Baseball America’s Top Ten Yankees Prospects

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

Baseball America published their list of the top ten Yankees prospects today, and the list is free for all. The scouting reports, however, are not. You’ll need a subscription to read them. The name atop the list won’t be a surprise, but things are pretty wide open after that. They could have gone in any number of directions. Here’s the top ten:

  1. C Gary Sanchez
  2. OF Slade Heathcott
  3. OF Mason Williams
  4. C J.R. Murphy
  5. 3B Eric Jagielo
  6. OF Aaron Judge
  7. LHP Ian Clarkin
  8. 1B Greg Bird
  9. RHP Luis Severino
  10. 2B Gosuke Katoh

The feature also includes a list of the organization’s top 15 players under the age of 25 and none of the 15 are big leaguers. Can’t say I’m surprised. Those ten guys up there are the top ten and are followed (in order) by LHP Manny Banuelos, SS Abi Avelino, RHP Jose Ramirez, RHP Jose Campos, and RHP Rafael DePaula. I suspect those guys will be prospects 11-15 when the Prospect Handbook comes out in a few weeks. The notable omission is OF Tyler Austin, who had an okay year but dealt with injury problems, specifically a bone bruise in his right wrist. It forced him from the Arizona Fall League after only four games. His stock took a hit this summer.

Heathcott. (Presswire)
Heathcott. (Presswire)

Sanchez, who has “effortless, well-above-average raw power and an above-average hit tool,” is an easy call for the top spot, especially now that his defense has improved. After him? I don’t see how there could be a consensus. I think it’s somewhat interesting that the top three prospects all have some kind of makeup concern — Sanchez was suspended for insubordination in 2011, Heathcott has had drug an alcohol problems, Williams was arrested for DUI earlier this year and has had run-ins with coaches — despite the team’s renewed emphasis on character. In the end, talent always reigns supreme. Can’t teach it.

A few things from the write-ups stand out. Williams “adopted an Ichiro-style slapping approach” this year and didn’t show the same tools as he had last year. Like Austin, he took a step back. The Yankees project Murphy as a “potential future .280 hitter with 10-12 homer power” while Sanchez is regarded as more of a “.260-.270 hitter with at least 20 home runs annually.” Both profiles fit just fine behind the plate. As for Bird, “some scouts and SAL managers questioned his future power” despite his awesome year. The plate discipline and everything else is fine, but low-power first baseman aren’t exactly a hot commodity. Severino is said to have “raw stuff that is as good as any Yankees farmhand” with a fastball that “sits between 93-95 mph and touches the upper 90s often.” His slider was his best secondary pitch when he signed but his changeup has since surpassed it. Neat.

Heathcott and Murphy are the only players in the top ten slated to open next season with Triple-A Scranton, and I suppose there’s a chance Heathcott will be sent back to Double-A Trenton to start the year. That’s unlikely though. The Yankees didn’t have any big league ready help this past season and for the most part, that will be the case again in 2014. Their farm system took a slight step back overall but not as big as it would have been without those three first rounders. The team needed to add some impact talent and it did with that draft. Most of their highest ceiling prospects are in the low minors — the short season leagues — and will need time to develop.

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Yankees acquire utility man Dean Anna from Padres; add six to 40-man roster

Anna. (Arizona Daily Star)
Anna. (Arizona Daily Star)

The Yankees have announced a series of roster moves. First, they have acquired IF Dean Anna from the Padres for Single-A reliever RHP Ben Paullus. Second, IF Corban Joseph has been outrighted off the 40-man roster. Third, they have added Anna, C Gary Sanchez, OF Slade Heathcott, RHP Jose Campos, RHP Bryan Mitchell, and RHP Shane Greene to the 40-man roster. Midnight tonight was the deadline to set the roster for next month’s Rule 5 Draft and all six players were eligible. There is still one open spot on the 40-man roster.

Anna, 26, hit .331/.410/.482 (140 wRC+) with nine homers and three stolen bases in 582 plate appearances for San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate this past season. He’s a left-handed batter with little power (.138 ISO in 1,339 plate appearances between Double and Triple-A) but a good idea of the strike zone (12.5% walks) and good bat control (11.9% strikeouts). Anna has a ton of experience at the two middle infield positions while also dabbling at third and in the outfield corners. I’m guessing the Padres didn’t have a 40-man roster spot for him and wanted to turn him into something rather than lose him for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft. Nifty little pickup for the Yankees, nice extra guy to have.

