Rookie Davis trade, injuries leave Yankees thin on starting pitching prospects

Kaprielian. (Staten Island Advance)
Kaprielian. (Staten Island Advance)

Heading into the 2015 season, the Yankees had a very position player heavy farm system. Only two of their top ten, three of their top 14, and seven of their top 30 prospects were starting pitchers in my opinion. Being heavy on position players is not necessarily a bad thing, but in a perfect world you’d like to have a little more balance in the farm system.

The Yankees did graduate Luis Severino to the big leagues last season, which is a major positive, but most of the rest of their top rotation prospects battled adversity. Check out what those seven starting pitching prospects in my top 30 did last year:

2. Severino: Graduated to MLB wooo!
4. Ian Clarkin: Missed regular season with an elbow injury.
11. Domingo German: Missed regular season following Tommy John surgery.
15. Bryan Mitchell: Spent regular season going up and down an extra arm.
16. Austin DeCarr: Missed regular season following Tommy John surgery.
18. Ty Hensley: Missed regular season following Tommy John surgery.
25. Brady Lail: Had a strong season at Double-A and Triple-A.

Not great! Four of the seven didn’t pitch at all during the regular season season. (Clarkin did pitch some in the Arizona Fall League.) Severino was great, Mitchell was useful, and Lail took steps forward. I guess that’s pretty good, all things considered. The attrition rates for pitching prospects is rather high.

Several lower level pitchers had solid seasons and improved their prospect stock, most notably Rookie Davis and Jordan Montgomery. Davis was traded for Aroldis Chapman last week and Montgomery has yet to pitch above High Class-A. The Yankees did add one significant (James Kaprielian) and one solid (Drew Finley) rotation prospect in the 2015 draft. They also flipped Justin Wilson for two depth arms (Luis Cessa and Chad Green) last month.

So, after all of that, the Yankees’ starting pitching prospect depth chart looks something like this:

Kaprielian
Clarkin
Mitchell
Finley
Lail
Montgomery
Cessa
Green
Other injured guys

We can debate the exact order all day but those are the names and that’s the general order. The Yankees have a true stud in Kaprielian, a potential stud in Clarkin if he’s healthy, then a bunch of depth guys. Mitchell has nasty stuff but still seems to be a ways away from fully harnessing it. Finley is both similar and much further from the show. Lail, Montgomery, Cessa, and Green all have limited upside. The injured guys like German and DeCarr? Who knows.

When it’s laid out like this, it’s easy to understand why the Yankees have focused on adding a young controllable starter this offseason. Severino is their only big league starter under control beyond 2017, and while Kaprielian looks like he could fly through the minors, he has to actually do it before you can count on him as a long-term rotation piece. Clarkin’s injury really stunk. He had a chance to emerge as a top rotation prospect last year if healthy.

Mitchell, Lail, Cessa, and Green give the Yankees some immediate upper level pitching depth heading into the 2016 season, which is good. They might need it given the health concerns in the MLB rotation. Mitchell may crack the Opening Day big league roster as a reliever while the other guys are ticketed for Triple-A Scranton. That’s good. The Yankees have depth arms for whenever a need arises, and it will inevitably arise.

The Yankees again have a position player heavy farm system, and that’s one of the reasons they’re said to be looking for a young controllable starter in a trade. They have Severino and they might have Kaprielian soon, but that’s about it at the moment. Davis could have potentially fit into that long-term rotation equation, ditto guys like Clarkin and German had they not gotten hurt. Instead, a system already thin on starters has gotten a wee bit thinner over the last 12 months.

The Suddenly Productive Farm System [2015 Season Review]

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

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

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

The Top Prospect

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Name Breakout Prospects

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

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

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

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

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

The Emerging Depth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reclamation Prospects

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

The Best of the Rest

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

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

The Disappointing Prospects

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

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

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

The Inevitable Injures

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

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

* * *

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

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

DotF: Sanchez & Fowler finish Arizona Fall League strong

The Surprise Saguaros (19-11) finished with the best record in the Arizona Fall League and will play the Scottsdale Scorpions (18-12) in today’s Championship Game. Here are the starting lineups. C Gary Sanchez, OF Tyler Austin, and OF Dustin Fowler are all playing. The game will begin at 3pm ET and you can watch live on MLB Network and MLB.com. Here are some other minor league notes:

