The Yankees have a lot of talent in the Instructional League this year with 10 of their top 30 prospects in attendance. Unfortunately, without Tim Tebow to bring down the media’s attention, you won’t see or hear anything about these players over the next few weeks. That doesn’t mean there isn’t under-the-radar talent in attendance that you’ve probably never heard of yet.
Signed amongst the 2014 international haul, Florial ended up getting suspended because he had been using a fake birth certificate since he was born. After getting his paperwork straightened out, he hit .313/.394/.527 with seven home runs in the Dominican Summer League. His breakout performance led to teams asking for Florial in trades before he ever reached America, but the Yankees were too impressed to budge.
He spent most of the 2016 season in Pulaski where he struggled at the age of 18, but his seven home runs ranked him among the top three on the team. He even played a handful of games in Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. He’ll be 19 heading into a season where he will see more challenging pitchers and should find his way onto the top 30 Yankees prospect list before too long.
Hitters like Luis Torrens, Leonardo Molina, and Wilkerman Garcia have been highly regarded, but have struggled when they faced advanced competition for the first time. Florial is a good example of how numbers and results are not always the best indicator of abilities. He is young and will have his adjustment periods, but the left-handed hitting outfielder could be receiving a lot more attention very soon.
As I previously said in a recent Pinstripe Alley podcast, Brian Cahsman always gets his man, and Nick Green is a testament to that. Selected by New York out of high school in the 2013 MLB Draft, Green went on to junior college before being selected in the 2014 draft by the Texas Rangers. He came to the Yankees in the Carlos Beltran trade at the 2016 deadline, and now he is someone to watch going into 2017.
He pitched in only a handful of games after coming over in the trade, but he saw action in Low-A Charleston for the first time at the age of 21. The 2016 season marks the third year in a row where he has lowered his walk-per-nine rate to 2.9 and even saw his strikeout rate jump to 9.4 K/9. He has the numbers of a ground ball pitcher, so it will be interesting to see if that trend continues into next year.
You’ve probably never heard of Rivera before, but the 23-year-old reliever has come into his own since moving to the bullpen. He is known for his ability to reach the upper 90s with his fastball, hitting as high as 99 mph, while pairing it with a plus curveball. He pitched to a 1.34 ERA across 33.2 innings in Staten Island, Charleston, and Tampa.
As a reliever his strikeout rates of jumped significantly, reaching 12.6 K/9 on the season. Unfortunately, like many before him, his strength is also his weakness. Rivera has a career 7.0 BB/9 and logged a 5.1 this year. This season will be a big test for him as he begins to to face more advanced hitters. If he can harness the speed of his fastball, he could become a very important bullpen arm down the road.
Given the organization’s track record right now, it might not be unreasonable to see them give him another chance to start. It really all comes down to the control issues, though.
Drafted just this year, Widener has been a standout reliever in the system. At the age of 21, he pitched to a 0.47 ERA over 38.1 innings while maintaining astounding peripherals. He struck out batters at a 13.9 K/9 rate while only allowing walks at a 1.6 BB/9 rate. Widener started his pro career in Staten Island, like most college players, but he’s already spent time in Charleston.
The right-hander could become a fast riser for the Yankees, however he has experience as a starter in college and started two games this year. The Yankees found a talent in converting relievers into starting pitchers, so this is one to watch in 2017.
Brought to the Yankees as one of the many prospects acquired at the deadline when they traded closer Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs. Hitting just .255/.327/.386 as a 21-year-old in High-A made him look like a throw-in for that deal. The Yankees have plenty of outfield depth already, and this guy looked like he would get lost in the crowd.
Instead, he hit .291/.381/.364 in 29 games with the Tampa Yankees, leading them to the playoffs. He didn’t stop then either as he collected nine hits, two home runs, and put together a five-RBI game in seven Florida State League playoff games. Maybe the Yankees saw something in his swing they could fix, or maybe it was a lucky start to an otherwise uneventful career. Still, for someone who didn’t come along with a lot of hype, Crawford looks like an intriguing sleeper in 2017.