The Yankees first significant signing came this weekend when they agreed to a new one-year deal with Chris Young, bringing some right-handed balance to the outfield and some power/speed potential to the bench. With that signing, the Yankees seem set in the outfield with no need to add either a big league bat or additional minor league depth.
As it is, the Yankees have seven full-time outfielders on their 40-man roster — that’s to say nothing of the three 40-man infielders who have a solid amount of outfield experience — and they’re likely to add one or two more outfielders when it comes time to protect Tyler Austin and possibly Mason Williams from the Rule 5 draft.
Just taking a look at the projected big league roster, and the potential options at the highest levels of the minor league system, it seems the Yankees should have all that they need in the outfield. The depth could also leaves the Yankees with trade options should they decide to make a move.
Granted, it’s not remotely a lock that Pirela is going to make the team, and there’s a solid chance Wheeler will be designated for assignment at some point, but this is still a clear picture of three obvious starters, an experienced fourth outfielder, and at least one infielder who can play the outfield regularly if necessary. This roster also has three guys who can play center field when necessary, so the Yankees are covered as the most difficult-to-fill outfield position. Maybe another outfielder comes to camp on a non-roster invitation just in case — stranger things have happened — but there’s no overwhelming need here. Especially if the Yankees carrying a versatile utility guy like Pirela, they have plenty of big league outfield options as it is.
Picking the three “starting” outfielders for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre next season isn’t an easy task. I assume Austin will move up after his finishing strong in Double-A, and the bulk of his playing time will surely come in the outfield corners (perhaps with a little bit of corner infield now and then). Flores and Perez clearly need regular at-bats as well — they could be first in line for an outfield call-up — and both Dugas and Garcia have played well enough to also deserve playing time. Chances are Refsnyder will be strictly a second baseman, but he’s listed here just to show the Yankees have yet another guy who could play some Triple-A outfield if necessary. There’s also the chance that Pirela and/or Wheeler could end up back in Triple-A providing even more depth. There’s not much big league experience here, but there are only so many Triple-A at-bats to go around, and the Yankees surely want to prioritize legitimate prospects ahead of minor league veterans. Bringing back a guy like Antoan Richardson or signing someone similar would only take away at-bats from young guys who need the playing time.
Kind of like the Triple-A outfield, the Double-A outfield has more than three guys who seem worth of everyday at-bats. The tough part here is predicting what the Yankees are going to do with Heathcott and Williams. Is Heathcott going to be healthy enough to stay on the field (and if so, is he going back to Double-A or finally jumping to Triple-A)? Is Williams going to be lost in the Rule 5 draft (and if not, would he get priority playing time ahead of the other guys listed here)? Like with Austin, I’m assuming Judge will be challenged with a jump up a level, which means right field is taken, and Cave has played too well to be anything less than an everyday outfielder next season. In terms of immediate outfield depth, the important thing to notice here is that Heathcott and Williams are still looming as upper-level outfielders who could be on the 40-man roster and still warrant playing time as well. That leaves the Yankees with a lot of outfielders who need at-bats.
Associated Press photo
Ramon Flores continues to get more winter ball at-bats than ever before, and he’s making the most of them.
Moved regularly into the No. 2 spot in the order, Flores has 13 hits in his past five games for the Tigres de Aragua in Venezuela. He had three straight two-hit games, then he went 6-for-6 with a double on Wednesday. He has yet to steal a base, he hasn’t hit for a ton of power, but Flores has taken some walks and he’s struck out just nine times in 17 games. He’s hitting .411/.468/.518 through 56 at-bats.
Still just 22 years old, Flores has a spot on the Yankees 40-man roster, and he was hitting pretty well in Triple-A before a June 1 ankle injury cost him most of the second half. He’s mostly a left fielder — that’s where he’s playing regularly this winter — but he can play center, and he has some experience in right field and at first base.
Could be a legitimate bench option coming out of spring training. It’s worth noting, though, that Flores is left-handed and the right-handed fourth outfielder might be a better fit.
A few other notes from winter ball:
• Well, it seems Jose Pirela isn’t going to hit three home runs every week this winter (he did that in his first week in Venezuela). On Sunday, though, he did go 3-for-4 with a triple. Pirela already has three triples and three homers through his first 10 games this winter. He took an 0-for-6 on Thursday, but he’s still hitting .317/.364/.707 through 41 at-bats. He’s played mostly left field with starts at second base, third base and right field.
• One of Pirela’s winter teammates is utility man Ali Castillo, who’s having a terrific winter as the Aguilas leadoff hitter. Castillo is hitting .348/.378/.478 with nine stolen bases. He was playing shortstop until Freddy Galvis arrived, and now he’s basically playing left field or second base (whichever Pirela isn’t playing on a given day). Not really considered much of a prospect, but the Yankees don’t exactly have a ton of guys who can play shortstop in the upper levels.
• Not everyone is raking in Venezuela. On Thursday Adonis Garcia was dropped to sixth in the order for Navegantes del Magallanes. He put up impressive winter league numbers last year, but this year his power has been nowhere to be found. He’s hitting .272/.314/.296, with his only extra-base hits being a couple of doubles. I’d still say he has a chance to make an impression in spring training, just hasn’t done much this winter.
• Eury Perez, the guy acquired at the very end of the year, is still playing a lot of left field and batting leadoff in the Dominican Republic. He has just seven games 31 at-bats so far. He has yet to take a walk and he’s 0-for-2 in stolen base attempts — speed is a pretty big part of his game — but he’s also played in just seven games and has just 31 at-bats. The Dominican Winter League started a little later than the Venezuelan Winter League.
