Gleyber, Chance and the Trenton Thunder’s home opener

(Steven Tydings/ River Ave. Blues)
(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

With the minor league season a week old, the Trenton Thunder finally came home Thursday night to open up the Arm & Hammer Park portion of their season.

If you’ve never been to the park, it’s a great experience, especially with a relatively packed crowd like last night. It’s a quintessential minor league experience with multiple mascots, a bat dog (!) and a chance to see future major leaguers up close for really cheap prices. That’s pretty ideal. Arm & Hammer Park is the place to be this spring/summer with how stacked the Yankees’ farm system is right now.

Here are my observations from Thursday’s game.

(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

1. Gleyber mania: All of the Yankees’ top prospects over the last 15 years have come through Trenton at some point. Robinson Cano, Jesus Montero, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, etc. They were all with the Double A Yankees at some point. Having been a teenaged autograph hawk back in the day, I remember the reception for each player at this level.

For his first game, the reception for Gleyber Torres may have been the most fanatical. The Thunder were prepared with having their people near the first base line, but fans were lined up a couple rows deep mostly for Torres. I saw more Torres Topps cards than I thought existed. He dealt with it well, signing and going about his business.

Andujar and Torres (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
Andujar and Torres (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

2. Gleyber a pro at the plate: Even though a 1-for-4 day wasn’t Torres’ best in Double A, he still put together an impressive night. He grounded out softly his first AB and was called out on a questionable third strike his second AB. Portland Sea Dogs lefty Jalen Beeks pounded him with strikes and didn’t face Torres after his command collapsed in the fourth inning.

Torres then got two ABs against the Sea Dogs’ bullpen, the first one being his best. He worked the count to 2-1 with a solid eye and then pounced on the fourth pitch. With Rashad Crawford trying to steal second, the second baseman covered the bag and Torres lined a ball right where he would have been. Just a solid piece of hitting. He grounded into a double play his last AB.

As for in the field, he wasn’t challenged much. He helped turn a DP in the eighth. That was about it for his fielding chances.

3. A tale of two Chance Adams: For four innings, Adams looked like Michael Pineda from Monday. He was getting ahead of hitters, pounding them with his 92-94 mph fastball and putting them away with either his slider or a second helping of fastball. He went to a full count and caught Red Sox’ top prospect Rafael Devers looking in an impressive at-bat.

Devers lined a ball up the middle to end Adams’ no-hit bid in the fifth inning and things came unraveled in the sixth. An infield hit and an error (more on each in a bit) set up the Sea Dogs and Adams simply didn’t look as comfortable in the stretch. He slowed down significantly after moving at a considerable pace in the first few innings. He walked his second batter of the evening, fought back with a strikeout, but then gave up a monster two-run double. He recovered to get another out and his night was done after 5 2/3.

Overall, not a bad outing. He really has some solid strikeout stuff and proved he can put away hitters, flashing his fastball, slider and changeup all night. He’s now 10-1 with a 1.89 ERA over 81 innings in Trenton and he may be ready for a new challenge.

4. Rafael Devers is a problem: With Andrew Benintendi in the majors, Devers is now atop the Red Sox’ prospect lists. He’s considered the top third base prospect in all of baseball by many outlets. He was No. 13 overall in Baseball Prospectus’ preseason list, No. 17 for MLB.com and No. 18 for Baseball America. Just two months older than Torres, he won’t turn 21 until October.

He put together four impressive plate appearances Thursday night. He worked a full count on Adams when Chance was cruising. He picked up the first hit of the game with a liner that nearly took over Adams’ head. With the bases loaded in the sixth, he clobbered an Adams’ pitch to deep centerfield. It would have been a three-run double if the runner from first didn’t slip rounding third.

Devers added another single in the eighth for good measure. The lefty with some strong power looked ready to go at the plate and showed it with his performance. His swings were strong. He struggled to field a ball to begin the Thunder’s five-run fourth (it went as a hit), but he’s a prospect known for his bat first.

Justus Sheffield signing (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
Justus Sheffield signing (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

5. Best of the rest: Billy McKinney had a line drive triple to the right field gap and a walk. The triple was perhaps the most impressive hit for a Yankees’ prospect during the game. Princeton product Mike Ford had a deep double to right and catcher Jorge Saez had a homer that cleared the high left field wall in left.

Miguel Andujar had an infield single but struggled with the rest of the game. His error in the sixth led to Portland’s three-run inning that included two unearned runs. As Mike pointed out in DotF, that’s three errors in seven games so far. Yikes.

Portland shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin led off that sixth inning with an infield single. He was easily exploited at the plate most of the night, but his blazing speed gave him the single. For a lot of players, it would have been a routine ground out to second. He beat it out with what has to be at least 65/70-grade speed.

Poll: The 2017 RAB Prospect Watch

From left to right: Jorge Mateo, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar. (Presswire)
From left to right: Mateo, Torres, Andujar. (Presswire)

One of our longest running features — I hesitate to call it a feature, but whatever — here at RAB is our annual Prospect Watch. We pick a prospect and track his progress throughout the season in the sidebar. Simple, right? Also kinda silly, but hey, people seem to like it, so it continues. Think of it as the player’s FanGraphs page in the sidebar.

Once upon a time I would make an executive decision and pick the Prospect Watch player myself, then a few years ago I decided to open it up to you folks, the readers, and that works well. This is a good year for a poll too. The Yankees are loaded with prospects. I had a hard time limiting myself to only eight Prospect Watch candidates for this year’s poll. I could have easily listed several more.

I don’t believe the Prospect Watch Curse is a thing so, once again, this year’s poll features top prospects. Shall we get to the candidates? We shall. They’re listed alphabetically and the number next to their name is where they ranked in my top 30 prospects list.

RHP Chance Adams (No. 11)

The Case For Adams: Few pitchers in all of minor league baseball had a better statistical season in 2016 than the 22-year-old Adams, who threw 127.1 innings with a 2.33 ERA (2.96 FIP) and 29.1% strikeouts between Double-A and Triple-A. He showed he can handle the rigors of starting after being drafted as a reliever in 2015, most notably holding his mid-90s velocity deep into starts. Adams also improved his curveball and changeup. He’ll begin 2017 in Triple-A, which means he’s knocking on the door of the big leagues.

The Case Against Adams: As we learned last year, pitchers have a tendency to get hurt, which means the Prospect Watch could potentially go dormant for weeks at a time. Also, Adams has spent only one year as a starter, and it’s possible his body won’t be too happy about going through a big workload for the second straight season. He also isn’t shy about walking hitters (7.9% in 2016) and that has a tendency to ugly up stat lines. And there’s the possibility the Yankees will call Adams up to work in relief at some point, and given Joe Girardi‘s tendency to ease young relievers into things, the Prospect Watch could morph into a Mop Up Reliever Watch.

