Update: Yankees sending Andujar, Bird, Torres, Wade, and Koerner to the Arizona Fall League

Bird is the word. (Presswire)
Bird is the word. (Presswire)

4:28pm: The rosters have been officially announced. The Yankees are sending RHP Brody Koerner to the AzFL in addition to Bird, Torres, Andujar, and Wade. They have three pitching spots listed as TBA. Wade is listed as an outfielder, so that’s interesting.

2:30pm: According to Josh Norris, the Yankees are sending first baseman Greg Bird to the Arizona Fall League this season. I imagine this is still a tentative assignment, but it does suggest Bird’s rehab from shoulder surgery is going well. The Yankees wouldn’t plan on sending him to the AzFL if there was serious concern he wouldn’t be ready in time.

Bird, 23, has missed the entire season after having shoulder surgery in February. He had a shoulder injury in the minors last year, raked during his second half cameo with the Yankees, then re-injured the shoulder during an offseason workout. Given how poorly Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez hit this year, the Yankees really missed Bird this summer.

This will be Bird’s second AzFL stint, though the circumstances are very different. He’s a rehabbing player now. Two years ago he was a prospect getting extra at-bats. Bird hit .313/.391/.556 (176 wRC+) with six homers in 26 games during his first AzFL stint. He was named the league’s 2014 Most Valuable Player, then made his MLB debut a few months later.

Norris says the Yankees are also sending third baseman Miguel Andujar and shortstops Gleyber Torres and Tyler Wade to the desert as well. All three are among the clubs better prospects and the Yankees are sending them to the desert for extra at-bats. Andujar is Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and I imagine the team will use the AzFL stint to further evaluate him and make their 40-man roster decision.

The Yankees still have 3-4 pitching spots to fill and it could be a while before those are announced. James Kaprielian would be an ideal candidate if he gets healthy in time, though I doubt the Yankees will rush him back from a flexor injury. AzFL pitching assignments tend to be boring. Most top pitching prospects are already bumping up against their innings limit, so there are a lot of third and four tier pitching prospects in the league.

The AzFL season begins on Tuesday, October 11th, and runs through Thursday, November 17th. Yankees prospects will suit up for the Scottsdale Scorpions this year. They’ll be on a team with Phillies, Angels, Giants, and Mets prospects. There will be days Scottsdale has an all-Yankees infield. Pretty cool.

Sorting through the Yankees’ long list of September call-up candidates

No Al this September. Only Ref. (Greg Fiume/Getty)
No Al this September. Only Ref. (Greg Fiume/Getty)

One week from tomorrow all 30 clubs will be able to expand their active rosters and carry up to 40 players. Most clubs carry fewer than 40 players once rosters expand, and that’s their choice. Roster size is not an unfair advantage if one team calls up ten extra players and another only calls up three. That’s long been a pet peeve of mine, calling September call-ups unfair. As long as everyone plays by the same rules, it’s fair.

Anyway, the Yankees have been one of the most aggressive teams when it comes to expanding their roster in recent Septembers. Last season they called up eight players on September 1st. Eight! I’m not sure we’ll see a first wave of call-ups that large again, but you can be sure the Yankees will add some extra arms and position players on the first day possible. They always do and there’s no reason not to. Let’s run down this year’s September call-up candidates.

The Locks

Generally speaking, the first wave of call-ups are players who have been up-and-down a bunch of times throughout the season and are still on the 40-man roster. That means Nick Goody, Richard Bleier, Chasen Shreve, and Rob Refsnyder are safe bets to come up on September 1st. Ditto Ben Gamel, though he hasn’t spent as much time on the big league roster this year as those other guys.

The Yankees are already carrying three catchers, so those five guys above may be the only players called up right away on September 1st. That would give the Yankees three extra bullpen arms — Bleier is working out of the Triple-A Scranton rotation at the moment, so he’d give the club a long man, which they lack right now — plus an extra infielder and an extra outfielder. That covers all the bases on the first day of expanded rosters.

