November 28, 2016
New York Yankees Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: 200 million dollar payroll, 200 million prospects.
The Top Ten
The Big Question: Are the Yankees responsible for the international draft?
It’s CBA time, and the main points of contention between labor and ownership seem to be the qualifying offer and the implementation of an international draft. The MLBPA has never been shy about selling out the interests of non-members to get concessions from ownership—like the elimination of the QO or a 26th roster spot—but an international draft is particularly contentious. Ownership is never above legislating their own cost savings on amateur talent, even as they continue to spend eight and nine figures on the free agent market.
Billionaires trying to legislate cost savings generally need a better media plan than “we want to spend less on the on-field product you consume.” The most common way this is couched is with the phrase “competitive balance.” This is the same reason the luxury tax exists, and that you occasionally hear talk of instituting a salary cap. The idea being that left to their own devices, the rich teams will just buy all the best players and negatively affect the competitive balance of the league. The Yankees are a useful boogeyman for this, even after some relative belt-tightening under the Steinbrenner filiorum.
Which takes us to the international draft and specifically the Yanks international free agent class of 2014, where they signed 10 of the top 30 J2 prospects, per Baseball America, and 52 players in total, almost a third of whom they gave six figure or better deals. Insert Simpsons “Think of the Children” dot gif here if you like.
Of course we won’t even know if this works for another three or four years. None of the players signed that Summer are on this year’s top ten list. Many of them haven’t even come stateside yet. The best of the class scuffled a bit in Danville as teenagers. The Cubs recent spending sprees suffer from the same prognostication issues, though the 2013 class is already paying dividends. Of course whether it works or not, there’s the optics of it to deal with.
But that means ignoring that the biggest IFA bonuses of the last two classes have been given out by the Rays and the Braves. Or that the Padres have been one of the more aggressive teams internationally under A.J. Preller. Or that the Twins signed Miguel Sano and the A’s signed Michael Ynoa. There is plenty of money to go around in the game right now— just ask Jason Castro— and the money going to sixteen-year old Latin kids is the least of it as it is.
1. Gleyber Torres, SS
The Good: Torres was the party piece in the Aroldis Chapman deal, and it is easy to see why. He has an advanced bat for a 19-year-old. Plus bat speed with some loft, and he’s already strong enough to hit balls out even when not buoyed by the desert air. Potential 6/6 offensive profile. Infield actions are good and the arm is strong enough that it’s not impossible he sticks at short, although he’d be below-average there.
The Bad: Torres is unlikely to stick at shortstop even in organizations without Addison Russell or Didi Gregorius. He lacks the first step or overall range—he’s a below-average runner—to grade out at average for short, but could be above-average at second or third. There’s debate internally over his ultimate power projection. If he’s more of a 10-15 home run hitter, that is less enticing if he has to move left or right on the dirt.
The Irrelevant: Gleyber Torres was the 2016 AFL MVP. Other recent winners include Kris Bryant, Greg Bird, and Adam Engel.
OFP 70—All-star infielder...somewhere
The Risks: Torres is only 19 and yet to see Double-A, but he seems less risky than that profile. The hit tool is advanced, and he’s an overall polished player as opposed to a “projectable teenager.”
Major League ETA: 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I get it. You saw the OFP, you know Torres’ name and you’re dreaming of his offensive output in Yankee Stadium. I can’t blame you. Just keep in mind the very real possibility that Torres won’t end up at short, as well as the chance that his power never fully develops. Could you still use a third baseman who hits .280-plus with 15 homers? Of course you could, but you wouldn’t say that player is a top-10 dynasty prospect. Torres needs to take a step forward defensively or in terms of pop to enter the upper echelon of truly excellent fantasy prospects. Until then, he’ll have to settle for being merely a very good one.
2. Clint Frazier, OF
The Good: Freakish bat speed. Easy plus power with potential for more. One of the few right-handed hitters whose swing gets described as pretty or beautiful. Excellent overall athlete, above-average runner, and aggressive, physical player. Looks and feels the part of a superstar. Frazier has as much overall offensive upside as any player still in the minors...
