It’s easy for an outfielder to be lost in the Yankees farm system: Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier, and Mike Tauchman are under team control years, and the farm system boasts current top prospect Jasson Dominguez, former top prospect Estevan Florial, Kevin Alcantara, and many others. Despite this, one could make the case that there are no young outfielders in the farm system more prepared for the majors than Trey Amburgey, which makes his treatment over the last two years by the Yankees a tad curious.
2019 Stats (Triple-A Scranton): 510 PA, .274/.329/.494, 22 HR, 62 RBI, 22 K%, 6.3 BB%, 106 wRC+
Prospect Ranking (Yankees system): Not Listed
Originally drafted by the Yankees in the 13th round of the 2015 MLB Draft at the age of 20, Amburgey has slowly but steadily risen through the ranks of the Yankees’ minor league system, ultimately reaching Triple-A Scranton in 2019 at the age of 24. Although he was present at the Yankees’ alternate site last season, he was never needed, with the team preferring to promote Florial — who had not played above Single-A — for outfield depth when the injury bug hit, simply because Florial was on the 40-man roster. This past winter, he was left open to the Rule 5 Draft, but was not taken.
So what explains this lack of attention that all 30 teams, not just the Yankees, have paid to Amburgey? Let’s track what people have had to say about him over the years. Former PSA editor Jason Cohen had this to say about him when he was drafted in 2015:
The Yankees took another promising outfielder when they drafted Amburgey out of St. Petersburg College. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound right-handed hitter batted .304/.351/.385 with 13 stolen bases in 174 plate appearances this season and is known as a burner on the base paths with the potential to become a power outfield bat.
The following season, MLB.com ranked him as the Yankees’ 27th best prospect (albeit the 7th best outfielder), giving him an ETA of 2019 and saying
Amburgey has a big league body at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and the athleticism to match. His three homers in 47 games at St. Pete last spring belied his plus raw power, which manifested itself in game production more often in pro ball. He makes consistent contact to all fields and the ball jumps off his right-handed bat, which generates some of the best exit velocities among New York farmhands.
Amburgey’s well-above-average speed plays better on the bases than it does in the outfield, where his reads and jumps can be shaky. He played center field in junior college but mostly on the corners in his debut. He has fringy arm strength, so he’ll be best suited for left field unless he can hone his instincts and return to center.
Dan Farnsworth of FanGraphs, however, was much more negative on him that year, saying that “Fringy defense and a dead pull swing limit how much ... [he] will be able to capitalize on his physical tools and good contact skills.”
Judging from his stats, Farnsworth seemed to be was correct in his evaluation — after being promoted to High-A Tampa at the start of the 2017 season, Amburgey struggled to get on base, combining for 55 walks in 2017 and 2018 and posting an OBP just south of .300. His 97 wRC+ in both years established him as a below-average hitter, and for somebody whose defense is not believed to be good enough to play center field at the Major League level, a below-average bat is not a ticket to the show.
As can be seen from the stats above, Amburgey turned it around in 2019 by putting together his best performance since he played for the Staten Island Yankees in 2015. In truth, however, that 106 wRC+ is nothing special, and does not directly suggest that he’s turning the corner at the plate; many players have hit much better in Triple-A whose bat couldn’t cut it in the big leagues.
For example, Greg Allen — the defense-first outfielder who the Yankees acquired for depth this winter — posted a 133 wRC+ in 2018 and 101 in 2019 for Cleveland’s Triple-A squads. The only thing he has done well offensively at the big league level, though, is run the bases, with a sprint speed in the top 10 percent of the league, and Allen still might be ahead of Amburgey on the depth chart if a current outfielder goes down. That’s probably Amburgey’s best path to the Yankees right now, and it’s an unenviable position.
That said, it has been two years since we actually saw Amburgey in a regular season game, and it is certainly possible that he has continued to make adjustments at the plate. He didn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence in spring training, failing to record a single hit in 16 plate appearances and striking out five times, although he did work six walks (more than everybody except Aaron Hicks and Gleyber Torres, and equal to Giancarlo Stanton).
If Amburgey can continue to work on his pitch selection and to walk more without sacrificing his power, he might be able to turn himself into a desirable trade target and carve out a role for himself on a roster somewhere else.