Poll: Replacing Alex Rodriguez

Austin. (Presswire)
Austin. (Presswire)

Tomorrow night Alex Rodriguez will play the final game of his MLB career. That’s pretty wild, isn’t it? We all knew the end would come sooner rather than later, but this is all happening so fast. It’s for the best though. The Yankees are better off with someone else occupying A-Rod‘s roster spot, and come Saturday, someone else will indeed be occupying that roster spot.

The Yankees seem committing to giving their young players a chance down the stretch, and A-Rod’s exit gives them an opportunity to incorporate another kid into the lineup. Gary Sanchez has been up for a week already and he’s getting regular at-bats. It’s pretty cool. Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin seem to be the most likely candidates to replace A-Rod, but they’re not alone. Let’s break down their cases.

Tyler Austin

The Case For Austin: After a few seasons of injury and poor performance, Austin has put himself back on the prospect map this year by hitting .295/.394/.527 (161 wRC+) with 17 homers in 106 games split between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s got opposite field pop and defensive versatility, at least somewhat. Austin can play first base and right field, as well as DH. He could also man third base in a real pinch, but not regularly.

Austin has to be added to the 40-man roster after the season and the Yankees figure to do exactly that rather than risk losing him for nothing. Greg Bird is rehabbing from shoulder surgery and first base is a little up in the air next season, and Austin could be an option there. Calling him up now and giving him regular at-bats would give the Yankees a chance to evaluate him against MLB caliber pitching. That’s the entire point of calling these guys up.

The Case Against Austin: Even with the bounceback year, Austin’s upside is not sky high, and he projects as maybe a solid regular at the MLB level if things break right. Historically, righty hitting and righty throwing first basemen have to hit and hit big to stick around long-term. Austin’s ability to play the outfield works in his favor, though we’re now talking about a right-handed Garrett Jones type. Rather than audition Austin this month, the Yankees could opt to play a higher upside prospect with a better chance to be a part of the next core.

Aaron Judge

The Case For Judge: Simply put, Judge came into the season as the team’s top prospect — he’d still be their top prospect if not for the Clint Frazier trade — and he’s done exactly what the Yankees wanted him to do this season. He’s putting up good numbers (.265/.359/.472 with 18 homers and a 141 wRC+) and he’s cut his strikeout rate down to 23.9%, lowest it’s been since he was in Low-A ball two years ago. The performance is there.

Judge. (Times Leader)
Judge. (Times Leader)

On top of that, the right field job is wide open going forward, and Judge is the obvious candidate to assume that position long-term. It’s not just about the bat. Judge is a surprisingly good runner for his size and he’s an asset on defense with a very strong arm. He’s going to surprise a lot of people with his athleticism when he first comes up. Guys listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 lbs. usually don’t move this well. Judge is the heir apparent in right field and his time is now.

The Case Against Judge: Judge did just return from a knee injury that forced him to miss close to a month, remember. He’s performed well since returning, going 10-for-29 (.345) in eight games, but that’s still a lot of time to miss. A few more Triple-A at-bats to make up for the lost time wouldn’t be the end of the world. Also, Judge doesn’t offer much versatility, so if the Yankees remain committed to giving Aaron Hicks a look, the everyday at-bats might not be there.

Other Candidates

Ben Gamel: Gamel is having another strong season in Triple-A (132 wRC+) around a few short call-ups to MLB. He’s a lefty hitting outfielder, which is something the Yankees don’t exactly lack right now. Finding playing time for Gamel, who might only be a fourth outfielder long-term, might not be all that easy. I — and I think the Yankees — would rather see Hicks out there everyday.

Clint Frazier: Overall, Frazier is hitting .273/.345/.463 (122 wRC+) this season, though most of that is at Double-A. He’s played 13 total games at Triple-A (73 wRC+), including eight since the trade. Frazier is ridiculously talented and a potential impact hitter, but there is still some development to be done. Calling him up would be a sexy, headline making move. It would also be extremely aggressive.

Chris Parmelee: Remember him? Parmelee is currently on a Triple-A rehab assignment and will have to be activated off the DL no later than Thursday, August 25th. He could be activated to replace A-Rod and get a bunch of first base and DH at-bats. Of course, the 28-year-old Parmelee has no long-term future in the organization, so he doesn’t exactly qualify as part of the youth movement.

Others like Jake Cave, Cesar Puello, and Mason Williams could be call-up candidates as well — Williams is actually on the Triple-A DL with a quad injury at the moment — though they seem to be further down the depth chart at the moment. It truly feels like it’s Austin and Judge against the field right now. Who’s the best option?

Who should be called up to replace A-Rod?

Tyler Austin has put himself back on the prospect map and should get a look in the second half

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As recently as two years ago, Tyler Austin was so well-regarded that Keith Law (subs. req’d) placed him 85th on his annual top 100 prospects list, one spot ahead of current Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop. That was the last time Austin would appear on a top 100 list due to ongoing injuries and performance issues. His prospect stock cratered the last two years.