The Maybes

By maybes, I mean players who may not be called up right away on September 1st. They’ll have to wait a few extra days or weeks for whatever reason, usually because the Yankees want them to work on things in Triple-A. This group of players includes Johnny Barbato, Ben Heller, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, and Mason Williams. All five of those guys are on the 40-man roster. Here’s why they’re a maybe and not a lock for an instant September 1st call-up:

  • Barbato: Barbato started the season in the big league bullpen but has spent much of the year in Triple-A, where his control has been an issue. He was up briefly earlier this month and did not retire any of the four batters he faced. The Yankees could keep Barbato down a little longer so he can continue to working on his location.
  • Heller: Acquired in the Andrew Miller trade, Heller was actually up with the Yankees for a few days earlier this month, though he did not appear in a game. Heller has pitched well and is fairly new to Triple-A, though as a reliever, that’s not a big deal. I think the odds are better than 50/50 that he will be called up on September 1st, but it’s definitely not set in stone.
  • Mitchell: Blah. Mitchell pitched so well in Spring Training and looked poised to assume a big role in the bullpen, then he broke his toe covering first base and has missed pretty much the entire season. Mitchell is on a rehab assignment right now, and while that might be enough to get him ready for game action, the Yankees could send him to Triple-A for more consistent work rather than let him sit in the bullpen unused for long stretches of time.
  • Severino: No, I don’t think Severino is a lock for a September 1st call-up. The Yankees sent him to Triple-A with clear instructions to work on his changeup and so far he’s made one start since being sent down. He’ll make two more before September 1st. Hey, maybe that’s enough to make the team believe Severino trusts and will use his changeup, but I’m not sure I buy it. He might be down there a little while longer.
  • Williams: Williams missed most of the first half of the season following shoulder surgery, though he did return about a month ago and has been playing regularly. More time in Triple-A to make up for the lost at-bats seems like a smart move. Williams won’t get at-bats sitting on the MLB bench. Remember, the Yankees kept Slade Heathcott down much of September last year so he could play everyday following his quad injury. Doing the same with Williams makes sense.

Triple-A Scranton has the best record in all of Triple-A baseball and will clinch a postseason spot fairly soon. Likely before the end of the weekend. That means extra at-bats for Williams and extra starts for Severino and Mitchell. Those playoff games are valuable. They give Severino time to work on his changeup and Williams and Mitchell a chance to play following their injuries. Those guys don’t figure to play much in the big leagues if they get called up on September 1st. Keeping them down is an opportunity to continue their development.

The Rule 5 Draft Guys

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

The Yankees have already gotten a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection work by calling up Heller, Tyler Austin, and Aaron Judge. They still have many other players who need to be protected, but remember, those decisions don’t have to be finalized until late-November. Calling a player up in September isn’t necessary to avoid the Rule 5 Draft. Teams will sometimes call players up in September if they’re planning to add them to the 40-man after the season, just get their feet wet in the show.

We can drop the Rule 5 Draft eligible players into three buckets: definitely going to be protected, possibly going to be protected, and not going to be protected. Usually only the “definitely going to be protected” guys get the early September call-up, and even then it’s not a given. Space on the 40-man roster can get tight. Let’s go ahead and drop the Rule 5 eligible players into those three buckets:

* Higashioka and Culver are not only Rule 5 Draft eligible, they’ll become minor league free agents after the season if they aren’t added to the 40-man roster.

My hunch is the Yankees will protect Higashioka, Enns, and Webb in addition to Andujar and Mateo after the season. That means Cave, Gallegos, Lail, and everyone else will be left exposed. Cave was a Rule 5 Draft pick last year, and if he gets popped again, he’ll be able to elect free agency rather than come back to the Yankees if he doesn’t stick. I don’t think that’s reason enough to keep him. Not with Gamel and Williams already on the 40-man.

Okay, so with that in mind, the question now becomes: why should these players be called up in September? Mateo’s speed could allow him to be the pinch-runner specialist. Then again, he was suspended for violating team rules not that long ago, and would the Yankees really reward him with a September call-up after that? Eh. I see no reason whatsoever to call up Andujar or Higashioka. Fourth string catchers and third basemen are not necessary. Those guys can wait until the offseason to be added to the 40-man roster.

