December 22, 2015
New York Yankees Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: Gone are the days of wishcasting on the Killer B's. Recent success with early-round draft picks and aggressive tactics in the July 2nd market have given the Yankees a deep system with a healthy mix of almost-ready major-league regulars and teenagers with loud tools.
The Top Ten
1. Aaron Judge, RF
Judge is a towering, mammoth man with the raw power to match the body. He’s so strong that the ball jumps off his bat without needing much uppercut or loft out of the swing plane. The raw is a grade above the game power, as his massive frame makes for an inherently long swing and some unavoidable swing-and-miss. Judge does have an idea at the plate, however, and doesn't often expand his (large) zone. He will sometimes be overly aggressive against spin, especially if you throw it early in counts, but he will punish fastballs in and around the zone. It's almost as if Judge's body prevents him from being the kind of pure hitter he could be, but the trade off for 20-plus-home-run seasons is probably a fair one.
On defense, Judge is a prototypical right fielder. He moves well for a corner outfielder--though that doesn't show up in his home-to-first times--and he has a strong, accurate arm. He's not going to win any Gold Gloves, and the body might eventually force him to first base, but for now the glove rounds out an above-average profile on both sides of the ball.
Fantasy Impact: Power is always going to be the fantasy calling card for Judge, and he’s unlikely to ever be a help in batting average, but in OBP leagues, his value certainly ticks up a bit. Impact power is becoming a rare commodity in fantasy, especially in the outfield, and Judge is likely to contribute in mixed leagues this year.
Major league ETA: 2016
2. Jorge Mateo, SS
The first word on Mateo is his speed, but in 2015 he rounded into a more complete prospect in his first taste of full-season ball. The overall offensive game is still very raw. He is an aggressive hitter at the plate, and you can get him out on his front foot against off-speed easily right now. When he stays back and lets his very quick wrists do the work, he can spray line drives into both gaps. He is strong enough that he could develop 40 game power as he fills out and matures, which would really make the offensive profile interesting at shortstop. Of course, with his speed any ball in play is a potential base hit on the ledger (although he will at times pull up early on more routine balls). On the bases, he always wants to take off, and he will be near-impossible to throw out if he continues to improve his reads of pitchers.
Mateo's speed is an asset in the field, as well. He shows plus range in both directions and consistently gets himself in position to maximize an arm that is just solid-average. He generally shows smooth actions around the bag, though at times he seems to struggle a bit with the game speed, rushing his actions or throws, and at other times he can be a little too nonchalant. These are common issues with young shortstops, but the underlying skills suggest they can be overcome with additional repetition as he moves through the minors.
Fantasy Impact: Okay, wipe the drool off your face. The speed is blazing and is a potential game-changer in fantasy, but the profile is certainly not without risk. Even if he’s a .250 hitter with 5-10 homers at peak, he becomes a second-round pick in fantasy leagues if he can complement that with 60-plus steals. Like any other speed demon, he’s a far better investment in roto leagues than H2H or points formats.
Major league ETA: 2018
3. Gary Sanchez, C
Sanchez is approaching 10/5 rights on national prospect lists, but he finally cracked the majors in 2015—and with the offseason trade of John Ryan Murphy, he might have the inside track at the Yankees’ backup catcher job in the spring.
At the plate, Sanchez's calling card is his pop. The plus bat speed is obvious, and his wrists are so strong that he can get fooled and still drive the ball out of the park. How much utility he gets out of the power potential in the majors is an open question. He has some feel with the bat and is rarely completely overmatched by upper-echelon stuff. That said, Sanchez's swing, like many parts of his game, can be inconsistent. He will expand the zone, especially against off-speed, and when he does see hittable fastballs, he will sometimes sell out for the fences and pop them up.
Sanchez still lights up a stopwatch behind the plate. I've pulled multiple sub-1.9 times, and the arm strength is obvious. He can make strong, accurate throws from all angles, and despite lacking explosiveness out of the crouch on account of his size. Controlling the running game is only one part of the catcher's job, anyway, and with recent emphasis on receiving and presentation, it is dwindling in importance. Reports on Sanchez’s receiving are a mixed bag. Some evaluations knock his hands enough to move him off the position, but I've seen enough to think he will be passable. His size is a hindrance on blocking balls, and you'd like to see him tighten up the body; it's a thick build through the midsection and legs, as you would expect in a backstop, but it is still soft, bordering on sloppy.
