|Original Published Date: December 2, 2014|
It was another trying year for the New York Yankees as they battled injuries and missed the playoffs for the second straight year. Injuries are part of the game, and even more so when you have an aging veteran at nearly every position. In fact, except for shortstop and second base, the Yankees do not have any positional openings for players in their improving farm system. Of course, there will likely be playing time that is made available when “fill in the blank” hits the disabled list.
The Yankees farm system recovered nicely, aided by hitting on all three of their first round picks in the 2013 first year player draft. 6-foot-7 outfielder Aaron Judge is the top rated prospect on our list and could be the answer in right field once Carlos Beltran retires in a couple of years. Gary Sanchez continues to work his way through the system and is now blocked at his natural position of catcher but candidly, he’s a bat first player and might be better suited at designated hitter. Tyler Austin had a nice bounce bat season after being hurt most of 2013. I still think he’s a big leaguer with the upside of 20 home runs. If the Yankees decide to look at internal options at second base, Rob Refsnyder might be a legitimate option as he can really hit.
Luis Severino was the Yankees breakout pitcher and has developed into one of the better pitching prospects in the game. He’s diminutive but has an electric arm and could see New York in 2015.
The reality though is that at least eight out of 10 of the prospects listed below will only get a cup-of-coffee in New York and will be used as trade fodder to bring in veteran players for the big league club. Personally, it’s a played strategy that I just don’t believe is going to work long term. The Yankees need to get younger and their system is starting to have the nucleus of players who can make an impact.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: 1st Div
|Ht: 6-7 Weight: 230||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
The Yankees were able to upgrade their hurt and fading minor league system in 2013 with three of the top 33 picks in the first year player draft. While Eric Jagielo and Ian Clarkin both did well and made our Top 10 list, it was Aaron Judge who separated himself from the pack.
I’ve had a chance to scout Judge several times in 2014 and he’s a hard to guy to miss. Standing 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, he clearly stands out on the baseball field. With his size, you expect power and Judge delivers. While it’s still mostly batting practice power, it is starting to translate into in-game power as Judge hit 17 home runs in 467 at-bats across Low and High-A.
At 6-foot-7, you would expect Judge to have a long swing that is full of holes. While there will be strikeouts, it’s not nearly as bad as his length would suggest. In fact, if he can maintain the 72% contact rate he did in 2014, with his excellent plate coverage, he could develop an average, if not above-average hit tool. I think the chance of that is good because despite his height, the swing is not super long and is in fact, a bit compact and short to the ball.
Judge has a classic right field profile with average speed and a plus arm. While he only stole one base, I think there is more in the tank with the chance to steal mid-single digits if given the chance.
Fantasy Impact: With power at a premium, Aaron Judge should be on every fantasy owner’s wish list. The 17 home runs he hit in 2014 is just a tease with 25 or more home runs possible as he continues to mature. With an Arizona Fall League under his belt, Judge should start the 2015 season in Trenton and could see the Bronx sometime during 2015. Of course, he could also get traded, but you can say that about ever Yankees farm hand.
|2015 Age: 21||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-0 Weight: 195||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015-16|
Luis Severino was one of the big breakout players in 2014, tearing through three levels while posting a 2.46 ERA, striking out 127, and walking 27 in 113.1 innings.
My first exposure to Severino was on a hot July evening in Trenton when Severino went up against fellow 6-footer Jose Berrios. He started off the game throwing 95, 96, 94 with plenty of late life on his fastball. His strikeout pitch that evening was his change-up with great arm action and deception. He also threw a slider, or probably more of a slurve that I didn’t care for. It didn’t really fool the New Britain batters and he was not able to consistently throw it for strikes. All in all, it was an impressive outing and clearly showed that the Yankees have a significant talent.
While the arm is electric, I’m really struggling with Severino as a starter. First, at 6-foot and 195 pounds, he doesn’t have the body of a starter. While he does pitch tall and stay on top of his pitches, it’s a very top heavy delivery. You can really see it on his follow through as he just doesn’t use his lower half well at all. His arm action is really pulling his body through the ball. Therefore, I worry that he’ll be able to stand up to the rigors of pitching 150 plus innings and actually staying healthy long-term.
