MiLB.com looked at every organization in baseball and picked out the best players at each position to represent an All-Star team for each. The Yankees' team included top prospects, middle-tier players, and fringe major leaguers, with commentary provided by Mark Newman, the Yankees' vice president of baseball operations. What did he have to say about some of the best minor league players in the system?
Catcher - Gary Sanchez
The top prospect in the system, Sanchez had another solid season hitting .253/.324/.412 with 15 home runs between two different levels. He projects to start the 2014 season in Double-A, but could honestly become trade bait after the signing of Brian McCann, if the right deal presents itself. Having Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine, and J.R. Murphy could give the Yankees enough backup options over the next few years to warrant trading away their best prospect for something they really need.
"He's just all sorts of talented, both offensively and defensively. He started in the U.S. when he was just 17, so he's got [1,522] plate appearances under his belt now. He's been around some, and it's showing. It's just not the kind of package you see too often in catchers."
First Base - Greg Bird
He probably put up the best season of any Yankee prospect, hitting .288/.428/.511 and leading the minor leagues in walks with 107. He stayed in Low-A Charleston for the entire year, in what was his first full season of pro ball, but he could move up to High-A Tampa in 2014 and then shoot through the system if he continues his hitting ways. The Yankees have no other first base prospects, so he can go as far as his bat takes him in 2014.
"He's got great discipline and power and is able to hit the ball well to both sides of the field, which you don't see that often, especially from first baseman. He was actually a catcher, too, before making the move. Our scouts thought the move was something that could happen, but it wasn't a guarantee. He's certainly done well with it so far."
Second Base - Rob Refsnyder
Refsnyder had a surprisingly great season, hitting .293/.413/.413 between Low-A and High-A in 573 plate appearances. He was certainly better than the system's top second base prospect, Angelo Gumbs, who hit .214/.265/.302 before being demoted to Charleston and allowing Refsnyder to play at second regularly. Unfortunately, his fielding didn't match up to his hitting, as he made 25 errors in the field. A natural outfielder, it might make sense to move him back and hope his bat carries him quickly through the system.
Third Base - Eric Jagielo
Jagielo was just drafted in 2013 and already he finds himself the king of third base in the Yankees' minor league system. Drafted for his polished bat, he hit .264/.376/.451 with six home runs in his first season of pro ball, outshining previous first round pick, Dante Bichette, who hit a disappointing .214/.292/.331 in his second full year with Low-A Charleston. Jagielo also only committed three errors in 42 games, while Bichette committed 18 in 112. In 2014, Jagielo will likely start in Charleston, with Bichette being pushed up to Tampa and probably continued to be pushed out of the way.
"He's certainly got some power," Newman said. "What he did was reflective of what our guys saw in him before the Draft. ... He's got a lot of at-bats under him and is off to a solid start after building off the great year at Notre Dame."
Shortstop - Abiatal Avelino
It's slim pickings at shortstop in the Yankee system. This season Cito Culver hit .248/.322/.362 between Charleston and Tampa with 21 errors, though he did have an .878 OPS after his promotion. That basically brings Avelino into the picture after his second season in the organization. He hit .303/.381/.399 between Rookie-ball and Short Season-A. However, he did hit only .243/.303/.271 in Staten Island with 15 errors in 2013, so his All-Star status doesn't mean much just yet.
Outfield - Thomas Neal
Neal hit .325/.391/.411 in 297 plate appearances in Triple-A and represented the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders in the International League All-Star Game. Unfortunately, at the age of 25, he didn't accomplish much in his limited time with the Yankees and was soon designated for assignment.
Outfield - Ben Gamel
The constantly under the radar Ben Gamel hit .267/.342/.387 between High-A and Double-A, which was essentially just as good as top prospects Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin. He will likely open the season with the Trenton Thunder if Ramon Flores and Heathcott move up to Scranton. He is likely to find his way onto some top 20 lists if he has another season in 2014, like he did in 2013.