We heard Greene and Mitchell would be protected from the 40-man roster a few days ago. Sanchez and Heathcott were no-brainers but Campos was on the bubble as a 21-year-old who has never pitched above Low Class-A. He now has three years before running out of minor league options and having to stick in the big leagues for good. Joseph missed most of this season due to shoulder surgery and is really just a spare part for New York. He can hit a little but he doesn’t really have a position — he doesn’t have the range for second base or the arm for third. Not a surprise he cleared waivers.

The three most notable players the Yankees left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft are RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Tommy Kahnle, RHP Chase Whitley. The first two are hard-throwing relievers with questionable control (especially Kahnle) who spent last season with Double-A Trenton while Whitley is more of a command and control guy who spent the year at Triple-A Scranton. The Bombers tried to trade Kahnle for Michael Young and Alfonso Soriano at the trade deadline a few months ago, but no dice. Both he and Kahnle are very likely to be selected — hard-throwing relievers are the backbone of the Rule 5 Draft — and there’s even a chance both will stick in the big leagues next season. Most Rule 5 picks don’t, however.

Sorting through the Yankees’ top trade chips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heathcott and Montgomery placed on minor league DL

6:05pm: Nick Peruffo reports Heathcott is heading to the team’s complex in Tampa and will have an MRI. He says it sounds like the outfielder is done for the year. The minor league season ends in less than three weeks anyway.

5:00pm: Via Mike Ashmore: OF Slade Heathcott has been placed on the Double-A Trenton DL with with right knee tendinopathy, which, from what I understand, is damage to the tendon without the typical inflammation that comes with tendinitis. No word on how long the team’s third best prospect will be sidelined. The 22-year-old Heathcott has a long injury history, mostly involving his twice surgically repaired left shoulder. He’s hit .261/.327/.411 (103 wRC+) with eight homers and 15 steals in a career-high (by far) 444 plate appearances for the Thunder, including a .283/.355/.448 line over his last 60 games.

In other minor league injury news, RHP Mark Montgomery has been placed on the Triple-A Scranton DL according to Donnie Collins. He left Saturday’s game with a shoulder issue and I assume the DL stint is related. If so, this is his third shoulder-related DL trip of the season. Montgomery, 22, has a 3.38 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 40 Triple-A innings with an excellent strikeout rate (11.03 K/9 and 28.0 K%) that is actually well below what he had done in previous years (14.56 K/9 and 40.0 K% from 2011-12). His control has completely deteriorated this summer (5.63 BB/9 and 14.3 BB%). I ranked Montgomery as the the team’s 17th best prospect in my latest update. Had he been healthy and productive this year, chances are he would have been in the big leagues already.

FanGraphs Q&A with Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin

Here’s a link of interest: David Laurila of FanGraphs recently spoke to top outfield prospects Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin during Double-A Trenton’s recently trip to Portland. Both players spoke about their offensive approach and swings, as did Thunder hitting coach Justin Turner. They talked about adjustments they’ve made, things they’re working on, stuff like that. It’s a very interesting and informative ready. Both guys seem to get it, so to speak. Check it out.

Poll: The 2013 Prospect Watch

Last year's Prospect Watch. (Bergen Record)
Last year’s Prospect Watch. (Bergen Record)

I’ve decided to modify DotF (in an undetermined way) this year for the sake of saving time and my sanity, but one feature that will not be changed is the Prospect Watch. Well, the featured player may change, but the format will remain mostly the same.

Last year we tracked outfielder Mason Williams‘ progress through the summer, and he rewarded us by hitting .298/.346/.474 (~125 wRC+) with 11 homers and 20 steals in 397 plate appearances before separating his left shoulder diving for a ball in late-July. The Prospect Watch was unused after the injury. In prior years we’ve tracked Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Andrew Brackman, Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, and a bunch of others I’m forgetting. It’s been a while.

We should have a healthy debate for this year’s watch subject because the Yankees have four pretty awesome position player prospects, all of whom are worthy of a spot in our sidebar. There’s not much on the pitcher side right now, but that’s alright. Position players are more fun because they play everyday anyway. Just as we did last year, let’s vote on the 2013 Prospect Watch. First, the candidates with their rank on my Preseason Top 30 Prospects List in parenthesis.

