Figured we’d take a kind of position-by-position look through the Yankees minor league system, highlighting one player at each position who should be on your radar for one reason or another.
CATCHER – Gary Sanchez
The everyday catcher in Trenton — and the top prospect in the system according to most offseason rankings — was benched for disciplinary reasons last week. He hasn’t played since last Tuesday. “It was disciplinary action,” manager Tony Franklin told The Trentonian. “I needed to take care of that today, to get things clarified and cleared up. I’m not going to tell you what it was, but it was a violation of some of our guidelines and I needed to take care of it. Gary is out of there for a couple of days until we decide he deserves to play again, plain and simple.” This is not the first time Sanchez has been disciplined in his career. He’s still awfully young, but it’s obviously a significant concern if the Yankees are even somewhat discussing the issue publicly.
Worth mentioning: Seems inevitable that John Ryan Murphy will be in Triple-A when Francisco Cervelli comes off the disabled list this week. That will probably push Austin Romine back into part-time duty after a good month of May but a slow start to June. … Don’t know much about him, but a 21-year-old catcher named Eduardo de Oleo is tied for Charleston’s team lead with nine home runs.
FIRST BASE – Pete O’Brien
It’s been almost two weeks since O’Brien saw any time in right field. He got to Double-A on May 9, got his first turn at first base on June 8 and has since played only first base, catcher and designated hitter (Sanchez being benched has obviously opened some playing time behind the plate). O’Brien’s ultimate defensive role has always been a question — he’s a huge guy who just looks more like a first baseman than a catcher — but his bat is what really matters. His batting average and on-base percentage are pretty low since the bump up to Double-A, but his power is unreal. He hit another homer on Saturday and already has 13 in 35 games with the Thunder. He has the kind of raw power that profiles at first. His .235/.278/.551 slash line in Trenton suggests there’s growth to be done at Double-A, but that power plays.
Worth mentioning: After a little more than a month in Triple-A, left-handed-hitter Kyle Roller is still putting up big numbers. He’s hitting .291/.378/.530, and having success against both lefties and righties. Could be an option if Mark Teixeira lands on the DL again. Roller’s getting a lot of DH time, though. … When he came off the disabled list in Tampa on May 7, Greg Bird got off to a terrific start but his slash line is down to .238/.340/.385. Still taking a lot of walks, but he hasn’t homered since May 24. … Early season surprise Mike Ford has landed on the Charleston disabled list. He was hitting .305/.398/.482.
SECOND BASE — Rob Refsnyder
Had a good year last year, and Refsnder has easily become one of the most interesting prospects in the Yankees system this year. He was dominant in Double-A and earned a promotion to Triple-A last Tuesday. He’s hitting just .200/.200/.300 with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but that’s through just 20 at-bats, so it’s relatively meaningless. What’s far more interesting is the fact Refsnyder was drafted in 2012 and has already climbed to the top of the Yankees minor league system. He’s new to second base — played outfield in college — but the Yankees have pushed him through two levels in 2013 and already two levels in 2014. Obviously second base is pretty wide open in the near and distant future, and Refsnyder is positioning himself to be a realistic option as early as next season (if not as a late-season call-up this year).
Worth mentioning: After having five multi-hit games through the first two months of the season in Low-A Charleston, Gosuke Katoh has now had three multi-hit games since June 7. I guess that’s the good news about last year’s second-round pick. Katoh had 215 plate appearances last season and hit .310/.402/.522 with 27 walks and 44 strikeouts. He’s had 217 plate appearances this year and has hit .190/.302/.315 with 28 walks and 75 strikeouts. … It’s just not happening for another second-rounder. Angelo Gumbs has a .239/.283/.331 slash line in Tampa, and it’s not getting any better because he’s back on the disabled list. Hasn’t played since May 21.
THIRD BASE — Dante Bichette Jr.
Successfully putting himself back on the prospect radar, the Yankees top draft pick was a starting third baseman in this weekend’s Florida State League all-star game. He hit fifth and had a single. Bichette’s off to a slow start in the month of June — hitting just .238/.289/.262 through 12 games this month — but that slow start is coming immediately after Bichette hit six homers in the month of May. With Eric Jagielo on the Tampa disabled list, Bichette is getting regular playing time at third base again. Hasn’t really done enough to jump back into the organization’s Top 10 prospects — not in my mind, anyway — but he’s hit enough to finally get some positive attention again.
