2015 Statistics: High-A/Double-A: .267/.346/.368, 17 2B, 5 3B, 6 HR, 11 SB and 52 RBI
2016 Roster Status: Double-A/Non-40
Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Yankees have an undersized lefty outfielder making his way through the system, and he might soon be able to contribute to the big league team. Unlike some of their other similar prospects, however, the Yankees seem to be pushing Mark Payton very aggressively, as he made his way to Double-A Trenton in just his second season as a professional.
The Yankees took the 5'7" lefty out of the University of Texas with their seventh round pick in the 2014 draft. Throughout his four seasons as a Longhorn, he was one of the best players on the team, even reaching base in 101 straight games over his junior and senior seasons. The Bombers pushed Payton very aggressively once he was in the fold, sending him to Low-A Charleston instead of Short Season-A Staten Island to start his career. He did very well for himself there, batting .322/.443/.500 in 22 games and earning himself a quick call-up to High-A Tampa, where he kept on hitting by posting a .286/.396/.495 slash line in 26 games.
Our own Tanya Bondurant correctly predicted that the Yankees would send Payton back to High-A Tampa to start 2015, with an eye towards promoting him to Double-A Trenton during the season if things went well. It took Payton just 41 games to get sent to New Jersey, as he put up a slash line of .280/.374/.357 in Tampa to start the season. He spent six games at Trenton, but was sent back to Tampa for eight games before making the trip back up to Trenton for good on June 18.
Payton played 72 games for the Thunder, and his production took a bit of a hit in the New Jersey summer sun. He slashed .250/.315/.348 in his first stint in Double-A, but he did experience a bit of an uptick in power, smacking five home runs in 264 at-bats, shaving about 10 AB/HR off of his career average. On the season overall, he hit .267/.346/.368 with six home runs, 11 stolen bases (he was caught seven times) 52 RBI and 50 walks in 121 games between both levels. Those numbers, especially his Trenton ones, might not look that spectacular, but there are some things we can look towards to inspire hope moving forward.
First of all, despite being 23 years old, Payton is relatively inexperienced for Double-A. Sure, he played some high-pressure baseball with Texas, but it's a long way from college ball to the Eastern League, and Payton made that climb in less than two years. The jump to Double-A is a tough one to begin with, but it could be especially tough for a guy who had fewer than 100 games as a professional. Payton does a lot of things well, even if he doesn't do anything at an elite prospect level. That being said, his ceiling is probably that of a fourth outfielder. If he can continue his development in Trenton next season, he should find himself in Triple-A by the end of the season. Let's hope he keeps climbing, and that we have an even higher grade for him next season.