For those that don't know, John Sickels is the proprietor of Minor League Ball and is SB Nation MLB's prospect guru, so if anyone knows about the Yankees farm system, it's going to be him. I briefly spoke to him about some of the team's top prospects as well as the recent MLB Draft. What he had to say is definitely worth of a few minutes of your time.
How big of a liability do you feel Rob Refsnyder's glove is at this point? Are the Yankees just being overly cautious or is he truly not a second baseman at the next level?
Well he will never be a gold glove at second but he seems to have the physical tools to be average at the position, which is good enough if he hits as expected. My understanding is that his footwork and overall sense of polish still need work. They are better than they were a couple of years ago and there seems to be genuine improvement with his range, but he's still rather error-prone. My guess is that he can be an adequate defender given enough time, but whether that's good enough for the Yankees remains to be seen.
We just heard that Austin DeCarr may have had surgery and Ian Clarkin may or may not have already had Tommy John surgery. How often have you seen teams "hide" prospect injuries and why do they do it? You would think that any potential trade would require medical records be shared anyway, right?
Some teams are more open than others. Yes, in a trade situation there would have to be an exchange of medical information, if only because a player who turns out to be "damaged goods" is often sent back to the original team. That's a pain for everyone. However, in regards to the press and fan bases, teams are sometimes pretty tight-lipped about an injury, at least in the initial stages. I don't think this is as true as it was 20 years ago but it still happens.
There is much debate over whether Aaron Judge or Luis Severino is the organization's top prospect, but, in your opinion, what makes Aaron Judge more of the sure thing?
I actually like Severino better, I had him at 16 on my mid-season Top 75 and Judge at 30. I admit I seem to be lower on Judge than other people are but that's still an impact ranking, it would put him in the top 20 among hitting prospects while Severino would be in the top 10 among pitchers. In general hitting prospects are safer than pitching prospects due to the injury factor, but there is an apples/grapefruit thing and I have generally found it difficult to compare hitting and pitching prospects with each other.
What is the biggest concern when it comes to Luis Severino? Will he still most likely end up in the bullpen or has he proven to be a starter?
The two main concerns pre-season were his size perhaps leading to durability problems, and his slider lagging behind his fastball and change-up. The size issue doesn't concern me. He's plenty athletic and I don't think his injury risk is higher than any other pitcher his age. My understanding is that the slider is still behind the fastball and change in terms of consistency and sabermetrically this is probably showing up in a declining strikeout rate after his promotion to Triple-A. However, he's shown the ability to adjust and improve throughout his career. Bottom line, I think he can start.
What would you say is Greg Bird's most likely ceiling? Is there someone in the majors right now that we can look to in order to get a sense of the type of player he could end up being?
I think he could hit like Nick Swisher eventually, the good Nick Swisher from a few years ago, as a power/walks/OBP type player with mediocre batting averages.
Do you feel like Gary Sanchez is the future behind the plate or should the Yankees take advantage of his value and try to make a deal soon?
He's effective against baserunners but remains rough in the other aspects of catching. He has lowered his passed ball rates, which is a good sign, but errors remain elevated due to mental and concentration miscues. There's been progress, in other words, but not enough to solidify his future as a regular. His bat has been stuck at adequacy for a few years now with no real sign of a breakthrough. I've tried to stay optimistic with him but that's fading.
What are your thoughts on the non-prospects Jaron Long, Miguel Sulbaran, Eric Ruth the Yankees seem to be collecting. Do they have a future in MLB or have their bubbles simply not burst yet?
These guys look like fungible Quadruple-A pitchers to me, although keep in mind that such pitchers will sometimes make an adjustment or add a new pitch and become factors at the major league level, at least for a year or two. Of this group, Ruth seems the most likely to me to have some unexpected success in him as a reliever. Sulbaran is young enough at 21 to do something fun too.
What are your initial feelings on the organization's 2015 draft? Were there any picks you especially liked/disliked?
It is very college-oriented and I suspect that annoys some of the fanbase, but keep in mind the giant group of high-ceiling raw-talent prospects they added from Latin America last year. A strong farm system (in my opinion) needs a blend of both upside players and polish players, so you could look at this like adding some leavening to what they did last summer.
James Kaprielian and Kyle Holder could both get to the major leagues very quickly. I really like their second round pick, Jeff Degano out of Indiana State, another rapid-riser and a possible number three starter if he maxes out his ability. Drew Finley is polished as far as high school arms go and was getting some first-round buzz, so nabbing him in the third is a nice coup.
They drafted a junior college infielder named Brandon Wagner out of Howard in the sixth round. Midwest-area sources really seem to like his offensive upside so keep an eye on him. James Reeves in the 10th round out of The Citadel is a college senior but scored a $50,000 bonus despite lack of leverage. He doesn't burn radar but maintains strong strikeout rates and is quite deceptive, so he could also move up quickly as a reliever or maybe a back-end starter at some point. Zach Zehner out of Cal Poly in the 18th round is a college senior with more upside than most, has power and a strong arm but also has issues with the strike zone. There's physical upside there though. I also like Isiah Gilliam, first baseman out of Chipola JC, in the 20th round. He's a high-upside power switch-hitter who will need time.
I want to thank John for taking the time to answer my questions. How do you guys feel about what he had to say?