Sorting out the projected 2016 Triple-A Scranton roster

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Over the last few seasons Triple-A rosters have become extensions of the 25-man big league roster. There is no better example of this than last year’s bullpen shuttle. Teams use their Triple-A rosters not only to develop prospects, but also to stash depth players at each position should they be needed due to injury or poor performance. And they will be needed. Baseball always makes sure of it.

Brian Cashman has already said the Yankees hope to use their 25th roster spot as a revolving door based on their needs at the time. If they need an extra bullpen arm, they’ll call up a pitcher. If they need an extra outfielder because someone is banged up, then they’ll call up an extra outfielder. It sounds like a great plan. Will it work as well in reality as it does on paper? We’ll see.

So, with that in mind, let’s sort out the projected Triple-A Scranton roster as it sits right now. After all, these guys are the backup plans for the big league team. I have zero doubt we’ll see several of these players in the Bronx this coming summer, including guys none of us would ever expect. Remember Kyle Davies? Matt Tracy? Yeah. Let’s start with the position players. Asterisks (*) denotes players on the 40-man roster.

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Utility
Gary Sanchez* Greg Bird* Slade Heathcott* Tyler Austin
Carlos Corporan Rob Refsnyder* Mason Williams*
Eddy Rodriguez Pete Kozma Ben Gamel*
Sebastian Valle Donovan Solano Lane Adams*
Jonathan Diaz Aaron Judge
Cesar Puello

There are 25 roster spots in Triple-A and, believe it or not, that is relatively new. Triple-A and Double-A teams had 24-man rosters as recently as 2011. It’s pretty common for Triple-A teams to carry three-man benches and eight-man bullpens because of workload limits and whatnot, especially early in the season before guys are fully stretched out. I’ve got 16 position players in the table there, so three or four won’t make the cut one way or another.

Catchers: All signs point to Sanchez being the big league backup catcher, though that’s not set in stone just yet. The Yankees could send him to Triple-A for regular playing time and to work on his defense. As an added bonus, sending Sanchez down for 35 days or so will delay his free agency another year. Assuming Sanchez makes the MLB team, Triple-A catching duties will belong to Corporan and either Rodriguez and Valle. They’re all defense-first guys who can’t hit.

Austin Romine, Sanchez’s primary competition for the backup job, is out of minor league options and has been outrighted before, meaning if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he has to go through waivers and can elect free agency if he clears, which I imagine he would do in an effort to find a better opportunity. There appear to be only two ways for Romine to remain in the organization beyond Spring Training: he gets the backup catcher’s job, or he gets hurt in camp and is placed on the MLB DL.

If Sanchez doesn’t make the big league roster, he’ll be the starting catcher in Triple-A with either Romine or Corporan backing up Brian McCann. If Romine backs up McCann, Corporan will be in Triple-A. If Corporan backs up McCann, Romine will be gone and either Valle or Rodriguez will be with Sanchez in Triple-A. For now, I’ll say Sanchez makes the big league roster. The Yankees leaned on their prospects a lot in 2015 and I think that’ll continue in 2016.

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

Infielders: Barring injury, Bird and Refsnyder will start the season with the RailRiders. “That’s the optimal” according to Cashman, at least when it comes to Bird. The Yankees lost Ronald Torreyes on waivers earlier this week but still have Kozma, Solano, and Diaz on minor league contracts. I expect them to compete for a big league bench job in camp, and hey, one of them might win a spot.

In that case, Bird and Refsnyder will hold down the right side of the infield while the other two guys handle the left side. That means the RailRiders still need a utility infielder. There are going to be five infielders on the roster no matter what. Cito Culver and Dan Fiorito are the best candidates for that job right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees brought in one more minor league infielder these next few weeks. A minor league contract or waiver claim, something like that. One pulled hamstring in camp and the Yankees could be real short on upper level infield depth.

Outfield: The Triple-A outfield picture is crowded and yet crystal clear. Judge, Slade, Williams, and Gamel will be the four regular outfielders. They’ll rotate around the outfield and at DH. Simple, right? Puello, who played exactly one game in 2015 due to a back injury, is an obvious candidate for Double-A. Between the two catchers, the five infielders, and the four outfielders, we’re already at eleven position player spots.

So right now there is room for only one more position player since an eight-man bullpen is rather common in April. That last spot comes down to Adams and Austin. Both stunk in Triple-A last season and had to be demoted to Double-A in the second half. Adams is two years older and a better defender, but Austin has the advantage of being able to play a little first base as well. Plus he has seniority in the organization. That can’t hurt.

