Top 10 Prospects: Current State of the System

It is a great time to be a Yankee fan. In what was supposed to be a "rebuilding year", as coined by a number of sports media outlets and analysts alike, the Yankees safely advanced to the postseason with a 91-71 record. While some are quick to say the Yankees overachieved, based on run differential, which has shown to be one of the most reliable predictors of a team’s success, the Yankees actually underachieved and should have finished with a 101 or 102-win season after finishing +198, second highest in the MLB to only the Indians. This showed in the playoffs when they came one game shy of advancing to the World Series, succumbing to a 101-win Houston Astros after coming back from an 0 – 2 deficit to beat the 102-win Indians in the ALDS.

A majority of last year’s unexpected success was due to the emergence of key homegrown talents Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino, among others. This bucks what was a troubling trend for the organization after the Core Four (or Five, I see you Bernie) entrenched themselves into Yankees lore, as the team often failed to produce any quality major league talent from their farm system. This includes high profile busts such as Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Jesus Montero (albeit we did win that trade, barely), with perhaps Brett Gardner and Dellin Betances (who was a failed starter) as their best results.

Thankfully, the narrative has now changed dramatically. After realizing that the Yankees had little roster flexibility and limited potential due to their bloated payroll and advanced age shortly after splurging on the 2014 free agent class, Hal Steinbrenner gave Brian Cashman a mandate to improve while getting younger and somehow cheaper. And that he did. Cashman began a slow but methodical rebuild of the entire organization, enlisting the help of key front office and development personnel such as Gary Denbo (former Head of Player Development), Damon Oppenheimer (Scouting Director), and Tim Naehring (VP of Baseball Operations). In addition, he also placed a focus on staff continuity, rarely changing managers on the Yankee minor league affiliates, allowing for the Yankees to maintain a constant message to players on how to improve. It is often an understated factor in player development as players will work diligently on certain mechanical changes only to be told to completely modify their approach when new coaches and front-office philosophies come in.

And so, the Yankees began investing heavily into their minor league affiliates, through first acquiring talent via the draft and international signings while later supplementing that talent with deft trades at the 2016 trade deadline. No matter which way, the Yankees have recently proven that they have a keen eye for big league talent through signing the right amateurs while trading off other highly valued prospects that the Yankees were not as high on. This talent was allowed to flourish in a consistent environment optimized to best prepare them to be future major leaguers, with the Yankees leading the trend of providing English classes to foreign players and helping their youth adapt to life as a professional baseball player. The baseball industry has taken notice of the Yankees system and ESPN analyst Keith Law recently ranked their system as the 2nd best in baseball, while many others believe the depth of the Yankees system is unmatched.

With all of this in mind, I will base my rankings on who I think the Yankees themselves believe are their own top 10 prospects. To do this, I take into consideration a number of things, including how these prospects are perceived across the industry along with how the Yankees coveted certain prospects in trade discussions. I believe it is important to consider prospect lists from the team’s perspective as nobody knows more about the Yankees prospects than the Yankees. Given the recent success of their prospects, we should be very confident in who the Yankees value to be a part of their major league team. Without further ado, here is my list:

**Note: Although not viewed as one of the five "tools" used by scouts to evaluate prospects, I believe intangibles that each prospect possesses can be just as determinative to their future success. For example, Aaron Judge was always viewed as a mature, hard-working individual who was consistently able to make adjustments to overcome any slumps he endured on his path to superstardom. This ability to make adjustments and think over the game separates him from other hulking sluggers who never experienced the success Judge had in his rookie season. On the other hand, Michael Pineda was a former stud prospect with ace-potential who never panned out, mostly due to his inability to put away batters and finish off innings. Whether this was from lack of focus or lack of confidence, Pineda often started off at-bats ahead of the count and started off innings getting the first two outs only to later lose his command and allow the opposing team to rally. Although it is hard for any outsider like myself to judge one’s character, there are some prospects in particular who have certain habits or behaviors that make them stand out to evaluators and gain notoriety. If there have been reports of a prospect’s character, I take note of this in my rankings and on a greater scale believe scouts should consider a player’s intangibles as a sixth tool to evaluate.

