Thoughts on Baseball America’s top ten Yankees prospects

Guzman. (MLB.com)
Guzman. (MLB.com)

Now that we’re a month into the offseason, Baseball America has started their annual look at the top ten prospects in each farm system. They hit on the Yankees yesterday. The list and system overview is free for all. The scouting reports and the chat are not, however. They’re behind the paywall.

There are no big surprises in the top ten. The top few spots are as expected — at least the names are as expected, we can quibble about the order until we’re blue in the face — before dipping into the plethora of power arms in the system. Here’s the top ten:

  1. SS Gleyber Torres
  2. OF Estevan Florial
  3. LHP Justus Sheffield
  4. RHP Chance Adams
  5. 3B Miguel Andujar
  6. RHP Albert Abreu
  7. RHP Jorge Guzman
  8. RHP Luis Medina
  9. SS Thairo Estrada
  10. RHP Domingo Acevedo

Quick reminder: OF Clint Frazier is no longer prospect eligible. That’s why he’s not in the top ten. He exceeded the rookie limit by four at-bats this year. Anyway, nice to see my main man Thairo get some top ten love. It’s been fun to watch him climb from sleeper to 40-man roster player. I have some thoughts on the top ten, so let’s get to them.

1. This is a pitching system now. I mentioned this as part of the Baseball Prospectus top ten write-up and it is worth repeating. The Yankees are loaded with pitching now. A year ago at this time they were a position player heavy farm system and hey, that’s great. I’d rather build around bats long-term than arms. Now though, the farm system is full of power pitchers. Six of the top ten prospects are pitchers, and among the pitchers who didn’t make the top ten are RHP Domingo German, RHP Jonathan Loaisiga, RHP Freicer Perez, RHP Matt Sauer, RHP Clarke Schmidt, RHP Dillon Tate, and RHP Taylor Widener. When those dudes are not among the six best pitching prospects in your farm system, you are packed to the gills with pitching. Inevitably many of these guys will get hurt or flame out, but when you have as many quality arms as the Yankees, your chances of landing some long-term keepers is quite high.

2. Guzman’s velocity is super elite. It’ll be a year or two before the Yankees get some impact from the Brian McCann trade, but so far things are looking good. Both Abreu and Guzman are among their top ten prospects, and, according to the Baseball America scouting report, Guzman “averaged 99 mph with his four-seamer in 2017 and just a tick less with his two-seamer.” That is pretty insane. Among qualified pitchers, Luis Severino led MLB with a 97.8 mph average fastball velocity this year. Guzman averaged 99 mph, prompting J.J. Cooper to say he “has a strong argument that he’s the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in baseball.” There is more to pitching than fastball velocity, of course, but the various scouting reports say Guzman made big strides with his secondary stuff and his command this year, so he’s starting to figure some things out. He’s not going to average 99 mph forever because no one does, but he’s starting from such a high baseline that even after losing some velocity in the coming years, he’ll sit mid-90s no problem.

3. Spin rate is a thing in the minors now too. I wrote a little bit about spin rate last week, and while it is still a relatively new concept to fans and analysts, it’s been a thing within baseball for a while now. The Baseball America scouting report mentions Medina has a “high-spin curveball,” and in the chat, Josh Norris notes RHP Deivi Garcia has a “hook that measures at 3,000 RPMs.” Only three big leaguers topped 3,000 rpm with their curveballs this season, for reference (min. 100 curveballs). RHP Drew Finley (curveball) and RHP Nolan Martinez (fastball) both earned notoriety for their spin rates as draft prospects. As I’ve said, spin rate is like velocity in that it’s only one tool in the shed, it’s not everything, but clearly it is something teams — the Yankees, specifically — target nowadays. The general belief is that spin is not really teachable. It’s either in your wrist or it’s not. The Yankees aren’t just hoarding pitching prospects. They’re hoarding high-spin prospects, the guys who are now very in demand at the big league level.

