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Can the Yankees balance their youth and championship ambition?

The Yankees lead baseball in 40-man roster members who have yet to play a game in Double-A or above, and that could compromise their championship ambitions.

MLB: FEB 24 Spring Training - Pirates at Yankees Photo by Icon Sportswire

This past season, as teams around baseball brought in their draft picks and teenage international free agents to train at the alternate training sites, the Yankees resisted following suit. Leaving Jasson Dominguez and Austin Wells at home, the Yankees focused on the players from their 40-man roster supplemented with players who had major league or high-level minor league experience. Now in stark contrast to that 60-man philosophy, the Yankees lead baseball with six players on their 40-man roster who have not played an official game above the Class-A level.

Putting this in perspective, six teams do not have any players on their 40-man roster who have yet to play in Double-A. The number for the Yankees would be seven if not for Estevan Florial’s one game major league cameo late this summer. It does beg the question, if the Yankees roster is functional for a team that is trying to win a division and the World Series?

Perhaps the Yankees front office is still remembering the surprise of losing catcher Luis Torrens out of the low levels of the minor leagues, as San Diego found a way to stash potential valuable prospects on their roster while making no attempt to field a competitive team several years ago. In 2019 only 11 players were selected in the entire major league portion of the Rule 5 Draft, but the Yankees were one of the teams to lose an upper level arm when the Detroit Tigers selected Rony Garcia with the first pick of the draft following a strong season with Double-A Trenton.

The disruption of the 2020 season likely stole the opportunity from some players to earn promotions off of this list, but the Yankees still stand out across baseball when every team was in the same situation this past year. Players like Luis Gil, Luis Medina and Alexander Vizcaino were able to work at the Yankees alternate training site in Scranton. This allowed them to be put under the microscope by the Yankees minor league pitching coordinators, and there is the chance that significant development took place.

Gil has continued to pitch in November, logging some additional work during the Dominican Winter League. The level of competition is fairly high in that league, with many major league veterans and upper-level minor leaguers on rosters across the league.

Gil and Medina were already on the 40-man roster and in-play for a promotion to the major leagues based on that status, but it was a tremendous vote of confidence from the organization for Vizcaino to get a slot in Scranton. All three pitchers would be in line to start next season with High-A Hudson Valley based on their official record, but could also find themselves advanced to Double-A Somerset if they impressed the player development staff this past summer. Even an aggressive promotion and strong spring would leave these arms far from being major-league ready to contribute in the starting roles they have been developing in to this point.

Roansy Contreras was added to the 40-man this season, but has yet to throw an in-season pitch above Low-A. He was also not invited to the Yankees alternate training site, which makes him even more of a question mark. He is likely ticketed for High-A Tampa in the coming year, with a chance to reach Double-A if things go well.

Ahead of Contreras in scouts evaluations of his pure stuff, Yoendrys Gomez has yet to match Contreras in terms of workload and success at the Class-A level. Armed with a strong fastball and a solid curve, Gomez has big potential. Potential is one thing, but he has maxed out at just 56.1 innings pitched in his last minor league season after starting with Rookie-Advanced Pulaski and he is likely to start 2021 in Low-A Tampa.

Possibly joining Gomez in Low-A Tampa will be shortstop Oswald Peraza. Scouts love his tools and he has produced exit velocities north of 110 mph as a teenager, leading scouts to think that more is coming from this player who has a knack for putting the bat on the ball. An aggressive assignment for Peraza would get him to High-A in 2021 but there is a lot of developing left for this young player.

After not having a minor league season this past year, the Yankees have a nearly exclusive read on many of their best prospects performances since COVID shut down spring training in March. They have chosen to pass on adding upper level arms like Addison Russ, Garrett Whitlock and Trevor Stephan to the 40-man in favor of players who may have a higher ceiling but are farther away from the major leagues.

Unlike many teams in baseball, the Yankees try to make the playoffs and win the World Series almost every year. One way that they have been among the best teams in baseball over the last few seasons — even after battling significant injuries — is that their 40-man roster has had players to plug the gaps. Currently, the Yankees 40-man roster is among the most talented in the game, but some of that talent is still projected to have several years of development before they reach the majors. Will the Yankees feel comfortable heading into spring training with a roster this young and will they be able to contribute when needed in 2021?