Last summer, teams around baseball were asked to create a 60-man roster that would best suite their needs over the course of a short season. Some clubs invited their top prospects, knowing they were well below the major league level but hoping that every live at-bat would help compensate in some way for a lost minor league season. The Yankees trended the other way, choosing players in the upper levels of the system and combining them with available veterans who had past MLB experience.
Due to their positions on the 40-man roster, the Yankees had many of their top pitching prospects in Scranton last summer. Clarke Schmidt, Deivi García, Luis Gil, and Luis Medina all gained valuable feedback through camp from Yankees coaches, led by minor league pitching coordinator Sam Briend.
The Yankees also carried a small fleet of veteran arms in the system, such as Fernando Abad, Tyler Lyons, and Luis Avilán, who were lefty options to potentially be called up at different points of the season. Only Lyons remains with the organization today, and he seems unlikely to crack the Opening Day rosters.
Longtime homegrown pitchers such as Daniel Álvarez and Domingo Acevedo also earned reps at the alternate site. It is very easy to question carrying these two players after the Yankees allowed them to move on during minor league free agency this past winter. Both players had previously been exposed to the Rule 5 Draft and passed over as well.
One player who the Yankees did not invite was their third-round pick from 2017, Trevor Stephan. Stephan finished 2019 on a high note, tossing a seven-inning perfect game and allowing just two earned runs in his last 26.2 innings pitched. Consistently ranked as a top-30 prospect since being drafted, the righty had already caught the attention of Cleveland, who selected him in December’s Rule-5 draft. He has made their Opening Day roster out of spring training and will be used in their bullpen this coming season.
The Yankees carried veteran depth over prospect potential at the catcher position as well. Erik Kratz was the most notable name at the alternate site, but the Yankees brought in multiple players without much of a track record of major league success over some of their top prospects at the position.
Wynston Sawyer was added to the 60-man roster in late August. For his career, he had hit just .248/.341/.369 in 10 minor league seasons. Another veteran, Rob Brantly, was acquired in August to add more depth, even though he was 31 with a negative bWAR for his MLB career. The Yankees had just invested a first-round pick in University of Arizona catcher Austin Wells the month before. Numerous teams around baseball brought some of their 2020 draft picks to the alternate site but the Yankees chose not to.
In addition to the option of calling Wells to the alternate site, the Yankees could have reached back to their 2018 draft class, which featured two catchers in the first two rounds. Both Anthony Seigler and Josh Breaux struggled to stay on the field in 2019, catching fewer than 30 games apiece after battling injuries. The alternate site would have been a strong developmental opportunity for either player, catching borderline-MLB quality arms and facing more organized pitching.
Wells, Breaux, and Seigler all participated in spring training with the Yankees, but none of the players received even 10 plate appearance over the course of the spring. The long-term story will tell if the Yankees missed an opportunity to push their catching depth forward a level and put them in position to contribute to the majors sooner.
The Yankees chose the veteran path over the prospect path when selecting players for their alternate site in 2020. At the time, it seemed like a sound decision for a team geared towards winning that season. In the near-future though, we may find out if those really were the best decisions for the team.