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The Yankees don’t have a clear top prospect

But who you peg as their top young player might illustrate how you feel about upside.

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

We’re nearing the end of the offseason, which means we’re also in the the thick of prospect season. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen MLB Pipeline, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball America unveil their rankings of the top 100 prospects on the planet.

The top public analysts often come to a consensus in some areas. For one, Rays shortstop wunderkind Wander Franco is the universal number-one prospect. Most everyone also agrees that Adley Rutschman, Jo Adell, Luis Robert, and Gavin Lux should populate the upper-reaches of the top ten. No one stipulates that the best farm systems in the game reside somewhere other than Tampa Bay or San Diego.

Yet there doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus in one particular area of interest: the top of the Yankees’ farm. MLB pegs Jasson Dominguez as New York’s top prospect, 54th overall, with Clarke Schmidt second at 88th overall, followed by Deivi Garcia at 92nd. BA follows a similar setup, with Dominguez at 38th overall, Schmidt 62nd, and Garcia 65th.

BP forces a discrepancy, with Garcia ranking inside their top 25, Dominguez coming in 46th, and with Schmidt outside the top 100. In fact, BP lists Albert Abreu as the Yankees hurler knocking on the door of the top 100, not Schmidt.

These differences between publications are pretty huge. Is Garcia the Yankees’ top prospect, and one of the very best pitching prospects in the game, or a merely good pitching prospect? Is Dominguez, the uber-toosly summer signing of 2019, their top young player? Is Schmidt a blue-chip power arm, or just another of the Yankees’ many, many right-handed lottery tickets?

I’m no prospect aficionado, and the people that put together public reports on the game’s best prospects are deeply knowledgeable. Those of us that aren’t deep in the weeds can merely comb through what they put together and form our own thoughts and speculation. From an outside perspective, the difference we see regarding the Yankees appears to have its roots in questions about upside.

BP’s list, in my view, looks to prioritize upside. They list Franco number one, but BP’s Senior Prospect Writer Jarret Seidler asserted this week that Adell held the top spot at one point while drafting the list, before settling at two. Adell seemingly has a lower floor than a few of the other top prospects, with an assailable hit tool and some swing and miss issues. He’s also an all-world athlete that could win the AL MVP within the next half-decade. That potential vaults him over “safer” prospects, like Rutchsman or Lux, that MLB currently ranks above Adell.

A prioritization of upside would explain Garcia’s spot at the top of the Yankees’ farm in BP’s view, as well as Schmidt’s notable exclusion. Garcia comes with risk as a relatively under-sized pitcher with a high-effort delivery that could end up in the bullpen. He also unquestionably has the stuff of an ace.

Schmidt, on other hand, draws praise for his solid fastball and fairly deep repertoire, but doesn’t have the premium raw stuff of a possible elite starter. MLB describes him as “looking like he could fit into the middle of the Yankees’ rotation”. BP pegs his FV (future value) at 50, that of an average player. Schmidt is likely to make the majors and to produce value once there, but that value probably will come in the form of a fine payer, rather than a great one.

How one values these disparate profiles, that of the riskier and toolsier Garcia versus Schmidt's safer package of adequacy, speaks to how they’d view the top of the Yankees’ farm. If you like to see solid pitchers with four-pitch mixes and a likely outcome as a serviceable starter, you’ll vault Schmidt up your rankings. If you prefer players with more high-end tools and more question marks, ones that have chances to become truly great, even if those chances are small, you might rank Garcia as the Yankees’ best prospect.

What does this all mean for us as fans? Personally, as a supporter specifically of the Yankees, I favor a focus on upside. Solid mid-rotation or back-end arms are nice, but the Yankees can procure those kinds of players with relative ease. Just in recent years, the team has developed the likes of Jonathan Loaisiga, Domingo German, and Jordan Montgomery into useful major-league depth. Many other arms, ranging from Michael King to TJ Sikkema to Abreu, and more, look like they could provide adequate depth in the near-future.

Stars are harder to find. The team’s $324-million outlay on Gerrit Cole this winter highlights the premium that must be paid to procure the kinds of talents that truly make an impact. This isn’t to say that Garcia will ever be nearly as good as Cole, but that Garcia has ace potential in a way that someone like Schmidt doesn’t.

Consequently, I’d tend to hope that the Yankees internally side on BP’s side of this divide. The team did well to secure Cole, but players that talented don’t always hit free agency, not in the era of the pre-arb extension. They also will rarely have the shot to take high-probability swings at elite prospects in the draft, meaning that their chances of developing stars internally involve helping a lower-profile youngster like Garcia make huge leaps in the minors, or aggressively targeting young international stars like Dominguez.

These are prospects we’re talking about here, and as any scout will tell you, they’ll break your heart. There’s a million different ways things could go for these guys, even with Garcia and Schmidt close to the bigs. I just found the differing viewpoints regarding the Yankees’ best prospects interesting, and a good chance to ruminate on just how to value prospects and what we look for in young players. In a perfect world, we’ll see all three of these prospects as soon as possible, in pinstripes, and contributing to a championship team.