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The next Yankees ace may be hiding in plain sight

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We just don’t know who it is yet.

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I highlighted a shift that’s taken place in the Yankees’ farm system; it’s loaded with pitching. Perhaps not close-to-the-majors, high-probability pitching prospects, but pitching nonetheless. After churning out a number of premier hitting prospects, like Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, and Aaron Judge, the current Yankees’ system is dominated by young, hard-throwing, right-handed hurlers.

This might appear concerning to some. As I mentioned in that piece, TINSTAAPP (There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect) is a pervasive (and not unconvincing) idea. Pitching prospects profile as inherently volatile, and far riskier than their hitting counterparts. In the likeliest scenarios, most of the Yankees’ flamethrowing prospects bust.

On the other hand, the Yankees might just beat TINSTAAPP by sheer brute force. The overwhelming number of interesting, live-armed right-handers populating the system raises a legitimate possibility: that the Yankees have an ace lurking in the minors right now, but we just don’t know who it is yet.

Think about it. Sure, no single prospect in the Yankees’ system ranks among the game’s elite. None of them have even better than coin-flip odds at becoming established major leaguers. There’s no Forrest Whitley, or Sixto Sanchez, or Casey Mize. Instead, there’s such a large number of players with a slim shot at putting it all together that chances are, one will.

Scan any of the public’s top rankings of the Yankees’ farmhands, whether it’s FanGraphs, Baseball Propsectus, or MLB Pipeline, and grab a name, or five. Perhaps it’s Deivi Garcia, the undersized 19-year-old with a hard fastball with an elite spin rate, and a curveball that’s already plus. Maybe you choose Jonathan Loaisiga, who might actually start the year in the majors, and showed last year that his overpowering stuff can get hitters out right now.

It could be Roansy Contreras, a teenager whose stuff FanGraphs described as “a Luis Severino starter kit”, and whose makeup draws raves from the Yankees. How about Luis Gil? This 20-year-old right-hander has bumped his velocity up from the lower-90s to the upper-90s with the Yankees, even touching as high as 101 mph. Or else Luis Medina is more your speed, another right-hander that has, you guessed it, touched 101 mph.

I could go on for ages with these live-armed prospects with eye-popping velocity and wipeout breaking balls. I’ll spare you the full list, if only because there’s only so many ways to describe a right-hander that flashes triple-digits and a knee-buckling slider before you begin to repeat yourself. This doesn’t even bring up the pitchability types, such as Michael King and Garrett Whitlock, who may not have the overbearing velocity of some of the other prospects but have excelled in the Yankees’ system nonetheless.

In all, the Yankees have well over a dozen pitching prospects that all appear unlikely to make it as productive big leaguers, but have a shot. Many will fall short. They either will get injured, or fail to refine their command enough to play anything more than a middle-relief role, or struggle to find a third pitch, or prove unable to hold up to the rigors of the long MLB season.

But one or two might make it. If, for simplicity’s sake, each one of these low-level prospect has, say, a tiny seven-percent chance at becoming a front-line starter, then the Yankees actually have a strong shot at converting one of them into an ace. The odds that every single one of these arms fails just aren’t all that high.

To better visualize the odds, I’ve found the estimated FV (Future Value) probability distributions FanGraphs put together to be instructive. Their prospect team estimated the chances each player on their Top-132 list falls into different FV buckets, ranging from backup to MVP candidate.

Consider Sandy Alcantara, a Marlins pitcher, and 127th prospect on FanGraphs’ list. Alcantara is basically the kind of prospect any one of the Yankees’ pitchers might become in a year a two; he has the mid-to-upper 90s fastball and the above average slider, but he’s also come across a good changeup and workable command, which he parlayed into an MLB debut last seaosn. Here’s his estimated FV outcomes chart:

A fringe Top-100 guy like Alcantara, something any number of Yankees prospects might look like come this time next year, probably has something between a 15- and 20-percent shot at turning into an All-Star or Cy Young contender, not to mention an equally good chance at becoming a quality role player. In essence, if even a handful of the Yankees’ legions of young right-handers progress somewhat into Top-100 conversation, the odds are solid one turns into something special.

This is all pretty abstract, and treats the players themselves as lottery tickets. Each and every one of them is an actual pitcher, an athlete with a story and talent and presumably a strong work ethic to make it even this far. I personally would love to see all of them make good on their dreams to make it to the majors.

Most of them won’t. The Yankees are betting that some will, and that enough of them do that maybe, just maybe, one or two really pops. It’s hard to bet on any one of them. It might be even harder to bet against all of them.