3B Miguel Andujar (No. 8)

The Case For Andujar: Very quietly, the just turned 22-year-old Andujar broke out with a career year in 2016, setting a new career high with 12 home runs. He also struck out only 12.9% of the time against the best pitching he’s ever faced. Andujar has made some nice progress with his pitch recognition, so he’s doing a better job attacking hittable pitches and letting the less hittable ones go by. Making easy contact can be a curse. Last year felt like the start of something big for Andujar.

The Case Against Andujar: Andujar’s career season last year featured only a .271/.331/.403 (108 wRC+) batting line in nearly 700 total plate appearances between High-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton, and the Arizona Fall League. That’s good, but it’s not “hey let’s get this guy in the sidebar so I can see his stats everyday” good. Keep in mind a big chunk of Andujar’s prospect stock is tied up in his defense as well, specifically his cannon arm at third. That won’t show up in the Prospect Watch.

OF Clint Frazier (No. 2)

The Case For Frazier: Frazier, 22, ranked no lower than 39th on the four major top 100 prospect lists released this spring (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, MLB.com), so he has considerable upside. Even last season, before he hit some bumps in the road in Triple-A, he hit .276/.356/.469 (129 wRC+) with 13 home runs in 89 Double-A games despite being more than three years younger than the average Eastern League player. Frazier has the tools to hit for both average and power, and he’ll steal a few bases too.

The Case Against Frazier: Unfortunately, those Triple-A struggles did happen, and we can’t ignore them. He hit .229/.285/.359 (83 wRC+) with a 27.9% strikeout rate in 38 Triple-A games with the Indians and Yankees, and Frazier is going to return to that level to start the season. That doesn’t mean he’ll definitely struggle again. Frazier wasn’t the first player to have a hard time in his first trip through Triple-A and he won’t be the last. It’s just something we have to be aware of. Frazier struggled really for the first time in his life late last season.

RHP James Kaprielian (No. 5)

The Case For Kaprielian: With a healthy elbow, the just turned 23-year-old Kaprielian is poised to carve up hitters in the low minors this season. PitchFX data from the Arizona Fall League last year had his fastball averaging 95.7 mph and topping out at 99.1 mph. Add in three quality secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) and good enough command, plus a ton of competitiveness, and you’ve got a recipe for a top pitching prospect. The four scouting publications ranked Kaprielian as the 58th best prospect in baseball, on average.

The Case Against Kaprielian: As you know, Kaprielian was our Prospect Watch player last season, and he hurt his elbow and missed most of the regular season. Three starts with High-A Tampa and that was it. The Prospect Watch went unused from late April through the start of the AzFL season in October. That was so incredibly lame. Kaprielian is said to be healthy right now, but the best predictor of future injury is still past injury, and Grandmaster Kap is coming back from a fairly significant arm issue.

Kaprielian. (Presswire)
Kaprielian. (Presswire)

SS/CF Jorge Mateo (No. 7)

The Case For Mateo: I’m not sure any prospect in the farm system is better at filling up every column in the box score than Mateo. Doubles, triples, homers, steals, the whole nine. Mateo, 21, remains an excellent athlete with a true 80 tool (speed) and developing power — he set a career high with eight home runs last season after hitting one outside-the-park homer in 2015. The ongoing transition to center field means nothing for Prospect Watch purposes, though there is reason to believe Mateo will be playing with a big chip on his shoulder.

The Cast Against Mateo: There’s really no way to sugarcoat it: Mateo had a very disappointing 2016 season. He hit .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) with 36 steals in 51 attempts (71% success rate) in 507 plate appearances at High-A Tampa, and he was suspended two weeks for an undisclosed violation of team rules in July. Not great! The last thing we all want, aside from an injury, is to vote a prospect into the Prospect Watch and see him have a year like Mateo did in 2016.

OF Blake Rutherford (No. 4)

The Case For Rutherford: Rutherford, 19, was the Yankees’ first round pick last season, and he authored a .351/.415/.570 (171 wRC+) batting line with three homers and a 10.0% walk rate in 130 rookie ball plate appearances in his pro debut last year. He was a consensus top ten draft talent who slipped to the Yankees mostly for bonus reasons, and this spring the various scouting publications have ranked him as 38th best prospect in baseball, on average. Meet the Next Big Thing.

The Case Against Rutherford: I don’t think this will happen, but it is entirely possible the Yankees will hold Rutherford back in Extended Spring Training to start the season, which would mean the Prospect Watch sits unused for a few weeks, possibly until the short season leagues open in late-June. Again, I don’t think that will happen, but it is a possibility. Also, even if the Yankees do send Rutherford to Low-A Charleston, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the 19-year-old has some ups and down during his first full pro season.

LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 6)

The Case For Sheffield: Sheffield is the team’s best pitching prospect with no sort of injury history. The 20-year-old reached Double-A last season and he threw 134 total innings with a 3.36 ERA (3.61 FIP) in 2016. He also struck out 24.2% of the batters he faced, which is pretty darn good for a kid this age. Sheffield has good velocity despite being on the short side, plus both his slider and changeup are put-away pitches on their best days. It can be easy to forget how good Sheffield is given the depth of this farm system.

The Case Against Sheffield: Again, there’s the whole “pitchers break” thing that has to be considered. Sheffield hasn’t had any injury problems in his career thus far, but then again neither did Kaprielian until last year. Such is life. It’s also worth noting Sheffield walked 10.4% of the batters he faced last season, which is pretty high. The weird thing is he’s a great athlete who repeats his delivery well, so it’s hard to explain why he’s had problems throwing strikes.

SS Gleyber Torres (No. 1)

The Case For Torres: Torres, 20, is the best prospect in the farm system and one of the very best in baseball. Baseball Prospectus was the low site on him, ranking him 15th in their top 101 list, while the other three scouting publications (Baseball America, Keith Law, MLB.com) all had Torres among the top five prospects in the game. Gleyber hit .283/.368/.438 (128 wRC+) with 14 homers and 25 stolen bases last season, plus his walk (11.1%) and strikeout (19.3%) rates were strong for a teenager who spent the entire season in High-A. Torres has star caliber tools and his placement in the various top 100 lists tells you everyone expects big things.

The Case Against Torres: I’m having a tough time coming up with one, to be honest. There’s the obvious “being a 20-year-old in Double-A is hard” caveat, and I suppose we should keep in mind the Yankees figure to move Torres around the infield a bit, and all the position changing could drag down his offense. Hopefully not, but it is possible. Every prospect carries some level of risk. That’s the way it is. Gleyber is so insanely talented that he carries less risk than most.

