The Yankees minor league system is coming off a year that saw numerous players take big steps forward. There were also a significant number of trades that were made to improve the major league team and account for what had the potential to be an overwhelming 40-man roster crunch. Leading into the start of the minor league season, in early April we will take a position by position look at the depth of the Yankees minor league system. Below, we start with the centerfield position.
Any discussion about center field and the Yankees minor league system starts with their top outfield prospect, Jasson Dominguez. Known to Yankees fans before he even turned 16-years-old, Dominguez earned the largest bonus the team had ever handed out to a teenage prospect. After seeing his professional debut delayed due to the COVID cancelled season in 2020, Dominguez played out the 2021 season in the Florida Complex League and for Low-A Tampa. His numbers did not jump off the page, as he hit.252/.353/.379 against older competition.
Jasson Dominguez with his first career homer!— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) July 16, 2021
99 mph off the bat; 344 ft. pic.twitter.com/42FnnuwzQa
While it was going to be nearly impossible for him to ever live up to the hype that preceded his signing, Dominguez showed evaluators enough that he is still listed as a top-100 prospect in the sport by most of the organizations that put out a ranking. He is able to make loud contact, and despite some changes to his body from when scouts first saw him, he still has the speed and arm to man center field effectively. This coming season, Dominguez will likely play a majority of his games with High-A Hudson Valley. His groundball rate of 50.4 percent is high but not uncommon for young prospects. The good news is that the Yankee hitting staff has found success in coaching up other players in this area recently, including Oswald Peraza who is now ranked alongside Dominguez by many as one of the systems top prospects.
Another center fielder who had issues with a high groundball rate in previous seasons was Everson Pereira. He put the ball on the ground 54 percent of the time during his injury-shortened 2019 campaign for Short-Season A Staten Island. After being held back in extended spring training and not officially starting his 2021 season until late June, Pereira exploded on the scene and hit 20 home runs in just 188 at-bats.
In 2022, Pereira may start with either High-A Hudson Valley or Double-A Somerset. He will turn 21 years old during the opening week of the minor league season, and as a member of the 40-man roster could be in a position to see playing time with the Yankees during the coming season if circumstances dictate the need. While Pereira crushed the ball in 2021, he also began striking out more at the higher levels he climbed to. The team will certainly be looking on him to improve the 29 percent strikeout rate he showed at the High-A level.
While Pereira could see time at the major league level, Estevan Florial, who is still prospect eligible, will almost certainly find his way to the Bronx at some point during the year. If fans only know of Florial from his limited action in the Bronx, then they may wonder why they haven’t seen more of him, as he has a 161 OPS+ in 28 career plate appearances. In a larger sample size at the minor league level, Florial has struggled to find the consistency and production that made him the Yankees top prospect after a big 2017 campaign. Injuries during the 2018 and 2019 season limited his playing time and production, and Florial hit just .219/.314/.427 this past year while playing mostly for Triple-A Scranton. Still possessing some of the best physical tools in the Yankees system, Florial will again be on the doorstep to the major leagues playing in Triple-A during the 2022 season with a chance to force his way up to the majors with strong play.
A player who could be joining Florial at Triple-A Scranton during the season is Brandon Lockridge. A fifth-round draft pick in 2018, Lockridge is known for having some of the best speed in the system. After battling a leg injury early in 2021, he found his groove shortly before being promoted to Double-A Somerset. From there he proceeded to hit .328/.382/.558, with 10 home runs in 43 games. He also stole 18 bases in 20 attempts on the season, showing dramatic improvement in this area. A high strikeout rate has some evaluators tempering their expectations for Lockridge, but his elite speed and growing ability to hit for power have started to generate discussion that he is a potential fourth outfielder at the major league level. Before any of that can be realized as a Yankee, though, he must clear the Rule-5 draft, as he will be eligible to be selected when the event is held prior to the season.
Several other center field options have found themselves ranked as prospects in the Yankees system over the last year. Raimfer Salinas was one of the top International Free Agents signed in the 2017 class alongside Everson Pereira. Known for topflight speed and a strong throwing arm, his bat has yet to carry him past the Florida Complex League. He will likely start next season with Low-A Tampa. While in Tampa, he may be playing alongside Madison Santos. Santos is another player known for his speed and physical tools. He lit up the FCL for 15 games this season, registering a 229 wRC+, but struggled once he moved up to Low-A and will likely start the season once again at that level.
Also likely in the mix for playing time at two Class-A levels are a pair of past 17th round draft picks. Pat DeMarco started off well for Low-A Tampa this past season, posting an .852 OPS in 48 games before he was promoted to High-A Hudson Valley. He did not match that production with the Renegades, but is still a player to keep an eye on, as he showed the ability to put up strong offensive numbers and could take that next step forward this coming year. At the Low-A level will be Grant Richardson, who the Yankees selected from the University of Indiana this past year. He posted an .892 OPS in the FCL over 27 games and will likely move up to tougher competition next season.
Likely moving into the FCL in 2022 will be two players who were tied for the most home runs by a Yankees prospect in the Dominican Summer League. Both Alan Mejia and Daury Arias cranked eight home runs on the DSL season. Arias did it while striking out fewer times than he walked.
The Yankees have legitimate center field prospects at multiple levels. Jasson Dominguez is the obvious headliner, but other prospects improved significantly during the 2021 season and are showing the potential to contribute at the major league level. The 2022 season will tell a tale of which of these players, if any, can take that next step towards contributing in the Bronx.