My guess — and this is nothing more than a guess — is Adams will get the Triple-A spot over Austin. Adams is older and on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees probably want to figure out what they have in him as soon as possible. If he can’t hack in Triple-A, they’ll cut him and move on. In that case Austin would anchor a Double-A Trenton lineup that is a little light on prospect power. He, Puello, Taylor Dugas, and Mark Payton would be the Thunder outfield.

After all of that, the Triple-A roster looks like this on the position player side:

Catchers (2): Two of Sanchez, Corporan, Rodriguez, and Valle.
Infielders (5): Bird and Refsnyder, Kozma, Diaz, and Solano. If one of them lands a big league job, Culver or Fiorito are candidates to fill the spot in Triple-A.
Outfielders (5): Judge, Heathcott, Gamel, Williams, Adams.

Position battles in Spring Training will determine the exact roster, as will injuries and things like that. The last big league bench spot is wide open, and the backup catcher’s job is not Sanchez’s just yet. Now let’s move on to the pitchers.

Starters Righty Relievers Lefty Relievers
Bryan Mitchell* Nick Rumbelow* Chasen Shreve*
Luis Cessa* Branden Pinder* Jacob Lindgren*
Anthony Swarzak Nick Goody* James Pazos*
Brady Lail Kirby Yates* Tyler Olson*
Chad Green Johnny Barbato* Tyler Webb
Jaron Long Vinnie Pestano
Eric Ruth Tyler Jones
Ronald Herrera Mark Montgomery
Caleb Smith

Lots and lots of pitchers. I have 22 names in the table for 12-13 Triple-A spots and three big league bullpen spots, so 6-7 of those guys are going to get stuck in Double-A. Of course, not everyone will get through Spring Training healthy. A handful of pitchers always get hurt in March. (There always seems to be a rash of Tommy John surgeries in Spring Training as pitchers ramp up their throwing.) It’s a vicious part of the baseball calendar.

I honestly think the Yankees will use those final three MLB bullpen spots to take the players they believe give them the best chance to win, regardless of previous role or handedness. If it’s three lefties, so be it. If it’s three guys who are starters by trade, fine. Remember, the Yankees took David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno north as relievers back in 2013 because they were the best options. The team didn’t worry about leaving one or two stretched out in Triple-A.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Trying to predict who will make the bullpen right now is impossible and a waste of time. No one expected Preston Claiborne to come to camp throwing fire three years ago, putting him in position for a big league call-up. Shreve might have a leg up on everyone else because he was so good for the first four and a half months last season. Aside from that, good luck figuring out who starts in MLB and Triple-A. And besides, the shuttle ensures these guys will be rotating in and out all year anyway.

I will say that of those 22 pitchers listed, I believe Ruth, Herrera, Smith, Jones, and Montgomery are mostly likely to be squeezed down to Double-A due to a roster crunch. (Herrera’s the guy who came over in the Jose Pirela trade.) I wouldn’t necessarily call them non-prospects. They’re just low priority prospects in the grand scheme of things. They lack the upside of the other pitchers in the table, relatively speaking.

Among the deep depth arms are lefty Chaz Hebert and righty Kyle Haynes. They’re among the starters who will open the season in Double-A and jump to Triple-A whenever a spot start is needed because of call-ups and whatnot. Ruth, Herrera, and Smith are in that group. There’s no doubt the Yankees have a ton of upper level pitchers, particularly in the bullpen. Now they just have to figure out which of these guys can stick in the big leagues.

Rob Refsnyder ranks ninth among MLB.com’s top second base prospects

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

MLB.com’s look at the top ten prospects at each position continued yesterday with second base. Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada predictably topped the list, and was followed by Reds IF Jose Peraza and Cubs 2B Ian Happ in the top three. Rob Refsnyder placed ninth on the top ten list. MLB.com’s scouting reports are free, as always.

“An outfielder at Arizona, Refsnyder’s transition to second base has been slow and steady. It’s always encouraging when a solid hitter in the Minors performs well in his big league debut, and that’s exactly what Refsnyder did in 2015,” said the write-up. Here’s a piece of their latest scouting report:

He recognizes pitches and manages the strike zone better than most players. Refsnyder’s compact right-handed stroke yields line drives to all fields and he projects to top out at 12-15 homers per season … While Refsnyder has improved at second base, he’s not a smooth defender and likely won’t ever be more than adequate there. He’s not suited for the left side of the infield, though he has the average speed and arm strength to get the job done on an outfield corner.