4. Mechanical changes contributed to Gilliam’s breakout. OF Isiah Gilliam, the team’s 20th round pick in 2015 and the recipient of a well-above-slot $550,000 bonus, was one of the easiest to overlook breakout stars in the farm system this summer. The switch-hitter spent most of the season at age 20, and he hit .275/.356/.468 (137 wRC+) with 15 homers and 10.8% walks in 125 Low-A games. That’s a damn fine season. Norris notes in the chat that Gilliam “saw significant benefits to the changes he made with his stance and swing mechanics,” and that’s pretty interesting. Amateur and minor league video can be tough to come by, so here’s what I dug up on Gilliam’s right-handed swing:

isiah-gilliam

That’s Gilliam in high school in 2014 on the left (video) and Gilliam with Low-A Charleston in 2017 on the right (video). I did my best to grab each image at the moment Gilliam begins to lift his front foot as part of his leg kick. Two things stand out. One, Gilliam has a wider base underneath him now. His legs are further apart. I suppose that could just be a camera angle issue, however. And two, his hands are much lower now. There’s no funny camerawork there. His hands used to be way up near to head and now they’re down by his chest, so yes, he has made some adjustments, at least to his right-handed swing. (There isn’t much old video of his left-handed swing, weirdly.) Anyway, Gilliam had a real nice season, and is one of those quality under-the-radar prospects that makes the system so deep.

5. So apparently Wade’s stock has dropped. Although he did not eclipse the 130 at-bat rookie limit this year, SS Tyler Wade is no longer rookie eligible because he accrued too much service time this season. Baseball America does not, however, consider service time when ranking prospects, so Wade is still prospect eligible. And yet, he’s not in the top ten. In the chat, Norris said Wade “did not come close to (making) this list” even though “he still has a big league future … probably as a utility infielder.” I like Wade. Have for a long time. I like the athleticism, the speed, the defense, and the strike zone knowledge. He just hit .310/.382/.460 (136 wRC+) with seven homers and 26 steals (in 31 attempts) in 85 Triple-A games as a 22-year-old. That’s really good! I know Wade stunk in the big leagues, but he had 63 plate appearances in 81 days of service time. The kid never played. Last year Aaron Judge got called up, struggled in his brief MLB debut, then tumbled down the prospect rankings. Baseball America ranked Judge as the sixth best prospect in the system coming into this season, behind SS Jorge Mateo (who didn’t hit) and RHP James Kaprielian (who was hurt all last year). Now Wade rips up Triple-A, struggles in an insignificant amount of big league playing time, and now he “did not come close” to ranking in the top ten prospects. Eh. I know I’m the high man on Wade, but if he’s not close to the top ten prospects, the system is even deeper than I realized.

Thoughts on Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects

Adams. (The Citizens' Voice)
Adams. (The Citizens’ Voice)

Now that the 2017season is over, the crew at Baseball Prospectus is storming through their annual look at the top ten prospects (plus more) in each farm system. Yesterday they hit the Yankees. From what I can tell, the entire article is free. You don’t need a subscription to read the commentary.

“A year after being deadline sellers, the Yankees thinned out their farm with graduations and a pair of July 31st buys. The system is down a little, but has an elite 1-2 punch at the top and a bonanza of high-upside teenagers further down the organizational totem pole,” said the write-up. Here’s the top ten:

  1. SS Gleyber Torres
  2. OF Estevan Florial
  3. RHP Chance Adams
  4. LHP Justus Sheffield
  5. RHP Albert Abreu
  6. 3B Miguel Andujar
  7. RHP Domingo Acevedo
  8. RHP Domingo German
  9. RHP Matt Sauer
  10. RHP Luis Medina

Both OF Clint Frazier and UTIL Tyler Wade exhausted their rookie eligibility this season, which is why they’re not in the top ten. Frazier exceeded the 130 at-bat rookie limit (he finished with 134) while Wade accrued too much service time. The rookie limit is 45 days outside the September roster expansion period. Wade finished with 50 such days, by my unofficial count. Anyway, some thoughts.

1. A year ago at this time the farm system was very position player heavy. The top four and six of the top nine prospects in the system were position players, per Baseball Prospectus. Six of my top eight were position players. Now Baseball Prospectus has seven pitchers among the top ten prospects in the organization. Furthermore, six prospects in the 11-20 range are pitchers as well. That’s a lot of quality arms! And the Yankees are going to need them too. Pitchers break down, they fail to develop a third pitch, etc. There are so many things that can derail development. Plus young pitching is the best currency in baseball. It can get you almost anything you want at the trade deadline. We could start to see the system strength shift from position players to pitchers earlier this year. Now this is damn close to a pitcher first farm system.

