Thursday Links: Top High-A Prospects, Shohei Otani

Tate. (Presswire)
Tate. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Rays wrap up their three-game series later today — final night game of the regular season! — so, until then, here are some stray links and notes to check out.

Two Yankees among top High-A prospects

Baseball America (subs. req’d) continued this week with their analysis of the top 20 prospects in each minor league. They covered the High-A Florida State League today, with Blue Jays 3B Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Blue Jays SS Bo Bichette sitting in the top two spots. Two Yankees farmhands made the top 20:

  • 7) RHP Dillon Tate: “His fastball reaches 98 mph consistently, and unlike past seasons, he held his velocity, often getting up to 97 as late as the eighth inning of his last two starts. His fastball command, changeup and slider all have improved from 2016.”
  • 14) 2B Nick Solak: “(He) has fast hands, a feel for hitting and above-average speed. He’s put in the work to become an average defender … ‘He’s a baseball player who can really hit,’ one league manager said. ‘He’s a pain in the butt to have to play against; that’s a compliment.’

In the chat, John Manuel said RHP Taylor Widener has a chance to be “in the Adam Warren family of swing man,” which would be an amazing outcome for a 12th round pick. Widener successfully transitioned from college reliever to pro starter this year, though Manuel says it’s unfair to compare to him to RHP Chance Adams because Adams has more fastball. Still pretty cool that Widener raised his stock this year.

Anyway, glad to hear Tate is back to being the 2015 fourth overall pick version of himself after the Rangers tried to tweak his mechanics last year. Keith Law had a similar report recently too, so we’re getting a consensus here. OF Estevan Florial did not spend enough time with High-A Tampa this season to qualify for the top 20 list. Interestingly enough, neither Athletics SS Jorge Mateo nor Twins RHP Zack Littell made the top 20. I wonder if that was an oversight. I figured both would be locks, especially Mateo. Whatever.

Otani interviewing MLB agents

According to Jon Heyman, two-way superstar Shohei Otani has started interviewing prospective agents. This is another indication Otani is indeed preparing to make the jump to MLB, though it doesn’t confirm anything. He could just be doing his homework. Here’s more from Heyman:

Big-time agencies Wasserman (led by Joel Wolfe and Adam Katz), Octagon (headed by Alan Nero), The Legacy Agency and the Scott Boras Corporation are believed to be in the early mix and seen as among the favorites, as all have experience repping Japanese stars. Many groups declined comment or ignored messages regarding the process, but other big-time agencies with experiencing repping Japanese stars include Excel (Casey Close), CAA (Brodie Van Wagenen) and John Boggs.

Otani is basically interviewing the who’s who of player agents, and the Yankees have relationships with all of ’em. Brian Cashman and his staff have hammered out deals with Wasserman (Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui), Octagon (Hiroki Kuroda), Legacy (CC Sabathia), Boras (Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez), and Excel (Derek Jeter) plenty of times over the years. I wouldn’t say those relationships give the Yankees an advantage — every team has a relationship with every agent! — but they can’t hurt.

Otani will be exempt from new posting agreement

MLB and NPB are currently negotiating a new posting agreement — MLB is trying to knock down the cost of acquiring players from Japan again — and, according to Jim Allen, the next agreement will not apply to Otani. Should he come to MLB, it will be under the old posting agreement, meaning the Nippon Ham Fighters will set the release fee — it’ll surely be the max $20M — and whichever team signs Otani will pay it. That’s good. It means no delay in Otani’s posting as the two sides haggle over the posting system.

There are two posting system proposals on the table: a flat 15% of the player’s contract, or 15% up to $100M with a flat $20M fee for deals in excess of $100M. Under that arrangement, the (Ham) Fighters would receive less than $1M for Otani given the international hard cap. Allen says MLB’s international rules, which say players under 25 count against the hard cap and come with six years of control, effectively tell Japan’s best young players to come straight to MLB out of high school. Don’t bother playing in Japan because it’ll just delay your big payday. Junichi Tazawa did that. NPB teams aren’t thrilled, as you can imagine.

