The Yankees have moved on from some veterans, and now they’re way more fun and interesting

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night’s 1-0 win over the Blue Jays was very much a nail-biter. The Yankees have 61 wins this season and not too many of them have been stress-free. This team doesn’t do blowouts. Not this year. So of course the Blue Jays were able to put the tying run on third base in the ninth inning. The Yankees had to sweat right up until the final out, and when it was all said and done, they won for the ninth time in 14 games since the trade deadline.

That trade deadline was a momentous day (or series of days) for the Yankees. They sold for the first time in nearly three decades, sending away three productive veterans (and Ivan Nova) for 12 total prospects (and Adam Warren). I don’t think many folks thought the Yankees would actually go through with the sell-off even though it was clearly in the best interests of the franchise long-term. It had to be done.

In many cases, once a team trades away productive veterans for prospects at the deadline, they slip back in the standings and really wear it the rest of the season. Not many teams sell and improve in the second half. Those seem like conflicting ideas. Usually it’s one or the other. Not both. It’s a little early to say the Yankees have improved since the trade deadline, but you know what? They are way more fun and interesting. I have zero doubts about that.

It’s all because of the young players. The Carlos Beltran trade has cleared the way for Aaron Judge, who is the first Yankee ever to record an extra-base hit in his first three career games. The first guy to do that in franchise history. Insane. Gary Sanchez has been up for close to two weeks and he’s been mashing. Judge and Sanchez recently hit balls a combined 900 feet or so for their first career home runs. It was incredible.


There’s also Tyler Austin and Chad Green, who have had their moments as well. Austin homered in his first MLB at-bat and Green shoved against the Blue Jays last night. Eleven strikeouts in six scoreless innings against that lineup? Amazing. Warren is back and that’s fun too. So is Aaron Hicks performing well since the deadline. About the only negative lately has been Luis Severino‘s two bad starts.

The Yankees had to make some tough decisions these last few weeks to make this all possible. Selling at the deadline was no doubt a difficult call for ownership. The team also pushed Alex Rodriguez out the door and ate the $25M or so left on his contract to get these young guys in the lineup. Brian McCann has not been completely benched, but his playing time has been reduced. Mark Teixeira‘s too. You think Joe Girardi wants to do that to those guys? Of course not. But it’s for the best.

Right now the Yankees are 4.5 games back of the second wildcard spot and FanGraphs has their postseason odds at 4.1% as of this writing. I have no idea whether this team can rally and get back in the thick of the playoff race. Probably not. The odds are stacked against them. I do know the Yankees have made smart moves designed to improve the franchise long-term, and I do know they’ve called up several exciting young players recently.

Judge’s and Sanchez’s at-bats are must see television right now. Same with Austin. As great as Beltran was this season, watching Judge is far more enjoyable, at least to me. Watching Sanchez and Austin is infinitely more exciting than watching A-Rod and Teixeira, and that’s coming from a huge A-Rod fan. It’s certainly helped that the Yankees have been winning and the young guys have produced right away. No doubt about it.

Now, that said, this would all still be really fun even if the Yankees were losing and the young guys were struggling because of what we hope this represents: the next great era of Yankees baseball. Judge and Sanchez are potential cornerstone pieces. They might hit third and fourth for the next decade. Or third and fifth with Greg Bird fourth. Austin, Green, and Severino are trying to force their way into the long-term mix too. There’s others like Ben Heller and Luis Cessa as well, and even more in Triple-A.

It has been a very, very long time since the Yankees last had this much young talent on their big league roster. Not since the mid-1990s, really. That’s not a Core Five comparison. That’s just a statement of fact. The Yankees have spent the last few years toeing the line between contention and mediocrity, and they’ve finally made moves geared towards improving the future. This is all new to a lot of us, and gosh, is it fun or what?

Yankeemetrics: Birth of the Baby Bombers [Aug. 12-14]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Saying Bye-Rod
The Yankees made sure that Mr. Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez’s farewell game in pinstripes would be a memorable and winning one, as they sent the controversial slugger off into the sunset with an exhilarating comeback victory on Friday night against the Rays.

A-Rod’s final game with the Yankees (and perhaps his career) marks the final act of one of the most confounding and polarizing, yet also brilliantly talented, players in the history of this sport. Earlier this week we detailed a few of his many baseball superlatives; now here are two more numbers that put his complicated and fascinating tenure with the Yankee franchise into perspective.

(AP)
(AP)

Rodriguez enters the pinstripe record books with a batting line of .283/.378/.523 across 12 seasons in the Bronx. Among the hundreds of players that have compiled at least 200 plate appearances with the Yankees, only four others have reached each of those thresholds in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage: Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

Although A-Rod has frequently been chastised for his purported lack of clutch hitting in the playoffs, there is this stat to consider: A-Rod had four career game-tying or go-ahead hits in the ninth inning or later in the postseason, the most among all players in major-league history.

With the adrenaline pumping, A-Rod kicked off his last game in style, sending a 96 mph fastball from Chris Archer into right-center field for a first-inning RBI double. It was his first hit on pitch of more than 95 mph since June 7, a single off Angels reliever Cam Bedrosian.

Dellin Betances struck out the side in the ninth inning, recording his 100th, 101st and 102nd strikeouts of the season. This is the third year in a row he’s racked up at least 100 strikeouts, becoming the third reliever in American League history with back-to-back-to-back 100-K campaigns. The others are Dick Radatz (1962-65) and Duane Ward (1989-92), who both put together four-season streaks of at least 100 Ks.

