How’s everyone doing out there in the snow? If you’re stuck at home, here are a few Yankees minor league links and notes that are worth having on your radar.
Pretty surprising news out of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre today. The Railriders announced that Rob Crain is out as team president and general manager. Executive vice president Jeremy Ruby will step into the GM role for the time being, at least through the 2015 season. Crain had been with Scranton/Wilkes-Bare since 2012, and though I only knew him a little bit, he seemed like a good guy for the spot. I will say, however, that Ruby has been with that Triple-A organization for years including previous time as general manager, and I always thought he was perfect in that role. He played the game at a pretty high level, his father is a longtime pitching coach, and both players and staff seem to really like dealing with him.
• There are always a lot of prospect rankings around this time of year, and Kiley McDaniel has come up with an absurdly detailed Yankees list over at FanGraphs. McDaniel ranked his top 35, then kept going with mild scouting reports for another 30 or so others in the Yankees system. “Tampa Bay is the only other team with close to this kind of depth,” McDaniel wrote, “but the Yankees have two top-end talents (RHP Luis Severino and RF Aaron Judge) that the Rays can’t match, which helps separate the Bombers from Tampa Bay and other deep systems. Right now, I have the Yankees as the 10th best system in baseball, but with the bulk of high upside young talent and five of the top six prospects likely returning to next year’s list making it better than 50/50 that they’ll be even higher next year.”
• Speaking of absurdly detailed, this list Patrick Teale is still working through his individual scouting reports over at Pinstripes Plus, but his Top 50 list has been posted for a while. Patrick sees a lot of the really young kids in the system, and he’s never been afraid to break from conventional thinking in putting his list together. I have Patrick’s list bookmarked every year. That alone is worth the subscription fee.
• To go with McDaniel’s ranking, FanGraphs has also published a list of the five Yankees prospects projected to have the highest big league WAR this season. Might be surprised to see John Ryan Murphy and Gary Sanchez tied — Sanchez gets a lot more hype than Murphy — but it probably comes as little surprise to see Rob Refsnyder at No. 1. Ramon Flores projects at slightly above replacement, which seems to make sense. Really does seem like a solid fourth outfield candidate (though not a great fit on the current roster because he hits left-handed).
• Over at MLB.com, the good folks who handle MLB Pipeline are ranking the top five prospects at each position. Greg Bird came in at No. 3 among all first basemen, and Rob Refsnyder was seventh among second basemen (right behind Devon Travis, the guy traded from Detroit to Toronto this offseason). I’m not surprised that neither Eric Jagielo nor Miguel Andujar cracked the top 10 at third base, though I was a little surprised to see Gary Sanchez fall out of the top 10 at catcher (his numbers haven’t been overwhelming, but he’s still so young for his level). Shortstops and outfield rankings are coming later this week (wonder if Jorge Mateo or Aaron Judge will make the top 10). MLB.com has already ranked its top 10 right-handed and left-handed pitchers. Luis Severino came in seventh among right-handers, but Jacob Lindgren didn’t make the list among lefties (even Royals standout Brandon Finnegan barely made top 10).
• Finally, he’s not a Yankees prospect — at least, not yet — but this winter has brought a lot of worthwhile focus on Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada. Both McDaniel and Baseball America’s Ben Badler have taken a look at what’s keeping Moncada from clearing the final government hurdle that would make him eligible to sign. McDaniel suggests it’s all about U.S. policy and perhaps some concern that Moncada could funnel money back to the Cuban government (maybe that’s why Cuba let him leave in the first place), but Badler says bluntly that “Major League Baseball, not the United States government, is the reason that Yoan Moncada and several other Cuban players have yet to begin their careers.”
UPDATE: Our good friend Jeff Passan has weighed in with more on Moncada, including this key bit of information: “One league source estimated Yoan Moncada could be a free agent as soon as two weeks from now should MLB square away its concerns with OFAC.” Making Moncada a free agent within two weeks should give the Yankees plenty of time to be involved in the bidding.
