Heathcott, 22, hurt himself (surprise!) when he ran into Ronnie Mustelier at full speed the other day (video). No word on his timetable yet. The Yankees have been taking it easy on the 28-year-old Logan so far in camp, but that apparently hasn’t helped. He’s coming off a career-high workload that included a league-leading 80 appearances.
Baseball America published their annual (and long-awaited) list of the best 100 prospects in baseball today, a list that is predictably topped by Rangers SS Jurickson Profar. Unlike last year, when their were two legitimate number one candidates in Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, Profar is the clear top prospect this year. Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy and Cardinals OF Oscar Taveras round out the top three.
Like last year, the Yankees placed four players on the top 100. OF Mason Williams ranked the highest at #32, and was followed by C Gary Sanchez (#57), OF Slade Heathcott (#63), and OF Tyler Austin (#77). Those four were ranked #35, #18, #57, and #52, respectively, by Keith Law earlier this month, so Baseball America isn’t quite as high on them. Here is the publication’s top ten prospects list for reference.
The crew at Baseball America slapped 20-80 scouting scale grades on each of the top 100 prospects in a subscriber-only feature, which is nice and easy for the Yankees since they’re all position players.
Those are future grades, not present, meaning the players are expected to grow into that kind of power, etc. down the line. Three of the four project to have five average-or-better tools down the line, which is pretty amazing. Baseball America may be high on Austin’s right field defense and speed and a little low on Sanchez’s bat, but they’re the experts. Still a nice collection of tools, especially in the hit and power departments.
The Yankees ranked 11th in Baseball America’s preliminary farm system rankings back in January, and the official list will be released in the coming weeks. There haven’t been many big farm system-altering trades since the preliminary rankings came out, so I don’t expect them to change much. As I wrote in my Top 30 List a few weeks ago, the Yankees have a top-heavy farm system with quite a big drop-off between these four and everyone else. Four top-100 guys is still pretty strong though, not many organizations can match that.
For the first time in several years, the Yankees do not have an obvious top prospect. Manny Banuelos was the easy (but not necessarily slam dunk) choice last season and Jesus Montero indisputably sat atop the team’s prospect list for years, but right now there is no real consensus. They do have four legitimate top prospect candidates though, so it’s not like they’re hurting for talent.
By now you know those four players: catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielders Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Slade Heathcott. Baseball America ranked Williams number one earlier this winter while Keith Law and John Sickels each had Sanchez in the top spot. If you spend some time scouring the interwebs, you’ll sure find other lists with Heathcott and Austin sitting at number one. I think we can all agree there wouldn’t be much argument with any of this guys being called New York’s best minor leaguer.
My personal top 30 prospects list comes out tomorrow, but you’ll have to wait until then to see I have at number one. For now I just want to poll the audience to see who you folks think is the team’s top prospect. Here’s a quick review of each guys credential’s (listed alphabetically)…
OF Tyler Austin
Austin, 21, was the best player in the farm system last season, hitting .322/.400/.559 with 17 homers and 23 stolen bases while playing at four different levels. The Yankees have moved him around the field a bit, but last year he settled into right field. Regardless, he’s a bat-first prospect.
OF Slade Heathcott
The 22-year-old Heathcott missed the first half with his second shoulder surgery in as many offseasons, but he returned to hit .302/.380/.461 with five homers and 19 steals in 65 total games. He tore the cover off the ball — .388/.494/.612 in 18 games — in the Arizona Fall League after the season. If that’s not good enough, his defense\ive skills in center and damn near elite.
C Gary Sanchez
No minor league catcher hit more homers than the 20-year-old Sanchez in 2012, who went deep 18 times while hitting .290/.344/.485 across two levels. Thanks to his greatly improved defense, he’s likely to remain behind the plate long-term. Sanchez might be the most gifted hitter in the system, and he does it at the most premium position.
OF Mason Williams
Williams, 21, hit .298/.346/.474 with 11 homers and 20 steals in 91 games between two levels last season, though a shoulder injury — suffered while diving for a ball in the outfield — ended his season in late-August. Williams offers high-end center field defense like Heathcott, but he doesn’t have the same ugly injury history.