Like it or not, the Yankees have made it pretty clear they’re not comfortable with Refsnyder playing a full-time role at this point in time. They didn’t give him much of a look despite Stephen Drew‘s long stretches of nothing last year, then they acquired Starlin Castro to be their long-term second baseman earlier this offseason.

That isn’t to say the Yankees will never be okay with Refsnyder playing regularly. It might happen someday. Right now though, there’s no obvious place for him on the 25-man roster, which means another season in Triple-A. There are pretty much only two ways Refsnyder can have an impact for the 2016 Yankees: 1) Castro or Didi Gregorius get hurt, or 2) as a trade chip. That’s about it.

Gary Sanchez ranked second on the MLB.com’s catchers list and the Yankees did not have any representatives on the right-handers, left-handers, or first basemen lists. (Greg Bird no longer qualifies as a prospect. Too much MLB time.) The third base list comes out later today and the Yankees won’t have anyone on that either. Shortstops is tomorrow and Jorge Mateo figures to crack the top ten, though shortstop is always a super deep prospect position.

Cashman confirms Yanks have no plans to try Refsnyder at third base

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Starlin Castro trade means Rob Refsnyder is unlikely to have a significant career with the Yankees. It’ll take an injury or a surprise trade for Refsnyder to get meaningful playing time in pinstripes at this point. Castro plays the same position and is signed long-term. It’s a classic blocked prospect situation.

While speaking to Chad Jennings, Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees do not plan to try Refsnyder at third base in an effort to improve his versatility. He was an outfielder who moved to the infield, remember. They’re not going to try him to the hot corner next. Here’s what Cashman told Jennings:

“That’s not a conversation that we’ve had,” Cashman said. “Right now, our focus is still for him at second, but I’ll always leave the door open for us to adjust as we move forward. But, for now, we have not had any of those conversations to move him off second. … Obviously if we have an injury on the left side of the infield, (Refsnyder can come up to play second base, and) Castro can swing over.”

As you can see, Cashman reiterated the Yankees believe Castro can “swing over” to third base when needed even though Starlin has only played a handful of games at the position in his career, all in rookie ball years and years ago. I’m not sure how that will work out, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

As for Refsnyder, Cashman didn’t completely close the door on third base, he just made it clear it is not something they’re considering at this point in time. Trying Refsnyder at third would make perfect sense though, right? The team has a need for a backup third baseman and Refsnyder’s righty bat and potential versatility would fit well in the final bench spot.

The knock on Refsnyder is his defense, and to be fair, some of that is due to inexperience. He played second in high school, moved to the outfield in college, then moved back to the infield in pro ball three years ago. Baseball America (subs. req’d) says Refsnyder has an “average arm,” which is a much bigger deal at third than it is at second. Here’s the longest throw he made in MLB last year:

Rob Refsnyder throw

Looks good enough to me, but that is just one throw. Refsnyder’s scouting report in general — average arm and okay at best hands and footwork — makes it seem like he could have big problems at third. The “hot corner” is not just a cute nickname, you know. Everything happens faster at third and the position requires strong reflexes. Refsnyder’s defensive issues at second would only be exacerbated at third base.

It is still possible Refsnyder will make the Yankees as a bench player. If Castro can indeed play third, it could be Refsnyder who fills in at second base instead of Dustin Ackley. That would give the team an extra right-handed bat, which they could definitely use. Left-handers really gave the Yankees down the stretch last season. But, if Castro can’t play third, it’s hard to see how Refsnyder makes the team.

For now, Castro is the starter at second and Refsnyder is Plan B. Like I said earlier, it’ll take an injury for him to return to the show and see meaningful playing time. The Yankees made it pretty clear they aren’t comfortable with Refsnyder at second last year when they hesitated to call him up despite Stephen Drew‘s long stretches of nothingness. The writing’s been on the wall. Hopefully whatever happens down the line benefits both the Yankees and Refsnyder mutually.

