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The Yankees can improve their prospect depth without acquiring players in 2023

The improvement of minor league veterans can add options for call-ups or trades.

Surprise Saguaros v Glendale Desert Dogs
Andres Chaparro
Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Neither Hoy Park nor Diego Castillo appeared on MLB Pipeline’s list of the top 30 prospects in the Yankees’ organization at the end of the 2020 season. By July of 2021, both players had put up numbers in the minor leagues beyond anything they had accomplished since signing in 2014 and were traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Clay Holmes. Janson Junk was not on the 2020 prospect list either, and he was a low-profile pitcher in the minors after being drafted in Round 22 of the 2017 draft. He made noticeable improvements in his stuff early in 2021, put together a terrific first half in Somerset, and got traded to the Los Angeles Angels for Andrew Heaney at the deadline of that year.

Castillo, Park, and Junk are just three examples of minor league veterans who made demonstrable, significant, and sometimes even dramatic gains with the help of the Yankees’ new player development regime. Not only are those leaps forward beneficial to the players, but they help the organization in more than one way. Primarily those players became options for the big league team, but, though the Yankees did not find spots for Park or Castillo to play, the players were attractive to the Pirates and brought back a pitcher the major league team wanted and needed. Park and Castillo then got big league opportunities they wouldn’t have gotten in New York. Everyone wins when players who weren’t considered legitimate prospects put themselves on the radar through their own improvement.

The Yankees have several players in their system who have been bypassed in the Rule 5 Draft, overlooked by the evaluators and publications, and seldom get mentioned among future major league options, but a tweak here, an improvement there, or a continuation of past success could vault these players into the conversation and swell the ranks of the Yankees’ prospect depth. Here are a few players who’ve been in the Yankees’ system for a while but could raise their profiles this year and impact the organization in doing so.

Andres Chaparro has his doubters, including 29 teams who didn’t pick him up in December’s Rule 5 Draft, and there are valid reasons for those doubts. It isn’t clear where he fits defensively, and if he’s a DH or first baseman then he’s going to have to hit a lot to get steady big league time, but maybe Chaparro will just keep hitting the snot out of the ball until everyone nods and admits he’s for real. Double-A is a proving ground for players, and Chaparro torched it last year. He’s caught criticism for his weight, and, no, he’s not his listed 200 pounds, but he’s in good shape, and if you saw him prior to the pandemic you’d know how much work he’s done on his body. Chaparro has already hit some loud home runs in games this spring, and if he can convince the Yankees that he’s a legitimate MLB hitter, he becomes no worse than fourth on the depth chart at third base and first base as he turns 23.

Along with Chaparro, Jesus Bastidas also got an invitation to big league camp. He was almost a forgotten man in the Yankees’ minor league system until last year, when he broke out with 18 home runs in Double-A. Bastidas has an aesthetically appealing and sound swing from the right side, and though he is not a physically imposing player, he has shown the strength to hit the ball out of any part of the park. As a versatile defender who can play second, short, or third, while also being an asset on the bases without being a burner, Bastidas’ arrival is reminiscent of Diego Castillo’s. Now he needs to show that it’s for real and he can do it consistently, and he’s started on that path with a home run in his first spring training game.

The Yankees’ infield depth chart is overflowing right now, but middle infielders who can hit and hit for power will find an opportunity somewhere.

Josh Breaux is going to miss some valuable spring training time with an elbow injury, but if that ailment does not persist, he will be catching quite a bit in Scranton this year. The Yankees publicly compliment his defense, but he may need to demonstrate that he’s taken another step forward to give the Yankees confidence in him as the organization’s No. 3 catcher while Ben Rortvedt recovers from surgery. He’d profile nicely as a backup catcher who could hit some home runs, since power is his standout tool, but he will need to control the strike zone better.

Behind Breaux, and with the Yankees’ catching depth being challenged this spring, it’s a great time for Anthony Seigler and Carlos Narvaez to show the progress they’ve made. Both are in big league camp this spring, and Narvaez has already hit two home runs in five at-bats. They essentially split time in Hudson Valley last year, with the switch-hitting Seigler putting up his best offensive season and the righty Narvaez arguably his worst, but they weren’t drastically different in that regard. Narvaez is probably ahead of Seigler defensively, and his bat is what could take him to the next level. Maybe even more so than Breaux, Narvaez profiles as a good backup catcher, and cutting down on the strikeouts will help him get there. Seigler was a first-round pick for a reason, but injuries have slowed his progress, and the Yankees would love to see his defense continue to round into shape while he finds a way to tap into more power at the plate.

On the pitching side, maybe Matt Sauer and Sean Boyle are shedding sleeper status already, since they both recently appeared on the back end of the list of Yankees’ top prospects according to MLB Pipeline. Sauer has shown he can strike people out and has the physical stature to be a big league starter, but he got knocked around by lefty batters last year, and that’s not great for someone looking to pitch in Yankee Stadium. Improvement of a changeup or the addition of a cutter and maybe just one tick up in sharpness of all his pitches would put Sauer in the starting depth conversation. Boyle could be there already, since he was invited to big league camp and logged significant innings as a starter in Triple-A last year. He’s not overpowering, but he can succeed by pounding the strike zone and keeping the ball on the ground. That being the case, he may need to show he can keep the ball in the ballpark to get opportunities against big league hitters.

Part of the fun of following a minor league system is seeing hope in a player come to fruition, or having someone you didn’t anticipate enter the picture as a legitimate prospect thanks to his own efforts. The players mentioned above, and others who could surprise, soon will show us what an offseason of improvement can do to their status as prospects, and as they rise so will the depth of the Yankees’ organization.