Judge and Bird crack Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list

Judge and Bird in the Arizona Fall League. (Presswire)
Judge and Bird in the Arizona Fall League. (Presswire)

Over at ESPN, Keith Law released his list of the top 100 prospects in baseball today (subs. req’d). Cubs 3B Kris Bryant claimed the top spot, with Twins OF Byron Buxton and Astros SS Carlos Correa rounding out the top three. The Yankees had two players in the top 100: OF Aaron Judge (No. 23) and 1B Greg Bird (No. 80). Law’s list might be the only top 100 that includes Bird this spring.

“Judge has a short swing, surprisingly so given the length of his arms, and very strong command of the strike zone … he should be able to hit 30 without needing to get bigger or stronger,” wrote Law while more or less saying Judge’s biggest flaw is that he hasn’t yet learned when to really cut it loose and tap into his huge raw power. “He’s an above-average defender in right, faster than you’d expect, with the arm to profile there and the potential to post strong triple-slash numbers if he can make that one big adjustment.”

As for Bird, Law says he is a “high-IQ hitter with outstanding plate discipline and understanding of how to work a pitcher, giving reason to think he’ll continue to post high OBPs even though he’ll probably hit only .250-260 with a lot of strikeouts.” He also notes Bird makes “hard contact to all fields, rarely putting the ball on the ground because he squares it up so frequently.” As always, the concern with Bird is his defense at first and his lingering back issues, which forced him out from behind the plate a few years ago. Some of his defensive trouble is due to a lack of experience, some is due to a lack of athleticism.

Judge ranks third among all outfielders (behind Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler) and Bird ranks third among all first baseman (behind Mariners 1B D.J. Peterson and Mets 1B Dominic Smith). The most notable omission from Law’s list is RHP Luis Severino, who will undoubtedly show up on (all) other top 100 lists this spring. Law has said repeatedly that he loves Severino’s arm but believes he is destined for the bullpen long-term because of his delivery and the fact that he doesn’t use his lower half all that much. Law seems to be the low man on Severino and the high man on both Judge and Bird.

In addition to the top 100, Law also posted his annual farm system rankings earlier this week (subs. req’d). The Cubs claimed the top spot and the Tigers the No. 30 spot. The Yankees ranked 20th, exactly the same as last year. “The Yankees’ system still has more talent than production, as several key prospects continued to have trouble staying on the field, but a very strong 2013 draft class and a blowout year on the international front have the system trending up again,” said the write-up. With two first round picks this June and that massive international haul set to debut this summer, it’s all but guaranteed the Yankees will climb the system rankings this year.

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News & Notes: Shifts, Pirela, Prospects, YES Network

No more shifts? (Screen cap from April 2014)
No more shifts? (Screen cap from April 2014)

Time to “empty out the notebook,” so to speak. I have a whole bunch of miscellaneous links lying around that are worth passing along but aren’t necessarily worth their own individual post. So, here are some Yankees-related notes from around the web.

New commissioner will look to ban infield shifts

On Saturday, Bud Selig’s tenure as commissioner officially ended and new commish Rob Manfred came into power. Manfred told Jerry Crasnick that youth outreach, pace of play, and improving labor relations are among the first items on his agenda. He also said he is open to banning infield shifts (video link). Here’s what he said about getting rid of infield shifts:

“I would be aggressive about using the (pitch clock) over the long haul. I think it’s a helpful thing in terms of moving the game along,” said Manfred to ESPN. “I think the second set of changes I would look at is related, and that related to injected additional offense into the game. For example, things like eliminating shifts. I would be open to those sorts of ideas.

“Look, we have really smart people working in the game, and they’re going to figure out ways to get a competitive advantage,” added Manfred. “I think it’s incumbent upon us in the commissioner’s office to look at the advantages that are produced and say ‘is this what we want to happen in the game.'”

Jeff Passan ran Manfred’s quote by “two sabermetrically inclined GMs” and both agreed with dumping shifts because “the game is better when the casual fans gets the product they want,” and there’s concern within the industry that baseball isn’t delivering. (That makes me wonder how many lefty pull hitters those GMs have on their rosters!)

I understand why many people want them gone but I am not a fan of eliminating shifts, personally. It’s basically a ban on creativity and that is bad regardless of industry. The MLB-wide batting average on balls in play has not changed at all over the last two decades even as shifts became popular, and I think teams with better information — or maybe I should say more willing to use that information to try something outside the box — should be allowed to use it.

