The Major League regular season is underway and, later this week, the 2019 minor league regular season will begin as well. Three of the Yankees’ four full season minor league affiliates begin play this Thursday with the fourth beginning play Friday. To me, it’s not until the minor league season begins that it feels like baseball is truly back.
The Yankees announced their minor league coaching staffs a few weeks ago. Over the weekend, they announced the Opening Day rosters for their four full season minor league affiliates, which they’ve never announced to fans in this way before. At least not since I’ve been blogging about the Yankees. Hooray for the Yankees finally launching an official player development Twitter account.
Since the minor league Opening Day rosters have been announced with a few days to spare, it gives us a chance to look them over and break things down. Keep in mind minor league rosters change a lot throughout the season. Example: The Giancarlo Stanton injury and Clint Frazier call-up. These rosters are already in flux. Anyway, let’s dig through the minor league Opening Day rosters.
Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
The farm system has thinned out a bit and Triple-A Scranton’s roster isn’t as prospect-laden as it was the last two or three years. IF Thairo Estrada and UTIL Tyler Wade are the notable youngsters who will anchor the lineup now that Frazier has been summoned to the Bronx. I imagine Estrada, Wade, and Frazier were penciled in as the 1-2-3 hitters. Let’s lay out a potential starting lineup, because why not?
- 2B/SS Thairo Estrada
- 2B/SS Tyler Wade
- 3B Gio Urshela
- 1B/DH Mike Ford
- 1B/DH Ryan McBroom
- C Kyle Higashioka/Ryan Lavarnway
- OF Zack Zehner
- OF Billy Burns
- OF Matt Lipka
Wade will presumably continue to see action in the outfield, opening up playing time for IF Gosuke Katoh, who was a super utility infielder for Double-A Trenton last year. Estrada and Wade (and Frazier before the call-up) are the developmental priority guys and they’re going to be in the lineup everyday. The other starting position player spots will be more of a rotation to ensure everyone gets at-bats, which is par for the course in Triple-A.
Based on the personnel, the five starting pitchers will be RHP Chance Adams, LHP Nestor Cortes, LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP David Hale, and RHP Drew Hutchison in whatever order. RHP Adonis Rosa is the other rotation candidate should the Yankees slot Cortes or Hale into the bullpen. Gonzalez started an Extended Spring Training game last Friday and that likely lines him up for the season opener Thursday. He hasn’t pitched in Triple-A since 2009. RHP Joe Harvey and RHP Raynel Espinal were a dynamite closer/setup man combo last year. They’re back together to start this season.
RHP Jonathan Loaisiga is not on the Triple-A Scranton roster because he’s not going to Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees are planning to call him up Wednesday to serve as their fifth starter. Loaisiga will be called up as the corresponding move for CC Sabathia’s injured list assignment. Tomorrow is the final day of Sabathia’s five-game suspension.
Double-A Trenton Thunder
What a fun rotation. RHP Albert Abreu, RHP Nick Green, RHP Nick Nelson, RHP Trevor Stephan, and RHP Garrett Whitlock are the expected five starters in whatever order. (Green was returned as a Rule 5 Draft pick last week.) The Yankees have moved RHP Domingo Acevedo to the bullpen, and he’ll presumably work on a set schedule, at least initially. Two innings every three days, something like that. That’s usually how these things work.
The lineup is lacking prospect star power. OF Estevan Florial’s broken wrist is partially to blame there. SS Kyle Holder is the only position player top 30 prospect on the roster, though OF Trey Amburgey and IF Brandon Wagner are somewhat notable. Amburgey spent all of last season with Trenton and Wagner about half the season. Here’s a possible lineup, though it should be noted Hendrix is a candidate to move up to Scranton to replace Frazier:
- OF Jeff Hendrix
- 2B/SS Kyle Holder
- OF Trey Amburgey
- 1B/3B/DH Brandon Wagner
- 1B/DH Chris Gittens
- OF Jhalan Jackson/Ben Ruta
- 3B Mandy Alvarez
- 2B/SS Angel Aguilar
- C Francisco Diaz/Jorge Saez
Like I said, not the most exciting position player group. There’s been a bit of a position player prospect gap in the system the last few years and it reached Double-A Trenton this season. Clearly, the rotation is the story here. The Thunder will send a top 30 prospect — a top 20 prospect, really — to the mound every game. With Cortes and Hale holding down Triple-A rotation spots, don’t be surprised if Nelson or Stephan gets bumped up to Scranton fairly early in the season.
