You heard that right: of the top 100 prospects on Keith Law’s rankings this year, six of them are Yankees. And of the top 50, five of them are Yankees. That’s a pretty good year for the Baby Bombers considering the likes of Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, and Greg Bird have since graduated from the system.
I recommend paying for ESPN Insider and reading the list in full; in this article I’ll quote a couple of snippets but that’s about it, to respect that paywall. Alright, here we go.
The first prospect is Justus Sheffield (88th), left-handed pitching prospect acquired in the Andrew Miller trade. At the moment, Law contends that Sheffield has major league capable stuff on his two primary pitches, but he doesn’t really have a good breaking ball which dings his value a bit. He also is of a small frame, which can be troublesome in regards to injuries. But nonetheless, considering his age (20!) and the fact he’s already at Double-A, there’s a decent chance he could slot in as a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher in the near future. Considering the pitchers on their way out, it would be sorely needed.
Next is a familiar face in Aaron Judge, ranked at 44th overall. The skills and criticisms are basically the same as what we’ve been hearing for the past few years: considering his size, power potential, and arm in right field, all he needs to do is cut down on strikeouts and he could be a perennial 30-home run hitter and above-average outfielder. This is likely his last year on a prospect list, because hopefully now he makes the jump.
Here come the real heavy-hitters, and a couple of surprises. James Kaprielian is ranked at 28th overall, which really raises your eyebrows considering the available facts. First among those facts is that Kaprielian has just 29 professional innings, and the other being that he suffered a nagging elbow injury last year. Even knowing that, Law was frank, stating that he had “three plus pitches from a guy who is now built like a brick house...”, and that if he wasn’t injured, he would likely be in his top 20. It’s interesting to see how much prospect evaluators assess risk, and it seems that Law believes there is some, but that it is easily outweighed by possible ace potential. I’ll take it.
Just a spot ahead is Clint Frazier, and there are no surprises there. Frazier also came over in the Miller deal, which is already looking like a win for both sides. Frazier is just a level away from the big leagues, so the risk is considerably lower. Law’s only knock was actually a good one, that Frazier’s bat speed was so fast that it caused him to chase pitches out of the zone. Talk about a good problem to have. This ranking seems to fall in line with the popular consensus, that he is about a top 25 or so prospect in baseball knocking on the door. With the organization scratching their heads at times with their sub-par position players, it would be nice to get another infusion of fresh blood this summer. It’ll be one of the most interesting story lines to watch this season.
Blake Rutherford finds himself at 22nd, which is yet another surprise. I know Law tends to be aggressive with younger prospects in his rankings, for better or worse. Again, I’m not going to complain. Rutherford was drafted just last year, and at times had the sheen of a consensus top five selection in the draft. I even wrote at the time, and I still believe this, that he is probably the most talented player at draft day the Yankees have selected since Derek Jeter. Law believes that Rutherford can hit, and with some power, and his bat speed and approach are good enough that he could escalate through the low minors rather quickly. If that does happen, that possible risk surrounding age could become one of the biggest assets in any farm system anywhere.
Last but not least is Gleyber Torres, ranked at 4th overall. Torres rose to prominence not only in the Aroldis Chapman trade, but also by winning the Arizona Fall League MVP. There are some out there who believe Torres is a true-talent 55 and is slightly overrated, but Law is not one of those scouts. He describes him as the Yankees’ “heir apparent” at shortstop, with “...a great approach that has him going the other way well with pitches on the outer half, and he makes adjustments from one at-bat to the next like a much older player”. Not a shabby profile, and not a shabby list at all.
This has to warm the heart, right? We’ve talked all offseason about a lot of the issues with this crew: an unreliable pitching staff, an ownership group increasingly unwilling to spend, and a cast of position players put in the position of having to match career years for the team to succeed. This, on the other hand, offers an alternative narrative.
The Yankees have one of the best farm systems in the game, and they acquired most of their best prospects in the last calendar year. I’ve been very impressed by the scouting department since their shift in philosophy a few years back, and it’s finally paying dividends. Always remember that prospects can break your heart, but if even one or two pan out as expected, this team is on the map.