Austin, now 24, hit .263/.332/.390 (105 wRC+) with 17 homers in 806 total plate appearances from 2014-15, mostly at Double-A but also some Triple-A. He dealt with a bunch of injuries too, most notably wrist problems. Those numbers aren’t that bad, but for a bat first prospect at a corner position, they’re not nearly good enough to stay on the various prospect lists.

The injuries and lack of production led to Austin losing his 40-man roster spot last September. The Yankees designated him for assignment to clear space for other players and Austin slipped through waivers unclaimed. He went from a top 100 prospect prior to 2014 to unclaimed on waivers in September 2015. Austin didn’t even get invited to big league Spring Training this year. That’s quite a fall, one many players usually don’t come back from.

“You never want to go backward in this game but I think it was a great learning experience for me,” said Austin to Shane Hennigan back in June. “This game humbled me very fast and I found out the hard way. I’m going to try and not let anything like that happen again and continue to work hard and go from there.”

With a healthy wrist and a chip on his shoulder after being passed over on waivers, Austin has rebuilt some prospect stock this year, first by mashing in Double-A and then continuing to do so in Triple-A. He put up a .260/.367/.395 (118 wRC+) line with the Thunder and went into last night’s game hitting .316/.417/.649 (209 wRC+) with the RailRiders. Overall, Austin has hit .288/.392/.521 (161 wRC+) with 17 homers in 99 games. Those 17 homers are his most since hitting 17 during his breakout 2012 season.

The big bounceback season has put Austin back on the prospect map and apparently on the cusp of the big leagues as well. In recent days both Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner mentioned Austin as a call-up candidate in the second half. When the owner mentions you by name in interviews, you’re doing something right. I’m of the belief Austin should indeed get a look in the second half, and not just because his numbers are good. There are plenty of other good reasons as well.

1. He’s a righty hitter with opposite field power. The old scouting reports on Austin said he had power to all fields and a level swing that made consistent hard contact. We didn’t see that version of Austin from 2014-15 due to the wrist and other physical problems. This year, the good version of Austin has returned, and he’s showing that all-fields power. Check out his 2016 spray chart, via MLB Farm:

Tyler Austin spray chart

I count eight of Austin’s 17 home runs going out to right field. Ten of his 29 doubles have been hit to the right field side of dead center as well. Needless to say, a right-handed hitter who can drive the ball with authority to right field is a damn good fit for Yankee Stadium. Austin has pull power as well, but that ability to go the other way is what made him a top 100 prospect back in the day. We’ve seen the oppo pop return in 2016.

2. He plays a position(s) of need. The Yankees originally drafted Austin out of a Georgia high school as a catcher back in the 13th round of the 2010 draft. He immediately moved to first base, then gave third base a try, then shifted to right field, and now he’s back at first. Austin has moved around quite a bit over the years as the Yankees tried to find his best natural position. Turns out it’s first base.

The Yankees have a long-term need at first base, and while everyone hopes Greg Bird fills that spot, this year’s shoulder injury has thrown a wrench into things. At the very least, the Yankees figure to need a right-handed platoon partner for Bird next season, and that’s a role Austin can fill. He could also be an option in the two corner outfield spots and an emergency option at third base. Austin offers a little versatility and is capable of playing first base, a position that is a question mark going forward until Bird shows he’s healthy and productive.

3. This offseason is decision time. Back in November 2014, the Yankees added Austin to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. They dropped him from the 40-man last September and he went unpicked in December’s Rule 5 Draft, which was no surprise. No team bothered to claim him off waivers, when they could have acquired him for nothing and not put up with the Rule 5 Draft rules. Why would they then take him in the Rule 5 Draft?

This offseason Austin will not just be Rule 5 Draft eligible again. He’s up for minor league free agency. And if he hits the open market, the smart money is on him joining an organization that gives him the best chance to break into the big leagues immediately. You could argue that team is the Yankees with Mark Teixeira likely to be let go and Bird coming back from shoulder surgery, but Austin may not see it that way.

The Yankees are going to have to decide whether to keep Austin by adding him to the 40-man roster — if he’s put back on the 40-man, he can’t become a minor league free agent — or likely lose him for nothing as a free agent. That’s not ideal. Austin has two minor league option years left, so they could keep him and always send him back to Triple-A if there’s a roster crunch. That’s not a problem. Either way, it’s decision time. Something has to happen.

* * *

It’s important to keep in mind that while it’s good to call a player up and get a look at him in the second half, it can be deceiving. Those 40-50 games are still a small sample size and they can play tricks on you. Luis Severino sure looked ready to take over as the staff ace following those eleven starts last season, right? Those 40-50 games are useful and they do help teams evaluate the player. They don’t tell the entire story though. Hardly.

Austin’s prospect stock took a huge hit the last two years, so much so that he went unclaimed on waivers. He’s rebounded this season thanks mostly to good health, and if nothing else, he’s put himself in position to be considered for a call-up. With Teixeira not hitting all year and a clear long-term need at first base, it would behoove the Yankees to call Austin up and get his feet wet at the MLB level down the stretch. His performance and those three reasons above are why it should happen.

