A few weeks ago, my twitter timeline started to fill up with highlights of prospects playing in games or training at their facilities around Florida and Arizona. All but two of the major league teams brought in their best prospects for several weeks of simulated games and in-person instructions. St. Louis will run theirs in January, leaving the Yankees as lone team to not host an instructional training session. Lets look at the Yankees decision to not bring their best young prospects in this fall.
When it was announced in mid-September that MLB was going to authorize teams to hold a instructional league, it looked like the Yankees would be right there with the rest of the teams in Florida. In one article published on October 9, it stated that after the Yankees decided to not bring any of their recent draft picks to the alternate training site they would instead be bringing them to the instructional setting.
The official reason that the Yankees were hesitant to bring in all their young players together was their fear of being caught up in another quarantine situation. After several positive COVID-19 tests in March, over 150 Yankees players and employees were quarantined around their minor league facility.
Lingering in the background is the cost. In recent weeks Hal Steinbrenner has talked in general terms about the extreme amount of money lost by the Yankees this season. Even in Brian Cashman’s quote discussing the issue, he said that the Yankees did not want to “waste that money,” related to bringing players in with the potential that they would be walking into a second wave of COVID and again end in a quarantine.
The biggest talents in the Yankees farm system are considered very young, but bursting with potential. MLB Pipeline rates 19 of the Yankees’ top 30 prospects as players with no experience above the Low-A level of the minor leagues. This is the level of talent that the instructional leagues usually target to continue their development in a controlled setting.
This is not to say that the Yankees players will not be without coaching. The Yankees have made the decision to bring back some of their coaches from furlough to increase the amount of instruction they can provide virtually to their players.
Early on after spring training was cancelled, the Yankees’ minor league coaches and staff established communication methods to work with their players. While the Yankees are very comfortable with their communication system, there are limiting factors as High-A Tampa hitting coach Joe Migliaccio said in a September interview: “If we are going to make a training plan based on the equipment we have available in our player development complex, then you are setting yourself up for failure thinking that these players are going to have this equipment and technology available back in their home town.”
This quote points out that the Yankees have a world class facility and coaching staff in Tampa that is not being maximized. Their fleet of high-ceiling young players including Kevin Alcantara, Anthony Volpe and Everson Pereira will not be receiving in-person training from the Yankees staff for almost a full year by the time they return to the facility next February.
In their quest to maximize their 60-man roster, the Yankees made the decision to not include many of their younger prospects with the training taking place at their alternate training site. Numerous teams invited their top draft picks from this year, and the Oakland A’s even invited 17-year-old Robert Pauson — the second rated prospect in the recent international free agent signing class.
The top prospect from that signing class is the Yankees uber-prospect Jasson Dominguez, who has remained in the Dominican Republic since signing with the Yankees on July 2, 2019. The Yankees chose not to bring him to Scranton for work with their minor league coaching staff, instead settling to let him tantalize fans one Instagram post at a time.
The value of a player coming in for a closed instructional period can be seen in the praise of Estevan Florial, who as a member of the 40-man roster was invited to Scranton this summer to train. Yankees farm director Kevin Reese was quoted as saying, “he got to see some good pitching, more advanced left-handers and right-handers, and he got up close and personal with Dillon Lawson, our hitting coordinator.” The Yankees were able to test him in this environment, as Reese continued, “we wanted to see what we could do with his pitch recognition and we were able to put him under the microscope.”
Some other factors that could have come into play are the Yankees’ roster decisions. Several years ago the Yankees identified multiple scouts from specific organizations showing up to cross-check Jonathan Loaisiga during the instructional league. The specter of losing Loaisiga in the Rule-5 draft played a role in them adding him to the 40-man roster despite having only pitched at lower levels of the minors.
Without a clear path laid out by MLB, many young players built their long term training plans around returning to action during next year’s spring training. Yankees prospect Brandon Lockridge spoke of this during an interview conducted before MLB had cleared teams to have instructional leagues. “How many times in my playing career am I going to have a seven month period to just focus on getting my body right,” Lockridge said. “Typically you have two months after the season to get your body right, so now this is crazy how good my body feels.”
Time will tell if the Yankees made the right decision with their offseason training plan. Their experiences with a large scale quarantine of their minor league players in March and April gives them a better understanding than most about what can go wrong with a large gathering of players in the current pandemic environment. The team is pushing ahead with its virtual coaching model, and if the rest of the league’s plans stay static, they’ll be alone in this experiment.