* * *
With all due respect to the other players in the system, these four clearly stand out from the pack. They’re all not only extremely talented, but they all produced in a big way this past season. Which one is the best? I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
Keith Law published his list of baseball’s top 110 prospects yesterday, and he followed up today by releasing individual top ten prospects lists for each American League club (subs. req’d). The top five prospects are the same guys from the top 110 yesterday (in the same order), and numbers six through ten are RHP Ty Hensley, LHP Manny Banuelos, RHP Jose Campos, RHP Mark Montgomery, and 2B Angelo Gumbs.
Within the write-up, Law notes the system is top-heavy with high-end guys, and their only real impact prospects for 2013 are Montgomery and RHP Dellin Betances if he takes to the bullpen. He lists Hensley as the organization’s sleeper, saying the shoulder abnormality hasn’t stopped him from running his fastball up to 98, and “if he can just show that kind of stuff and last for a 120-140 inning season in 2013, he’s a likely top-100 guy.” Interestingly enough, he notes the Yankees love OF Ben Gamel, and they expect him to show more power this summer after bulking up thanks to his offseason conditioning program.
Last Friday, Buster Olney (Insider req’d) put together a post listing eight things that must go right for the Yankees in 2013. Most of them are obvious, like CC Sabathia having a strong season and Mariano Rivera returning to form, but I figured this was a good chance to piggyback on his idea and list some things I believe must go right for the club this year. I’m talking about big picture stuff, not just things that will help them contend in 2013.
Olney listed eight items, but I’m only going six deep. These aren’t listed in order of importance or anything like that, just in the order they came to me. They’re all important, but some are obviously more important than others.
The Yankees have three starting pitchers scheduled to become free agents after the season — Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes — and the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 means they won’t be able to go crazy on the free agent market next winter. Getting something out of Michael Pineda in the second half would obviously be helpful, but it’ll be just as important for either Nova or Phelps to step forward and solidify themselves as long-term starters. Finding a cheap starter in the organization is a necessity to remain competitive once payroll is slashed.
2. Austin Romine must stay healthy.
Romine is likely to open the season in Triple-A while Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli make us want to claw our eyes out at the big league level, which is the best thing for his development. The 24-year-old has caught just 103 total games over the last two years due to persistent back problems, so he’s lost a lot of development time at a crucial age. Gary Sanchez is still several years away, so Romine is the organization’s best hope for a productive catcher in the near future. He needs to actually stay healthy for that to happen, so a full season in 2013 is imperative for his long-term future.
Rivera is a baseball playing robot and I expect him to have little trouble being productive following knee surgery. David Robertson is as good a setup man as you’ll find in the game, and the left-handed duo of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada is one of the better LOOGY tandems in baseball. The middle innings — fifth, sixth, and seventh, basically — fall on the shoulders of two pitchers who have combined to throw 50.1 innings over the last two seasons.
Joba, 27, struggled when he came off the DL at the trade deadline but finished the season very well, allowing just one earned run and one walk against 17 strikeouts in his final 13 innings of the season. It’s not a guarantee he’ll pitch well in 2013 of course, but it is encouraging. Aardsma made one late-season appearance and will be coming off two lost years due to elbow and hip surgery. The Yankees can get by if one of these two flames out and is unable to find his form from a few years ago, but getting nothing from both would create some major bullpen headaches.
4. Ichiro Suzuki must produce on an extreme, either good or bad.
The Yankees handed out just one multi-year contract this offseason, deciding the 39-year-old Ichiro was worthy of that kind of commitment. It’s my belief the deal was motivated by off-field factors — merchandise and ticket sales, advertising opportunities, increased popularity in Japan, etc. — and not so much his expected on-field performance. The late-season hot streak was nice and all, but Ichiro has managed just a .277/.308/.361 batting line in his last 1,384 plate appearances. Consider me skeptical.
So, what the club needs most from Suzuki next year is an extreme performance. He either needs to hit the cover off the ball like he did down the stretch and make me look like an idiot, or he needs to play so poorly the club will have no choice but to replace him. Splitting the middle and treading water won’t help, it just means he’ll remain in the lineup and be a question mark heading into 2014. Ichiro needs to erase doubt this summer, either by hitting so well they have to keep him or by hitting so poorly they have to dump him.