Fantasy Impact: Severino has an electric arm that the Yankees are trying to capitalize on quickly. It would not surprise me to see him in the Bronx in 2015 and have similar success that Yordano Ventura achieved. I do worry about the arm action and he could ultimately be bullpen bound. However, it could be a win-win for fantasy owners as his stuff is electric with a ceiling of a number two starter or closer.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: 1st Div
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 235||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
Sanchez was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 for a record breaking franchise three million dollar signing bonus and immediately went to the top of the Yankees Top 10 list. The talent is immense with premium bat speed to go along with plus raw power with growing plate discipline. I know many observers expected to see 20 plus homes run by now, but I still think the in-game production will come. The swing is solid but it’s just taking longer than anticipated. But remember, he turns 22 in December and was one of the youngest players in the Eastern League.
While I believe in the bat and believe there will be 20 to 25 home run power with an above average hit tool, I’m still not convinced it will be at catcher. I’ve seen Sanchez a ton over the past two years and while the defense has definitely improved, I see at best an average defender. He’s still stabs at too many pitches and while his footwork is far from ideal, he has a cannon for an arm that will keep the running game in check. In fact, his 39% caught stealing percentage should play quite well at the highest level.
His framing of pitches is very poor and this will not endear him to what is likely to always be a veteran pitching rotation in New York. However, if he doesn’t play behind the dish, then where? He has the athleticism to play first base but the Yankees have yet to play him there. In the end, I think he’s a DH. If that sounds a lot like the path of Jesus Montero, well, it is…so, the question is will Sanchez suffer the same fate? Candidly, he might…let me explain.
Makeup is difficult to see, even in the number of games that I’ve seen, but Sanchez doesn’t play with his “hair on fire”. In fact, you can even suggest he’s loafing; not running hard to first and even showing a lack of involvement in the game while catching. At this juncture, it’s only an observation, but one that I’m starting to become worried about. It’s because of this observation that I’ve dropped him to third in the Yankees list.
Fantasy Impact: Sanchez is still a premium fantasy prospect and in fact might be a buy low candidate. I do believe he’ll hit 20 to 25 home runs and bat .270 as a number six hitter in a lineup. There is clearly a lot of risk and it’s doubtful that he will stay at catcher long term, but if I could buy him at 70 cents on the dollar, I’d pull the trigger.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: Solid-Reg
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 215||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2015-16|
At 6-foot-3 and a listed 215 pounds, Greg Bird looks like the prototypical power hitting first baseman. In 2013 in Charleston, he played the part very well. He hit 20 home runs with a .511 slugging percentage and a crazy 107 walks in 458 at-bats. However, High-A proved to be a little more difficult, somewhat based on the park factor but also based on his lacked of aggressiveness at the plate and his unwillingness to expand the strike zone.
Plate patience can be a tremendous benefit if it’s truly born out of an understanding of the strike zone (think, Joey Votto) or it can become a problem if a batters plate patience becomes too passive (think Jackie Bradley Jr.). I’ve seen several at-bats with Bird and I worry that his approach is becoming more passive than just a great understanding of the strike zone. A passive approach will be exposed as you move through the development process as more advanced pitchers will be able to throw strike-1, strike-2 and then the batter is on his heels. Therefore, I would like to see Bird become more aggressive and would even welcome a walk rate below 10% if it meant unlocking his power potential. As we saw with Jackie Bradley Jr. over the past two years, if you’re passive at the plate, the strikeout rate is going to climb quickly.
Fantasy Impact: The power projection is very intriguing for Bird and he should be owned in most Dynasty Leagues. The ceiling is 25 home runs, .280/.360 plus hitter, batting in the middle of a lineup. As discussed, there is risk with the approach and that should be considered when trading for the power.
|2015 Age: 20||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 185||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2017|
We missed on Ian Clarkin last year as he did not make our Yankees Top 10 list. The 19-year-old was one of the more effective pitchers in the Sally League, posting an impressive 3.21 ERA with a 71K/22BB strikeout-to-walk ratio in 70.0 innings. They Yankees were impressed enough to have Clarkin start a game in Tampa in the Florida State League at the end of the season and once again he performed well.
Clarkin has a nice three pitch mix that features a fastball that sits 90-91 (T93). While the velocity is nice, particularly for a lefty, he doesn’t get great plane and therefore the pitch can come in a little flat. The six home runs in 70 innings in the Florida State League demonstrate the potential concern that is looming. His curve ball is his best pitch and can miss plenty of bats all ready. The change-up also looks promising and should be a nice complement to the curve.