  • Not one, but two former Yankees farmhands signed big league contracts this week. RHP Cesar Vargas signed with the Padres and RHP Andury Acevedo hooked on with the Cubs, both teams announced. Vargas and Acevedo became minor league free agents last week. They’re both hard-throwing relievers. The Yankees have plenty of those.
  • Kelsie Heneghan has a nice article on OF Dustin Fowler, who’s had a strong few weeks in the AzFL. “You can see he’s a line-drive hitter, knows how to handle the bat well. He can steal a base, he has good speed, is aggressive on the bases, a good fielder,” said Surprise manager Carlos Subero. “He’s definitely a player that you like on your team, has good intangibles, good ballplayer.”
  • The Yankees have signed C Francisco Diaz and RHP Jhony Brito to minor league contracts, reports Matt Eddy. Diaz, 25, hit .353/.418/.482 (157 wRC+) in 26 Low-A games with the Pirates last year. He’s a pure depth pickup, not a prospect. Someone has to catch, you know? Brito is an international free agent signed out of the Dominican Republic.
  • And finally, Anthony Morales, the ex-football player who allegedly assaulted RHP Ty Hensley last offseason, has been acquitted according to Kyle Schwab. The two reportedly got into an argument about signing bonuses. Hensley recovered from his injuries in time for Spring Training but missed the season following Tommy John surgery.

Now for the winter ball updates. The AzFL regular season is over, so those stats are final. The various Caribbean league seasons don’t end for several weeks.

Arizona Fall League

  • OF Tyler Austin: 21 G, 22-81 (.272), 13 , 5 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 9 BB, 18 K, 7 SB, 2 CS (.272/.344/.444) — apparently he’s heading to Venezuela next to play winter ball
  • OF Dustin Fowler: 16 G, 17-61 (.279), 14 R, 2 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB, 10 K, 7 K (.279/.313/.410) — nice work for a guy on the taxi squad playing twice a week
  • C Gary Sanchez: 22 G, 26-88 (.295), 16 R, 6 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 8 BB, 19 K, 4 SB, 2 CS, 1 HBP (.295/.357/.625) — led the league in homers, RBI, and total bases (55) … he’s considered the favorite for AzFL MVP after 1B Greg Bird won it last year
  • IF Tyler Wade: 14 G, 9-41 (.220), 6 R, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 6 BB, 7 K, 2 SB, 1 CS (.220/.313/.268) — hit .208/.250/.266 (46 wRC+) in 43 games between Double-A and the AzFL to end the season
  • RHP Domingo Acevedo: 7 G, 0 GS, 12 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 11 K, 1 HR, 2 RBI (2.25 ERA and 1.00 WHIP) — gotta think he’ll start next year in the Low-A Charleston rotation with a chance for a quick promotion
  • LHP Ian Clarkin: 6 G, 6 GS, 24.2 IP, 34 H, 16 R, 16 ER, 14 BB, 17 K, 2 HR, 1 HB, 3 WP (5.84 ERA and 1.95 WHIP) — ugly numbers but at least he’s healthy … I assume he’ll start next season with High-A Tampa
  • LHP Chaz Hebert: 7 G, 1 GS, 14.1 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 10 BB, 12 K, 1 WP (4.40 ERA and 1.60 WHIP) — he wasn’t added to the 40-man roster yesterday so he’ll be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft in a few weeks
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 9 G, 0 GS, 12.1 IP, 13 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 12 K, 1 HR, 2 WP (5.84 ERA and 1.30 WHIP) — got a few innings in after missing the second half with a hand injury

Dominican Summer League

  • IF Abi Avelino: 1 G, 0-1, 1 K
  • C Eduardo de Oleo: 1 G, 0-1, 1 K
  • SS Jorge Mateo is listed on a roster but hasn’t played yet and probably won’t at this point.

Mexican Pacific League

  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 13 G, 0 GS, 9 IP, 14 H, 11 R, 10 ER, 4 BB, 14 K, 2 HR, 1 WP (10.00 ERA and 2.00 WHIP)
  • RHP Luis Niebla: 7 G, 7 GS, 35.1 IP, 27 H, 18 R, 17 ER, 24 BB, 20 K, 3 HR, 2 HB, 1 WP (4.33 ERA and 1.44 WHIP)
  • 2B Angelo Gumbs is listed on a roster but hasn’t played yet. As with Mateo, he probably won’t play if he hasn’t already.

