New York Yankees

Original Published Date: Nov. 26 2013
Updated: Jan. 22, 2014 – Added Masahiro Tanaka

2014 was a down year for the Yankees farm system.  Several top ranked prospects including Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and Tyler Austin did not progress as quickly as the Yankees had hoped.  In fact, during the pre-season, there was talk of Heathcott possibly breaking camp with the team, and if not, at least contributing at some point during the year.  Neither scenario occurred.

Even top ranked Gary Sanchez did not explode like some expected.  However, the bat speed and potential raw power is still impressive but his catching is not.  I question whether he is a catcher long-term but for now, the Yankees will continue putting him behind the dish.

A couple of bright spots for the Yankees were Rafael De Paula and J.C. Murphy.  De Paula was one of the real breakouts in April and May as he dominated Low-A, but came back to earth upon his promotion to High-A.  Known more for his defensive chops, J.C. Murphy kept hitting and hit his way all the way to New York.  While he’s likely a backup catcher with the Yankees, I think the upside is a major league starting catcher.

While their minor league system had a down year, the Yankees draft was excellent.  They took 6-foot-7 slugger Aaron Judge and polished collegian Eric Jagielo, but given their history of trading away prospects, neither is likely to see the big leagues in a Yankees uniform.  Both are intriguing prospects, especially Judge.

1. Masahiro Tanaka (RHP)

2014 Age: 25 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 Japan 212 168 30 6 1.36 7.77 1.27 0.94

In what became the most anticipated free agent signing in recent memory, Masahiro Tanaka agreed to terms with the New York Yankees on January 22, 2014.  The contract was staggering – 7-years and $155 million dollars with an opt-out provision after four years.  While his contract ranks as the fifth richest pitching contract in MLB history, it was unique in that Tanaka has yet to throw a pitch in Major League baseball.

The size of the contract was based on many factors.  First and foremost was the success that Tanaka had with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Nippon Professional Baseball League.  Over seven seasons, he posted an impressive 99-35 record with a 2.30 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP with 8.5 K/9 rate with a miniscule 1.9 BB/9 rate.

While many times the scouting report doesn’t always back-up the box score; with Tanaka it does.  His fastball sits 92-93 MPH but can hit the mid 90’s when needed.  He has the ability to command the fastball to both sides of the plate which allows him to setup his nasty secondary pitches.  The slider sits 83-84 MPH with a sharp two-plane break and should produce above-average swing and miss in the major leagues.

His money pitch is the much talked about splitter.  The release point is similar to his fastball but the bottom drops out of the pitch as it approaches the plate.  It’s a nasty pitch and will rival both Iwakuma’s and Kuroda’s splitter.  If you’re keeping count, that’s three plus pitches with at least above-average command.  That’s the profile of an ace or a high number-2 starter.

The pitching mechanics are traditional Japanese mechanics – a drop-and-drive approach with hesitation in the release to provide deception to the batter.  The approach has worked for Darvish, Iwakuma, and Kuroda and there’s no reason to believe it won’t work for Tanaka.  The only difference that I see is that Tanaka has a more pronounced drop-and-drive delivery with less deception than his fellow Japanese pitchers.  In general I’m not a fan of a drop-and-drive delivery as you can lose plane on the fastball.  At 6-foot-2 this could become a problem for Tanaka and could make him homer-prone.  In Yankees stadium, this could clearly become a problem.

Fantasy Impact: Tanaka will start the 2014 season pitching at the top of the Yankees rotation.  He has the arsenal and command to be a Top 25 fantasy pitcher but pitching in Yankees stadium will hurt him.  His mechanics will cause him to elevate his pitches and major league batters will catch up to his fastball and sort out his slider and splitter.  I would project 7.5-8.0 strikeouts per inning with a 3.50 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.  However, his inaugural season could produce slightly worse statistics as he adjusts to pitching against the big boys.

