We've seen a ton of prospect lists out there in the last month and most of them are the same. They're all dominated by the Yankees' trio of outfield prospects: Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Slade Heathcott, but what about the rest of the system? There's Ramon Flores, who has some decent upside, is on the 40-man roster, and could start the year in Triple-A. After him, no one seems to really stand out as a potential top 20 prospect right now, but there are three who could change that, starting in 2014.
I wouldn't call them the next trio of outfield prospects, but Jake Cave, Taylor Dugas, and Ben Gamel each have the potential to make the top-20 list in the next few years. Going into the season they all fit in and around the top 30-40 group, but I see them moving up this year if each can continue building on what they have done so far.
Jake Cave was drafted out of high school in the 6th round of the 2011 MLB Draft. He played in one professional game that year before he broke his knee in a home plate collision. He missed the rest of the season and then all of 2012 after he required surgery to clean up the injury. Cave finally made it back in 2013 and proved to not only be healthy, but also productive. He hit .282/.347/.401 in a full 115 games and 520 plate appearances, this time in Low-A Charleston.
Despite his knee troubles, his speed doesn't seem to have taken much of a hit as he stole 18 bases (though he was caught nine times). He suffered from an apparent lack of power (just two home runs this year), but he showed the potential to add a few more as he matures after hitting a total of 37 doubles.
Now 21, Cave will be one more year removed from surgery and could look to turn heads this season. If they see that he's healthy, the Yankees might try to move him quickly through the system so he can make up for lost time. He has a real chance of being the Tampa Yankees' starting center fielder and if he can build on last season he'll be in the top 30 for sure.
Taylor Dugas is a little further along than Cave, but might have less upside. Drafted in the 8th round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of the University of Alabama, the 24-year-old just finished his second professional season and is already on the cusp of Double-A. After an impressive 2012 debut at Staten Island, where he hit .306/.465/.373 in 59 games, Dugas hit .285/.405/.339 this year, spending equal time in Low-A and High-A. He performed especially well in Tampa (321/.426/.373), outperforming teammate Mason Williams, and displayed some speed (17 stolen bases), though he was caught way too many times (11). Unfortunately, he lacks power (three professional home runs) and is essentially a singles hitter.
His age and lack of power are likely why he isn't more highly regarded, but he's capable of playing all three outfield positions fairly well and could make for a good leadoff hitter if his on base abilities are legitimate. Where he plays to open up the season depends entirely on what the Yankees decide to do with their top outfielders. Austin, Heathcott, and Flores could all be in line for a promotion to Triple-A, while it remains to be seen if Mason will stay in Trenton or go back to Tampa. Dugas should probably be moved quickly, if possible, so I'd prefer it if he could find his way into Double-A, but only if he has a starting job.
Ben Gamel is the final guy you should be looking out for, and he's the one closest to the majors. Drafted in the 10th round all the way back in 2010, Gamel is now 21 and just got his first taste of Double-A. While his offensive production has dropped over the last two seasons, he still outperformed Mason and was on par with Austin and Slade this year.
He hit a decent .267/.342/.387 and showed at least a slight increase in power when he produced a career high in doubles (32) and home runs (4). He also had career highs in stolen bases (22) and walks (52), so he not only made improvements where he needed to, but also improved what he does best. He's never posted an OBP under .340 and has stolen a total of 41 bases over the last two seasons, which makes me hopeful that he can pry his way into the outfield mix in 2015. In the end, he could end up as a fourth outfielder, but he's already further along than Zoilo Almonte was at the same age, so I'm hopeful there's more to come with Gamel.