Every team needs their top prospects to stay healthy for obvious reasons, and the Yankees have three of their best minor leaguers coming off major injuries. Williams (shoulder) missed the second half following surgery while Campos (elbow) barely pitched in 2012. Heathcott (shoulder) missed the first half following his second surgery in as many offseasons and has yet to play more than 76 games in a single season. All three are among the team’s very best prospects and if the Yankees are serious about sticking to a budget, they’re going to need cheap production. That isn’t limited to plugging these guys into the roster down the line either, they need to stay healthy to boost potential trade value as well.
6. Alex Rodriguez must hit at least 13 homers.
Despite all the recent PED stuff, I’m working under the assumption A-Rod will rejoin the team around the All-Star break because that’s what the doctors (and the Yankees!) said following his latest hip surgery. If they’re able to void or otherwise shed his contract, great. But I’ll believe it when I see it.
Anyway, A-Rod is currently sitting on 647 career homers and is 13 away from triggering the first of five $6M homerun milestones in his contract. Triggering that bonus in 2013 — the next homer bonus would then be 54 homers away, a total even in-his-prime Alex would have trouble reaching in one year — gives the team another $6M to spend under the luxury tax threshold in 2014. It doesn’t sound like much, but $6M does go a long way. It’s enough to add an $18M player at the trade deadline. I don’t care anything about this latest PED stuff, I care about A-Rod reaching this first homer bonus this summer to give the team more flexibility next year.
Keith Law published his annual list of baseball’s top 100 prospects today (subs. req’d), a list that was predictably topped by Rangers SS Jurickson Profar. Cardinals OF Oscar Taveras and Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy round out the top three while Rays OF Wil Myers and Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts crack the top five. Former Yankees first round pick and Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole ranks eighth while former Yankees farmhand and current Cubs RHP Arodys Vizcaino ranks 64th.
C Gary Sanchez ranks 18th and is the first of four Yankees prospects on the list. “Sanchez’ offensive potential is tremendous; despite an exaggerated leg kick, he gets his lead foot down in time, keeping his weight back enough to drive the ball, even showing doubles power the other way thanks to strong hands and excellent hip rotation,” wrote Law while also noting that he’s an aggressive hitter but not a total hacker who will chase off the plate. He also says Sanchez “improved his receiving substantially over the previous year” and is very likely to stick behind the plate long-term.
A little further down is OF Mason Williams, who placed 35th overall. Law says he’s improved at staying back on the ball but “can get a little power-happy and drop his back shoulder too much to try to elevate the ball.” He also cautions that he needs to improve his patience at the plate to reach his offensive ceiling. Williams draws high praises for his defense — “a 70 grade on the 20-80 scale thanks to above-average speed and great reads even on balls that slice away from him” — which Law touts as already big league caliber.
OF Tyler Austin ranks 52nd overall thanks to his bat. “Austin’s swing is fundamentally sound,” wrote Law, “shifting his weight just before contact, rotating his hips to drive the ball and staying balanced throughout with a short path to the ball and good extension, checking just about all of the boxes you want for a hitter’s mechanics.” His defense is adequate right now with a chance to become average in terms of range and arm. Austin’s bat is going to have to carry him, as was always the case.
The final Yankees prospect to crack the top 100 is OF Slade Heathcott, who wasn’t too far behind Austin at 57th overall. “[Heathcott] dominated the field in (the Arizona Fall League) and has a special mix of strength and quickness that might put him among the top 20 prospects in the game in a year,” said Law, who calls Slade a “maniac” because of his extremely all-out style of play. He also commends his sound swing, above-average speed, and strong center field defense. Injuries remain a concern, of course.
In addition to the top 100, Law also posted a list of ten prospects who just missed the cut (subs. req’d), a list that includes RHP Jose Ramirez. “He’s filled out quite a bit in the past three years,” wrote Law, “with more than 200 pounds on his 6-3 frame, and will work at 94-98 mph with big-time life and a hard mid-80s slider.” Injuries, specifically elbow and shoulder concerns over the last two seasons, kept him out of the top 100. Just getting consideration is pretty awesome.