* * *

I ranked Aaron Judge as the third best prospect in the farm system, but I’m leaving him out of the Prospect Watch poll because he’s expected to spend most of the season in the big leagues. We’re going to see him nearly every day. I originally started the Prospect Watch as a way to keep tabs on the guys in the minors, who we don’t get to see play.

Anyway, with all due respect to guys like Albert Abreu and Dustin Fowler and Dillon Tate, those are the eight players eligible for this year’s Prospect Watch. The poll is open right now and will remain open until 12pm ET this Friday, so you’ve got a little less than 48 hours to vote. I’ll reveal the winner Friday afternoon. Now … go vote!

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The Year Ahead in the Farm System [2017 Season Preview]

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

This is still a weird and awesome and completely true statement: the Yankees are loaded with exciting up-and-coming young talent. Last year’s trade deadline activity combined with breakouts from incumbent prospects give New York the game’s consensus No. 2 farm system behind the Braves. The 2016 draft helped too. That was cool.

The Yankees are, in their words, a team in transition. They’re trying to get younger while remaining competitive, which is both an excellent goal and difficult to do. Young players tend to come with growing pains. Even the most talented ones. Not everyone hits the ground running like Gary Sanchez. Usually they hit some bumps in the road, like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino.

The “remaining competitive” stuff is a topic for another time. This entry into our season preview series is dedicated to all the ladies out there the great farm system the Yankees have built. Let’s preview the upcoming season in the minors. Here is my top 30 prospects list, if you’ve somehow missed it.

Top Prospects Who Could Help In 2017

Depending on the scouting publication, the Yankees have anywhere between six (Keith Law) and nine (Baseball Prospectus) top 100 caliber prospects in the farm system. One of those players is Judge, who we previewed two weeks ago. As always, top 100 prospects are not all created equal. Some are much closer to the big leagues than others. The Yankees have a little of everything with their top 100 guys.

The best prospect in the farm system and one of the very best in all of baseball is, as you know, SS Gleyber Torres. He came over in last summer’s Aroldis Chapman trade and blew everyone away in Spring Training. Torres hit .448/.469/.931 with six doubles and two homers in 32 Grapefruit League plate appearances, which was enough for folks to want him to replace the injured Didi Gregorius. That won’t happen. The Yankees have already sent Gleyber to minor league camp and he’ll open the season in Double-A.

That said, I definitely believe the 20-year-old Torres has a chance to help the Yankees later this year, likely in the second half. Similar prospects have made their MLB debuts at age 20 after starting the season in Double-A. Some things will have to happen first — Torres has to hit, the Yankees have to need him, etc. — but there’s a chance Gleyber will force the issue at some point and make the team think about calling him up. Special talents have accelerated timetables.

OF Clint Frazier, who would be the No. 1 prospect for many other teams, is the No. 2 prospect in the farm system. He came over in the Andrew Miller trade. Frazier, 22, reached Triple-A last season and will return there to start this season. (He hit .308/.300/.487 in camp. I do love silly AVG > OBP lines.) Given his proximity to MLB, Frazier is much more likely to reach the show this season than Torres. The Yankees will have to make room for him somehow, but they’ll figure it out. Frazier is a potential impact bat and lineup cornerstone, and we’ll see him in the Bronx at some point this summer. I’m sure of it.

Among New York’s other top 100 prospects, the only other one I could see reaching the big leagues this season is RHP James Kaprielian, and that’s a long shot. Kaprielian is healthy after missing nearly the entire 2016 regular season with a flexor strain, though the Yankees are going to take it slow with him early in the season. He threw nothing but simulated games the first few weeks of Spring Training before finally getting into a Grapefruit League two weeks ago. Kaprielian threw two innings and was sent to minor league camp the same day.

What needs to happen for Kaprielian to reach MLB in 2017? He has to stay healthy, for starters. Secondly, he’s going to have to pitch well enough to climb from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A to MLB. Climbing three levels in one year isn’t easy, but it has been done before. Both Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain did it in 2007. And third, the Yankees have to believe Kaprielian is one of their best rotation options. They won’t call him up for the hell of it. There are 40-man and service time considerations in play.

My guess right now is no, Kaprielian will not make his MLB debut this season. Sorry to be a buzzkill. As long as he stays healthy, I expect Kaprielian to pitch very well — he should carve up High-A hitters — and reach Triple-A late in the season. We’ll then complain the Yankees aren’t calling him because he is clearly better than one of the starters the Yankees are running out there every five days, right? That’s usually how it goes.

Top Prospects Who Probably Won’t Help In 2017

Sheffield. (Presswire)
Sheffield. (Presswire)

The Yankees have three consensus top 100 prospects who are unlikely to play in the big leagues this year, at least not in a meaningful way. LHP Justus Sheffield, another part of the Miller trade, is a three-pitch southpaw with good velocity. He is still only 20 and is ticketed for Double-A. I expect him to spend just about the entire season there. He might make a late-season Triple-A cameo, but that’s about it. Besides being so young, Sheffield needs to improve his command before being an MLB option.

SS Jorge Mateo might soon be CF Jorge Mateo. The Yankees have been moving their shortstop prospects around — Torres has played second base and has worked out at third, for example — in an effort to increase their versatility. Mateo is a good defender at short, though center field would better allow him to use his elite speed on the defensive side of the ball. Either way, shortstop or center field, Mateo has to do more with the bat. He didn’t hit much last season and hitting coach Alan Cockrell is working with him to widen his stance this spring.

Now, that all said, I do think Mateo has a chance to make his MLB debut in 2017. He was added to the 40-man roster over the winter to avoid Rule 5 Draft exposure, which means the Yankees could turn to him as their annual September designated pinch-runner. They very much believe in that role — they picked up Eric Young Jr. and Rico Noel at midseason to fill that role the last two years — and Mateo is an 80 runner, so it’s hard to think they’ll drum up a better option at some point.

There are two things to keep in mind though. One, Mateo wasn’t a great basestealer last season — he went 36-for-51 (71%) in steal attempts in 2016 — and the Yankees are said to be working with him to improve his reads and things like that. And two, being in the big leagues is a privilege and something a player has to earn. If Mateo has another disappointing season, the Yankees could very well turn to another pinch-runner option rather than reward Mateo will a month in MLB. I think it’s possible we’ll see him as the September pinch-runner, but it’s far from certain.

The best top 100 caliber prospect in farm system we 100% will not see in the big leagues this coming season is OF Blake Rutherford, last year’s first round pick. Rutherford was a consensus top ten talent in the draft class — Keith Law (6th), MLB.com (8th), and Baseball America (9th) all ranked him highly among draft prospects — who slipped to the Yankees with the 18th pick for kinda dopey reasons. One, he turned 19 in May and was a few months older than most high school draftees. And two, he wanted a large bonus. Those seem like not great reasons to pass on him, but whatever.