Outfield - Zoilo Almonte
As the tenth best prospect in the Yankees' system, he hit .297/.369/.421 in Triple-A before making it to the majors. He only hit .236/.274/.302 until spraining his ankle and missing a good portion of the season. He struggles against left-handed pitching, despite being a switch hitter, with only a .255/.305/.287 line against them in Triple-A. If Almonte doesn't make the team this spring, it might make sense for him to give up his right-handed swing. Otherwise, his ceiling is going to be a platoon fourth outfielder.
"He was hitting well at the time in Triple-A and had done well at Double-A [21 homers in 2012] before that, so it was kind of a natural progression to call him up. He did OK, got hurt, but overall did fine; he certainly wasn't overmatched. I think we all know he has some work to do at the Major League level."
"Most players, when they get to the big leagues there's a period where they have to learn about Major League pitching and make those sorts of adjustments. It's natural. We expect that development is going to continue for about three years after a callup."
Utility - Peter O'Brien
O'Brien had one of the best seasons in the Yankees' system, but he didn't really have much of a position. He started off as a catcher, then, after being promoted, he was stuck at third base where he committed 18 errors. Still, he hit .291/.350/.544 on the season, and could find his way onto prospect lists if he ever establishes himself at a position. His future is not likely behind the plate, but third base might not hold much promise either. He could ultimately end up as a first base/designated hitter and then his value will fall.
"It's not driven primarily by Gary -- we've got some pretty substantial catching talent all around with J.R. Murphy too," said Newman, adding that O'Brien might also be a fit in right field. "Looks, Pete's a great athlete. He does a good job behind the plate. We just want to see if he plays other positions well enough, and that might provide him with a better route to the big leagues. It's all about positional flexibility to get as many of these guys in the lineup as we can."
Right-Handed Starter - Shane Greene
The Yankees don't have a lot of promising pitchers in their system, but they have plenty of pitchers with more upside than Greene. In 2013, he had his best season in his professional career, finishing the season in Double-A with a 3.38 ERA and 3.03 FIP. The Yankees must have been impressed because they added him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, while leaving the likes of Chase Whitley, Tom Kahnle, and Dan Burawa unprotected. He will likely start the 2014 season in Triple-A, but I would have given Rafael De Paula the All-Star nod, even though he struggled in High-A. That doesn't mean Greene doesn't deserve praise, though.
"It was the biggest single leap I've seen in some time," Newman said of Greene, who was added to the 40-man roster earlier this month. "Some of that has to do with our pitching coaches helping him with his delivery and pitch selection. But another part is him deciding to be more aggressive in attacking instead of throwing the ball at the fringes of the zone. Once that happened and he started to get results, some of it is confidence that he can do it and can continually do it."
Left-Handed Starter - Nik Turley
Turley had a decent season in Double-A, where he pitched to a 3.88 ERA in 139 innings. Unfortunately, his 4.73 BB/9 left him with a 4.18 FIP. That is sadly what is considered tops for left-handed starters in this system with Manny Banuelos still recovering from Tommy John surgery. Turley could end up being valuable, whether as a backend starter or a lefty out of the bullpen, and will likely spend significant time in Triple-A this season before maybe getting a chance in the majors.
"He has some interesting characteristics," Newman said. "His curveball is really good and has a pretty high rate of swings and misses. But he's not a one-trick pony. His fastball is solid and his changeup is above-average. He's got three different ways to attack you."
Reliever - Dellin Betances
After converting to a full-time reliever, Betances dominated hitters, keeping them to a .185/.286/.282 batting line, with a 2.06 ERA and 12.7 K/9 in 65.2 innings. He spent time with the Yankees, but only pitched in five innings while striking out 10 batters. It would have been a good idea to give him more playing time because he's out of options and will be needed in 2014. If Betances can't provide good value, the Yankees will be lacking in cost controlled relievers.
"It's hard to say what the difference was," Newman said. "It's still 60 feet, 6 inches. It's the same mound, just a different role. Obviously, in shorter stints, he pitched more aggressively out of the bullpen and just seemed less concerned about locating pitches as compared to controlling them. ... Right now, he's going to pitch out of the bullpen for the foreseeable future. I hate to make terminal statements like that, but it's where he's had the most success, so that's where he'll be."
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