That leaves Enns and Webb, two lefty pitchers. There’s always room for more pitching in September, so call-ups are possible, and in fact I think they’ll happen. Maybe not until after the Triple-A postseason, but eventually. Webb’s a pure reliever who could audition for a 2017 bullpen spot a la Phil Coke in September 2008. Enns has starter stuff and it I’m interested to see whether the Yankees give him a start in September. (Probably not.) I’m sure they’re looking forward to using a sixth starter on occasion next month, though Severino may be next on the depth chart.

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

The Others

Who are the others? The non-40-man veterans in Triple-A. Chris Parmelee, for example. He was up earlier this season before getting hurt, and in fact he had a two-homer game with the Yankees. That was neat. Do the Yankees really need another first baseman with Austin, Refsnyder, and Mark Teixeira on the September roster? Not really. But maybe they’ll throw Parmelee a bone.

Other others include Donovan Solano, a utility infielder having a real nice season in Triple-A, and Cesar Puello, a former top Mets prospect who is having a productive season with the RailRiders after dealing with a back injury last year. Coke was up earlier this season and is still in Triple-A. Actual prospects like Clint Frazier, Jordan Montgomery, and Jonathan Holder are in Triple-A but are not yet Rule 5 Draft eligible, so don’t expect them to get called up in September. It’s one thing to call someone up a month before they need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. It another to do it a year early.

My guess is none of these others get called up September. The Yankees have more appealing options at their positions and there’s just not enough 40-man roster space to go around. Those guys will play in the Triple-A postseason and either go home once the playoffs are over, or head to Tampa to stay sharp in case there’s an injury and they’re needed at the MLB level. That’s pretty standard for these types of players in September.

The 40-Man Roster Situation

Alright, so after all of that, my sure to be wrong prediction is the Yankees will call up 12 extra players in September. The 12:

  • Up on September 1st (5): Bleier, Gamel, Goody, Refsnyder, Shreve.
  • Up later in September (7): Barbato, Enns, Heller, Mitchell, Severino, Williams, Webb.

All but Enns, Mitchell, and Webb are on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees will have to clear three spots. They can slide Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL to clear one 40-man spot. That’s easy. Righty J.R. Graham, who has amazingly managed to remain on the 40-man roster since coming over in a minor trade with the Twins in mid-May, is an obvious candidate to be designated for assignment. That’s the second 40-man spot.

The Yankees can go a few different ways for that final 40-man spot. They could designate someone else for assignment, maybe Anthony Swarzak or James Pazos. I don’t think that’ll happen though. In fact, Pazos is probably going to be called up in September, so it’s really 13 call-ups, not 12. I suppose someone like Bleier or Blake Parker could be cut loose next month, or even Tommy Layne. There is some dead weight here.

Swarzak. (Elsa/Getty)
Swarzak. (Elsa/Getty)

The other option is to call up Jacob Lindgren or Nick Rumbelow and place them on the 60-day DL. Both are currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. It sounds easy enough, though there are some complications with this. Both Lindgren and Rumbelow got hurt while in the minors, and calling them up to place them on the 60-day DL means they can not be optioned down again next year. They’d accrue service time on MLB DL instead.

Maybe that’s not such a big deal, especially in Rumbelow’s case. He had his surgery in April and may only spend only a month or two on the DL next year. Lindgren just had his surgery and would spent the entire 2017 season on the DL. Calling them up and placing him on the 60-day DL to clear up a 40-man roster spot is doable, but it throws a wrench into next year’s plans. Me? I’d just cut ties with Swarzak. I do wonder if the Yankees would drop Pazos from the 40-man roster given his control and injury issues this year though.

* * *

The Yankees are committed to their “play the kids” plan right now, so much so that Alex Rodriguez has been released and others like Teixeira and Brian McCann have had their playing time reduced. There’s no reason to think that won’t continue in September, and if anything, more kids may get chances next month. Expanded rosters will give the team extra arms and whatnot, and it’s an opportunity to give these youngsters even more of a chance to show whether they belong in the team’s long-term plans.

(Update: Heller was called up yesterday. Adjust accordingly.)

