A pure third base prospect is not something to which Yankees fans have been accustomed. They haven’t had a prospect at third to get excited about since, what, Mike Lowell? Drew Henson? Eric Duncan? Unless you’re counting the defensive stylings of Miguel Andújar at the hot corner, it’s been more than a while, and the wait may have to continue unless some players who had strong seasons in 2022 take the next step up in 2023.
Who is the best prospect?
Tyler Hardman played first base in college, and his profile as a 6-foot-3, 204-pound power hitter indicated he would stay there after the Yankees drafted him in the fourth round out of Oklahoma in 2021. The Yankees played him at first and third in his debut season but sent him out as a third baseman at Hudson Valley in 2022. What seemed like it could be an experiment now looks like clever foresight on the Yankees’ part. Not only did Hardman lead the organization in home runs with 22, but he was voted his league’s top defender at third in a Baseball America poll of opposing managers.
The eye test confirms that Hardman could be an average defender at the hot corner, with the hands and arm to be solid, but an average defensive player may need to be above average on offense to break through. Hardman has the power numbers and exit velocities to give hope that the Yankees could have a real prospect at third base.
Tyler Hardman Goes BOOM— Hudson Valley Renegades (@HVRenegades) August 31, 2022
#20 on the year for the HV Renegades 3B pic.twitter.com/uph85QLQEi
Who could make it to the big leagues?
Andres Chaparro will draw quite a few eyes this spring as he enters his first big league camp as a non-roster invitee. If you’ve seen him play in person, he draws ears as well, as the sound of the ball coming off his bat is a little louder than most other players. Although it is fair to question his body (listed at just over 6 feet and 200 pounds, but he’s heavier than that) and how it limits him defensively now and in the future, you can’t deny what he does with the bat. His numbers popped last year, and that only built upon a strong 2021. All Chaparro has done is raise his wRC+ through each level of the minors, reaching 158 in Somerset this past season. He hit 19 home runs in Double-A, and he kept his K% under 20.
This is a guy who looks like he can hit, but it’s difficult to figure out where Chaparro fits. If he’s not a third baseman, then it’s first or DH for Chaparro, and as a right-handed hitter, he will need to continue mashing to outhit his defense and imperfect fit for a Yankee team with a dearth of lefties. Chaparro was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this past December and went unselected. Time will tell if the Yankees were fortunate not to lose him or if the industry properly indicated that it needs to see more.
Hardman played in the Arizona Fall League in 2022, as Chaparro had done previously, and he led the league in home runs (6) while finishing behind organization-mate T.J. Rumfield with the fourth-highest OPS. He made the league’s All-Star team, and while the pitching in the league hangs an asterisk on offensive performance, it is noteworthy that he produced at a high level. Hardman’s consistent power output makes him more and more likely to see the big leagues as he climbs the ladder, and a strong year in Double-A at age 24 will increase his odds. Unlike Chaparro, he does not need Rule 5 protection until December of 2024.
Who could click in 2023?
Did Hardman click yet? If not, he’s a guy who will need to be spoken of seriously if his Double-A numbers improve upon his 2022 showing in Hudson Valley. Hardman’s standout power numbers do not obscure his 30-percent strikeout rate, and that is additionally concerning because he hits right-handed. A susceptibility to sliders from the right side could impede his prospect march, and he will need to clear that hurdle to place his name comfortably among those of Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe in theoretical future Yankee lineups.
Who needs to have a good 2023?
Marcos Cabrera played third base for Tampa as a 20-year-old in 2022, and he showed his power potential by popping 14 home runs. But he hit under .200 and his K% was an untenable 38%. Tall and lanky, the right-handed-hitting Cabrera has a chance for above-average game power and average defense at third as he ages, but he’s going to have trouble progressing through the minors if he doesn’t cut down on the strikeouts. Because he signed out of the Dominican Republic at age 16 in 2018, and thanks to baseball’s unbalanced rules for international players, Cabrera is already Rule 5-eligible. It remains to be seen if he is promoted to Hudson Valley to start 2023, but if he is able to put some things together this year, he would force some decisions by the Yankees in a hurry. He could make himself a candidate for the 40-man roster or become attractive to teams in a trade. Another year offensively like the one he just had, though, and the questions about his future get very loud.
See that number on Marcos Cabrera’s jersey? That’s how many home runs he has after this one tonight. That ties Anthony Garcia for the Tarpons team lead.— John Brophy (@jbrophybaseball) June 17, 2022
2-run shot to score Dominguez. pic.twitter.com/zoa1GTUiT2
Who could move up the prospect lists?
Hardman was included in Baseball America’s list of top Yankees prospects, Cabrera has appeared on the FanGraphs list in the past two years, and Chaparro is touted by members of the Yankee organization and those who follow their minor league affiliates. It will take strong seasons for any of the three to climb the prospect lists at any point in 2023.
Who could move to third base?
Any of the shortstop prospects in the rookie leagues who have the arm for a move to third could find themselves shifted there for the long-term, just to give them opportunities currently blocked by the talented players in front of them.
Brett Barrera, a 2022 draft pick out of Stanford, played more second base than third in his Yankee debut, but at a listed 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds, it is not out of the question that he sees more time on the corner in 2023. He has the power potential to profile there offensively.
At the higher levels, Trey Sweeney is slated to be the Double-A shortstop in Somerset, but a number of factors could push him to third in the future. First, and most importantly, he could be good there. He’s big for a shortstop and doesn’t have the same range as some of the better defenders there, like Peraza, but his footwork and arm would play well at third. He also has the offensive profile for the position and hits from the left side to boot. With Peraza and Volpe established ahead of Sweeney in the shortstop pecking order, his best path to the Yankees’ lineup may include a move to the corner.
Who deserves a mention?
Juan Matheus saw some time at second base in his first professional season, but most of his innings came at third. The switch-hitter, who will turn 19 in April, had a very promising start to his career in the Dominican Summer League. All Rookie league stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but Matheus had a .914 OPS and walked more than he struck out. He showed some pop in his bat and speed on the bases, and he should be considered the leader in the clubhouse to be the primary third baseman in the complex league in 2023. He will be a player to watch come June.
Luis Ogando, also 19, would be another player to keep an eye on coming out of the DSL if you are mining stats. He had a slash line of .300/.417/.440 and struck out only 15 percent of the time with a solid walk rate. There promises to be a lot of competition for playing time in the complex league, especially with a stacked group of interesting middle infielders, so it will likely take us all of 2023 to get a better idea of who Ogando is and how the Yankees view him.
State of the System Series:
PSA’s Top 10 Yankees Prospects