Over the past few weeks, most major outlets have published their prospect rankings for the upcoming season, and the consensus is in: the Yankees still have one of the best prospect groups in all of baseball. Despite a number of graduations and trades, the Yankees’ farm system ranks as one of the most talented in the game.
There is no question the system has elite prospects. Even after the likes of Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier lost prospect eligibility in 2017, the farm is not lacking for premier talent, in the form of Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, and Estevan Florial among others. However, what really might set the Yankees’ farm system apart from the rest is its depth.
MLB Pipeline recently unveiled its top 100 list, on which six Yankees appeared. Beyond that, though, is where the system really shines. MLB’s Jim Callis was asked about a hypothetical Top 1000 prospect list, and while no such ranking exists, Callis speculated that the Yankees and Padres had the deepest systems in the league, and that the Yankees could put 50 or 60 prospects on such a list.
When you consider that an average farm system, in theory, would put 33 prospects on a league-wide top 1000, that number is staggering. It means that the Yankees have literally dozens of prospects outside of their own top 10 that could fit snugly on other teams’ top 20’s and 30’s. It means that the Yankees not only have the top-end prospects, but also countless lower-end ones that project to fringy or average in the future.
This depth in all likelihood resulted from a confluence of factors, ranging from the team’s focus on investing in international prospects, the relatively higher spots they’ve picked in recent drafts, as well as the farm’s consistent ability to develop prospects once they enter the system.
That last point is crucial, as every year there are countless stories of Yankees’ prospects taking leaps forward, or showing up with added ticks of velocity. Whether it’s teenage right-hander Luis Medina clocking triple digit fastballs, import Dillon Tate rediscovering his lost velocity after coming over from the Rangers, or outfielder Billy McKinney finding his stroke in Triple-A after falling off the radar with Cubs, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the Yankees consistently make real prospects out of lower-tier players.
And yet, with an already stacked major league roster, one that PECOTA projects to win 96 games in 2018, as well as an ample number of elite prospects, does this depth really matter? Is there any point to having a farm stocked to the brim with lower-level prospects that project to become quality relievers, back-end starters, and potentially average starting position players?
The value of those kinds of prospects to the Yankees’ actual big league club, now that the team is a bona fide contender, isn’t huge. While it certainly will help the team to likely have a steady stream of hard-throwing relievers and bench players if needed, those kinds of role 45 players are much more useful for teams with more glaring holes and smaller payrolls.
Where the Yankees’ system depth could really come in handy, however, is when the team is making alterations midseason. Every year, even the best teams take stock of their roster during the summer, and gauge what holes they need to patch to best make a playoff run. The Yankees certainly did that last season in bringing in Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Jaime Garcia, and Sonny Gray prior to the trade deadline.
Having up to 60 of the best 1000 prospects in the league could prove to be invaluable as the Yankees continue to try to contend in the coming years. While those lower end prospects may not be able to fetch players under long term control like Gray every summer, the Yankees’ depth just might enable them to patch their roster with rentals whenever they please.
Just look at the trades the team consummated in 2017. With a hole in the rotation, the Yankees flipped Zack Littell, their 22nd ranked prospect at the time per MLB Pipeline, for Garcia. While Garcia’s tenure with the Yankees was poor, this is exactly the kind of the trade the Yankees will be able to make ten times over thanks to their depth. Prior to bringing in Gray, the addition of a solid veteran like Garcia was a significant upgrade over Caleb Smith and Luis Cessa.
In bringing in Frazier, the Yankees essentially flipped lower prospects Ian Clarkin and Tito Polo (top prospect Blake Rutherford was included primarily because of the team control brought by premier relievers Robertson and Kahnle). Frazier, like Garcia, profiled as a large, short term upgrade at a position of need at the cost of prospects the Yankees would hardly miss.
Look around baseball, and there are plenty of examples of the price of solid veteran rentals at the deadline. The Red Sox flipped Jamie Callahan and Gerson Bautista to the Mets for Addison Reed, one of the best relief rentals on the market last year. Callahan and Bautista slid immediately into the final spots of the Mets’ Top 30 on MLB.com. Elsewhere, the Brewers flipped Ryan Cordell, a 25-year-old outfielder in Triple-A, for old friend Anthony Swarzak, another one of the top relief rentals.
These types of interesting but lower-end prospects don’t headline packages for the Chris Archers and Christian Yelichs of the world, but instead are highly useful in securing rentals of quality players midseason. The Yankees are likely to be exactly the kind of team that will be looking to make such maneuvers at the trade deadline in the coming years.
And they are just the kind of team that will be able to make these kinds of moves perhaps in perpetuity. If the player development machine that has yielded one the game’s deepest farms continues apace, the Yankees will be able to flip decent prospects for veteran help midseason over and over. The ultra-deep parts of their farm may not directly contribute much to the big league roster, but could still prove to be invaluable as the Yankees look to make playoff pushes for years to come.