2. Speaking of pitchers, where’s RHP Jorge Guzman? He’s not mentioned in the Baseball Prospectus write-up at all. Not in the top ten, not in the next ten, nothing. In the comments it was explained the Yankees have a deep system and Guzman essentially got squeezed out by the numbers crunch, though I’m not sure I agree with him not being a top 20 prospect in the system. Heck, he’s in my top ten right now. When you have Medina in the top ten and RHP Roansy Contreras in the next ten, it’s tough to understand why Guzman isn’t there. He’s a more polished version of those guys, relatively speaking. Perhaps his age is the problem? Guzman will turn 22 in January and he’s yet to pitch in a full season league. That happens when you don’t sign until 18. I dunno. They don’t check IDs on the mound. If you can get outs, it doesn’t matter if you’re 21 or 31 or 41. Guzman’s stuff is as good as anyone’s in the system and he made great strides with his command and secondary pitches in 2017. Seems like a top ten prospect to me.

3. OF Pablo Olivares got some love. He’s been a little sleeper favorite of mine the last two years. The 19-year-old struggled in his quick stint with Low-A Charleston last season, but he .311/.420/.424 (149 wRC+) with 10.7% walks and 13.4% strikeouts in complex ball from 2016-17. Olivares is one of those guys who does a little of everything but nothing exceptionally well. “I project him to at least average across the board, led by a future 55 hit tool … (When) patient, he took walks and drove pitches to center and oppo. He’s bigger than his listed 6-foot, 160 pounds (likely closer to 170), and while just an average runner, his reads and instincts in center are good enough to stick with an average arm. With maturity and some added strength, he at least has a chance to see 50 power,” said the write-up, which included Olivares as a prospect in the 11-20 range of the farm system. I like him. I think he’ll establish himself as a no-doubt top 15 prospect in the system in 2018. There’s a “Thairo Estrada but an outfielder” quality to Olivares.

4. My favorite feature of Baseball Prospectus’ annual prospect write-ups are the “top talents 25 and under” lists. The ten best players in the organization no older than 25, basically. Straightforward, right? New York’s list has Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino in the 1-2-3 spots in that order, then slide the top ten prospects behind them. Noticeably absent: Greg Bird. Hmmm. I assume the injuries are the reason Bird was omitted from the top 25 and under talents — “As per usual, his future outlook depends almost entirely on his health,” said the write-up — but even considering that, I still feel like he belongs in the top ten somewhere. Why would injuries knock Bird out of the top ten but not, say, Abreu? He had injury problems of his own this year and he’s never pitched above High-A. Bird is quite risky given his injury history. He’s also shown he can be a productive big leaguer when healthy. Not sure I agree with knocking him down the list below prospects, who themselves are inherently risky.

Saturday Links: Otani, League Top 20 Prospects, Cessa

The most fun player on Earth. (Getty)
The most fun player on Earth. (Getty)

The offseason is off to a pretty good start. Last night we learned Masahiro Tanaka will not opt-out of his contract, and instead give the Yankees his age 29-31 seasons for $67M. Not bad. Not bad at all. Now the Yankees can now move on to other things, like finding a new manager. Here are some notes and links to check out.

Otani’s move on hold while MLB, MLBPA, NPB haggle

According to Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman, Shohei Otani’s move to the big leagues is on hold while MLB, MLBPA, and NPB haggle over the posting agreement. The posting agreement expired last month, though MLB and NPB agreed Otani would be grandfathered in under the old agreement, meaning the Nippon Ham Fighters would still get the $20M release fee. The players’ union doesn’t like that arrangement. From Sherman:

But MLB cannot enter into any transfer agreement with any country — Japan, Korea, Cuba, Mexico, etc. — without approval from the MLB Players Association, as stated in the CBA. And the union, to date, has refused to make an exception for Otani, concerned about the precedent and fairness of the player receiving, say, $300,000 and his former team $20 million.

Under the international hard cap Otani can only receive a small bonus — the Yankees and Rangers reportedly have the most bonus money to offer at $2.5M or so — and sign a minor league contract, which is nothing. He’s getting screwed beyond belief, financially. I get why MLBPA doesn’t want to set this precedent, but maybe do something about it during Collective Bargaining Agreement talks? It’s a little too late now. You agreed to the hard cap, you dolts.