Minors Notes: Top Triple-A & Breakout Prospects, Rodriguez

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The 2017 minor league season is officially over. Durham beat Memphis in the Triple-A Championship Game at PNC Field in Scranton last night. The Triple-A Championship Game rotates sites each year like an All-Star Game, and it just so happened to be played in Scranton this year. Too bad the RailRiders didn’t make it. Anyway, here are some minor league notes to check out.

Three Yankees among top International League prospects

Earlier this week Baseball America started their annual series looking at the top 20 prospects in each minor league. They covered the Triple-A International League (subs. req’d) yesterday, with Braves OF Ronald Acuna claiming the top spot. Three Yankees made the list (four if you count OF Dustin Fowler, who was traded away but makes the list at No. 17 due to his time with Scranton):

  • 9) RHP Chance Adams: “One evaluator said that between Adams’ four offerings, he has a chance for three above-average pitches with above-average control … He drew comparisons with Bud Norris and Jordan Zimmermann.”
  • 15) 3B Miguel Andujar: “Andujar drew rave reviews from managers and scouts for his uncanny ability to barrel baseballs with authority as well as his energetic nature on the field … He has a plus arm, quick-twitch actions and a strong work ethic at third base, but below-average footwork and hard hands could be too much to overcome.”
  • 16) OF Clint Frazier: “(Some) evaluators think he always will pair home runs with strikeouts and low batting averages because of a limiting, rigid swing. With sufficient pitch recognition, though, he can be an impact power hitter.”

Hmmm. I’m pretty sure I’m the biggest Andujar fan out there, but even I wouldn’t rank him above Frazier on a prospect list. Frazier seems like one of those prospects people look for reasons not to like. The kid has insane bat speed, the ball explodes off his bat, he works the count well, and he’s fine in either corner outfield spot. What’s the problem here? Anyway, in the chat Carlos Collazo said SS Gleyber Torres would’ve ranked in the top three had he not gotten hurt and fallen short of the playing time minimum. SS Tyler Wade was a consideration for the list as well.

McKinney to begin working out at first base

OF Billy McKinney, who will be added to the 40-man roster after the season, is going to begin working out at first base in Instructional League, reports Robert Pimpsner. Sounds like an assignment to the Arizona Fall League in possible as well, though the Yankees already have a first baseman going to the desert (1B Chris Gittens) and their position player spots are full. Someone could get be getting pulled though. We’ll see.

McKinney, 23, came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade and hit .277/.338/.483 (124 wRC+) with a career high 16 home runs in 124 games between Double-A and Triple-A this summer. He’s a bat first prospect — his defense in the corner outfield is not great — so it makes sense to increase his versatility and get him time at first base. We still don’t know whether Greg Bird can stay healthy and/or produce consistently. Given the team’s outfield glut, getting McKinney familiar with first base seems like a no-brainer.

Loaisiga, Widener among top 2018 breakout candidates


The crew at Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) posted a list of ten breakout candidates for the 2018 season, and two of the ten are Yankees: RHP Jonathan Loaisiga and RHP Taylor Widener. Keith Law had good things to say about Loaisiga last week. Widener was a reliever in the college before the Yankees moved him into the rotation, Chance Adams style. A quick recap of the write-ups:

  • Loaisiga: “(He) features a potentially plus fastball-curveball combination with the ability to throw either pitch for strikes in any count. The fastball consistently hovers around 95 (t97) with late movement … expect him to start shooting up prospect lists.”
  • Widener: “Widener was in the low-to-mid-90s with the fastball, topping out at 96, and it was moving around pretty good … Widener commanded it like a good Double-A starting prospect, not a guy making his first Double-A appearance … Widener projects as an interesting mid-rotation prospect at the upside, with a more likely outcome as a good reliever.”

So I guess Johnny Lasagna being a prospect is a thing now? He originally signed with the Giants out of Nicaragua back in 2013, but they released him a year later after some injury issues. The Yankees picked him up, he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery last year, and came back looking good this year. Loaisiga turns 23 in November, and he’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 165 lbs., plus he has an injury history, so there are some things working against him. Still, the Yankees picked him up off the scrap heap, and now he’s being written up as a breakout prospect. Pretty cool.