Rutherford projects as a classic No. 3 hitter who can hit for average and power, and also draw a healthy amount of walks. His placement in the various top 100 lists tells you how highly he’s regarded. He didn’t just sneak onto the back of those lists. He was in the top half. At the same time, Rutherford will spent most of the season at age 20 and he’s going to start at Low-A. Not a big league option. A very talented prospect? Hell yes. But not a big league option in 2017. Not close.

Two consensus non-top 100 prospects who I consider among New York’s better prospects are RHP Albert Abreu and 3B Miguel Andujar. Abreu came over in the Brian McCann deal and he might have the highest upside of any pitcher in the farm system. He’s got mid-90s gas and both his slider and changeup look like out pitches on their best days. At the same time, Abreu is a 21-year-old with only 11.2 High-A innings under his belt. He’s going to spend the majority of this season at that level. An MLB call-up ain’t happening. Not this year.

Andujar is a personal fave and I feel like he gets lost in the depth of the farm system. His best tools are his raw power and throwing arm, and last year he started to make some real strides with his approach at the plate. Andujar wasn’t a big time hacker or anything, but he makes easy contact and had a tendency to swing at anything in the zone. He did a better job recognizing which pitches he could hammer and which he should let go last year. I’m expecting big things in 2017. A September call-up isn’t out of the question because Andujar is on the 40-man roster, though I would be surprised if helped the Yankees in a more substantial way this summer.

The Secondary Prospects Likely To Help In 2017

Montgomery. (Presswire)
Montgomery. (Presswire)

The depth of the farm system is on display when you look at the second and third tier prospects who figure to help the Yankees in 2017. LHP Jordan Montgomery has already put himself in the mix for an Opening Day roster spot with a strong spring. SS Tyler Wade added the outfield to his skill set in the Arizona Fall League and he’s now being considered as Gregorius’ replacement at short. I’m not sure that’ll happen, but the fact he’s being considered shows the Yankees think he’s at least close to MLB.

OF Dustin Fowler and RHP Chance Adams are both slated to open the season in Triple-A — Wade and Montgomery will be there as well if they don’t make the Opening Day roster — and are coming off very strong 2016 seasons. Breakout seasons, really. (Definitely in Adams’ case.) The odds of the Yankees needing a pitcher are much greater than the odds of them needing an outfielder for obvious reasons — besides, Frazier and OF Mason Williams figure to be ahead of Fowler on the call-up depth chart — but the fact these two are starting in Triple-A makes them big league possibilities. Once you get to that level, everyone is a call-up candidate.

Other prospects we could see in the Bronx this year include Williams, C Kyle Higashioka, RHP Ben Heller, RHP Jonathan Holder, LHP Dietrich Enns, RHP Ronald Herrera, RHP Gio Gallegos, and RHP J.P. Feyereisen. All except Feyereisen are on the 40-man roster. Heller is the best bullpen prospect in the farm system in my opinion, though Holder, Enns, and Gallegos all have great minor league numbers. Those dudes will all be part of the bullpen shuttle this summer. No doubt about it. Higashioka will, at worst, be a September call-up. He’s the third catcher.

Breakout Candidates

Abreu has already been mentioned and he’s the biggest breakout candidate in the farm system, I think, at least among pitchers. He’s already got four pitches — well, the makings of four pitches, I should say — and is in need of more refinement than anything. Better command, get more consistently with the delivery, things like that. Abreu doesn’t have to learn a changeup or anything like that. The pieces are there for him to become no-doubt top 100 prospect next spring.

On the position player side, 3B Dermis Garcia is a dude I’m very excited to follow this summer. He has 80 raw power on the 20-80 scouting scale — 80 raw power and 80 game power are different things! — and is a better pure hitter than his .206/.326/.454 (114 wRC+) batting line and 34.3% strikeout rate with rookie Pulaski last year would lead you believe. Garcia turned only 19 in January and it’s looking like he’ll spend the season at Low-A. Some progress with his approach, meaning not swinging out of his shoes each time he deems a pitch hittable, could turn Dermis into a top 100 guy. That’s a lot to ask, but the talent is there.

Other recent international signees like SS Hoy Jun Park, RHP Domingo Acevedo, SS Wilkerman Garcia, SS Diego Castillo, OF Leonardo Molina, and especially OF Estevan Florial are potential breakout candidates this year. Acevedo needs to continue to improve his breaking ball if he wants to remain in the rotation long-term. Florial has outrageous tools. His power, speed, and throwing arm all rate near the top of he scale. He just needs to tone down his ultra aggressive approach. Florial can swing-and-miss with the best of ’em.

It’s odd to consider a former fourth overall pick a breakout candidate, but RHP Dillon Tate qualifies. He came over from the Rangers in the Carlos Beltran trade after Texas soured on him. Tate, who was drafted in 2015, hurt his hamstring early last season and had difficulty adjusting to some mechanical changes the Rangers asked him to incorporate. The Yankees told him to forget about that and go back to his old mechanics, and by time the AzFL rolled around, his fastball was averaging 98.0 mph and topping out at 99.6 mph, per PitchFX. Yeah.

Of course, that 98.0 mph average heater came in a short burst and no one expects him to sit there as a starter. The Yankees will return Tate to the rotation this year — he worked multi-inning stints out of the bullpen after the trade last year so they could work on his mechanics — though it should be noted that even at his best, there was some thought Tate would wind up in the bullpen long-term because his fastball is straight and his changeup is still a work in progress. Point is, the Yankees bought low on Tate and are working to get him back to his fourth overall pick form, and he looked better in the AzFL than he did at any point with the Rangers before the trade.

If you’re looking for an Adams caliber breakout candidate, that reliever-turned-starter prospect, don’t. Seriously. What Adams did last year was best case scenario stuff. Hard to expect that again, though I’d happily welcome it. The best reliever-turned-starter prospect candidate in the system is Tate, though that’s not a true reliever-to-starter conversion. In that case, RHP Taylor Widener is the best bet. He was the team’s 12th round pick in last year’s draft.

Widener is the latest in a string of Yankees prospects to gain velocity in pro ball — Kaprielian, Montgomery, and Adams all did that — and he has a good slider, albeit an inconsistent one. His changeup has been a point of emphasis since the draft. I’m not sure Widener can make the transition to the rotation as seamlessly as Adams, though then again I never thought Adams would take to the role as easily as he did. Widener is more of a sleeper than a true breakout prospect.

Bounceback Candidates

McKinney. (Presswire)
McKinney. (Presswire)

Last year was a great year for the farm system, though it wasn’t perfect. A few players had disappointing seasons, most notably Mateo. The Yankees are hoping he bounces back in a big way this summer. Kaprielian too following the elbow injury. Tate is another bounceback candidate. Can a player be a bounceback candidate and a breakout candidate in the same season? I guess so. Garcia (Wilkerman, not Dermis) is a bounceback candidate despite being 18. He was great in 2015 and looked like a potential top 100 guy. He then battled through a shoulder issue and had a poor statistical season in 2016.