Anyway, my guess is Otani will indeed end up coming over at some point this winter. It seems like he really wants to despite the hard cap. So far this Otani stuff is following a similar path as the Tanaka stuff a few years ago. He wants to come over, oh no his team might not post him, now MLB and the NPB are at an impasse during posting system talks … blah blah blah. Same story, different year.

Otani undergoes ankle surgery

Oh, by the way, Otani had ankle surgery last month, according to the Kyodo News. The ankle had been bothering him since late last year, when he rolled it running through first base in October. He then reaggravated it in November. The ankle injury as well as a nagging quad problem limited Otani to only 231 plate appearances (.332/.403/.540) and 25.1 innings (3.20 ERA and 10.3 K/9) in 2017.

The surgery comes with a three-month rehab, meaning Otani is expected to be back on his feet by January. That could throw a wrench into his offseason workout routine. Obviously the surgery is a red flag and something MLB teams must consider when pursuing him, but given the nature of the injury — rolling your ankle while running through first base is kinda fluky — and the fact his arm is sound leads me to believe it won’t hurt his market at all. It could mean Otani is brought along a little more slowly in Spring Training, however.

More Yankees among BA’s league top 20 prospects

Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)

It just dawned on me that I never passed along Baseball America’s remaining league top 20 prospect lists. I did post Triple-A, Double-A, and High-A, but that’s all. There are still four more levels to cover, and many Yankees prospects. Let’s get to them quick:

  • OF Estevan Florial (Low-A No. 2): “He’s a higher-risk, high ceiling prospect who has further refinement to come, but special tools.”
  • RHP Jorge Guzman (NYPL No. 2): “(The) 21-year-old took a big step forward as a pitcher this year … He mixed in his curveball and changeup more regularly, which only made his plus-plus fastball more effective.”
  • RHP Trevor Stephan (NYPL No. 9): “Stephan sat 92-94 mph but touched 95-96 regularly. His slider got plenty of swings and misses thanks to his ability to bury it.”
  • RHP Juan De Paula (NYPL No. 14): “De Paula was one of the more skilled pitchers in the league, showing an ability to control the strike zone and throw in and out, up and down, raising and lowering hitters’ eye levels and never letting them get real comfortable in the batter’s box.”
  • IF Oswaldo Cabrera (NYPL No. 16): “Managers and scouts felt confident about Cabrera’s ability to hit for average and get on base … Scouts are concerned that Cabrera’s tools are more modest than his work ethic and feel for the game.”
  • RHP Luis Medina (Appy No. 6): “Medina’s upside is enormous. He attacks hitters with a true 80-grade fastball on the 20-80 scouting scale and sits anywhere from 96-100 mph … Medina pairs his heater with two potentially above-average secondaries. His curveball works in an 11-to-5 arc and is his preferred knockout pitch, whereas his changeup lags a little behind.”
  • RHP Deivi Garcia (Appy No. 15): “Garcia’s fastball sits in the low 90s and touches as high as 96 mph … His curveball is nearing plus status and boasts high spin rates and firm shape.”
  • SS Oswald Peraza (GCL No. 14): “Peraza is a smart, savvy player and a good athlete. He has a smooth, efficient stroke, good bat-to-ball skills and manages his at-bats well with a good sense for the strike zone.”
  • SS Jose Devers (GCL No. 19): “Devers’ glove is ahead of his bat, but he held his own against older competition in the GCL, showing a sound swing and contact skills, though without much power.”

In the Appalachian League chat, 3B Dermis Garcia was called “a very divisive player” because his pitch recognition isn’t great and he’ll probably end up at first base, but “(on) the flip side, he’s got enormous raw power and a strong throwing arm.” Also, OF Blake Rutherford placed 18th on the Low-A South Atlantic League list. Eek. Hopefully he bounces back next year. Rutherford’s a good dude.

Cessa activated off 60-day DL

A small transaction to note: Luis Cessa was activated off the 60-day DL yesterday, the Yankees announced. The Yankees now have four open spots on the 40-man roster. They’re going to go to Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects later this month. Chances are the Yankees will have to open a few more 40-man spots, in fact. Cessa, 25, had a 4.75 ERA (5.75 FIP) in 36 swingman innings this year before going down with a rib cage injury. I like him more than most. I think Cessa has a chance to be a nice little back-end starter and soon.