If MLB wants to improve offense — and I am 100% all for that — I think they should start with fixing the strike zone and not having it depend on who’s catching and who the umpire is. Forcing relievers to face at least two batters and thus eliminating matchup specialists could be another idea. Telling players where to stand on the field is not something the commissioner’s office should control. Let teams position defenders where the hitter is likely to hit it. What’s wrong with that?

Pirela okay after taking pitch to hand in winter ball

During a recent winter ball postseason game in Venezuela, utility man Jose Pirela took a pitch off his right hand and had to exit the game. He went for x-rays after the soreness lingered and they showed no fracture, reports Chad Jennings. “He’s all good to go,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler. Pirela was shut down from winter ball play as a precaution but has already resumed working out.

Pirela, 25, hit .296/.394/.515 with 11 doubles, four triples, six homers, 26 walks, and 30 strikeouts in 47 winter ball games. He’ll come to Spring Training on the outside of the big league roster looking in — I still don’t expect the Yankees to cut Brendan Ryan, extra shortstops are useful — but with a chance to put himself in position to be the first position player called up. Pirela’s done nothing but hit these last few years and his versatility is a plus as well.

Kiley McDaniel’s massive farm system breakdown

Over at FanGraphs, Kiley McDaniel is in the middle of a series looking at each organization’s farm system from top to bottom. He covered the Yankees earlier this week and the write-up is massive, nearly 10,000 words. It runs 68 (!) players deep and McDaniel said it “may be the deepest system in the game.” Needless to say, the write-up comes with RAB’s highest level of recommendation.

Best of all, McDaniel also posted a ton of video at FG’s YouTube channel. He has clips of all the usual suspects there (OF Aaron Judge, RHP Luis Severino, C Gary Sanchez, etc.) and also some hard-to-find video of several of New York’s recent international signings, like OF Leonardo Molina, OF Jonathan Amundaray, and OF Juan DeLeon. (3B Dermis Garcia is embedded above.) Some of the videos span multiple years, so you can see how the players have changed over time. It’s a goldmine. Check it out.

YES ratings up 10% in 2014

For the 11th time in the last 12 years, the YES Network was the most-watched regional sports network in the country in 2014. Ratings were up 10% overall and 16% during primetime, the network announced. YES averaged 58,000 households during primetime in New York last season — game broadcasts averaged 223,000 households — blowing MSG (41,000) and SNY (30,000) out of the water. Pre- and post-game rated were up 25% and 23%, respectively.

Obviously some of that improvement is due to Derek Jeter‘s retirement tour, but not all of it. I’m sure Masahiro Tanaka‘s arrival boosted ratings a ton as well. Same with Carlos Beltran, who is more or less the most popular active player from Puerto Rico. Either way, lots of people were watching the Yankees last season. Lots more than 2013, that’s for sure.

Aaron Judge tops Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects list

Judge putting a hurtin' on a baseball. (MiLB.com)
Judge putting a hurtin’ on a baseball. (MiLB.com)

The crew at Baseball Prospectus is currently in the middle of their annual top ten prospects series breaking down the best young minor leaguers in each organization. They published their top ten Yankees prospects list yesterday, though it is behind the paywall. You can see the list itself for free, but you have to pay for the scouting reports and everything else. Here’s the top ten:

  1. OF Aaron Judge
  2. RHP Luis Severino
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. LHP Ian Clarkin
  5. SS Jorge Mateo
  6. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. CF Leonardo Molina
  9. LHP Jacob Lindgren
  10. C Luis Torrens

Nine of those ten names are fairly straight forward and not surprisingly included in a Yankees top ten in whatever order. The one surprise is the 17-year-old Molina, who hit a weak .193/.267/.260 (58 wRC+) with one homer, six steals, and a 23.5% strikeout rate in 53 games with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Yankees this summer. That was his pro debut after signing for $1.4M in August 2013, making him the team’s top international pickup during the 2013-14 signing period.

Needless to say, the BP gang is very high on Molina. They grade all five of his tools as at least average — in fact, only the hit tool is average, everything else is above-average — and say the “tools are very loud, though far from being polished and playing together collectively as a group.” The write up also says Molina’s emergence as a top prospect “should be more subtle” rather than one huge breakout year. “It’s a boom-or-bust prospect, for sure, with a heavy serving of risk on the plate, but there’s a feel this one is going to start emerging over the next couple of seasons.”