Yankees land seven players on MLB.com’s midseason top 100 prospects list

Frazier. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
Frazier. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

Last week the crew at MLB.com rolled out their midseason top 100 prospects list as well as their updated individual team top 30 lists. I intentionally waited to post this stuff because I had a feeling the Yankees were going to make some noise at the trade deadline, and sure enough, they did. Five trades total, including four that qualify as “sellers” trades.

Astros IF Alex Bregman sits in the top spot of the midseason top 100 — we saw him make his MLB debut in Houston last week — and is followed by Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada and Phillies SS J.P. Crawford in the top three. The Yankees have seven players on the top 100. Three the seven were acquired within the last week. Here’s the list:

22. OF Clint Frazier (acquired in Andrew Miller trade)
24. SS Gleyber Torres (acquired in Aroldis Chapman trade)
25. 2B/SS Jorge Mateo
30. OF Aaron Judge
37. C Gary Sanchez
62. OF Blake Rutherford
93. LHP Justus Sheffield (acquired in Andrew Miller trade)

So that’s some list, huh? Three top 25 prospects, four top 30 prospects, and five top 40 prospects. Three of those five are in Triple-A too. That’s is pretty damn awesome. You can see MLB.com’s updated top 30 Yankees prospects right here. The scouting reports and everything are all free. I’m not going to regurgitate everything here. Here are some thoughts instead.

1. Andujar climbed quite a bit. Prior to the season MLB.com ranked 3B Miguel Andujar as the 15th best prospect in the system. Now he ranks eighth. That doesn’t sound like a huge jump, but four of the guys ahead of him in the midseason update weren’t in the organization prior to the season. His jump was really more like 15th to fourth when you ignore the new additions. Andujar’s breakout this season has been really impressive and it feels like a long time coming even though he’s still only 21. He’s six months younger than Frazier. These international signees get old quick, if you know what I mean. Prospect fatigue sets in early.

2. Adams climbed too. RHP Chance Adams has been a both a statistical and scouting marvel this season, as he’s made the transition from reliever to starter rather easily. He was 21st on the preseason list and is 14th now, ninth when you ignore all the recent additions. “While Adams has a deep enough repertoire to start, he’s not a big guy and it remains to be seen how his health and stuff would hold up with a significantly bigger workload,” said the write-up, and I think his size is important. Adams is listed at 6-foot-0 and the concern with short-ish pitchers is always the ability to drive the fastball downhill and avoid fly balls and homers. His 43.8% grounder rate and 10.8 HR/FB% aren’t exactly good signs. That said, Adams looks like a really safe bet to be at least a big league reliever long-term. What a scouting and player development story he is so far.

3. Green makes the leap. RHP Chad Green was not included in MLB.com’s preseason list. He now ranks 22nd, or 16th when you ignore the new guys. That’s a pretty significant jump. “Green’s fastball already was his best pitch when he worked at 90-94 mph with some occasional life. Now he’s sitting at 93-95 mph and touching 97,” says the scouting report. What is it with the Yankees getting their pitching prospects to add velocity? Green and a bunch of others have done it, including Adams and RHP James Kaprielian. There have been others as well. I’ve been impressed with Green’s arm despite his meh big league results to date. He was the second piece in the Justin Wilson trade, and, at least according to MLB.com, he’s jumped over RHP Luis Cessa to become the top piece.

4. Enns makes it. Finally some love for LHP Dietrich Enns, who has had tremendous results since returning from Tommy John surgery last year: 1.37 ERA (2.88 FIP) in 170.1 total innings. The scouting report isn’t as exciting as the numbers — “Enns’ lone plus pitch is his changeup, a low-80s offering that dives at the plate,” said the write-up, which also says he has an 87-92 mph fastball, a low-80s slider, and a slow curve — but he’s making people take notice, and that’s pretty cool. This guy was a 19th round pick and an organizational arm before having his elbow rebuild. Now he’s a prospect, albeit a fringe one who might not be more than a swingman at the MLB level. That’s still a really great outcome given his draft slot.

5. No Solak? I was surprised to see 2B Nick Solak absent from the top 30. I had him 13th on my post-draft top 30 before all the trades, so either I’m really high on him or MLB.com is really low. Probably the former. Solak has bat control and plate discipline, plus he can handle a middle infield position, and that seems really valuable to me. He’s the most notable omission in my book. Even with the new additions, I consider Solak organizational top 30 material rather easily.

6. No Austin either? 1B/OF Tyler Austin didn’t make the top 30 either — he also didn’t make my post-draft list, for what it’s worth — and that surprised me. I guess not everyone is sold on his big bounceback year yet. Brian Cashman did mention Austin by name as a possible call-up candidate yesterday and we’re going to find out pretty soon how the Yankees value him. Austin is going to be a minor league free agent after the season, so either the team will add him to the 40-man roster and keep him, or likely lose him to another club that offers a greater opportunity.

The Farm System [2016 Season Preview]

Kaprielian. (Presswire)
Kaprielian. (Presswire)

The Yankees ignored their farm system for a number of years in the early and mid-2000s. They forfeited first round picks left and right to sign free agents, and they traded the few prospects they had for big leaguers every chance they got. I don’t think that’s automatically a bad thing! There’s a time and a place to go for it, and when you’re winning 90+ games every year, you go for it.

