Prospect Profile: Jonathan Holder

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Jonathan Holder | RHP

Background
Holder, now 23, is from Gulfport, Mississippi, where he earned several All-State Team selections at Gulfport High School as a two-way player. He hit .383/.455/.723 with eight home runs in 30 games as a senior while going 8-1 with a 1.36 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 61.2 innings. Despite that performance, Baseball America did not rank Holder among the top 40 prospects from Mississippi or the top 200 prospects overall for the 2011 draft, and he went undrafted out of high school.

Holder instead followed through on his commitment to Mississippi State, where he took over as closer for the Bulldogs almost immediately. He started his college career with a 27.1-inning scoreless streak, longest in school history, and he finished the season with a 0.32 ERA in 28.1 innings. Holder struck out 30, walked five, and saved nine games. Not surprisingly, he was a Freshman All-American.

After the season, Holder suited up for the Wareham Gatemen in the Cape Cod League. He had a 1.99 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 22.2 innings against basically the best college players in the country. The Cape is for the cream of the crop. The best of the best. Wareham won the league championship that year.

With Mississippi State the following year, his sophomore season, Holder threw 54.2 innings with a 1.65 ERA. He struck out 90, walked 17, and tied the SEC single-season record with 21 saves. Holder was a First Team All-American and a finalist for the Stopper of the Year award, which goes to the best reliever in college baseball each year. He struck out a dozen in 9.2 innings with Wareham after the season.

During his junior season Holder saved seven games with a 2.22 ERA in 52.2 innings. He struck out 71 and walked nine. All told, Holder had a 1.59 ERA with 191 strikeouts and 31 walks in 136 innings at Mississippi State. He and Jacob Lindgren formed the best setup man-closer tandem in college baseball in 2014. (Lindgren was the setup man, Holder the closer.)

Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Holder as the 11th best prospect in Mississippi and the 286th best prospect overall for the 2014 draft. The Yankees selected him in the sixth round (182nd overall) and signed him quickly for a $170,000 bonus, below the $237,600 slot value.

Pro Career
Following the draft, Holder made a pair of quick tune-up appearances with the rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees before being moved up to Short Season Staten Island. All told, he had a 3.96 ERA (3.01 FIP) with 22.1% strikeouts and 8.4% walk in 36.1 total innings. Holder threw 89 innings between college and pro ball in 2014.

The Yankees, as they’ve been known to do with relief prospects, moved Holder into the rotation in 2015, his first full pro season. And he pitched really well too. In 118 total innings, almost all with High-A Tampa, Holder had a 2.52 ERA (2.85 FIP) with 18.7% strikeouts and 5.2% walks. It seemed like the conversion took, but alas.

Last season the Yankees moved Holder back to the bullpen full-time, and good golly, he destroyed the minors. He threw 65.1 innings while climbing from High-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton, and in those 65.1 innings he had a 1.65 ERA (1.30 FIP) with 42.4% strikeouts and 2.9% walks. In his final Triple-A outing, Holder struck out 12 of 13 batters faced as part of a four-inning save that clinched a postseason berth for the RailRiders.

That performance — not just the four-inning save with Triple-A Scranton, the entire season — earned Holder a September call-up. He allowed five runs in 8.1 innings with the Yankees, striking out five and walking four. Not the best big league debut, but that’s okay. Last season was an overwhelming success for Holder overall. No doubt about it.

Scouting Report
Big and physical at 6-foot-2 and 235 lbs., Holder is a three-pitch reliever. He sits 92-94 mph with his fastball and will touch 96 mph, and the pitch has a little sink too. His cutter typically hovers around 90 mph. Holder’s put-away pitch is a big breaking mid-to-upper-70s curveball. The separation between his fastball and curveball is pretty substantial. Here’s some video:

Holder also has a changeup left over from his days as a starter, though he doesn’t use it much in relief at all. He’s a fastball/cutter/curveball guy nowadays. Holder is a classic bulldog on the mound and an extreme strike-thrower. His fastball command is quite good as well. He likes to pitch up in the zone with his heater to get swings and misses.

The Yankees pulled the plug on Holder as a starter not because of the results, those were excellent, but because his stuff backed up big time. His fastball sat closer to 90 mph as a starter and he couldn’t hold that velocity into the middle innings. Some guys are just made for the bullpen. That’s Holder.

2017 Outlook
It’s not often I write a prospect profile about a guy who has already played in the big leagues. Holder debuted last September and he’ll come to Spring Training with a chance to win an Opening Day bullpen spot. In all likelihood, he’ll ride the shuttle all season and go back and forth between Scranton and the Bronx. That’s how pretty much every reliever breaks into the show.

