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The prospect that explains the Yankees’ organizational strength

The ascension of right-handed pitcher Luis Gil helps demonstrate one of the Yankees’ clearest organizational skills.

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Just before the start of last season, the Yankees made an under-the-radar trade. Jake Cave, a useful fourth-outfielder-type prospect who had been in the Yankees’ system for nearly seven years, was sent to the Twins in exchange for the unheralded Luis Gil. The Yankees needed to clear a spot on the 40-man roster after signing Neil Walker in the middle of spring training, and dealing Cave to Minnesota in exchange for a hard-throwing teenager fit the bill.

Cave performed admirably for the Twins, running a .269/.318/.481 slash line with 13 homers in 91 games as a 25-year-old rookie. Yet Gil is the name that has caught my eye in recent weeks. Acquired as a no-name prospect in a trade to open up 40-man space, Gil’s stock has shot up with the Yankees, to the point that most top prospect lists around the internet peg Gil as one of the team’s most interesting prospects. Gil’s acquisition by, and subsequent ascension with, the Yankees stands as an excellent summation of where the Yankees consistently out-strip the rest of baseball.

Gil wasn’t exactly a non-prospect when the Yankees got their hands on him, but he was close. Baseball Prospectus didn’t list Gil among the Twins’ better prospects lasts winter, and FanGraphs didn’t mention Gil among the Yankees’ top 27 prospects, or among their list other prospects to watch in the system. Flash forward to today, and BP pegs Gil as the Yankees’ sixth-best prospect. FanGraphs lists him as the team’s ninth-best prospect. Note: none of this is to criticize the FanGraphs or BP prospect writers, who do outstanding work. This simply illustrates the extreme extent to which Gil’s stock has risen over the span of 10 months or so.

Reports indicate Gil sat in the mid-90’s on his fastball with the Twins, before making a jump with the Yankees last year. He currently sits in the upper-90’s, with the ability to touch 101, and the ease with which Gil gets that eye-popping velocity out of his 6-foot-3 frame is what really has scouts excited. Gil also boasts what could be a plus breaking pitch, and a fringy changeup that, stop me if you’ve heard this before, could ultimately determine how well Gil does as a starter.

Gil was a lottery ticket when the Yankees acquired him, and he’s still something of a lottery ticket now, but one with much more significant and attainable upside than before. Gil is 20, and having only just reached A-Ball, he remains years away from the majors. Plenty can go wrong between now and then, but the tools are there for a front-line starter, and a surfeit of high-end reliever outcomes are also clearly on the table for Gil.

That we’ve even reached this point, in which Gil is a legitimate prospect for the Yankees to either dream on or package in trades to improve the big-league club, plainly elucidates the team’s strengths. The Yankees have made a habit in recent years of expertly scouring opposing team’s system’s for potential pop-up talent like Gil, of skillfully molding such players into power pitching prospects, all while massaging 40-man-roster concerns that hamper teams like them.

I could point to all the middling pitching prospects the Yankees have turned into high-octane prospects, but it might take all day. Take Matt Sauer, who, according to MLB Pipeline sat “at 88-92 mph in 2016... and now operates with a 92-95 mph fastball and touches 97”. Consider Michael King, acquired from the Marlins in 2017, who added velocity and refined command in racing through the Yankees’ system last year. Maybe Freicer Perez is more your speed, a 6-foot-8 righty who touched 99 mph last season after previously topping out around 93.

Roansy Contreras, Luis Medina, major-leaguers like Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga, the list goes on and on. The Yankees’ track record of targeting players who could take a leap velocity-wise is unparalleled in the game right now. Despite consistently winning games, and thus not having access to the type of premier talent that goes as the top of the draft, the Yankees have been able to stock their system to the brim with exciting, percolating flamethrowers.

The Yankees churn out these types of players on nearly every front. The likes of Medina, German, and Domingo Acevedo were international signings. Sauer, Garrett Whitlock, and Clarke Schmidt came through the draft. King, Albert Abreu, and now Gil were trade targets. Whether it’s scouting internationally, or domestically among both the amateur and pro ranks, the Yankees have shown a consistent ability to locate and develop potential talent.

The Yankees don’t spend all that much money any more, not when compared to their peers. Their forward-thinking attitude towards developments like catcher framing and defensive shifting has become widespread. It’s harder than ever to gain an advantage on the rest of MLB, and yet, the Yankees appear to have found a legitimate one. They scout, target, and develop power arms unlike anyone else.

That organizational strength yields players like Gil. It allows the Yankees to identify Gil’s upside, acquire it, and help cultivate it. Gil himself may never turn into a great big-leaguer. Maybe none of the aforementioned names will. But, through a combination of their own hard work and the Yankees’ organizational aptitude, they all have a chance.