High-A Tampa Tarpons
RHP Deivi Garcia and RHP Clarke Schmidt make for one heck of a 1-2 punch atop the rotation. Garcia closed out last season with a spot start at Double-A Trenton — he was going to make a postseason start for Trenton had they not been swept in the best-of-three first round series — though sending him back there to start this season never seemed all that likely. He’s still only 19 and he made six starts with Tampa last year. Give it a few weeks and Garcia will be back in Trenton.
As for Schmidt, the Yankees are finally ready to take the reins off their 2017 first round pick. He’s fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and last year’s oblique strain. Of course the Yankees will monitor Schmidt’s workload — they’re not going to throw caution to the wind — but the point is Schmidt is going to start every five days and begin his pro career in earnest. I’m excited.
RHP Rony Garcia, RHP Glenn Otto, and RHP Miguel Yajure figure to join Deivi and Schmidt in the rotation. Yajure was one of my not top 30 prospects and Otto is coming back from surgery to remove a blood clot from his shoulder. He made only two starts last season. Otto might be a reliever long-term, but he has a chance to be a really good, and he’s healthy now. LHP Dalton Lehnen or RHP Janson Junk could bump Otto to the bullpen at the outset. We’ll see.
The position player group is headlined by a few 2014-15 international signing spree guys: 1B/3B Dermis Garcia, SS Diego Castillo, OF Pablo Olivares, and C Jason Lopez. Here’s the possible lineup:
- OF Pablo Olivares
- 2B/SS Oswaldo Cabrera
- OF Isiah Gilliam
- 1B/3B Dermis Garcia
- 1B Steven Sensley
- C Jason Lopez/Donny Sands
- 2B/SS Diego Castillo
- OF/DH Rashad Crawford/Tyler Hill
- OF/DH Rashad Crawford/Tyler Hill
Gilliam is returning to Tampa after his power, strikeout, and walk rates all took noticeable dips last year. As a bat-only corner outfielder, he needs a good year to remain relevant. Sensley and Crawford had some prospect shine a year or two ago but have since faded. Crawford actually spent much of the last two years with Trenton, so he’s been bumped down. Lopez and Sands are a sneaky interesting catcher tandem. There might be something there.
Low-A Charleston RiverDogs
Good gravy that rotation. RHP Roansy Contreras, RHP Luis Gil, RHP Luis Medina, RHP Tanner Myatt, and RHP Matt Sauer in whatever order is crazy prospect fun. That’s five top 30 prospects and three top 16 prospects. I thought Gil, Myatt, and especially Medina were candidates to begin the season back in Extended Spring Training, so it’s pretty cool to see them get the full season assignment.
RHP Rodney Hutchison, RHP Jio Orozco, and RHP Shawn Semple are starters by trade, so I imagine we’ll see some piggybacking, especially early in the season. The starter goes four or five innings and the next guy goes three or four innings, that sorta thing. That might be the plan initially with that young rotation. Myatt turns 21 in May he’s the oldest projected starter. These guys will all have workload limits and be eased into action.
The position player group includes last year’s second round pick (C Josh Breaux) and the Sonny Gray trade return (OF Josh Stowers), otherwise there’s not a whole lot to see there. 3B Nelson Gomez was a big money 2014-15 international signing spree guy who hasn’t really worked out, but he is only 21 and he has big power, so who knows. Anyway, here’s a possible lineup:
- OF Brandon Lockridge
- OF Josh Stowers
- C Josh Breaux
- 1B/DH Mickey Gasper
- 1B/DH Eric Wagaman
- 3B Nelson Gomez
- OF Isiah Pasteur/OF Frederick Cuevas
- 2B Kyle Gray
- 2B/SS Max Burt/Eduardo Torrealba
I’m not sure I would call them sleepers, but Lockridge (last year’s fifth round pick) and Gray (last year’s 14th rounder) are more than organizational players. They have some skills (Lockridge is crazy fast, Gray has sneaky pop) and could sneak up on people as great performance guys this season. Pasteur as well. Last year’s 13th rounder is a great athlete who can impact the game in a lot of ways.