My Take
I love Holder relative to his draft slot, though I’m not sold on him as a high-leverage reliever at the big league level. These days 92-94 mph is not overpowering velocity, and he’s a max effort guy who puts just about everything he has into his fastball to get to that velocity. Also, the curveball is good but not great. It’s not a David Robertson curveball, for example. That’s okay! Holder is a big league caliber reliever and hey, once upon a time I didn’t think Robertson could be a high-leverage guy, so don’t listen to me. Either way, we’re about to see a whole lot of Holder going forward.

Prospect Profile: Dustin Fowler

(The Times-Tribune)
(The Times-Tribune)

Dustin Fowler | OF

Background

The 22-year-old Fowler was born and raised in Cadwell, Georgia, a town with a population of under 500 during his formative years. He attended West Laurens High School a few miles down the road, where he split his time between baseball, wrestling, and football through his junior season. His high school career took off once he focused on the best sport of the three, and he won the All-Middle Georgia GHSA Baseball Player of the Year Award in his senior season. He batted .598 that year, with 8 home runs and 39 RBI.

Baseball America ranked Fowler as the 22nd best prospect from Georgia heading into the 2013 draft (a class headlined by Clint Frazier), though he did not crack the BA 500. The Yankees took him in the 18th round (554th overall), and gave him a well over-slot $278,000 signing bonus to buy him out of a commitment to Georgia State University.

Pro Career

Fowler kicked-off his professional career in the GCL, where he hit just .241/.274/.384 with zero homers and three steals in 117 PA (89 wRC+). He would then spend the entirety of an injury-abbreviated 2014 at Charleston, where he hit .257/.292/.459 with 9 HR and 3 SB in 272 PA (104 wRC+). The uptick power jumps off the page, as does the modest bump in OBP, thanks to Fowler’s walk rate jumping from 3.4% in 2013 to 4.8% in 2014.

Fowler broke out in 2015, batting .307/.340/.419 (114 wRC+ with 4 HR and 18 SB in 256 PA) in a return engagement with Charleston, and earning a promotion to High-A Tampa on June 22. His power sagged a bit in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, but he still batted .289/.328/.370 with a home run and 12 steals (111 wRC+) in 262 PA. His walk rate ticked up once at High-A, from 4.3% to 5.7%, which helped to mask the slip in power.

He earned a ticket to the Arizona Fall League after the 2015 season, and it was more of the same in the desert, as he slashed .279/.313/.410 with 2 HR and 7 SB in 65 PA. It’s an offense-happy environment, so his 96 wRC+ was actually a bit below-average, but he impressed nevertheless.

The 22-year-old’s ascent up the Yankees prospect list continued in 2016, as he performed admirably in a full season at Double-A. Fowler batted .281/.311/.458 for Trenton, with 12 HR and 25 SB (109 wRC+) in 574 PA, and drew praise for his continued refinement. His walk rate sagged dramatically, dipping to 3.8%, but it was mitigated a bit by his career-best 15.0% strikeout rate and well above-average .177 ISO.

All told, Fowler is a .279/.313/.429 hitter in 1,546 professional plate appearances.

Scouting Report

Most any report that you read on Fowler revolves around two things: his rawness, and his athleticism. The former is largely a product of his amateur career, as he was a three sport athlete for a few years, and played for a small school in a small division. And the latter is simply something that he oozes, with his 6’0″, 185-pound frame (he’s added about 15 pounds of muscle since signing with the Yankees) and well above-average to plus speed.

It isn’t just about athleticism for Fowler, though. He’s a left-handed hitter and thrower, with above-average to plus bat speed and the ability to barrel the ball anywhere in the strike zone. He also has average to above-average raw power, particularly to the pull side (hello, short porch), and he has been able to actualize that power in-game more often than many expected. Fowler’s approach at the plate may be best described as controlled aggression, and his ability to work the count remains his most glaring flaw as a prospect.

Defense is where Fowler truly shines, owing to his aforementioned speed and athleticism. He takes good routes in the outfield, accelerates quickly, and has the arm strength to stay in center long-term.

That speed and acceleration should make him an asset on the basepaths, as well. It has not as of yet, though, as he has been successful on just over 71% of his 95 career attempts, or right around the break-even mark. Fowler’s still just 22 (and a young 22, as his birthday was on December 29), so there is reason to hope that he’ll figure it out.

Baseball America ranked him ninth on the Yankees’ top-ten back in October, which says quite a bit given the team’s extraordinary farm system.