Sanchez has always had whispers around his makeup and effort behind the plate, but there has been enough improvement defensively in 2015 to feel a bit more confident that he can stick behind the plate. The bat would probably play at first, but only in a bench role.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2015
4. James Kaprielian, RHP
Kaprielian was one of the safer college arms in the 2015 draft class. He's a polished right-hander with a major-league-ready body and a close-to-major-league-ready four-pitch mix. His fastball sits in the low 90s, though he has shown more at times, and he pairs it with a changeup that has good late movement and a mid-80s slider with hard tilt. He also will show an upper-70s curve that will range from average to plus, with some tabbing it as his best secondary offering. The fastball can be a bit hittable at times, and given the occasional effort in the delivery (our own Doug Thorburn was not a huge fan either), the command profile might negatively impact his results at higher levels.
How you feel about Kaprielian may come down to how much you think there is for him to gain from professional pitching instruction. If Yankees instructors can find that 93-96 mph fastball he showed on occasion in college, the Chad Billingsley comps that came up during our internal discussion of Kaprelian might come to fruition (he has a ways to go to develop the famous “Chad Billingsley ass” though). Even if he sticks around in the low 90s, there is enough stuff here for Kaprielian to move quickly through the minors and eventually eat some innings in a rotation
Fantasy Impact: As opposed to some of the other first-round arms taken in 2015, Kaprielian doesn’t have the upside of a no-doubt mixed league starter; yet his floor will keep him on plenty of second- and third-round dynasty draft radars in deeper leagues. Especially with the Yankees, his profile is more of an average ratio, average strikeout, strong win contributor—maybe not too far from Nate Eovaldi, purely in a fantasy sense.
Major league ETA: 2017
5. Dustin Fowler, CF
Fowler got national attention with a strong performance in front of scouts in the Arizona Fall League, and it is not hard to see an everyday center fielder here. He sets up to go opposite field at the plate, and uses a contact-oriented approach with a slashing swing. He is very good at hitting the ball where it is pitched. Overall, the approach and swing cut off anything more than doubles power, though he will surprise you every once in a while if you try to sneak something by him on the inner half. He will leg out plenty of extra bases with his combination of speed, aggressiveness and savvy on the bases.
Fowler's speed is his best tool in center field, and if he slows down as he physically matures, he may be forced into an outfield corner. That will put pressure on him to develop at least double-digit home run power, but it will be a tricky balance between power and contact for him. If he isn't an everyday center fielder at the highest level, he could be a very good fourth outfielder— one who is able to play all three outfield positions and provide speed and batting average off the bench.
Fantasy Impact: If Fowler progresses as expected, this is a high-floor fantasy profile, yet one that probably lacks real impact potential. A player who can stick at a tough defensive position and steal bases as a 30-plus clip is a reasonably safe bet for at least a decent fantasy contribution, and if he can flank it with a .290-plus batting average, you’re now looking at a borderline OF2 (especially factoring in a few cheap homers into the short porch lefties love so much at Yankee Stadium).
Major league ETA: 2017
6. Rob Refsnyder, 2B
The longer you write about prospects, the more you come to appreciate a player like Refsnyder. There isn't a single interesting athletic tool here, and it is easy to scoff at his defense, but Refsnyder is a baseball player who rewards multiple looks with a lovely line-drive swing that eventually convinces you he can hit major-league pitching. He's also flashed double-digit power in the minors, and might be able to yank 10 home runs over the left field fence in the majors with a full season of at-bats.
Yet it's tough to see a way for him to get those at-bats in the Bronx. The arm restricts him to second base, and he's further limited there by somewhat mechanical actions. The Yankees went out and traded for Starlin Castro for a reason, after all. A second-division team needing to fill a hole at second base could do far worse than Refsnyder, but he is best suited for a superutility role, playing second base and some corner outfield. On the plus side, he is ready to fill that role right now.