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico)

  • IF Cito Culver: 6 G, 2-19 (.105), 1 R, 1 BB, 6 (.105/.150/.105)
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 4 G, 4 GS, 20.1 IP, 15 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 9 BB, 13 K, 1 HB, 1 WP (1.77 ERA and 1.18 WHIP) — up to 125 innings on the year … his career high is 145.1 innings set back in 2013

Venezuelan Winter League

  • C Francisco Diaz: 9 G, 4-13 (.308), 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 4 K (.308/.357/.308) — the new guy
  • OF Teodoro Martinez: 34 G, 35-133 (.263), 17 R, 3 2B, 2 3B, 13 RBI, 4 BB, 13 K, 2 SB, 2 HBP (.263/.293/.316)
  • RHP Luis Cedeno: 6 G, 0 GS, 5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HB, 1 WP (9.00 ERA and 2.20 WHIP)
  • RHP Jaron Long: 7 G, 7 GS, 40.2 IP, 39 H, 12 R, 11 ER, 10 BB, 22 K, 2 HR, 2 WP (2.43 ERA and 1.20 WHIP) — up to 195.1 innings on the season
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 14 G, 0 GS, 12.1 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 5 BB, 15 K, 2 HR (6.57 ERA and 1.38 WHIP) — he’s be available in the Rule 5 Draft again after being passed over last year
  • IF Thairo Estrada is also listed on a roster. He’s yet to get into a game yet though.

Taking stock of the Yankees’ trade chips leading up to the deadline

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

Over the last few seasons the Yankees have focused on rental players at the trade deadline while doing their long-term shopping in the offseason. That isn’t always the case — Martin Prado had two and a half years left on his contract at the time of the trade last year — but that definitely seems to be their preference. Hal Steinbrenner already confirmed rentals are the plan this summer as well.

Earlier this week we heard the Yankees have “sworn off” trading their top prospects for rentals, and that’s all well and good, but every team says that this time of year. If the Tigers offer David Price for Luis Severino, are the Yankees really going to say no to that? Probably not. Anyway, the Yankees have some needs heading into the trade deadline as always (righty reliever, second base, etc.), so let’s sort through their trade chips to see who may and may not be dealt this summer.

The Untouchables, Sorta

The Yankees rarely trade players off their big league roster at the trade deadline, and, when they do, it’s usually a Vidal Nuno or Yangervis Solarte type. Not someone who was a key part of the roster. I think Dellin Betances is the team’s best trade chip right now — best as in he’d bring the largest return by himself — but they’re not going to trade him for obvious reasons. Same with Michael Pineda and, yes, even Didi Gregorius.

Among prospects, Severino and Aaron Judge are the closest to untouchable, and I don’t think they should be completely off the table. They’re very good prospects, not elite best in baseball prospects, and the Yankees should at least be willing to listen. (I suspect they are.) Does that mean they should give them away? Of course not. The Yankees would need a difference-maker in return, likely a difference-maker they control beyond this season.

The Outfielders

Alright, now let’s get to the prospects who might actually be traded this summer. We have to start with the outfielders. The Yankees have a ton of them. You could argue too many, though I won’t. Just this season the Yankees have had Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and Ramon Flores make their big league debuts. Judge was just promoted to Triple-A Scranton, where the Yankees also have Ben Gamel and Tyler Austin. Jake Cave is with Double-A Trenton.

Flores. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Flores. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

That’s a lot of outfielders! Obviously some are more valuable than others, especially with Heathcott (quad) and Williams (shoulder) on the DL, but that’s a legitimate surplus the Yankees can use in a trade(s) at the deadline. Judge is the big prize here, though he’s supposedly untouchable. My guess is healthy Williams and Flores have the most trade value out of everyone else because teams could realistically plug them right onto their MLB roster. The Yankees are in position to trade a young outfielder or two while still having enough depth for themselves.