The Bad: ...but for a player that’s reached Triple-A without being rushed, he’s still fairly far from the upside, especially on the hit tool. There’s just too much swing-and-miss still present, and there’s no singular, easily fixable cause. He’s gotten better at picking up spin, but he’s still not great at picking up spin. His swing path is a little shorter to the ball with a quieter pre-swing hitch, but it’s still not short and there’s still a hitch. And he’s toned back the aggressiveness trying to jack everything a mile, but he’s still pretty aggressive. Defensively, it looks like he’s going to be in a corner full-time by the time he hits The Show.
The Irrelevant: The Yanks leaked a Mike Trout comp for Frazier after trading for him. That seems irrelevant for the purpose of this write-up.
OFP 70—A perennial All-Star corner outfielder
The Risks: The hitting and approach is either going to click at some point, or it won’t and he’ll always be reaching for an upside that keeps slipping through his fingers. Frazier is talented enough that even if it doesn’t all click, we still project him as a likely regular, but low-average corner outfielders that hit for good-but-not-great power aren’t exactly special either. There’s some downside risk that MLB-quality spin just totally eats his lunch and he’s not even that.
Major League ETA: 2017 —Jarrett Seidler
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Bret Sayre and I have been the highest on Frazier among all MiLB enthusiasts for quite some time now. A good performance in Double-A and a trade to an organization that provides favorable offensive contextual factors hasn’t changed that, oddly enough. I agree with the sentiment that Frazier is likely to frustrate at times, but if he can do so while hitting 20-plus homers, stealing 10-plus bases and both producing and scoring runs, we’ll get over it. Frazier is a legitimate candidate to be an OF2 in his best years, and he’s a borderline top-10 overall dynasty asset.
3. Jorge Mateo, SS
The Good: With plus bat speed and quick, strong wrists, Mateo isn’t your slapper-speed type. He has exceptional bat control, and his approach and discipline improved over the course of the year. There is potential for a plus hit tool but he still struggles with getting too aggressive, as well as recognizing off-speed. Mateo is a pure 80 runner and his speed is an intimidating force for opponents, forcing defenders to work faster and make them uncomfortable. His plus throwing arm plays well, as does his lateral range in getting to hit balls.
The Bad: While his wrists are strong, Mateo will never develop much over the fence power, so he will have to rely on his speed for extra bases. His defense at short is fringe-average currently, as he doesn’t have the softest hands and tends to get too quick. He doesn’t play the ball on the best hops, causing some awkward moments in the field. Despite top of the scale speed, his baserunning is raw due to poor jumps and reads, as well as better pitcher-catcher pop times. His makeup and discipline have been called into question at times, notably resulting in a two-week suspension this year after he supposedly expressed displeasure that some of his teammates (i.e. Billy Fleming, Abiatal Avelino, Miguel Andujar among others) were promoted to Double-A Trenton before he was.
The Irrelevant: Mateo’s 36 stolen bases were a far cry from his 82 last year, which led the minors.
OFP 60—Quality regular at SS
The Risks: Mateo’s defensive home is a bit of a question mark following the addition of Gleyber Torres. He needs to make better use of his speed to maximize his potential when he gets on base and wherever it is he ends up defensively. There are some kinks to work out in regards to toning down his approach at the plate.
Major League ETA: Late 2018 —Steve Givarz
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I’m the guy who’s gone all-in on Roman Quinn, Jose Peraza, and Billy Hamilton at various points, so you can probably guess how I feel about Mateo. He probably has the best hit tool of the whole bunch, and I’m confident the bat will play enough for Mateo to use his top-end speed. Swiping 40-plus bases covers a lot of sins in fantasy, and Mateo could easily spend many years as a top-10 shortstop or elite MI option. Make like your 90s boy band enthusiast who struggles with homophones and buy, buy, buy.
