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Yankees prospects will face new developmental challenges

With all of baseball disrupted by the global pandemic the Yankees and their prospects will have to crack the code on the development curve.

MILB: JUL 03 Gulf Coast League - GCL Yankees West at GCL Phillies West Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The current situation surrounding baseball, like many things in our daily lives, is full of uncertainty and questions. While very ambitious plans are in the works for a major league season, much less is known about what will happen with the minor leagues in 2020. It is very likely that minor leaguers will play an incredibly short season, if they get to play at all. This presents obvious problems, but could also be an opportunity for others to improve while out of the spotlight.

Major league baseball and the players union have already agreed to dramatically shorten this year’s coming draft, and to decrease the pool of money for signing undrafted free agents. The leagues that see the most players from those areas are the short-season leagues that run at the Rookie-Advanced level, and the Short-Season A level. For the Yankees, that is the Pulaski and Staten Island Yankees teams. Teams are required to provide players to the short-season leagues per their agreement with minor league baseball, but the quality of the players going to those leagues could be dramatically different.

Some of the best prospects in the Yankees system are ticketed for these levels of the minor leagues this season. If the league plays this year, those players who have graduated to this level will find a lower level of competition, as many of the players who would have been drafted in rounds six through 10 will be back in college for another year.

After playing in the Gulf Coast League last season, prospects like Alexander Vargas, Kevin Alcantara, Antonio Gomez and Raimfer Salinas would have been slated for the incremental step up to the Rookie-Advanced Pulaski Yankees. The step up in competition that they are looking for may not be there now, as there is a good chance that the talent level of the Appalachian League that Pulaski is part of will now look more like the Gulf Coast League.

Another player who was likely to join the Pulaski Yankees this spring was Jasson Dominguez, the crown jewel of the Yankees minor league system after they signed him last summer. In the current environment it is hard to see the Yankees bring him stateside without a major improvement in the health situation here, or a deterioration of the situation in the Dominican Republic. He may end up playing out games at the Yankees complex in the Dominican, or in the Dominican Summer League if that takes place this summer. Not coming stateside during a debut season is not necessarily a crushing blow to his prospect status, as elite prospect Julio Rodriguez from the Mariners system rose rapidly to being one of the top 10 prospects in baseball after playing a full debut season in the DSL in 2018.

This leads to the point that talented players could emerge from this break primed to rise rapidly through the system. With travel and games cut out of their schedule, players who capitalize on their time at the complex if it becomes available to them could sharpen and improve the tools that are fringe or lacking. Over the last two years, the Yankees have hired numerous coaches at the cutting edge of blending technology into coaching to help improve performances. At some point, the Yankees minor league complex could become an amazing baseball lab for the duration of the summer and into the fall.

The most common critiques of young players like Alexander Vargas and Kevin Alcantara are that they need to get stronger before they can fully recognize their potential. The interrupted season could provide players with the opportunity to hit the weight room as these young men also grow closer to their physical peaks presenting a whole new player when they are next seen on the field.

One player who has no issues with strength and power is Anthony Garcia. Garcia led the Gulf Coast League in home runs as a 17-year-old in 2018, but then saw his season cut short with injuries in 2019 when he bumped up to Rookie-Advanced Pulaski. Working against Garcia was his excessive amount of strikeouts, as pitchers found the holes in the 6-feet 6-inch switch hitting prospects swing. He is the type of player that could benefit from months of intensive coaching, and reps in a controlled setting as his coaches work to fix the holes in his game.

How a global health crisis impacts the development of the Yankees’ prospects is, of course, of trivial concern. This time does provide opportunity to those prospects that could use time to develop certain aspects of their game, though. That said, not all players will react the same way to a situation without the atmosphere of near daily games. Some players could find themselves in a difficult spot if and when games begin, as the normal incremental step that the organization would be looking for them to take is no longer available. One way or the other, normal prospect progression is going to be thrown off, and time will tell which prospects progressed, and which were thrown off.