The sixth week of the minor league season is coming to a close. With enough data to show legitimate trends and not just the small sample sizes of a slow or fast start, the organization can move its best performing prospects to a level that justifies their level of play. Let's take a look at three players who have stood out and are likely heading up the ladder.
The player who has made the most noise in the Yankees‘ system early in the 2022 season is left-handed pitcher Ken Waldichuk. The Yankees’ fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft out of Saint Mary’s College of California, Waldichuk turned heads when he began the 2021 season with 30.2 scoreless innings for High-A Hudson Valley in 2021. That led to an early-season promotion after just seven starts at the level last season.
Waldichuk is turning heads again this year for Double-A Somerset. Through 23.2 innings pitched, Waldichuk is striking out 44.9 percent of the batters he has faced. Scouts are seeing a player who has refined his slider and is more consistent with his command in the zone. Hitters are posting just a .127 batting average with just two homers total against the southpaw.
Combined with his experience last year, Waldichuk has thrown a total of 103 innings at the Double-A level and is clearly showing that he is ready for Triple-A. Waldichuk is likely just one or two starts away from moving up to Scranton, where he could be knocking on the door of a major league promotion at some point in the coming season.
As Waldichuk kicks open the door to Triple-A, he is likely to just miss out on pitching to a new catcher in Austin Wells. The Yankees’ first-round pick in the 2020 draft has rebounded from a slow start to catch fire offensively, all while displaying a drastically improved game behind the plate.
Wells started this season in a 4-for-27 skid across his first seven games, but he has stepped it up since the start of play on April 17th. From that point on, the former Arizona Wildcat is hitting .398/.493/.776 with 6 home runs in 17 games. This offensive barrage comes on the heels of a strong performance in Arizona Fall League, where he finished near the top of the prospect-loaded league in OPS.
Perhaps most notably, Wells has made progress behind the plate. Wells is currently throwing out 29 percent of baserunners attempting to steal against him (not including one last night). That is 10 percent higher than the South Atlantic League average, where runners are only caught 19 percent of the time. It is a drastic improvement from where Wells was in his debut season, when many scouting reports mentioned that he would likely need to move to either first base or a corner outfield position.
Austin Wells back picks a runner at second (again), or as we call it... "Thursday" pic.twitter.com/ocHxjyXtDs— Hudson Valley Renegades (@HVRenegades) May 5, 2022
Wells played 65 games in Low-A before getting promoted and he will likely finish this week's series with 64 games at the High-A level. He is excelling with the bat and showing dramatic improvement with his glove, making him a strong candidate to move up to the Double-A level.
When Wells gets the call up, coming in behind him at High-A Hudson Valley is likely to be another former first-round pick of the team, Anthony Seigler. The 22-year-old has battled injuries since joining the Yankees organization as a teenager in 2018, only playing in 115 games across four seasons.
Seigler spent 41 of those games at the High-A level in 2021 and seemed to be finding his stride in late-July and early August before he once again saw his season end early due to an injury. With the Yankees prioritizing Wells’ time behind the plate at Hudson Valley, Seigler kicked off 2022 back with Low-A Tampa and is performing well, slashing .258/.425/.500 with more walks than strikeouts.
After splitting time between catching and the designated hitter role early on, Seigler has begun to catch more regularly over the past few series, as fellow catching prospect Antonio Gomez was assigned to the Florida Complex League roster and extended spring training.
There are scouts who still believe Seigler can recognize the talent that made him a first-round pick in 2018. His biggest challenges have come from the attrition that is common among catching prospects. He is off to a strong start and almost certainly on his way back to High-A, where he will have a chance to find his stride at the higher level.
The minor league season is approaching the point of the year where the Yankees’ top performing prospects start moving up the organizational ladder. Ken Waldichuk, Austin Wells and Anthony Seigler are three of the strongest candidates to make that jump in the coming weeks. All three players have shown that they can handle their current levels and are ready for the next challenge.
All statistics are as of the beginning of play on Friday, May 12th.