While there’s certainly very little in the way of actual baseball news in circulation at the moment due to the MLB lockout, in truth, this is typically a quiet spot on the baseball calendar, no matter the state of labor relations. Relatedly, this is also the usual time for public prospect hounds to release their updated rankings, posting new lists and reports on the game’s brightest prospects in light of their most recent year of performance.
We’ve given you the rundown on how the top of the Yankee system looks entering 2022. Anthony Volpe is the clear top prospect on the farm, and perhaps one of the 10 best prospects globally. Oswald Peraza has shot up toward blue-chip prospect status, while Jasson Dominguez still profiles as a highly enticing (and highly risky) player after an uneven professional debut.
Those are the Yankees’ three biggest prospects, but there’s a whole farm behind them to be considered. Now is as good a time as ever to step back and look at the Yankee minor league system, to get a feel for how it stands after another season’s worth of development, trades, and promotions.
One thing to note immediately is that the system does appear a bit more shallow than it has in recent years. FanGraphs assigned 38 Yankee prospects a grade of 35+ FV (for a primer on scouting grades, check here) or better, compared to as many as 54 a couple years ago. In their top-10 Yankees list, Baseball Prospectus noted that the club had “dealt a large chunk of their prospect cache over the last year or so,” and that the quality of the system was held up in part by the breakouts at the top.
To a large extent, this trend makes complete sense. While it’s been a while since Brian Cashman has traded prospects for a superstar, the Yankees have made a habit of flipping wide packages of prospects for quality starters at the major league level. Last year, that meant acquiring Jameson Taillon from the Pirates, Joey Gallo from the Rangers, and Anthony Rizzo from the Cubs. Those deals mirrored many from prior seasons, such as the trades that brought James Paxton, Zach Britton, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, and several others to the Bronx.
In exchange for Taillon, the Yankees had to send out Miguel Yajure, Roansy Contreras, and Canaan Smith-Njigba. Gallo took Ezequiel Duran, Trevor Hauver, Josh Smith, and Glenn Otto. Kevin Alcantara and Alexander Vizcaino went to Chicago for Rizzo. Even Andrew Heaney cost Janson Junk and Elvis Peguero. In particular, the likes of Yajure, Contreras, all four of the prospects in the Gallo trade, and Alcantara appear to be pretty notable prospects. Essentially, just in the last year, the Yankees dealt away something like a quarter of a decent farm system in an effort to supplement their big league club.
Such a significant bleed is bound to weaken any organization. Some prospects were near Rule 5 eligibility and needed a 40-man decision as well; the Yankees simply made the decision sooner rather than later. Cashman didn’t deal New York’s top prospects, but in protecting those elite talents, they had to dip deep into the system in order to fetch actual big league contributors.
Given that necessary exodus of talent, though, the Yankee farm still looks to be in reasonable shape, thanks to a player development system that is hitting its stride. Countless less-heralded prospects made huge improvements in 2021, such as pitchers Ken Waldichuk, Hayden Wesneski, Randy Vasquez, and Stephen Ridings, among many others. Infielders Trey Sweeney and Oswaldo Cabrera flashed real promise, while outfielder Everson Pereira quietly inched toward blue-chip status. Those breakouts, along with the vital ascension of Volpe, combined to fill the void created by all those trades.
It’s hard to know exactly where all that movement will leave the system overall. In their 2021 midseason farm rankings, FanGraphs rated the Yankee system eighth in the game. Prior to last season, BP had them ninth, and The Athletic’s Keith Law pegged them 14th. Was Volpe’s breakout, along with another raft of hard-throwing pitcher breakouts, enough to cancel out the prospects traded away throughout the year and leave the system as a whole in a similar position?
We’ll find out where the Yankees land by the estimation of the public experts in the coming weeks. Falling within that average-to-good realm they found themselves in last year would qualify as a victory. Virtually any system that jettisoned almost dozens of interesting prospects over the span of a year would have to take a clear step back. A Yankee player development system that did enough to fill the vacuum and keep the system afloat in those circumstances would be deserving of major kudos.
Moreover, from an even bigger picture perspective, that the Yankees continue to maintain seemingly average or better farm systems in spite of league rules that explicitly attempt to prevent good teams from doing so bodes well for the future of the farm. The Yankees have emptied out their system depth via trade, been forced to pick at the back of the draft as a playoff team for the past five years, and surrendered draft picks for signing major free agents. In the face of all that, even if the farm hasn’t produced many stars recently, it has stayed afloat and helped supplement the big league team consistently throughout their current run of contention. Yankee fans should hope that the player development system can continue to turn this neat trick in perpetuity.