1. Gleyber Torres – 2B/SS/3B. Hit: 70 l Power: 55 l Run: 50 l Arm: 60 l Field: 60 l Overall: (20-80 scale): 65. The easiest choice of this list, Gleyber is one of the top prospects in the game who has been considered an untouchable by Brian Cashman since he acquired the now 21-year old Torres at the 2016 trade deadline. While he was likely to get called up to the majors last season until he needed Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing arm, he is destined to start at 2B this season, albeit after the Yankees gain another year of his service. Torres projects to be a .300+ hitter who has the potential to compete for batting titles while his power ceiling has continued to increase as he has matured into his frame, with some scouts believing he can provide 20+ homers annually. Given his exceptionally quick hands and innate ability to barrel up the baseball, Torres profiles as an exceptional top-of-the-order hitter while providing solid defense at SS albeit without exceptional speed. Considering his lack of top-end speed, he should be a natural fit at 2B (or even 3B) and could provide even better defense at these positions.

**Intangibles** Since signing for $1.7 million as an international amateur, Torres is known for having an advanced approach at the plate while possessing the ability to recognize pitches early, something young players often struggle with when first exposed to professional pitching. His walk and strikeout rates have consistently improved as he’s shot up the minor league system while he has a knack for driving pitches on the outside part of the plate to right field. All in all, Gleyber’s advanced feel for the game portrays the aura of a future star.

2. Estevan Florial – OF. Hit: 45 l Power: 60 l Run: 70 l Arm: 65 l Field: 65 l Overall: 60. The 20-year old centerfielder enjoyed a breakout season in both levels of class A this year, leading to his emergence in the top 50 of most top prospect lists (c’mon Keith Law!). Florial had a unique beginning to his career, as he was prohibited from signing as an international free agent after discrepancies about his identity were discovered by MLB. Thus, he signed with the Yankees for a paltry sum of $200,000 the following year. Since Florial grew up in Haiti, where baseball academies for top prospects to refine their skills at a young age are scarce, Florial’s game was always a bit raw. However, he started to put his enormous raw tools together in 2017 and the whole baseball industry took notice, perhaps most notably Brian Cashman. Cashman has refused to part ways with Florial despite overtures from teams such as the Athletics while not even allowing those discussions to begin with the Pirates and Tigers in potential deals for Gerrit Cole and Michael Fulmer. This is quite the statement considering Cashman was okay with including Clint Frazier and others in those deals. Most likely, Cashman sees Florial as his center-fielder of the future, whose ETA of 2020 coincides perfectly with the expiration of Aaron Hicks contract after the 2019 season. By then, Florial should be the final addition to a lineup littered in stars and potential stars at every other position. His left-handed swing should fit perfectly in Yankee stadium with the potential of a 30-30 player while also providing potential Gold Glove defense in center field.

**Intangibles** The one flaw Florial has right now is his ability to make consistent contact and recognize off-speed pitches. Given his international background, this shouldn’t be surprising as he was not exposed to advanced pitching at a young age. However, even given his contact issues, he still hit .298 with a .372 OBP across class A, showing the ability to make hard contact. This underlies the reason I think the Yankees are extraordinarily high on this young man’s future: he is a notoriously hard worker who has made huge strides since first signing with the Yankees. Coaches rave about his work ethic, such as his Arizona Fall League manager Jay Bell, who believes Florial can be a perennial all-star and that his sixth tool is that "he’s a wonderful human being." With continued experience and hard work, Florial has superstar potential.

3. Justus Sheffield – SP. Fastball: 60 l Slider: 65 l Changeup: 60 l Control: 50 l Overall: 60. Continuing a recent trend for pitchers in the Yankees system, Sheffield has added velocity to his fastball since coming over from the Andrew Miller trade, sitting between 94-96 regularly with downward motion. After recovering from an oblique injury, Sheffield continued to make important strides refining his off-speed pitches, developing a power slider while working with an above-average to flashes of plus changeup. Pegged safely as a number 3 starter upon his trade to the Yankees, he has changed his trajectory to potentially being an ace or a solid number 2 on a staff. Again, Cashman has taken notice and refused to include Sheffield in any trade packages, offering up Chance Adams instead. Sheffield must continue to improve his command, particularly with his fastball if he wants to become an ace.