I think four top-60 and five top-110 prospects is pretty darn good for the Yankees considering some of the pitching injuries this year and the fact that they’ve muffed some recent first round picks. Heathcott (first round) and Sanchez ($3M bonus) were high-profile additions, but Austin (13th round), Williams (4th round), and Ramirez (unknown but small bonus) were all shrewd pickups who have developed well. All five guys should reach Double-A Trenton this year and several (Austin, Heathcott, and Ramirez) should begin the season there.
The Yankees have been very active on the free agent market this offseason, though it’s easy to forget since most of the signings were re-signings. Kevin Youkilis is the only new player the team has signed this winter, and they still have questions to answer at DH, behind the plate (unlikely to be addressed in a meaningful way), and on the bench. There’s a lot of offseason left and a lot of holes to fill.
For a big market team like New York, free agency is the easiest way to add players. There’s always the trade route though, and in fact the club has swung a major trade in four of the last five offseasons. Some (Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson) have worked better than others (Michael Pineda and Javy Vazquez). The Yankees may or may not have a trade of that magnitude left in them this winter, but not every deal has to be a blockbuster to help. Let’s take stock of the team’s current crop of trade chips.
Logan, 28, has emerged as the team’s primary left-handed reliever over the last two years, but in no way should he be off limits this offseason. In fact, Clay Rapada has been much more effective against same-side hitters in recent years, though he’s unusable against righties. Logan can at least fake it against batters of the opposite hand if need be. Since he’s due to become a free agent next winter and is coming off a career-high (and league-leading) 80 appearances, Boone should be made very available this winter. Teams continually prove willing to overpay for quality relief, especially a left-handed relief.
For all his defensive deficiencies, the 25-year-old Nunez has garnered plenty of trade interest (from the Braves and Mariners, specifically) in recent years. Finding decent middle infield help these days is close to impossible, so teams are eager to roll the dice on a cheap young player with speed and contact skills. Frankly, if Nunez had spent the last few years in some other city, a lot of Yankees fans would be looking at him as a buy-low guy whose defense might be fixable with enough reps. Because we’ve seen the hilarious frequency of his errors first hand, he gets written off quickly. C’est la vie.
Ivan Nova & David Phelps
The Yankees brought both Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte back, meaning Nova and Phelps will battle it out for the fifth starter’s spot in camp. The loser goes to the bullpen (or Triple-A) to wait his turn as the sixth starter. Both guys could also be trade bait as young, cost-controlled back-end arms, though both also have their warts. Nova got pounded last season and Phelps has just a handful of big league starts to his credit.
Phil Hughes could also be lumped into this group, but he only offers one year of team control and is being counted on as the fourth starter behind the three veterans. He shouldn’t be off-limits, but he might not fetch as much as the team would like given the impending free agency. Hughes is most desirable to contenders, and it’s not often you see a trade made between two contenders.
Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Gary Sanchez & Tyler Austin
You can’t have a trade chips post without mentioning the top prospects. These four represent the team’s best young minor leaguers in whatever order, though none of them have meaningful experience at the Double-A level. For all intents and purposes, they’re four high-upside guys in Single-A ball. As we’ve seen in the recent R.A. Dickey and James Shields trades, it takes an elite prospect on the cusp of the big leagues to land an impact player. Teams will surely line up to acquire these four, but I don’t think any of them would be enough to bring say, a young and MLB ready impact bat without significant secondary pieces. Twelve months from now, one or all of these guys could be among the best trade chips in the sport.
* * *
Curtis Granderson’s name has popped up as a trade candidate numerous times this offseason, though I maintain that it will be close to impossible to trade him and improve the team at the same time. The Yankees didn’t drop $62M total on five free agents this winter to trade their best power hitter for a young player who might help two or three years from now, potentially wasting a year of CC Sabathia at his best, of Robinson Cano at his best, of David Robertson at his best, of Pettitte and Mariano Rivera before they call it a career. With the 2014 payroll plan looming, making one last “all-in” run in 2013 should be the club’s top priority even if they seem to feel differently.