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Minor league pitching depth will be a top Yankees priority in 2023

Improving the depth of legitimate pitching prospects would have a massive impact on the farm system this year.

MLB: FEB 26 Spring Training - Yankees at Blue Jays
Jhony Brito
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There are fans of the Yankees who accuse Brian Cashman of “hugging” the organization’s prospects. In reality, the Yankees have traded a small army of quality prospects in the last two years alone. FanGraphs recently released its Top 100 Prospects list, and it included Kevin Alcantara, Ken Waldichuk, and Hayden Wesneski. All three of those players were Yankees not long ago, as were players like Luis Medina and Canaan Smith-Njigba, who appear among the top prospects in their new organizations, and Ezequiel Duran and Josh Smith, who broke through to the big leagues last year. What if the Yankees had Glen Otto, J.P. Sears, and Roansy Contreras competing for spots on the major league staff? That would be the depth they are hoping to find right now.

Point is, the Yankees have been aggressive in trading prospects who will need protection from the Rule 5 draft in the winter and aren’t a lock to get it, or they move players they do not consider part of a future core. Trading that much depth has a consequence, and not just from publications that rank farm systems. It also affects a team’s ability to make more trades without having to consider moving players the organization would prefer to keep, and sending away prospects from the upper levels of a farm system limits the options a team has for calling players up.

Some organizations make the decision to reset from time to time, and they build a strong farm system by trading major league veterans for prospects, but the Yankees want to contend every year and seldom move established players for minor league hopefuls. That forces them to walk a tightrope, where prospects are consistently used for trades to enhance the big league team, while the drafting, signing, and development groups must constantly refresh the system with quality players. Every year, then, is an important year for the farm system.

While it’s a subjective exercise, it seems that many in the industry consider the Yankees to have a farm system in the middle-third of the league. We are going to take a look over the next couple of weeks at what factors could have the greatest impact in pushing that ranking up in the estimation of observers, and, more importantly, give the Yankees an system with plentiful options for the present and the future. We’ll begin with what should be priority one, and that’s re-establishing pitching depth.

There is a strong argument to be made that the Yankees would have been better off last August had they just promoted Hayden Wesneski and Ken Waldichuk instead of trading for Scott Effross and Frankie Montas. It’s an easy assertion to make in hindsight, but it held a bit of water at the time too. Regardless, both the players the Yankees traded and the ones they acquired are unavailable, and other pitchers like the aforementioned Sears and Medina, as well as T.J. Sikkema, Beck Way, and Chandler Champlain were moved at the 2022 deadline as well. That leaves a significant hole at the top of the organization’s pitching depth chart, and it is not immediately clear how it will be filled.

One way the Yankees have tried to address the issue in the short term is by signing ten minor league free agents, who will mostly pitch at Triple-A and at worst competitively fill the innings the Scranton RailRiders are going to need this season. Nine of those pitchers have made appearances in the major leagues, and all of them have moved beyond prospect status. Any of these pitchers could find himself on the Yankee roster at some point in 2023, but none of them would make the farm system more attractive for prospective trades.

The real impact is going to come from the pitching prospects in the organization taking a step forward in their development. The good news is there are pitchers up and down the system who are positioned to do just that, with the caveat being each of these guys will need to stay healthy, and that is always wishful thinking.

The pitchers on the 40-man roster aren’t typically mentioned among the Yankees’ top prospects, but many of them reasonably could contribute at the major league level this year. Deivi García has looked good so far in camp in a bit of a now-or-never situation, since he is out of minor league options. The big league staff will be difficult to crack, but an opportunity could open due to injury, or he could become attractive to another organization in a trade rather than be lost to waivers.

With Wandy Peralta the only lefty in the bullpen, left-hander Matt Krook has an actual, albeit slim, shot to break camp with the Yankees. Jhony Brito and Randy Vasquez will continue to develop at Scranton and Yoendrys Gómez will be in Somerset. It would be a big deal if any of those guys were for real, knowing how many starters it takes to get through a season and how valuable starters can be on the trade market. Luis Gil is still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but his return to health would give the Yankees another legitimate pitching prospect on the cusp of the majors.

Outside the 40-man roster, pitchers like Sean Boyle and Mitch Spence would really help the system by generating more buzz from evaluators. Not only would they become options for the Yankees who are at Triple-A, but they could catch the eyes of other teams during trade season. Both sides win when the Yankees acquire help and the prospects they trade get opportunities they wouldn’t have had with New York.

If Clayton Beeter progresses and Will Warren looks as electric as he did in his spring debut, they will become premium guys at Double-A. Matt Sauer could make the Yankees very thankful he wasn’t lost in last year’s Rule 5 draft by delivering on the promise that made him a second-round pick. Brendan Beck could return from a long injury rehab and do the same. Richard Fitts may have gotten a bump in velocity heading into this season, and pitching in 2023 the way he did at the end of 2022 would put him in the discussion as the top pitching prospect in the organization. Recent draft picks Drew Thorpe and Trystan Vrieling could take to Yankee instruction quickly and become part of that discussion as well.

Luis Serna was asked about in trades last year, and his emergence in full-season baseball along with Brock Selvidge, Justin Lange, and Sean Hermann would solidify the lower part of the farm system and create more options for the Yankees at the deadline. If 2022 draft picks like Eric Reyzelman or teenagers coming stateside like Omar Gonzalez, Jordarlin Mendoza, and Carlos Lagrange can perform well, very quickly the Yankees could become a pitching-rich organization.

The Yankees’ pitching development group, headed by Director of Pitching Sam Briend, has shown itself to be adept at getting the best out of their players, amplifying their abilities and improving performance. Bringing along a new crop of legitimate pitching prospects would do wonders for the organization this year. So many pitchers in the organization have shown glimpses of promise, but very few have built a track record of sustained success. Much of that is due to a lack of time or experience, but the Yankees will benefit greatly if more pitching prospects emerge in 2023.