Associated Press photo
With Slade Heathcott re-signed to a minor league deal, the Yankees now have a ton of outfield depth, but still not the kind of depth that necessitates a trade or a particularly difficult decision. It’s not like the Francisco Cervelli situation in which the Yankees have a player with a defined value, along with the need to move someone in order to open up the proper at-bats for everyone else. Here’s a rough look at the Yankees top upper-level outfielders. Each comes with some good, some bad, and some reason — either because of the team’s needs or because of his own value — that limits his trade possibilities.
The good: Already a borderline Hall of Famer expected to be healthy again after last year’s elbow injury.
The bad: About to turn 38 years old — are we sure last year’s .703 OPS was strictly the product of injury?
Trade him? Not a lot of trade value in an aging player, coming of a bad year, with $30 million left on his deal.
The good: Signed a hefty deal last winter and more or less delivered an as-expected season in his Yankees debut.
The bad: Even coming off a solid season, seven years and $153 million is a massive contract.
Trade him? Might be the best position player on the roster right now.
The good: Power numbers spiked, and for a while he looked like a better player than Ellsbury last year.
The bad: Still a rather streaky player with limited power for a corner outfielder.
Trade him? Might be the most valuable trade chip on the big league roster, but also signed to a reasonable extension.
The good: History of left-handed power with an ability to backup first base, right field and designated hitter.
The bad: Turns 34 in June and his power numbers have been down the past two seasons.
Trade him? Would be more of a salary dump than an actual effort to get anything valuable in return (also provides first base insurance).
The good: Returns to bring right-handed balance after reestablishing himself with a terrific September.
The bad: Other than one good month, last season was bad enough to get him released … by the Mets.
Trade him? Plays a role the Yankees need as a veteran right-handed bat with power and speed off the bench.
The good: Last year’s terrific second half brought back memories of how good a hitter he was earlier in his career.
The bad: A wrist injury contributed to much less exciting numbers before that second-half resurgence.
Trade him? Of all the outfielders ticketed for Triple-A, Austin probably has the most offensive impact potential.
The good: Left-handed hitters with speed and some defensive flexibility; looks like a nice fourth outfielder down the road.
The bad: Coming off an ankle injury and isn’t a great fit while Gardner and Ellsbury are on the roster.
Trade him? Low power potential probably limits his value to more of a second or third piece in a significant trade.
The good: Right-handed hitter who’s shown some speed, defense and on-base ability in the minor leagues.
The bad: Plucked off waivers, suggesting he was not exactly a high commodity (also put up bad winter ball numbers this year).
Trade him? Value is pretty low just a few months after being placed on the waiver wire; DFA might be more likely than a trade.
The good: Offensive utility man put himself back on the prospect map — and in the big league picture — with a terrific Triple-A season.
The bad: Can’t really play shortstop and hasn’t really established whether he hits enough to keep a job in the big leagues.
Trade him? First and foremost, he seems to have a legitimate shot at the big league second base job heading into spring training.
The good: Speed and defense were deemed major-league ready, enough to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this winter.
The bad: Hasn’t hit the past two years, doing a number on his once elite prospect status.
Trade him? Would be selling awfully low — Williams no longer has the value to remotely headline a significant deal.
The good: Might have surpassed Williams and Heathcott as the system’s top center field prospect.
The bad: Doesn’t have overwhelming speed or power, and doesn’t have more than 42 games above A ball.
Trade him? Could be a nice complementary trade piece; could also be the most viable center fielder in the minor league system.
The good: The guys gets on base way too much to ignore; played his way out of the shadows and up to Triple-A last year.
The bad: Never a standout prospect, doesn’t run much, very little power, has spent more time in left field than center.
Trade him? Has never moved the needle among prospect watchers, suggesting his stock is too low to be considered a real chip.
The good: Has been a solid hitter throughout the minor leagues, even when easily overshadowed by other prospects.
The bad: Always kind of a sleeper prospect, but not one who’s forced people to really wake up and take notice.
Trade him? Hasn’t done nearly enough; could more easily simply become a Double-A bench player behind all of this depth.
The good: Has been a pretty nice hitter both in Triple-A and in winter ball (able to play center field and third base in a pinch).
