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.

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Sorting through the Yankees’ top trade chips

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

The offseason has yet to really get underway, but there has already been talk of the Yankees going on a big spending spree to address their many needs this winter. I’m not sure where that money is coming from after putting together my most recent payroll breakdown, but that’s besides the point. New York has been connected to a ton of free agents so far, both big names like Brian McCann and Shin-Soo Choo and secondary players like Eric Chavez and Omar Infante. Needless to say, they’re getting around.

Free agency is the easiest way to address needs but it’s not the only way. The Yankees could also explore the trade market, a trade market that will reportedly feature high-end starters like Max Scherzer and David Price, young middle infielders like Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus, and pretty much everything in between. The trade market is like free agency — there’s a solution for every roster problem available if you’re willing to meet the asking price.

Therein lies the rub: the Yankees can’t meet too many asking prices these days. Not won’t meet asking prices, can’t. They don’t have many tradeable commodities either on the big league roster or in the farm system, and last winter’s Justin Upton trade talks showed how that can handicap them. The Diamondbacks reportedly did not like the prospects New York had to offer, so the young, power-hitting outfielder signing to a reasonable contract went to the Braves instead.

“I just don’t see it,” said one rival executive to Andy McCullough when asked whether the Yankees had the prospect inventory to swing a major trade this offseason. “I’m not excited about any of them making an impact next year,” added another evaluator while discussing the team’s top prospects while describing them as “solid guys, but not stars.”

The Yankees do have limited trade commodities right now but they aren’t completely devoid of marketable players. Some are just more marketable than others, or, as Brian Cashman likes to say, no one is unavailable but some are more available that others. Here’s a highly subjective rundown of New York’s best trade chips. Remember, at the end of the day, a player’s trade value is only as great as the other team’s evaluation of him.

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

Best Chip: Ivan Nova
In my opinion, Nova is the team’s best trade chip at this point in time. He turns 27 in January and has shown flashes of brilliance over the last three years. Ivan has not yet put together a full, productive season from start to finish, but he’s had stretches that make you think he could be very good if things ever completely click. It’s also worth noting Nova has thrown at least 150 innings every year since 2010 and at least 130 innings every year since 2008. Teams do value the ability to take the ball every fifth day.

Nova’s trade value is not as great as it was a year or two ago because he’s entering his arbitration years and is no longer dirt cheap, like league minimum dirt cheap. His projected $2.8M salary in 2014 is still a relative bargain, but trading for a guy owed $15M or so over the next three years isn’t as desirable as trading for the same guy when he is owed $16M or so over five years. This isn’t Nova’s fault obviously and getting three cheap years of a durable right-hander is still pretty awesome, but his years of team control are ticking away and he’s yet to really establish himself as … anything. He’s still a question mark.

Rentals: Brett Gardner and David Robertson
Both Gardner and Robertson are due to become free agents next winter, meaning they’re just rental players. Both will earn reasonable salaries next year — Gardner is projected for $4M, Robertson for $5.5M — and they both have their limitations on the field. Gardner is a defense-first outfielder who doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t steal as many bases as people think he can. Robertson is a late-inning reliever, meaning you’re only get 65 or so innings out of him. He’s a very good late-inning reliever of course, but one year of a reliever usually doesn’t fetch a huge package in return. The Yankees could flip these two for solid prospects or a similar rental player, but they’re not going to get that elite prospect or young big leaguer with several years of control remaining.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Warm Bodies: David Phelps and Adam Warren (maybe Vidal Nuno)
There will always be a market for cheap and young pitching. Phelps and Warren have four and five years of team control remaining, respectively, and they’ve had varying levels of success in the show. They’re far from established but have shown they belong in some capacity, either as back-end starters or relievers. Nuno has six full years of control left but is basically a complete unknown at the big league level. He is as close to ready as a pitcher can get, however. Every team needs cheap young arms to fill out a staff, but these guys are okay second and good third pieces in a significant trade, not centerpieces. Far from it.