Despite spending restrictions, the Yankees have an impressive collection of Latin American pitching prospects

Medina. (@MiLB)
Medina. (@MiLB)

For years the Yankees built their farm system through international free agency. They haven’t had access to top of the draft talent in more than two decades now, but they were able to spend freely internationally, so they made up for the lack of high draft picks that way. That’s how the Yankees landed Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino, among others.

The rules have changed, however. MLB implemented a soft spending cap for international players six years ago and a hard cap this year. The Yankees are no longer free to wield their financial might internationally. This year they were held to a $4.75M hard cap, which is nothing. They gave Sanchez a $3M bonus back in 2009. Three years ago the Yankees blew their soft cap out of the water and spent $30M between taxes and bonuses, and once other teams followed suit, MLB pushed for the hard cap, so here we are.

Anyway, as a result of that $30M spending spree during he 2014-15 signing period, the Yankees could not sign a player for more than $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods. That took them out of the running for the top talent. When other teams could offer millions and you’re limited to $300,000, it’s a huge disadvantage. It figured to be tough for the Yankees to attract top players, and it was. C’est la vie.

The Yankees, however, have become very adept at finding under-the-radar international talent, and turning smaller bonus players into top prospects. Severino, for example, signed for $225,000 as an amateur. Jorge Mateo signed for $250,000. Top outfield prospect Estevan Florial signed for $200,000. The big seven-figure bonuses like $3M for Sanchez get all the attention, but it’s those small bonus signings that make a big difference in the long run.

The Yankees have Donny Rowland, who returning to the organization in 2007 and has been their director of international scouting since 2014, and his army of scouts in Latin America to thank for that. Despite being limited to $300,000 bonuses during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods, the Yankees landed several interesting power arms who make up their next wave of pitching prospects. A partial list:

  • RHP Roansy Contreras: Signed for $300,000 in July 2016.
  • RHP Deivi Garcia: Signed for $100,000 in July 2015.
  • RHP Rony Garcia: Signed for an undisclosed bonus in July 2015. (Had to be $300,000 or less.)
  • RHP Luis Medina: Signed for $280,000 in July 2015.

All four of those pitchers have received quite a bit of attention recently. Contreras was considered the top pitching prospect in the Dominican Republic during the 2016-17 signing period. Jim Callis said Medina has the highest ceiling of any pitching prospect in the system. Both Deivi (“One of the Yankees’ brightest low-level arms“) and Rony (“(He) shouldn’t be anonymous for long“) Garcia received glowing reports from Baseball America recently.

Also, the Yankees have traded for several lower level Latin American arms within the last year, most notably RHP Albert Abreu and RHP Jorge Guzman, both of whom came over in the Brian McCann trade. Also, RHP Juan De Paula was part of the Ben Gamel trade. De Paula and especially Guzman have seen their stock rise considerably this year, and I have no doubt Rowland and his staff were consulted during trade talks. The international scouting department had eyes on these guys long before the Yankees traded for them.

This group doesn’t include RHP Domingo Acevedo ($7,500 bonus in October 2012) or RHP Freicer Perez ($10,000 bonus in December 2014), both of whom received small bonuses, but not while the Yankees were held to the $300,000 bonus maximum. Both are among the better pitching prospects in the system — Acevedo figures to make his MLB debut at some point next season — and both signed for relative peanuts. They’re just two more examples of how well the Yankees identify under-the-radar international talent.

It would be unwise and unfair to expect any of these pitchers to turn into another Severino. Severino has been a top ten pitcher in baseball this season and, as long as he stays healthy, he has the ability to remain a top ten pitcher for several years. It’s hard to expect that from any prospect, no matter how good. The hope is several of these Latin American arms will turn into useful big leaguers or trade chips. These days teams take lower level prospects back as the headliners in trades more than ever before. It might not be long before the Yankees cash these guys in.