The “Blocked” Prospects

Prospects who don’t necessarily fit into a club’s long-term plans are prime trade bait. Gary Sanchez sure seems likely to be made available this summer assuming he returns from his bruised hand reasonably soon. (He was hit by a foul tip last week.) The Yankees value defense behind the plate very highly. They’ve made that clear. Sanchez, while improving slowly and steadily, isn’t much of a defender at all. The bat is more projection than results — 108 wRC+ in just over 800 Double-A plate appearances from 2013-15 — which isn’t uncommon for a 22-year-old.

Sanchez is still only 22 but he is also in his second minor league option year, meaning he has to stick in MLB or be exposed to waivers come the 2017 season. That’s still a long way away in the grand scheme of things. Long enough for his defense to improve to the Yankees’ high standards? Probably not. It’s not impossible, just unlikely. As with Jesus Montero and Peter O’Brien before him, Sanchez seems very likely to be dealt no matter how promising his bat appears simply because it doesn’t look like he’ll be a good catcher and doesn’t really have another position.

Eric Jagielo is blocked but not really — the Yankees did just sign Chase Headley to a four-year contract, but Jagielo probably won’t stay at third base long-term anyway. He might be headed for left field or, more likely, first base. And, if that is the case, Jagielo’s future impacts Greg Bird, a true first base prospect. Mark Teixeira‘s contract will expire after next season and ideally one of these two will step into to replace him at first. It’s easy to say the Yankees should look into their crystal ball, decide whether Jagielo or Bird will be the first baseman of the future and trade the other, but that’s not realistic. Either way, Jagielo and Bird shouldn’t be off-limits in trade talks.

Stock Down

Coming into the season, I would have said prospects like Ian Clarkin, Domingo German, Ty Hensley, and Luis Torrens fit into the “candidates to be traded” group for different reasons. Maybe even Jacob Lindgren too. They’ve all since suffered significant injuries. German and Hensley both had Tommy John surgery, Torrens had shoulder surgery, and Lindgren had a bone spur taken out of his elbow this week. He might be back in September. German, Hensley, and Torrens are done for the year.

Clarkin has not pitched in an official game this year because of some kind of elbow problem. He was shut down with tendinitis in Spring Training and reportedly pitched in an Extended Spring Training game back in May, but we haven’t heard any updates since, and he hasn’t joined any of the minor league affiliates. (Extended Spring Training ended a few days ago.) It’s hard not to think the worst in a situation like this. Clarkin and these other guys are still eligible to be traded, but injured non-elite prospects usually don’t have much value. The Yankees are better off holding onto them and hoping they rebuild value with a healthy 2016.

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

Not As Valuable As You May Think

Like the fans of the other 29 teams, we overvalue the Yankees’ prospects. We’re not unique. Everyone does it. Rob Refsnyder? He’s slightly more valuable than Tony Renda, who New York just acquired for a reliever who had been designated for assignment. An all-hit/no-glove prospect pushing a .750 OPS at Triple-A isn’t bringing back a whole lot. Think Pete O’Brien without the power.

Jorge Mateo? He’s loaded with ability. He’s also 20 and in Low-A, so three years away from MLB, give or take. The further away a player is from MLB, the less trade value he has. Same deal with Miguel Andujar and Tyler Wade. These guys absolutely have trade value. Just not as a centerpiece in a significant deal. They’re second or third pieces in a big deal, headliners in a smaller deal.

Miscellaneous depth arms fit here as well. Jose Ramirez, Tyler Webb, Branden Pinder, guys like that. They’re all interesting for different reasons and hey, they might have some MLB value for a few years, but they’re basically throw-ins. And no, lumping two or three good prospects together doesn’t equal one great prospect. Most teams already have prospects like the guys in this section in their farm system. They aren’t game-changers in trade negotiations.

Straight Cash, Homey

The Yankees’ single greatest trade chip is their payroll and their ability to absorb salary. That helped them get Prado at the trade deadline last year, for example. Or Bobby Abreu years ago. Whether Hal Steinbrenner is willing to take on substantial money to facilitate a trade is another matter. I mean, I’d hope so, especially for a rental player who won’t tie down future payroll when the team tries to get under the luxury tax threshold again. The team’s ability to take on big dollars separates them from most other clubs in trade talks. Their financial might is absolutely valuable when talking trades.