Aside from Mateo, I think the biggest bounceback candidate in the farm system on the position player side is OF Billy McKinney, who put together an impressive Grapefruit League showing (.417/.517/.917 with four walks and one strikeout in 29 plate appearances) before being reassigned to minor league camp. McKinney came over in the Chapman trade and was better with the Yankees than the Cubs, though his overall 2016 season was underwhelming. The former first rounder hit .256/.349/.363 (107 wRC+) at Double-A. Meh.

The spring performance was nice, though that’s not the reason McKinney is a bounceback candidate. He hit .300/.371/.454 (135 wRC+) between High-A and Double-A two years ago, and was ranked as a top 100 prospect prior to both 2015 (Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus) and 2016 (MLB.com, Keith Law, BP). McKinney’s 2015 season ended early because he fouled a pitch into his knee and suffered a hairline fracture, and there’s some belief it took him longer to get over the injury than expected, hence last year’s performance. With his sweet lefty swing and innate hitting ability, a healthy McKinney could regain significant prospect stock in 2017.

LHP Ian Clarkin was not bad by any means last season — he threw 98 innings with a 3.31 ERA (3.26 FIP) in High-A — though he finished the season hurt (knee) after missing the entire 2015 regular season (elbow). Reports on his stuff were mixed last season, so the Yankees haven’t really seen the supplemental first round pick version of Clarkin since 2014. This isn’t a make or break year for Clarkin (he just turned 22!) though the Yankees very much want him to stay healthy and regain his former top prospect status in 2017.

Prospects I Am Irrationally Excited About

I was originally planning to call this section sleepers or something, but I figured I might as well be straightforward about it. I’ve been waxing poetic about IF Thairo Estrada for two years now, and the just turned 21-year-old could reach Double-A in the second half of the season. RHP Zack Littell is kind of the anti-Yankees pitching prospect. He’s not physically huge with a big fastball. He’s a pitchability guy with three pitches who puts in an insane amount of work studying opposing hitters.

The Yankees are short on catching prospects at the moment — I still expect C Luis Torrens to be returned from the Padres as a Rule 5 Draft pick at some point soon — and their best backstop prospect is C Donny Sands, a converted third baseman. He’s a great bat-to-ball hitter with some power potential. Sands is still new to catching and is rough around the edges, but he’s attacked the transition and has already made some big strides defensively. He should be a top 30 organizational prospect at this time next year. (Some say he is right now.)

IF Oswaldo Cabrera had a ridiculous statistical season last summer — he hit .345/.396/.523 (163 wRC+) in 52 rookie ball games as a 17-year-old — and comes with interesting offensive upside. It seems likely he’s destined for second base rather than shortstop though. That’s okay. OF Rashad Crawford was the fourth piece in the Chapman trade and he’s loaded with tools and athletic ability, and is just now starting to figure out how to translate those tools into baseball skills. OF Isiah Gilliam is a switch-hitter with pop from both sides of the plate. He quietly finished fourth in the rookie Appalachian League with ten homers as a 19-year-old in 2016.

On the mound, I’m really looking forward to a full, healthy season of RHP Domingo German. He’s kind of a forgotten prospect given the Tommy John surgery. German is basically an older, shorter version of Acevedo in that he’s a righty with a big fastball and a very good changeup. Unlike Acevedo, German is on the 40-man roster. The Yankees will have him work as a starter this season, though I think we might see him pitch out of the big league bullpen at some point, likely as a September call-up. German can still bring it.

LHP Daniel Camarena has long been a personal favorite, and he bounced back well from elbow surgery last season. Because he’s left-handed and breathing, and also likely to open the season in Triple-A, he has to be considered a potential call-up candidate. RHP Jorge Guzman came over in the McCann trade and will live in the 98-100 mph range as a starter. He’ll be a Big Deal in a few months. RHP Drew Finley and RHP Nolan Martinez are lower level pitchability guys I am excited about. Also, RHP Nick Nelson. The post-draft scouting reports last year were almost too good to be true. Plus fastball, plus curveball, potentially plus command? Sign me up.

Will They Trade Any Of These Guys?

Yeah, probably. The question is who and for what? The Yankees have a lot of quality prospects coming up on Rule 5 Draft eligibility after the season. A lot. They can either try to keep everyone by adding the guys they really like to the 40-man roster and hoping everyone else gets passed over in the Rule 5 Draft, or trade a few of them to ensure some kind of return. You don’t want to lose someone like, say, Estrada or Littell for nothing more than the $100,000 Rule 5 Draft fee.

Aside from the Rule 5 Draft concerns, I have to imagine the Yankees are at least tempted to dip into their prospect base to land a pitcher with long-term control. They could really use one of those. Jose Quintana is the big name right now, though who knows who will be available at the trade deadline? Maybe the Phillies will put Jerad Eickoff or Vince Velasquez on the market, or the Diamondbacks will float Robbie Ray and Archie Bradley in trade talks. I get the Yankees want to build from within, but they’d be foolish to not consider available trades.

Either way, the Yankees figure to do some farm system shuffling this year. Not necessarily blockbuster trades, but asset management. Last year the Yankees traded Ben Gamel and James Pazos, two fringe big league players, for lower level prospects to make the 40-man situation a little better. I think we’ll see some deals like that this year, perhaps involving Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects not yet on the 40-man. Trades are coming. They’re inevitable. And given the depth of the farm system, I don’t think we can rule out a blockbuster, however unlikely it may seem right now.

Where Does The System Go From Here?

I believe the likelihood of the following two statements being true in eight months is quite high:

  1. The Yankees will have a worse farm system than they do right now.
  2. The Yankees will still have one of the game’s best farm systems.

As it stands, the Yankees are likely to graduate two of my top 30 prospects to the big leagues (Judge, Chad Green) and potentially a handful of others as well (Frazier, Wade, Montgomery,  Williams, Tyler Austin). Inevitably a few pitchers will get hurt and other players will stall out. That’s baseball and that’s why you want as many prospects as possible. It’s hard to see how, after this season, the farm system can be even better than it right now.

That said, the chances New York will still have one of the game’s better farm systems are pretty darn good. They’ll still have Torres and Rutherford (and Sheffield and Mateo), hopefully a healthy Kaprielian, plus whoever the 2017 draft brings in. Others like Andujar, Adams, and Acevedo all have the potential to be top 100 caliber prospects. Unless the Yankees gut the system to make some trades or they experience a catastrophically bad season in the minors, the club will still be loaded with prospects year from now.