• Down in the Arizona Fall League, Dante Bichette Jr. has gotten his bat going a little bit. He has four hits and five RBI in his past three games, and one Wednesday he got his first Fall League extra-base hit (a double). He’s hitting .256/.328/.276, which pales in comparison to the other Yankees position players sent to Arizona this year.
• Speaking of those other Yankees hitters in Arizona, after winning Fall Stars Game MVP over the weekend, Greg Bird promptly had another 2-for-4 game on Monday, then he took two walks on Wednesday. He’s hitting .341/.404/.610 through 67 at-bats. … Aaron Judge hasn’t had an extra-base hit since his two-homer game last Thursday — he’s only had 15 at-bats since then — but his Arizona slash line is still an impressive .284/.395/.507 with nearly as many walks (12) as strikeouts (14). … Riding a mild four-game hitting streak, Tyler Austin is hitting .318/.392/.470 in the Fall League. He’s still seeing time in both outfield corners. Has yet to play either first base or third base.
• I’ve said this before, but it remains true: It seems that every year the Yankees have one pitcher who gets absolutely rocked in the Arizona Fall League. This year, it’s Alex Smith. In an offense-heavy league, Smith was roughed up for two more runs on Wednesday and his ERA is up to 9.72 with a 3.12 WHIP through eight appearances. … The other two Yankees pitchers in Arizona, Kyle Haynes and Caleb Cotham, each pitched one hitless inning this week. Cotham has 12 strikeouts and only two walks this Fall, but he also has a 5.56 ERA. Haynes has a 1.86 ERA, but he also has seven walks and four unearned runs in 9.2 innings.
• Recently re-signed minor league reliever Diego Moreno had four saves in his first five appearances this winter, but he’s now allowed eight hits and four earned runs in his past 2.2 innings spread across his past three outings. Really aren’t many Yankees pitchers getting many innings so far this winter.
Associated Press photo of Flores; headshots of Pirela, Perez and Smith
Aaron Judge named AFL Player of the Week • 11.04.14
What was it, two weeks ago that Greg Bird was named Arizona Fall League Player of the Week? The Yankees sent some of their top hitting prospects to the Fall League this year, and three of them are putting up really good numbers out there. Bird, Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge currently rank first, second and third on their team in hits — actually, Judge is tied for third — and they’re also first, second and third in RBI. Of the guys with at least 40 at-bats on the team, those three rank first, second and third in OPS. They’re raking, and now Judge becomes the second of the trio to win a Player of the Week award. Here’s the press release from the AFL, with some bonus information about a Rays pitching prospect.
Judge — The 6-7, 230-pound Judge belted two homers and drove home four RBI at Mesa on October 25 to highlight the fourth week of Fall League play. For the week, he led the league in runs scored (6) and on-base percentage (.857) and tied for the lead in games (5), homers (2) and walks (7). He also ranked second in the circuit in total bases (12), slugging percentage (.857) and OPS (1.494).
The Linden, CA native, rated the Yankees’ No. 5 prospect by MLB.com, capped his week with an appearance in the annual Fall Stars Game. He entered week five tied for second in the league in homers (4) and ranked fifth in slugging percentage (.574) with a .296 average in 15 games.
Judge, the Yankees’ first-round (32nd overall) 2013 draft choice out of California State, Fresno, posted a .308 composite batting average in 2014, his first professional season, with 17 home runs and 78 RBI in 131 games at Single-A and High-A.
Other Nominees for Player of the Week — Surprise OF Hunter Renfroe (Padres), Surprise OF Mallex Smith (Padres) and Salt River IF Trevor Story (Rockies).
Schultz — The Fall League strikeout leader was 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in one start last week that featured seven strikeouts in five innings. The seven whiffs tied for the AFL lead.
The 5-10, 200-pound Schultz finished week four with 23 strikeouts and ranked second in the league in highest strikeout/nine innings pitched ratio (11.09) and third in innings pitched (18.2). Through four weeks in Arizona, the Albany, New York product, who played college baseball at High Point (NC) University, was 1-3 with a 6.27 ERA.
A two-year professional, the Rays’ 14th-round (428th overall) 2013 draft choice sports a 5-3 record and 2.67 ERA in 31 games at Single-A. He has registered 134 strikeouts in 104 1/3 innings pitched.
Other Nominees for Pitcher of the Week — Surprise LHP Brandon Alger (Padres), Glendale RHP Chris Bassitt (White Sox), Glendale RHP Zach Davies (Orioles) and Mesa LHP Sean Nolin (Blue Jays).
In case you missed it the past month or so, this is just the latest highlight of Bird’s eye-opening stint in the Arizona Fall League.
“I think the right attitude is to look for your pitch. If you don’t get it, take your walks,” Bird told Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com. “I think in the past, I was a little more passive in those count-related situations. I’ve tried to be more aggressive for my pitch early in at-bats and let the walks come more, rather than, ‘Maybe I’ll walk, maybe I’ll hit.’ It’s been good out here.”
Bird wasn’t on the original list of Fall League selections, but he wound up starting at first base and batting cleanup. He delivered a fairly typical game: One strikeout, one walk and one home run. That’s not to say Bird can’t hit for average — he’s a career .283 hitter in the minors — but he’s touted for his patience at the plate, it’s recognized that he strikes out a decent amount, and most recently he’s shown a ton of raw power. Bird homered seven times in a brief 27-game stint with Trenton at the end of this season, and now he leads the Fall League in homers.
His home run on Saturday was a monster. That MLB.com link about has a video, and it’s impressive. Deep center field. Third tier of a terraced batter’s eye. Jim Callis estimated at least 450 feet and wrote that it’s the longest homer in the Fall Stars Game’s nine-year history. Perhaps just as significant is the fact both Callis and John Manuel noted that Bird worked the count, fouled off pitches and put together a strong at-bat before teeing off on the monster home run.