Rodriguez is “99%” sure he’s retiring

C Eddy Rodriguez, who spent the last three seasons with Triple-A Scranton (and part of one season with Double-A Trenton) is “99%” sure he’s retiring, reports D.J. Eberle. For much of this year Rodriguez was third on the catcher depth chart while C Kyle Higashioka was hurt, though he never did get a call-up. His one MLB cameo came with the Padres in 2012. He took Johnny Cueto deep in his first at-bat.

Rodriguez, who defected from Cuba with his family when he was a kid, is still only 31 years old. He’s not much of a hitter — he hit .189/.240/.308 (51 wRC+) in 446 plate appearances with the RailRiders the last two years — but he’s long been regarded as a great defender and clubhouse guy. Rodriguez wouldn’t reveal his post-playing days plan to Eberle, but he seems like the kind of guy we’ll see on a Yankees minor league coaching staff/instructor list in the near future. Either way, the Yankees need a new veteran good guy backup catcher for Scranton next year.

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

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

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

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

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

Top Prospects Who Could Help In 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Prospects Who Probably Won’t Help In 2017

Sheffield. (Presswire)
Sheffield. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secondary Prospects Likely To Help In 2017

Montgomery. (Presswire)
Montgomery. (Presswire)

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

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

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

Breakout Candidates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bounceback Candidates

McKinney. (Presswire)
McKinney. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

Prospects I Am Irrationally Excited About

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

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

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

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

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

Will They Trade Any Of These Guys?

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

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

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

Where Does The System Go From Here?

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on MLB.com’s farm system rankings and top 30 Yankees prospects

Tate. (Presswire)
Tate. (Presswire)

Last week the crew at MLB.com rolled out their annual team top 30 prospects lists. They also unveiled their farm system rankings, and again the Yankees came in at No. 2, behind the Braves. All four major scouting publications (MLB.com. Keith Law, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus) had the Braves and Yankees ranked first and second in their farm system rankings, respectively.

Anyway, I’m not going to list MLB.com’s entire top 30 Yankees prospect list here. Go click the link. As always, the whole thing is free. Scouting reports, videos, the whole nine. Here are the guys the Yankees had on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list instead:

3. SS Gleyber Torres
24. OF Clint Frazier
37. OF Blake Rutherford
45. OF Aaron Judge
47. SS Jorge Mateo
58. RHP James Kaprielian
79. LHP Justus Sheffield

Those seven are the top seven prospects in the top 30 list, in that order, because duh. I always think it’s kinda funny when the prospects are in a different order on the individual team list than the overall top 100 list. Anyway, here is my top 30 prospects list, and here are some thoughts on MLB.com’s top 30 list.

1. The Yankees will have the No. 1 system very soon. On day two of the regular season, basically. SS Dansby Swanson, Atlanta’s top prospect, is literally one at-bat short of exhausting his rookie status. So as soon as he plays on Opening Day, he’ll lose his prospect status, and the farm system rankings will be adjusted accordingly. I assume graduating Swanson, one of the two or three best prospects in the world, will be enough to knock the Braves under the Yankees on the farm system rankings. I mean, who cares, the rankings don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but it’s always cool to the see the Yankees at the top. That’ll happen very soon.

2. The Yankees let Tate be himself. Two years ago RHP Dillon Tate was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft. He then struggled so much in the first half of the 2016 season that the Rangers were willing to trade him (and two others!) for rental Carlos Beltran at the deadline. As it turns out, Texas tried to tweak Tate’s mechanics last year. “(Tate) had trouble incorporating some delivery changes the Rangers wanted him to make, with his fastball dropping into the upper 80s and his slider flattening out. After the trade, the Yankees told him to use whatever mechanics made him feel comfortable,” said the write-up. I’m not sure whether this is still the case under relatively new farm system head Gary Denbo, but once upon a time the Yankees had a policy where they’d give their top prospects a year in pro ball before making any major changes to their delivery, swing, whatever. They never would have changed Tate’s mechanics so soon after making him the fourth overall pick. The Rangers did and his stock dropped, and now the Yankees may benefit.