2017 Outlook

Fowler is set to open this coming season at Triple-A, where he’ll bounce between left and center. He’s not on the 40-man roster at this point, but he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next off-season, so this is an important year in his development. I expect to see him in Spring Training this season, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he spent a significant amount of time in the Majors this season (perhaps in some sort of carousel with Mason Williams and Jake Cave).

My Take

The walk rates are a red flag, as I worry that Fowler will be too easily exploited by pitchers who are more capable of painting the corners (as well as umpires who call more consistent strike zones). His tools are so obvious, though, and the praise is so universal that I hold out hope that he could be a league-average regular in center. There’s a great deal of work to be done, but he’s already at Triple-A, and it’s clear that the Yankees believe in him.

Prospect Profile: Jordan Montgomery

(Jason Farmer/Scranton Times-Tribune)
(Jason Farmer/Scranton Times-Tribune)

Jordan Montgomery | LHP

Background
Montgomery, who turned 24 last month, grew up in the relatively small town of Sumter, South Carolina, about 40 miles outside Columbia. He was a star at Sumter High School and was named 2011 Gatorade State Player of the Year after going 11-0 with a 0.38 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 74.1 innings as a senior. Montgomery tossed a seven-inning shutout in the state championship game that year.

Despite a stellar prep career, Baseball America did not rank Montgomery among their overall top 200 prospects or even their top 40 prospects in South Carolina prior to the 2011 draft. He went undrafted that year and instead followed through on his commitment to the University of South Carolina, where stepped right into the rotation and was teammates with former Yankees farmhand Tyler Webb.

As a first year player in 2012, Montgomery pitched to a 3.62 ERA in 74.2 innings spread across 13 starts and two relief appearances. He struck out 57 batters and walked only ten. That earned him a spot on the Freshman All-American Team. Montgomery threw eight scoreless innings against Arkansas to help put South Carolina in the College World Series Finals, where they lost to Rob Refsnyder‘s Arizona Wildcats.

The following season Montgomery emerged as the staff ace by throwing 79 innings of 1.48 ERA ball. He struck out 64 and walked 18. The Gamecocks did not advance to the College World Series in 2013, but Montgomery did keep their season temporarily alive by shutting out North Carolina in the Super Regionals. He allowed four hits in the game. Montgomery was named Gamecocks MVP and to the SEC Academic Honor Roll.

As a junior in 2014, Montgomery threw a collegiate career high 100 innings with a 3.42 ERA while striking out 95 and walking 29. He was again named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll. Baseball America ranked Montgomery as the fourth best 2014 draft prospect in South Carolina and the 120th best prospect in the draft class overall. The Yankees selected him in the fourth round (122nd overall) and signed him quickly for a full slot $424,000 bonus.

Pro Career
The Yankees took it easy on Montgomery after the draft and limited him to only 19 innings in his pro debut. He had a 3.79 ERA (2.30 FIP) with 20 strikeouts and six walks in those 19 innings split between the rookie Gulf Coast League and Short Season Staten Island. All told, Montgomery threw 119 innings in 2014.

The following season the Yankees assigned Montgomery to Low-A Charleston, but that didn’t last very long. He was promoted to High-A Tampa after only nine starts, and he remained with Tampa the rest of the season. Montgomery had a combined 2.95 ERA (2.61 FIP) with 24.1% strikeouts and 6.6% walks in 134.1 innings at the two levels in 2015.

This past season Montgomery started at Double-A Trenton, where he remained most of the summer. It wasn’t until early August that he was bumped up to Triple-A Scranton. He finished the year with a 2.19 ERA (2.91 FIP) with 22.7% strikeouts and 7.7% walks in 152 total innings. Montgomery set a RailRiders’ record with a 29.2-inning scoreless streak, and he got the win in the Triple-A Championship Game over El Paso (Padres).

Scouting Report
Montgomery is a big dude at 6-foot-6 and 225 lbs., and he’s been gradually adding velocity over the years. He sat in the mid-80s in high school, got up to 88-90 mph for most of his college career, then lived in the 90-92 mph range in pro ball in 2015. Last year his velocity climbed again, this time into the 93-95 mph range, and he held that velocity all season and deep into starts. How about that?

That 93-95 mph fastball is Montgomery’s straight four-seamer. He also throws a sinker that is more of a low-90s offering, as well as a cutter right around 90 mph. His best pitch is a sinking changeup in the low-80s. Montgomery also has a quality curveball, so he’s a true five-pitch pitcher. As you’ll see in this video, he throws from an extreme over-the-top arm slot:

Montgomery is a good athlete and he repeats his delivery very well for someone his size. He has no problem filling the strike zone and the guy never misses a start. He’s been healthy all throughout his amateur and pro career. The Yankees love that Montgomery has thrived in pressure games — SEC baseball is incredibly competitive — and that he’s a very diligent worker.