Fantasy Impact: Without a defined role, the best attribute Refsnyder might bring to a fantasy team in the near future is some positional flexibility. His offensive profile is solid in that role, as he can be a strong contributor in average and throw in some counting stats if the playing time is there. He's unlikely to be relevant in leagues shallower than 14 teams, but a very good player to have around in deep mixed and AL-only formats.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2015
7. Drew Finley, RHP
Finley is another highly rated Southern California prep arm, a varietal of which the Yankee player development team seems particularly fond (as Ian Clarkin can attest). Finley's fastball sits on either side of 90 mph and will show some run and late life at times. There is some sneakiness to the velocity here due to a slight hesitation in his mechanics out of the windup, and he hides the ball well throughout his delivery. He already has a major-league body, but there is some projection left in the frame, as well.
His best secondary offering is a hard curve that will show true 12-6 break out of his high three-quarters arm slot. The pitch is still inconsistent at present, and can get slurvy, but projects as a plus-offering and will be Finley's major-league out pitch. Draft reports suggested a well-developed changeup for a prep arm, which is akin to saying one makes a good grilled cheese for a third grader—it doesn't mean they'll be a good cook. The curveball can be a weapon against lefties as well as righties, so the change will merely have to be functional for Finley to have a shot to stick in the rotation.
Fantasy Impact: The combination of lead time and non- elite ceiling is enough to keep Finley on the outside looking in during dynasty drafts this winter. However, he’s certainly a good name to keep an eye on as he marches towards full-season ball because of the deception mentioned above.
Major league ETA: 2019
8. Eric Jagielo, 3B
Jagielo was off to a strong start in Trenton before a knee injury on a play at the plate cost him the second half of the minor-league season. It's unfortunate, as this is the second consecutive season in which an injury has led to lost development time.
When healthy, he showed plus power potential, but he generates it with a long swing that mutes some of his bat speed. With high hands and a high back elbow, he is prone to wrapping the bat at times. He tracks hard stuff well, but struggles to pick up the ball against lefties. And while appearing more comfortable in the box against right-handers he's still vulnerable to soft stuff away. The overall hit tool likely plays below-average in the majors, with a platoon role very much a possibility.
On defense, Jagielo has the arm for third base, but there were concerns about his range at the position even before the knee injury, and he did play some first base this summer. On a second-division team, you might be able to live with the glove, given the potential pop in his bat, but Jagielo probably fits best as a good infield corner backup and first bat off the bench against right-handed relievers.
Fantasy Impact: A prime example of a prospect who still has more name recognition than fantasy value, Jagielo is not a prospect worth investing in heavily in dynasty leagues despite the whole “left-handed bat with some power at Yankee stadium” thing going on. At best, he’s probably a .240 hitter with 20 homers in a platoon role, and at worst he takes a roster spot you could use on one of the much higher upside names from their last big J2 class that will be mentioned below.
Major league ETA: 2017
9. Brady Lail, RHP
An over-slot prep pick in the 2012 draft, Lail broke out in 2015, making it all the way from Tampa to the threshold of the Bronx. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but it is a heavy offering when he can spot it down in the zone, and it will show some arm-side run at times as well. Lail's hunched-over delivery also lends some deception to the pitch and the appearance of additional late life. His best off-speed offering is his changeup. It can get firm at times and lack velocity separation, but the arm action on it mirrors the fastball, and his best ones will show some fade.
The curveball is inconsistent. He will try to shorten the shape to spot it for strikes, but it is mostly a bury-in-the-dirt pitch right now, and will get sweepy when he struggles to stay on top of it. Further refinement might give him the bat-missing offering he currently lacks, as the best breakers show good 12-6 depth.
Lail is a back-end strike-thrower without a clear out pitch, and the same mechanics that lend him his deception also negatively affect his command. He can be wild in the zone and see his fastball flatten out above the thighs. Right-handers can sit fastball, as they can too often spit on the curve and as Lail is less likely to throw the change right-on-right. It is hard to see much more than a fifth starter/swingman type here, but he's a bulldog on the mound, and the Yankees have had some success getting the most out of this type of pitcher in recent years.
Fantasy Impact: This is a terribly boring profile in dynasty leagues, so of course because he pitches for the Yankees, he’ll likely come up in July and rattle off five or six wins in a row, causing fantasy owners to trip all over themselves trying to grab him off the waiver wire. Until that happens though, he’s an interesting name to file away in mono formats, but that’s about it.