**Intangibles** The 21-year old lefty is again another raved about Yankees prospect, with scouts often praising his character and intelligence on the mound. One veteran Yankee scout was quoted this year saying, "wait until you get a chance to sit with this kid. I hear from everybody that he’s a great kid." Often criticized for his shorter stature standing at 5’11", Sheffield makes up for his lack of size with sheer athleticism and a competitive nature while also demonstrating pretty sound mechanics. He’s been quoted the past two offseasons declaring that he was shooting for a spot in the Yankees rotation out of spring training, unrealistic goals but you could see that he feels like he belongs in the big leagues, a good sign for a young pitcher’s confidence. CC Sabathia has taken a liking to the young lefty and could be a valuable mentor for Sheffield, who could become an option for the Yankees at the end of the season if he performs well.

4. Miguel Andujar – 3B. Hit: 60 l Power: 60 l Run: 45 l Arm: 70 l Field: 50 l Overall: 55. Andujar is finally receiving universal respect among scouts after being perhaps the most underrated prospect in the Yankees system the last couple years. Although his bat is now receiving praise, I believe the Yankees (and I agree with them) are still a bit higher on both his contact ability and power than others. Andujar has earned the reputation of being an aggressive hacker who is able to put the bat on the ball and hits bullets, topping a 100mph exit velocity twice in his brief cameo in the Bronx. Before 2017, he was regarded as having plus raw power that wasn’t yet translating to in-game power, but this past season he was able to elevate the ball and the results showed, as he hit a career-high 16 homeruns in 125 games. However, there are two flaws to Miguel’s game that have some reserved on whether or not he should be the Yankees starting 3B. One is his overall approach as a hitter, as he tends to be a free-swinger (albeit one who recognizes pitches and rarely misses) who rarely walks. This limits his overall potential, but if the Yankees can refine his approach, which they are good at, Andujar can learn to wait for pitches he likes and dictate the at-bat which could turn him into a better player than scouts predict. Second, his glovework at 3B needs some fine-tuning but he does have a cannon for an arm. Nevertheless, Andujar is a borderline untouchable in the Yankee system given his pedigree and the glaring hole at 3B, unless the Yankees look to trade him to the Orioles for Manny Machado.

5. Albert Abreu – SP. Fastball: 65 l Slurve: 55 l Changeup: 55 l Control: 50 l Overall: 55. Yankee fans can thank Gary Sanchez for this potential stud pitching prospect, because Albert Abreu was acquired in the offseason trade of Brian McCann to Houston, which ended up netting the Yankees two top 100 pitching prospects (with Jorge Guzman who’s now a Marlin) according to some prospect lists. Abreu impressed in the AFL, with a deceptive delivery and flashed three plus or better pitches with command. His fastball can hit triple digits and his breaking ball resembles something between a slider and a curve, both pitches capable of missing bats and inducing weak contact. When at his best, Abreu flashes ace potential, but needs to be more consistent. Still some risk here that he doesn’t pan out as a starter, but if he doesn’t he has the repertoire of a dominant reliever. The Yankees hold Abreu in high regard, but seem willing to deal him given his rising prospect status if the acquisition is right.

6. Freicer Perez – SP. Fastball: 65 l Curveball: 55 l Slider: 50 l Changeup: 55 l Control: 50 l Overall: 55. Freicer Perez was another breakout prospect for the Yankees this past season, and now some scouts think he’s destined to be an ace while he is still underrated by others, making it unlikely the Yankees would part with a prospect whose value is rising. Physically resembling the giant Dellin Betances, Perez shows a more complete repertoire and polished delivery than Betances did when he was Freicer’s age, something notable given that extremely tall pitchers tend to take longer to refine their mechanics. He can hit triple digits when he lets loose while showing a plus curveball and a slider that looks like a weapon in the future. Perez began throwing a power changeup that had fade action but must continue to develop his feel for the pitch. There is still a lot of refinement left, but he has some like Keith Law thinking that he could be an anchor at the front of the rotation, with a floor of another dominant reliever in the Dellin Betances-mold.