2017 Outlook
The Yankees will surely bring Montgomery to big league camp as a non-roster invitee this spring, and while I would bet against him winning an Opening Day roster spot, it’s all but guaranteed he’ll make his MLB debut at some point this summer. Montgomery will return to Triple-A for the time being and continue to fine tune things until his time comes. It’s important to note he is not on the 40-man roster yet, which could work against him. Others like Dietrich Enns and Ronald Herrera could get the call first.

Miscellany
I don’t mean this as a slight, but I didn’t think too much of Montgomery when he was first drafted. I thought maybe he could be a left-handed version of Adam Warren, a successful big program college starter who finds success as a big league swingman, but since then Montgomery has added a cutter and gained considerable velocity, improving his long-term outlook dramatically. He’s gone from swingman candidate to no-doubt starter in his two full pro seasons. It’s hard not to love that.

The only real concern I have about Montgomery is his arm slot, and whether it’ll lead to a big platoon split because right-handed hitters get a good look at the ball. Right-hander Josh Collmenter has a similar arm slot and lefties have hit him pretty hard over the years. Montgomery was actually more effective against righties than lefties in the minors this year, though I wouldn’t read too much into that. We’ll just have to see how his arm slot plays in the show when the time comes. For now, Montgomery is a near MLB ready workhorse southpaw, and good gravy do the Yankees need one of those.

Prospect Profile: Albert Abreu

(@MLBpipeline)
(@MLBpipeline)

Albert Abreu | RHP

Background
Back in 2013, the Astros signed the now 21-year-old Abreu out of the relatively small town of Guayubin, in the Dominican Republic. He received a $185,000 bonus. Baseball America did not rank Abreu among the top 30 international prospects available during the 2013-14 international signing period.

The Yankees acquired Abreu from Houston in the Brian McCann trade earlier this offseason. Abreu and fellow right-hander Jorge Guzman went to New York in the two-for-one swap.

Pro Career
Because he wasn’t a high-profile signing, the Astros assigned Abreu to one of their rookie Dominican Summer League affiliates for his pro debut in 2014. He had a 2.78 ERA (3.41 FIP) with 19.4% strikeouts and 10.4% walks in 14 starts and 68 innings that year.

The ‘Stros brought Abreu to the U.S. in 2015 and sent him to their rookie Appalachian League affiliate. That summer he made seven starts and six relief appearances, and threw 46.2 innings with a 2.51 ERA (3.56 FIP) with 26.0% strikeouts and 10.7% walks. Baseball America ranked Abreu as the sixth best prospect in the league after the season.

Abreu opened the 2016 season in the Low-A Midwest League. He managed a 3.50 ERA (3.85 FIP) with 27.1% strikeouts and 12.8% walks in 90 innings spread across 14 starts and seven relief appearances at that level. Houston bumped Abreu up to the High-A California League at the end of the season, where he allowed eight runs in 14.1 innings.

All told, Abreu had a 3.71 ERA (4.07 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts and 12.9% walks in 104.1 innings in 2016. Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the 14th best prospect in the league, one spot ahead of Angels catcher Matt Thaiss, the 16th overall pick in the 2016 draft. Abreu was ranked the Astros’ tenth best prospect prior to the trade by Baseball America.

Scouting Report
When the Astros signed Abreu, he was 6-foot-2 and rail thin with an 87-91 mph fastball. He still stands 6-foot-2, but he’s filled out a bit and now checks in at 175 pounds. His fastball has climbed into the 93-96 mph range and will top out at 99 mph. Abreu’s arm is really loose and the ball jumps out of his hand.

Depending on the day, either the slider or the changeup will look like Abreu’s second best pitch. The slider has hard break in the mid-to-upper-80s while the changeup fades down and away to lefties when thrown properly. Abreu also has a big breaking power curveball. He’s still working to gain consistency with all three non-fastballs. Here’s some video:

Abreu is a good athlete with a really quick arm, though his control suffers because he tends to rush through his delivery. He’s still learning to repeat his mechanics, especially from the stretch, and once he does that, it should improve his presently below-average control. Abreu is very much a young pitcher with tantalizing stuff who is still learning how to pitch.

2017 Outlook
Given his success at Low-A last season, the Yankees figure to assign Abreu to High-A Tampa to begin the 2017 season, his first in the organization. I wouldn’t count on a midseason promotion. Abreu just turned 21 in September and he’s not very experienced. A full season at High-A is in the cards, even if he dominates.