Aaron Judge claims top spot on Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects list

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Prospect season is in full swing now. One day after Baseball America published their top ten Yankees prospects list, the crew at Baseball Prospectus did the same. For BP, the top ten list plus the write-up for the top prospect are free. Everything else is behind the paywall. Here’s the top ten:

  1. OF Aaron Judge
  2. SS Jorge Mateo
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. RHP James Kaprielian
  5. OF Dustin Fowler
  6. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  7. RHP Drew Finley
  8. 3B Eric Jagielo
  9. RHP Brady Lail
  10. LHP Ian Clarkin

Again, as a reminder, both RHP Luis Severino and 1B Greg Bird are no longer prospect eligible, which is why they’re not on the list. They both exceeded the rookie playing time limits this past season.

Judge, Mateo, Sanchez, and Kaprielian are very clearly the top four prospects in the organization right now, as I said yesterday. We could argue the precise order until we’re blue in the face, but those are the four guys. It’s them, then everyone else right now.

The BP gang appears to be quite high on Fowler — “If he isn’t an everyday center fielder at the highest level, he could be a very good fourth outfielder,” said the write-up — and I’m glad to see someone shares my Finley affection. I’m not sure Finley’s a top ten guy, but he’s close.

Both Jagielo and Clarkin were understandably dinged in the rankings after losing so much time to injury in 2015, but the BP crew opted not to ignore their ceilings. I don’t know where Jagielo will play long-term, but he can mash. Clarkin didn’t have surgery and showed his pre-injury stuff in the Arizona Fall League.

“Recent success with early-round draft picks and aggressive tactics in the July 2nd market have given the Yankees a deep system with a healthy mix of almost-ready major-league regulars and teenagers with loud tools,” said the write-up, which also listed SS Wilkerman Garcia, OF Leonardo Molina, C Luis Torrens, 3B Dermis Garcia, and LHP Jacob Lindgren as other interesting prospects to watch. One of those things is not like the others.

The Baseball Prospectus feature also includes a ranking of the top ten players in the organization age 25 or younger. Severino sits in the top spot, followed by Judge, Mateo, Sanchez, Bird, Kaprielian, Fowler, Refsnyder, RHP Bryan Mitchell, and LHP Chasen Shreve. SS Didi Gregorius, 2B Starlin Castro, and RHP Nathan Eovaldi all missed the age cutoff by a few weeks and weren’t eligible for the 25 and under list.

Of nothing else, the 25 and under list shows how much better shape the Yankees are in right now than a year ago. Last year Molina was in the top ten under 25 list and, uh, no. This year eight of the ten are either in MLB or will be very soon. “The Yankees of the future likely won’t take shape for a year or two at least,” said the write-up, “but if the end of 2015 was any indication, we’ll get an increased glimpse into its promise in 2016.”

Jorge Mateo tops Baseball America’s top ten Yankees prospects list

Mateo. (Main St. Rock)
Mateo. (Main St. Rock)

Baseball America’s annual look at the top ten prospects in each organization continued today with the Yankees and their improving farm system that figures to take a hit in the rankings. As always, the list and intro essay are free, but the individual scouting reports are not. You need a subscription for those. Here’s the top ten, as ranked by Josh Norris:

  1. SS Jorge Mateo
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. OF Aaron Judge
  4. RHP James Kaprielian
  5. RHP Domingo Acevedo
  6. RHP Rookie Davis
  7. SS Tyler Wade
  8. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  9. SS Wilkerman Garcia
  10. OF Dustin Fowler

As a reminder, neither RHP Luis Severino nor 1B Greg Bird are prospect eligible. They both exceeded the rookie playing time limits — 130 at-bats for position players and 50 innings for pitchers — this past season. Severino threw 62.1 innings and Bird had 167 at-bats in the big leagues.

I wouldn’t say Mateo moving into the top spot is surprising, though I don’t necessarily agree with it. Moving him ahead of Sanchez and especially Judge means fully buying into his projection. The scouting reports say Mateo “could be an above-average shortstop” while Sanchez “profiles as a front-line catcher,” yet the shortstop in Single-A is ranked above the catcher in Triple-A (or MLB). Eh, whatevs. I’m guessing the gap between No. 1 and No. 3 is pretty small anyway.

The team’s top four prospects — in whatever order — are pretty obvious. If you have anyone other than Mateo, Sanchez, Judge, and Kaprielian in the top four, you’re overthinking it. After the top four is where it gets interesting and I honestly have no idea who New York’s fifth best prospect is right now. Norris slots Acevedo in at No. 5 and he’s the next great divisive Yankees prospect. Some see him as an ace in the making and others see a big guy with a big fastball and not much else.