Yankees land seven players on MLB.com’s midseason top 100 prospects list

Frazier. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
Frazier. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

Last week the crew at MLB.com rolled out their midseason top 100 prospects list as well as their updated individual team top 30 lists. I intentionally waited to post this stuff because I had a feeling the Yankees were going to make some noise at the trade deadline, and sure enough, they did. Five trades total, including four that qualify as “sellers” trades.

Astros IF Alex Bregman sits in the top spot of the midseason top 100 — we saw him make his MLB debut in Houston last week — and is followed by Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada and Phillies SS J.P. Crawford in the top three. The Yankees have seven players on the top 100. Three the seven were acquired within the last week. Here’s the list:

22. OF Clint Frazier (acquired in Andrew Miller trade)
24. SS Gleyber Torres (acquired in Aroldis Chapman trade)
25. 2B/SS Jorge Mateo
30. OF Aaron Judge
37. C Gary Sanchez
62. OF Blake Rutherford
93. LHP Justus Sheffield (acquired in Andrew Miller trade)

So that’s some list, huh? Three top 25 prospects, four top 30 prospects, and five top 40 prospects. Three of those five are in Triple-A too. That’s is pretty damn awesome. You can see MLB.com’s updated top 30 Yankees prospects right here. The scouting reports and everything are all free. I’m not going to regurgitate everything here. Here are some thoughts instead.

1. Andujar climbed quite a bit. Prior to the season MLB.com ranked 3B Miguel Andujar as the 15th best prospect in the system. Now he ranks eighth. That doesn’t sound like a huge jump, but four of the guys ahead of him in the midseason update weren’t in the organization prior to the season. His jump was really more like 15th to fourth when you ignore the new additions. Andujar’s breakout this season has been really impressive and it feels like a long time coming even though he’s still only 21. He’s six months younger than Frazier. These international signees get old quick, if you know what I mean. Prospect fatigue sets in early.

2. Adams climbed too. RHP Chance Adams has been a both a statistical and scouting marvel this season, as he’s made the transition from reliever to starter rather easily. He was 21st on the preseason list and is 14th now, ninth when you ignore all the recent additions. “While Adams has a deep enough repertoire to start, he’s not a big guy and it remains to be seen how his health and stuff would hold up with a significantly bigger workload,” said the write-up, and I think his size is important. Adams is listed at 6-foot-0 and the concern with short-ish pitchers is always the ability to drive the fastball downhill and avoid fly balls and homers. His 43.8% grounder rate and 10.8 HR/FB% aren’t exactly good signs. That said, Adams looks like a really safe bet to be at least a big league reliever long-term. What a scouting and player development story he is so far.

3. Green makes the leap. RHP Chad Green was not included in MLB.com’s preseason list. He now ranks 22nd, or 16th when you ignore the new guys. That’s a pretty significant jump. “Green’s fastball already was his best pitch when he worked at 90-94 mph with some occasional life. Now he’s sitting at 93-95 mph and touching 97,” says the scouting report. What is it with the Yankees getting their pitching prospects to add velocity? Green and a bunch of others have done it, including Adams and RHP James Kaprielian. There have been others as well. I’ve been impressed with Green’s arm despite his meh big league results to date. He was the second piece in the Justin Wilson trade, and, at least according to MLB.com, he’s jumped over RHP Luis Cessa to become the top piece.

4. Enns makes it. Finally some love for LHP Dietrich Enns, who has had tremendous results since returning from Tommy John surgery last year: 1.37 ERA (2.88 FIP) in 170.1 total innings. The scouting report isn’t as exciting as the numbers — “Enns’ lone plus pitch is his changeup, a low-80s offering that dives at the plate,” said the write-up, which also says he has an 87-92 mph fastball, a low-80s slider, and a slow curve — but he’s making people take notice, and that’s pretty cool. This guy was a 19th round pick and an organizational arm before having his elbow rebuild. Now he’s a prospect, albeit a fringe one who might not be more than a swingman at the MLB level. That’s still a really great outcome given his draft slot.

5. No Solak? I was surprised to see 2B Nick Solak absent from the top 30. I had him 13th on my post-draft top 30 before all the trades, so either I’m really high on him or MLB.com is really low. Probably the former. Solak has bat control and plate discipline, plus he can handle a middle infield position, and that seems really valuable to me. He’s the most notable omission in my book. Even with the new additions, I consider Solak organizational top 30 material rather easily.