Things changed not too long ago. The Yankees decided to scale back the “go for it” mentality and instead focus on getting younger and building from within. Draft picks are precious, especially now that it’s harder to get extra ones, and top prospects are off limits in trades. Or at least the team says they are. Last summer the Yankees dipped into their farm system to fill a number of holes, most notably by sticking Luis Severino in the second half rotation.

The Yankees doubled down on their farm system this offseason. They signed zero Major League free agents for the first time in franchise history (as far as I can tell), and they didn’t go bonkers with trades either. They added a new second baseman, a new fourth outfielder, and a new closer. That’s about it. Any additional help is going to come from within in 2016. Let’s preview the farm system.

The Top Prospects

The Yankees have four prospects who are clearly a notch above everyone else in the system: OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, SS Jorge Mateo, and RHP James Kaprielian. Put them in any order you want. I won’t argue (much). Those are the four guys though. They’re the cream of the farm system crop. And cool part is all four could play in MLB in 2016. I wouldn’t call it likely, but it’s not completely impossible.

Judge is a behemoth — he’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 lbs. — with the kind of raw power you’d expect from that frame, though he doesn’t fit the one-dimensional slugger stereotype because he has a good hit tool and can play quality right field defense. Triple-A pitchers beat him with soft stuff away last year, so he’ll focus on the outer half this year. He’s already made some adjustments. Judge is not on the 40-man roster and the Yankees do have a lot of Triple-A outfield depth, but he will be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason, so the team could add him to the 40-man ahead of time and bring him up in September. Perhaps even sooner.

As soon as John Ryan Murphy was traded, Sanchez became the favorite for the backup catcher’s job. Over time it became clear sending him down was the right move, and not only because he went 1-for-21 (.048) in Spring Training. Five weeks in the minors equals an extra year of team control down the line and that is too good to pass up. Sanchez will continue to work on his defense in Triple-A for the time being. It’s only a matter of time until he takes over as Brian McCann‘s backup.

Mateo and Kaprielian are both going to start the season in High-A and they could conceivably reach MLB late in the season. Kaprielian, a polished college arm, could follow the Ian Kennedy path and zoom up the ladder, capping off his season with a few big league starts. Mateo, a speedster who can do a little of everything, could be the team’s designated pinch-runner in September. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so the Yankees could add him to the 40-man roster a few weeks early and put those legs to good use.

Judge, Sanchez, Mateo, and Kaprielian are the club’s tippy top prospects, and even if they don’t help at the MLB level this season, they’re all big parts of the future. Judge is the obvious long-term replacement for Carlos Beltran. Sanchez is McCann’s long-term replacement. The Yankees have one big league starter under team control beyond 2017 (Severino), so Kaprielian’s place is obvious. Mateo? They’ll figure that out when the time comes. For now, these four will continue to hone their skills and inch closer to an MLB job.

Ready To Help

In addition to the four top prospects, the Yankees have a few minor leaguers on the cusp of helping at the MLB level right now. First and foremost, they have about a dozen arms for the bullpen shuttle, and frankly I’m kinda sick of talking about them. We know the names, right? LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Nick Goody, RHP Branden Pinder, LHP James Pazos, on and on the list goes. We’re going to see them all at some point in 2016. I’m sure of it.

Gamel. (Presswire)
Gamel. (Presswire)

Beyond the bullpen shuttle, the Yankees have a small army of Triple-A outfielders who can help at a moment’s notice. Need a bat? OF Ben Gamel is there. Need defense? OF Mason Williams is the best bet once he fully recovers from shoulder surgery. Need a little of both? There’s OF Slade Heathcott. 2B Rob Refsnyder provides infield depth, or at least he will once he spends more time at third base. IF Ronald Torreyes, who will open the season in the show, is another infield candidate.

RHP Bryan Mitchell is also going to open to season in MLB, though he’s still a piece of rotation depth. If he’s the best man for the job, the Yankees will pull him out of the bullpen and stick him in the rotation whenever a starter is needed. RHP Luis Cessa, who came over in the Justin Wilson trade, looked very good this spring and is probably next in line for a call-up. RHP Brady Lail and RHP Chad Green are behind him. Cessa is on the 40-man. Lail and Green are not.

Unlike last season, the Yankees don’t have a Severino waiting in the wings. They don’t have that prospect who can come up and provide immediate impact. Well, I should rephrase that. They don’t have a prospect you would reasonably project to come up and have an impact right away. Cessa could come up and throw 60 innings with a sub-2.00 ERA, but no one expects that. Either way, the Yankees have depth pieces in Triple-A. Expect them to dip into their farm system for short-term help again this year, regardless of what they need at the MLB level.

The Next Top Prospects

A year ago at this time Mateo looked like a prospect who was ready to explode onto the scene and become a top tier prospect. Two years ago it was Severino. This summer, the best candidate for such a breakout is SS Wilkerman Garcia, who was part of that massive international spending spree two years ago. He’s a switch-hitter with good defense and I swear, every scouting report I read about him is better than the last. I’m excited to see what Wilkerman does this year.