3. Refsnyder 2.0 is in the farm system. I had one 2016 draft pick in my top 30 list: first rounder OF Blake Rutherford. MLB.com has four in their top 30, including 2B Nick Solak. Last year’s second rounder hit .321/.412/.421 (155 wRC+) with nearly as many walks (10.8%) as strikeouts (14.0%) in 64 games with Short Season Staten Island following a productive three-year career at Louisville. MLB.com’s scouting report makes Solak sound like a Rob Refsnyder clone:

Solak has a long track record of hitting and getting on base. His right-handed swing is geared for stroking line drives from gap to gap, an approach that results in consistent contact but doesn’t provide much power … After DHing as a freshman and playing mostly the outfield corners as a sophomore, Solak shifted to second base last spring. He has the quickness and reliable hands for the position, though he doesn’t have the smoothest actions and some scouts believe he’s destined for center field.

Refsnyder played the outfield in college and moved to second base in pro ball. Solak made the transition to second during his junior year in college. Otherwise the two are pretty damn similar, and that’s not a bad thing, even with Refsnyder on the trade block. As a bat control guy with three years of experience at a major college program, Solak should rake in Single-A ball. He’s a good prospect, but I get the feeling he’s going to put up huge numbers this year and get overrated because of it, which is basically what happened with Refsnyder.

4. Widener is moving into the rotation. One of the four 2016 draftees to make the top 30 is RHP Taylor Widener, which surprised me. He was the club’s 12th round pick out of South Carolina, and his pro debut numbers were silly: 0.42 ERA (1.41 FIP) with 43.9% strikeouts and 4.7% walks in 42.2 innings. Widener was mostly a reliever in college, and the MLB.com’s scouting report says the Yankees are going to stick him in the rotation full-time. “Widener picked up velocity in his introduction to pro ball, as his fastball soared from 90-93 mph to 93-97. His mid-80s slider can be a wipeout pitch at times but lacks consistency. To prepare him for starting, the Yankees had him focus on refining his work-in-progress changeup during instructional league,” they wrote. (Widener is yet another pitching prospect who gained velocity in New York’s system.) The Yankees have a history of trying college relievers in the rotation, most notably Chance Adams, and it seems Widener is next. Turning Widener, a 12th round pick, into a legitimate starting pitcher prospect would be a hell of a thing.

5. McKinney didn’t make the top 30. OF Billy McKinney, who has impressed this spring, did not make MLB.com’s top 30 list. That’s a pretty good reminder how much his prospect stock dropped last year. McKinney’s .545/.643/1.371 batting line looks great, and gosh his swing sure is pretty, but eleven at-bats in Spring Training does erase his underwhelming .256/.349/.363 (107 wRC+) line in 130 Double-A games last year. Hopefully McKinney will regain some prospect stock this year. That would be cool. I ranked him as the No. 22 prospect in the system, but I don’t think it’s completely crazy to leave him out of the top 30. He needs to rebuild his value and this spring is a strong start, if nothing else.

6. The talent extends beyond the top 30. MLB.com prospect guru Jim Callis has maintained the Yankees have baseball’s deepest farm system since the trade deadline last year, and on Twitter he said he “easily could have written up 45 prospects” for the top 30. He also said 3B Dermis Garcia was in the 31-35 range and IF Thairo Estrada was among the final cuts too. “Type of guy to steal in trade,” said Callis about Estrada. Thairo is a personal fave — he smacked homers in back-to-back games earlier this spring when he was up from minor league camp — but it’s hard to see where he fits going forward because the Yankees are so loaded at shortstop. Estrada will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so decision time is coming. Trade? Add him to the 40-man roster? Roll the dice in the Rule 5 Draft? The Yankees are going to have to do something with Thairo (and several others) this year.

The Top Heavy 2016 Draft Haul [2016 Season Review]

Rutherford. (@MiLB)
Rutherford. (@MiLB)

Thanks largely to the trade deadline, the Yankees improved the depth and quality of their farm system substantially over the last six months or so. They added a dozen prospects at the deadline and two more in the recent Brian McCann deal. It sure feels like another trade is inevitable (Brett Gardner?), so chances are more prospects are on the way.

The Yankees also added to their farm system this summer with the annual amateur draft. This year they held a top 20 pick for the second straight year after having only two top 20 picks total from 1994-2014. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement severely limits draft spending, and while it wouldn’t be fair to say the Yankees put all their eggs in one basket, their 2016 draft haul has a clear centerpiece who will essentially make or break this draft class.