The Yankees were limited to $300,000 bonuses internationally from July 2015 through July 2017, and they knew they would be following the 2014-15 spending spree. That was part of the plan. They still managed to land several pitching prospects who are already drawing rave reviews, with Medina and the Garcias in particular becoming hard to ignore. Contreras, who signed just last year, is next in line. The Yankees have graduated a lot of prospects and traded a lot of prospects recently. Now the next wave is in place, despite those international spending limits.

Minors Notes: Lindgren, Rosters, Garcia, Hebert, Sands

Lindgren. (Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

The Major League season opened earlier this week, and now it’s time for the minor league season to follow suit. The Yankees’ four full season affiliates open their regular seasons tomorrow night. Three of the four open at home. So, with that in mind, here are a bunch of minor league news and notes I had lying around.

Lindgren to begin in High-A Tampa

LHP Jacob Lindgren is going to begin the season with High-A Tampa, according to Josh Norris. Tampa, obviously, is a long way from Scranton. Brian Cashman confirmed to Chad Jennings that Lindgren is not hurt. Two things immediately jump to mind. One, the Yankees want Lindgren to stay away from the cold weather early in the season. It wouldn’t be the first time they or any other team has done that.

Two, and I think the more likely explanation, the Yankees think Lindgren needs mechanical work and they want him to put in that work close to the home base in Tampa. Lindgren is coming off elbow surgery and he wasn’t blessed with good control to start with, so it seems the Yankees are taking a step back and trying to get him right. What he’s doing right now isn’t working, so they’re not going force it. It’s not like they’re lacking bullpen depth at Triple-A. This is the time to do it.

Minor league rosters announced

Rosters for three of the four full season affiliates were announced earlier this week. We’re still waiting on High-A Tampa. Here are the links with some quick thoughts on the other three rosters:

  • Triple-A Scranton: C Eddy Rodriguez, not C Sebastian Valle, gets the job mentoring and backing C Gary Sanchez. The outfield is loaded (OF Ben Gamel, OF Slade Heathcott, OF Aaron Judge, OF Cesar Puello) and I expect all four to play pretty much every day, so the DH will be a rotation.
  • Double-A Trenton: RHP Brady Lail starting back with the Thunder is a bit surprising. Well, maybe not. He got roughed up in seven Triple-A starts last year. I bet he gets promoted before long. I’m a bit surprised to see OF Dustin Fowler here after only a half-season at High-A in 2015. Among the pitchers, I’m most looking forward to seeing what LHP Jordan Montgomery and RHP Ronald Herrera do this year.
  • Low-A Charleston: RHP Domingo Acevedo is the only must-watch guy on the pitching staff. IF Thairo Estrada, SS Kyle Holder, and SS Hoy Jun Park are probably going to share time at second, short, and third. OF Trey Amburgey and OF Jhalan Jackson in the outfield should be fun. No C Luis Torrens means he must still be in Extended Spring Training working his way back from shoulder surgery.

There is still one open spot on the Triple-A Scranton roster. They currently have 12 pitchers on the roster and I would not at all be surprised if they added for a 13th early in the season. They have to watch innings and make sure no one gets overworked early in the season, especially the actual prospects. Plus the extra arm will come in handy as relievers get shuttled in and out.

Based on the other rosters, we can deduce who is starting with High-A Tampa: RHP James Kaprielian, SS Jorge Mateo, 3B Miguel Andujar, IF Abi Avelino, RHP Jordan Foley, and OF Austin Aune are the notables. Hopefully LHP Ian Clarkin as well, assuming he’s healthy. There’s no reason to think he isn’t aside from the fact he missed the entire regular season last year. Tampa looks like the most exciting affiliate this year, but that could change quick if Kaprielian and Mateo get promoted at some point, which seems likely.

Garcia out with shoulder soreness

According to Brendan Kuty, SS Wilkerman Garcia dealt with a sore right shoulder throughout the spring, and there is no timetable for his return. Garcia was still listed in a rehab workout group two weeks ago per Shane Hennigan, so he has not been shut down completely. He’s been doing some kind of baseball work lately. Still though, you don’t want one of your best prospects to have a sore shoulder.

Garcia, 18, signed for $1.35M as part of the 2014-15 international spending spree. He hit .299/.414/.362 (140 RC+) with more walks (25) than strikeouts (19) in 39 rookie ball games last year. Wilkerman was expected to begin the 2016 season in Extended Spring Training before joining one of the short season affiliates (Staten Island, most likely) in late-June, so we’re not even going to notice he’s missing from DotF. Hopefully this shoulder soreness is only minor and he’s back to full strength soon.