While the arsenal is solid, it does play up because Clarkin can throw strikes. In those same 70 innings in High-A, he walked only 22. Part of the reason he’s able to pound the strike zone is that he can effectively repeat his delivery. That said, the delivery is a little unorthodox as Clarkin uses a high leg kick on both his windup and out of the stretch. While it’s ok on the wind up, he’s very slow to the plate out of the stretch even though he tries to compensate with a strange stiff-leg slide step. It’s odd to say the least.
Fantasy Impact: Clarkin looks like a solid number four pitcher with a chance to be a number three if he can get more movement on his fastball. The Yankees might be well served to have Clarkin introduce a two-seam offering to the mix.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: Solid-Reg
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 195||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
Wanting to show off their farm system, the Yankees sent a cadre of high-end prospects to the Arizona Fall League that included: Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and Greg Bird. The Yankees 2013 first round draft pick Eric Jagielo was supposed to attend as well but got hit in the face during a Fall Instructional League game and had to bow out.
It was the second time that Jagielo missed time as a rib injury caused him to spend six weeks on the DL over the summer. Jagielo did get enough bats to show the kind of plus power (16 home runs) the Yankees were hoping for when they selected him 26th overall. However, the power did come with a lot of swing and miss. In 385 plate appearances in High-A, he struck out 93 times or 26% of the time. The good news is that he also walked 10.6% of the time.
I did have a chance to see Jagielo this season and despite the decent stat line, I was less than enthusiastic about the player. The draft hype was a “polished college bat”. What I saw was a guy who tried to pull everything and therefore was exposed with stuff down and away; particularly off speed pitches. He had no trouble with pitches on the inner third and that is clearly where his power is, but his inability to go the other way gave me pause. In talking with other sources, they were not sold on the plus power and believed that the power is more average and that his game will be exposed once he gets to the upper minors.
Defensively, Jagielo was better than I had anticipated. He’s an average defender who doesn’t have great range but his soft hands and an above average arm makes him passable at the hot corner.
Fantasy Impact: I’m tapping the brakes on Jagielo and selling high on him in a fantasy league. I see a second division player with 20 home run power but a .250 batting average at best. There could be upside if Jagielo can change his approach; but until then, I’m hunting elsewhere.
|2015 Age: 19||Ceiling: 1st Div
|Ht: 6-0 Weight: 175||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2017-18|
The Yankees signed catcher Luis Torrens to a $1.3 million dollar signing bonus in 2012 as a 16-year-old in hopes that his bat speed and raw athleticism would eventually translate into baseball skills. While the stats have yet to show eye popping results, the athleticism is in fact starting to bear fruit.
Torrens has impressive bat speed that should produce at least above average future power. The swing can get long at times and that could lead to some swing and miss, but I believe Torrens hand-eye coordination will help to compensate. His plate discipline, while raw is actually quite impressive and should improve with age and experience.
After watching more games than I care to admit with Gary Sanchez behind the plate, it’s a pleasure to see a kid, although raw, have the talent that will eventually translate into a major league backstop. Blessed with a strong arm, Torrens is a true enemy to would be base stealers as his 40% caught stealing demonstrated. He is also athletic and agile enough to be effective at blocking pitches in the dirt and reaching out to snag errant pitches.
The Yankees will likely start Torrens in full season ball in Charleston in 2015 and at 18-years-old, he’ll be one of the youngest players in the league. Assuming his game continues to progress as quickly as it has since he’s signed, he could see Tampa by the end of season.
Fantasy Impact: While he’s a long way off, Torrens has the upside of a first division fantasy catcher with the upside of 15 to 20 home runs and a .270 batting average. There will be little speed if any but that package should play very nicely for fantasy owners.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: Solid-Reg
|Ht: 6-1 Weight: 220||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
Tyler Austin burst onto the scene in 2012 by posting a 1.003 OPS in 266 at-bats in Charleston and then continued to excel upon his promotion to Tampa later in the year. However, 2013 was not kind to Austin as he injured his wrist early in the season, zapping his power and ultimately his prospect status.