My Take
I’m not gonna lie, I’m not much of an Abreu fan. The kid has a great arm, no doubt about that. Four pitches and a good delivery is a nice starting point. I just see too many obstacles to overcome. Abreu needs to refine multiple secondary pitches, hone his mechanics, and learn to throw strikes. His upside is enormous, possibly the highest of any pitcher in the system, but there’s a very long way to go before Abreu approaches that ceiling. And, frankly, the Yankees haven’t much success developing these high-risk/high-reward kids. Abreu is a quality prospect. I’m just not his biggest fan. That’s all.

Prospect Profile: Justus Sheffield

(@MiLB)
(@MiLB)

Justus Sheffield | LHP

Background
Sheffield, 20, grew up in Tullahoma, Tennessee, which is about halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga. As a senior at Tullahoma High School, Sheffield struck out 131 batters in 61.2 innings while allowing only three earned runs. That’s a 0.34 ERA with seven-inning games. He had a 17-strikeout game and also hit .405 with three home runs, which earned him Gatorade National Player of the Year honors. No, he is not related to Gary Sheffield.

Like his older brother Jordan, Justus committed to Vanderbilt, which meant he figured to be a tough sign. Vandy is typically a tough commitment to break. Baseball America ranked Sheffield as the 49th best prospect in the 2014 draft class and the second best prospect in Tennessee, behind Vanderbilt righty Tyler Beede. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Justus as the 21st best prospect in the draft class while MLB.com had him 39th.

The Indians selected Sheffield with the 31st overall pick in the 2014 draft, the supplemental first round pick they received as compensation for losing Ubaldo Jimenez to free agency. Rather than be a tough sign, Sheffield was literally the first 2014 draftee to agree to terms. (That we know of, anyway.) The two sides agreed to a below-slot $1.6M bonus only hours after the MLB Network broadcast of Day One of the draft. Slot money for the 31st pick was $1.733M.

The Yankees acquired Sheffield from Cleveland in the five-player Andrew Miller trade at the 2016 deadline. Miller went to the Indians for Sheffield, outfielder Clint Frazier, and righties Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. It was a four-for-one swap.

Pro Career
Because he signed quickly, the Indians sent Sheffield to their rookie level Arizona League affiliate for his pro debut. Sheffield had a 4.79 ERA (2.67 FIP) with 29 strikeouts and nine walks in 20.2 innings after signing. That’s a 30.9% strikeout rate and a 9.6% walk rate. After the season, Baseball America ranked him Cleveland’s fourth best prospect.

During the 2014-15 offseason, Sheffield was arrested back home in Tullahoma for underage drinking and aggravated burglary after breaking into a home in the early morning hours to confront one of the residents about a personal matter. Sheffield pled guilty to underage drinking and a reduced charge of aggravated criminal trespassing, and was sentenced to probation. He also had to donate $500 to a local charity and was allowed to have the charges expunged from his record one year later.

Once the 2015 season began, the Indians assigned Sheffield to their Low-A affiliate in the Midwest League, where he was the sixth youngest player and second youngest pitcher in the league on Opening Day. He spent the entire season at the level and posted a 3.31 ERA (2.99 FIP) with 24.9% strikeouts and 6.9% walks in 26 starts and 127.2 innings while being nearly three years younger than the average Midwest League player. Baseball America ranked Sheffield as the club’s fourth best prospect and 81st best prospect in baseball after the season.

The Indians moved Sheffield up to the High-A Carolina League to begin 2016 — he was the sixth youngest player and youngest pitcher in the league on Opening Day — and he had a 3.59 ERA (3.80 FIP) with 22.8% strikeouts and 9.8% walks in 19 starts and 95.1 innings there before the trade. Baseball America ranked Sheffield as the 69th best prospect in the game in early-July, in their midseason top 100 update.

After the trade the Yankees initially assigned Sheffield to High-A Tampa, where he made five starts and had a 1.73 ERA (2.33 FIP) with 27.3% strikeouts and 10.1% walks in 26 innings. A late season bump to Double-A Trenton saw Sheffield make three more starts, postseason included, during which he managed a 4.97 ERA (4.86 FIP) with 17 strikeouts and nine walks in 12.2 innings.

All told, Sheffield pitched to a 3.36 ERA (3.61 FIP) with 24.2% strikeouts and 10.4% walks in 27 starts and 134 innings in 2016. He was three years younger than the competition in both High-A leagues. After the season, Baseball America ranked Sheffield as the seventh best prospect in New York’s stacked farm system. He should be in the middle of all the top 100 prospect lists that come out this spring.

