With prospect season wrapped, we’ve seen all the major prospect lists released, and the consensus is clear: the Yankees’ system has thinned considerably. Whereas the team just a couple years ago littered most Top-100 lists with several players, only a handful of Yankee farmhands moved prospect hounds enough to rank them highly this year.
Baseball America didn’t place any Yankee prospects in their Top 100. Estevan Florial ranked 106th on FanGraphs’ Top 130, the only such Yankee on the list, and Deivi Garcia was the lone Yankee on ESPN’s Keith Law’s list. Baseball Prospectus ranked only Florial and Jonathan Loaisiga within their Top 101. This all makes sense, as the Yankees’ once formidable farm system has only weakened because the farm’s great former prospects are now for the most part great young major leaguers.
Beyond simply the system’s lessened state, however, there has been another significant shift on the farm; it’s dominated by pitchers. In the recent past, the farm system’s strength was built on stud hitting prospects: Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres. Now, outside of the toolsy Florial, the top of the Yankees’ system boasts almost exclusively hard-throwing right-handed hurlers.
Consider FanGraphs’ Yankees list, for example. As recently as 2017, Eric Longenhagen ranked just five pitchers within his top-15 Yankees prospects. This year, Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel saw fit to place 10 pitchers within the top 15, all right-handers.
Baseball Prospectus tells a similar story. Seven of their top-10 Yankees prospects are pitchers, again all right-handed. BP lists eight more prospects to watch outside the top 10, and you guessed it, five of them are right-handed pitchers. Three years ago, just five of the 15 prospects BP listed were pitchers.
MLB Pipeline also follows suit. In 2016, they ranked just five pitchers in their top 15, and none in the top six. Now, 10 of the first 12 names on their Yankees list are pitchers. In case you needed reminding, every one of them throws with their right hand.
The Yankees clearly have a type at the moment; the young, hard-throwing right-hander that can touch 99 or 100 mph with their fastball and drop in a nasty breaking ball. That description could fit any number of their top prospects, from Jonathan Loaisiga, Deivi Garcia, and Luis Gil, to Albert Abreu, Luis Medina, and Roansy Contreras, the list goes on.
Compare that to the team’s top prospects from 2015 or 2016. Judge, Sanchez, and Torres, but also Miguel Andujar, and Clint Frazier, and Jorge Mateo, not to mention Dustin Fowler, Blake Rutherford, and Tyler Wade. The Yankees do possess a couple of interesting outfield prospects other than Florial that have talent evaluators’ attention, like Antonio Cabello and Eversion Pereira, but far fewer than has been typical.
Whether this shift from premier hitting prospects to a cavalcade of young flamethrowers is intentional or an accident is difficult question to answer. On the one hand, it’s never been clearer that the idea of TINSTAAP (There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect) held merit. While there is such thing as a pitching prospect, it’s become obvious even the best pitching prospects carry loads of risk. The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh highlighted this last week, in detailing how scouts across the board have lowered their expectations for virtually all pitching prospects because of leaguewide injury and pitcher usage trends.
Hitting prospects profile as much safer than pitching prospects. Injury and underperformance can befall any young player, but it’s just more common for pitchers. The likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., and Victor Robles look like near-locks for productive careers. The same can’t be said of the minors’ best pitchers, like Forrest Whitley, Sixto Sanchez, and Jesus Luzardo, due to the rate of attrition even among the most elite pitching prospects.
From this perspective, the Yankees’ focus on young fire-ballers would appear to be risky. There’s every chance that all of the team’s pitching prospects light up the radar gun but find themselves unable to stay healthy and/or consistent. Perhaps, though, the Yankees are trying to beat TINSTAAP by sheer brute force. Sure, all of their young hurlers might look like risks, but the Yankees might be looking for just one or two to pop. There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect, but maybe there is such thing as an army of pitching lottery tickets.
We’ll find out whether the farm system’s abundance of pitching prospects pans out in the coming years. Until then, we know that the team’s strength at its lower levels has seen a fundamental change; towards hard-throwing right-handers everywhere you look. The Yankees might try to shift back towards hitting prospects in the coming seasons, but for now, we’ll have to pin our hopes on a veritable legion of fire-balling young-bloods.