As a first baseman, Bird’s going to have to hit, and right now he’s doing that in a big way.
By the way, two other recognizable names from the Fall Stars Game: Former Yankees prospect Peter O’Brien started at catcher and current Yankees prospect Aaron Judge played right field off the bench. Both went 0-for-2. Judge struck out once.
Before the end of the regular season, Jose Pirela put up impressive numbers in Triple-A, landed a spot on the 40-man roster, and got his first big league call-up. He undoubtedly emerged as a serious candidate for some sort of big league role next season, and he’s spent the past week further making his case with a terrific first few games of winter ball.
Pirela stepped into the heart of the Aguilas del Zulia lineup last Friday, and in six games he’s hit .391/.440/1.000 with three home runs, two triples, and seven RBI. Oh, and he’s already started at four different positions: second base, third base, left field and right field.
Good winter numbers are nothing new for Pirela. Just last year he hit .332/.415/.514 while playing second base and left field in Venezuela.
If the Yankees don’t add an impact infielder this offseason, Pirela could come to spring training with a chance to win the second base job next season. If nothing else, though, his bat and versatility could make him a prime candidate for a bench job.
A few other notes from the offseason leagues.
• Two weeks ago, Tyler Austin was hitting .259/.355/.333 and still waiting for his first Arizona Fall League home run. Not a ton of at-bats, but also not an overwhelming start in an offense-heavy league. Since then, Austin’s gotten on a roll. In a span of eight games, Austin has raised his Arizona slash line to .322/.394/.492. He has two homers, two doubles and eight RBI during this latest hot streak. He’s had three hits in each of his past two games. Austin also continues to get time in both right field and left field — still no time at first base or third base — which seems at least mildly significant. He hadn’t played left field in the minors, so it’s helpful to get at least some familiarity on that side.
• The hitting streak is over. Greg Bird finally took an 0-for-3 on Wednesday — he did take a walk, so he was at least on base — marking the first time he failed to get a hit in the Fall League. How did he respond? By going 2-for-2 with a pair of walks the very next day. Making a bid for the league’s MVP award, Bird is hitting .347/.400/.653 with six homers through 72 at-bats. He had a 16-game hitting streak before Wednesday’s 0-for.
• Not to be outdone, the Yankees biggest name assigned to the Fall League is also on a roll. Aaron Judge hit two home runs yesterday, he also homered on Saturday, and his Arizona slash line is up to .288/.387/.577 with nearly as many walks (9) as strikeouts (10). He continues to get all of his time in right field. Safe to say this guy is not being groomed for a potential bench role.
• One other guy who could be a bench candidate, though, is left-handed outfielder Ramon Flores, who continues to get the most playing time he’s ever seen in winter ball. Playing down in Venezuela, Flores isn’t necessarily playing every day, but he’s playing pretty regularly, and he’s hitting .303/.395/.394 through 33 at-bats while getting most of his time in left field. Flores got just six winter at-bats last year, only 13 the year before, and none before that. Now that he’s older and more advanced, he’s getting to play.
• Late-season addition Eury Perez just got started down in the Dominican Winter League on Tuesday. He’s played in just two games, but he hit leadoff and started in left field for each of them. He’s gotten fairly regular playing time for that team in the past (one of his winter teammates is former Yankees prospect Melky Mesa). Perez has a hit in each of his two games so far.
• Not sure this makes him a legitimate big league roster candidate going forward, but shortstop Ali Castillo is putting up huge numbers so far this winter. Castillo’s been hitting leadoff for Pirela’s team, and he’s hitting .391/.411/.536 through 69 at-bats. He was playing shortstop every day, but he’s moved around to second base and left field ever since Freddy Galvis joined the team a little more than a week ago. Castillo was the regular shortstop in Trenton this year and hit .254/.318/.327. Another smaller name putting up big numbers in Venezuela: catcher Jose Gil is hitting .345/.387/.586 while getting pretty regular playing time.
• A few offensive quick hits: Dante Bichette Jr. is still looking for his first extra-base hit in Arizona. He’s hitting .239/.321/.239 with 12 strikeouts and six walks. … Kyle Higashioka is still getting very little playing time in the Fall League, but he’s had a hit in all four of his appearances. On Wednesday, Scottsdale had Judge, Bird, Higashioka, Austin and Bichette all hitting together in order 3 through 7. Kinda cool. … Still playing left field and batting in the heart of the order every day in Venezuela, Adonis Garcia is hitting .300/.338/.329 while waiting for his power to show up.
• Not a ton of Yankees pitching that catches the eye this winter. Down the Fall League, Caleb Cotham hasn’t walked a batter in his past 7.1 innings, but opponents are still hitting .318 against him. … Also in Arizona, Kyle Haynes has more than four ground ball outs for every one out in the air. Quite a few walks, though. … The third Yankees pitcher assigned to the Fall League, Alex Smith, finally had a scoreless outing on Monday. He’s allowed at least one run in each of his other five appearances.
• Recently re-signed reliever Diego Moreno gave up a two-run home run in the ninth inning in Venezuela on Monday. He’d allowed a run in only one of his first seven outings before that. Also recently re-signed, Joel De La Cruz has allowed two unearned runs in his two appearances in the Dominican Republic. He’s struck out six and allowed four hits in 4.2 innings.
Associated Press photo
I try not to think of prospect rankings as any sort of definitive analysis. They’re more useful as a tool for discussion. Slade Heathcott falling out of Baseball America’s top 10 list for the Yankees, for example, doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t be an impact player, but it says a lot about his injuries and the uncertainty he faces going forward. By the same token, a guy like Jorge Mateo jumping into the top three doesn’t mean he’s absolutely going to be the Yankees starting shortstop in a few years, but it says a lot about his raw talent and high-end potential.