4. Blake Rutherford, OF
The Good: Although he dropped some due to perceived bonus demands, Rutherford was arguably the best prep player in the draft. He has a pure, left-handed hitting stroke, and while there is only average power in his frame at present, he could easily add some strength and pop as he gets older, and the hit tool should allow whatever he ends up with to play in games. He’s an above-average runner at present, and while I’d expect him to lose a step as he ages and fills out, it’s an athletic frame and his speed should settle in at average.
The Bad: Rutherford is only passable in center field at present even with his footspeed and is likely to move to a corner by the time he steps foot on a major league diamond. He’s already 19, and there is some evidence that may limit his ceiling. The profile is more present polish than projection regardless, and while he should be a good regular, he lacks the upside of the names above him.
The Irrelevant: As you’d expect from a Southern California kid, Rutherford is a lifelong Yankees fan.
OFP 60—First-division outfielder
The Risks: He’s only played in rookie ball so far (though you can’t poo-poo the results). His season ended a little early with a hamstring issue, which is probably nothing. If he’s not a center fielder, there will be—say it with me—increased pressure on the bat.
Major League ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Rutherford was probably a bit underrated as a dynasty asset headed into the draft. He’s several years away, but his hit tool and well-rounded offensive game mean you should buy in on the ground floor. There’s no star power here, but a future as an OF3 is very much in play. I continue to be a sucker for dynasty prospects with hit tools as their best assets.
5. Justus Sheffield, LHP
The Good: Sheffield reached Double-A in his age-20 season, even with the added hurdle of being traded mid-year as he was part of the return for Andrew Miller. He works from a three-quarters release with a clean arm action and some effort to the delivery. The fastball sits plus and will touch 95 with bore and sink. The changeup is a present average pitch with above-average potential capable of generating swings and misses. He throws a future above-average slider with a broad velocity range and slurvy break.
The Bad: The control lags behind the command, so there’s more feel to his offerings than consistency to throw strikes and limit walks. Both are likely to wind up being fringe-average to average in the best of cases. The offspeed offerings are almost entirely abandoned when the fastball struggles or there is pressure from runners on base.
The Irrelevant: He is not the nephew of Gary Sheffield, which apparently was a thing for a while.
OFP 60—Mid-Rotation Starter
The Risks: There is no clear-cut plus offering beyond the fastball and the fastball dependency when under duress is a possible signal of the trust (or lack thereof) in the deeper arsenal. There’s risk with the control/command growth. The frame is smaller—though athletic—and with some effort to the delivery, the ability to work deep into games is called into question; while only 20, he has yet to complete seven innings in his professional career.
Major League ETA: 2018 —Adam Hayes
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I like Sheffield’s fastball and that he’s already in Double-A, but right now I don’t see a long-term starter here*. I’d be ready to jump on the bandwagon at a moment’s notice in case one of the secondaries starts to stand out, but my money is on Sheffield ending up as a reliever. For dynasty purposes, I prefer the next pitcher on this list.
* Publishing this sentence all but assures that Sheffield will develop into a starter. You’re welcome, Yankees fans.
6. James Kaprielian, RHP
The Good: Kaprielian’s velocity jumped into the mid-90s in 2016. That’s a pretty nice turn of events for a college arm that already got raves for his polish and three potential average-or-better secondary offerings. Kaprielian has an ideal starter’s frame although...
The Bad: ...so far he has not had an ideal starter’s durability. He made only three starts in Tampa this year before being shut down with elbow inflammation that was later revealed to be a flexor strain. He popped back up in the AFL with the stuff intact, but until he throws a full season in the minors, the risk factor is going to keep him lower than the pitch and command grades would suggest.
The Irrelevant: My comp is not quite as lofty as this one.
OFP 60—No. 3 starter in the vein of Chad Billingsley
The Risks: The good news is Kaprielian didn’t need surgery to repair his flexor strain, and the stuff looked as good in the fall as it did in the spring. The bad news is he lost the entire summer, and he is still a pitcher.