The farm system right now is the focal point of the organization. We’re used to looking at a star-laden big league roster around these parts, and while the Yankees figure to be an entertaining team this season (if nothing else), everyone is talking about the farm system. Even the Yankees themselves. Their Winter Warm-Up event was built around prospects and the commercials feature kids, not veterans. This is a new era for the Yankees and that’s pretty exciting.

Hicks, Romine and the rest of the part-timers [2017 Season Preview]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

While the Yankees have plenty of new starters littered around its lineup, they appear to have a very similar bench to the one they fielded in 2016. They have the same fourth outfielder, the same backup catcher and, chances are, the same utility infielder. If it wasn’t the signing of Chris Carter and Tyler Austin‘s preseason injury, it would be essentially identical to the bench with which the team ended last season.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the individuals who will make up the Yankees’ Opening Day bench as well as a few players that could fill roles later in the season. (Disclaimer: I didn’t go into Gleyber Torres here. That’s worth another post entirely.)

Fourth Outfielder

It appears like it’ll be Aaron Hicks as the extra outfielder again this year. I’m someone who really believes in his potential. It’s been over a year since the Yankees dealt John Ryan Murphy, a player I enjoyed watching an irrational amount, for Hicks in a deal that seemed to make sense for both teams. The Yankees needed a fourth outfielder and had a catcher of the future (Hi Gary Sanchez) while the Twins needed a catcher and had a center fielder of the future (Byron Buxton). A potential win-win.

Well, it didn’t work out that well for either team. Murphy simply didn’t hit in Year 1 in Minnesota while Hicks hasn’t quite panned out yet in New York. To be fair, both players are still relatively young, but time is running out for them to prove themselves. Let’s focus on what Hicks brings to the table as he gets another chance to prove himself.

Hicks, 27, has always been close to an 80 in one tool: his arm. It’s a cannon. He’s also pretty fast. Combine that and he makes for a solid fielder, although his routes to balls have been rough at times. He can still man each spot in the field well, but he’s been relegated mostly to the corners to start this spring.

And then there’s his bat. He took a clear step back from 2015 to 2016, going from .256/.323/.398 (96 wRC+) to .217/.281/.336 (64 wRC+). That’s doesn’t cut it. A switch-hitter, Hicks came in with a reputation as a better right-handed bat than a lefty. He actually improved from the left side (79 wRC+ to 86 wRC+) but went from a .307/.375/.495 (138 wRC+) line to a paltry .161/.213/271 (25 wRC+) from the right. That’s pretty dumbfounding. His exit velocity actually increased from 90.1 to 90.8 mph from the left side and his strikeout rate fell (his walk rate did too), but his BABIP plummeted from .368 to .176.

That could indicate a potential improvement for Hicks, who seemed to struggle with the lack of regularity concerning his role last year (he improved in the second half when Carlos Beltran was traded). However, he may not get consistent starts again this year with Aaron Judge presumably manning right field. Therefore, the Aaron Hicks project may reach a crossroads this season when he becomes arbitration eligible for the first time after this season.

Beyond Hicks, Mason Williams is the only other outfielder on the 40-man roster. Williams has 51 MLB plate appearances over the last two years. When healthy, he is plenty fast to man center field and seems like he can hit for average. Health will be key for the 25-year-old as he tries to make the roster for good at some point.

Clint Frazier and Dustin Fowler will be in Triple A to start the year. They’re both 22 and will need more at-bats in Scranton before they can earn a role in the majors. Frazier, being the better prospect, may be more likely to force his way to the majors this summer.

Backup catcher

Austin Romine returns as the backup catcher with a different starter ahead of him. Gary Sanchez, as Mike eloquently covered, is the face of the franchise now and it stands to reason that Romine could see fewer starts this season than last. Romine played 50 games at catcher, started 40, while starting two games at first base and four at designated hitter. Chances are, the latter six starts go away with younger and healthier options at 1B and DH, but who knows? I wouldn’t have bet on multiple Romine starts away from catcher last year.

Romine was fine as the bench backstop in 2016 and was much better than his first stint in 2013, when he was backing up Chris Stewart. He batted .242/.269/.382 (68 wRC+) and was better against southpaws. That allowed him to get more starts early in the season when Brian McCann was struggling against lefties. Now, with Sanchez as the starter, Romine will still get once or twice-a-week starts yet it’s hard to see him getting to take advantage of platoon advantages quite as often. That may lead to a worse batting line despite no decline in talent or performance.

The other catcher on the 40-man is Kyle Higashioka. Higashioka was finally healthy in 2016 and rode that to a 20-homer season. He has legitimate power, which has been conveyed plenty of times this spring. The Yankees likely won’t take Higashioka with them on Opening Day — they’d have to DFA Romine — but he’ll only be a bus trip away in Scranton.

Utility infielder

The backup infielder job looks like it is Ronald Torreyes‘ job to lose again this year. Torreyes was a bit of a surprise to claim the spot last year out of the spring, but he held onto it all year. He’s the perfect bench player: He makes plenty of contact, can play every infield position (and the outfield corners in a pinch) and seems to be a good presence around the club. He doesn’t hit for power — do you remember his home run last year? I barely do — but the Yankees would gladly sign up for another .258/.305/.374 line from the part-timer.

It seems highly unlikely that Torreyes won’t break camp with the team. Pete Kozma and Ruben Tejada have each been fine yet unimpressive in their brief spring stints and it may be tough to top the incumbent. Donovan Solano is another non-roster invitee and has been away from the club playing for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic. He did have a solid cup of coffee with the Yankees last fall.

Tyler Austin

austin low five
(Getty)

As we covered in the Greg Bird preview post, Carter will receive a lot of the righty at-bats at first base this season, likely platooning with Bird. Before Carter’s signing, many thought that role would be filled by Tyler Austin. That idea went fully down the tubes with his preseason injury (fractured left foot) which will prevent him from playing most of the spring.

Austin provided real power in his 90 plate appearances in the majors last year, particularly the other way. He did strike out 36 times. For now, the 25-year-old first baseman likely starts the season in extended spring training or goes straight to Scranton, waiting for a call-up. You can almost surely count on Austin playing with the Yankees at some point.

Rest of the 40-man

Remember when Rob Refsnyder was the talk of the town in 2015? Part of that was just a clamoring for anyone but Stephen Drew, but Refsnyder also provided promise that he could hit at the big league level. However, he didn’t come quite as advertised and his 2016 was a disappointment. Given 175 plate appearances last season, he showed nearly no power and had a disappointing .250/.328/.309 line. Without a serious showing with his bat, Refsnyder doesn’t have a role in the majors, hence the Yankees’ willingness to trade him. Can he prove to be more than just a Quad-A player? It’s tough to see right now.

