Throughout the course of a major league season there is a near steady flow of minor league players coming and going from any given team. Injuries, poor performance at the major league level, needs of the roster or outstanding performance by the minor leaguer can all generate a move. While not all of the players moving up and down are noted prospects, many are. This year the Yankees have received limited help from the minor league system, and are currently on pace to not graduate any prospects from their minor league system during the 2021 campaign.
The rules on how a prospect graduates from an organization’s top prospect list vary depending on the list. In general, the player must do one of three things that would cause them to exhaust their rookie eligibility for the next season. A pitcher must throw 50 innings; a hitter must receive 130 at-bats; either pitchers or hitters can also lose eligibility by remaining on the active major league roster for 45 days or more. Both Michael King and Nick Nelson exhausted their prospect status last season due to service time, as they spent a majority of the shortened season on the major league roster.
It is very common for a team to see prospects regularly graduating off the list. Heading into spring training it appeared that the Yankees had a few sure fire bets to establish major league roles and reach the minimum thresholds.
Deivi García looked like a sure thing to reach 50 innings pitched for his career in 2021 after throwing 34.1 innings during his six games with the team during the shortened 2020 season. So far this year, he has pitched twice for the Yankees and recorded another 8.1 innings but does not seem to be in line for additional opportunities. At the major league level he has a 6.48 ERA, but his struggles in the minor leagues have been a bigger surprise.
While pitching for Triple-A Scranton, García has struggled repeatedly, giving up four or more runs in four of his last seven games. In addition to being hit hard at times, he has battled control, walking 16 batters in just 16.1 innings prior to his outing on Thursday. While the young pitcher could straighten it out and earn a shot later in the year, the Yankees have already looked to pitchers such as Nestor Cortes, Nick Nelson and Albert Abreu to provide innings for the team recently.
Clarke Schimdt was ranked next to and even in front of García on some of the preseason rankings heading into the year. Coming off his major league debut in 2020 it looked like Schmidt could be in contention for a consistent role in the major league rotation heading into camp this spring. An elbow strain near the beginning of spring training sidelined Schmidt, and he has yet to face live hitters yet in his rehab, though that could happen as soon as next week. There is a chance that Schmidt could be in a position to contribute down the stretch, but even if he does it is unlikely that he reaches either the service time or innings limit to exhaust his rookie eligibility in 2021.
Albert Abreu is another arm on several of the Yankees top-30 prospects list, and he’s been up and down with the team this season. The hard throwing right hander has moved to the bullpen full time in 2021 after spending the majority of his minor league career in the starting rotation. Abreu’s long standing issues with control have continued to plague him this year, but with the ability to air out his high velocity fastball and only face hitters in short appearances his overall results have improved.
Abreu has already been called up and sent down six times by the Yankees this season, with his longest run lasting just five days. He is firmly on the Scranton Shuttle, and with veteran relievers such as Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson returning to the roster it will be harder for players to earn a quick trip to the major leagues. The Yankees are certainly prone to their share of injuries, so it’s not impossible that Abreu could return, but he’s on the outside looking in as far as the bullpen hierarchy is concerned.
On the hitting side, only Estevan Florial is a member of the 40-man roster and in any consideration for major league playing time. The centerfielder played one game with the big league club this year, but has continued to struggle at the plate striking out 28 percent of the time while hitting just .220 so far this season for Triple-A Scranton. Florial does not appear to be in the Yankees plans for 2021 — Aaron Hicks’ season ending injury opened the centerfield spot at the major league level but he has not been called upon to fill it.
Major League teams consistently call upon their minor league systems to provide a boost when injuries or poor performance strike the team. This year the Yankees’ top prospects have not been able to fill the gaps as they occur at the major league level. While many of the Yankees’ young players are still rising through the lower and middle levels of the system, this could be a season where no Yankees player reaches the thresholds to graduate from the prospect ranks.