The four full season affiliates begin play later this week, though there’s also Extended Spring Training, which leads into the various short season leagues later in the summer. The Rookie Pulaski Yankees, Short Season Staten Island Yankees, and two Rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees clubs begin play in June. Those rosters are a long way from being finalized. They’ll include 2019 draftees, among others. Here is a not at all complete list of notable prospects not included in an Opening Day full season affiliate roster this year.
Known Injuries: OF Antonio Cabello (shoulder), OF Estevan Florial (wrist), RHP Mike King (elbow), RHP Freicer Perez (shoulder), C Anthony Seigler (quad)
Perez had surgery to remove bone spurs last May and I assume he’s still in rehab mode. Cabello, this year’s Prospect Watch prospect, had offseason surgery but was playing in minor league Spring Training games last month. That means he’s making progress with his rehab, so that’s good. Obviously the Yankees are not ready to turn him loose just yet. The Prospect Watch will sit quiet until Cabello joins an affiliate. My guess is he joins Low-A Charleston in a few weeks.
Florial, King, and Seigler all suffered their injuries in Spring Training. King has resumed throwing and is expected to join Triple-A Scranton in early May. Florial will spend three weeks in a cast. I know that much. I don’t know what the exact timetable is for his return or Seigler’s return, for that matter. Seigler might’ve been an Extended Spring Training guy even with good health. I think he’ll join the RiverDogs at some point in the first half.
Others: SS Roberto Chirinos, RHP Harold Cortijo, 2B Ezequiel Duran, RHP Danny Farquhar, OF Anthony Garcia, SS Wilkerman Garcia, RHP Frank German, RHP Yoendrys Gomez, OF Ryder Green, RHP Brian Keller, RHP Nolan Martinez, SS Hoy Jun Park, SS Oswald Peraza, OF Everson Pereira, OF Raimfer Salinas, LHP JP Sears, OF Canaan Smith, RHP Juan Then, C Saul Torres, RHP Matt Wivinis
I think it’s safe to assume a few of these guys are injured. German was pitching in minor league spring games a few weeks ago, and a recent high-ish draft pick (fourth round last year) who played three years in the Atlantic Sun Conference wouldn’t typically be an Extended Spring Training candidate. He’s probably hurt. Same with Wivinis, who pitched well at three full season levels last year and went to the Arizona Fall League.
Sears had some shoulder trouble last season and Keller’s been an organizational innings guy the last two years. He spent the entire 2018 season with Double-A Trenton. No way a healthy Keller goes to Extended Spring Training. Park had a nice season with High-A Tampa last year and Garcia (Wilkerman, not Anthony) had a not-so-great season with Low-A Charleston. Both would be in full season if they were healthy, especially Park.
Farquhar is not injured. He’s just working his way back following last year’s nearly fatal brain hemorrhage. Farquhar didn’t look game ready during Grapefruit League play and I figured he’d spend a few weeks in Extended Spring Training. “That’s a decision to get him going. To get him regular reps, and then when he and us feel really good about it, he’ll get out to a team,” said Aaron Boone over the weekend. Give it a few weeks and Farquhar will land with one of the affiliates, likely a quick tune-up with High-A Tampa before an assignment to Triple-A Scranton.
Everyone else in this group is a clear Extended Spring Training prospect given their age and developmental needs. Chirinos, Duran, Garcia (Anthony, not Wilkerman), Gomez, Green, Peraza, Pereira, Salinas, Smith, and Then are all teenagers. Cortijo and Torres are 20. I thought Pereira had a chance to break camp with Low-A Charleston because he’s so talented and advanced for his age, but nope. A 17-year-old (!) staying in Extended Spring Training is hardly surprising no matter how high he ranks on prospect lists.