2. Gary Sanchez (C)

2014 Age: 21 Ceiling: Role 6
Ht:6-2 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
2013 A+-AA 454 50 15 71 3 .253 .324 80.8 9.0 .280

Signed for a three million dollar signing bonus in 2009 out of the Dominican Republic, Gary Sanchez is an offensive-first catcher with excellent bat speed with future plus power potential.  While his slash line of .253/.321/.412 doesn’t scream first division starter, the raw tools do.

His carrying tool continues to be his bat speed.  That bat speed when combined with his raw power gives him a ceiling of 20-25 home runs at the highest level.  We started to see some of the power surface in 2013 as he hit 13 of his 15 home runs in the pitcher-friendly confines of the Florida State League (FSL).

Sanchez is a very aggressive hitter but does control the strike zone as his nine percent walk rate demonstrates.  That aggressiveness could lead to a low contact rate but that was not a problem in 2013 as he posted an 80% contact rate.  However, as he gets more at-bats in the upper-minors, I expect the contact rate to regress.

The big question is will Gary Sanchez stay behind the plate?  When I saw him in Double-A, there is a lot of work to be done.  First, he’s very athletic and demonstrated good lateral movement behind the plate with a plus arm.  However, his receiving skills need a lot of work.  He stabbed at many pitches and didn’t create much of a target for his pitchers.  While the art of framing pitches takes years of practice, unless Sanchez learns to position himself better, he’ll never have that chance.

All and all, Sanchez is a very good prospect but my pre-season ranking of 26 and my mid-season ranking of 18 were overly aggressive.  However, with a plethora of minor league promotions this year, combined with a weak 2013 first year player draft, his 2014 ranking will continue to be high.

Fantasy Impact:  There’s no guarantee that Sanchez stays at catcher particularly now that the Yankees have signed Brian McCann to a long-term contract.  This will obviously hurt his fantasy value.  The bat will profile at first base and the raw power should work there as well.  Then again, it’s the Yankees, so don’t be surprised if he makes his major league debut wearing another jersey.  That said, I still view Sanchez as a Top 50 prospect with a Role 6 ceiling (first division starter).

3. Slade Heathcott (OF)

2014 Age: 23 Ceiling: Role 5-6
Ht:6-0 Weight: 195 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2014
2013 AA 399 59 8 49 15 .261 .327 73.2 9.0 .336

Heathcott possess both a ton of tools but also has a feel for the game while playing with great enthusiasm – dare I say…grit.  The problem continues to be will he be able to stay healthy in order to reach his full potential.  While it looked like 2013 would be the year that he played a full-season, he hit the DL in mid-August with tendonitis in his right knee.

Let’s talk about his tools.  The speed is plus-plus as I consistently got times down to first base around 4.0 seconds.  However, in the outfield, the speed plays even better based on his routes and quick first step. He’s at least a plus defender with future gold-glove potential.  The arm is also very strong as I saw him limit guys to singles on several occasions.  While Heathcott has below-average power, he does have enough physical strength to hit 5-10 home runs at the highest level.

Sounds like a player…just stay healthy…right?  Well, unfortunately, the hit tool is not great.  First, the bat-speed is not impressive, and given how naturally athletic he is; that’s a little surprising.  Secondly, while the swing is fairly compact, it’s not very fluid at all; which I’m guessing is causing him to lose bat speed.  It’s not multi-part, but just a little loopy.  He does have good pitch recognition but based on the swing I’ve seen, there is going to be swing and miss in his game.

Finally, and I hate to put comps on a player, but it’s hard not to think about Brett Gardner when you are watching Heathcott.  The speed, athleticism, and outfield range are very similar.  Plus as Gardner was coming through the Yankees system, people questioned how much he could hit. He’s done ok and I believe Heathcott will be ok as well.  Not a star but a chance to be a very good player.

Fantasy Impact:  If Heathcott can only stay healthy, I think he has a chance to be an impact fantasy player.  The speed should yield 30 plus stolen bases with the ability to hit 8-10 home runs.  The ceiling is a Brett Gardner type of player while the downside is a player like Jason Bourgeois.