* * *

Even if the Yankees do make Severino and Judge off-limits — all indications are they will — I think they have enough mid-range prospects to acquire upgrades at the trade deadline. Not huge ones, we can forget all about Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto is Severino and Judge are off the table, but Sanchez, Jagielo, and the various outfielders will generate some interest. Finding a match will be more difficult than scratching together tradeable prospects, which was an issue for New York for several years in the mid-2000s.

Ty Hensley out for season following Tommy John surgery

(Robert Pimpsner)
(Robert Pimpsner)

Well this is awful. Alexis Brudnicki reports right-hander Ty Hensley had Tommy John surgery last month and will miss the 2015 season. Dr. James Andrews performed the procedure. Hensley reported to Spring Training as a healthy player after being viciously attacked during the holidays.

Hensley told Brudnicki he hurt his elbow pitching in a minor league game. “I was throwing against the Pirates and I got two outs and then threw a pitch and my forearm starting getting really tight …. When I was warming up for the second inning it was really, really tight, but as the inning went on, it started getting better so I didn’t think too much of it,” he said. Here’s more:

“As far as one thing after the other, with the whole hip surgery thing and my ab surgery—call it what you want, but I call that a fluke because, it’s just weird,” Hensley said. “Now this on the other hand, it’s an elbow injury. I know it takes time and I’m going to have to learn how to throw again, but I’m confident.

“I’ve gone through some stuff and gotten through it already so at the end it’s going to be no big deal. I’m going to get through it just fine and I’m going to throw harder, my stuff is going to be better, and I’ll be stronger and better for it.”

The Yankees selected the 21-year-old Hensley with the 30th overall pick in the 2012 draft and injuries have limited him to only 42.1 pro innings. The Yankees reduced Hensley’s signing bonus from $1.6M to $1.2M after they found an “abnormality” in his shoulder during a physical, then he missed the entire 2013 season and the start of the 2014 season after having surgery to repair both hips as well as a hernia. Now he’ll miss all of 2015 after having his elbow rebuilt.

The minor league season doesn’t start until Thursday, yet the Yankees have already lost three top 30 prospects — three top 18 prospects, really — for the season. Domingo German (No. 11) and Hensley (No. 18) have both had Tommy John surgery and Luis Torrens (No. 6) had shoulder surgery. That’s brutal. The injury bug isn’t messing around this year. It bit hard and early.

Minor League Notes: Assignments, Spring Reports, Judge, International Spending

Pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)
The new pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)

The Yankees open the 2015 regular season tomorrow, and a few days later the minor league season will get underway as well. Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston all begin their seasons this coming Thursday. Here are some minor league notes to hold you over until then.

Opening Day assignments for top prospects

The full minor league rosters have not yet been released and won’t be a few days, though Josh Norris was able to get his hands on Opening Day assignments for most of the Yankees’ top prospects. The list:

Norris says the assignments could change slightly before the start of the season, but for the most part they’re set. Sanchez is going back to the Thunder to continue working on his defense with coaches and ex-catchers Michel Hernandez and P.J. Pilittere, which I don’t love, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I assume Avelino, Katoh, and Mateo will rotate between second, short, and DH like Avelino, Katoh, and Wade did last year before Avelino got hurt. I’m little surprised Mateo is going to Charleston — he’s played only games in 15 rookie ball, that’s it — but the Yankees have never been shy about aggressively promoting their best teenage players. Otherwise these assignments are fairly straight forward. No major surprises.

Notes from the backfields in Tampa

Both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Jeff Moore (no subs. req’d) recently posted a collection of notes after watching minor league games on the backfields all around Florida. Law got a look at Mateo, saying he likes “how well he keeps his hands inside the ball” and added he “liked the potential of the hit tool but was hoping to see more polish on both sides of the ball.” The polish will come. It’s only Spring Training and Mateo is still just a 19-year-old kid.

Meanwhile, Moore saw Judge, Bird, and RHP Bryan Mitchell. “What’s impressive is (Judge) seems to get a little better each time I see him. The at-bats have gotten tougher and more advanced, with a better plan each time out,” wrote Moore. He also said he sees Bird as “a potential regular first baseman” and his “power is very real, more real than he gets credit for.” As for Mitchell, Moore says his fastball/curveball combination “screams reliever, and possibly a darn good one.”