Worth mentioning: Last year’s first-round pick, Eric Jagielo, came out of a game on May 20 because of tightness in his right side, and he hasn’t played since. The Yankees had been encouraged by the power Jagielo was showing in High-A. He has a .256/.339/.500 slash line for the year and was slugging .641 in his previous 17 games before the injury. … Signed as a minor league free agent, Zelous Wheeler came to the Yankees having never spent a full season in Triple-A but he had a great spring and has become a staple of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre lineup. He’s hit .306/.353/.482 while playing a lot of third base, shortstop and right field (plus a little second base). He’s slugging .528 against lefties.
SHORTSTOP – Cito Culver
Can’t make much of this, but the Yankees top draft pick from 2010 has shown some tangible offensive improvement this season. He had a .534 OPS in April, a .659 in May, and so far in June he has an .864 with a .270/.404/.459 slash line. Only 37 at-bats so far this month, but Culver’s already walked nine times in June, which is one away from his total for May. The Yankees have always believed in Culver’s glove — I’ve personally seen him make some fine plays in spring training — but his bat has never been nearly enough, even in the lower-levels. Still really young, though, and this year he’s hitting strictly right-handed. As you’d expect, he’s been better against lefties than against righties.
Worth mentioning: Arguably the top shortstop prospect in the Yankees system, Abiatal Avelino hurt his quad in early May and still hasn’t returned. Without Avelino in the lineup, Tyler Wade has been the everyday shortstop with Low-A Charleston. He’s been alright with a .269/.344/.339 season slash line (.281/.379/.351) in his past 14 games). … Dean Anna has been on the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre disabled list since the end of May. The Triple-A team can basically choose between the out-of-position Wheeler or likely out-of-his-league Carmen Angelini at shortstop these days. … Short season Staten Island got it season started last week. Their shortstop is Thairo Estrada, who’s an interesting low-level prospect.
LEFT FIELD — Jose Pirela
Highest batting average on the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster belongs to Pirela, a once forgotten shortstop prospect whose bat began to emerge the past few years in Double-A. Although he’s been mostly a middle infielder in his career, Pirela’s most-recent playing time has come in left field and at first base. He’s a curious call-up possibility mostly because it’s hard to figure out whose spot he would take on the big league roster. He hasn’t played any third base this year, he’s not playing second now that Refsnyder is up from Double-A, and despite an awfully good .325/.364/.449 slash line, would be really be trusted as a a replacement for either Mark Teixeira or Alfonso Soriano. Zelous Wheeler, Scott Sizemore, Adonis Garcia and Kyle Roller could be more realistic options at the positions Pirela’s playing now.
Worth mentioning: In an outfield full of bigger-name prospects, Taylor Dugas continues to have a fine season in Double-A. Listed at just 5-foot-9, Dugas is hitting .309/.422/.448 while getting all of his time in the outfield corners. Might not lead to anything for Dugas, but he’s certainly doing what he can. … Former corner infielder Zach Wilson made the Florida State League all-star team — he’s getting almost all of his playing time this year in either left field or right field this year — but his numbers have dipped considerably since the month of April.
CENTER FIELD -- Slade Heathcott
Just nine games after finally leaving extended spring training, the often-injured Heathcott is back on the DL. I tried to call Mark Newman before my flight took off this morning, but he’s a tough man to reach in the morning (gets out to the fields at the minor league complex really early) and so I wasn’t able to ask for clarification on the Heathcott injury. Unless I’ve missed some bit of reporting out of Trenton — which is entirely possible during this road trip — it seems that all we know is that it’s apparently a knee issue again and Heathcott doesn’t want to talk about it. There’s obviously talent there, but he’s really had a hard time staying on the field.
Worth mentioning: When Heathcott was playing in Trenton, he was seeing a lot of time in right field because center field belongs to Mason Williams. Problem is, Williams isn’t hitting at all; just .226/.308/.305 for the year. Maybe the .314/.333/.412 production in his past 12 games is a sign of things turning around, but the overall numbers aren’t encouraging. … One more Florida State League all-star worth mentioning is Jake Cave who was terrific in May but has gotten off to a slow start in June. Hitting .299/.349/.396 for the year. Like Wiliams and Heathcott (and Ellsbury and Gardner) Cave is a left-handed hitter.