Top 10 lists like this one point out some organizational highlights, and they spark plenty of conversation about not only the names that made the cut, but also those players who didn’t. They’re interesting. They’re not definitive.
Josh Norris — who used to cover the Yankees system and put together this particular top 10 list — will be chatting over at BA’s website at 2 p.m. ET. Go jump into that conversation. For now, here are a few of my own thoughts about this year’s Baseball America Top 10 Yankees prospects.
1. RHP Luis Severino
In my mind, this is a no brainer. Big fastball. Already has a feel for the good changeup. Undeniable numbers. Clearly being fast-tracked through the system. Even as the Yankees have struggled to produce big league position players, they’ve had some success with big league pitchers. Perhaps not an ace — Phil Hughes carried that expectation and settled for being simply a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy — but the Yankees have added plenty of minor league arms to the big league pitching staff. And Severino could follow that path as early as next year. Can’t reveal everything about the Baseball America scouting reports, but BA does note that Severino is “likely” to open next season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after making just six Double-A starts this season. The Yankees have publicly mentioned Severino as a guy who could help them next season. This kid is really good, and he’s moving very quickly.
2. RF Aaron Judge
The Yankees were in Oakland when Judge showed up for batting practice just after being drafted in 2013. It seems most everyone had heard about him at that point — mostly we’d heard that he was huge — and Judge did not disappoint. His massive frame suggests an all-or-nothing slugger, but his first season of pro ball proved otherwise. He was patient, hit for average, and showed a willingness to send line drives to the gap rather than constantly go for massive home runs. There’s very real power, no doubt, but there’s also an advanced hitting approach that should have Judge in Double-A to start next season. Although there was some talk of center field after he was drafted, Judge has played only right field since joining the Yankees, and that’s clearly his position of the future. There’s so far little indication that he’ll have to move to first base or designated hitter. There are two years left on Carlos Beltran’s contract, and when it runs out, Judge just might be ready to take over.
3. SS Jorge Mateo
Just a personal preference of mine: I’m always hesitant to make too much of a toolsy teenage prospect. I’ve only seen a very small first-hand glimpse of Mateo as a player, but I’ve heard enough about him to understand why Baseball America ranked him this high. The kid has all of the tools to be a Jose Reyes-type shortstop. His speed is off the charts, and his defensive ability suggests he’ll be able to stay at the position. I’ve heard former vice president of baseball operations get pretty excited talking about some young kids, but he saved some of his most colorful descriptions for Mateo. “Holy (cow) tools!” he said, and you can imagine which word he said instead of “cow.” My only hesitation about Mateo is that he has 58 at-bats in rookie ball, and I like to hold off on setting expectations until a player moves up the chain a little bit. Last year, Baseball America had Severino and No. 9 and then adjusted after seeing him pitch a full season and move quickly. That’s more the way I would have approached ranking Mateo. But the kid is awfully talented. There’s a reason he’s this high.
4. 1B Greg Bird
I think it was two years ago that Bird was invited to big league camp. He was really young at the time, but the Yankees needed some extra bodies because of the World Baseball Classic, and so Bird took his place in the clubhouse and observed. He was 20 years old, in a locker room with some of the biggest names in baseball, and he carried himself with a surprising amount of quiet confidence. Bird hardly played, but he made a strong first impression for the way he went about his work and largely blended into the background. He seemed comfortable, even though he was barely out of high school. Since then, it’s been a mature approach at the plate that’s kept Bird’s stock high. He’s been a steady hitter who gets on base at a good clip. He’s also shown some increased power, and he’s currently raking in the Arizona Fall League. A converted catcher, Bird does not get strong reviews on defense, but I’ve also never had a scout tell me that he’ll have to give up the position. If he can play a passable first base, keep putting together smart at-bats and continue his recent power surge, he could legitimately emerge in the next year or two as the heir to Mark Teixeiera.
5. C Gary Sanchez
I’m not necessarily the biggest Sanchez believer in the world — and I’m a big Bird believer — but even for me, this ranking is a little low. I can completely understand it, just would have put Sanchez up at No. 3. In my mind, Severino, Judge and Sanchez are the clear standouts in the system. As for why Baseball America has Sanchez slightly lower: Obviously this year’s offensive numbers weren’t overwhelming, there’s still some question about his ability to stay behind the plate, and the discipline issues are concerning. But Sanchez is still just 21 years old. He’s less than three years older than Mateo, and just like every kid his age — kids in and out of baseball — there’s some maturing that has to happen. Even though he’s ready for Triple-A, Sanchez still faces a lot of questions, and those can’t be ignored. But he also has a strong mix of being advanced in the system with a high ceiling if things work out.
6. LHP Ian Clarkin
Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that it’s pretty easy to overlook Clarkin. Maybe it’s because he missed time with an ankle injury his first season. Maybe it’s because Judge and top pick Eric Jagielo get the bulk of the attention from the 2013 draft class. Maybe it’s because Severino has so clearly emerged as the top pitching prospect in the system. For whatever reason, Clarkin kind of falls into the shadows a little bit, but I don’t think there’s any doubt he belongs in the Top 10. Somewhere in the middle of the Top 10 seems about right, too. The sense I’ve always had about him is that, while there’s no single thing that really shines, Clarkin does a lot of things very well. And Baseball America notes that he added a cutter this season, which has further enhanced his ability to get ground balls. He’s only a few months older than Mateo, and he’s already pitched to a 3.21 ERA in a half season with Low-A Charleston (he also made one solid start with High-A Tampa). He’s light on innings and experience, so I doubt the Yankees will rush him too much, but Clarkin could really emerge with a strong full season next year.