Scouting Report
Sheffield is a short little southpaw — he’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 195 lbs. — with big stuff. His fastball is more of a two-seamer than a four-seamer, with run down and back in on left-handed batters. It sits mostly in the low-90s and has topped out at 96 mph. That’s pretty good velocity given his age (he doesn’t turn 21 until May) and size.

A low-to-mid-80s slider is Sheffield’s primary secondary pitch. He used to throw a curveball back in the day, but it’s morphed into a slider since signing and become a more reliable offering. Sheffield also throws a mid-80s changeup that has made a lot of progress since high school and is now an average-ish offering. On his best days, he’ll take two swing-and-miss secondary pitches out to the mound. Here’s some video from September.

Throwing strikes has been an issue for Sheffield at times, which is surprising because he’s a great athlete and repeats his delivery well. The hope is he’ll iron out his location with more experience. Sheffield has mid-rotation upside, but as a lefty with three quality pitches, he could exceed that ceiling with much improved command. Keep in mind it’s not unusual for a 20-year-old kid to lack pristine location.

The arrest a few years ago was a surprise because Sheffield was praised for his makeup prior to the 2014 draft. He completed his probation and hasn’t had any other legal problems, either before or since the arrest.

2017 Outlook
Sheffield will open the 2017 season as a 20-year-old in Double-A, where he figures to be one of the youngest players and pitchers in the Eastern League on Opening Day. You can never rule out a player starting extremely well and forcing a promotion, but I think Sheffield will remain with Double-A Trenton almost all season. He could make a handful of Triple-A starts at the end of the regular season and in the postseason or something like that, I suppose. The Yankees like to do that stuff. A midseason promotion seems unlikely though given his age and developmental needs.

My Take
It’s easy to overlook Sheffield in the system, isn’t it? He wasn’t even the headliner in his own trade (that was Frazier), and the Yankees landed other bigger name prospects like Gleyber Torres and Dillon Tate at the deadline. And they drafted Blake Rutherford. And guys like Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian are prospect list holdovers from last year. It’s really easy to forget about Sheffield.

That said, I think Justus is the Yankees’ best pitching prospect at the moment. His medical history is cleaner than Kaprielian’s — Sheffield has never had an injury, arm or otherwise — and his arsenal is more advanced than Albert Abreu’s. Fastball plane and homeritis is always a concern with sub-6-foot pitchers because they tend to lack downhill plane on their fastballs, but Sheffield has some natural sink on his heater and has kept the ball in the park as a pro (career 0.46 HR/9), which is encouraging.

There is no such thing as a low-risk pitching prospect — Sheffield has been healthy to date, but that doesn’t mean he can’t blow out his arm on the first day of Spring Training — but I feel like Sheffield carries less risk than the typical 20-year-old hurler. He has three pitches already, and he’s athletic and he repeats his delivery well. I’m optimistic his control will improve in time. Sheffield has less to figure out than most kids this age.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how Sheffield handles his assignment to Double-A this season. A good season at that level would put him in the game’s top tier of pitching prospects and make him a potential big league option for the Yankees as soon as 2018. It’s not often a high school pitcher reaches the big leagues within four calendar years of being drafted, but Sheffield has a chance to do it. That’s pretty awesome.

Prospect Profile: Gleyber Torres

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Gleyber Torres | SS

Background
Torres, who turned 20 last month, grew up in Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela. Baseball America ranked him as the second best prospect in the 2013-14 international class, and the Cubs landed him with a $1.7M signing bonus. Chicago exceeded their bonus pool to sign Torres and outfielder Eloy Jimenez, Baseball America’s best available prospect that signing period.

The Yankees acquired Torres from the Cubs as the headliner in the Aroldis Chapman trade at the 2016 trade deadline. Torres, outfielders Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford, and righty Adam Warren went to New York for Chapman, an impending free agent. It was a four-for-one swap.

Pro Career
Torres signed at age 16 and the Cubs moved him up the ladder pretty aggressively. He split the 2014 season, his pro debut, between the rookie level Arizona League and short season Northwest League, where he hit .291/.381/.429 (132 wRC+) with two homers, ten steals, 18.4% strikeouts, and 13.5% walks in 52 games and 223 total plate appearances. Torres was nearly three years younger than the competition overall.