4. Eric Jagielo (3B)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling: Role 5
Ht:6-2 Weight: 195 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
2013 R-SS 193 22 6 27 0 .261 .327 71.0 14.0 .341

Drafted out of high-school by the Chicago Cubs in 2010, Eric Jagielo decided to go to college to improve both his skills and draft stock.  Good move…as three years later, the Yankees drafted him 1,484 slots earlier in the first round and more importantly, paid him a $1.8 million dollar signing bonus.

In his junior year at Notre Dame, Jagielo had a .388/.500/.633 slash line while hitting nine home runs in 196 at-bats.  He has nice bat speed with current gap power to all fields.  As he matures and adds more loft to his swing, he has above-average future power potential.  The swing is not perfect as it does have some length, so there will likely be swing and miss in his game.  In fact, in his professional debut, he did strike out 56 times in 193 innings, primarily in the NY Penn League.  He also showed an excellent knowledge of the strike zone while walking 26 times.

While Jagielo has an above-average future hit tool and power potential, he only profiles as an average at-best third baseman.  This could present a challenge to the Yankees as his bat doesn’t profile enough to play first and with his lack of foot-speed, his only option in the outfield is left; and his bat doesn’t profile well there.  The Yankees reportedly worked hard on his defense in the fall instructs and sources told me that he looked better but still had a “ways to go”.

Jagielo’s should start 2014 in Low-A with a promotion to High-A likely later in the summer.  While it’s an overused expression, Jagielo’s will go as far as hit bat takes him.  I’ve put his ceiling as a solid regular but we will know more after he gets a few hundred at-bats under him in High-A.

Fantasy Impact:  Eric Jagielo’s is an interesting prospect as I think he’ll hit with a potential for 20 home runs at the highest level.  There will be swing and miss in his bat, so I would project a batting average of .260-.270 but with a .330-.340 OBP.  His fantasy upside will be limited though as his stolen base potential is less than five.

5. Tyler Austin (OF)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling: Role 5
Ht:6-1 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014
2013 AA 319 43 6 40 4 .257 .344 75.2 12.9 .321

My feelings for Tyler Austin are really mixed.  I saw a couple of games this year that made me think that Austin was a sure-fire first-division starter and then I saw games that made me doubt his ability to even make it out of Double-A.

First, I like the swing a lot.  It’s short and compact with a nice quiet setup.  When it’s all working, there is both plus power potential and plus contact as the swing just works.  The inconsistencies I’ve seen involve his bat speed.  While I wouldn’t call it plus bat-speed, it’s still above average and with his smooth hitting mechanics, he profiles as a solid role five player with the capacity to hit for 20+ home runs at the highest level.  On other occasions, I’ve seen poor bat speed – this was most evident a few days before he hit the DL with a wrist injury.  I can’t help but think that maybe his wrist was bothering him on and off during the season and if true, I feel better about his future potential.

Austin also made improvements with his pitch recognition throughout the year.   Early in the season, he was overmatched, particularly with off-speed pitches.  However, as the season progressed, he laid off pitches that were outside the zone or those he couldn’t handle.

I had a chance to see Austin twice in the AFL before he was shut down for reportedly precautionary reasons with his wrist.  I did think the bat speed was back and looked more like the player I saw last year when he was going well.  He did play first base in both contest and if the Yankees are considering a permanent move there, I’m not sure the bat plays well enough to maintain the ceiling of a first division starter.

Assuming Austin is healthy, he should start 2014 in Scranton with a chance to see New York during 2014.  He also could be used as trade bait to upgrade the Yankees somewhere else. The upside is a solid regular with the potential for 20 home runs and a .270 batting average.

Fantasy Impact:  There could be some fantasy impact for Tyler Austin in 2014 but I would not be drafting him with that in mind.  He will likely drop out of our Top 100 list but still should be owned in all deeper Dynasty League formats.

