHP Chad Green are behind him. Cessa is on the 40-man. Lail and Green are not.

Unlike last season, the Yankees don’t have a Severino waiting in the wings. They don’t have that prospect who can come up and provide immediate impact. Well, I should rephrase that. They don’t have a prospect you would reasonably project to come up and have an impact right away. Cessa could come up and throw 60 innings with a sub-2.00 ERA, but no one expects that. Either way, the Yankees have depth pieces in Triple-A. Expect them to dip into their farm system for short-term help again this year, regardless of what they need at the MLB level.

The Next Top Prospects

A year ago at this time Mateo looked like a prospect who was ready to explode onto the scene and become a top tier prospect. Two years ago it was Severino. This summer, the best candidate for such a breakout is SS Wilkerman Garcia, who was part of that massive international spending spree two years ago. He’s a switch-hitter with good defense and I swear, every scouting report I read about him is better than the last. I’m excited to see what Wilkerman does this year.

Beyond Wilkerman, OF Dustin Fowler and C Luis Torrens have a chance to become top prospects this year. Fowler is a do-it-all outfielder and Torrens is a defense-first catcher with a promising bat. He’s coming back from shoulder surgery though, so maybe expecting a breakout after missing the entire 2015 season is too much to ask. 3B Miguel Andujar has high-end tools. We’re just waiting for the performance to match. SS Hoy Jun Park is another toolsy shortstop like Garcia.

The Yankees have a very position player heavy farm system, though they do have some pitching prospects poised to break out this summer. RHP Drew Finley is the No. 1 guy. He’s got three pitches and he locates. I feel like he’s going to sneak up on people this year. RHP Domingo Acevedo is the quintessential huge fastball guy. He just has to figure everything else out. LHP Jeff Degano needs to develop a changeup but already has the fastball and breaking ball.

Then, of course, there’s whoever the Yankees take with their first round pick (18th overall) in this June’s amateur draft. That player — the smart money is on a college player based on the team’s recent draft tendencies — figures to be one of their better prospects a year from now. Wilkerman, Fowler, and Finley are my picks. Those are the guys I see having big 2016 seasons developmentally and becoming true top prospects year from now.

Returning From Injury

Torrens missed all of last season with his injury, but man, he’s not the only one. LHP Ian Clarkin missed the regular season with elbow inflammation, which stinks. The good news is he did not need surgery and was able to throw some innings in the Arizona Fall League. RHP Ty Hensley, RHP Austin DeCarr, and RHP Domingo German all had Tommy John surgery last spring and are still working their way back. Lindgren (elbow), Heathcott (quad), and Williams (shoulder) all missed big chunks of the season too. That’s a lot of talent coming back. Hopefully all of them come back at full strength, or at least something close to it.

Sladerunner. (Presswire)
Sladerunner. (Presswire)

Last Chance?

Prospects are fun and everyone loves them, but they will break your heart. Over and over again. Some players are entering make or break years, and I don’t mean 2015 Gary Sanchez make or break years. I mean real make or break years. 1B/OF Tyler Austin is the most obvious last chance guy. He’s battled injuries and ineffectiveness the last few years, and he lost his 40-man roster spot in September. The 2016 season is his last chance to show the Yankees he’s worth keeping around.

Heathcott’s another make or break player for me. The Yankees gave him a second chance last year and he rewarded them with his big September home run against the Rays. That said, he again missed a bunch of time due to injury, and when healthy he didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball in Triple-A. Another year like that might spell the end of Slade’s time in the organization, especially since he will be out of options following the season.

I’m also inclined to include RHP Vicente Campos in the make or break category. He’s had a lot of injuries over the years, most notably missing the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery, which has really cut into his development time. This is his final minor league option year, and if he doesn’t show the Yankees he can help as soon next year, it may be time to move on. Baseball is cruel, man.

The Deep Sleepers

Remember that “The Next Top Prospects” section? Consider this the Next Next Top Prospects section. These are the deepest sleepers in the farm system. They’re way off the beaten path. The new hotness right now is OF Estevan Florial, an ulta-tooled up 18-year-old the Yankees got on the cheap because identity issues — he used a relative’s identity to enroll in school in the Dominican Republic — put him in purgatory before signing. He’s going to make his stateside debut this year and jump onto the prospect map in a big way.

SS Diego Castillo and OF Brayan Emery were part of the 2014-15 international spending spree, and both possess tools that far exceed their six-figure bonuses. Castillo in particular already looks like a steal at $750,000. He should come to the U.S. this year and is in line to follow Mateo and Wilkerman as the next great Yankees shortstop prospect. RHP Luis Medina, who signed last July, is already running his fastball up to 98-100 mph. And then there’s OF Leonardo Molina, who is still only 18. It feels like he’s been around forever. Florial is the big name to know here, but Castillo’s not far behind. Expect to hear a lot about those two in 2016 and beyond.

The Best of the Rest

There is nothing sexy about being a mid-range prospect, but you know what? Mid-range prospects are often the difference between good teams and great teams. They provide depth and they’re valuable trade chips. Guys like Adam Warren and Brett Gardner don’t grow on trees, you know. You’d rather draft and develop them yourself than have to go out and buy them from someone else.

SS Tyler Wade, SS Kyle Holder, LHP Jordan Montgomery, IF Thairo Estrada, IF Abi Avelino, OF Carlos Vidal, 1B Chris Gittens, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Chance Adams, OF Trey Amburgey, and OF Jhalan Jackson all fit into this group. They’re good prospects, not great prospects, and they all project to be big leaguers of varying usefulness. I’m not sure if we’ll see any of these players in the show this year, but I bet several pop-up in trade rumors, and one or two could be moved for help at the MLB level. That’s what the farm system is for, after all. Call-ups and trades.