Over the past decade, the Yankees farm system has followed a pretty easy-to-trace path. In the early 2010’s, the team sported a middling system, occasionally churning out a supposed uber prospect like Jesus Montero, but mostly lacking the top-end talent that goes to teams picking early in the draft. By the mid-teens, of course, the front office rebuilt and laid the seeds for an excellent system. As the Baby Bombers graduated in recent years, the farm has taken a step back, and has profiled as more solid than spectacular for the past couple campaigns.
However, we’ve reached prospect season again, and this time around, things don’t look as clear. Whereas there’s typically been some level of critical consensus regarding the system’s quality in past years, this season, the top public experts are split. Do the Yankees have a deep, high-upside system? Has it regressed to the mediocre levels it used to traffic in 10 years ago? The contradictory opinions of the scouts leave it difficult to say.
You’ll need subscriptions to read Baseball America and Keith Law’s respective farm system rankings, but BA put the Yankees down at 18th, while Law ranked them 14th. On the other side of the spectrum reside Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs. Per the always excellent BP Annual, the Yankees rank sixth. FanGraphs has yet to compile their statistically-based farm rankings, but the Yankees placed eighth by their expected future value metric during the middle of last year, and there’s reason to believe they’ll rank even higher this year. Last season, FG’s Eric Longenhagen placed a grade of 45+ or better on six Yankees prospects, while his recently released 2021 Yankees list gave 10 players such a grade.
That’s a pretty clear split; some see the system as average, while others hold it as just below the elite tier populated by teams like the Rays and Mariners. Contrast that dynamic with last year’s evaluations. Law, BP, and FanGraphs all placed the Yankees between six and nine in their rankings. All praised the team’s ability to develop young, hard-throwing pitchers, and noted that much of their talent resided in high-upside, lower-level players far from the majors.
That consensus has faded, leaving us to try and discern the system’s true quality on our own. The pandemic further complicates matters, as many prospects simply didn’t see live action last year, leaving scouts and fans alike to guess at how well they’ve developed behind closed doors. With opinion split and with less information out there than ever, do those of us on the outside have any idea just how good the Yankees farm is now?
Ultimately, even in the best of times, prospecting and evaluating overall systems can be a guessing game. As of now, in the worst of times, how you feel about the team’s current system can probably be drilled down to a couple key concepts. For one, the more you believe in the team’s reputation for building up young hurlers’ velocity, and the more you believe they can get those young arms to cross from the minors to the majors, the higher you’ll be on this system. Moreover, with the farm’s top prospects looking more good than great, the extent to which you value a system’s depth, and the ability to leverage that depth for value at the big league level, may determine whether or not you see a top system here.
To the first point, perhaps no team in the league has done more to pump up the profiles of their lottery-ticket arms. Luis Medina, Luis Gil, Alexander Vizcaino, Yoendrys Gomez, the recently-traded Miguel Yajure and Roansy Contreras, and on some level even Deivi García, all arms who’ve seen either major velocity spikes, shown excellent overall development, or both. The likes of Medina, Garcia, and Yajure came on small-bonus international deals. Gil came in a trade for fourth-outfield prospect Jake Cave. This is an unheralded group, one without a first-round pick or prominent J2 bonus baby among them, and yet the Yankees have managed to help elevate all of them to some level of prospect notoriety.
To the second, while García, Jasson Dominguez, and Clarke Schmidt don’t profile as super-elite prospects, the Yankees make up for a relative lack of premium prospects with superlative depth. Again, we don’t yet have FanGraphs’ updated FV rankings, but it’s informative that as of last summer, they pegged 41 Yankees prospects as 40 FV prospects or better. Only Cleveland sported more 40 FV prospects. I’d rather the Yankees have a Wander Franco or Mackenzie Gore heading the system, but failing that, compiling a veritable army of potential contributors is not a bad way to go.
With the trade of four respectable but non-elite depth prospects for Jameson Taillon last month, the Yankees just showed how a deep system can be used to immediately put talent on the field in the Bronx. That trade mirrored other recent swaps, like the ones that brought Zack Britton, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, and Sonny Gray. Maybe none of the Yankees top prospects will turn into quality starters and ace relievers, but perhaps they can be traded for such players right now.
If you couldn’t tell from the tone of these last few paragraphs, I fall more towards the BP and FG side of things. Brian Cashman has shown a clear ability to use his huge cadre of decent prospects to add talent to the roster. To me, that ability helps negate a top of the system that’s more good than great. The lack of a super prospect, as of now, keeps the system from the absolute upper echelons. But the depth is enough to help power the major league team, and at the end of the day, that’s what farm systems are for: to supplement the big club. We may not know the ultimate fates of most of these prospects for years to come, but the expectation should be that the Yankees will find a way to mine value from their farm.