6. Mason Williams (OF)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling: Role 6
Ht:6-1 Weight: 180 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
2013 A+-AA 478 63 4 28 16 .245 .304 83.5 8.4 .284

Mason Williams stock is down as much as any elite prospect from 2012.  While the tools are there, they are not yet translating into production as he put up a very pedestrian slash line of .245/.304/.337 across High-A and Double-A in 2013

The year didn’t start off well for the 6-foot-1 outfielder as he was arrested for DUI in late April.  Was that a contributing factor in his batting average sitting at .235 and his slugging at .321 on May 31st or did he just get off to a slow start?  His performance did improve over the remainder of the season as he batted .273 with a .387 slugging percentage – not hall of fame numbers, but clearly an improvement.

When I saw him in the Arizona Fall League, I wasn’t as impressed as when I saw him last year.  He’s still a plus outfielder but his speed had dropped a grade, probably because he is starting to fill out.  That was bound to happen, but I wouldn’t have thought so soon.  There is still bat speed, but he wasn’t driving anything – more reaching out and trying to use his speed to get on base; which wasn’t there.

Williams should start the year back in Trenton, which is a difficult place to play in April and May.  The ball really gets knocked down by the cool air coming off the river behind center field.  While my confidence on his ultimate ceiling has been shaken, he has the talent to succeed.  However, time is starting to tick.

Fantasy Impact:  Williams’ stock is down, which should signal a buy signal for the savvy Dynasty League manager.  However, I’m not confident that he has huge fantasy upside.  The speed is no longer plus and that will limit his stolen base upside and the swing is not screaming power.  While he has the talent to turn it around, I’m not confident.

7. Rafael De Paula (RHP)

2014 Age: 23 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 212 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 A-A+ 113.1 97 54 8 4.21 11.60 4.29 1.32

Talk about a tale of two seasons.  Rafael De Paula was one of the most dominating pitchers in the first half of the year, posting video-game-like numbers in Low-A.  On June 29th, he was promoted to the Florida State League and things didn’t go nearly as well.  While he was still striking out a batter an inning, he lost his control and walked over five and half per nine.  That led to an ugly 6.06 ERA and 1.71 WHIP across 49 innings.

So, who is the real Rafael De Paula?  The pitcher who dominated Low-A or the guy who got lit up in High-A?

I had a chance to scout De Paula in early May and saw a nice 90-92 MPH four-seam and two-seam fastball.  The two-seam fastball in particular had a lot of movement and can miss bats.  He also throws a slurve and a change-up that were somewhere between nasty and not close to being a strike.  While I was encouraged with his upside, I did question if the arsenal would play once he moved to the upper minors.  Well, it didn’t take the upper minors to expose his inconsistent secondary pitches and now I’m concerned.

The concern stems from his mechanics and in particular, his ability to repeat his delivery.  He stops short in his delivery and doesn’t always finish off his pitches.  While this reduces his momentum to the plate, it also is affecting his timing.  It’s correctable, but now age is starting to become a factor.  Given the struggle that De Paula had in getting out of the D.R., he’ll start 2014 as a 23-year-old; likely back in High-A.  The Yankees could decide to move him to the bullpen to accelerate his arrival to New York.  If this happens, his fastball should tick up, like it did in the Futures Game and with the movement he gets, he could be a very interesting weapon out of the bullpen.

Fantasy Impact:  I’m a seller of De Paula in a Dynasty League.  You don’t think anybody will buy?  Remember, he’s with the New York Yankees and had that crazy start to the season where he posted a 13.43 K/9 in Low-A.  People will buy, and I would be selling.

8. Aaron Judge (OF)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling: Role 5-6
Ht:6-7 Weight: 255 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016

Taken as the 32nd overall selection in the 2013 draft, Aaron Judge is a very large human.  At 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds, Judge looks more like a power forward than he does a right-fielder.

Judge has yet to make his professional debut, but his carrying tool is massive raw power.  The raw power did not translate into in-game production during his freshman and sophomore year at Fresno State.  However, he did start to tap into that power in his junior year and hit 11 bombs in 193 at-bats.  While that’s a long way from what Kris Bryant put up, the raw power was too alluring for the Yankees to pass up.

