We're in the midst of prospect season, as both ESPN's Keith Law and MLB Pipeline have unveiled their Top 100 prospect lists. The Yankees, after changing their tune and focusing on rebuilding at last season's trade deadline, have featured prominently in those rankings. Elite prospects, the likes of which haven't been seen in New York in a while now, litter the Yankees farm system.
Much of that talent won't bear fruit until somewhere down the line. Some players, however, could have more of an immediate impact. Like Gary Sanchez last August, or Greg Bird two summers ago, there are surely some prospects who could stand to help the Yankees in 2017.
Which prospects appear most prepared to contribute this season? Let's take a look.
On the position player side, the prospect most likely to come up sometime later in the year looks like Clint Frazier. “Red Thunder” placed in the Top 30 overall on both Law's and MLB's prospect lists, and after reaching Triple-A last season, he is close to the majors.
Frazier struggled upon reaching Triple-A, running a .230/.271/.385 line at the highest level of the minors, and some scouts cite his aggressiveness and swing-and-miss tendencies as cause for concern. Still, Frazier is described as an elite athlete with great bat speed and power, and he raked at every level before Triple-A. Plus, Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections actually pegged Frazier for an above average 102 OPS+ in 2017, so it seems like scouts and projections agree that Frazier could help the Yankees relatively soon.
The other most obvious prospect who could help in 2017 is Aaron Judge, though he only qualifies because he didn't quite hit the 130 at-bat threshold in 2016 that would've removed his rookie status. Regardless, Judge is the prospect most likely to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster, so he will have the biggest opportunity to contribute.
Judge struggled mightily in 2016 after homering in his first at-bat, as he struck out 42 times in 95 plate appearances. Even so, Judge still has massive power, power he displayed in running one of the highest exit velocities in baseball. Exit velocity means nothing if you can't hit the ball in the first place, so Judge obviously has plenty to work on, but if he can make at least some contact, he should be a usable MLB player this year.
Outside of Judge and Frazier, contributions from the Yankees' other position player prospects will probably be marginal. For example, infielder Tyler Wade could make an impact as a defensive-minded utility player later in the year. Wade held his own in Double-A last year, and has started taking reps as a center fielder, meaning he could be a useful utility player. He also reportedly has minimal in-game power, so if he takes the field in 2017, he'll likely only help on the defensive side.
Similarly, a player like Kyle Higashioka could help on the margins. Higashioka is already 26, but performed well last year, running an .847 OPS across Trenton and Scranton. If Austin Romine struggles at backup catcher, Higashioka could make an appearance.
On the pitching side, the Yankees' top prospects are far from the majors. James Kaprielian has plenty of upside, but probably won't see the big leagues until at least 2018. The same goes for left-handed starter Justus Sheffield. There are a few lower upside guys that could help soon, though.
Right-hander Chance Adams moved up on prospect lists, placing in the Yankees' top 10 on both Law's list and Baseball Prospectus' rankings, thanks to a strong 2016 that saw him post a 2.33 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 127 innings. He lacks size and a power fastball, but while his upside is somewhat limited, he does have a deep repertoire that could help him as a starter. If he performs well in the high minors this year, he could chip in innings as a spot starter or reliever in the majors later in 2017, despite being just 22.
Similarly, left-hander Jordan Montgomery impressed in 2016 with gaudy minor league numbers. He struck out nearly a batter an inning while maintaining a 2.13 ERA across 25 starts between Double and Triple-A. Like Adams, his ceiling probably isn't high, but as another pitcher with multiple offerings and seemingly solid control, Montgomery could contribute soon as a back-end starter or bullpen arm.
The next in the Yankees' apparently endless line of upper-level minor league arms with minuscule 2016 ERAs is lefty Dietrich Enns. He posted just a 1.73 ERA in 135 innings, working mostly a starter in Trenton and Scranton. At age 25, Enns was a relatively old prospect was expected to run good numbers, but he was impressive enough to warrant consideration for a call-up in 2017.
Essentially, it looks like the Yankees will have options if things go awry in the back of the rotation, and with unproven arms like Chad Green, Luis Cessa, and Bryan Mitchell leading the competition, that is certainly possible. It seems likely that at least a couple of the Yankees' arms in the upper levels of the minors will be called on to eat innings at some point during 2017.
The upside is higher on the position player side, as Judge and Frazier have true impact talent, while less-heralded prospects could also possibly fill in as back-ups at some point. The Yankees' highest ceiling players, like Gleyber Torres and Blake Rutherford, are still far from the majors. But with such a deep farm system, some young players are bound to contribute soon, and it appears likely that the Yankees will find value from their prospects in 2017.