Miguel Andujar hasn’t played above Double A before, so he will need some experience in Scranton before he can be considered for a long-term role. His fielding has been a bit rough at times this spring, so that’s something for him to work on in Triple A. Still, he’s a top 10 third base prospect according to MLB.com and a potential future piece, albeit not likely before September this year.

The man furthest from the majors on the 40-man roster is Jorge Mateo, a top five Yankees prospect depending on the source. Mateo probably doesn’t factor into the Yankees’ plans in 2017, but he would make the ideal pinch runner in September. That’s about the extent to his role in the majors as far as I can tell.

Thoughts on Keith Law’s top ten Yankees prospects

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Last Friday, Keith Law released his annual top 100 prospects list, which included six Yankees. This week ESPN is publishing Law’s individual team reports, and those include not only the top ten prospects in each organization, but guys beyond that as well. It’s a crazy deep dive for each club.

Here is Law’s organizational report for the Yankees. This is all behind the Insider paywall, so I can’t give away too much. These are the top ten prospects, which are the six top 100 prospects plus four new names (duh):

  1. SS Gleyber Torres (No. 4 on top 100)
  2. OF Blake Rutherford (No. 22)
  3. OF Clint Frazier (No. 27)
  4. RHP James Kaprielian (No. 28)
  5. OF Aaron Judge (No. 44)
  6. LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 88)
  7. SS Jorge Mateo
  8. SS Tyler Wade
  9. RHP Chance Adams
  10. 3B Miguel Andujar

In all, Law goes through and lists his top 24 Yankees prospects. I won’t list all 24, but Brendan Kuty has you covered. I have some thoughts on the non-top 100 guys.

1. The gap between Mateo and Wade is small. It’s no secret Mateo had a disappointing 2016 season. He didn’t just perform poorly, he also got himself suspended for two weeks for violating an unknown team policy. It was a tough year for Jorge. No doubt. In the write-up, Law calls Wade a superior shortstop and hitter, though there is still “enough industry faith in Mateo’s speed and body” that he gets the higher ranking. We know Law’s rankings do not reflect the consensus — Baseball Prospectus ranked Mateo third and Wade ninth in the system while Baseball America had Mateo fourth and Wade outside the top ten, so those sites had a much larger gap between the two — and the story here should be the positive report on Wade, not Mateo’s tumble down Law’s rankings. The Yankees had Wade play the outfield in the Arizona Fall League because they’re clearing a path for him to get to the big leagues. He may not offer the upside of Mateo (or Torres), but Wade is a damn good prospect himself.

2. Law has the good Clarkin scouting report. Scouting reports on LHP Ian Clarkin were all over the place last season. On his best days, he’d sit in the low-90s with a hammer curveball and a quality changeup. On his worst days, he was in the upper-80s with a loopy breaking ball. Law gives the positive scouting report on Clarkin, saying he spent last season “pitching in the low 90s with a good curveball.” Now that he’s a full year removed from the elbow injury that sidelined him for all of 2016, I’m hopeful we’ll see more of the good version of Clarkin this year. He’s going to be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, remember. This is a big year for him. “Double-A will be a good test of his ability to use his two above-average pitches to get guys on both sides of the plate, as hitters there will lay off the curveball if he can’t locate it,” added Law’s write-up.

3. McKinney’s stock is tumbling. Last season was a tough one for OF Billy McKinney, who came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade. He was a first round pick back in 2013, though the combination of a knee injury and poor performance have him slipping down the rankings. Law says McKinney, who he dubbed the system’s falling prospect, has a sound swing and a plan at the plate, but the “projections from high school that had him getting to average power aren’t coming to fruition.” The Yankees got McKinney as the third piece in the Chapman trade — Torres was the headliner (duh) and Adam Warren was the second piece, right? that how I’ve always seen it — and it was only a year ago that Law ranked him 69th on his top 100 list, so the kid has talent. As Brian Cashman likes to say, McKinney is an asset in distress. The Yankees have to build him back up.

4. The 2016 draft gets some love. The Yankees had a very good 2016 draft thanks to Rutherford all by himself. He was one of the best prospects in the draft class. Unfortunately, the current draft pool system doesn’t allow teams to spend freely, so the Yankees had to skimp elsewhere to pay Rutherford. Eight of their top ten picks received below-slot bonuses. The team’s draft haul was top heavy, but two other 2016 draftees still made Law’s top 24 Yankees prospects. RHP Nolan Martinez placed 21st because he “throws 88-93 mph with a huge spin rate on his fastball and good depth on his curve,” though he’s still working to develop his changeup. RHP Nick Nelson, who Law seems to love based on what he’s written dating back to the draft, ranked 22nd after “pumping 96-97 mph in instructional league with a big curveball.” Hmmm. Anyway, point is, the Yankees landed some other nice prospects in last summer’s draft. It wasn’t only Rutherford.

5. A few lesser known prospects make the top 24. Lesser known probably isn’t the correct term. Less thought about? Maybe that’s better. Anyway, among the players to pop up on Law’s farm system deep dive are SS Kyle Holder (“at least a 70 defender”), RHP Freicer Perez (“6-foot-8 and throws up to 98 mph already with good angle”), SS Oswaldo Cabrera (“an average defender with a promising hit tool”), and RHP Jorge Guzman (“has hit 103 mph and will sit at 99-100”). Guzman is the other guy the Yankees got from the Astros in the Brian McCann trade. We all focus on the top prospects and understandably so. They’re the headliners, and there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to see several of them in the big leagues this summer. Further down in the minors, it’s guys like Cabrera and Guzman that separate New York’s farm system from the rest of the pack. Talented players like those two don’t even crack the top 20 prospects in the farm system — Cabrera ranks 23rd and Guzman ranked 24th in the system, per Law — yet they’d be top ten in more than a few other organizations.

Saturday Links: Lefty Reliever, Top 100, Captain’s Camp

Soon. (Presswire)
Soon. (Presswire)

Only three more weekends without baseball after this one. Spring Training games aren’t that far away! Thank goodness. I am so ready for this offseason to be over. Here are some links to check out today:

Yankees still looking for a cheap lefty reliever

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees remain in the hunt for a left-handed reliever, but only want a player who will take a low base salary or minor league deal. Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins, the two best free agent southpaws, are seeking two-year deals worth at least $12M, says Rosenthal. If they stick to that demand, the Yankees won’t get either. I assume Travis Wood is a non-option too given the low base salary thing.

The Yankees have Tommy Layne, Chasen Shreve, and Richard Bleier as their top middle innings lefty reliever candidates at the moment, and Brian Cashman talked up Joe Mantiply at the town hall last week. “He’s a soft-tossing situational lefty that I know that people were coming up to me saying, you snookered us when you claimed him off waivers,” he said. Would Charlie Furbush take a minor league deal after a shoulder injury sidelined him all of 2016? He might be the best available cheap southpaw.

