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Tempering expectations on two Yankees prospects

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Kyle Holder and Thairo Estrada got some high praise from the Yankee manager recently, but a grain of salt or two we should take with that

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

When asked about which Yankees prospects have impressed the most in spring training this year, Aaron Boone singled out Kyle Holder and Thairo Estrada. The Yankees’ farm system has been weakened over the last couple seasons, so it’s certainly not bad to hear there are young guys hanging in there with the major leaguers. For all the high praise, though, a veritable ton of things would have to go wrong for either to merit consideration for any substantive big league role. Let’s dive into Boone’s comments, but temper his praise with some scouting reports, shall we?

Boone actually mentioned Holder first when talking about head-turning prospects. The second-year manager said:

I think Kyle Holder impressed us last year in his time here [in spring training] and then he had the back [injury], which kind of shut him down the second half of spring. But he’s been a guy that can continues to grab our attention because he is such a gifted defender and he looks a little stronger this year. He’s more of a man. He’s impacting [the ball] a little bit better. I feel like he’s a guy that’s maybe not talked about a lot, but he certainly impressed me last year and even more so this year. He can really defend.

A couple things here -- first, it’s no surprise that Holder’s glove is impressing the Yankee coaching staff. He’s always been lauded as a defensive wizard and is a legitimate 70- to 80-grade fielder. Minor-league fielding stats are scarce, but for what it’s worth, Holder didn’t commit any errors in his injury-shortened 2018. At the very least, we can say he’s making plays when he gets his glove on the ball. If defense was all that mattered, Holder could easily play in the majors right now.

Second, it is nice to hear that Boone is praising Holder’s bat coming along, but it’s going to have to get a lot better before he’s any kind of major-league threat. Holder owns a .263/.317/.330 career slash line in the minors; he doesn’t do much other than hit a handful of singles. FanGraphs’ last assessment of him was in 2017-- the last time he made their top prospects list. They gave him a 30-grade for future hitting ability. I guess those Brendan Ryan comps are right on point.

Holder doesn’t appear on any of the Yankees’ top prospect lists because other than the glove, no other tools stand out. ZiPS said the closest player to Holder was Matt DeMarco. If you don’t know who that is, join the club (DeMarco never made the majors and held a .622 career OPS in the minors). So while it’s great Holder is doing well, he’d have to greatly surpass all the scouting reports out on him to be anything more than a September defensive replacement.

Boone also threw some praise towards Thairo Estrada, stating:

I’ve been impressed. He was one of those guys last year that I remember in kind of my prep when I first got the job and watched video on guys that I hadn’t seen. Right away you see why people are really high on him. Real good hands. He can definitely play in the middle of the field. And you see those hands at the plate. He can impact the ball. So for him to come in [to spring training] healthy, he’s going to get a lot of reps here early in camp and he’s a guy that can come [to the big leagues] fast, I feel like, because he can play a premium position and because of his hands. I think he has potential to hit, too.

There are fewer grains of salt to take with Estrada’s praise. Many, including myself, expected Estrada to reach the big leagues at some point last year, but complications following a gunshot wound suffered in the offseason limited him to just 37 games between the regular and fall seasons in 2018.

The effects from the two surgeries seem to have taken their toll on Estrada, at least in the short-term. FanGraphs noted that he had lost a step during his time in the Arizona Fall League, so Boone’s comments about his ability to play the middle of the field are certainly encouraging.

Boone’s praise regarding Estrada’s bat is nice, but he projects to essentially be the right-handed Tyler Wade. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Wade’s skills, but there are serious questions about how his bat will play in the bigs. The same has to go for Estrada. He did have a nice triple the other day, but the triple came off Hoby Milner, a pitcher who owns a career 1.068 OPS split against right-handed hitters. A good highlight no doubt, but not exactly the best display of offensive potential either.

As a 40-man roster player, Estrada could definitely find himself in the big leagues this season, but it’s probably worth seeing how he does in Triple-A before we pencil him onto even a bench role. Estrada has just eight games at that level, and they weren’t exactly a successful eight games. No doubt, he’s got a better chance at the big leagues than Holder, but there’s still some rawness to Estrada.

Overall, Boone’s comments are nice, and that might be it. Scouting reports do miss from time to time, but they contain more signal than noise. Even with the manager sending praise the way of this pair of prospects, we should exercise some restraint. Estrada and Holder have some tools, but they’re probably not going to threaten anyone’s job anytime soon.