There is a reason that few positional players that tall have ever succeeded in the major leagues.  It’s simple physics – the taller the person, the longer the arms and the longer the bat must travel in order to make contact.  Judge actually does a good job at trying to stay short to the ball, and in fact, he probably loses loft and ultimately power by doing so.  You can tell by his swing mechanics that he is conscious of the physics battling against him, but the question is will it all work, particularly against premium velocity.

I expect Judge to start the season in Charleston in Low-A and be one of the more followed prospects in the minor leagues.   The optimist will hope for a Joey Gallo type of first professional season but the pessimist will see the same level of contact with less than 20 home runs.  Where do I stand?  Candidly, I just don’t know.

Fantasy Impact:  Judge is a high-risk high-reward fantasy option in a Dynasty League.  If he’s sitting on your waiver wire and he only cost you a roster spot, by all means grab him.  However, make sure you are in a league with at least 250 minor league prospects rostered.

9. Greg Bird (1B)
Drafted as a catcher in 2011 for an over-slot $1.1 million dollar signing bonus, Greg Bird had a big step-up year in 2013.  Bird played the entire season in Low-A putting up an impressive .288/.428/.511 slash line.  He also hit 20 home runs with a 132K/107BB strikeout-to-walk ratio In 458 at-bats.  The 107 walks were particularly impressive and demonstrated advance knowledge of the strike zone.

When I saw him during a Rome series, the swing was impressive.  He was short to the ball with a line drive loft in the swing.  The bat speed was just ok and I worry if he’ll be able to get to inside velocity as he moves through the minors.  He does use his size well and has raw power that should allow him to project future above-average power.  He profiles as a first base only prospect, so he’ll bat will dictate how high his ultimate will be.

10. Manny Banuelos (LHP)
After the 2010 season, Manny Banuelos was one of the prizes of the New York Yankees minor league system.  His arsenal and mechanics gave the Yankees hope that they had a front-of-the-rotation pitcher just a couple years away from the big leagues.  However, the performance degraded in 2012 and Banuelos was diagnosed with a torn UCL and had Tommy John reconstructive surgery in October of the same year.

This fall, Banuelos was back pitching in simulated games and the reports out of Tampa have been positive.  If the command and arsenal return, Banuelos could see New York sometime in 2014.  What can we expect?  A low 90’s fastball that he mixes with a plus curve, little plane given his diminutive stature of 5-foot-10, and above average command.  If it all plays, he still has a ceiling of a solid number three starter.

11. J.R. Murphy (C)
Seeing a lot of Trenton Thunder games, I had a chance to scout J.R. Murphy multiple times.  While he doesn’t have first division upside, I knew he would make it to New York at some point.  However, even I was surprised that the call came in 2013.

Defensively, he’s a plus catcher.  He has excellent catch and throw ability with soft hands behind the plate.  He also controlled the running game with above-average pop times to second resulting in an impressive 48% caught stealing percentage.  While his bat is behind his defensive ability, he has a better hit tool than most observers thought coming into the season.  He posted an 82% contact rate and an 11% walk rate while slugging 12 home runs.  Now that the Yankees have signed Brian McCann, I could see Murphy as the long-term backup catcher with the chance to see more action as McCann eventually reduces his time behind the plate.

2014 Emerging prospect:

Luis Torrens (C)
The Yankees signed Luis Torrens for $1.3 million dollars in the 2012 J2 signing period.  Initially drafted as a shortstop, the Yankees converted him to catching in 2013 and that looks like the position he will play going forward.  Playing as a 17-year-old in 2013, he held his own in the GCL posting a .241 batting average with a 40K/27BB strikeout-out-to-walk ratio.  The Yankees are likely to place Torrens in short-season ball in 2014.

5 comments on “New York Yankees

  1. Any thought on Jose Pirela or Robert Refsnyder?

  2. Rich, Happy New Year. Where do you rank and project Ian Clarkin? At the end of the first round, am I over valuing to think he’s a high upside lefty out of high school?

    • Thanks Andy. Hope things are going well. Honestly, don’t know much about Clarkin except what was communicated last June when he was drafted. Didn’t get a chance to see him in the fall nor in high school. Nice fastball, promise of a curve. Command is not there yet.

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