Five Yankees on ZiPS top 100 prospects

In a companion piece to Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list, Dan Szymborski put together a list of the top 100 prospects according to his ZiPS projection system (sub. req’d). ZiPS is entirely data-driven, so you’ve got to take the projections with a big grain of salt, though I still always like seeing where the scouting reports and stats disagree.

The best prospect in baseball per ZiPS is Braves SS Dansby Swanson, who Law ranked second. Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi is first on Law’s list and seventh on the ZiPS list. The Yankees had five ZiPS top 100 prospects:

8. SS Gleyber Torres (Law’s rank: 4th)
9. OF Clint Frazier (Law’s rank: 27th)
34. OF Aaron Judge (Law’s rank: 44th)
44. OF Blake Rutherford (Law’s rank: 22nd)
65. 3B Miguel Andujar (Law’s rank: DNR)

RHP James Kaprielian and LHP Justus Sheffield made Law’s list but not the ZiPS list, though ZiPS tends to skew towards position players because they don’t carry as much injury risk. The top nine and 21 of the top 25 prospects in baseball are position players according to ZiPS, so yeah. Interesting to see Andujar a middle of the top 100 guy according to ZiPS. The system likes his low strikeout rate and developing power, it seems.

New Spring Training hats leaked

For the umpteenth straight spring, teams will wear different hats for Spring Training this season. A photo of the new Yankees hat was leaked over at SportsLogos.net and my goodness, it’s hideous:

spring-training-hat

It should be noted MLB and the Yankees have not officially revealed their new Spring Training hats, so it’s entirely possible that hat is a rejected design or something like that. I can’t. I just can’t anymore. Stop messing with the classic interlocking NY, yo.

Captain’s Camp now underway

Remember yesterday’s mailbag question about Captain’s Camp? Well now we have an update, courtesy of Brendan Kuty. Farm system head Gary Denbo said Captain’s Camp is currently underway and will run from January 18th to February 24th this year. Andy Pettitte, Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rodriguez, and Tino Martinez are among the scheduled guest instructors. Several current Yankees will help out as well once Spring Training beings. Derek Jeter has taken the prospects out to a surprise dinner the last two years and Denbo hopes he does the same this year.

Denbo came up with the idea for Captain’s Camp a few years ago and says the goal is to “develop championship-type complete players for our Major League club.” The Yankees bring in a bunch of prospects for Captain’s Camp and basically teach them how to be professionals, how to be accountable, and help them become the best player they can be. Workouts and drills are part of Captain’s Camp, no doubt, but most of it is geared towards the off-the-field aspects of being a Yankee. They’re the most recognizable brand in sports, which creates unique demands.

Thursday Notes: Mendoza, Montgomery, Prospect Lists

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The seemingly never-ending offseason continues. I guess the good news is the Yankees’ first Grapefruit League game is four weeks from tomorrow, and yes, that game will be broadcast on the YES Network. Four weeks and one day until actual baseball is on your television. It’ll be glorious. I’ll post the full Spring Training broadcast schedule once all the networks announce their plans. Until then, here are some newsy nuggets to check out.

Hector Mendoza declared a free agent

Cuban right-hander Hector Mendoza has been declared a free agent by MLB, reports Jesse Sanchez. Sanchez says Mendoza is expected to wait until his 23rd birthday on March 5th to sign, at which point he would be a true free agent unaffected by the international spending restrictions. Every team, including the Yankees and other clubs currently limited by international bonus penalties, would be able to sign him to a contract of any size at that point.

Back in April 2015, Ben Badler (subs. req’d) ranked Mendoza as the 12th best prospect in Cuba, one spot ahead of current Dodgers farmhand Yasiel Sierra. “At his best, he throws 90-94 mph with downhill plane, with solid strike-throwing ability and fastball command for his age … His 76-80 mph curveball is a solid-average pitch,” says the two-year-old scouting report. It also mentions Mendoza features a changeup and figures to start long-term.

Sierra signed a six-year deal worth $30M last February — he then pitched to 5.89 ERA (4.26 FIP) in 88.2 innings split between High-A and Double-A last year, and reportedly didn’t impress scouts either — so I guess that’s the benchmark for Mendoza. The Yankees have steered clear of the big money Cuban player market the last few seasons, so I’m not expecting them to get involved. And, frankly, I didn’t even know the guy existed until a few days ago.

Teams asking for Montgomery in trades

According to George King (subs. req’d), Brian Cashman confirmed teams have asked for left-hander Jordan Montgomery in trade talks this offseason. “He is a starter and left-handed. His name comes up,” said the GM. Not only that, but Montgomery has already has success at Triple-A (albeit in 37 innings) and is close to MLB ready, making him even more desirable. Here’s my prospect profile.

It can be really easy to overlook a guy like Montgomery given the strength and depth of the Yankees’ farm system, but he’s come a long way as a prospect the last few seasons. He’s added a cutter and also gained quite a bit of velocity, going from 88-91 mph in college to 93-95 mph in 2016. The Yankees seem to have a knack for getting guys to add velocity. Their throwing program must be good. We’ll see Montgomery in the Bronx in 2017. I’m sure of it.

MLB.com’s top prospects by position

Over the last few days MLB.com has been releasing their annual positional prospect lists. That is, the ten best prospects at each position. Several Yankees farmhands make appearances on the various lists. Here’s a quick recap:

I’m a bit surprised the Yankees only had one player on the outfield list, but eh, whatever. The shortstop list is stacked as always. Torres is one spot ahead of Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. Mateo is one spot ahead of Twins shortstop Nick Gordon, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft.

James Kaprielian failing to crack the top ten righties shouldn’t be a surprise. He did miss just about the entire 2016 season, after all. Also, I’d be more bummed about not having a top catcher prospect if, you know, Gary Sanchez didn’t exit. But he does and that’s cool. Same thing with first base and Greg Bird. Landing five prospects in the various top ten lists is pretty cool.

Update: On Twitter, Jim Callis says Blake Rutherford ranks 14th among outfielders in MLB.com’s upcoming top 100 prospects list.

Spring Training is getting shorter

Starting in 2018, Spring Training will be a whole two days shorter, reports Ronald Blum. Huge news, eh? As part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement the regular season will increase from 183 days to 187 days starting in 2018, and the shorter Spring Training will help make that happen. The goal was to add more off-days “in a way that doesn’t just chew up offseason days,” said MLBPA general counsel Matt Nussbaum.

The players have been pushing for more in-season off-days for a while now, and at one point they proposed shortening the season to 154 games. I’m not surprised that didn’t happen. The owners would be giving up four home games each, plus television contracts would have to be revised because they include a minimum number of broadcasts and things like that. Lots of logistical issues to work through. So anyway, two fewer days of Spring Training in two years. Yippee.