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Yankees 2015 Roster Report Card: Dustin Fowler

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The 20-year-old lefty outfielder had an all-around strong year between Charleston and Tampa that made him a prospect to watch going forward.

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Grade: A

2015 Statistics: .298/.334/.394, 5 HR, 30 SB, 20 2B, 70 RBI, 26 BB, 90 SO

2015 Level/Roster Status: High-A/Low-A/Non-40

The Yankees love athletic center fielders and Dustin Fowler, who enjoyed a breakout season at age 20, is no exception. New York drafted Fowler (no relation to Dexter) in the 18th round of the 2013 amateur draft out of West Laurens High School in Dexter, GA. A toolsy speedster with pop, Fowler is a true athlete. He played three sports in high school; excelling at football and wrestling. His athleticism made him enticing as a draft prospect. However, due to his commitment to other sports, Fowler's skills were a bit less refined than his peers. He slipped to the 18th round where the Yankees, who already had über-phyical outfielders Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams in the pipeline, scooped him up.

Fowler signed quickly and headed straight to rookie league. He joined the Gulf Coast Yankees in time to appear in 30 games and collect 112 at-bats. His performance, though, was suspect. Fowler batted just .241/.274/.384, didn't homer, and struck out nearly 20% of the time in his age-18 season. He stole just three bases.

Despite his struggles, the Yankees promoted Fowler to Low-A Charleston for the 2014 season. There, he showed signs of promise. The lefty-swinger took a step forward, amassing a line of .257/.292/.429. He showed off his developing power, belting 9 homers and driving in 41 runs in 257 at-bats. However, injuries cut his season to 66 games. He still struck out too much (19.5%), and walked entirely too little (4.8%). Again, he stole only three bases.

2015 was Fowler's breakout year. The youngster's bat exploded as he slashed .298/.334/.394 while collecting 31 extra-base hits in 518 at-bats across two levels of A-Ball. They say young men can continue to grow into their early twenties. Although he didn't get any taller (still the same wiry 6'0", 185 lbs), Fowler sprouted a set of wheels. He stole 30 bases in 43 attempts, increasing his production on the bases tenfold. He even stole at a respectable rate (70%), which figures to keep growing as he learns how to read pro pitchers. Still just 20 years old, Fowler is already 2.5 years younger than the average High-A player.

His totals were impressive and he produced consistently. Fowler's stats were split fairly equally between his time in Charleston and Tampa.

Level

AB

H

XBH

R

SB

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

TB

Low-A

241

74

16

35

18-25

11

47

.307

.340

.419

101

High-A

246

71

15

29

12-18

15

43

.289

.328

.370

91

He played a tick better in Charleston, which isn't surprising. However, he managed to improve his batting eye after the promotion. After he joined Tampa, Fowler's strikeout rate dropped (18.4% to 16.4%) and his walk rate improved (4.3% to 5.7%).

Big things might be in store for Fowler, though it seems he's already accomplished something significant. Teams don't typically have high expectations for their 18th round picks and Fowler has played his way into the conversation. Others have taken notice. Fowler is currently ranked 18th in the MLB.com top 30 prospects list. If he builds on his success with a strong 2016, which would certainly include a promotion to Double-A and playing well there, he will pole vault his way into the top five. Of course, that's the best-case scenario.

Fowler earns an A grade because he's exactly what a team is looking for when they draft an athlete in the middle rounds. You bank on the raw ability and trust your coaches to develop the skills. Fowler's improvement is a dual marker. It signifies a ton of hard work on his part and it's also ringing praise for a Yankees player development corps that has struggled to produce bats.

Fowler will likely begin 2016 in High-A and reprise his role as the No.2 hitter. Still, I hope that they're keeping a seat warm for him in Trenton. The Yankees need bats in the upper levels for plenty of reasons and they hope Fowler can be a quick riser--one more along the lines of Greg Bird than Tyler Austin. He's still incredibly young, so it's not the end of the world if he struggles to begin 2016. But wouldn't it be fun to see him thrive?