OF Tyler Austin (3)
I’m listing these guys alphabetically, but it’s also appropriate to start with Austin. The 21-year-old former catcher is the best statistical performer among the organization’s top prospects, hitting .322/.400/.559 (~163 wRC+) with 17 homers and 23 steals (in 25 attempts) in 472 plate appearances across four levels last summer. He’s expected to open the year with Double-A Trenton and has an outside chance of cracking the big league roster come September.

RHP Jose Campos (7)
I wanted to get at least one pitcher in the conversation, and the 20-year-old Campos was the obvious choice — Banuelos (#6 in my top 30) will miss the season due to Tommy John surgery while last year’s first rounder Ty Hensley (#8) could start the year back in Extended Spring Training and not even appear in an official game until June. Campos, who pitched to a 4.01 ERA and 3.24 FIP in five starts before a season-ending elbow injury last year, is healthy and ready to start the season back with Low-A Charleston. An assignment to High-A Tampa might even be in the cards, but that would be aggressive.

OF Slade Heathcott (4)
Heathcott, 22, is the old man of the group. He missed the first half with his second left shoulder surgery last year, then hit .307/.378/.470 (142 wRC+) in 265 plate appearances with High-A Tampa before destroying the Arizona Fall League (192 wRC+). Heathcott is healthy now (for the time being, anyway) and has the loudest package of tools in the organization. He’s slated to join Austin in the Double-A Trenton outfield.

C Gary Sanchez (1)
The team’s top prospect (in my opinion), the 20-year-old Sanchez hit .290/.344/.485 (~125 wRC+) in 474 plate appearances split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa last summer. His 18 homers led all minor league catchers. Sanchez is expected to begin the season back with Tampa, but a midseason promotion to Double-A Trenton is well within reach.

OF Mason Williams (2)
We’ve never had a two-time Prospect Watch guy, but there’s no rule that says we can’t do it. Williams, 21, has recovered from his shoulder injury — an injury that required surgery — and will join Sanchez back with High-A Tampa to open the summer. Although I ranked him as the team’s second best prospect, Baseball America had Williams in the top spot.

* * *

A few times in the past the Prospect Watch choice was obvious, but that’s not really the case here. Some of these guys might put up gaudier stats than others, but they’re all quality prospects worth monitoring as the season progresses.

Who should be featured in the 2013 Prospect Watch?
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2013 Season Preview: The Center Fielders

(Star-Ledger)
(Star-Ledger)

Had things gone according to plan, Brett Gardner would have been manning center field all year rather than during the first four of five weeks of the season. Curtis Granderson‘s fractured forearm put an end to the position switch experiment before it really even had a chance to start, as Joe Girardi confirmed Granderson will return to his usual center field spot when healthy. Given how much offense the Yankees have lost to free agent defections and injury, getting their top homer hitter back in the lineup as soon as possible will be the priority, not the position switch.

The Starter
It will be Gardner for the first few weeks of the season, but he’ll slide back to use usual spot in left as soon as Granderson is healthy. The soon-to-be 32-year-old is coming off a .232/.319/.492 (116 wRC+) line with a team-best 43 homers in 2012, though his season can be split into two halves: .248/.352/.502 (130 wRC+) with 23 homers and a 25.9% strikeout rate in the first half, then .212/.278/.480 (98 wRC+) with 20 homers and a 31.8% strikeout rate in the second half. His miserable postseason showing — 3-for-30 with 16 strikeouts — was the icing on the cake.

The root cause of Granderson’s second half slide is so unclear the Yankees sent him to an eye doctor after the season. Tests came back showing unusual. His first/second half BABIP split (.282/.233) was propped up by an increase in fly balls (38.3%/51.1%), though pitchers did throw him fewer fastballs (57.2%/53.7%). Not a ridiculous amount though. Whatever happened in the second half, I can’t really explain it. Could be something obvious I’m not seeing or it could be something completely under-the-radar. I’m guessing the latter. Whether it’s correctable is something we won’t know until he actually gets back on the field.

Regardless of why the second half slump happened, the Yankees need Granderson’s power and that’s something he provided even when struggling. He hits homers at home (56 since revamping his swing in August 2010), on the road (41), against righties (64), against lefties (33), with men on-base (42), with the bases empty (55) … pretty much all the time. Granderson is one of the few batters who bats with a man in scoring position all the time — even when the bases are empty — because his ability to go deep at any moment is a game-changer. The Yankees have been known for that kind of offense basically forever, but this season will be different and that makes the Grandyman that much more important.