Beyond Wilkerman, OF Dustin Fowler and C Luis Torrens have a chance to become top prospects this year. Fowler is a do-it-all outfielder and Torrens is a defense-first catcher with a promising bat. He’s coming back from shoulder surgery though, so maybe expecting a breakout after missing the entire 2015 season is too much to ask. 3B Miguel Andujar has high-end tools. We’re just waiting for the performance to match. SS Hoy Jun Park is another toolsy shortstop like Garcia.

The Yankees have a very position player heavy farm system, though they do have some pitching prospects poised to break out this summer. RHP Drew Finley is the No. 1 guy. He’s got three pitches and he locates. I feel like he’s going to sneak up on people this year. RHP Domingo Acevedo is the quintessential huge fastball guy. He just has to figure everything else out. LHP Jeff Degano needs to develop a changeup but already has the fastball and breaking ball.

Then, of course, there’s whoever the Yankees take with their first round pick (18th overall) in this June’s amateur draft. That player — the smart money is on a college player based on the team’s recent draft tendencies — figures to be one of their better prospects a year from now. Wilkerman, Fowler, and Finley are my picks. Those are the guys I see having big 2016 seasons developmentally and becoming true top prospects year from now.

Returning From Injury

Torrens missed all of last season with his injury, but man, he’s not the only one. LHP Ian Clarkin missed the regular season with elbow inflammation, which stinks. The good news is he did not need surgery and was able to throw some innings in the Arizona Fall League. RHP Ty Hensley, RHP Austin DeCarr, and RHP Domingo German all had Tommy John surgery last spring and are still working their way back. Lindgren (elbow), Heathcott (quad), and Williams (shoulder) all missed big chunks of the season too. That’s a lot of talent coming back. Hopefully all of them come back at full strength, or at least something close to it.

Sladerunner. (Presswire)
Sladerunner. (Presswire)

Last Chance?

Prospects are fun and everyone loves them, but they will break your heart. Over and over again. Some players are entering make or break years, and I don’t mean 2015 Gary Sanchez make or break years. I mean real make or break years. 1B/OF Tyler Austin is the most obvious last chance guy. He’s battled injuries and ineffectiveness the last few years, and he lost his 40-man roster spot in September. The 2016 season is his last chance to show the Yankees he’s worth keeping around.

Heathcott’s another make or break player for me. The Yankees gave him a second chance last year and he rewarded them with his big September home run against the Rays. That said, he again missed a bunch of time due to injury, and when healthy he didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball in Triple-A. Another year like that might spell the end of Slade’s time in the organization, especially since he will be out of options following the season.

I’m also inclined to include RHP Vicente Campos in the make or break category. He’s had a lot of injuries over the years, most notably missing the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery, which has really cut into his development time. This is his final minor league option year, and if he doesn’t show the Yankees he can help as soon next year, it may be time to move on. Baseball is cruel, man.

The Deep Sleepers

Remember that “The Next Top Prospects” section? Consider this the Next Next Top Prospects section. These are the deepest sleepers in the farm system. They’re way off the beaten path. The new hotness right now is OF Estevan Florial, an ulta-tooled up 18-year-old the Yankees got on the cheap because identity issues — he used a relative’s identity to enroll in school in the Dominican Republic — put him in purgatory before signing. He’s going to make his stateside debut this year and jump onto the prospect map in a big way.

SS Diego Castillo and OF Brayan Emery were part of the 2014-15 international spending spree, and both possess tools that far exceed their six-figure bonuses. Castillo in particular already looks like a steal at $750,000. He should come to the U.S. this year and is in line to follow Mateo and Wilkerman as the next great Yankees shortstop prospect. RHP Luis Medina, who signed last July, is already running his fastball up to 98-100 mph. And then there’s OF Leonardo Molina, who is still only 18. It feels like he’s been around forever. Florial is the big name to know here, but Castillo’s not far behind. Expect to hear a lot about those two in 2016 and beyond.

The Best of the Rest

There is nothing sexy about being a mid-range prospect, but you know what? Mid-range prospects are often the difference between good teams and great teams. They provide depth and they’re valuable trade chips. Guys like Adam Warren and Brett Gardner don’t grow on trees, you know. You’d rather draft and develop them yourself than have to go out and buy them from someone else.

SS Tyler Wade, SS Kyle Holder, LHP Jordan Montgomery, IF Thairo Estrada, IF Abi Avelino, OF Carlos Vidal, 1B Chris Gittens, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Chance Adams, OF Trey Amburgey, and OF Jhalan Jackson all fit into this group. They’re good prospects, not great prospects, and they all project to be big leaguers of varying usefulness. I’m not sure if we’ll see any of these players in the show this year, but I bet several pop-up in trade rumors, and one or two could be moved for help at the MLB level. That’s what the farm system is for, after all. Call-ups and trades.

Prospect position changes have helped the Yankees boost their farm system in recent years

Birdman. (Presswire)
Birdman. (Presswire)

In an effort to improve roster flexibility, the Yankees have both Starlin Castro and Rob Refsnyder working out at third base this spring. It might work, it might not. The only way to find out is to try, and there is no better time to try than Spring Training. Well, except in the minors, where the player can play their new position every day and not worry about sharing playing time.

