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Key improvements Yankees prospects must make to thrive in 2019

In order to advance through the system, these prospects will have to make some key adjustments.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The road to the show takes makes many twists and turns, and it’s the prospects that can make adjustments at every level that have a chance to eventually play their home games in the Bronx. It was only a year before his MLB debut that Aaron Judge scuffled in 61 Triple-A games and many questioned if he would be any more than a boom-or-bust hitter in the majors. Judge made the proper adjustments at Scranton, and then again at the big league level, before becoming the MVP caliber player he is today.

There’s no better place to start than with Estevan Florial, the number one ranked Yankees prospect according to MLB Pipeline. Unfortunately, Florial broke his wrist in spring training, but not before he showed progress towards improving his greatest weakness: consistent contact. At his worst, Florial is a tremendous four-tool prospect. He covers ground in center field, has the ability to leave the yard, runs like a track star, and has a cannon for an arm.

The only knock on Florial is that he might not have the contact skills to hit for average at the major league level. Here’s the good news: according to FanGraphs, Florial lowered his strikeout rate from 31.9% in 2017 (Low-A) to 25.7% in 2018 (High-A). He didn’t impact the ball with as much authority, but he missed two months with a broken hand, so that likely played a significant role. If Florial can stay healthy and reduce his strikeout rate again this season, he could be on track to make the jump to the MLB in 2020.

Florial isn’t the only Yankees prospect with swing-and-miss issues. Ryder Green, an 18 year old outfielder selected in the third-round of the 2018 draft, has about as much raw power as you’ll find in a player coming out of high school. Still, he’s very raw. Green struck out 35 times in only 95 Rookie League plate appearances last season, although he showed some plate discipline by working 11 walks as well. If Green can evolve to make more contact he could rise quickly in the prospect rankings in 2019.

The Yankees have a similar prospect in Anthony Garcia, another 18 year-old with a worrisome 40.5% strikeout rate, but a mountain of power potential. At six-foot-five, there’s a lot of Joey Gallo in Garcia, but even Gallo struck out less than that as a young prospect. Garcia needs to shorten up his swing and significantly cut down on strikeouts before he’s moved above the Rookie League.

Nobody did more to improve their prospect status than right-hander Michael King last season. King pitched to a 1.79 ERA in 161.1 innings last season, ranking second in the entire minor leagues. So what can he possibly do to improve before he gets a call to the big leagues? King’s known as a cerebral prospect who outsmarts minor league batters by locating his fastball with movement and generating ground balls. The Yankees, however, will likely want to see King get more swings and misses before they’re confident he can dominate big league hitters with that same consistency.

If King recovers from an offseason elbow injury and improves on the respectable 8.5% strikeout rate he posted last season, don’t expect him to hang around Triple-A for much longer. Whether it’s a slider with more deception or an elevated fastball, expect King to add to his arsenal before he takes that final step towards the Yankees rotation.

While King is hoping to make his way to the show as a starting pitcher, Domingo Acevedo is making the transition to the bullpen. After a series of injuries, the Yankees clearly believe the 25-year-old right-hander has a better chance of impacting the big league club in shorter stints as a flame throwing reliever in the Dellin Betances mold.

At 6-foot-seven, Acevedo has always looked the part, but his fastball velocity has decreased after he was clocked as high as 103 mph a few seasons ago. A revival of his triple-digit fastball as he transitions to the bullpen will likely punch his ticket to the Bronx, but a sharper breaking ball to complement his fastball and changeup could also make the difference, even if his fastball sits in the mid-90s. It will be interesting to see what Acevedo’s stuff looks like coming out of the bullpen early in 2019.

Every prospect in the system has a tool (or many tools) that need sharpening, but one or two integral adjustments can make a world of difference in the outlook of these players as they chase their big league aspirations.