Davis and Wade both made nice strides this past season and Refsnyder is Refsnyder. We know all about him by now. Garcia had the best debut from the team’s massive 2014-15 international haul and the scouting report says he “has the potential to be a five-tool player, with some scouts even giving him future average power.” Fowler, a 2013 draftee, was a two-sport guy in high school who is starting to figure out this baseball thing now that he’s playing it full-time.

LHP Ian Clarkin and 3B Eric Jagielo stand out as the most notable omissions. Clarkin (elbow) was hurt all season before getting some innings in the Arizona Fall League, so it’s understandable to drop him. I’m not sure I’d drop him all the way out of the top ten, but to each his own. Jagielo probably isn’t a third baseman long-term, though he mashed at Double-A this summer before jamming his knee sliding into home plate and having surgery. I like Wade, but give me Clarkin and Jagielo before him.

The Yankees actually got some help from their farm system this past season, and the graduations of Severino and Bird all but guarantee the team will place lower in the various organizational rankings in 2016 than they did in 2015. Losing two high-end talents like Severino and Bird hurts. Then again, the farm system lost them for the right reason, not because they stalled out in the minors. Sanchez, Judge, Refsnyder and possibly Davis are the top ten prospects in position to help the Yankees in 2016.

The Good, the Bad, and the Funny of 2016 ZiPS Projections

2016 ZiPS

Yesterday morning, 2016 ZiPS projections for the Yankees were released over at FanGraphs. There are an awful lot projection systems out there but ZiPS has emerged as the most reliable — especially when it comes to translating minor league or overseas performance — of the bunch. Dan Szymborski’s system is pretty rad.

Anyway, projections are always fun to look at, though you have to take them with a grain of salt. (Those are the WAR projections in the image above.) Remember, projections are not predictions of what the player will do next season. They’re just an attempt to estimate the player’s current talent level. Got it? Good. Here are some Yankees projections that caught my eye for one reason or another.

Aaron Judge

Judge has maybe the most LOL worthy projection, and I mean that in a nice way, not a ZiPS is stupid way. The system him pegs him for 30 home runs … and a 35.0% strikeout rate. That’s just perfect. Judge still has some work to do to combat soft stuff away and I think if the Yankees did stick him in the show right now, he would strike out 30% of the time or more. Then again, 30 dingers! That’s fun. No other Yankee projects for 30 homers.

Greg Bird

In terms of OPS+, Bird projects as the best hitter in the organization right now. ZiPS has him at .252/.324/.486 (122 OPS+) with 26 dingers in 2016. Mark Teixeira (119 OPS+) and Alex Rodriguez (115 OPS+) are the only other players close to Bird. I can buy this. Bird showed a lot of Yankee Stadium friendly pull power in his cameo this year (eleven homers in 46 games) though I do worry teams will LOOGY the hell out of him. Then again, the only non-Yankee lefty starters in the AL East right now are David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Drew Smyly, and Matt Moore. Not exactly Murderer’s Row of southpaws there aside from Price.

Starlin Castro vs. Rob Refsnyder

Projection for Castro: .274/.310/.405 (98 OPS+) with 2.2 WAR. Projection for Refsnyder: .248/.318/.395 (98 OPS+) with 1.9 WAR. That’s basically the same! I’m not sure if I buy that though. I’d bet on Castro outproducing Refsnyder by a pretty decent margin if given the same playing time. There’s also the “they acquired Castro because they think he’s going to get a lot better” thing. Either way, the objective projection system sees Castro and Refsnyder as basically equal.

Oh, and by the way, ZiPS projects a .253/.310/.415 (100 OPS+) batting line for Dustin Ackley next season. Am I the only one who would sign up for that right now, no questions asked? Ackley’s hit .238/.298/.365 (89 OPS+) in his last 1,900 plate appearances.

No Innings

ZiPS projects Masahiro Tanaka to lead the Yankees in innings with … 157.7. Yikes. Luis Severino is second with 154 innings. That just reflects the rotation’s health concerns — injury history is baked into the ZiPS algorithm — which are significant. After all, CC Sabathia led the team with only 167.1 innings this past season, so having no one reach even 160 innings next year would not be the most surprising thing in the world.

The Yankees need some arms. We’ve known this for weeks. This starting staff is risky as hell. Lots of upside and lots of downside, and when four of the five projected 2016 starters missed time with injuries in 2015, the downside outweighs the upside.