7. 2B Rob Refsnyder
This is where prospect rankings really depend on personal preference. Do you prefer Mateo’s high-ceiling with a long way to go, or do you prefer Refsnyder’s reliable impact with perhaps limited upside? Probably depends on what you make of rankings in the first place. Ultimately, there is no high-end Yankees prospect better poised to make an immediate impact than Refsnyder. He’s obviously still learning second base — played outfield in college — but the bat has been outstanding. In fact, Refsnyder has advanced to the very top of the minor league system and his numbers are still terrific. That said, there are still doubters. When the World Series started, I mentioned in a blog post that multiple scouts and executives saw comparisons between Refsnyder and Giants second baseman Joe Panik. A couple of days after that piece ran, another executive got back to me saying his organization still had Refnsyder projected as nothing more than a backup. We’ll see. It seems a safe bet that Refsnyder can and will play some sort of role in New York (probably soon). The question is, just how will great that impact be?
8. LHP Jacob Lindgren
Two names that were not on Baseball America’s Top 10 Yankees list a year ago: Dellin Betances and Shane Greene. Betances obviously carried some of the doubt that he’d generated throughout his up-and-down minor league career. Greene was coming off a breakout season and there was a sense of wait-and-see with him. There’s no such hesitation with Lindgren, the Yankees top draft pick from this summer. Hard to remember the Yankees ever drafting more of a sure thing. As a left-handed college reliever, Lindgren entered the Yankees system perfectly poised to move quickly, and he did exactly that with eight games in Double-A this year. If the big league team were realistically in the playoff hunt, I wonder if Lindgren might have moved even faster. As it is, he’s kind of like Refsnyder in that he’s a safe bet to play a big league role, the only question is how significant that role will be. Is he strictly a left-on-left guy (which would be the extreme low end), or can he establish himself as a setup man or closer? Good chance for both immediate and long-term impact here.
9. C Luis Torrens
As I’ve written many times, I’m hesitant to make too much of extremely young players, but I would have been surprised to see Torrens not make the cut here. Still just 18 years old, Torrens gets rave reviews for his ability behind the plate, which is pretty stunning for such a young kid who’s relatively new to the position. He’s also shown some ability to hit, though he’s obviously still maturing. Time will tell just how good he’ll be, but this is another case of the tools being simply too good to ignore. “We have people who think he’s the best catcher out of the whole group,” Newman said late in the year. “But he’s 18. He’s got a long way to go. Slow down.” Fair enough. There has to be time for Torrens to develop, and there’s incredible uncertainty with any 18-year-old, but I tend to think of Top 10 lists like this one as a way to highlight certain aspects of a system. And Torrens deserves to be highlighted.
10. 3B Miguel Andujar
Naturally could have gone any number of directions with the No. 10 slot. Could have mentioned Manny Banuelos and his return from Tommy John surgery. Could have chosen Slade Heathcott, with an acknowledgement that his injuries might be too much to overcome. Could have gone with a guy like Bryan Mitchell as a relatively safe bet to play some kind of big league role. And could have gone with top 2013 draft pick Eric Jagielo after he showed impressive power during an injury-shortened season in Tampa. Instead, Baseball America went with another low-level guy in Andujar, who had a rough first half but reestablished himself with a .319/.367/.456 second-half slash line in Low-A Charleston. It’s an interesting choice for this spot on the list if only because he’s a guy who can easily go unnoticed. Clearly one of the better prospects in the system, but at this point in a ranking, it’s a matter of preference and who gets highlighted. Andujar joins Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr. as legitimate third base prospects in the organization.
Associated Press photo of Sanchez
The Arizona Fall League doesn’t really call this an all-star game, but it’s the best short-hand explanation I can think of. Essentially, a handful of AFL prospects are selected for an Fall Stars Game, setup much like an all-star game, with players from the East Division playing against the West Division.
One Yankees player was selected and — surprise, surprise — it’s the biggest name they sent Arizona this offseason.
Right fielder Aaron Judge will be a part of the Fall Stars Game. Fellow Yankees prospects Greg Bird and Tyler Austin each have better numbers in the Fall League — Bird is making an early bid for the MVP award, Austin recently started hitting for power again — but Judge is the choice, and he’ll play in an East Division outfield with the Twins’ Byron Buxton, one of the biggest names in the minors.
Judge is hitting .250/.311/.475 through his first 40 at-bats in Arizona.
Former Yankees prospect Peter O’Brien — traded to Arizona in the Martin Prado deal — was also picked the Fall Stars Game. He’s hitting .209/.414/.488 through 43 Fall League at-bats.
Earlier this week, Jim Callis wrote quite a bit about the Yankees currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. He understandably focused on breakout right field prospect Aaron Judge, noting that Judge is wrapping up the longest stretch of baseball he’s ever experienced.
Pro ball often forces a young player into a longer and more rigorous schedule than he’s used to, but Judge’s adjustment was delayed because of last year’s quadriceps injury.
“After you get drafted, you just want to show people who you are,” Judge told Callis. “It was kind of a blessing in disguise, though. I met a lot of great big leaguers while I was down in Tampa rehabbing. It kind of helped me with the mental side of baseball. Everyone’s going to have ups and downs, and just trying to stay even keel through that whole process is a huge part of it.”
Check out the Callis story. It has some basic scouting details on all of the Yankees players down in the Fall League.
A few other notes from winter leagues:
• The Yankees top first base prospect, Greg Bird, has played in 12 games in the Fall League, and he has a hit in every one of them. Four of those hits have been home runs. It’s an offense-heavy league, but a .333/.382/.627 is awfully good. The guy can hit. It’s not reflected in the numbers here, but Bird doubled in his first at-bat today, so make that a 13-game hitting streak.