6. No Austin either? 1B/OF Tyler Austin didn’t make the top 30 either — he also didn’t make my post-draft list, for what it’s worth — and that surprised me. I guess not everyone is sold on his big bounceback year yet. Brian Cashman did mention Austin by name as a possible call-up candidate yesterday and we’re going to find out pretty soon how the Yankees value him. Austin is going to be a minor league free agent after the season, so either the team will add him to the 40-man roster and keep him, or likely lose him to another club that offers a greater opportunity.

2016 Midseason Review: The Farm System

Now that the All-Star break has arrived, it’s time to look back and review the first half of the season. We’ve already looked at the catchers, infielders, outfielders, bench, rotation, bullpen, and role players. Now let’s go down into the farm system.

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

The Yankees are a team in transition. They’re trying to get younger wherever possible while waiting out the last few years of all those big money contracts. Most of them will be off the books by the end of next season. There’s no denying the Yankees have had their problems developing players over the last few years, but that doesn’t lessen the importance of the farm system. If anything, it makes the farm system more important going forward. Let’s review the first half of 2016 in the minor league system.

The Top Prospects

The order may vary, but pretty much everyone was in agreement OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, and SS Jorge Mateo were the Yankees’ three best prospects coming into the season. I ranked them in that order in my Preseason Top 30 Prospects List. Others had Mateo first and Judge third. The order doesn’t really matter. Those were the three guys.

Judge and Sanchez both opened the year in Triple-A and they’ve had very different seasons. Judge has been up and down. He started well, slumped hard in May, then caught fire in June. At one point he hit nine home runs in 15 games. Overall, Judge is hitting .261/.357/.469 (139 wRC+) with 16 homers and a strong 11.4% walk rate in 83 games. His strikeout rate, which was the No. 1 concern coming into 2016, sits at 23.2%, down from 28.5% in Triple-A last year. Judge unfortunately hurt his knee last week and will be out a month.

Sanchez, meanwhile, has mashed pretty much all season. He hasn’t had the big peaks and valleys like Judge. Sanchez, who is still only 23, is hitting .286/.328/.489 (133 wRC+) with nine homers in 56 games around a fractured thumb caused by a foul tip. My favorite thing about Sanchez is the progression of his strikeout rate:

Low-A: 25.0%
High-A: 19.2%
Double-A: 18.7%
Triple-A: 16.3%

Sanchez is making more contact as he climbs the ladder, and his defense is improving too. That’s pretty awesome. He and Judge factor prominently into the team’s long-term plans. The Yankees envision these two as not only as their catcher and right fielder of the future, but their middle of the lineup of the future too. They’re both having success in Triple-A right now, which is exactly what the Yankees wanted to see this summer.

As for Mateo, he’s down in High-A and gosh, he had an incredible start to the season. He was hitting .299/.364/.485 (149 wRC+) with five homers on June 1st — last year Mateo hit two homers, one of which was an inside-the-parker — and he looked very much like an electric power-speed threat at shortstop. Since then though, Mateo has hit only .211/.250/.246 (46 wRC+) in 122 plate appearances, and last week the Yankees suspended him for violating team policy. He reportedly complained to team officials about not being promoted. Not great, Jorge.

Both Sanchez and Judge are performing as hoped in Triple-A, which puts them in position to assume fairly prominent roles with the 2017 Yankees. It’s not out of the question we see them with the Yankees in the second half. Mateo has had a fine statistical season — he’s hitting .266/.323/.396 (112 wRC+) overall even with the recent slump — but this suspension is a bummer, regardless of why it happened.

The Breakout Prospect

Andujar. (MLB.com video screen grab)
Andujar. (MLB.com video screen grab)

There has been no bigger breakout prospect in the system this year than 3B Miguel Andujar, who always had the tools to be a high-end prospect, but had not yet turned those tools into baseball skills. He’s doing that this year, hitting .291/.343/.446 (128 wRC+) with ten homers and a measly 11.4% strikeout rate in 83 games split between High-A and Double-A. We’ve been waiting a while for Andujar to put it all together, and it’s happening this year.