RIGHT FIELD — Aaron Judge
There was a time early this season when Judge was taking walks and hitting for average, but he wasn’t getting many extra-base hits. At the time, Newman said it was the least of the Yankees worries, and now we’ve seen why. Judge is hitting .432/.527/.795 since the end of May, and he’s hitting .333/.428/.530 for the year. He has nine homers and 45 RBI. He has the organization’s highest batting average and second-most RBI (behind Pete O’Brien), and the overwhelming expectation is that Judge will be promoted to High-A Tampa fairly soon. Judge didn’t play at all last year which was a big part of the Yankees decision to start him in Low-A this year. Could be up with his fellow 2013 draftee Jagielo shortly. He’s certainly hit well enough to earn it.
Worth mentioning: Tyler Austin continues to get some time at first and third, though he’s been mostly a right fielder lately. Still not hitting, though; just .247/.320/.360 for the year. … In Triple-A, Adonis Garcia has spent a lot of time in center field this season, but I still tend to think of him as a right fielder. He was hitting .367/.441/.700 through the first eight games this month, but he hasn’t played in a week after hurting his left leg.
STARTING PITCHER — Luis Severino
Quickly emerging as the top pitching prospect in the Yankees system, Severino is reportedly on the move. According to Josh Norris, Severino has been promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa. The move comes after Severino pitched to a 2.79 ERA with 70 strikeouts and 15 walks through 67.2 innings in Charleston. Severino really emerged last season, and the Yankees speak of him with extremely high hopes. He just turned 20 in February, so he’s still awfully young. Wasn’t even old for the South Atlantic League, but he’s pitched his way out of there. Severino is getting to Tampa just as Rafael De Paula has stumbled recently. De Paula has lost three of his past four starts, and he allowed seven runs in two innings in two of them. His ERA was 2.90 at the start of the day on May 25. Now it’s 4.97.
Worth mentioning: Activated in early May, Ian Clarkin has now made nine starts with Charleston, including five scoreless innings yesterday. He has a 3.67 ERA with 42 strikeouts and eight walks. … Manny Banuelos continues to have his inning significantly limited. He went three innings with just one hit last time out with Trenton, but the Yankes are still capping his workload at three innings as he comes back from Tommy John surgery. Newman has said the Yankees don’t want to waste all of his bullets in case he’s needed in the big leagues late in the year. … After walking at least two batters in six straight starts, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starter Shane Greene didn’t walk anyone last time out (but he did give up eight hits). Greene was terrific last season, and he opened eyes this spring, but he has a 6.17 ERA in Triple-A. Could be an alternative to Vidal Nuno if he were pitching better.
RELIEF PITCHER — Mark Montgomery
The numbers in Triple-A weren’t bad for Montgomery, but when the Yankees added Heath Bell on a minor league deal last week, it was Montgomery who was demoted to Double-A. Just a few years ago Montgomery was being compared to Dave Robertson and was a clearly bullpen standout in the Yankees system, but scouts don’t seem as sold on him lately. His slider is a weapon, but Donnie Collins points out that Montgomery’s fastball has been 87-88 mph lately. He missed some time last year with a shoulder issue, and that might have robbed Montgomery of some of his raw stuff. It’s interesting that upon getting to Trenton, Montgomery was placed on the disabled list. Can’t think of any reason to send him down just for a DL stint.
Worth mentioning: Once a kind of fringy prospect with an awesome name, Graham Stoneburner had been working as both a starter and a a reliever this season, but he’s reportedly been released. He had a 7.04 ERA in Trenton. … Having fallen all the way from the big leagues to Double-A, lefty Cesar Cabral has eight walks in 9.1 innings with Trenton (he’s had two three-walk outings). The new lefty ahead of him is Francisco Rondon who was sent up to Triple-A about two weeks ago. He once had a 40-man spot, so the Yankees like him at least a little bit. Rondon’s pitched four times with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, going two scoreless innings each time. … Remember Nick Goody, who got hurt in big league camp a couple of years ago? He’s pitching out of the High-A Tampa bullpen, and he’s been really good. Through 14.1 innings he has 25 strikeouts and four walks.