Also in the article, 3B Miguel Andujar, RHP Austin DeCarr, and RHP Ty Hensley are listed as three prospects on the rise. Andujar and DeCarr are just starting their careers while Hensley is returning from hip and hernia surgery. RHP Jose Ramirez, RHP Danny Burawa, and OF Tyler Austin are listed among the non-top ten prospects who could have an MLB impact in 2014. And, finally, BP ranks the organization’s ten best players age 25 and under. It’s basically the top ten prospects list with SS Didi Gregorius sandwiched between Severino and Sanchez. RHP Michael Pineda is no longer eligible because he turns 26 next month.

“This system is thinner in the upper levels with potential impact talent, where the near-term contribution is likely to be more modest, but a wave brewing in the lower levels is starting to breathe some life and offer more promise,” said the write-up, summing up the state of the system. Every club has interesting prospects in the low levels, but I do think the Yankees have more than most, especially following their huge international free agent spending spree this summer. It’ll be a little while before those players begin to make a name for themselves and emerge as top prospects, of course.

Luis Severino tops Baseball America’s top ten Yankees prospects list

Severino at the 2014 Futures Game. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Severino at the 2014 Futures Game. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Earlier this week, Baseball America started their annual look at each team’s top ten prospects. The series continued today with the Yankees, and, as always, the list is free but the scouting reports are not. The link also includes free video for six of the ten prospects, so make sure you check that out. Here is Baseball America’s entire top ten index and here is New York’s top ten:

  1. RHP Luis Severino
  2. OF Aaron Judge
  3. SS Jorge Mateo
  4. 1B Greg Bird
  5. C Gary Sanchez
  6. LHP Ian Clarkin
  7. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  8. LHP Jacob Lindgren
  9. C Luis Torrens
  10. 3B Miguel Andujar

Severino and Judge are 1A and 1B in my opinion. I consider Judge the team’s top prospect because of the general attrition rate of 20-year-old pitchers plus the fact that offense is the scarce commodity these days, not pitching. That’s just my opinion. They’re both excellent and both are Yankees though, so the order doesn’t really matter.

The Mateo ranking might be a bit aggressive but people have been raving about him all summer. He’s clearly one of the team’s top prospects even though a hand injury limited him to only a handful of games in 2014. Bird over Sanchez seems to be based on performance as much as anything. The scouting report calls Bird an average defensive first baseman who “projects to hit 18-20 homers in the big leagues,” then says Sanchez can be a “frontline catcher with the potential for a .280 average and 20-25 home runs annually.” Plus Sanchez has at least a grade 60 bat flip tool:

Gary Sanchez

Anyway, Refsnyder and Lindgren are basically MLB-ready pieces while Clarkin, Torrens, and Andujar are lower level guys who are still years away. The scouting report notes that, with the help of pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, Clarkin added a cutter to his fastball-curveball-changeup mix this summer. Torrens is going to be the next great Yankees catching prospect very soon — the write-up says his defense draws raves even though he didn’t move behind the plate full-time until the team signed him in July 2012 — and the scouting report says Andujar has a “future of an everyday third baseman whose bat profiles for the position.”

Compared to last year’s top ten, I think this year’s has much more upside and depth. 3B Eric Jagielo didn’t make the cut — I assume he’s prospect No. 11 — despite having a pretty damn good year with High-A Tampa (132 wRC+ with 16 homers in 85 games) around an oblique injury. Last year he would have been in the top five no questions asked following a season like that. The farm system still isn’t in a great shape but it is definitely on the way up, especially after the club’s international spending spree this summer. There’s a ton of upside in the lower levels right now, way more than usual. I think the Yankees have been very good at acquiring talent in recent years. Developing it has been the problem.

Refsnyder among Baseball America’s top International League prospects

Baseball America’s look at the top prospects in each minor league continued on Wednesday with the Triple-A Intentional League, the last list relevant to the Yankees. The list is free, the scouting reports are not. Pirates OF Gregory Polanco, Red Sox IF/OF Mookie Betts, and Indians SS Francisco Lindor fill the top three spots. Triple-A Scranton didn’t have a ton of top prospects this year, though 2B Rob Refsnyder did made the list at No. 13.