Over the last few years the Yankees have boosted their farm system and improved the stock of several individual prospects by changing their positions. I don’t mean the usual starter to reliever (Dellin Betances), shortstop to third base (Miguel Andujar), and center field to a corner (Aaron Judge) conversions. I mean moves to more challenging positions, with Jorge Posada going from second base to catcher the most well-known example. The Yankees have had some success with similar moves in recent years. Here are the most notable.

Greg Bird: C to 1B

Okay, moving from catcher to first base is a move down the defensive spectrum, but catcher is a unique position, and I think the Bryce Harper principle applies to Bird. Harper was a catcher as an amateur, yet the Nationals moved him to the outfield immediately following the 2010 draft. Why? Because it would reduce injury risk, it would allow them to keep his bat in the lineup every single day, and it would accelerate his development because he wouldn’t have to focus on the defensive aspect of the position.

Bird actually started his career as a catcher — he caught three games with the rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees in 2012 — before suffering a back injury, at which point the team said forget it, let’s put him at first base. That has allowed Bird to avoid the wear and tear of catching, focus on his offense, and reach the big leagues just three years later. Would Greg Bird be more valuable as a catcher? In theory yes. Except his offense would likely suffer because he’d wear down, he wouldn’t play as often, and he’d probably be a nightmare defensively. Moving from catcher to first made Bird a better prospect and allowed him to reach the big leagues sooner.

John Ryan Murphy: IF to C

Back in high school Murphy was primarily an infielder — a third baseman, specifically — who also dabbled in the outfield and caught once in a while. The Yankees moved him to catcher full-time after selecting him in the 2009 draft and Murphy took to the position well, well enough that he reached the show four years after being drafted and was able to settle in as a sturdy big league backup by age 23.

The Yankees received one full season of backup catcher work from the Serial Killer plus 48 other games scattered across two seasons before sending him to the Twins for Aaron Hicks this winter. Given his good but not great offensive potential, Murphy would have been just another guy at third base or in the outfield. The Yankees saw his potential behind the plate and were rewarded first with a quality prospect, and later with a quality big league player.

Peter O’Brien: C to OF

The Yankees are very willing to be patient with bad defensive catchers in the minors — Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez, anyone? — but even they could not be patient with O’Brien. The team gave him 99 games behind the plate from 2012-13 before pulling the plug and moving him first to third base, then later to the outfield, where he has remained since. As with Bird, the move out from behind the plate has helped O’Brien blossom as a hitter.

In the span of two years, the Yankees turned O’Brien from a bad defensive catcher who might hit into a passable defensive outfielder who can mash taters, which made him good enough to fetch Martin Prado in a trade. They then turned Prado into Nathan Eovaldi. O’Brien was a lost cause behind the plate and keeping him there for a sake of being patient would have been a mistake. The Yankees stuck him where he was most likely to succeed and were rewarded with quality trade bait. (Tyler Austin, who also made the move from catcher to the outfield, didn’t work out quite as well.)

Rob Refsnyder: OF to 2B

Ref. (Presswire)
Ref. (Presswire)

In perhaps the most notable prospect position change, the Yankees moved Refsnyder back to send base after he played the outfield for three years at Arizona. (He played some second in high school.) Similar to Murphy, Refsnyder would be just another guy in a corner outfield spot given his offensive profile. But, put him at second base, and suddenly he has a chance to be above-average at the position.

Refsnyder’s defense at second base has improved but is still rough overall, and now the Yankees have him working out at the hot corner. He did reach the big leagues as a second baseman though, and probably could have (should have?) spent a lot more time in the show last season than he actually did. At least one team wanted him in a trade — the A’s wanted Refsnyder and Adam Warren for Ben Zobrist last July — and the Yankees claimed they were willing to go into the season with Refsnyder as their primary second baseman. That won’t happen, but point is, the move to second has largely been a success.

Luis Torrens: IF to C

As with Murphy, Torrens was primarily an infielder when the Yankees signed him out of Venezuela in 2012, playing mostly third base but also some shortstop. The Yankees moved him to catcher immediately and he has reportedly taken to the position extremely well. Torrens was praised for his defensive work and baseball acumen earlier in his career, before shoulder surgery sidelined him for the entire 2015 season.

It remains to be seen how Torrens will return from the injury — shoulder surgery is no joke, especially for catchers since so much of their defensive value is tied up in their arm — but the early returns at catcher are very promising. “Managers and scouts alike rave about Torrens’ defensive skills, noting how advanced he is as a receiver and a blocker for someone his age and with his limited experience,” wrote Baseball America (subs. req’d) prior to last season. Torrens is still only 19 with a lot of career ahead of him. For now, the move to catcher looks like a smart one.

Chase Whitley: 3B to RP to SP

This one was pretty outside the box. Whitley was a two-way player in college, playing both third base and pitching out of the bullpen. He hit .364/.464/.564 with ten homers and more walks (31) than strikeouts (27) in 288 plate appearances his draft year while pitching to a 3.68 ERA with 65 strikeouts and 24 walks in 66 relief innings. Ace Whitley was one hell of a college player.