In 2015, the Cubs sent Torres to their Low-A affiliate in the Midwest League, where he was the youngest player in the league on Opening Day by five months. Gleyber was excellent, hitting .293/.353/.386 (116 wRC+) with three homers, 22 steals, 21.0% strikeouts, and 8.4% walks in 119 games and 514 plate appearances. The Cubs had him finish the season with seven-game cameo at Low-A. After the season, Torres was ranked the team’s top prospect and the 41st best prospect in baseball by Baseball America.

Chicago moved Torres up to their High-A affiliate in the Carolina League to start last season, where he was the circuit’s second youngest player on Opening Day. Gleyber hit .275/.359/.433 (121 wRC+) with nine homers, 19 steals, 21.3% strikeouts, and 10.3% walks in 94 games and 409 plate appearances before the trade, prompting Baseball America to rank him the 27th best prospect in the game at midseason. MLB.com ranked him 17th.

After the trade, Torres hit .254/.341/.385 (115 wRC+) with two homers, two steals, 16.7% strikeouts, and 11.6% walks in 31 games and 138 plate appearances with High-A Tampa. He played the entire season at age 19 and was nearly four years younger than the competition. The Yankees sent Torres to the Arizona Fall League after the season, where he hit .403/.513/.645 (218 wRC+) with three homers and four steals in 18 games. He became the youngest MVP and batting champion in league history.

“I heard everything he did, and we’ve been very excited about this young kid ever since we’ve had him,” said Joe Girardi to Mike Mazzeo last month. “He went out and played at a very, very high level, with kids that are older than him, with kids that played at a higher level than him. He was one of the kids that really shined. I think that really bodes well for us, and I look forward to seeing him (in the spring).”

Scouting Report
Torres, who’s grown three inches since signing and now stands 6-foot-1 and 175 lbs., stands out most for his ultra-advanced offensive approach. He knows the strike zone, recognizes spin, and has a plan at the plate. His right-handed swing is controlled but aggressive; Gleyber doesn’t get cheated when he swings, though he’s not a wild hacker either. Torres has good bat-to-ball skills and uses the entire field, though most of his over-the-fence power is to the pull side at the moment.

In the field, Torres combines great instincts with good defensive tools. He has soft hands, good range, and a strong arm. There’s very little doubt he can remain at shortstop long-term, though the Yankees are loaded at the position, so they’ve had Gleyber work out at second base. I wouldn’t be surprised if he sees some time at third base going forward as well. Torres is a good runner who can steal bags and push the envelope on the bases.

The total package points to a future star. Torres projects to be a complete hitter who hits for average and power, and draws enough walks to post high on-base percentages as well. He’ll also swipe some bags and save runs in the field, regardless of whether he remains at short or slides over to second or third. Torres is a very hard worker — he spent a lot of time with Chicago’s infield instructors and erased doubts about his ability to remain at short early in his career — and a mature player. There’s very little not to like.

2017 Outlook
Brian Cashman has already said Torres will begin the 2017 season with Double-A Trenton, and hinted at the possibility of a midseason promotion to Triple-A Scranton. Remember, Torres just turned 20 last month. He’ll be one of the youngest players in the Eastern League on Opening Day, if not the youngest, so it’s entirely possible he’ll make his MLB debut before his 22nd birthday. I don’t think he’ll reach the show this coming season, but I wouldn’t completely rule it out either. He could tear up Double-A, earn a quick bump to Triple-A, and force the issue.

My Take
When the Yankees were gauging the market for Chapman, I was hoping they’d get a Torres-caliber prospect in a one-for-one swap, and they managed to get Torres and three other players. Amazing. The trade far exceeded my expectations.

As far Torres himself, how can you not love the kid? The tools are as good as it gets, he’s a mature player who carries himself like someone who’s been in the league ten years, and he projects to have two-way impact. Torres is New York’s top prospect and one of the best 10-15 prospects in all of baseball. He and Gary Sanchez figure to be the faces of the franchise going forward, as the Yankees work to build their next championship team.

Prospect Profile: Blake Rutherford

(@MiLB)
(@MiLB)

Blake Rutherford | OF

Background
Rutherford, 19, was born in Morristown, New Jersey, and he lived there until age two, when his family moved to Southern California. He played both baseball and football at Chaminade College Preparatory School in Simi Valley, and as a senior last spring, Rutherford hit .577 with 13 doubles and nine home runs in 27 games. He was invited to play in the Under Armour All-America Game in 2015 and spent two summers with Team USA’s 18-and-under team, helping them win gold in Japan last year.

Rutherford has been on the radar as a prospect a very long time, so much so that he committed to UCLA following his freshman year of high school. Prior to the 2016 amateur draft, Rutherford was ranked as a top ten prospect in the draft class by Keith Law (6th), MLB.com (8th), and Baseball America (9th). The Yankees selected him with their first round pick, No. 18 overall, and maxed out their bonus pool to sign him to a well-above-slot $3,282,000 bonus.