The Bullpen Shuttle

In terms of FIP, the best projection among the various bullpen shuttle relievers belongs to … Nick Goody at 3.68. Jacob Lindgren (3.73 FIP) is right there with him. Everyone else is at a 4.00-ish FIP or above. Lindgren and Goody lead the way with 29.5% and 27.3% projected strikeout rates, respectively. We all know about Lindgren, he was the top draft pick who zoomed to MLB, but Goody had a ridiculous 2015 season in the minors (1.59 ERA and 2.06 FIP with 33.2 K%). He might be getting overlooked as a potential bullpen factor in 2016.

The Comps

ZiPS works by comparing players to others with similar statistical profiles, so it spits out a list of comps for each player. The No. 1 comp is included in the FanGraphs post and I always enjoy these because they have a way of knocking you back down to Earth. Take Severino, for example. His No. 1 comp? Kris Benson. Benson was the first overall pick in the 1996 draft and a pretty big prospect back in the day.

Glancing at the list, Dellin Betances is the only Yankee to get a Hall of Famer as his No. 1 comp (Goose Gossage). Well, Pete Kozma drew a Leo Durocher comp, but that’s Leo Durocher the light-hitting infielder and not Leo Durocher the Hall of Fame manager. Andrew Miller drew a Billy Wagner comp and you could argue Wagner’s a Hall of Famer. Bird got a Roberto Petagine comp. Judge? He got Jesse Barfield. Gary Sanchez drew Todd Zeile and Eric Jagielo drew Mark Reynolds. Matt Nokes as the No. 1 comp for Brian McCann gave me a good laugh.

The Suddenly Productive Farm System [2015 Season Review]

Judge at the Futures Game. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Judge at the Futures Game. (Rob Carr/Getty)

This past season the Yankees received more production from their farm system than they did in any year since Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang arrived in 2005. And because of that, they’ll take a hit in the various farm system rankings next spring. Top prospects Luis Severino and Greg Bird graduated to MLB, as did the since traded John Ryan Murphy.

When you lose two high-end talents like Severino and Bird to the big leagues, your system is going to take a hit. That’s life. You’d rather the system take a hit because of graduations than failing prospects, and in recent years the Yankees were dealing with too much of the latter. With new farm system head Gary Denbo in charge, the system took a step forward this summer and gave the MLB team help, the kind of help that wasn’t always available in recent years. Let’s review the season on the farm.

The Top Prospect

Coming into the season it was debatable whether Severino or OF Aaron Judge was the Yankees’ top prospect. I went with Judge for a number of reasons, including the inherent injury risk with pitchers. Severino zoomed to the big leagues this summer while Judge split the season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, hitting .258/.332/.446 (124 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 127 total games.

Judge dominated the Double-A level (147 wRC+ with 12 HR in 63 games) but had a tougher time in Triple-A (98 wRC+ with 8 HR in 61 games), which isn’t all that uncommon. He was facing pitchers with big league experience for the first time and they picked him apart, mostly by taking advantage of his big strike zone — Judge is 6-foot-7, remember — with high fastballs and soft stuff away.

Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, Judge’s strikeout rate did not spike in Triple-A, at least not insanely so. He had a 25.3% strikeout rate at High-A, a 25.0% strikeout rate in Double-A, and a 28.5% strikeout rate in Triple-A. That’s three extra strikeouts per 100 plate appearances. Judge did have some ugly strikeout heavy slumps with the RailRiders, but overall the strikeout increase was not alarming.

That isn’t to say Judge’s strikeouts aren’t an issue. He’s always going to strike out a lot, he’s a huge guy with a big zone, but you’d rather see him hover around 25.0 K% rather than 28.0+ K% long-term. The power is there though. Judge hit three more homers and two more doubles in 2015 than 2014 despite getting 23 fewer plate appearances, playing against better competition, and playing in worse hitters parks.

The less than stellar showing at Triple-A ensures Judge will return to the RailRiders to start 2016 so he can work on controlling the strike zone a little better (his 9.8% walk rate was above-average, for what it’s worth) and laying off soft stuff off the plate. Judge has big power and his right field defense is easy to overlook. He’s a really good athlete with a strong arm who’s an asset in the field. Hiccup in Triple-A notwithstanding, Judge remains New York’s top prospect in my book.

