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The Yankees’ farm system has taken a step back

But it might be ready to climb soon

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

Prospect season is pretty much over, with spring training here and actual baseball season on the way, but there’s still some prospect analysis to pore over. For the most part, the consensus has felt as though the Yankees’ farm system is a bit down. Makes sense, with the likes of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Gleyber Torres having graduated. As prospect season wraps up, we can test that consensus against the top overall farm system rankings available in the public.

Most notably, Baseball Prospectus unveiled their 2019 organizational rankings this past week. The Yankees come in at 12th overall, at the back-end of a tier that BP describes as “pretty good systems that don’t quite have the right recipe for their organizational cocktail yet.” As always, I recommend reading through the BP Prospect Staff’s work in full, as it is consistently enlightening.

That 12th-place ranking stands in opposition to their most recent ranks on the same list. Just last year, prior to the graduations of Torres, Miguel Andujar, Domingo German, and more, the Yankees clocked in at fourth. The year before that, BP pegged the Yankees with the second-best farm system in baseball, just behind the perennially prospect-rich Braves.

The consensus sounds true; the Yankees’ system, obviously, has fallen back. Other prospect rankings around the internet echo the sentiment, with ESPN’s Keith Law ranking the Yankees’ system 19th overall after placing them 2nd in 2018, and with FanGraphs, whose rankings rely on an estimated dollar value of projected FV, ranking the Yankees 21st.

Yet even if the Yankees’ farm has fallen back to merely “fine”, as BP’s ranking would indicate, or quantifiably mediocre, as Law and FanGraphs seemingly assess, there’s plenty of reason for hope. That hope lies in the high-variance nature of the Yankees’ system. We’ve touched on the boom-or-bust feel of the Yankees’ prospects a couple times before in summing up the team’s individual top prospects lists.

Specifically, Jeffrey Paternostro of BP writes that based on “their usual supply of diamond-in-the-rough pitching finds and toolsy IFAs”, he expects the Yankees to shoot back up among the league’s top systems by this time next year. This is an idea similar to one I discussed earlier this week, in searching for the Yankees’ next ace.

The Yankees haven’t nailed down their “organizational cocktail” just yet, but the young, talented nature of their prospects has them in a position to suffer only a brief fall in terms of overall system strength. They have so many high-upside and high-risk players that it’s impossible to exactly figure which ones will prove legitimate, but on the whole, enough could pop to vault the system right back up towards the upper-tiers.

While the more pessimistic rankings on ESPN and FanGraphs may indicate they don’t agree, even they seem to peg the Yankees as likely to bounce back in the prospect department. FanGraphs’ rankings in particular stand to underrate the Yankees. Since they use essentially an expected value model to project system value, those rankings might systematically prize close-the-majors, high-probability, likely-to-be-average prospects, and undervalue uber-talented long-shots in the lower minors.

Indeed, in writing up the Yankees’ system, Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs noted:

Our prospect asset values put big numbers on 50 FV or higher guys, and the Yankees only have one of those, so they won’t rank highly in our farm system rankings. But they definitely have the most of the high-ceiling, high-variance sorts, including a few who, as we point out in the scouting reports, could be Top 100 caliber by midseason, giving the Yankees a high likelihood of moving into the top half of systems during 2019.

Based on the sheer amount of toolsy young players in the Yankees’ system, McDaniel expects enough of them to shine through to push the Yankees back into above-average status in just a matter months. Even ESPN’s Law, who might be the most down on the Yankees’ system of any public prospect hound, indicates that the team at the very least could create significant trade value because of the number of prospects they have with showy skills.

In essence, the consensus is more complicated than it seems. The Yankees system has regressed, yes, when juxtaposed with its elite rankings just in the past few years. But the system also clearly has the potential to not just stop the regression, but to reverse it entirely. While some may see the system’s high level of variance as a bug, most prospect analysts seem to view it as a feature. With any luck, a few new Yankees may appear on Top-100 lists this time next year. With genuinely good fortune, the Yankees’ overall system just might shoot right back up the ranks in a season’s time.