Teenage prospects are sometimes referred to as lottery tickets. There is nothing overtly offensive about that euphemism, and it speaks to the hopefulness that accompanies the exchange of real money for a chance at a jackpot against incredible odds. Possessing a lottery ticket may mean you hold something worth millions of dollars. It more likely means you are only holding a piece of paper.
The Yankees’ amateur scouting department would claim that they don’t avoid high school players as a rule, but the fact is they don’t select many of them in the draft. In fact, they took exactly zero prep players last year and signed only two the year before (pitchers Brock Selvidge and Sean Hermann). That means the youngest talent in the farm system comes from the international market.
Each year, the Yankees bring dozens of teenagers into the organization, and most of them populate the Yankees’ two Dominican Summer League rosters. An unfortunate number of those players never advance past Rookie ball, and most of the time, their names are unknown to all but the most hardcore followers of the minor leagues. For that reason, the teenage portion of the farm system is often ignored. Going into 2023, however, the Yankees have an unusually large group of exciting teenage prospects whose development could supercharge the organization.
There have to be high hopes on the position player side, where the top signings from the last two international free agent classes have been shortstop Roderick Arias and outfielder Brando Mayea. Each of these players offers the type of athleticism and tools the Yankees likely would not be able to draft in the spots where they normally pick. It is possible that both end up being five-tool players, though that is a hopeful estimate based on the way they look right now. There is a strong belief that Arias is a no-doubt shortstop and Mayea has the type of top-end speed to make him a lock for center field as he progresses. Add in that they project to hit for power, and you are looking at two potentially premium prospects both still in their teens.
A look at some defensive work by Yankees SS prospect Roderick Arias, via his Instagram. pic.twitter.com/DwCehEmqB6— Eli Fishman (@elijfishman) February 3, 2022
The Yankees are also high on catcher Engelth Urena, and he has generated enough buzz to be included in the middle of Baseball America’s organizational top 30. He seems like an exciting hitter, who, if he can catch, plays an important defensive position where offense is typically sacrificed. He has a long way to go, but Urena will be interesting to watch this year as he hopefully starts playing in the United States.
Baseball America’s Josh Norris also says to keep an eye on infielder Keiner Delgado, who had a statistically eye-popping 2022 season, as well as newly-signed outfielders Richard Meran and Gabriel Lara. Delgado is a smaller player, but he is going to be tested in the complex league this summer to see if he can repeat the offensive explosion he had last year, and the well-rounded Meran and speedy Lara will likely debut in the DSL, where we will see if their tools and reputations translate to performance in competition. Not to be forgotten is Enmanuel Tejeda, who landed inside the top 30 of the prospects FanGraphs identified in the Yankees organization. He could have at least average tools across the board, and he has already shown he can play in the middle of the infield.
It’s in the pitching department where the Yankees seem to have more than their usual complement of teenage prospects. While pitching prospects are always the most volatile and unpredictable, the recent track record of the Yankees’ pitching development team gives hope that there could be something special to come out of this group.
The most advanced of the teenage pitchers are Sean Hermann, who is the only drafted and American-born player in the group, and Luis Serna, a Mexican right-hander who dominated the complex league last year. Hermann will turn 20 this year, and his competitiveness and penchant for throwing strikes could lead him to High-A before the end of this coming season. Serna is only 18, but his superb control, preternatural poise, and plus changeup could have him in the Low-A Tampa rotation to start the season.
17-year-old Yankees prospect Luis Serna did not disappoint. 3 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 4 K.— Eli Fishman (@elijfishman) July 16, 2022
91-92 MPH FB. Pairs a Plus CH and good CB that look extremely similar out of the hand.
Maturity and pitchability are through the roof. One of the best arms I’ve seen in the complex league. pic.twitter.com/mAVYqjExaX
Behind those two, there are the three skyscrapers: Carlos Lagrange, Henry Lalane, and Angel Benitez, all 6-foot-7 and featuring big fastballs. Lagrange may throw the hardest, perhaps even touching 100, and Lalane throws from the left side, where his type of velocity is rare. Benitez is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he showed enough promise before he got hurt to land on the Baseball America list with Arias, Mayea, and Urena.
Joining them on that list were 17-year-olds Omar Gonzalez, a Panamanian who debuted last year, and Jerson Alejandro, who the Yankees just signed in January and consider to be one of the best international pitchers available for this signing period. Both pitchers are considered to have “now” stuff, with strong fastballs and precocious secondary offerings. Without receiving as much attention as these others, Jordarlin Mendoza has shown enough with his fastball and slider to be considered a prospect to watch in his age 19 season.
Building the hopes for your farm system around teenage talent is a foolish endeavor destined to break your heart, and that’s not what the Yankees are doing. What they have done is bring in enough promising players to work in their development program that it is now plausible for several of them to become legitimate prospects — thus boosting the farm system as a whole. It is more than just wishful thinking that we’ll see some of these teenagers (and maybe some we aren’t even noticing yet) listed among the very best Baby Bombers for years to come.