The bad: Turns 30 years old in April so the upside is probably limited.
Trade him? Sure, if some team values a 30-year-old with no major league experience; could be another Ronnier Mustelier.
The good: No one seems to question the former first-round pick’s raw talent and ultimate potential.
The bad: Just can’t stay healthy, which has cost valuable development time; hard to gauge his ceiling at this point.
Trade him? Was a free agent until yesterday; if another team valued him highly, he probably wouldn’t have come back.
The good: After a standout first full season, he emerged as the top offensive prospect in the entire minor league system.
The bad: Ultimately we’re talking about fewer than 500 minor league at-bats; he’s promising but unproven.
Trade him? Plenty of value here, but Judge could be the best middle-of-the-order bat the Yankees have developed since Robinson Cano.
Associated Press photos
Whether it was right or wrong, I’m still not sure, but it was certainly interesting yesterday to hear Brian Cashman talk about the value of a 2015 draft pick, despite the fact it’s coming at the cost of one of the Yankees most successful draft picks of the past decade.
“You saw how quickly the (Ian) Clarkins and (Aaron) Judges have climbed the prospect list,” Cashman said. “Once we got (Andrew) Miller, it created a circumstance for us where Miller plus the draft pick weighed out for us as we move forward as a better buy than having to go all-in on (Dave) Robertson.”
It was not by random chance that Cashman used Clarkin and Judge to illustrate his point. By letting Robertson leave, the Yankees will get a sandwich pick at the end of next year’s first round. Clarkin and Judge were sandwich picks just two years ago — compensation for losing Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano — and they have emerged as two of the top prospects in the system. Judge is the team’s No. 1 prospect according to the latest rankings from Baseball Prospectus. Clarkin is No. 4 on that list.
There seems to be a sort of turning of the page happening with the Yankees system. Aside from Brett Gardner’s extension during spring training, there has been no effort to keep the most recent homegrown core in place, but there has been a renewed focus on building a new core that might trickle onto the big league roster in the next year or so.
Francisco Cervelli has been traded away. Same for Shane Greene. Robertson was allowed to leave via free agency. So were Phil Hughes and Robinson Cano. It’s not that the Yankees are intentionally getting rid of these players — and let’s not pretend they had some new version of the Core Four in place — but the Yankees are not putting overwhelming emphasis on keeping the homegrown players who have already reached the big leagues. Being homegrown is not reason enough to commit.
“I wouldn’t say we let Cano walk,” Cashman said. “He was taken with a significant offer. I don’t really look at it as if we’ve let anyone walk. In this case, I don’t think Robertson had anything to do with Cano. Robertson we did not make an offer. We made a significant one on Robbie. Obviously Seattle stepped up and blew the field away.”
On the other hand, the Yankees do seem committed to keeping their minor league prospects in hopes of having waves of young talent reach the big leagues soon. They have not sacrificed Judge or Clarkin or Luis Severino this offseason. Even at the most recent trade deadline, the only minor league talent the Yankees lost was a player without a clear positional path to the big leagues (Peter O’Brien) and a pitcher with plummeting stock whose new team didn’t even protect him from the Rule 5 draft (Rafael DePaula).
Again, not saying it’s right or wrong — certainly there are timing and other roster issues in play here — only that it’s interesting to see the Yankees clearly trying to build from within, while whatever homegrown foundation was put in place in recent years seems mostly expendable (Gardner, Ivan Nova and Dellin Betances might be the exceptions).
“It’s a different system that we’re operating in, there’s no doubt about it,” Cashman said. “Obviously I think the game has evolved to a level where all teams are in play, whether you’re looking down in Miami and seeing the extension they gave to their home-grown talent, which probably 10 years ago wasn’t feasible.”
With a different system comes different methods and different players, and if all goes well, that will create a different homegrown core on the Yankees roster in the near future.
“I would think the fan base is connected to the pinstripes and hopefully the winning teams that we always intend to put on the field,” Cashman said. “Obviously if we get quality players, (reporters) will write quality stories, and (fans) will get to know them better, and they’ll bond with them, whoever they may be.”
Associated Press photos
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.