Just for the fun of it, I wanted to imagine what the Yankees' roster would look like when all of the older players' contracts are up. I picked 2017 not only because of when many of the big contracts are up but because by then, most of their current prospects should be reach the majors if they are going to at all. While I am sure the Yankees will add players from outside the organization over the course of that time, for now, I am primarily operating with who is in the Yankees' system. With those parameters in mind, let the fun begin.
Gary Sanchez. He is still the Yankees' top prospect. His bat is projected to produce 20 + home runs a season while his defense seems to be improving. He has a cannon of an arm and hopefully just needs more instruction and polish to complete his game. While Brian McCann will still be under contract, I expect that by this juncture, he would have been moved to another position. If JR Murphy is still around (and was not used for trade bait), he would appear to be the best option of the more experienced minor league catchers. However, in the long term, we need to watch out for Luis Torrens. Considering how young he is and that he is an international signing, I am not sure how long it will take for him to develop. Nonetheless, there are some people who think he could be a better overall catcher than Sanchez albeit with less power.
With Mark Teixeira either elsewhere or retired by now, this position is ripe for the taking barring any trades. Their are two players who make sense for this position, Brian McCann and Greg Bird. I would expect that by 2017, and with first base being open, the Yankees will try to preserve McCann's body and move him out from behind the dish. However, I like many other Yankee fans, love Greg Bird's potential. Nice power with excellent plate patience. By 2017, if not earlier, he should be ready for the majors if his performance continues on its trajectory. I would expect that these two players would share first and dh since both are the most natural positions for both players by this juncture.
While no one substantial is on the horizon for 2014 when the need is there, by 2017, that could change significantly barring a trade for someone like Nick Franklin (who I still hold out hope for a deal to obtain regardless of likelihood.) Rob Refsnyder is one of those under the radar guys who could be a nice player for the Yankees. He is a bit old for a prospect at his level but the same is a product of his time spent in college rather than any developmental issues. Nonetheless, in merely one full season of pro ball, he has shown the ability to hit for average and draw walks, as well as steal some bases. Further, he seems to have the potential for double digit home run power. That all being said, I think most of us hope that the Yankees' for a change out scouted everyone with their 2013 draft picks. In that regard, I think we would all love to see Gosuke Katoh continue to produce like he did in his first pro season for the Yankees. While his defense was expected to be good, what we saw in his first season was that five tool type of player everyone craves. If he continues to show those type of skills, it is not out of the realm of possibility that he could be the Yankees starting second baseman by 2017.
Of all the Yankees 2013 positional players drafted, I would expect that Eric Jagielo is by far the most likely to reach the majors first. He quickly adjusted during his brief opportunity in the minors. I suspect that had his minor league season continued a couple more months, we would have seen even more production out of him. While he may not have had the fanfare of Kris Bryant, he seems to be a potentially steady all around third baseman who should be capable of producing 20 + home runs a season while hitting at least decently if not phenomenally, and while playing solid if not great defense. (I know Peter O'Brien should be mentioned so I will just briefly state that between his lack of plate discipline and poor defense at every position he has played so far, I am not ready to consider him part of the Yankees' future yet. Down the road, Miguel Andujar could join the third base discussion considering his combination of power potential and ability to hit.)
Let me start off by apologizing to all the Cito Culver fans. Were you expecting more than that? Sorry. Seriously, this position seems the hardest to solve from within. (I would not be surprised if the Yankees see if they could pry Hanley Ramirez away from the Dodgers next off season or acquire Jose Reyes somehow. Jed Lowrie could also be an interesting option.) The closest player to the majors with any seemingly real promise is Tyler Wade. Fresh out of high school, he showed some hitting ability, plate patience and the ability to steal a base. He does however seem to have zero power. He is probably the furthest away of all the players mentioned so far but for maybe Luis Torrens. Possibly even a better prospect could be Abiatal Avelino, an international signing. At just 19 and very limited minor league experience, he is also hard to read. He, like Wade, is a minimal power, high average, good plate patience type, though he seems to have serious base stealing ability. An interesting name to keep an eye on is Jorge Mateo. He is a Dominican shortstop who has only played for the Yankees DSL teams. However, his combination of power and serious base stealing ability together with his decent plate patience and hitting, though at a level to hard to gauge, could make him the best shortstop in the system in a couple years.
By 2017, Jacoby Ellsbury will still have plenty of years left on his contract while Brett Gardner will have one more. Carlos Beltran will be gone by then. That leaves one spot open and one that could be open by the following season. Currently, the Yankees have four outfield prospects who have played at AA and who have been mentioned as having potential to make the majors: Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores. Unfortunately, all of them took serious steps backward in 2013. Notwithstanding the same, from a potential perspective, it would seem that, among this group, Tyler Austin and Mason Williams have the best shot of making a major league outfield. In 2011 and 2012 both players showed a nice blend of double digit home run potential, the ability to steal bases and the ability to hit for average. Additionally, Mason Williams is already considered an excellent defensive outfielder. The other two outfielders seem to have much more limited upside. Yet, 2013's performance scare many scouts away from Mason Williams. He hit poorly, was a terrible base runner and his pop subsided. I think the hope by many is that he is adjusting to his maturation and that hopefully he can resurge. Tyler Austin's production also regressed though not as much as Mason Williams. However, he is not considered as toolsy a player as Williams. Nonetheless, his consistent production in the minors but for 2013 provides hope. Further, his wrist issues last year could explain his regression though it also could be its own red flag.