“Refsnyder’s short, powerful stroke from the right side is polished, and when combined with a keen batting eye, he projects to hit for average and get on base at a high rate,” said the write-up while noting Refsnyder “lacks fluidity and must improve his double-play pivot skills.” One scout said he is “a work in progress, but the bottom line is he can hit.” The 23-year-old Refsnyder hit .300/.389/.456 (137 wRC+) with 19 doubles and eight homers in 77 games for the RailRiders after a midseason promotion from Double-A Trenton. I’m pretty confident we’ll see him at second base sometime next year.

Other League Top 20s: Double-A Eastern League, High-A Florida State League, Low-A South Atlantic League, Short Season NY-Penn League, Rookie Gulf Coast League.

Sanchez, Refsnyder among Baseball America’s top Eastern League prospects

Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)
Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)

Baseball America continued their breakdown of the top 20 prospects in each minor league with the Double-A Eastern League today. As usual, the list is free but the scouting reports are subscriber only. Nationals OF Michael Taylor, Red Sox IF/OF Mookie Betts, and Indians SS Francisco Lindor claim the top three spots. C Gary Sanchez (No. 11) and 2B Rob Refsnyder (No. 13) represent the Yankees. RHP Luis Severino didn’t throw enough innings with Double-A Trenton to qualify for the list.

“On the field, Sanchez still draws raves for his bat, which shows the potential for both a high average and lots of power. He can get his hands in and turn on the inside pitch with power, but evaluators did note that he struggled with both breaking pitches and changeups this season,” said the scouting report, which also noted Sanchez has a top notch arm but still has a lot of work to do defensively. They also say his maturity continues to be an issue. Sanchez, 21, hit .270/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) with 13 homers in 110 games for Double-A Trenton this summer.

The 23-year-old Refsnyder hit .342/.385/.548 (159 wRC+) with 19 doubles and six homers in 60 games with the Thunder this year before being promoted to Triple-A Scranton. “Refsnyder drew raves from evaluators for his ability to hit line drives to all sectors and also for possessing premium bat speed. He’s got pop, but it’s more of the gap-to-gap, doubles variety than true home run power,” said the scouting report. It also says Refsnyder is “still crude technically” in the field but he has improved at second base.

The Eastern League list is probably the most impressive list I’ve seen so far. There was a ton of top talent in the league this summer. Severino didn’t qualify for the list and others like OF Tyler Austin, RHP Bryan Mitchell, and LHP Manny Banuelos simply didn’t make the cut. The last list relevant to the Yankees is the Triple-A International League, which is due out tomorrow or the next day. The RailRiders were devoid of prospects for most of the summer. Refsnyder should make the list but others like RHP Shane Greene and C John Ryan Murphy will probably fall short.

Other League Top 20s: High-A Florida State League, Low-A South Atlantic League, Short Season NY-Penn League, Rookie Gulf Coast League.

Judge ranks 15th among Baseball America’s top 20 FSL prospects

Baseball America published their list of the top 20 prospects in the Florida State League today as they continue looking at the best players in each minor league in 2014. As always, the list is free but the scouting reports are not. Pirates RHP Tyler Glasnow, Phillies SS J.P. Crawford, and Blue Jays LHP Daniel Norris make up the top three. OF Aaron Judge ranked 15th and is the only Yankees’ farmhand on the list. RHP Luis Severino didn’t throw enough innings with High-A Tampa to qualify.

Judge, 22, hit .283/.411/.442 (149 wRC+) with eight homers in 66 games for Tampa this summer after a midseason promotion from Low-A Charleston. “He has prodigious tools to go with his jumbo frame, yet the separating factor in his success may be his short swing for a man his size … Judge works with a swing geared for the gaps, so his huge raw power may not necessarily translate into future 30-homer seasons … He fits the right-field profile, running well enough for the spot and flashing double-plus arm strength, with improved arm accuracy,” said the scouting report.

The write-up also notes 3B Eric Jagielo had support from league personnel but fell short off the top 20. Others like OF Jake Cave and 1B Greg Bird are good prospects but not top 20 in the entire league material. The Double-A Eastern League is next up, and C Gary Sanchez should make the list while 2B Rob Refsnyder is a good bet as well. Other possibilities include OF Tyler Austin, RHP Bryan Mitchell, and LHP Manny Banuelos. Severino didn’t throw enough innings with Double-A Trenton to qualify.

Other League Top 20s: Low-A South Atlantic League, Short Season NY-Penn League, Rookie Gulf Coast League.