The winter is prime prospect season, but the summer always makes for a good time to take stock of what’s going on down on the farm. Thus, many of the major prospect lists have received updates this month. ESPN’s Keith Law published his midseason Top 50 last week, with Justus Sheffield standing as the only Yankee included. Baseball Prospectus also just ran their own midseason Top 50, and again, Sheffield alone made the list.
Sheffield placed highly in Law’s ranking, coming in at number twelve, while BP was more modest, slotting the 22-year-old left-hander at number 40. BP wrote favorably of both Sheffield’s mid-90’s velocity as well as his potentially plus secondaries.
They were less complimentary of his command, as well of his ability to stay on the field, especially as a starter:
Why he might fail: Health, command, consistency, height... All of this could result in a relief profile when it’s all said and done.
Indeed, one of Sheffield’s primary red flags is his relative lack of size. He measures in at 5-foot-11, undersized for a starting pitcher. Plenty of scouts, including those at BP, are skeptical he will be able to effectively harness his electric stuff as a starter, and posit that there’s a chance his ultimate destination will be the bullpen.
Even with those concerns, Sheffield has emerged as the Yankees’ top prospect at the moment. He continues to impress at every level, pitching effectively at both Double-A and Triple-A, while still flashing three plus pitches.
That he is consistently clocking in as the Yankees’ only top prospect lists, though, suggests something about the Yankees’ farm system. It seems as though the Yankees’ vaunted farm is shifting gears just a bit. The system’s strength now appears to lie in its depth, rather than its top-end talent.
Much of this is due simply to graduations. The Yankees’ farm has consistently ranked among the game’s best for the past couple years, and over that time, the team has graduated a number of premier talents. Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, all prospects that ranked well within the game’s top 50 that have lost their prospect eligibility in recent seasons.
With Single-A outfielder Estevan Florial suffering a nasty wrist injury earlier in the year, Sheffield stands out as the Yankees’ top talent on the farm. That’s a slight departure from the times when the Yankees could reliably place a number of prospects towards the top of any offseason or midseason list.
Yet the farm system is still a strength, because what it may lackin elite talent, it makes up for with depth. The Yankees might not possess anymore prospects like Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Victor Robles, or Jo Adell, but they still have as much depth as any team in the game.
No system can trot out a parade of power arms like the Yankees. There’s the recently-promoted Domingo Acevedo, Albert Abreu, Freicer Perez, Matt Sauer, the list goes on. When the Yankees ran into injury trouble in their rotation, they turned to the number twelve prospect their system according to MLB Pipeline, Jonathan Loiasiga.
It’s unlikely every right-hander with a 97 mph fastball and sharp slider will pan out, but the Yankees develop those kinds of prospects like no other organization, propping up their system’s depth as their elite talent graduates. As long as their player development system keeps humming, the team will still have ammo to make trades to upgrade the big league club midseason.
So while it may seem a bit concerning that Sheffield is the only Yankee prospect garnering praise right now, it just signals a natural changing of the times. The strength of the Yankees’ farm has shifted from the top towards depth as their biggest names have graduated. It’s a different look for the farm system, but not necessarily a bad one.