Law still ranks Judge 23rd in latest Top 50 Prospects list

Last week, Law released an updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in baseball (subs. req’d). There are only very minor changes from his top 100 list in February, with the most notable being the addition of Red Sox IF Yoan Moncada, who slots in at No. 16. Even with Moncada joining the list, Judge stays in the same No. 23 spot because he jumped over Rockies RHP Jon Gray, who hasn’t looked like himself this spring. Judge remains the third outfielder on the list behind Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler. Law is the high man on Judge based on all this spring’s other top 100 lists. That’s cool with me.

Yankees spent $17.83M on international players in 2014

According to Ben Badler, the Yankees spent a ridiculous $17.83M on international prospects last year, easily the most in baseball. They spent more than the number two (Rays, $6.11M), three (Red Sox, $5.63M), and four (Astros, $5.42M) teams combined and more than the bottom ten teams combined ($16.9575M). Just to be clear, this is for the 2014 calendar year, not the 2014-15 signing period.

The Yankees handed out three of the five largest, six of the 14 largest, and 12 of the 40 largest signing bonuses to international prospects during the 2014 calendar year, according to Badler. We still don’t have a final number for the total bonuses the Yankees handed out during the 2014-15 signing period, but the total investment is clearly going to be north of $30M between bonuses and penalties. Most of that $17.83M last year was spent on July 2nd, the first day of the 2014-15 signing period. Now the Yankees just have to turn these kids into big leaguers and tradeable prospects.

Yankees release nine more minor leaguers

The Yankees have released seven more minor leaguers according to Matt Eddy: OF Yeicok Calderon, RHP Tim Giel, OF Robert Hernandez, RHP Stefan Lopez, RHP Matt Noteware, 1B Dalton Smith, and IF Graham Ramos. Dan Pfeiffer says OF Adonis Garcia was released as well, and OF Adam Silva announced on Facebook he was also released.

First things first: no more Yeicokshots!, sadly. Hernandez was signed in January, so his stint with the organization didn’t last long. Lopez led NCAA in saves in 2012 and had some potential, but he fell in love with his fastball so much in college that he lost all feel for his slider and became a one-pitch guy. The Yankees signed Giel, Noteware, and Ramos as undrafted free agents within the last two years to help fill out minor league rosters. That’s about it.

Old Timers’ Game coming to Triple-A Scranton

And finally, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre franchise is holding an Old Timers’ Game on June 21st, reports Donnie Collins. The event will raise money for Parkinson’s disease research. “I expect the ballpark to be sold out — and standing room only. That’s the goal,” said RailRiders’ co-managing partner to Grant Cagle to Collins. A bunch of ex-Yankees will be in attendance — not sure who, exactly — to play in the Old Timers’ Game and/or mingle with fans during a meet-and-greet and autograph session. That should be fun.

Farm System Offers Some Help Now, More Help Later [2015 Season Preview]

Severino. (Presswire)
Severino. (Presswire)

Two years ago, the Yankees had a miserable season down in the farm system, with several top prospects either getting hurt, underperforming, or simply failing to move forward in their development. When big leaguer after big leaguer went down with an injury, the farm system had little to no help to offer. It was bad enough that Hal Steinbrenner and his staff essentially audited the player development system after the season, though they only made procedural changes.

Things were not nearly as bad last year, though they weren’t as good as they could have been either. Having three first round picks in the 2013 draft helped infuse high-end talent, and several other young lower level players took quicker than expected steps forward in their development. That didn’t stop the team from replacing longtime VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman and farm director Pat Roessler, both of whom were let go last October. (Newman retired, but his contract was up and all indications are he wasn’t going to be brought back anyway.)

Gary Denbo, who has worn many hats with the Yankees over the years, was tabbed as Newman’s replacement and he now oversees the player development system. (His official title is vice president of player development.) Eric Schmitt dropped the “assistant” from his old assistant director of minor league operations title and was promoted this offseason. Several other coaching and development staff changes were made as well, including the return of Greg Colbrunn (Low-A hitting coach) and Eric Duncan (Short Season defensive coach).

The Yankees are hoping those changes lead to a more productive farm system and soon. Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, and Steinbrenner all said his past offseason that young players were going to play a big role in the franchise going forward, which makes sense given Hal’s plan to get under the luxury tax threshold in two years or so. The system isn’t quite ready to graduate impact talent to the big league level, but there are several of those types of prospects on the horizon for 2016. Time to look ahead to the coming year in the minors.