Having a chance to see Austin numerous times in both 2013 and 2014, I never lost the faith as I still think the swing will work. It’s short to the ball and with a plenty of bat speed to eventually project future above-average power. While his 2014 stat line was not eye popping, he still managed to hit .275 with nine home runs and a .336 on-base percentage. I truly think there is much more in the tank and believe Austin could post a .800 OPS next year in Triple-A with 15 home runs.
Austin has played third, first and the outfield, but the Yankees seem to like him in right field the most. It really doesn’t matter, as there is a gigantic contract at each position and it will likely take an injury to clear a path to the majors. Given what we saw in 2014, that should happen sometime in May. I doubt Austin will be ready by then, but he’s close and should see New York at some point during 2015.
Fantasy Impact: Austin should slot in as a fourth or fifth outfielder in a mixed league. While there could be 25 home run power in the bat, a more realistic projection is 18 to 20 with a .270 to .280 batting average. However, I still like the swing and believe there is still untapped upside and for Dynasty League owners, I would be buying low.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling: Solid-Reg
|Ht: 6-1 Weight: 205||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
Rob Refsnyder was drafted in the fifth round in the 2012 first year player draft out of the University of Arizona with a reputation as a polished hitter without a lot of secondary skills. After 1,144 at-bats, Refsnyder has proven that point well. He has a career minor league batting average of .297, an on-base percentage of close to .400, but with only 24 home runs and 43 stolen bases.
Stats aside, Refsnyder can really hit with a beautiful right handed swing. He has great plate coverage with excellent strike zone awareness that should allow him to hit .300 at the highest level. While the swing has very little leverage, there is bat speed with the hope that he can eventually hit 12 to 15 home runs. With average foot speed, he could also steal 8 to 10 stolen bases.
Defensively, Refsnyder has primarily played second base and is an adequate defender there. I did not get a chance to see him play in the outfield, but reports are he is average at best with a below average arm. If he was a better defender, you could put a Matt Carpenter upside on Refsnyder but I think he could just fall short of that projection.
Fantasy Impact: Refsnyder is an interesting prospect. He can really hit and is nearly ready for the major leagues. If you believe that he’ll find a defensive position, he could hit at the top of a lineup (think two-hole) with 10/10 upside but a chance to score a lot of runs. Again, I see the offensive upside of Matt Carpenter.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: 2nd Div
|Ht: 6-1 Weight: 180||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2015-16|
If you’re rolling your eyes on this entry, I get it. Mason Williams has not been good over the past two years and has yet to graduate from Double-A. My guess is that he’ll follow the “not left behind” policy and be moved to Triple-A to start 2015 despite posting a .594 OPS in 507 at-bats at Trenton.
What keeps Williams on our list is the hope that his plus tools will eventually emerge. He has plus speed, is a terrific defensive center fielder, makes very good contact with an understanding of the strike zone. Yet, he managed only 113 hits and while you could argue that his .248 BABIP should correct, he just doesn’t make hard contact and that is the problem.
In seeing at least 40 at-bats with Williams over the past two years, he seems reluctant to square up velocity and would prefer to slap at the ball instead. This was not the case when he was in the lower minor leagues but it has definitely been his signature in Double-A. Will he be able to correct it and turn in to the first division player that his talent projects? I’m not sure, but he turned 23 in August and time is marching forward.
Fantasy Impact: I still think Williams could become a 10 home run 30 stolen base player who can bat .270 and play a plus center field. However, with the plethora of options available to fantasy owners, unless you are rostering 300 minor leaguers, it’s time to move on.
2015 Emerging Prospect:
With all the high-end Latin players the Yankees signed during the 2014 J2 signing period, it would have been easy to have listed four to five names from that class. I did think the strategy was brilliant as the Yankees were able to exploit a flaw in CBA that enticed wealthy teams to overspend in the international market with little penalty.
However, for the 2015 emerging prospect, I went with shortstop Jorge Mateo. The Yankees signed the 6-foot, 190 pound athletic shortstop in 2012 from the Dominican Republic and he immediately showed off his double-plus speed by stealing 49 bases in 64 games in the DSL in 2013. The Yankees brought him state-side in 2014 and he continued to steal bases at an impressive clip by swiping 11 in 15 games in the GCL. Mateo has a chance to be more than just a one dimensional player as he has plus bat speed and the size to eventual hit for some power. He’s already showing a very good understanding of the strike zone and the ability to make solid contact.