Two years ago, this would’ve been a pretty difficult article to write. At that time, the Yankees’ farm system had it all. Elite position player prospects like Gleyber Torres? Check. Hard-throwing starting pitchers? In spades. Back-end starting pitching prospects, catching prospects, defensive infielders, you name it, the Yankees’ league-best system had it.
Since then, the Yankees have overseen the exact progression any team with an elite system hopes to see. Many of their tantalizing minor league talents have grown into productive major leaguers, while others were traded in exchange for contributors from other teams. Organizations in possession of a great farm don’t always make the leap to become organizations with a great big-league club, but in this case, that transition was smooth as can be.
Where does that leave the farm system now, though? We’ve already gone through the system’s strengths and weaknesses in preparation for next week’s MLB Draft. With hundreds of amateur ballplayers about to come off the board, what does the Yankees’ system actually need?
It’s not a simple question to answer for any number of reasons. For example, by most accounts, the Yankees’ system is littered with high upside, lower minors players, ones who could one day make an impact but remain years from the majors. From this view, perhaps the Yankees need an influx of college players in the draft, closer-to-the-majors bats and arms that could contribute in the next year or two.
Yet perhaps that surplus of distant prospects is by design, as the Yankees’ current roster (at something resembling full health) has little need for high-floor, close-to-the-majors prospects that could fit in in a pinch. With such a loaded roster, the Yankees don’t really need prospects with 2019 and 2020 ETA’s.
Instead of considering distance from the majors, we could focus on position groups. The Yankees’ excess of high-octane right-handed pitching prospects speaks for itself. They don’t have any premier left-handed pitching prospects, however, so maybe they will devote some draft capital in that area.
The system also could probably use an influx of infielders, given that talented outfielders like Estevan Florial, Everson Peirera, and Antonio Cabello don’t have many counterparts on the infield dirt. Outside of Thairo Estrada, who has shown well in his limited time in the bigs, the Yankees have little in the way of up-the-middle infield prospects, with players like Oswaldo Cabrera and Gosuke Katoh holding limited prospect cache.
The team devoted high picks to a pair of catchers in 2018, Anthony Siegler and Josh Breaux, so catcher doesn’t profile as a glaring need after the position thinned out a bit in recent years. Overall, from a positional perspective, if the Yankees wanted to target the positions they’re thinnest at, their biggest needs stand at left-handed pitching and at shortstop/second base.
That said, I think the most interesting way to attack the question of the Yankees’ farm system need is to look at upside. A few years ago, the Yankees possessed any number of hitting prospects with huge potential. Back in the day, the likes of Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo, Blake Rutherford, and more all had tools you could dream on as well as flaws that stood out. Not all of them panned out, but they all looked like they had the potential to do elite things at the highest level.
Do the Yankees have those kinds of high upside, toolsy players on the farm now? Yes and no. That kind of dreamy upside stands far more on the pitching side for the Yankees at the moment. I wrote a few months ago about how the Yankees just might have an ace somewhere on the farm right now. We might not know who it is, but the Yankees have so many hard-throwing arms with mouth-watering talents that the odds seem to favor at least one of them developing into something formidable.
I’m not sure that upside exists in the same way on the hitting side in 2019. Outside of Florial, there don’t appear to be many hitters in the system that you can envision making an All-Star team if everything clicked. Florial has enough of a power/speed combination that one can imagine him putting up five-WAR season in the majors if his hit tool comes along, but can we say the same of Siegler, or Pereira, or Josh Stowers?
It may sound like a tautology to say that the Yankees’ farm system needs high-upside hitting talent. Every farm system needs potential-laden hitting prospects! But when looking up and down the Yankees’ farm in particular, their biggest need might just be hitting prospects with tools to dream on. We’ll see what tact they take at the draft next week, but from this point of view, they would probably do well to try and bring in some riskier hitters who may not exactly possess major-league certainty, but instead have lottery ticket potential if things go right.