In addition to all of that, this is Granderson’s walk year. He’ll become a free agent after the season for the first the in his career, and his power production will get him paid regardless. Whether he has a big year like 2011 (145 wRC+) or just a merely above-average year like 2012 (116 wRC+) will determine if he gets Michael Cuddyer money (three years, $31M) or Nick Swisher money (four years, $56M). The Bombers could sure use a nice big contract push from their center fielder, but more importantly, they just need to get him back in the lineup as soon as possible.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Backup
Technically it is Gardner even though he’ll open the year playing center everyday. The Yankees showed last season they’re willing to play Ichiro Suzuki in center on occasion, so he’s a backup option as well. There’s also Melky Mesa, who could open the season with the big league club and is another legitimate center field candidate. Despite losing Granderson, the Bombers have no shortage of capable center fielders at the Major League level.

Knocking on the Door
Before Granderson’s injury, it was likely Mesa was going to open the season as the everyday center fielder with Triple-A Scranton. He is third on the center field depth chart — I do the Yankees would play Melky2.0 out there everyday before Ichiro Suzuki if both Granderson and Gardner got hurt — and is sorta like a poor man’s version of a right-handed Granderson offensively. Mesa has power and speed and contact issues, but he’s a much better defender with a very strong arm. If he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training as Granderson’s replacement, Melky will wait in Triple-A and assuredly resurface in the Bronx at some point this simmer.

The Top Prospect
You can make a very strong case that New York’s two best prospects are both center fielders. Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott ranked second and fourth on my preseason top 30 prospects list, respectively, but not many would argue if I had them one-two in either order. Williams, 21, hit .298/.346/.474 (~125 wRC+) in 397 plate appearances split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa last season before needing season-ending left shoulder surgery — he hurt himself while diving for a ball in the outfield — in late-July. He’s a ballhawk in center with big-time speed and range, though his arm is just okay and his routines need to be refined. Williams signed for $1.45M as the Yankees’ fourth rounder in 2010, but he needs to work on a number of things. The raw tools are as impressive as they come though. He’ll open the season back at High-A Tampa and will hopefully stay healthy and get a ton of at-bats as the leadoff man.

Heathcott is a danger to himself and others. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Heathcott (flying) is a danger to himself and others. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Heathcott, meanwhile, returned from his second left shoulder surgery at midseason to hit .307/.378/.470 (142 wRC+) in 265 plate appearances with High-A Tampa in 2012 before catching some extra at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. The 22-year-old has the best all-around package of tools in the organization, with power and patience from the left side of the plate to go with high-end speed and defense in center. Heathcott can over-swing at times and struggle to make contact, but that should work itself out with more experience. Health is an issue though, in part because he plays all-out all the time and hurts himself by diving for balls and running into walls. Slade has yet to play in more than 76 regular season games since signing for $2.2M as the team’s first round pick in 2009, so staying on the field all year will be priority number one this season. He’ll open the year at Double-A Trenton and since he’s due to be added to the 40-man roster following the season (to avoid exposure to the Rule 5 Draft), there’s a chance we’ll see him as a September call-up.

The Deep Sleeper
Could it be Ravel Santana at this point? The 20-year-old had a miserable season with Short Season Staten Island last summer — .216/.304/.289 (84 wRC+) with three homers and 27.5% strikeouts in 247 plate appearances — after coming back from the devastating ankle injury that ended his 2011 campaign prematurely. Two years ago he was a budding star after dominating the rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate, but the injury sapped some athleticism and cost him balance at the plate. If he regains his previous form as he matures and gets further away from surgery, Santana is likely to join the ranks of Williams and Heathcott. If not, he’ll be a non-prospect. I ranked him 28th on my preseason top 30 list and he’ll join Low-A Charleston this year. It’s a weird situation, but there is some breakout potential here.

* * *

Even though Granderson is going to miss the start of the season, the Yankees are in good shape regarding the center field position. Gardner is a more than capable replacement — both short- and long-term — and Ichiro can fill-in no problem if needed. New York will also have legitimate prospects playing center in Triple-A (Mesa), Double-A (Heathcott), High-A (Williams), and Low-A (Santana). That’s exciting. Once Curtis is healthy, center field will join second base as the deepest positions in the organization.

Other Previews: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen, Shortstops, Third Basemen, Left Fielders