• After getting time at right field, first base and third base in the minor leagues, Tyler Austin is getting some time in left field while on assignment in the Arizona Fall League. In fact, he’s playing left field again tonight (while Judge plays right). It will be his fourth turn in left field, which can’t be a bad thing for a guy who could earn some sort of big league role next season, possibly as a corner bench player. Austin’s had two hits and and two RBI in two of his past four games. Hasn’t shown much power so far, but after 36 at-bats his slash line is a not-bad .278/.366/.361.
• Interesting for Yankees fans that the Scottsdale team has often gone with Yankees prospects in the 2, 3 and 4 spots in the lineup — Austin, Judge, then Bird as the cleanup hitter. Judge has been in the No. 3 spot for each of his starts down in Arizona. He’s hitting .276/.313/.448 with eight RBI in seven games.
• Off to a slow start in Arizona, Dante Bichette Jr. has now reached base seven times in his past four games, which has helped his slash line. He’s still hitting just .226/.306/.226. Only 31 at-bats, though. In his MLB.com piece, Callis notes that Bichette might eventually end up as a DH. The bat is his ticket to the big leagues. Needs the power that he showed his first season of pro ball.
• As expected, catcher Kyle Higashioka is only getting occasional playing time down in Arizona (he’s part of the roster that’s only occasionally active) but he’s making the most of it so far. Through two games, Higashioka has five hits, a home run and a stolen base. The Yankees have long liked his defensive ability, but he’s never shown much offense at all in the lower minors.
• The group picked by the Yankees for the Fall League is heavy on position players, and the pitchers sent to Arizona remain somewhat underwhelming statistically. Alex Smith has allowed at least one earned run in each of his five outings and currently has an 11.81 ERA with more walks (6) than strikeouts (4). … Caleb Cotham has 10 strikeouts and just two walks through seven innings. He also has a 7.71 ERA. Last time he pitched was Monday when Cotham allowed six hits and three earned runs through two innings. … Kyle Haynes hasn’t pitched since Saturday. Through 5.2 innings, he has yet to be charged with an earned run, but he’s allowed three unearned. Has a solid 1.24 WHIP. Tiny sample size, of course.
• Looking for more encouraging pitching numbers? Reliever Diego Moreno, who had some solid moments with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, has pitched well as a closer in the Venezuelan Winter League. He’s 4-for-4 in save opportunities, and he’s allowed just two hits through 5.1 innings. He recently re-signed a minor league deal to return to the Yankees system.
• Also down in Venezuela, Cuban outfielder Adonis Garcia continues to be the regular left fielder and usual No. 3 or 4 hitter for Navegantes del Magallanes. He’s hit for a strong average and stolen a couple of bases, but Garcia’s still waiting for the winter power to show up. He’s hitting .283/.313/.304. Last winter he hit .325/.347/.502 in Venezuela.
• After getting just six winter at-bats last year, and 13 at-bats the year before, young outfielder Ramon Flores continues to get fairly regular playing time this winter. Two weeks into the Venezuelan season, Flores has played in seven games and hit .333/.429/.500 through 18 at-bats. If he weren’t left-handed, Flores might be an even stronger candidate for the Yankees bench next season. As it is, some winter playing time couldn’t hurt after missing so much time this season with an ankle injury.
• Notable at least partially because of the Yankees total lack of standout shortstop prospects in the upper levels, utility type Ali Castillo continues to hit in Venezuela. He’s playing shortstop everyday — he was the regular shortstop for Trenton this year — and he’s hitting .395/.429/.447 through 38 at-bats in 10 games. He’s also stolen five bases in seven attempts. He’s been hitting leadoff. The same winter ball team used Castillo all over the infield and hit him ninth last year.
Some winter leagues have not even started yet, and the ones that have started are only a week or so into their schedules, so these updates come with really small sample sizes. But almost three weeks into the season, perhaps it’s nice to see some actual stats from young Yankees who are still playing actual baseball games. Here are a few winter and fall league updates.
• Getting regular turns as his team’s cleanup hitter, Greg Bird is off to a strong start down in the Arizona Fall League. The Yankees top first base prospect has a hit in each of his first seven games, he started with a four-RBI performance in the Fall opener, he had two hits and a walk last night, and he’s so far hitting .379/.438/.586 in an admittedly tiny sample size. It’s always dangerous to make too much of Arizona Fall League results — and that’s especially true after 29 at-bats — but Bird’s been good so far. Better than the alternative, I suppose.
• Interesting Scottsdale Scorpions lineup last night if only because it had Tyler Austin in left field. That’s relevant because Austin has actually never played left field in the minor leagues. He’s played the other corners — first base, third base, right field — but he’d never seen time in left until this Fall. He played left field on Monday and again on Wednesday. Probably not a huge leap for Austin to move to the other outfield corner, but for a player who could hit his way into a big league role at some point next year, being able to play left field and bring some right-handed balance to the outfield would be a plus.
• Each time that Austin has played left field, it’s opened right field for another Yankees prospect, Aaron Judge. Last night, Judge homered and drove in two runs. So far, Austin has gotten more Fall League at-bats. Might stay that way considering Judge had more regular season at-bats and, in theory, has less need to play regularly this Fall.
• Catcher Kyle Higashioka is only a part-time player in Arizona — rosters down there have guys who aren’t active for every game — but he made the most of his first bit of playing time. He started a game last weekend and went 3-for-5 with a home run. Needs playing time and plenty of production to get back on the fringes of the prospect radar after injuries and unimpressive seasons. The Yankees other Fall League position player, Dante Bichette Jr., is playing fairly regularly but still has fewer than 20 at-bats and just three hits. Doesn’t mean much.