“Blake’s a guy that we’ve scouted for a long time, and we couldn’t be happier with him falling to us,” said scouting director Damon Oppenheimer after the draft. “He’s hit at a high level, he can run, he’s a really good defender in center field, and he’s got power. He’s got a chance to have all the tools to profile. The fact that he’s performed on a big stage with Team USA, where he’s been a quality performer, makes it really exciting for us.”

Rutherford slipped out of the top ten for two reasons. One, his age. He turned 19 in May, which makes him older than most high school draftees. And two, he had big bonus demands, which isn’t surprising because he was a projected top ten pick. There are rumors Rutherford had a pre-draft deal in place with the Mets, who held the 19th pick, but the Yankees grabbed him one pick earlier and met his asking price.

“Oh man, I don’t think it’s hit me yet. It will hit me soon,” said Rutherford to Tony Ciniglio after the draft. “I grew up a Yankees fan. I loved the Yankees and the organization, I loved the people. It’s an amazing legacy, and it’s a pretty incredible situation.”

Pro Debut
Following a quick tune-up stint in the rookie Gulf Coast League, the Yankees bumped Rutherford up to the rookie Pulaski Yankees so he could face a higher caliber of competition. Rutherford was the best player on the field pretty much every game, hitting .382/.440/.618 (186 wRC+) with seven doubles, four triples, and two homers in 25 games and 100 plate appearances with Pulaski. Add in the GCL stint and he hit .351/.415/.570 (171 wRC+) with three homers in 130 plate appearances in his pro debut earlier this year.

Rutherford’s season ended prematurely due to a pair of minor injuries. He tweaked his knee running through first base on August 8th and missed Pulaski’s next eleven games. Then, on August 24th, Rutherford hurt his hamstring running out a ground ball. Pulaski had already been eliminated from postseason contention and the regular season was ending in a week, so the Yankees played it safe and shut their first round pick down. Rutherford’s knee and hamstring were healthy enough for him to participate in Instructional League in September.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-3 and 195 lbs., Rutherford is well built with all sorts of physical projection. He’s a left-handed hitter with good bat speed and a level swing that allows him to cover the entire plate. Rutherford’s hit tool is highly regarded and he has a plan at the plate, plus he’s already shown power in games. He projects as a classic No. 3 hitter. A guy who can hit for both average and power down the road. Here’s some video:

There are two knocks on Rutherford’s offensive game. One, he can sometimes get into a little mechanical funk at the plate and start stepping in the bucket. And two, his swing right now produces line drives more than anything, and there’s some thought he won’t reach his full power potential unless he learns how to get the ball in the air more often. It could be worse.

The offensive potential is what got Rutherford drafted in the first round, but he’s not a bat-only prospect. He runs well and has good outfield instincts, which allow him to play center field. There are mixed reports on his arm; some say it’s strong while others indicated it’s below-average. They all agree it’s not a top tier arm, so should Rutherford move out of center at some point, left field is the more likely destination than right.

Beyond the athletic ability, Rutherford draws rave reviews for his makeup — he helped out at a baseball league for kids with disabilities throughout high school, as Mike Persinger writes — and work ethic. A player who projects to hit for average and power, provide value on the bases and in the field, play with energy, and be a genuinely good dude off the field is a potential franchise cornerstone.

2017 Outlook
The Yankees have not been shy about sending prep draftees to full season ball the year after the draft and Rutherford figures to follow that path. Unlike, say, Gosuke Katoh and Dante Bichette Jr., Rutherford is more than ready for the assignment because he’s a polished hitter, not just a guy with big rookie ball stats. He turns 20 in March and will be one of the youngest players in the Low-A South Atlantic League to open the 2017 season, assuming that’s where the Yankees send him.

My Take
How could you not love Rutherford? There’s very little not to like about him. He’s a true four-tool player — his arm is the only thing that’s lacking — and a good athlete with baseball smarts. His upside is significant and he could be a rare quick moving high school bat. Splitting next season between Low-A and High-A wouldn’t completely shock me. Rutherford has that kind of ability.

The Yankees have a loaded farm system right now. They have several high-end prospects and a ton of depth, and Rutherford has as much long-term ceiling as anyone in the system. There’s a good chance, maybe even a great chance, that at this time next year Rutherford will be the top prospect in the organization, even ahead of the totally awesome Gleyber Torres. It’s been a long time since the Yankees landed a talent like Rutherford in the draft.