Let’s be honest, the likelihood of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher patrolling the outfield of Yankee Stadium together in 2015 is highly unlikely. Even more highly unlikely is that three homegrown Yankee prospects would be patrolling the outfield together, but that’s what we’re talking about here today! Well, kinda…
In the lower minors, the 2015 outfield is taking shape. While the players that could make up this trio are still a few years away from making an impact, it’s never too early to begin discussing their progress, and possible future contributions at the major league level.
If you don’t already know about Mason Williams, Ravel Santana, and Slade Heathcott, you’re about to get a formal introduction. We’ll get to the more intimate pleasantries after the jump.
As I stated above, the chances of the Yankees trotting out an entirely rookie homegrown outfield is virtually non-existent when you consider the club’s enormous budget and lust for immediate results. A much more realistic scenario is one rookie infiltrating a Yankees starting outfield with a pair of already established stars. Luckily, the Yankees are gambling with three lottery tickets in Mason Williams, Ravel Santana, and Slade Heathcott, with the hopes of striking it rich with at least one player.
Let’s take a closer look at each, profiling them in their likely position at the major league level.
Mason Williams, CF: A natural centerfielder, Williams immediately impresses with his plus speed (80 on the 20-80 scouting scale) and defensive instincts. While his arm is only average, it shouldn’t be much of an issue due to his elite speed and ability to cut balls off before they become trouble.
Offensively, Williams has the most impressive collection of tools in the system. His quick bat allows him to make good contact through the zone, and his frame should produce at least average power once he refines his hitting approach and adds muscle. At this stage, he’s more of a slap hitter who relies on his speed to wreak havoc on the bases, an approach that should change once he starts getting more loft on the ball by using more of his lower body. With more base-running polish, he’ll become a 40-50 steal threat at the major league level.
Williams reminds me a great deal of Austin Jackson from a tools standpoint, and could be the homegrown centerfielder many envisioned Jackson to be prior to the Curtis Granderson trade. He’ll make the jump to Charleston this year, so we’ll see how full-season baseball treats him for the first time.
Ravel Santana, RF: While he currently patrols center field, there is a good chance he slides over to right with Mason Williams in the fold. This actually plays right into his skill set, as Santana possesses a cannon for an arm (70 grade) that will play beautifully in right.
Where Santana differs from Williams is with the bat, as he flashes a very different set of tools, starting with plus raw power. It’s easy to envision Santana turning into a 20-30 homer guy with his bat speed and ability to lift the ball. That said, he’s the most raw of the Yankee outfield prospects, and still has much to learn in the pitch recognition department. He currently struggles with good breaking balls, but the hope is that he’ll outgrow this with more at-bats and further instruction. He’s a plus runner, but it will be interesting to see how he bounces back following a gruesome ankle injury that ended his ’11 campaign.
He may not start the season on time as he continues to recover from his ankle setback, but should start off at Staten Island of the New York-Penn league. He’s one of the guys I’m most excited about taking a trip to see this summer.
Slade Heathcott, LF: He got off to a hot start at Charleston last season before cooling and eventually being slowed once again by injuries, something that has plagued him through his career thus far. Currently a centerfielder, many envision Heathcott sliding over to left due to his shoulder woes, as two surgeries on his throwing shoulder could limit his throwing ability. The shame of this is that his defensive range is outstanding, and may not be fully utilized due to his injuries.
What the Yankees love about Heathcott is his make-up and gritty style of play. The club compares him in-house to Brett Gardner, and I also feel he compares well to Dustin Pedroia and Jason Kipnis in this regard. His energy is infectious, making him a true clubhouse guy that teammates and fans immediately gravitate towards.
Heathcott shows many of the same tools as Williams, with the major difference being the reckless style he plays the game with. His body (as long as it stays in one piece) should allow him to develop into a double-digit home run threat, and improved awareness on the bases should yield premium results in the stolen base department. He’s a classic raw tools player on the cusp of breaking out or crashing and burning. The Yankees are hoping his elite athletic ability begins allowing these tools to turn into usable skills on the field.
As I mentioned above, like any prospect, these guys are lottery tickets. Many get tossed in the trash, some yield a modest payout, and a rare few provide a substantial reward. If I were to place a wager on who I felt would be the most likely to land in the most profitable group, it would be Williams, followed by Heathcott, and finally Santana.
If the Yankees are able to develop one of these prospects into a productive major leaguer worthy of producing on a championship caliber team, that’s a huge win for the organization. At the very least, these players may turn out to be trade bait for an already established star, making their development within the organization similarly crucial.
What do you think of the 2015 future Yankees outfield? Who booms and who busts? What big name stars could be patrolling the outfield alongside our homegrown talent? Let’s take the discussion to the comments and hash this thing out.