7. Chance Adams – SP. Fastball: 55 l Slider: 60 l Curveball: 50 l Changeup: 50 l Control: 55 l Overall: (20-80 scale): 55. A fine product of Gary Denbo, Chance Adams has been a great story. Drafted as a reliever out of Dallas Baptist, Gary Denbo saw something in him and converted him to a starter, where he has excelled at every level. Adams was another beneficiary of Yankee coaching as his fastball velocity ticked up to a consistent 94 now but lacks any movement, making it pivotal for Adams to command it in the big leagues. His slider is his best pitch, sitting in the mid-80s with tight break. Despite the unexpected success, the 23-year old seems to be deemed expendable by Brian Cashman, who has reportedly offered him as the headliner in various trades instead of the pitchers mentioned above. The Yankees need to swing high with their pitching prospects given that their system is flush with backend rotation starters (think how Jordan Montgomery came out of nowhere last year), and I think the Yankees sense an opportunity to sell high on a pitching prospect who might lose his luster when he gets to the big leagues. In my opinion, I can see Chance Adams successfully filling a long-man role similar to Adam Warren if he remains in the Bronx, unless he continues to develop his off-speed offerings.

**Intangibles** The good thing about Adams is that he has always seemed to outpitch his stuff, described as a bulldog on the mound who relentlessly attacks hitters from the get-go. Yankees coaches have raved about his presence on the mound, showing intelligence in mixing his pitches with varying speeds as well. If he exhibits this "it" factor in the major leagues, Adams can finally hush all the doubters and solidify himself as a solid number 3, but if he doesn’t he could fall out of the rotation and into the bullpen fast. If there is a person to bet on to continue to defy expectations, it’s Chance Adams.

8. Domingo Acevedo – SP. Fastball: 65 l Slider: 45 l Changeup: 55 l Control: 60 l Overall: 55. Another Dellin Betances clone! The 6 feet 7, 24-year old pitcher had a good season and earned a spot in the Futures Game, where he displayed some command issues. A surprising strike-thrower who can also touch triple digits, he has made steady progress as a pitcher. Although he theoretically has front-end potential if he cleans up his slider, right now he seems more likely to be destined to the bullpen, where his fastball can play up and his lack of a breaking pitch isn’t as important. He has higher potential than Adams but is much more likely to end up in the bullpen.

9. Luis Medina – SP. Fastball: 70 l Curveball: 60 l Changeup: 55 l Control: 45 l Overall: 50. Luis Medina is by far the riskiest prospect on this list, which isn’t unusual for a 19-year old pitcher who hasn’t pitched in full-season ball yet, but he also may possess the most upside of any pitcher in the Yankee system. He’s already touched 101 mph with a significant amount of filling out still left in him, while Baseball America already rated his curveball as the best in the Yankees system. He’s also displayed a good feel for a changeup already, and it is easy to understand why some scouts believe he could end up as the best prospect in this system. Josh Norris of Baseball America believes that Medina is the one pitcher in rookie ball most likely to jump into top 100 lists this upcoming season, and if he gains better command of his pitches, don’t be surprised to see Medina shoot up these lists. I consider him almost untouchable for Brian Cashman since his value is likely at its lowest.

10. Thairo Estrada – 2B/SS/3B. Hit: 60 l Power: 40 l Run: 60 l Arm: 60 l Field: 60 l Overall: 50. I went with Estrada over others such as Dillon Tate, Nick Solak, and a host of others mainly because Brian Cashman has mentioned Estrada as an option for one of the open infield positions. Cashman is a big fan of versatility and Estrada provides good defense at three different positions while also having the potential to hit for average. Estrada looks like a future utility player for the Yankees and has the upside to be one of the better ones in the league, a valuable component to any successful team. He will be competing with Tyler Wade for that future utility role, and the loser of the competition will likely be trade bait in a future deal.

As you can see from this list, the Yankees farm system is still flush with upper echelon talent and extreme depth to help fill holes on the major league roster. After experiencing success with young position players such as Didi, Judge, Sanchez, and Bird, the Yankees believe they have created their offense of the future once Torres, Florial, and Andujar arrive. Because of this, we have seen a greater focus from the organization on developing their pitching staff of the future, probably most emphasized in last year’s draft where the overwhelming majority of their top picks were on pitchers. This is obviously a calculated approach by the front office, and a smart one at that because you can never have enough pitching. Call me biased, but the Yankees are looking like the most complete team for at least the next half-decade, without even having to flex their financial might.

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