Notwithstanding the players mentioned, I think that a lot of us are hoping that the best current outfield prospect turns out to be 2013 draft pick Aaron Judge. He is currently known as the guy with batting practice power. Should that translate the way many think it could, he could be a mauler. The guy looks like a bigger version of Dave Winfield. Anyone remember him? It would be nice to have a guy who could tear the cover off the ball in the outfield again.
Notably, there are some interesting outfield options outside the organization that could have become available by or before then, either by trade or free agency, that the Yankees would likely have clamored for. Among those guys are Giancarlo Stanton, Jay Bruce (if his option is not exercised), Yoennis Cespedes, Carlos Gonzalez. As always, the Yankees' landscape could change with a move for someone like the guys mentioned.
The seemingly one lock for the rotation by 2017, barring a serious miscalculation as to ability, is Masahiro Tanaka. He was signed for the long haul and absent him opting out and leaving, which if he performs as expected, I would think the Yankees will do everything they can to prevent, he should be a Yankee for a long time. By 2017, CC will either be gone or will have one more season if his option vests (and then who knows what -- largely depending on how good he can pitch with what remains of his fastball by then -- the lure of having him become a 300 game winner and Hall of Famer as a Yankee, if either is considered possible by then, could keep him in pinstripes.) Kuroda will be long gone. Ivan Nova hopefully will have discovered how to pitch well over an entire season well before then (by 2014 we all hope), making him the second or third member of the rotation. I think we all hope that the Michael Pineda of the first half of 2011 and the spring training of 2014 is close to what we can expect. If it is, the Yankees might finally have the ace they thought they acquired. If so, by 2017, the Yankees would still have a relative young front three in Tanaka, Pineda, and Nova.
Before we even get to 2017, with Hiroki Kuroda coming off the books following 2014, the two highest quality starters expect to hit the free agent market as of now as Max Scherzer and James Shields. I would be surprised if the Yankees did not go hard to get one of those guys to replace Kuroda. Should David Price become available in the next couple years, he would be an expected target as well (though my guess is the Rays will trade him before he becomes a free agent and the acquiring team would be one who he would agree to sign a big extension with - e.g., the Dodgers?)
Speculation of outside additions notwithstanding, the Yankees have some interesting in house options that we should expect to see develop over the next few years. Currently on the horizon are two pitchers, Jose Ramirez and Manny Banuelos. Skills notwithstanding, I am not convinced either will make it as a starter on the Yankees. Ramirez is perpetually hurt while Banuelos is not only coming off a serious injury but he his control was questionable even before injury. Should Banuelos demonstrate solid control and the ability to pitch starter's innings, he could become a nice candidate for the rotation but for now, he needs to reestablish himself as a prospect. While there are some other options like Nik Turley, Vidal Nuno, etc., they all fall into the category of fringe starters just like David Phelps and Adam Warren and therefore are being skipped from any further discussion. Two of the more exciting prospects are Rafael De Paula and Ian Clarklin. The former is an international signing while the latter was a 2013 first round pick. De Paula has shown the ability to strike out guys at very good clip and has been pretty dominant in his two seasons in the minors. He did however get hit a bit when promoted to Tampa and at 23, he is bit old for that league making the same somewhat more concerning. Yet, he also is quite inexperienced in the minors and the Yankees have had such limited time to work with him that overall, the Yankees should be excited about his potential. Clarklin was considered a steal by the Yankees by most scouts as most had him as a pitcher getting drafted earlier than he was. He had a very limited opportunity to show his skills in the minors last year and that audition left a lot to be desired but his potential is considered very high. Tyler Hensley was also considered a decent draft pick in 2012 but his career has been on hold due to injury. Finally, I am not ready to give up on the throw in player in the Pineda-Montero trade, Jose Campos. Like some of the other guys on this list, injury has been an obstacle to his progress. However, he was once one of the best prospects in an even then solid Seattle farm system and his performance since returning from surgery indicates he could still be a high end pitcher even if scouts have backed away from ranking him. Lastly, I like many, like what I have seen from Luis Severino. He could soon become a top prospect. He has got a top fastball and seems to have the potential to be a high quality starter. If he performs in 2014 like he did in 2013, he could become a top prospect soon. (There are a number of other pitchers at various levels of A Ball who are interesting but not at the same level of expectations as the guys mentioned yet and I am not sold on Bryan Mitchell.)
David Robertson has the daunting role of taking over for Mariano Rivera. That being said, his track record suggests he is a lot more reliable than most potential and current closers. He has much better command and control then he initially did in his career and he is a hard guy to hit. I would hope the Yankees extend one of their few remaining homegrown all star caliber talents. Nonetheless, the Yankees best other relief options are probably the guys who have done nothing or nearly nothing in the majors yet. However, since bullpen options tend to be innumerable, I will just pick some of the relievers closer to the majors or major league ready. Starting off, we have Dellin Betances. Though he was a failure as a starter, to the dismay of many, he resurrected his career and image last year as a lights out reliever. If he continues that dominance, he could be a top option at the back end of the bullpen. Mark Montgomery lit the world on fire as reliever, earning unusually quick promotions by the Yankees, earning his way up to AAA in minimal time, where for the first time he faltered. He supposedly came to spring training out of shape in 2013 frustrating the Yankees brass. However, his ability remains and his consistent dominance previously suggest he could be another high quality back of the bullpen guy. Jose Ramirez' days as a starter appear numbered. His arm does not seem to be able to withstand a starter's schedule. However, he has very good stuff and a move to the bullpen could make him a force to be reckoned with. There are a number of other interesting relief prospects but these guys seem to currently deserve the most hype.
Who do you think will have major roles on the 2017 Yankees? What prospects should I have listed that I did not list?