The Top Pick

Following the end of the 2015 season, the Yankees held the 22nd overall pick in the 2016 draft. They moved up to 18th when the Diamondbacks (Zack Greinke), Orioles (Yovani Gallardo), Nationals (Daniel Murphy), and Giants (Jeff Samardzija) forfeited their first round picks to sign qualified free agents. That was pretty awesome. Moving up one or two spots happens each year. But four? That rarely happens.

Prior to the draft the Yankees were connected to high school pitchers and college bats, so, naturally, they used that 18th overall selection to take a high school position player. Go figure. That player: outfielder Blake Rutherford from Chaminade College Preparatory School in the Los Angeles suburbs. Rutherford was a consensus top ten draft pick who slipped to the Yankees for reasons we’ll get to in a minute. Here’s a sampling of his pre-draft rankings and write-ups:

  • Baseball Prospectus (4th best draft prospect): “Every tool but the arm is above-average.”
  • Keith Law (6th): “Rutherford has a unique combination of hit and power and has shown an ability to spray well-hit balls to all fields … he projects to be an average or above everyday player in a corner outfield who hits near the middle of a big league lineup.”
  • MLB.com (8th): “Rutherford has the chance to be an above-average hitter with above-average raw power … Some evaluators wish they had seen more from him (before the draft).”
  • Baseball America (9th): “Rutherford has size, strength, athleticism and power potential for scouts to dream on … Some scouts see him as a potential power-hitting center fielder in the Jim Edmonds mold.”

By all accounts, Rutherford was one of the ten best players available in the 2016 draft. The Yankees were able to get him with the 18th pick for two reasons:

1. He was already 19. Rutherford was old for a high school prospect. He turned 19 on May 2nd, a month before the draft, whereas most prep prospects are drafted at 18 or even 17 with their 18th birthday coming in the summer. Rutherford has always been slightly older than his competition, both in high school and in showcase events, which made it difficult to evaluate him. Was it really an above-average hit tool, or just an older kid beating up on younger competition? Based on the draft rankings above, everyone seems to believe it’s the former.

2. He wanted a lot of money. Aside from injury, nothing causes a draft pick to slip more than bonus demands. Rutherford was strongly committed to UCLA and he was expecting top ten money because, well, he was a top ten talent. The Yankees had a $5,831,200 bonus pool this year, so if they were going to pay Rutherford top ten money, they’d have to skim elsewhere. That’s exactly what they did. The Yankees signed Rutherford to a $3,282,000 bonus on June 29th, well above his $2,441,600 slot value. They essentially gave him 11th overall pick money ($3,286,700). When it was all said and done, New York was left with $177 in draft pool space. Not $177,000. $177. The Yankees were like two Xbox games away from forfeiting their 2017 first round pick. They maxed out their spending limit to sign Rutherford.

The Yankees rarely have access to top of the draft caliber talent and they were able to acquire three such players this year by selecting Rutherford and trading for Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier. Acquiring Torres and Frazier took some hard work. There was a lot of luck involved in getting Rutherford. The Yankees had zero control over the 17 selections made before their first round pick. It just so happened those 17 teams passed on Rutherford, giving the Yankees a premium draft talent at a non-premium pick.

Rutherford’s pro debut did nothing to dispel the notion he was a top ten draft talent. The kid hit .351/.415/.570 (171 wRC+) with eight doubles, four triples, and three home runs in 33 rookie ball games before a minor hamstring injury sidelined him for the final week of the regular season. He was healthy enough to participate in Instructional League a few weeks later. Here, via MLB Farm, is Rutherford’s spray chart:

blake-rutherford-spray-chart

Base hits to all fields and over-the-fence power to the pull side as a left-handed hitter. It’s a beautiful thing for a 19-year-old kid in his first few weeks in pro ball. Baseball America recently ranked Rutherford as third best prospect in the farm system behind Torres and Frazier, so all aboard the hype train.

When we look back at the 2016 season in a few years, it’ll be remembered as the year the Yankees traded veterans for prospects at the deadline and rightfully so. They’ve built up one heck of a farm system through those trades. The opportunity (and willingness) to draft Rutherford shouldn’t be overlooked though. The Yankees haven’t selected a draft talent this highly regarded since Gerrit Cole in 2008.