Major league ETA: 2016
10. Ian Clarkin, LHP
A healthy Clarkin has a case for top five on this list, but he hasn't been healthy in a while. He was shut down during spring training with elbow tendinitis and missed all of the 2015 regular season before popping up in the Arizona Fall League with some good reports.
When healthy (which you can just assume prefaces every sentence that follows and is never a good preface for a pitching prospect blurb), Clarkin shows three potentially average or better pitches, the best of which is a curve that features big 1-7 break. The fastball sits in the low 90s, but he projects for more when he's physically mature. Mechanically he is a bit stiff, with an exaggerated leg kick and overhead motion, but he is athletic enough to repeat it most outings. He needs to refine his changeup and command further to reach his starter projection.
The profile here is at least as exciting as Kaprelian's, but even if you don't believe he will eventually need Tommy John surgery, functionally he has already lost an entire season of development. The risk profile here is tough, even by young pitcher standards, but a healthy 2016 would go a long way toward reestablishing Clarkin as one of the best prospects in the Yankees system.
Fantasy Impact: There is not another pitcher on this list with more upside than Clarkin, but that doesn’t mean you should rush out to trade for/add him in your dynasty league. Uncertain arm injuries (which this qualifies as) are like playing with fire in fantasy formats, as you’re always one pitch away from having to drop him and even if he pitches really well, any owner interested in him will be well aware of his injury history. He has just enough upside to saddle up in the top-250 prospects, but the risk is substantial.
Major league ETA: 2018
Wilkerman Garcia, SS - Garcia is so far the best prospect out of the Yankees’ historic 2014 July 2 class. He's a potential solid-average shortstop with the hands, actions, and arm for the position. He is a switch-hitter with a loose, easy, line-drive swing and some feel for the barrel from both sides. Presently he looks more comfortable hitting left-handed. Garcia is still a very long way from contributing, but if you wanted to bet on one of the recent IFA names to show up high on the Yankees 2017 list, he's your chalk.
Luis Torrens, C - Much of what was written above about Ian Clarkin also applies to Torrens. Torrens missed all of 2015 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. Unlike with Clarkin, there is a more clearly-defined physical issue, but it is a bad one for a catcher. If his arm doesn't come all the way back, it could have an impact on his ability to stay behind the plate. If he isn't a catcher, he isn't much of a prospect. He is still only 19, and held his own with the bat as an 18-year-old in the Penn League, so there is plenty to like here and certainly more upside than the prospects at the back end of this Top 10. After a lost 2015 season, though, Torrens is even further from realizing it.
Dermis Garcia, 3B - If you were so inclined, you could easily fill all five of these slots with members of the Yankees’ 2014 IFA class. They spent $12 million on July 2 (the date, not the whole class), but Dermis Garcia might be the name with the most upside. He reportedly had the best raw power in the entire class, and an arm that will play at third base or right field. He is incredibly strong, but right now he generates his power with a long, overly mechanical swing, so early returns have been rough. Garcia was overmatched at the plate and raw in the field during his first stateside stint in the GCL this summer as a 17-year-old, and at the moment you can only accurately calculate his distance from the majors by using parallax triangulation.
Jacob Lindgren, LHP - From one extreme to the other, Lindgren made the majors before Garcia even officially debuted professionally, but a bone spur in his elbow cut short his season. When healthy, Lindgren offers a potential plus fastball/slider combination from the left side, and might be arb-eligible before Clarkin, Torrens, or Garcia even reach the majors. If the command profile was a bit better, and his left elbow a bit healthier, Lindgren would have a strong case for the Top 10, but at the moment he lacks a high-leverage profile in the pen. Still, a fully fit Lindgren should have a long career in a bullpen, where he will be best remembered for being the first pitcher that Bryce Harper faced who was younger than him.
Leonardo Molina, OF - We will return to the Keck Observatory for a peak at Molina, another of the Yankees’ bumper crop of teenagers (though this one from the 2013 IFA class). He's a potential five-tool stud with a power projection that is uncommon in a center fielder, but it’s a profile that carries a ton of risk. A second straight season of struggle in the complex leagues might start moving the needle more toward bust. However, Molina will spend most of 2016 as an 18-year-old, so he still has plenty of time to move closer to his lofty ceiling.