The Yankees drafted Whitley in the 15th round of the 2010 draft and moved him to the mound full-time. He was a rare three-pitch reliever (fastball, changeup, slider) who had a lot of success in the minors, so the team decided to stretch him out in Triple-A to see how he could handle a starting assignment. It worked well, and before you knew it, Whitley had made 16 starts for the Yankees from 2014-15.

Whitley wasn’t great (5.02 ERA and 4.23 FIP) and he eventually got hurt and claimed off waivers, but before all that the Yankees were able to develop him into a replacement level spot starter after acquiring him as a part-time third baseman/part-time reliever. All it cost them was a 15th round pick and a small signing bonus too. Considering the expected return for a 15th round pick is basically nothing, Whitley’s conversion(s) worked out very well.

Three notable 2016 Spring Training invitees and three notable omissions

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

Spring Training is now a little more than one week away, and late last week the Yankees announced their list of non-roster invitees. A total of 25 non-roster players will be in camp this year. Some are top prospects (Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo), some are depth players (Pete Kozma, Donovan Solano), and some are simply there to catch bullpens (Kyle Higashioka, Francisco Diaz).

As always, some non-roster invitees are more notable than others. There are also some notable omissions are well; players who were not invited to camp even though it appears they may be in position to help the big league team in the near future. Non-roster invites can give us a glimpse into how the Yankees value certain players in the organization. Here are three notable invitees and three notable omissions.

Three Notable Invitees

RHP James Kaprielian: Last year’s first round pick comes billed as a quick-moving college starter, and the invitation to Spring Training indicates the Yankees plan to put Kaprielian on the fast track. It’s not often the Yankees bring their top pick to camp in his first pro season. They did it last year with Jacob Lindgren, though that was a special case because he’s a pure reliever.

Aside from Lindgren, I can’t find the last time the Yankees did bring their top pick to big league camp in his first full pro season. Not even Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain were Spring Training invitees in 2007. The Yankees have committed to getting younger and building from within over the last year or so, and inviting Kaprielian to big league camp in his first season after the draft shows he’s a big part of that plan. They want to get him to MLB in a hurry.

RHP Brady Lail: The argument can be made Lail is as high as seventh on the Yankees’ rotation depth chart. He reached Triple-A last season, and with Adam Warren now in Chicago, Lail could soon be in position to soak up long man innings. It’s not a sexy job but that’s how many pitchers get their foot in the big league door. The Yankees are inevitably going to need to dip into their system for spot starts at some point in 2016. Lail’s more of a command guy than a stuff guy, and this spring he’ll have a chance to show the MLB coaching staff what he can do. It’s an opportunity for Lail to put himself on the map for an early season call-up.

LHP Tyler Webb: Webb was actually in big league camp last year, and there’s a chance he may have been called up as part of the bullpen shuttle last summer had he not suffered a season-ending finger injury in late-June. He’s healthy now though, and last season the Yankees showed everyone is a candidate for the shuttle. They added players like Diego Moreno, Kyle Davies, Matt Tracy, Joel De La Cruz, Caleb Cotham, and Nick Goody to the 40-man roster at midseason so they could serve as a fresh arm. Webb figures to be in that mix in 2016. The Yankees have no shortage of bullpen candidates. Leaving Webb in minor league camp after the injury and giving his spring innings to someone else would have been easily justifiable. The Yankees are bringing him to Spring Training because they want to see if he can help in 2016. They didn’t forget about him following the injury.

Three Notable Omissions

Austin. (Presswire)
Austin. (Presswire)

OF Tyler Austin: Yeesh. What a fall for Austin. He was in big league camp every year from 2013-15 — 2013-14 as a non-roster player and 2015 as a member of the 40-man roster — but he was dropped from the 40-man last September, slipped through waivers unclaimed, and was not selected in December’s Rule 5 Draft. And last week, when Greg Bird went down with his shoulder injury, Brian Cashman said Austin was not a candidate to play first base in Triple-A.

Injuries and a lack of production — the two are surely related to some extent — have caused Austin’s stock to plummet the last few seasons. It wasn’t too long ago that he was a top 100 prospect (No. 77 in 2013 per Baseball America) and any team could have had him and his two option years last September for nothing more than the $50,000 waiver fee, yet they all passed. Now Austin wasn’t even invited to big league camp.

RHP Cale Coshow: I guess Coshow not getting an invite makes sense. The Yankees have a ton of relievers in camp already — I count 20 bullpen candidates, including 15 righties — and there are only so many innings to go around. Coshow had a fantastic 2015 season though (2.45 ERA and 2.80 FIP in 114 innings) and is one of the hardest throwers in the organization, so I thought it was likely he would get an invite to camp so the big league coaches could get a look at him. Even with those 20 bullpen candidates in camp, there’s a non-zero chance Coshow makes his MLB debut at some point this summer as part of the bullpen shuttle.

LHP Chaz Hebert: Last year was a breakout season for Hebert, who had a 2.55 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 133 innings and reached Triple-A. Then again, the Yankees sent him to the Arizona Fall League for extra innings and a longer look, didn’t add him to the 40-man roster in November, and he slipped through the Rule 5 Draft unclaimed. Still, a young lefty who can start is a nice piece to have in the organization, and given his proximity to MLB, there’s always a chance Hebert could get the call in an emergency at some point in 2016. The Yankees felt they didn’t need to get a look at him in big league Spring Training first, however.