The Other Over-Slot Signee

Because the Yankees needed to rob Peter (other draftees) to pay Paul (Rutherford), they didn’t have much extra draft pool money to throw around. Their only other 2016 draftee to receive an over-slot bonus was third rounder Nolan Martinez, a right-hander from a Southern California high school. Martinez received a $1,150,000 bonus, nearly double his $608,200 slot value.

The Yankees selected Martinez with the 98th pick in the draft, which is essentially where the various scouting publications had him ranked. Baseball America was high on him (67th) while Keith Law (94th), MLB.com (99th), and Baseball America (108th) had Martinez right where New York selected him. He’s the second best prospect the Yankees drafted this year (in my opinion) as a three-pitch righty with some semblance of command. Underwhelmed? Well, that’s the system. The Yankees went with players they knew they could afford after rolling the dice with Rutherford.

The Numbers Prospect

Solak. (Robert M. Pimpsner/RMP Sports Media, Inc.)
Solak. (Robert M. Pimpsner/RMP Sports Media, Inc.)

There is more stat line scouting these days than I can ever remember. That isn’t to say stats aren’t important, because they are, but they only tell you so much of the story. And the further away from MLB you get, the less the stats mean. Nick Solak, a second baseman out of Louisville, figures to be one of those prospects who gets an inordinate amount of attention due to his stats, a la Rob Refsnyder.

Solak, who was selected in the second round by the Yankees, hit .321/.412/.421 (155 wRC+) with three homers, eight steals, and nearly as many walks (10.8%) as strikeouts (14.0%) in his 64-game pro debut with short season Staten Island after signing for a below-slow $950,000 bonus. Solak has contact skills and knows the strike zone, but he doesn’t have much power and his ability to stay at second is questionable at best.

After three excellent years at a major college program, we’re not going to be able to glean much from Solak’s performance until he gets to Double-A, and it’s entirely possible that will happen at some point in 2016. A guy like him should have no trouble with Single-A pitchers. Solak is a good prospect whose long-term outlook will improve drastically if he shows he can handle second full-time. His stats may cause him to get overrated though.

The Best of the Rest

Outside of the top three picks, the two best prospects the Yankees drafted this summer were fourth rounder (duh) Nick Nelson, a JuCo righty from Florida, and 12th rounder Taylor Widener, a righty out of Alabama. Keith Law‘s (subs. req’d) scouting report on Nelson sounds too good to be true — “(Nelson) works with a plus fastball up to 95 and a plus curveball, with good command for his age, and his arm action and delivery point to future plus command as well,” wrote Law — and while I’m not quite that optimistic, he has good velocity and can spin a breaking ball. That works for me.

Widener had an insane pro debut, pitching to a 0.42 ERA (1.41 FIP) with 65 strikeouts and seven walks in 42.2 innings. That’s a 43.9% strikeout rate and a 4.7% walk rate. Widener does it with a low-90s fastball and a wipeout slider out of the bullpen, and while the Yankees could be tempted to move him quickly as a bullpen arm, his changeup and control are good enough that giving him a try in the rotation might be worthwhile. The Yankees have a history of trying college relievers as starters in pro ball, most notably Chance Adams and Jonathan Holder, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Widener is next in line in 2017.

Other notables include 11th rounder Connor Jones, 17th rounder Mandy Alvarez, and 21st rounder Timmy Robinson. Jones is a hard-throwing southpaw likely destined for relief long-term because he lacks quality secondary pitches and command. Alvarez had a solid pro debut and can get the bat on the ball, but he’s short on power and might not remain at third base long-term. Robinson is a tool shed; the former USC standout has legitimate power and good athleticism, which serves him well in the outfield. The holes in his swing will likely limit him to reserve outfielder status.

* * *

Needless to say, Rutherford is the centerpiece of the Yankees’ draft haul this summer. Solak and Martinez can do some things, and I’m interested to see what happens with Nelson and especially Widener from here on out, but Rutherford is the guy. He was a top draft prospect who fell into the team’s lap and prompted them to max out their bonus pool. The Yankees tend to do well in the late rounds of the draft, unearthing players who are used in trades or get a cup of coffee in the show, and hopefully that will happen again this year. Right now, this draft class is all Rutherford. He deserves all the attention.