Mateo. (Jerry Coli)
Mateo. (Jerry Coli)

The Big Name Breakout Prospects

It’s weird to consider C Gary Sanchez a breakout prospect because he’s been one of the best prospects in the organization for a few years now, but a few things finally clicked this year, mostly in terms of his maturity. It helped him reach the big leagues in September. Sanchez is now a candidate — if not the favorite — to replace Murphy as the Brian McCann‘s backup next summer.

SS Jorge Mateo, another one of the team’s top prospects, also broke out this past season in the sense that he played his first full season. The 20-year-old speedster hit .278/.345/.392 (114 wRC+) with a minor league leading 82 steals in 99 attempts (83% success rate) in 117 games with (mostly) Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. No other player stole more than 75 bases this year. If you want to argue Mateo (or Sanchez) is the Yankees’ top prospect and not Judge, I’d disagree, but I’d understand.

A few years ago RHP Rookie Davis was an interesting name literally because of his name. His real name is William but a nickname like Rookie gets you noticed. Davis took a big step forward this year, especially with the command of his mid-90s heater/curveball combination. Walk rate is a control stat, not a command stat, though it is notable he cut his walk rate from 7.6% last year to 4.7% his year. Davis had a 3.86 ERA (2.47 FIP) in 130.2 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

OF Dustin Fowler, 20, also made the jump from sleeper to bonafide prospect this summer by hitting .298/.334/.394 (113 wRC+) with 20 doubles, five homers, and 30 stolen bases in 123 games at Low-A and High-A. He then had a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Fowler has been playing baseball full-time for only two years now — he was also a top football recruit in high school — and he’s starting to turn his power/speed/defense tool package into baseball ability.

And finally, the biggest breakout prospect of the summer was OF Ben Gamel, who’s spent the last few years as a depth player and not an actual prospect. Thee 23-year-old hit .300/.358/.472 (138 wRC+) with 28 doubles, 14 triples, ten homers, and 13 steals in 129 games, all at Triple-A. Gamel’s power finally started to blossom and he’s now a legitimate big league candidate. He and Davis were added to the 40-man roster last month.

The Emerging Depth

Farm systems will always be defined by their star power, that’s just the way it goes, though depth is important as well. The Yankees had several lower profile prospects — guys who don’t necessarily project to be stars but do have a chance to contribute at the big league level in a meaningful way — emerge this summer, including SS Tyler Wade, RHP Brady Lail, LHP Jordan Montgomery, RHP Cale Coshow, and RHP Domingo Acevedo.

Wade. (The Times of Trenton)
Wade. (The Times of Trenton)

Wade, 21, had an ugly 21-game cameo with Double-A Trenton (37 wRC+) late in the season after a strong showing with High-A Tampa (117 wRC+). He hit .262/.321/.333 (99 wRC+) in 127 total games overall in 2015 and is a contact-oriented left-handed hitting middle infielder with the defensive chops for either side of the second base bag. At the very least, Wade is in position to have a long career as a backup infielder.

The 22-year-old Lail is a major player development success for the Yankees. He was the team’s 18th round pick in the 2012 draft as an extremely raw high schooler from Utah. The Yankees have helped mold him into a four-pitch righty who is in position to give the team serviceable innings soon. Lail had a 2.91 ERA (3.51 FIP) in 148.1 innings for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton in 2015, though he didn’t miss any bats (13.8 K%). He offers a fastball, curveball, cutter, and changeup. The ceiling is not all that high here, but Lail can help.

Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old Montgomery was one of the best pitchers in the system this season, posting a 2.95 ERA (2.61 FIP) with very good strikeout (24.1%) and walk (6.6%) rates in 134 innings at Low-A and High-A. Montgomery spent three years in South Carolina’s rotation facing tough SEC lineups, so Single-A lineups were no challenge. He’s another four-pitch guy (fastball, cutter, curve, change) and we’ll find out if Montgomery is for real next season, when he heads to Double-A Trenton.

Coshow is an interesting prospect. For starters, the guy is listed at 6-foot-5 and 260 lbs., so he’s an intimidating presence on the mound. Secondly, he had a 2.45 ERA (2.80 FIP) with good strikeout (21.5%) and walk (6.2%) numbers in 114 innings at three levels in 2015. He topped out at Double-A. Coshow, 23, performed so well the Yankees moved him from a relief role into a starting role at midseason. He’s got a huge fastball, sitting 95-97 and hitting 100 mph in relief, and he backs it up with a wipeout slider. I don’t think Coshow’s a starter long-term, but gosh, that’s a nice looking relief prospect.