Prospects: Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, J.R. Murphy and Rafael DePaula
Baseball has become a young player’s game these last five or six years or so, but I think we’ve reached the point where prospects and (especially) draft picks are being overvalued. Don’t get me wrong, they’re important and you need them to succeed, but they’re being valued higher than established big leaguers and that isn’t always the case. Not even close.

Anyway, Sanchez and Murphy are probably the Yankees’ two best prospect trade chips because a) Sanchez is their very best prospect, and b) Murphy is a big league ready-ish catcher. Quality young catchers are very hard to find and teams have consistently shown they will overpay — either in trades or by reaching in the draft — to get their hands on one. DePaula is the team’s best pitching prospect but he’s still in Single-A ball. Heathcott had an up-and-down season in Double-A but has a lengthy injury history. High ceiling but also high risk. Sanchez and Murphy could headline a package for a non-star player, but Heathcott and DePaula are closer to throw-ins in the grand scheme of things.

Suspects: Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Jose Ramirez
Injury of ineffectiveness — Austin, Williams, and Ramirez all had down 2013 seasons for one of those two reasons. Sometimes both. They’re basically buy low candidates, prospects with considerable ceilings who either need to get healthy or fix their mechanics or have their attitude adjusted. If I was another club and talking trade with the Yankees, these are the guys I would be asking for as the final piece in a trade package. Take a shot on one without the deal hinging on their success. There are too many question marks for any of them to be the top guy in a deal for an established big leaguer at this point. I just don’t see how another club would go for that.

Offseason Injury Notes: Jeter, Sabathia, Williams

Hurt and hurter. (Eric Christian Smith/Getty)
Hurt and hurter. (Eric Christian Smith/Getty)

“Get a little healthier,” said Joe Girardi to Anthony McCarron earlier this week when asked what the team’s first order of business was this winter. He’s not kidding. Even though the Yankees have not played a game in more than a month, they still have plenty of injured players to keep tabs on. Here’s the latest on the walking wounded, courtesy of Charles Curtis, Mike Puma, Bryan Hoch, and John Manuel:

  • Derek Jeter (ankle, calf) has started lifting weights for the first time in over a year as he prepares for next season. The ankle surgery kept him from lifting last winter and I guess he wasn’t able to do anything even after returning during the summer. Will it help? Hopefully.
  • CC Sabathia (hamstring) has started throwing and is working out at full strength after his season ended in late-September due to a Grade II strain. He suffered the injury six weeks ago and the initial recovery timetable was eight weeks, so apparently he’s ahead of schedule. Sabathia was expected to start a long-toss program similar to his usual offseason routine as soon as the hamstring was healthy. Elbow surgery threw off his routine off last winter.
  • Outfield prospect Mason Williams missed some time this week after being hit in the face by an errant throw during Arizona Fall League play. It was a freak accident — he was in the tunnel next to the clubhouse when the ball hit him. Williams has a small cut on the bridge of his nose and has since returned to action. This year’s injuries have officially jumped the shark.

Sanchez and Williams among Baseball America’s top Florida State League prospects

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

Baseball America continued their look at the top 20 prospects in each of the 16 minor leagues with the High-A Florida State League today (no subs. req’d). The list was topped by OF Byron Buxton (Twins), the consensus top prospect in all of baseball. 3B Miguel Sano (Twins) and SS Javier Baez (Cubs) round out the top three and complete the holy trinity of position player prospects. They’re three of the very best in the game.

The Yankees had two players make the list, starting with C Gary Sanchez at #7. He was sandwiched between two brand names: RHP Noah Syndergaard (Mets) and OF Jorge Soler (Cubs). “Sanchez’s best tools are his plus-plus raw power and his throwing arm, which rates at least as a 70 [on the 20-80 scouting scale] … His blocking and receiving remain suspect, however,” said the subscriber-only write-up. “[He] should produce .260 averages and 20-25 homers annually.”

OF Mason Williams, who had a poor year overall, was further down the list at #19. “Scouts report his swing looked good in batting practice but changed in games to a more slashing approach, costing him power … When he played with energy, he turned in plus running times and showed the easy range to be an asset defensively in center field, with a strong throwing arm,” said the write-up. That whole “played with energy” part has reportedly been a bit of an issue for Williams in recent years.

