Today Baseball America wrapped up its league-by-league rankings of minor league prospects. As always, you have to take these lists for what they are, which is a general snapshot of how young talent stacks up. Quite often the difference between No. 12 and a guy who barely missed the list is a matter of individual opinion, but I like these Baseball America lists because they rely on several outside opinions — scouts, executives, etc. — and because they add some detail to the bigger picture.
Ultimately, what you’ll notice from these rankings are two indisputable truths: The Yankees are thin on upper-level talent, and lower-level talent is unreliable. Several players who entered this season full of buzz ended the season with some serious questions. That much has played out in the way Baseball America has ranked the Yankees young players.
You can see the rankings for free on Baseball America’s site, but the detailed scouting reports and chats require a subscription. Here are the six leagues that include Yankees affiliates, followed by the individual ranking of each Yankees player to make each list.
Gulf Coast League
10. C Luis Torrens
11. 3B Miguel Andujar
13. SS Abiatal Avelino
15. 2B Gosuke Katoh
17. RHP Luis Severino
20. SS Thairo Estrada
This is sort of the reality of the Yankees system these days. There’s a lot of young talent in the system, but young talent like this comes with far more questions than answers. It’s true that basically ever team has low-level talent like this, but the fact the Yankees landed six players on the Gulf Coast League list suggests there’s some universal agreement that their extremely young talent is particularly intriguing. Katoh was a second-round pick who had a huge season, but as evidenced by Torrens’ underwhelming numbers, a list like this is clearly about more than results. It’s about potential. The Yankees have a lot of low-level potential. That’s obviously a good thing, but that doesn’t make them particularly unique and it doesn’t do anything to help them in the short term.
New York-Penn League
6. 3B Eric Jagielo
This summer, the Yankees made a relatively safe pick with their top draft selection. They took a polished college hitter, who plays a position of need, and the early returns are positive. That’s the thing to take from this ranking. The thing to remember is that Dante Bichette Jr. also generated quite a bit of success in his draft year, only to struggle ever since. Jagielo seems to be a more reliable prospect, and that seems to signal a shift in the Yankees draft philosophy. Have to wonder if Aaron Judge might have cracked the list had he been healthy enough to play. A few other Yankees draftees — most notably third-rounder Michael O’Neill — generate some intrigue based on long-term potential, but there’s not enough immediate success to make the list.
South Atlantic League
17. RHP Rafael De Paula
Two reasons this list might have been surprising from a Yankees perspective: 1. The fact De Paula didn’t rank as a top-five talent in the league, and 2. The fact several Yankees position players didn’t crack the top 20. In my mind, it’s because of the very nature of such low-level prospects. They are, by nature, unpolished. And in its scouting reports, Baseball America made it clear that De Paula’s extreme ups and downs kept him from climbing higher on their list. In a chat, Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper noted that players like Greg Bird, Peter O’Brien and Jake Cave generated some support — I would guess Jose Campos also has some lingering intrigue coming back from injury — but there are some obvious questions about power or defense or ultimate upside. There are a ton of guys in Low-A who have plenty of potential without much certainty.
Florida State League
7. C Gary Sanchez
19. CF Mason Williams
These were probably the top two Yankees prospects coming into the season. Sanchez’s prospect stock more or less held steady; Williams’ took a bit of a hit. Baseball America notes that Williams seemed to be in worse shape this season, which impacted him at the plate more than in the field. Could be a strong wake-up call for a guy who’s still very young to have finished this season in Double-A. Sanchez is even younger, and also finished in Double-A. Just like in Low-A, the Yankees have a handful of guys who have some legitimate prospect stock, but come with questions of ultimate upside (I’m thinking of guys like Rob Refsnyder and Shane Greene) or ability to reach their potential (guys like Peter O’Brien and Bryan Mitchell).
18. C J.R. Murphy
This would have been tough to predict six months ago, when Murphy was easily overshadowed by the Trenton outfield of Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores. But Murphy took a giant step forward — our old friend Josh Norris notes that his defense is much, much better — and the outfielders did the opposite. You could make the case that Flores remained relatively unchanged, but his lack of power has always been concerning for a corner outfielder. Austin, on the other hand, didn’t come close to repeating his outstanding 2012 season. His age and wrist injury might have had something to do with that — the Yankees certainly haven’t given up on him — but it was a concerning development. As for Heathcott, the Yankees are very encouraged by his strong second half (and the fact he was also young for the league). Really, Baseball America’s rankings for the Eastern League paint a pretty clear picture of what can happen year to year with prospects, especially low-level prospects who are being tested in the upper levels for the first time. Might have been interesting to see whether Jose Ramirez could have cracked the list with a full season in Double-A.
Absolutely no surprise that the Yankees didn’t have anyone crack the International League list — if they did, you would have seen him in New York this season — but it’s fairly telling that John Manuel wasn’t even asked a single Yankees question in his chat about the International League list. The most deserving Yankees were probably a trio of relievers — Dellin Betances, Mark Montgomery and Chase Whitley — but a half season from Betances won’t erase concerns about past inconsistencies, Montgomery is coming off a down year that included two injuries, and Whitley has never generated a ton of buzz about upside. All three could be Major League relievers — maybe even pretty good ones — but they’re not likely to land on a list like this after a year like this. Same for David Adams, Zoilo Almonte, Vidal Nuno and Brett Marshall.
Associated Press photos