The other notable breakout prospect this year is a reliever turned starter. The Yankees took last year’s fifth rounder, RHP Chance Adams, and moved him into the rotation this season because of his stuff and pitchability. The results have been better than anyone expected. Adams has a 2.63 ERA (2.97 FIP) with a 29.4% strikeout rate and a 7.5% walk rate in 85.2 innings between High-A and Double-A. He still has work to do with his changeup, but Adams is able to hold his stuff deep into games, which is always a big question with these reliever-to-starter conversation guys.

Perhaps the most interesting breakout prospect is an older guy: 26-year-old C Kyle Higashioka. Higashioka was the Yankees’ seventh round pick back in 2008, and this year he’s hitting .321/.379/.589 (168 wRC+) with 14 homers in 62 games between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s dealt with a bunch of injuries over the years, including Tommy John surgery, but he’s finally healthy now. Higashioka has always had power and he’s the best defensive backstop in the system. Catchers tend to be late-bloomers moreso than any other position. Higashioka may be 26, but they don’t check IDs on the field. A good defensive catcher with power is a legitimate big league prospect.

Other prospects who have raised their stock in the first half this season include RHP Vicente Campos, OF Jake Cave, and SS Tyler Wade. All three have been on the prospect map for a while. Campos is healthy for the first time in years and is having success as a starter, really for the first time since coming over in the Jesus MonteroMichael Pineda trade. Cave has developed some power after being returned as a Rule 5 Draft pick this spring. Wade is doing the bat control/strike discipline/good defense thing in Double-A.

The Inevitable Injuries

Kaprielian. (MLB.com video screen grab)
Kaprielian. (MLB.com video screen grab)

Injuries come with the territory and they’re unavoidable. The biggest injury in the system this year is RHP James Kaprielian‘s elbow injury, which was only recently diagnosed as a flexor tendon strain. Kaprielian, who was the Yankees’ first rounder last year, was limited to three High-A starts this year. That’s a bummer. He was expected to shoot up the ladder rather quickly. There’s no timetable for Kaprielian’s return, as far as we know.

Elsewhere in the system, LHP Jacob Lindgren came down with an elbow injury after completely losing the strike zone in High-A. He threw seven innings and hasn’t been heard from since. RHP Ty Hensley had to undergo a second Tommy John surgery, unfortunately. The team’s first rounder in 2012 has thrown 42.1 innings in parts of five seasons. Ouch. RHP Nick Rumbelow and RHP Branden Pinder had their elbows rebuilt early in the season too.

One of the biggest names — and longest tenured players — in the system saw his time with the organization come to an end following an injury. OF Slade Heathcott, who the Yankees selected in the first round way back in 2009, hit .230/.271/.310 (58 wRC+) with a 32.0% strikeout rate in 23 Triple-A games before coming down with another knee problem. He’s had a bunch of those over the years. The Yankees released Slade in May and he hooked on with the White Sox a few weeks later.

The Prospects Returning From Injury

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

Last year the Yankees seemed to have an inordinate number of full season injuries in the farm system. Several big name prospects missed the entire season, including C Luis Torrens (shoulder), LHP Ian Clarkin (elbow), RHP Domingo German (elbow), and RHP Austin DeCarr (elbow). Clarkin avoided the knife. The other three guys all had surgery. All things considered, their 2016 seasons have gone well to date.

Clarkin was one of New York’s three first round picks in 2013, and so far this season he has a 3.12 ERA (3.16 FIP) in 95.1 innings with High-A Tampa. He’s not only avoided another injury, he’s gotten stronger as the season has gone on. When it comes to the first 100 innings back following a lost season, Clarkin’s season has gone about as well as hoped this year. He’s healthy and he’s getting outs.

Torrens, German, and DeCarr all returned within the last few weeks and haven’t played much. German and DeCarr went through the usual 14-16 month Tommy John surgery rehab — it used to be 12 months, but nowadays teams are stretching it out a bit more — while Torrens was said to be ready to go in Spring Training. He had to be shut down with shoulder discomfort though. Torrens is the healthy now and he’s picked up right where he left off before the injury.

