First, a quick announcement: We’re going to do a chat tomorrow at noon. It was quite obviously a late decision, but I’m flying home to Missouri on Friday — my family is celebrating the holiday a few days early — and I wanted to get in one last chat before the end of December. So, let’s talk tomorrow. Stop by at noon. If you’ve been there before, you know the drill. Noon. Chat. Right here on the blog. See ya then.
For now, let’s rewind a few days.
Prospect rankings are far more interesting as discussion points rather than definitive judgments. Team-by-team Top 10 lists are popular for obvious reasons, mostly the fact that they’re interesting. Agree or disagree, they’re an interesting way to look at, evaluate and discuss a team’s farm system. During the Winter Meetings, Baseball America released its Yankees Top 10 list (compiled by our old friend Josh Norris, who’s brought his usual fine work to BA). Earlier this week, Baseball Prospectus released its Yankees Top 10.
You’ll have to pay — and should pay — to get the full scouting reports and details of each list, but the names and numbers are fair game without a subscription. Here are the rankings (I’m focusing on these two if only because they’re two of the better known prospect-related sites out there), along with a few thoughts of my own.
1. Gary Sanchez, C
2. Slade Heathcott, OF
3. Mason Williams, OF
4. J.R. Murphy, C
5. Eric Jagielo, 3B
6. Aaron Judge, OF
7. Ian Clarkin, LHP
8. Greg Bird, 1B
9. Luis Severino, RHP
10. Gosuke Katoh, 2B
The first thing that stands out are Nos. 5 through 10: Four guys who were drafted in 2013, one guy who made his U.S. debut in 2013, and another guy who just played his first year of full-season ball. That’s the Yankees farm system in a nutshell. A lot of low-level upside, but the upper-level talent is both thin and uncertain. With guys like Judge and Clarkin and Severino, the ranking is all about upside. Judge has yet to take a pro at-bat, Clarkin has three pro games, and Severino has pitched in 10 regular season games in the States. Sanchez feels like an obvious and easy choice at No. 1, but Baseball America remains fairly bullish on Heathcott and Williams. Either that, or they’re acknowledging the risk that comes with the younger guys at the bottom of the Top 10. Maybe a little of both.
1. Gary Sanchez, C
2. Jose Ramirez, RHP
3. J.R. Murphy, C
4. Slade Heathcott, OF
5. Tyler Austin, OF/3B
6. Mason Williams, OF
7. Gregory Bird, 1B
8. Eric Jagielo, 3B
9. Ian Clarkin, LHP
10. Aaron Judge, OF
Prospectus is bullish on Ramirez, who dazzled in spring training but had some injury problems during the regular season. Even so, his stuff makes him the system’s top upper-level rotation prospect (with the possible exception of Manny Banuelos). Interesting that both BP and BA agree on Murphy as a top five prospect in the Yankees system. That’s a credit to his improvement behind the plate and the belief that he’ll be a solid hitter. He’s the safest pick on either of these lists. Prospectus also gives a nod to Tyler Austin — coming off injury and disappointment in Triple-A — before venturing into those low-level guys with significant upside and massive hurdles to clear. Both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America agree that the Yankees top three draft picks from 2013 immediately belong in the team’s Top 10 prospects. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Indicates just how few sure things the system has.
I think I might have come up with my own Top 10 Yankees prospects back when I was in Scranton, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it since I came to New York. There’s a good reason for that: I don’t see these guys or talk about them nearly as much as I did when I was covering Triple-A, but that doesn’t keep me from having a few thoughts on who stands out and who doesn’t in the Yankees farm system.
• During a Baseball America chat, Norris revealed that he has Manny Banuelos at No. 11. I really haven’t tried to come up with a list of my own, but I’m thinking I might have had Banuelos in my top 10. Which is more risky, an upper-level pitcher coming off Tommy John or a first-year pro with hardly any professional experience? Both bring considerable uncertainty, but if I had to pick one to have in the system, I think I’d prefer Banuelos to Clarkin. That’s not at all an indictment of Clarkin, it’s just that we’ve seen Banuelos pitch well against Double-A hitters, and Tommy John has a pretty solid success rate these days. I wouldn’t rule out Banuelos as a Top 10 Yankees prospect, but that’s just another opinion in an exercise full of them.
• If you’ve never heard of Severino, that’s perfectly fine. I know him by name only. I was surprised to see him in Baseball America’s Top 10, but that’s not at all to say I disagree. I know his stuff is supposed to be good, and in this system, a guy with limited experience isn’t necessarily overshadowed. That said, I rarely pay attention to guys until they get much higher in the system. If he’s the real deal, he’ll force you to learn his name over time.
• No Rafael De Paula on either list. Another one that surprised me, but also one that leaves me with no real disagreement. He was overwhelming in Charleston this year, then he bumped up to Tampa and was very clearly exposed. Yet another reason I don’t pay too much attention until guys get to Double-A. Those low-level numbers can be deceiving. I know the Yankees like De Paula a lot, but there’s a lot of development to go.
• Not allowed to post his rankings as they’re entirely behind a pay wall, but I will say that my old friend from the minor league complex, Patrick Teale, is a big believer in Greg Bird. Teale posts his own Top 50 Yankees prospects every year at Pinstripes Plus, and he tends to lean toward those high upside guys in the lower levels, generally preferring potential ahead of polish (that’s my assessment anyway, I think he would agree with that). Patrick’s list as Bird very high. I’m also pretty bullish on Bird if only because of the way he handled himself in big league camp this year. Incredibly young, but went about his business with no sense of being starstruck or overwhelmed. That impressed me. The jury is out on whether he’ll develop the kind of home run power expected from a first baseman, but he has an advanced hitting approach for a kid his age.
• I’ve had numerous people email me this winter asking about Eric Jagielo as a solution at third base in either 2014 or 2015. While Jagielo has far surpassed Dante Bichette Jr. in the organization’s third base pecking order, I’d urge a little more patience than plugging him into your big league expectations for the next two years. He’s a college bat, so he could move fairly quickly, but 2015 would be warp speed. If it happens, that’s terrific for the Yankees — means Jagielo has raked and forced their hand — but to set that as the expectation is a bit much.
• Before putting them in a Yankees Top 10, we have to … 1. Find out whether Peter O’Brien can play the field. 2. See Abiatal Avelino produce in a full-season league. 3. Get a full, healthy year out of Jose Campos. 4. Get a significant bounce-back performance from Tyler Austin. 5. See actual results and not just raw potential out of Bryan Mitchell.
Associated Press photo of Murphy; headshots of Sanchez, Ramirez, Banuelos and Bird