The fact that Nathan Eovaldi, Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius missed this list by mere months is telling of the gradual transition the Yankees are making into a young team that is consumed by “hip” players, and not players with bad hips, all due respect to Alex Rodriguez.
There’s a noticeable difference between last year’s 25-and-under list and this year’s, and that’s the fact that Luis Severino has jumped Aaron Judge at no. 1. This doesn’t concern Aaron Judge’s production (he hit .255/.330/.448 with 20 HRs last year in the upper minors). It has everything to do with Severino’s ascendance.
Left in a bind by yet another injury to starter Michael Pineda and a series of short-lived, unfruitful outings from CC Sabathia, the Yankees turned to Severino earlier than most had expected, at just 21 years old. Their wunderkind doubled as their most consistent starter down the stretch, posting a 2.89 ERA in 62 ⅓ innings across 11 starts, and helping the Yankees keep pace for a bit with the Toronto Blue Jays for the division title. Where he projects in the rotation remains to be seen, but he showcased a fastball and slider combination that got outs consistently at the big league level.
Greg Bird, who garnered praise along with Severino for his major contributions down the stretch in the wake of injury, leaps up from No. 8 to No. 4 on this year’s list. Bird, so young that his parents would drop him off at the Stadium for games last season, clubbed an incredible 11 home runs with nine doubles in 157 at bats to earn an .871 OPS. While the sample isn’t grand in size, he displayed patience and power at the plate which, from the left side, will earn him a spot in the middle of the order for years to come.
The remaining pitchers don’t qualify as prospects—Mitchell and Shreve both ended their 2015 campaigns on a low note for various reasons. Mitchell emerged as one of the more reliable arms in the bullpen in June and July before taking a line drive to the face and slipping a bit. Shreve’s case was much more extreme; he was unhittable through August, then went on to allow nine earned runs in six innings to close out the year. It was so bad that he wasn’t included on the Wild Card roster. Still, we’ll assume he can fix his mechanical issues, or perhaps just increase his stamina, and join Mitchell as a future bullpen mainstay.
The Yankees of the future likely won’t take shape for a year or two at least, but if the end of 2015 was any indication, we’ll get an increased glimpse into its promise in 2016. - Kenny Ducey
Brian Cashman has quietly (at least, as quietly as you can do anything under the watch of the New York media) become one of the longest-tenured general managers in baseball. He took over from Bob Watson before the 1998 season, just a few months after Billy Beane succeeded Sandy Alderson in Oakland. Since then he has presided over four World Series champions, and a year-in, year-out playoff contender. Perhaps he's had structural advantages that Beane hasn't, but his overall success is undeniable, record-setting payrolls or not.
But by their own lofty standards, the Yankees have struggled the past few seasons. They are on the back end of their most recent cycle of big free agent signings, and have a lot of money locked into an aging and overall ineffective core of players. There seems to be less appetite from ownership to spend on big ticket free agents than in the past, and the free agent landscape isn't as fertile as it was back in the 2008 offseason, the last time the Yankees splashed significant money around.
The Yankees do have internal options that they haven't had in awhile though. Darren Oppenheimer has overseen a series of drafts that have infused the system with position player talent. Greg Bird has already debuted among the recent draftees, and could be set to take over for Mark Teixeira as soon as sometime in 2016. Brett Gardner trade rumors continue to make their way around the league, potentially to open up a spot in the outfield for Aaron Judge. Gary Sanchez might be backing up Brian McCann this season. The Yankees are getting younger, albeit slowly, and they have the pieces in place to stay competitive while they do. Maybe you truly can't rebuild in New York, but the Yankees may be ready to reload.
And while they seem less inclined to splash the pot on major-league free agent talent, they have been active in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, using their financial muscle to blow up IFA spending limits in 2014 and get an incredible crop of young, high-ceiling talent into the system. The first of those players have already come stateside, and while it is a mixed bag so far, you knew going in that most of them likely wouldn't work out. The Yankees only need to get a couple major-league regulars out of the class for it to be well worth the investment.