Major League ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I mean... Chad Billingsley was good for a while? Kaprielian could move fairly quickly if his AFL stint is any indication, but his injury history is concerning. Still, given the attrition rate of all pitching prospects, you might as well gamble on the ones with upside, and Kaprielian has plenty of it. He should flirt with a top-100 ranking as a potential SP5 who misses bats, albeit one who’s still a season away and who comes with some medical red flags.
7. Aaron Judge, RF
The Good: Judge began the year repeating Triple-A and showed across the board improvement, most notably tapping into his plus-plus raw strength. That power comes from a mature, XXL frame that should make every catcher thankful for the modern collision rules, and pronounced forearm and wrist strength. He received a mid-August promotion and enticed the Yankee fanbase with a home run to dead center in his first game. In the field, Judge profiles as an average corner outfielder with plus arm strength.
The Bad: The bat is more fringy than average. There’s a lot of swing and miss to the approach, a natural tradeoff for the power output, that was exposed in his major-league trial. His speed is also fringy and likely to decline as his body ages. Defensively, there’s a positional limitation to the corners given the foot speed and some occasionally questionable routes. Additionally, some health question marks surfaced as he lost a month to a knee injury and ended the season on the disabled list with an oblique strain.
The Irrelevant: That first home run was pretty pretty pretty good.
OFP 55—Solid-Average Corner Outfielder
The Risks: Large human beings will have large strike zones; controlling that zone will be a perpetual question mark. The strikeout rate seen in his debut will decrease, but, with a limited hit tool and a swing-and-miss propensity, how much? His size and build are atypical for a position player and, for all the apparent strength, it’s difficult to confidently project how the body will hold up to the consistent grind of a season, especially with the injury woes of this past year.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2016 —Adam Hayes
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. There’s a chance Judge’s swing-and-miss precludes him from tapping into his power the way we all want him too. But there’s also a chance Judge routinely challenges for 30-plus homers in Yankee Stadium. Per ESPN’s Player Rater, Jay Bruce managed to finish as the 33rd-best outfielder last season by hitting .250 with 33 homers and 99 RBI. That type of production could be in play for Judge sooner rather than later, making him an easy top-25 fantasy prospect.
8. Albert Abreu, RHP
The Good: Another Yankees prospect with a big fastball, although this one is a very recent addition. Abreu’s heater can get up into the mid-90s and it is a wormburning offering with sink and run. All the secondaries improved across 2016, the best of which is a potential plus curveball, but both the slider and change have good shots to be useful major league offerings.
The Bad: The stuff is great. The command of the stuff...well. Abreu struggles to throw strikes with his fastball and his mechanics can generally be inconsistent. That is the kind of thing you can iron out, but until he does he will be a bit riskier than you'd expect from a dude with this kind of stuff.
The Irrelevant: The last offseason trade between the Yankees and Astros involved Xaiver Hernandez and Andy Stankiewicz.
OFP 55—Mid-rotation starter who flashes more at times
The Risks: Abreu’s stuff is already pretty far along for a guy who has only been able to legally drink for a month. It's a major league arm and a quality one at that, but until he starts to throw more strikes, the ceiling remains lower than you'd think.
Major League ETA: 2019
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: On the one hand, Abreu’s lack of required further projection is a positive. On the other hand, it means his command is unlikely to take a major step forward, which suggests his strikeout tendencies are likely to come with a high WHIP. There are plenty such pitchers who are still useful for our purposes—Kevin Gausman, Matt Moore, Vincent Velazquez, etc.—but they’re more back-end fantasy types in 12-team leagues than rotation stalwarts. And those are top-end projections for Abreu, not his median outcome.
9. Tyler Wade, IF/OF
The Good: He has a very good feel for hitting, and combines it with excellent athleticism. He’s a 65 runner down the line and uses it well between the bases. His infield actions are pretty good. The speed and glove could make for a fine defensive center fielder if that’s the route the Yankees ultimately go. Wade is a favorite of many scouts and evaluators because of his energy, playing style, and instincts. He’ll grow on you the more you see him.