And finally, the 21-year-old Acevedo is either one of the best prospects in the organization or just an interesting arm with a long way to go, depending who you ask. Acevedo had a 1.81 ERA (2.89 FIP) with a lot of strikeouts (26.6%) and an average number of walks (7.9%) in 49.2 innings with mostly Short Season Staten Island this summer. He’s another huge guy (6-foot-7) who has touched triple digits, and his changeup is pretty good too. Acevedo needs to figure out a breaking ball at some point to avoid a future in the bullpen.

The Reclamation Prospects

At this time last year both OF Mason Williams and OF Slade Heathcott were afterthoughts. Williams didn’t hit at all from 2013-14 and he was dogged by maturity issues. Heathcott simply couldn’t stay healthy. The two came to Spring Training healthy this year and with positive attitudes, and they put themselves back on the prospect map. Both made their MLB debuts in the first half. It might not sound like much, but Williams and Heathcott went from non-factors to the show in about six months. That’s pretty darn cool.

The Best of the Rest

The Yankees had to be pleased with what they saw from 3B Eric Jagielo (141 wRC+ with Double-A Trenton) before he jammed his knee sliding into home plate in June and had to have it scoped, ending his season. Jagielo’s defense is still a huge question, but the guy can hit, especially for power. IF Abi Avelino and IF Thairo Estrada both had nice seasons in the low minors — Avelino stole 54 bases and Estrada had a 108 wRC+ with Short Season Staten Island.

OF Rob Refsnyder, LHP Jacob Lindgren, and RHP Bryan Mitchell gave the Yankees some mileage at the big league level, and the team turned OF Ramon Flores and RHP Jose Ramirez into Dustin Ackley. The 2014-15 international spending spree added a bevy of prospects to the system and the 2015 draft added even more talent, with RHP James Kaprielian, SS Wilkerman Garcia, RHP Drew Finley, SS Hoy Jun Park, 3B Dermis Garcia, and RHP Chance Adams among the most notable new additions. Also, 2B Tony Renda came over in the David Carpenter trade.

The Disappointing Prospects

It’s not all good news, of course. Several prospects had disappointing seasons, most notably OF Tyler Austin. He hit .240/.315/.343 (92 wRC+) in 94 regular season games and was demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Double-A Trenton at midseason. The Yankees dropped Austin from the 40-man roster in September and he slipped through waivers unclaimed.

3B Miguel Andujar did the bad first half/good second half thing again, though the end result was a .243/.288/.363 (98 wRC+) line in 130 High-A Tampa games. At some point Andujar has to put together a full productive season. Bonus baby OF Leonardo Molina hit .247/.290/.364 (96 wRC+) while repeating the Rookie Gulf Coast League. Age is on his side though — Molina turned 18 in July. Yes, he’s still only 18. Austin, Andujar, and Molina were the biggest disappointments among the team’s top 30 prospects.

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

The Inevitable Injures

Injuries are part of baseball. That’s just the way it is. The Yankees had several high-profile prospects suffer significant injuries in 2015. LHP Ian Clarkin (elbow inflammation), C Luis Torrens (shoulder surgery), RHP Domingo German (Tommy John surgery), RHP Austin DeCarr (Tommy John surgery), and RHP Ty Hensley (Tommy John surgery) combined for zero regular season games played this year. Zero.

That is two of the top six, three of the top eleven, and five of the top 18 prospects in the organization according to my preseason rankings. (Four of the top seven pitching prospects!) Ouch. Literally and figuratively. On the bright side, Clarkin did avoid the zipper and was able to throw 24.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League. But still, that’s a lot of really good prospects going down with major injuries. The Clarkin and Torrens injuries really took a bite out of the system. They have the most upside.

* * *

Overall, the 2015 season was a big success for the Yankees’ farm system because they graduated some impact talent to the big leagues. Severino and Bird look like keepers and future core players. Murphy had a very good season before being traded a few weeks ago. Sanchez and Mateo emerged, Kaprielian was drafted, and Judge reached Triple-A.

The Yankees dipped into their farm system for help whenever possible this season, and I have to think that serves as motivation for the guys still in the minors. They see that if they stay healthy and produce, they’ll get a chance too. Calling up guys like LHP Matt Tracy and OF Taylor Dugas shows the Yankees will now give anyone and everyone an opportunity if they’re the right man for the job.