The Top Prospects: Bird, Clarkin, Judge, Sanchez, Severino

You can rank them in whatever order, but I think most will agree 1B Greg Bird, LHP Ian Clarkin, OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, and RHP Luis Severino are the five best prospects in the system. Judge and Severino are a notch above the other three thanks to their sky high upside, though Cashman recently called Bird “by far the best hitter” in the organization and Clarkin might have the highest probability of the bunch. Sanchez has been around seemingly forever and I think people are getting sick of him, yet he just put up a 108 wRC+ at age 21 as an everyday catcher at Double-A. That’s pretty impressive.

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Severino is the sexy flame-throwing starter, but I consider Judge the more exciting and more polished prospect. He’s shown much better contact skills and a better approach than even the Yankees realized he had when they draft him 32nd overall in 2013, plus he also has huge raw power and is an asset defensively in right field. Judge needs to learn when to turn it loose so he can best tap into that power, but otherwise he’s a very complete prospect. Severino has big upside but still needs to improve his breaking ball and delivery.

With it looking more and more likely Sanchez will return to Double-A Trenton for yet another season, four of the Yankees’ top five prospects will be with the Thunder to start the 2015 season. Only Clarkin won’t be there — he’s slated to open the season with High-A Tampa, and while he could be promoted to Trenton later in the summer, the other four guys could be bumped up to Triple-A Scranton by then. Between Bird, Judge, Sanchez, Severino, and others like 3B Eric Jagielo and OF Jake Cave, Double-A is going to be a very fun affiliate to watch this summer.

Ready To Help Now: Flores, Lindgren, Pirela, Refsnyder

Inevitably, the Yankees will need help from within this year. Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to underperform, and the team will have to dip into the farm system for help. UTIL Jose Pirela suffered a concussion running into the outfield wall a week ago, but before that he was first in line to be called up whenever infield or outfield help is needed. His defense isn’t good anywhere; Pirela’s simply hit his way into the MLB picture.

With Pirela hurt, OF Ramon Flores figures to be first in line should outfield reinforcements be needed. I get the feeling Flores is going to spend about ten years in the league as a left-handed platoon outfielder, a Seth Smith type. He’s not a flashy prospect but he can hit, especially righties, and won’t kill his team in the field. 2B Rob Refsnyder isn’t ready for the big leagues defensively, but the Yankees could stick him at second base on an everyday basis this year and no one would think they’re crazy. He’s done nothing but hit since turning pro. Refsnyder just needs more reps on the infield after playing the outfield in college.

LHP Jacob Lindgren is New York’s best bullpen prospect and the most MLB ready, so much so that I think he should be on the Opening Day roster. Yeah, he could probably use a little more minor league time — Lindgren has yet to play at Triple-A, for what’s it worth — to work on his command, which is why he was sent to minor league camp yesterday, but Lindgren can get big leaguers out right now if the Yankees need him to. Pirela made his MLB debut last September and I expect Flores, Refsnyder, and Lindgren to make their debuts this year, sooner rather than later.

Ready To Help Soon: Austin, Bird, Judge, Rumbelow, Severino

As I mentioned earlier, much of the Yankees’ potential impact talent is likely to arrive in 2016, not 2015, including Bird, Judge, and Severino. I wouldn’t be surprised if Severino debuts this summer though. The Yankees have moved him very aggressively. RHP Nick Rumbelow is also likely to debut in 2015 as a strikeout heavy reliever, though he wasn’t as much of an Opening Day roster candidate as Lindgren. OF Tyler Austin figures to be a September call-up after spending the summer roaming the outfield with Triple-A Scranton.

Getting a cup of coffee and being ready to contribute are different things, however. Guys like Lindgren, Refsnyder, and Pirela are able to help the Yankees at the MLB level right away, at least in some aspects of the game. Others like Bird, Judge, Austin, and Severino aren’t big league ready and the Yankees shouldn’t plan on calling them up for help this year. They all need more seasoning in the minors. Next year we’ll be talking about them as players ready to help at the MLB level. They’re not ready at this very moment though.