Other Notables

RHP Domingo Acevedo is having an excellent statistical season but still has to work on his secondary pitches … OF Dustin Fowler has climbed the ladder rather quickly after being a two-sport guy in high school and an 18th round pick in 2013. He’s have a good but not great season in Double-A … LHP Jordan Montgomery is inching closer to being a big league option after a strong half-season in Double-A … SS Hoy Jun Park, who was part of that big 2014-15 international class, is having a solid two-way season in Low-A … SS Kyle Holder is still playing the heck out of shortstop, but he’s not hitting much in Low-A … LHP Jeff Degano spent most of the first half in Extended Spring Training, apparently because he’s no longer able to throw strikes.

* * *

Kaprielian’s injury and Mateo’s recent suspension have put a bit of a damper on the top prospects in the system, but Judge and Sanchez are having strong seasons in Triple-A, Andujar and Adams are breaking out, and both Clarkin and Torrens have returned well after missing last season with injury. The Yankees haven’t been able to dip into their farm system for help like they did last year, when RHP Luis Severino and 1B Greg Bird had an impact in the second half, but the tippy top prospects are performing well and the key injured prospects have come back strong. That qualifies as a good season in the minors to me.

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.

Minor League Links: Campos, Heathcott, Impact Prospects

Campos. (Presswire)
Campos. (Presswire)

The Yankees continue the Grapefruit League season later today and there will be a television (and online) broadcast, so hooray for that. We’ll have a regular game thread when the time comes. Here are some miscellaneous minor league notes to hold you over until first pitch.

Campos to work as a starter in 2016

Earlier this week Brian Cashman told Chad Jennings that RHP Vicente Campos will indeed continue to work as a starting pitcher this season. Campos, who came over from the Mariners in the Jesus MonteroMichael Pineda trade, missed the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery. The 23-year-old had a 6.29 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 54.1 innings across 13 starts with mostly High-A Tampa after returning last year. The Yankees re-added him to the 40-man roster over the winter to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent.

The ERA was ugly but Campos showed good control following surgery last summer (18.9 K% and 4.2 BB%) and his stuff reportedly returned to its pre-surgery levels, meaning a mid-90s heater and a hard upper-70s curveball. Campos, who used to go by Jose, has thrown only 166 innings over the last three years due to injuries, so he hasn’t had much time to work on his changeup. I think he’s likely to end up in the bullpen long-term because of that, but it makes sense to keep him in the rotation for the time being, if only to build up innings. There are a ton of guys ahead of him on the bullpen depth chart, though I wouldn’t rule out Campos making his MLB debut at some point in 2016.

Heathcott studying the swings of MLB’s best

In an effort to fine tune his swing, OF Slade Heathcott told Ryan Hatch he has been studying video of the game’s best hitters, such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Josh Donaldson. “Just their approach, the load, the path to the ball,” he said. “Hitting the ball on a plane. That’s what works for me. Not trying to hit home runs, but get the ball in the air.”

Heathcott, now 25, had a 38.1% ground ball rate during his limited big league time last season. It was 51.6% in Triple-A last year and 51.5% with Double-A Trenton in 2013. (Injuries limited him to only nine games in 2014.) Heathcott has speed, so he can leg out some infield hits, but he’s going to have to get the ball in the air more often to really have an impact offensively. If watching videos of guys like Trout and Harper helps, great.

No Yankees among Law’s top 25 impact prospects for 2016

Keith Law (subs. req’d) recently put together a list of the top 25 impact prospects for the 2016 season, which is different than a general top 25 prospect list. Not everyone in a general top 25 list is big league ready. Dodgers SS Corey Seager predictably tops the top 25 impact prospects list, which features no Yankees. In his weekly chat, Law said C Gary Sanchez wasn’t really considered for the list because of a lack of playing time. Even if Sanchez makes the Opening Day roster, Brian McCann is going to get the lion’s share of the playing time behind the plate. Understandable.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Baseball America’s position rankings

The crew at Baseball America finished posting their prospect position rankings this week. They released the catcher, right-handed pitcher, and left-handed pitcher lists two weeks ago. Here’s a quick recap with all of the relevant Yankees:

Keep in mind the No. X prospect at one position is not necessarily of equal caliber to the No. X prospect at another position. Talent isn’t linear across positions. Baseball America’s top ten Yankees’ prospects list had Refsnyder one spot behind Wade, for example. Add in Sanchez, who ranked No. 1 on the catcher list, and the Yankees had a top ten prospect at five of the nine positions. That’s pretty good.