Hebert undergoes Tommy John surgery

Hebert. (Presswire)
Hebert. (Presswire)

LHP Chaz Hebert, who really broke out with a strong 2015 season, recently had Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2016 season, farm system head Denbo confirmed to Chad Jennings. Hebert, 23, was a 27th round pick back in 2011. He bounced around the low minors for a while before pitching to a 2.55 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 134 innings last season, including a few appearances at Triple-A.

PitchFX data from the Arizona Fall League shows Hebert throws four pitches: four-seamer (averaged 90.0 mph), cutter (85.9), changeup (78.4), and curveball (73.8). The Yankees opted not to add Hebert to the 40-man roster last November following his big year, and he went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft. By no means is he a great prospect, but he’s a lefty who can start, and those guys are always interesting.

Sands converting to catcher

In an interview with Mike Rosenbaum, 3B Donny Sands revealed he is moving behind the plate and converting to catcher. “I’ve bought into it, completely, which is the only way you really can get better regardless of the position you’re moving to,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity the Yankees are giving me, and I’ve very thankful for it … It’s a lot different than every other position; you get beat up and tired but still have to be the backbone out there and maintain focus. I like being mentally involved on every pitch.”

Sands, 19, was the team’s eighth round pick out of an Arizona high school last year, and he hit .309/.395/.361 (133 wRC+) in 55 rookie ball games as a third baseman after signing for $100,000. Pre-draft scouting reports lauded his strong arm, soft hands, and baseball instincts, all of which he’ll need behind the plate. Converting to catcher is not easy — not everyone takes to it as quickly as Torrens or John Ryan Murphy — so we’ll see how long it takes Sands’ defense to catch up to his bat. The move to catcher is a great opportunity for him to raise his stock.

Baseball America’s international review

The great Ben Badler posted his annual international reviews over the last ten days or so. The main Yankees review is behind the paywall, so I can’t share too much, but the team signed 57 (!) players last year. Ridiculous. That covers the 2015 calendar year, so the second half of the 2014-15 signing period and the first half of the 2015-16 signing period. Here are some associated links that are not behind the payroll:

  • Total Signings by Team: No other team signed more than 48 prospects last year. The average was 26 signings by the 29 non-Yankees teams. The Yankees more than doubled that.
  • Total Spending by Team: The Yankees handed out $3.42M in total bonuses last year, ranking 16th out of the 30 clubs. Remember, they were limited to bonuses of $300,000 or less after July 2nd last year as a result of the penalties from the 2014-15 signing period.
  • Top 40 Bonuses: The Yankees did not give out one of the 40 largest international bonuses last year because they couldn’t. They signed all their big money 2014-15 guys in July 2014. Last year they had to deal with the penalty.

The only player the Yankees signed for the maximum $300,000 bonus after July 2nd last year was Venezuelan SS Jesus Bastidas. Badler calls him “a sure-handed shortstop” with the tools to remain at the position, and added he has “quick, strong hands and the ball jumps off his bat well already for his size.” Dominican RHP Luis Medina ($280,000) is already touching 100 mph. The team also signed Dominican OF Estevan Florial ($200,000) last year. We’ve heard quite a bit about him recently.

The Yankees scout Latin America very well and they have a history of hitting home runs with lower bonus guys. Both Luis Severino ($225,000) and Mateo ($250,000) signed on the relative cheap, for example. I’m sure those 57 players are more quantity than quality because of the $300,000 limit, but still, the Yankees are really good at finding top shelf talent at bargain prices. I’m sure more than a few are good prospects.

Yankees sign one, release 17

According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed one player and released 17 in recent weeks. Let’s start with the 17 who have been released:

Pitchers: RHP Andre Del Bosque, LHP Derek Callahan, LHP Ethan Carnes, LHP Andrew Chin, RHP Geoff DeGroot, RHP Cory Jordan, LHP Conner Kendrick, LHP Anthony Marzi
Position Players: 1B Matt Duran, OF Greidy Encarnacion, OF Joey Falcone, OF Dominic Jose, 3B Renzo Martini, IF Ty McFarland, C Alvaro Noriega, IF Junior Valera, C Matt Walsh

Duran and McFarland are the most notable of the bunch. Duran was the team’s fourth round pick in 2011, but he didn’t hit (88 wRC+) and only played 128 games in five seasons due to injuries. McFarland was a draft pool saving tenth round pick in 2014 and he had decent numbers (106 wRC+), but he was old for every level he played. Jose had some tools. It just didn’t come together.