Rumblin' Rumbelow. (Presswire)
Rumblin’ Rumbelow. (Presswire)

Breakout Candidates: DeCarr, Hensley, Mateo

You could make the case SS Jorge Mateo broke out last year, albeit in only 15 rookie ball games, but I think he has top 100 prospect in the game potential. Mateo, 19, is insanely fast with surprising power and a good approach at the plate to go with strong defensive chops at short. He received a ton of love last year and a full, healthy season in 2015 could have him atop New York’s prospect list and ranked among the best shortstop prospects in baseball.

RHP Ty Hensley‘s career has been slowed considerably by injuries, most notably two hip surgeries and a hernia that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season and the start of 2014 as well. He is healthy now and I get the sense the Yankees are ready to turn him loose with Low-A Charleston. Get him out there and let him pitch as much as possible early in the year just to make sure he gets those innings in, know what I mean? If they have to shut Hensley down in August to control his workload, so be it. He needs to make up for all the lost development time.

RHP Austin DeCarr was the Yankees’ third round pick last summer and is surprisingly refined for a kid just a year out of high school, throwing three good pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup) for strikes. It’s unclear where the club will send DeCarr to start the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he opened the year alongside Hensley in Charleston’s rotation. Other potential breakout candidates include OF Mark Payton, RHP Gabe Encinas, OF Leonardo Molina, OF Alex Palma, and SS Angel Aguilar.

Sleepers: Acevedo, De La Rosa, Haynes

Over the last few weeks RHP Domingo Acevedo has generated some buzz for his imposing frame (listed at 6-foor-7 and 190 lbs.) and a fastball that has touched triple digits. Perhaps he’s more of a breakout candidate than a sleeper? Is there a difference? Who knows. Anyway, Acevedo’s size and stuff make him super interesting, though his full season debut is likely a year away. He’s a deep sleeper.

RHP Kyle Haynes is a more traditional sleeper. The 24-year-old reliever came over from the Pirates in the Chris Stewart trade and has good stuff, specifically a mid-90s fastball and an average-ish slider. Command holds him back, which along with his age and role is the reason you haven’t heard much about him. The Yankees have had some success getting these big stuff, bad command guys to throw strikes in recent years (Shane Greene most notably), and Haynes could be next.

The most intriguing sleeper — even moreso than Acevedo — in my opinion is RHP Simon De La Rosa. The 21-year-old is a late bloomer who didn’t sign until age 19 in 2013 — he received a measly $50,000 bonus at that — but he packs mid-90s heat into his 6-foot-3, 185 lb. frame and also throws a curveball and a changeup. Despite his age, I don’t think the Yankees will aggressively move De La Rosa up the ladder because he’s so raw. The tools are there for a quality pitching prospect though.

The New Batch: DeLeon, Emery, Garcia, Gomez

Last summer the Yankees went on an unprecedented spring spree and signed many of the top available international prospects. I haven’t seen a final number anywhere, but estimates have the club shelling out more than $30M between bonuses and penalties. The two best prospects the Yankees signed are OF Juan DeLeon and 3B Dermis Garcia, though 3B Nelson Gomez, OF Bryan Emery, OF Jonathan Amundary, and C Miguel Flames are among the other notables. These guys will all make their pro debuts this season. That’s a big talent infusion in such a short amount of time.

Slade. (Presswire)
Slade. (Presswire)

Last Chance?: Campos, Heathcott, Williams

As is the case every year, the Yankees have several former top prospects facing make or break seasons in 2015. RHP Vicente Campos is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and is only throwing bullpen sessions now, so he’s unlikely to return to the mound until midseason. He’s thrown just 111.2 innings over the last three years. OF Slade Heathcott played only nine games in 2014 due to a pair of knee surgeries. He’s looked healthy in camp and needs to finally have a full season in 2015. Both Campos and Heathcott were non-tendered this offseason and re-signed to minor league contracts.

Some have called this a make or break season for Sanchez but I don’t agree with that at all. His defense needs to progress, absolutely, but he’s consistently been an above-average hitter throughout his career despite being three-ish years young for the level each step of the way. OF Mason Williams is definitely facing a make or break year, on the other hand. He hasn’t hit and has had to be benched for lack of effort on multiple occasions. Williams certainly doesn’t lack tools, he just hasn’t displayed the makeup and work ethic needed to be a big leaguer. More of the same will end his time as a prospect. Talent is important, but it will only buy you so many chances if you don’t put he work in.