Draft Signing Updates: Rutherford, Martinez, Widener

1B Tim Lynch, who signed with the Yankees last week as their ninth round pick, used to be a huge autograph hound, writes Ken Rosenthal. He once brought Lorenzo Cain donuts to get him to sign a card, which completed Lynch’s signed Bowman set. Pretty cool story. Check it out.

Here is the latest round of 2016 draft pick signing news. You can see all of the Yankees’ picks at Baseball America. Here’s our first set of signing updates and our reviews of Day One, Day Two, and Day Three of the draft, in case you missed them.

  • Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told George King there “is progress going on” in talks with California HS OF Blake Rutherford (1st round). “I don’t have a timetable, but we are making progress,” he said. Oppenheimer also said the Yankees are making progress with California HS RHP Nolan Martinez (3rd). Rutherford and Martinez are the team’s only unsigned picks in the top ten rounds, which are the rounds tied to the bonus pool.
  • South Carolina RHP Taylor Widener has signed, according to Baseball America. No word on his bonus, though I assume it is $100,000 or less. That’s the maximum teams can give players drafted after the tenth round without it counting towards the bonus pool.
  • Florida HS RHP Jordan Scott (14th) has signed, also according to Baseball America. Scott actually tweeted out that he had signed, but it has since been deleted. Guess he jumped the gun. There’s no word on his bonus.
  • New York JuCo LHP Tony Hernandez (15th) has signed for $100,000, reports Josh Norris. That’s the max allowed without anything counting towards the bonus pool.
  • Eastern Kentucky 3B Mandy Alvarez (17th) round has signing and is already playing for Short Season Staten Island. No word on his bonus, but I assume it is $100,000 or less.
  • Fordham RHP Greg Weissert (18th) told Jesse Foster he is planning to sign. He’s supposed to head down to Tampa soon to take his physical and sign his contract.
  • Texas HS OF Evan Alexander (19th) seems to have signed, according to his Twitter account. He traveled to Florida yesterday, indicating he’s in Tampa for his physical and contract signing.
  • Fullerton RHP Miles Chambers (20th), USC OF Timmy Robinson (21st), and Maryland JuCo OF Joe Burton (24th) have all signed, according to Baseball America. No word on their bonuses.
  • Florida HS OF Ed Luaces (25th) has signed, he told Robert Pimpsner. He is currently in Tampa working out and will be assigned to one of the minor league affiliates soon.
  • Lander RHP Will Jones (28th) has signed according to his Twitter feed. No word on his bonus, but as with pretty much everyone else in this post, I assume it’s $100,000 or less.
  • California HS C D.C. Clawson (34th) told Steve Breazeale he plans to follow through on his commitment to BYU unless the Yankees make a last minute over-slot offer. Clawson is one of the players the Yankees took as a backup plan in case Rutherford doesn’t sign and leaves them with a bunch of unspent bonus pool space.
  • Virginia HS RHP Zach Hess (35th) indicated he will not sign on Twitter. Like Clawson, Hess is one of the players selected as a backup plan in case Rutherford doesn’t sign.
  • Stony Brook RHP Tim Honahan (36th) has indeed signed. Stony Brook broadcaster Jeff Bernstein posted a photo of Honahan signing his contract on Twitter. No word on his bonus. Last week we heard Honahan was planning to sign.
  • Wisconsin-Milwaukee RHP Brian Keller (39th) has signed, he told Steven Tietz. He’s in Tampa working out now. “There will be workouts, and then I’ll be assigned (to one of the minor league affiliates),” said Keller to Tietz.
  • Wisconsin HS RHP Nate Brown (40th) told JR Radcliffe he will not sign, but appreciates being drafted. “Now I have a love for the Yankees I didn’t have before. Three years from now, if they come in and (draft me) and don’t offer me as much as I’ve been (hoping for), there’s still that deep feeling in my heart that three years ago, they saw something that the other guys didn’t,” he said.

By my unofficial count, the Yankees have now signed 24 of their 40 draft picks. Teams usually sign 25-30 draftees each year. The Yankees still need to get Rutherford and Martinez locked up, though it seems like only a matter of time until that happens. Rutherford probably won’t sign until the July 15th deadline though. Here’s our Draft Pool Tracker.