• The Yankees have far more high-profile hitters than pitchers in the Fall League this year. A quick update, though, on the guys on the mound: Caleb Cotham made his third appearance last night and went two hitless innings. He allowed two homers in his first Fall outing, so this was a step in the right direction. Seems like every year a Yankees pitcher gets absolutely rocked in the Fall League, and it might be Alex Smith who has that unfortunate distinction this year. Through three outings, Smith has this line: 2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 22.50 ERA and a .533 opponents batting average. Much, much better numbers for late Fall League assignee Kyle Haynes. His line through three outings: 4.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. Covering the AFL for Baseball America, Josh Norris reported that Haynes has a 93-95 mph fastball with an mid- to upper-80s slider and changeup.
• Presumably because of his age and relative inexperience, outfield prospect Ramon Flores has rarely gotten many at-bats with his Venezuelan Winter League team. So far this winter season, though, Flores is playing pretty regularly. Might change as we get deeper into the winter season, but Flores has 15 at-bats so far, and that’s more than he had an either of the past two winters. He’s played both center field and left field, and some regular winter playing time would be a good thing for a guy who missed a lot of time this season with an ankle injury. Flores has a spot on the 40-man roster and he does a lot of things well, so he really could come into spring training with a chance to push for some sort of big league role. Winter at-bats probably won’t hurt.
• Adonis Garcia is used to getting regular winter at-bats, and this year he’s been the everyday left fielder and No. 3 hitter for the Navegantes del Magallanes in Venezuela. Hasn’t hit for much power yet — just 29 at-bats into the season — but last winter he slugged .502, so there’s reason to think the power will arrive. Last winter, Garcia got a ton of time at second base and third base during winter ball. It’ll be interesting to see whether that happens again this winter. Garcia got a solid amount of third base playing time with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, so it seems the Yankees haven’t completely ruled out some sort of infield flexibility.
• Dominican Winter League gets started tonight and the Puerto Rican Winter League gets started at the very end of this month. For now, here a few other Yankees minor leaguers who are already playing in Venezuela (and all playing for the same team, no less): Trenton shortstop Ali Castillo is hitting .313 through 16 at-bats while pretty regularly playing shortstop for Zulia, recently re-signed catcher Francisco Arcia has five RBI through five games as Zulia’s regular behind the plate, and recently re-signed reliever Diego Moreno already has three saves with a 0.75 WHIP as one of Zulia’s go-to late-inning options.
Associated Press photo of Flores
The good people over at Baseball America — including our old friend Josh Norris — have completed their Top 20 prospect lists for each league. The lists are free, but the scouting reports are behind a worthwhile pay wall. Along with each detailed list, Baseball America also shows it’s Top 20 lists for each league from five years ago. It’s a nice bit of perspective on what might (or might not) happen down the road. Here are the Yankees prospects who made Baseball America’s cut.
13. Rob Refsnyder, 2B
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster had a lot of young, in-house players this season — of the 13 players with 200 at-bats, nine were homegrown — but it didn’t have many of the organization’s high-end prospects. Refsnyder was the biggest exception, and he made Baseball America’s cut. Since the scouting reports are behind a pay wall, I’m not going to give many details, but there are no real surprises in the BA write-up about Refsnyder. He’s a work-in-progress at second base, but he can hit.
Five years ago: Interestingly, the No. 13 IL prospect five years ago was Jose Tabata. At the time he was in Triple-A with the Pirates, but he’d spent most of his developmental years with the Yankees. He’s developed into a useful but not great big leaguer.
Off the list: Although they’re promising young starters, neither Shane Greene nor Bryan Mitchell has ever gotten much prospect hype beyond the hope and expectations of those inside the Yankees organization. Neither made Baseball America’s IL list (to be fair, Greene was actually better in the big leagues than in the minors this season). Jose Pirela, Ramon Flores, Kyle Roller and John Ryan Murphy were also left off. Again, no surprises there.
11. Gary Sanchez, C
Considering how much attention his bat gets, it’s easy to be underwhelmed by Sanchez’s .270/.338/.406 slash line in Double-A this year. It’s also easy to be concerned with the fact he was benched for disciplinary reasons mid-season. The Yankees, though, will point out that at 21 years old, Sanchez is still maturing as a person and as a player. BA’s ranking reflects that. Big hitting potential, strong arm, questions about makeup and receiving ability.
Five years ago: The Eastern League’s 11th-best prospect five years ago, according to Baseball America, was right-handed pitcher Hector Rondon. Converted to the bullpen, he had a great year as the Cubs closer this season. If Sanchez becomes the catching version of a good young closer, that’s a big win for the Yankees.
13. Rob Refsnyder, 2B
Funny that he fell at the exact same spot for each league in which he qualified. Refsnyder was a monster during his relatively brief stint in the Eastern League. Again, there’s little mystery in a scouting report. Refsnyder can hit. He’s still learning to play second.
Five years ago: No. 13 on this list in 2009 was Mets first baseman Ike Davis. A year later he was in the big leagues and looked like a pretty good player. Today he’s been traded away and looks like he might not have enough bat for his position.
Off the list: Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott have lost their grip on lists like this one. A half season of production from Tyler Austin wasn’t enough to make the cut, and it seems the jury is still out on whether Manny Banuelos can regain his old traction and his former ceiling. A lot of interesting players in Trenton this year, just not very many reliable ones.
Florida State League
15. Aaron Judge, RF
Top position prospect in the Yankees system is surely a debate between Judge and Sanchez. Both generate raves for their offensive power potential, and in his pro debut, Judge seemed to impress everyone with his patience and command of the strike zone. He also seems to have the range and plenty of arm strength to stick in right field without a need to move to first base or designated hitter. It’s been only one year, but Judge has earned the attention.
Five years ago: A Twins right-hander named David Bromberg ranked 15th on Baseball America’s FSL list five years ago. He’d been excellent that season, and he got to Triple-A the next year, but he has yet to make his major-league debut. The lesson: A lot can happen between High-A and the big leagues.