Misc. Links

Here are a bunch of miscellaneous links that are worth checking out and come with RAB’s highest level of recommendation.

  • Sweeny Murti has a must read interview with farm system head Gary Denbo (part one, part two). Denbo confirmed Judge made some adjustments with his lower half over the winter, which we noticed the other day.
  • Joel Sherman profiled OF Estevan Florial, who is the shiny new toy in the farm system. Florial, 18, signed for $200,000 last March after being suspended for a year by MLB for falsified documents, which he used to enroll in school a few years back. Lots of folks are talking about Florial as the next great Yankees prospect.
  • Mark Feinsand wrote about RHP James Kaprielian, who lost his mother to breast cancer two years ago. Kaprielian explained how the experience shaped him as a man and helps him deal with adversity on the field.

As a reminder, the four full season minor league affiliates begin their regular season on Thursday, April 7th this year. That’s three days after the big league Yankees behind their season.

Aaron Judge tops Keith Law’s top ten Yankees prospects list

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last week Keith Law published his annual top 100 prospects list, which included four Yankees: OF Aaron Judge (No. 36), SS Jorge Mateo (No. 55), C Gary Sanchez (No. 57), and RHP James Kaprielian (No. 87). Earlier today Law took an in-depth look at New York’s farm system (subs. req’d), examining their top ten prospects and beyond.

“The Yankees’ system is trending back upward, despite some trades and disappointing performances from upper-level prospects, thanks to a couple productive drafts that have helped restock the lower levels,” wrote Law. Here is his top ten:

  1. Judge
  2. Mateo
  3. Sanchez
  4. Kaprielian
  5. LHP Ian Clarkin
  6. OF Dustin Fowler
  7. SS Wilkerman Garcia
  8. RHP Drew Finley
  9. SS Kyle Holder
  10. SS Tyler Wade

Law has long been a Clarkin fan and he’s higher on both Finley and Holder than most. Finley is a “super-polished high-school arm with a plus curveball and outstanding command and feel for pitching” while the divisive Holder is “a plus-plus defender at short with mixed reviews on the bat, though he doesn’t have to hit that much to be a big leaguer, thanks to his defense.” Law also notes there “could be more growth here than with a normal college product,” referring to Holder, who split time between baseball and basketball for most of his life.

Within the write-up, Law dives deeper into the system and looks beyond the top ten. He ranks RHP Brady Lail as the 11th best prospect in the system, and Lail is followed by OF Ben Gamel (12th), LHP Jacob Lindgren (13th), RHP Luis Cessa (14th), C Luis Torrens (15th), OF Mason Williams (16th), RHP Trey Amburgey (17th), 2B Rob Refsnyder (18th), 3B Miguel Andujar (19th), and RHP Chance Adams (20th). 3B Dermis Garcia, RHP Domingo Acevedo, IF Abi Avelino, RHP Ty Hensley, RHP Austin DeCarr, OF Bryan Emery, SS Diego Castillo, C Miguel Flames, 3B Nelson Gomez, C Jason Lopez, and RHP Johnny Barbato all get mentions as well, though they’re unranked.

Law listed Lindgren and Barbato as the prospects most likely to have an impact in 2016, which is sorta cheating because they’re both bat-missing upper level relievers, but I’ll allow it. Fowler and Torrens are his sleepers. “Fowler has top-100-prospect tools and has performed rather well to date, despite aggressive promotions. He and Torrens are the best bets to make the leap in 2016,” he wrote. Torrens is coming off major shoulder surgery, so his road to top 100 prospectdom is a bit rockier than Fowler’s.

Based on the write-up, it’s pretty clear Law is high on the Yankees’ farm system, particularly their lower level guys like Wilkerman, Amburgey, and all the 2014-15 international signees. He ranked the Yankees as having the 13th best farm system in the game and that’s with Luis Severino and Greg Bird having graduated to MLB. That’s is pretty darn cool.