The Yankees have aggressively drafted players up the middle of the field over the last few years. Therefore, many of the players on the corners of the field come in under the radar in many cases. The team’s corner outfield depth may not be well known, but several players showed significant improvement in 2021 and appear to be on their way to bigger things. Let’s take a look at the Yankees corner outfield depth across their minor league system.
One of the biggest breakout performers of the 2021 Arizona Fall League was Elijah Dunham. Undrafted due to the shortened nature of the 2020 draft, Dunham immediately performed well at Low-A Tampa in 2021. His strong early season performance earned him a promotion to High-A Hudson Valley, where he continued to have a solid, but not as spectacular finish to his season.
Dunham was selected by the Yankees to represent the team in the Arizona Fall League, and thrived in an environment where he was surrounded by some of the best prospects in baseball. He slashed .357/.465/.571 over 23 games in the AFL, finishing fourth in OPS while striking out under 10 percent of the time.
Prospect Alert— Nancy Newman (@NancyNewmanYES) November 24, 2021
Elijah Dunham - Arizona Fall League All-Star ⭐️ @Yankees #Yankees pic.twitter.com/SnToy6SOh6
After stealing just six bases in three seasons at the University of Indiana, this season Dunham stole 39 bases in 45 attempts between Low-A, High-A and the AFL. It was a tremendous finish to the season for Dunham, and he is now a player that is firmly on many people’s radar moving forward. He will likely start the season with Double-A Somerset this coming year.
Another left-handed bat that showed significant signs of improvement this past season is Jake Sanford. The Canadian-born player received no offers to play in college and had to walk-on to a junior college team in Nebraska to continue his playing career. From there he caught the attention of the University of Western Kentucky and went on to win the Conference USA Triple Crown during his junior year.
This past season, Sanford slashed .285/.356/.467 with 16 home runs for Low-A and High-A. Considered to have some of the best raw power in the system, he slugged .497 after earning his promotion to High-A mid-season. Sanford is another player with the offensive tools to have a breakout type season in 2021.
Drafted in the third round of the 2018 draft, Ryder Green made it up to Low-A Tampa during the 2021 season. He has yet to fully tap into his power as he battles swing and miss issues, but he still has the tools to move quickly as his game comes together. Green’s arm is strong enough that he was being recruited as both a pitcher and a hitter by college baseball powerhouse Vanderbilt University before signing with the Yankees.
In addition to a strong arm, he has shown a knack for efficiently stealing bases. Since turning pro, Green has 26 stolen bases in 32 attempts. He was only caught once during the 2021 season in 14 attempts. Green could start the season again in Low-A, or if he is showing signs of progress in minor league spring training he could earn a bump up to High-A Hudson Valley.
The player on this list who is likely to start the year the highest in the organization is outfielder Michael Beltre. After signing with the Yankees as a minor league free agent, he put up a career high 16 home runs and 37 stolen bases in 42 attempts for Double-A Somerset in 2021. Speedy enough to play close to half his games in center field, Beltre also manned the corner while playing alongside other Yankees center field prospects during the season.
GONE! ☄️— Somerset Patriots (@SOMPatriots) June 13, 2021
Michael Beltre with some insurance in the 9th! pic.twitter.com/1UliI84BmQ
Acquired in the Mike Ford trade with the Rays, Aldenis Sanchez put up some big-time numbers once he arrived with Low-A Tampa. In 23 games he slashed .413/.500/.588 in what appears to be by far the best stretch of his career. Sanchez is entering his age-23 season and finished the year on the injured list for the Tarpons, making 2022 a big year for him to show his long-term potential to the organization.
Playing part of the year alongside Sanchez is another speedy outfielder who started to find success on the field in 2021, Madison Santos. Known for having some of the best speed in the Yankees system, and a strong arm as well, Santos is an athletic prospect who has the tools to make a mark. He had a reputation as a bit of a free swinger after the 2019 season in Rookie-Advanced Pulaski, but he appears to have a better approach at the plate this past year. He dramatically improved his walk rate at both levels he played in 2021. After lighting up the Florida Coast League to the tune of a 1.350 OPS, Santos found it a little harder to succeed when he was promoted to Low-A Tampa. Still, he continued to cut down on his strikeouts and will likely return to Low-A to start the coming season.
Aaron Palensky is going to have an unusual baseball card when you factor in his minor league statistics. The undrafted free agent out of the University of Nebraska started his professional career with Double-A Somerset in 2021, and remained there for the entire season. Without the benefit of climbing the ranks, Palensky’s showed some very positive indicators that he was up to the challenge the Yankees presented him. He walked 15.3 percent of the time, helping him to a .360 OBP on the year, but he struggled at times at the plate. After hitting four doubles in his first three games, he only hit eight more extra base hits for the rest of his season. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees handle Palensky in the coming year — he clearly showed the ability to get on base against talented Double-A pitching, but there are also other parts of his game that he can improve with more in-game reps.
The Yankees system does not have a standout star manning the corners of their outfield in the way that they do at shortstop or centerfield. There are, however, players with compelling tools who took steps forward during the 2021 season and could continue to do so this coming year.