The player the Yankees signed is 2B Chris Godinez, who was released by the Dodgers recently. The 22-year-old was an 18th round pick just last year, and he hit .226/.385/.301 (93 wRC+) in 30 rookie ball games after turning pro. He’s a speed guy with great college stats (.302/.505/.510 at Bradley last spring) but no real standout tool beyond his legs. Looks like a depth pickup for the low minors.

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.

International Signings: Medina, Garcia, Espinosa, Jimenez

The 2015-16 international signing period opened on July 2nd, just as it does every year, except this year the Yankees were effectively shut out from the top available talent. As a result of last year’s spending spree, the team can not sign a player to a bonus larger than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods.

That’s okay, the Yankees signed about three years worth of top talent last summer, plus they are very good at finding under-the-radar prospects. Both Luis Severino ($225,000) and Jorge Mateo ($250,000) signed for relatively small bonuses, for example. Anyway, the Yankees did indeed sign several international prospects this year. Here’s the little bit of bonus and scouting information I could dig up.

The Top Prospect: RHP Luis Medina

Medina, 16, is the best prospect the Yankees have signed this signing period, as far as I can tell. He received a $280,000 bonus plus a $120,000 scholarship according to the Dominican Prospect League. Kiley McDaniel got a firsthand look at Medina late last year. Here’s his write-up:

The best of a so-so group of pitchers that made the trip was RHP Luis Medina.  He sat 89-91 and hit 94 mph in a short outing but one scout told me he saw Medina a few weeks before and he sat 93-95, hitting 96 mph.  It obviously isn’t a super clean or polished delivery, but the frame has some projection, the arm works, he has some feel to spin an average or better curveball and the arm speed is elite.  There predictably isn’t much of a changeup at this stage either, but Medina looks like a sure seven figure guy right now and there’s time for him to develop some starter traits before signing.

Obviously the seven-figure thing didn’t happen. Medina, like most non-elite prospects his age, is very raw and a work in progress. He has good velocity and a quick arm, so that’s a good start. He has the unteachables. Now the Yankees need to help Medina refine his offspeed stuff and command.

Known Bonuses

In addition to Medina, bonus information for four other Yankees signees has been reported. RHP Deivi Garcia signed for $100,000 according to MYN Baseball RD, while C Robert Espinosa, IF Brian Jimenez, and OF Vinicio Martinez all received $50,000 bonuses. Espinosa also received a $60,000 scholarship. That all comes from the Dominican Prospect League. Each team gets six $50,000 bonus exemptions that do not count against their bonus pool, so Espinosa, Jimenez, and Martinez take half of those slots. Garcia’s the lucky one. He got six figures.

Unknown Bonuses

The Yankees also signed 16-year-old LHP Heiner Moreno out of a prospect camp in Panama, MLB announced. His bonus is unknown. Matt Eddy reported a slew of signings without bonus information: 3B Sandy Acevedo, 2B Diego Duran, RHP Rony Garcia, SS Jesus Graterol, LHP Argelis Herrera, SS Brayan Jimenez, C Moises Lobo, SS Kleiber Maneiro, RHP Alex Mejias, RHP Luis Ojeda, RHP Elvis Peguero, and 3B Alfred Pujols. I would love to tell you more about each and every one of these players, but I can’t do it. No information to be found. That’s par for the course when it comes to non-top international guys.

* * *

The Yankees were allotted a $2.2628M bonus pool for international free agency this summer. They spent $380,000 of that on Heredia and Garcia. Who knows how much all of those other players received though. There are 13 players in that “Unknown Bonuses” section and I’m sure some of them received a decent chunk of change. The Yankees can also trade their four international slots, but they don’t have much value. Bonus slots been included as throw-ins and instead of players to be named later in trades around the league. Hopefully we get more information about all these kids the Yankees signed at some point. I’m sure we will … eventually.