Off the list: Don’t want to reveal too much about the scouting reports, but in writing about Judge, BA did note that his fellow 2013 draftee Eric Jagielo also “had supporters among league observers.” Greg Bird is also a name that was worth consideration for this list. Jake Cave probably doesn’t have the perceived ceiling for a list like this, and Luis Severino wasn’t in the league long enough to qualify.
South Atlantic League
4. Luis Severino, RHP
Baseball America noted that it was basically a toss-up between Severino and Reynaldo Lopez for the second-best pitching prospect in the league (former 16th-overall draft pick Lucas Giolito was at the top of BA’s list). Severino began to make a name for himself last year, and this was the year he really emerged as one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. The Yankees have even left open the possibility of Severino pitching his way to New York as early as next season. The kid is really, really good.
Five years ago: A’s catcher Derek Norris ranked fourth on BA’s Sally list in 2009, and he’s become a pretty good big league regular. It’s worth noting that, at the time, Norris ranked between a pair of Rays prospects: pitcher Matt Moore and shortstop Tim Beckham. Hard to peg guys when they’re this young.
8. Aaron Judge, RF
Ranks a little higher on the Low-A list than the did on the High-A list, but the scouting reports read about the same: Lots of tools, good approach, enough defense for right field. Baseball America does note that Judge was expected to take advantage of inexperienced Low-A pitchers and did exactly that.
Five years ago: Back in 2009 the eighth name on this list was a White Sox outfielder named Jared Mitchell, a first-round pick who was hurt the next year and still hasn’t reached the big leagues. He did do a nice job getting on base in Double-A and Triple-A this year, though. Was a huge White Sox prospect when he was younger. No. 9 five years ago was Manny Banuelos.
15. Ian Clarkin, LHP
As I’ve said, I don’t want to give away much of these scouting reports, but I will note that Baseball America gave Clarkin credit for being one of the “safer bets” among South Atlantic League pitchers. They go into detail about his stuff and mechanics, all of which would be welcome words for the Yankees. Clarkin is fully healthy and ready to roll after missing some early time because of injuries. He was another first-rounder in 2013 along with Judge and Jagielo. Still very young.
Five years ago: Here’s the risk of getting too excited about a young prospect, especially a pitcher: Five years ago, Baseball America had a college draftee named Dexter Carter in this spot on the SAL list. He never made it out of A ball and wound up released before the 2012 season.
Off the list: A lot of sleeper-type prospects hanging around that Charleston roster this season. Shortstops Tyler Wade and Abiatal Avelino, third baseman Miguel Andujar, and underperfoming second baseman Gosuke Katoh. There’s also a pitcher named Brady Lail who the Yankees like, but who’s not likely to land on a list like this one.
New York-Penn League
4. Luis Torrens, C
An 18-year-old out of Venezuela, Torrens was extremely young for this level (Baseball American notes that he was the youngest player in the league this year), and he generates raves for his defensive work. He has a huge arm, he’s apparently has an advanced feel for catching, and there’s promise in the bat. Last month, Mark Newman noted that there are those who believe Torrens will ultimately be the best everyday catcher in the Yankees farm system — and that’s a deep position — but he’s too young to think of him as a remotely finished product. A ton of promise, and a lot of good stuff in place already, just needs time and patience.
Five years ago: A pretty good cautionary tale, five years ago it was another young catcher named Sebastian Valle who ranked fourth on Baseball America’s list of NYP-League prospects. He was also a teenager — more bat than glove — and the Phillies liked him, but his bat has diminished considerably and Valle has yet to reach the big leagues. Not even on the 40-man. Adam Warren ranked 12th on this list five years ago.
Off the list: In a chat, Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt mentioned that no other Yankees were particularly close to making the New York-Penn list — though he did go into specifics about quite a few other Yankees prospects, so check that out — but it’s worth wondering if Ty Hensley might have pitched his way into the mix had he thrown enough innings to qualify. He was awfully good in a small sample size.
Gulf Coast League
4. Jorge Mateo, SS
The Yankees love this kid. Incredible amount of speed, there’s a belief that he’ll be perfectly fine staying at shortstop, and he has real tools pretty much across the board. This was an international investment back in 2012, and Mateo is quickly becoming one of the real high-ceiling prospects in the system. A long way to go, but Mateo has real high-end potential. He’s 19 years old and has a chance to be — eventually — the shortstop of the future.
Five years ago: This is a promising comparison. Rookie-level kids are hard to predict, but five years ago, Baseball America ranked a fairly raw but talented pitcher name Jarred Cosart as the fourth-best prospect in the GCL. He’s since emerged as a good young starting pitcher, first with Houston and now with Miami. Hard to bank on kids this young, but some of them clear all the hurdles. Yankees are hoping that’s the case with Mateo.
15. Angel Aguilar, SS
What is it with the Yankees landing at No. 4 and No. 15 on these lists? Weird. But the addition of Aguilar actually fits well with the Yankees minor league system because the team has really built a lot of low-level depth at shortstop. They’ve focused on the position with a flurry of recent international signings. Aguilar signed in 2012 and hit .311/.373/.536 in his first season playing in the United States. Intriguing bat for a guy who seems to have a chance to stick at shortstop.
Five years ago: Would it mean anything to you to find out that the 15th player on the GCL list five years ago was a guy named Brooks Pounders? He was a second-round pick out of high school and now has fewer than 20 starts above Class A. Incredible amount of uncertainty with rookie ball players.
Off the list: Extremely young even for rookie ball, center fielder Leonardo Molina put up ugly GCL number this year but could get another shot next year (when he’ll still be young for the level). The Yankees like him, but recognize that he was probably pushed over his head this season. Third-rounder Austin DeCarr had a promising stint in the GCL but didn’t make Baseball America’s cut.