The Yankees landed six players on the Rookie Gulf Coast League list but only one apiece on Short Season NY-Penn League and Low-A South Atlantic League lists. The Double-A Eastern League is scheduled to be posted next Monday and the league champion Trenton Thunder should be represented by a few players, specifically OF Slade Heathcott and OF Tyler Austin. Sanchez definitely wasn’t with the team long enough to qualify for the list. LHP Nik Turley has a (very) outside chance of making it as well.

Minors Notes: Defenders, Zagurski, Free Agents

(Layne Murdoch/Getty)
Lillibridge. (Layne Murdoch/Getty)

The Arizona Fall League season begins on Tuesday — the Yankees are sending seven players (roster), most notably OF Mason Williams, OF Tyler Austin, and LHP Vidal Nuno — while the various Caribbean winter leagues are still about a week away. Those rosters have not yet been released. Here’s a smattering of minor league notes for the time being:

  • In a subscriber-only piece, Matt Eddy looked at the best defensive players in the minors at the four up-the-middle positions. OF Mason Williams ranked 12th (out of 20) among center fielders by Eddy’s method while OF Slade Heathcott was an honorable mention. C Gary Sanchez was eighth among catchers thanks in part to his 45.9% success rate at throwing out attempted base-stealers. He “receives 80 throwing grades [on the 20-80 scale] from some scouts.”
  • LHP Mike Zagurski was removed from the 40-man roster and outrighted to Triple-A Scranton, reports Andy McCullough. He refused the assignment and elected free agency. The Yankees have one open 40-man spot now. Zagurski, 30, spent most of the year in Triple-A but was actually with the team in September. He appeared in one game and allowed two runs.
  • RHP Jim Miller, IF Alberto Gonzalez, and UTIL Brent Lillibridge all elected free agency, according to Eddy. None of the three were on the 40-man roster but they all played for the big league team at one point or another this summer. Gonzalez appeared in 13 games, the most of the bunch.
  • The Yankees have re-signed C Jose Gil, RHP Diego Moreno, and LHP Francisco Rondon, among others, to minor league contracts, reports Eddy. They became minor league free agents after the season. Moreno came over in the A.J. Burnett trade and Rondon, while still fringy, is the best prospect of the bunch.

Yankees sending Williams, Austin, and O’Brien to Arizona Fall League

The Yankees are sending OF Mason Williams, OF Tyler Austin, and C/3B Peter O’Brien to play for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League after the season. Each team sends seven guys to the AzFL, so New York must still name four more players. Expect most if not all of them to be pitchers. The entire Scottsdale roster is right here.

Josh Norris says Austin (101 wRC+) will spend some time working out at first base with the Scorpions. He’s played the position plenty in the past. Austin was placed on the Double-A Trenton DL with a bone bruise in his right wrist in mid-July, though he did play in his first rehab game with the Rookie GCL Yanks this afternoon. He’ll be making up for lost time in the AzFL. Williams has had a down year at the plate (87 wRC+), so hopefully he’ll rebound in the extreme hitter’s environment. O’Brien has had a strong year (146 wRC+) and will look to continue progressing.

Mason Williams arrested on misdemeanor DUI charge

12:09pm: The police said Williams showed “clues of impairment” and was driving 50-53 mph in a 40 mph zone according to Mark Feinsand.

12:00pm: Via Greg Auman: Top outfield prospect Mason Williams was arrested in Tampa early Thursday morning on a misdemeanor DUI charge. He was pulled over after weaving and speeding at 2:45am, then he failed a field sobriety test. His blood alcohol level was under the 0.08 threshold in Florida, however.

Williams, 21, is hitting .271/.400/.371 (130 wRC+) in 18 games for High-A Tampa so far this year. He missed the second half of last season after having surgery to repair a shoulder injury suffered while diving for a ball. I ranked him as the team’s second best prospect a few weeks ago, but Baseball America had him in the top spot. Don’t drink and drive, kids.