Considering the Yankees have not had a top 10 overall draft pick since Derek Jeter in 1992, they’ve built a relatively deep farm system and have done an admirable job of stocking up on international signings and trading for talented prospects in recent years. They have one of the deepest systems in baseball when it comes to right-handed pitching, and Jasson Dominguez headlines a solid crop of talented young outfield prospects.
However, the Yankees farm system has struggled to produce quality left-handed arms in recent history, and there wasn’t a single left-handed pitcher among the Yankees top 38 prospects in FanGraphs’ system evaluation entering last season.
The Yankees have Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, James Paxton, J.A. Happ, and Jordan Montgomery on their 40-man roster, so it’s not as if they have no interest in left-handed pitching as an organizational philosophy. Perhaps their lack of success drafting and developing left-handed pitchers forced them to focus their attention elsewhere. Draft picks like Sam Stafford, Ian Clarkin, Jacob Lindgren, and Jeff Degano all turned out to be poor selections in the early rounds over the past decade, making Montgomery their only real success story as a left-hander coming out of the draft in recent memory.
If the 2019 MLB Draft is any indication, the Yankees are actively seeking to change that narrative. With the 38th overall pick in the draft, the Yankees selected left-handed pitcher T.J. Sikkema out of Missouri. Sikkema now ranks as the team’s 16th best prospect in MLB Pipeline’s evaluation of the organization. In 10.2 innings for short season Staten Island, Sikkema allowed just one earned run and struck out 13, a positive start for the 21-year-old SEC standout. The Yankees also selected left-hander Jake Agnos from East Carolina in the fourth round and left-hander Ken Waldichuk out of St. Mary’s in the fifth round.
Before Sikkema was drafted, the Yankees most promising left-handed prospects were two former 10th round picks, 26-year-old James Reeves and 25-year-old Trevor Lane. Reeves spent 2019 with the Trenton Thunder, pitching to a 1.79 ERA over 55.1 innings of work. Lane, his teammate in the Trenton bullpen, posted a 1.99 ERA over 68.0 innings. Both could make their big league debuts with the Yankees at some point in 2020, but neither project as much more than a lefty-on-lefty specialist at the next level and MLB’s rule changes regarding pitcher substitutions will make that a tough role to fulfill.
Lane is described by teammates and coaches as having a “wipeout breaking ball” that he’s able to command in the zone.
He should enter spring training in competition with Luis Avilan and Tyler Lyons for a spot on the Yankees’ radar – and maybe even roster – should they decide to carry a lefty specialist at any point in the early going of the 2020 season.
Even with a new crop of talented draft picks, and a pair of mid-20’s prospects who have had some professional success, the Yankees’ farm system has a noticeable absence of left-handed pitching depth across its affiliates. With all that being said, all it takes is one or two big league success stories to pay dividends and change that perception.