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The Yankees’ system is now back in balance

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The farm system has been dominated by pitching for several years, but a focus on position players over the last two years has brought the system back into balance.

2019 Mitel & MLB Present London Series Baseball Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Jun 29th photo by Roland Harrison/Action Plus via Getty Images

Fueled by an impressive number of hard-throwing prospects, the Yankees’ minor league system has been dominated by right-handed pitching for several years now. The most recent MLB Pipeline rankings list 21 pitchers inside the top 30 Yankees prospects. The signing of highly-touted Dominican center fielder Jasson Dominguez caps a two-year organizational effort to infuse the system with high-end positional talent and bring the minor league system back in balance.

The Yankees’ path to becoming a pitching-dominated system began with the 2014-2015 international signing class. That year the Yankees invested heavily on position players in the international market, signing seven of the top rated position players, and many more who were considered above-average prospects. Unfortunately for the Yankees, that signing class struggled as a whole and only Estevan Florial—who was a late addition to the class—ranks among the top 30 Yankees prospects. As a result of this spending spree, the Yankees as an organization were limited to offering international free agents a maximum bonus of $300,000 over the next two signing periods.

The bonus restrictions precluded the Yankees from landing top international position players who generally command over a million dollar bonuses. On the other hand, quality pitching arms are generally cheaper, and that’s where the Yankees turned instead. They were able to land several stellar pitching prospects such as Deivi Garcia, Roansy Contreras and Luis Medina during this restricted period. All three have shown potential and consistently rate among the best prospects in the system.

Tipping the scale towards acquiring pitchers was the continued approach the Yankees took in the 2017 draft. They used 14 of their first 19 picks on pitchers. Six pitchers from that draft—Clarke Schmidt, Matt Sauer, Trevor Stephan, Glenn Otto, Harold Cortijo, and Garrett Whitlock—currently rank among the system’s top 30 prospects. While no one will complain about having a deep pool of pitchers in their minor league system, it also comes with injury variability. Pitchers have tremendous attrition rates through injuries, along with the normal development challenges that every young player is faced with when going through the minor leagues.

Following the 2017 draft, the Yankees shifted their focus back to acquiring elite positional talent. They cast a wide net during the 2017-2018 international signing period by signing six of Baseball America’s top 50 international free agents, all position players. Four of these outfielders—Everson Pereira, Antonio Cabello, Anthony Garcia and Raimfer Salinas—demonstrated advanced performance and key tools to establish themselves among the team’s best prospects.

The Yankees signed five of the top 50 prospects during the next international signing period, and handed out their largest signing bonus to shortstop Alexander Vargas. While most of the top names from the 2018-2019 class are still a year away from being included among the top prospects, Vargas is out to a hot start. He already has recorded a 13-game hitting streak with just 15 games under his belt.

The organizational philosophy towards acquiring positional talent has extended to the draft as well. In the last two drafts the Yankees have had seven picks within the first three rounds, and six of those were used on position players. Catchers Anthony Seigler, Josh Breaux and outfielder Ryder Green were picked up in the 2018 draft. The Yankees also acquired Seattle’s 2018 second-round pick Josh Stowers as part of the Sonny Gray trade. All of these players are part of the Yankees’ top 30 prospects right now. The next round of updates to the prospect rankings will also include this years top draft pick Anthony Volpe, and third rounder Jacob Sanford, who are already in action with Pulaski and Staten Island respectively. Second-round pick Josh Smith has yet to sign with the Yankees, but is a safe bet to be a top 25 prospect as soon as he is on board.

Enter: Jasson Dominguez. The new Yankee is the most hyped prospect to enter the system in a long time. Prior to ever playing a game for the franchise, FanGraphs has already tabbed him as the team’s best prospect. Looking back on the franchise system acquisitions, Dominguez caps a two year Yankees organizational effort towards bringing many high-ceiling position players into the system. When the next round of prospect rankings comes out, the system will now have a somewhat even mix of pitching and position players.