The Bad: The swing isn’t geared towards game power at all. That can change, and Wade’s built well enough that I don’t rule it out, but you have to project 20-30 power as presently constituted. His arm is more erratic than you’d want from a regular shortstop, and the Yankees have a lot of internal competition from superior defensive middle infielders, which is why he’s been flirting with the outfield.
The Irrelevant: Murrieta Valley High School also claims tennis star Lindsay Davenport as an alum.
OFP 55—A nifty starting 2B or CF, or even both
The Risks: Potential lack of an offensive carrying tool combined with a likely defensive role just short of a regular shortstop makes the role projection somewhat tricky. Sometimes, non-elite slash-and-burn types have unexpected difficulties with upper-level pitching. That hasn’t happened to Wade quite yet—he’s put up unusually consistent slash lines at all of his full-season stops longer than a cup of coffee—and there’s probably a major-league utility future there even if it does, but he could be just a utility dude with some bat-to-ball ability and speed. The flip side of that is if something develops into a carrying tool late, watch out.
Major League ETA: Late in 2017 —Jarrett Seidler
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If Wade ends up with a place to play, he could be a sneaky option for fantasy owners thanks to his speed and home ballpark. But until then, he should remain on waivers unless your league rosters 200-plus prospects. Utility players can only carry so much fantasy value, even if Wade has clearer paths to value than most of them.
10. Chance Adams, RHP
The Good: Used exclusively as a reliever in college, Adams first full season saw him transition to the starting rotation where he experienced success, primarily due to advanced control of his fastball and slider. Both pitches grade out as plus, with his slider having plus depth and sharp movement in the zone. His curveball and changeup have improved to the point that they now project as average offerings, giving hitters more to worry about. Adams has a simple, repeatable delivery with a quick, compact arm action.
The Bad: He lacks remaining projection with his body and doesn’t have prototypical size for a rotation stalwart. After throwing 94 innings between college and pro in 2015, Adams jumped to 162 ⅔ in 2016. He still needs to prove he has the durability to repeat as a starting pitcher from year to year. His changeup, while flashing average, has been inconsistent for him and could create problems for him against left-handed hitters.
The Irrelevant: Adams’ Chaparral High School (AZ) won back-to-back state titles in 2011 and 2012.
OFP 55—Mid-rotation starter/late-inning reliever
The Risks: He is still a pitcher and has shown some struggles against lefties. He needs to prove he has the durability, especially given the jump in innings pitched. It is more control over command at present, which could lead to a lot of hard contact.
Major League ETA: Late 2017 —Steve Givarz
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Adams is close to the majors, which is in his favor, but his modest ceiling and the probability that he’s a back-end arm limit his fantasy usefulness. There’s a good ... well ... chance you can still get Adams as a value buy thanks to his pop-up prospect nature, but don’t bank on him to be a real difference-maker.
Others of note:
The lottery ticket
Miguel Andujar, 3B
The Yankees have ten of these dudes so we picked one
Jordan Montgomery, LHP
The tough luck prospect
Dustin Fowler, OF
The out-of-luck prospect
Billy McKinney, OF
The guys they got for Carlos Beltran
Dillon Tate, RHP
The second prospect was an interesting pop-up arm, 2014 eighth-rounder Erik Swanson. Swanson was pretty far off the radar coming into the 2016 season—a junior college reliever who missed most of 2015 with elbow and forearm injuries. Used as a starter by the Rangers in Low-A, Swanson touched as high as 98 in a June viewing, regularly sitting 91-96. He also flashed a hard slider and a more usable change than one often sees from a power profile at the Low-A level. He’s got a big frame and it’s pretty easy heat, so Swanson should be more likely to work out in a rotation long-term than Tate at this point, and also has a relief fallback. (The third prospect in the deal, Nick Green, is another low-level arm of some note. The Yankees did quite well in the Beltran deal.) —Jarrett Seidler
Despite braving 2016 without a single player from last year’s list graduating, this edition of the Yankees’ 25-and-under list looks remarkably different. And that’s a good thing. For the first time in a long while, the Bombers were sellers rather than buyers on the trade market, with General Manager Brian Cashman making the franchise-altering decision to steer the Yankees into a rebuild at last year’s deadline.