(Getty)
(Getty)

New Kids in the Bronx
These are certainly not your father’s Yankees anymore. On Day One of the post-Alex Rodriguez Era, it was clear that the franchise’s much-hyped youth movement is in full swing.

The team called up highly-touted prospects Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge before Saturday’s afternoon contest and Joe Girardi immediately wrote their names on the lineup card, Judge in right field and Austin at first base. They were the first Yankee teammates to make their big-league debuts as starters in the same game since John Ellis and Jim Lyttle on May 17, 1969 against the Angels.

The two Baby Bombers wasted little time in earning their True Yankee pinstripes. Batting seventh and eighth, the duo electrified the Yankee Stadium crowd early with back-to-back solo homers in the second inning, fueling an offensive explosion that resulted in a fun-to-watch and rousing 8-4 win.

With those two blasts, Austin and Judge completed a stunning and unprecedented feat, becoming the first teammates in baseball history to each homer in their MLB debut in the same game. Before they went deep, only three other Yankees had ever homered in their first career at-bats in the bigs: Andy Phillips in 2004, Marcus Thames in 2002 (on the first pitch from Randy Johnson!) and John Miller in 1966.

Austin added a stolen base to his historic debut, becoming the first AL player to homer and steal in his first major-league game since Bert Campaneris (Kansas City A’s) in 1964; he is the only Yankee to accomplish the feat since at least 1913.

Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius soon joined the home run party on this hot and humid day, sending the ball over the fence in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings, respectively.

That gave the Yankees five players age 26 or younger with a longball, the first time in franchise history they’ve had that many under-27 guys go deep in the same game. Only three other teams have ever done this in the regular season over the past century: the 2016 Cubs, 2013 Astros and 1996 Brewers (the Cubs also did in Game 3 of the NLDS last year).

Even more impressively, each of the five youngsters also added another hit, making the Yankees the only MLB team in last 100 years to have five different players under the age of 27 with at least two hits and a homer in the same game.

Judge, jury and … homers!
The Yankees emotional ceremony-filled weekend ended with a thud on Sunday afternoon. They were creamed by the Rays, 12-3, snapping their four-game win streak and pushing them further back in the wild card race.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Luis Severino got hammered for seven runs in 3 2/3 innings, falling to 0-8 with a 8.58 ERA as a starter this season. That is the longest losing streak as a starter to begin a season by a Yankee since Fred Talbot lost his first eight starting decisions in 1968.

Even more depressing, the Yankees have still yet to win a game with Severino on the mound as the starting pitcher. Over last 100 years, this is the only time that the Yankees have lost the first nine games of a season started by a pitcher.

His fastball command was inconsistent and his changeup again was non-existent, though his slider was nasty at times, as he racked up seven strikeouts.

That bizarro performance produced a crazy pitching line that no major-league pitcher had recorded in nearly a decade. The last guy to allow at least seven earned runs and strike out at least seven batters in an outing of fewer than four innings pitched was Kenny Rogers in 2008 for the Tigers.

The lone highlights of the game were provided by the bats of the newly-christened Baby Bombers as Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez both homered in the loss. Judge became just the second player in franchise history to go deep in each of his first two major-league games, joining the immortal Joe Lefebvre (1980).

Sanchez’s two-run shot left his bat at 102 mph; he now has an average exit velocity of 91.6 mph this season, the highest among all Yankees with at least 10 batted balls in play.

Yankees call up Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

The Yankees have called up Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin, and they’re both in the lineup this afternoon, making their Major League debuts. Judge is playing his usual right field and Austin is at first base. One is replacing Alex Rodriguez on the roster. No word on the other roster move yet. The Yankees also have to clear a 40-man roster spot, but that won’t be a problem. Conor Mullee is a 60-day DL candidate.

Word got out late last night that Austin would be called up to replace A-Rod. The Judge call-up is a bit of a surprise, though it’s not totally unexpected. The Yankees have strongly hinted he would get called up at some point. It just seemed like they would wait until rosters expand in September, at least to me. What a pleasant surprise. They’re going all-in on their prospects down the stretch.

Austin, 24, is one of the feel good stories of the season. He was the team’s 13th round pick in 2010 and he quickly emerged as a quality prospect, but injuries set him back and really took a bite out of his prospect stock the last few years. Austin has reemerged this season and is hitting .294/.392/.524 (162 wRC+) with 17 homers in 107 games between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s a cancer survivor and has been throughout quite a bit of adversity to get to MLB.

Judge took a more straight forward path to the big leagues. The 24-year-old mountain of a man was the 32nd overall pick in the 2013 draft, and aside from the second half with Triple-A Scranton last year, he destroyed the minors the last few seasons. He’s hitting .269/.363/.481 (145 wRC+) with 19 homers in 92 games around a relatively minor knee injury with the RailRiders this season. Judge mashed a monster homer just last night.

It’s a safe bet that Judge will play right field pretty much every day going forward. In fact, Brian Cashman told Bryan Hoch, “You’re going to definitely see Aaron Judge playing every day in right field.” They didn’t call him up to sit on the bench. Austin doesn’t have as clear a path to playing time. I think he’s going to end up bouncing around between first base, the corner outfield, and DH the rest of the way. Nothing wrong with that.

Judge and Austin join the recently called up Gary Sanchez on the roster, so the Yankees in the middle of a full blown youth movement. That’s awfully fun. The Yankees are also still trying to win, and hey, why not? They’re only 3.5 games out of a wildcard spot. Not like there’s anything better to do the rest of the season, right? If the Yankees do get to the postseason, the kids will have to lead them.

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.