Minor League Notes: Mateo, Garcia, Signings, Releases

 
The video above is OF Aaron Judge discussing his experience at MLB’s annual rookie development camp. SS Tyler Wade was there as well. I saw him walking around in the video. Not sure who else was there. I’ve got a whole bunch of minor league notes and links and whatnot that I’ve been collecting for the last few weeks, so I’m going to dump them all here in this post. Enjoy.

Mateo rated fastest runner, toolsiest infield prospect

Over at MLB.com, Jonathan Mayo looked at the toolsiest prospects in the minors. He simply added up each player’s 20-80 scouting scale grades in the five tool categories on their top 100 prospects list. SS Jorge Mateo came in third behind only Twins OF Byron Buxton and Nationals OF Victor Robles. Mateo is the toolsiest infielder on the top 100. I don’t necessarily agree with adding 20-80 grades — 60 hit/60 power is definitely not the same as 80 hit/40 power even though they both add up to 120 hitpower (?), for example — but that’s what Mayo did, and Mateo scored well. Hooray.

Also, Jim Callis examined the top individual tools in the minors, and Mateo is listed as having the best speed. “Mateo has outstanding raw speed — he can go from the right side of the plate to first base in less than four seconds — but he’s more than just a raw speedster,” said the write-up. “He has succeeded on 83 percent of his steal attempts as a pro and led the Minors with 82 in 2015, his first year in full-season ball. Mateo’s quickness gives him plenty of range at shortstop, and he also exhibits some surprising power potential during batting practice.”

Garcia a potential top 100 prospect for 2017

The crew at Baseball Prospectus released their top 101 prospects list last week, and earlier this week they looked at ten players who were not on this year’s top 100, but could jump into next year’s. SS Wilkerman Garcia is among the ten listed. The article is free. You don’t need a subscription. Here’s a snippet of their write-up:

He is the complete package up the middle, with some of the smoothest hands you’ll see from an 17-year-old, and the arm and range to stick at short for the long haul. Garcia is still raw at the plate, but he’s a switch-hitter with some feel for the barrel from both sides. That is a nice little top-prospect starter kit. The one thing he is lacking right now is a track record outside of the complex, something he will remedy this season.

I feel like each Garcia scouting report is better than the last, which is cool, but it’s also the offseason, so I’m not really sure what changed. Either way, Wilkerman is an exciting prospect and so far the best to come out of the Yankees’ massive 2014-15 international spending spree, though it’s still super early.

Minor League Ball’s top 20 Yankees prospects

John Sickels at Minor League Ball published his annual list of the top 20 Yankees prospects a few days ago. You already know who the top four guys are. We could argue the order for days but the top four are clearly the top four. RHP Domingo Acevedo comes in at No. 5. He seems to be a very divisive prospect. Some people are super high on him. Others … eh. Sickels seems to be pretty high on SS Kyle Holder, who he ranks ninth in the system. I don’t think you’ll see Holder ranked that high anywhere else this prospect season.

Yankees sign four players, release 13 others

According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed the following minor league free agents: RHP Tyler Cloyd, 3B Deibinson Romero, OF Jared Mitchell, and RHP Wandy Soto. They have also released the following players, per Eddy: C Isaias Tejeda, 2B Angelo Gumbs, IF Bryan Cuevas, OF Jordan Barnes, OF Griff Gordon, OF Jose Infante, OF Teodoro Martinez, RHP Gean Batista, RHP Francis Joseph, RHP Matt Borens, RHP Lee Casas, RHP Taylor Garrison, and RHP Corey Holmes.

Cloyd and Romero both received invitations to Spring Training after spending last season in Korea. The 28-year-old Cloyd had a 5.81 ERA in 159.2 innings for the Samsung Lions while the 29-year-old Romero hit .253/.328/.449 with 12 homers. I should note the KBO is very hitter friendly. The league averages in 2015 were a 4.90 ERA and a .279/.356/.429 batting line. Mitchell, 27, hit .209/.298/.308 in 100 games between Double-A and Triple-A with the Angels and White Sox in 2015. Both Cloyd and Romero are Triple-A depth. Romero’s mostly a third baseman but has played a bunch of first over the years, so he’ll help fill the gap created by Greg Bird‘s injury. Mitchell, a former first round pick, is probably going to Double-A.

Among the released players, the most notable is Gumbs. He was New York’s second round pick out of a California high school in 2010. Gumbs was one of those super toolsy prospects with a ton of upside who was crazy raw. He played quite well with Low-A Charleston in 2012 (.272/.320/.432) but he’s had some injury problems in recent years and just stopped hitting. Gumbs put up a .176/.224/.213 line with High-A Tampa last year.

Links: IFAs, AzFL Review, Mahoney

Here are a couple stray links I have lying around that are worth checking out. So go check them out:

Just a heads up, the four full season minor league affiliates begin their regular season on Thursday, April 7th this year. That’s three days after the big league Yankees behind their season.