Cashman kicked things off by first flipping free-agent-to-be Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for prospects Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, and Rashad Crawford (plus reliever Adam Warren). Then he dealt Andrew Miller to Cleveland for Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller, and J.P. Feyereisen. And to cap off the fire-sale, he sent Carlos Beltran to the Rangers for Dillon Tate, Erik Swanson, and Nick Green. The Yankees GM took an already impressive farm system, gifted it with multiple new top prospects and like a phoenix from the ashes, allowed a bright future to rise from an incredibly disappointing season. Very soon, the Yankees may be one of the most exciting teams in baseball, and I don’t say this just because of a potential “Judge and Justus” pairing.
Heading this year’s 25U list is Gary Sanchez, who you may have heard about once or twice this summer. After experiencing a severe case of prospect fatigue and being unfortunately tabbed as The Next Jesus MonteroTM during seven long years in the Yankees’ minor leagues, Sanchez hit his way to the big leagues and went on nothing short of an historic run. The Kraken, whom the Yankees finally “released” on opposing pitchers, reached 20 home runs faster than any player since 1930 and capped off a Rookie of the Year-worthy campaign with a .332 TAv and .299/.376/.657 slash line. He also finished with a 2.75 WARP over just 53 games. On defense, Sanchez was average with the glove but threw out 13 runners in 32 attempts with his plus-plus throwing arm. That helped alleviate concerns over his defensive position for the foreseeable future.
Three of the four players on this list following Sanchez are new to the organization—Torres and Frazier via trade, and Rutherford after being taken 18th overall in the draft. It’s a testament to just how impactful the trade deadline (and draft) was for the Yankees. The next big-league player is Greg Bird, though he didn’t touch the field in 2016 after offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum. Missing the year certainly hurt Bird’s standing on this list, but his major-league debut left a lasting impression and gives hope for his 2017.
Hitting .261/.343/.529 in 2015 with a .312 TAv and 11 home runs in 46 games, Bird wasn’t quite Gary Sanchez, but it’s tough to argue with that kind of production from a then-22-year-old playing through a tear in his labrum. Still, Bird may have less value than most Yankee fans care to admit. His defensive home is limited to first base (injuries as an amateur moved him out from behind the plate) where he’s average at best, and he could have issues finding his swing mechanics again after a year off. Regardless, the offensive upside is strong enough to carry him as a first-division regular—he just won’t be the star many hoped for after 2015.
Rounding out the bottom of the list are two players who disappointed with the big-league club in 2016: Aaron Judge and Luis Severino. Judge’s 44.2 percent strikeout rate will give any evaluator pause, but the 6-foot-7 behemoth has taken time to adjust to new levels in the past and was impressive in Triple-A before his promotion to the show in August. While the risk is higher now than it was before Judge’s big-league debut, his upside largely (no pun intended) remains intact and there’s little reason to panic just yet.
Panicking about Luis Severino is a bit more understandable, though. The Yankees hoped to have a top of the rotation starter after an electric debut in 2015, but the league figured Severino out last season and the results weren’t pretty. The righty’s command was fringy at best and his changeup took a step back, allowing opposing batters to sit on the fastball and pummel the secondary pitches hung over the heart of the strike zone. Severino’s 5.83 ERA and 4.49 DRA were horrendous, and after a scary arm injury in May, he was banished to Triple-A for two months.
But, there is hope for Severino. The 22-year-old was one of the youngest arms in baseball in his second season (only Julio Urias and Zach Eflin are younger), and his nasty fastball and slider remained intact, as evidenced by a 0.39 ERA and .105 BAA out of the bullpen (after shelving his changeup). If Severino can work the changeup back into his repertoire and refine his command, there’s a chance he can look like the pitcher who posted a 2.89 ERA in his rookie season. However, next season could be Severino’s last chance at starting, as continued struggles might cause the Yankees to push him to the bullpen full-time where he could be a multi-inning weapon. —Ben Diamond