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What to watch for from Yankees prospects in September

As the Yankees’ minor league season enters its last month, there are several interesting stories to follow.

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts
Austin Wells
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Rather than simply play out the string, the Yankees have become more interesting by adding top prospects Oswald Peraza and Everson Pereira to their major league lineup. That practice could continue in the month of September, and that’s just one of several stories to follow as the team’s affiliates enter their last month of play.

What happens with the top prospects at Triple-A?

Not only are the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders competing for a playoff spot as the calendar turns to September, but they arguably have the two most interesting players in the organization at the moment. Jasson Domínguez and Austin Wells are in the daily lineup, and it isn’t just their top-prospect status that draws attention. The question is whether either—or both—will make it to the Bronx before the end of the MLB season.

Domínguez is going to receive the most attention because he’s virtually done so since the day he entered the organization. It wasn’t that long ago when we were wondering what was wrong with Domínguez, as he struggled with swing-and-miss early in the summer at Double-A Somerset, but since the beginning of July, his trajectory has changed. He’s been on an extended run of good performance that earned him a bump up to Triple-A, and the run isn’t just statistical. Domínguez’s swing decisions and the quality of his at-bats, not to mention the authority with which he’s striking the baseball, reflect a player who is getting awfully close to a major league call-up.

You could question whether or not it would be rushing him at only 20 years old, but Domínguez will need to go on the 40-man roster this winter and it would benefit him to get a taste of the big leagues before that time arrives. The rumors have certainly started about it, anyway.

Harrison Bader was placed on waivers Tuesday, and if he’s claimed, then a spot will open up in center field for the month of September. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s earmarked for Domínguez, but there would be a more obvious path to playing time than there would be for Wells. The Yankees are giving Ben Rortvedt a shot to play, as he’s splitting time almost evenly with Kyle Higashioka. If Wells came up he’d need to play almost every day, which means* either he’s behind the plate or he’s the designated hitter.

*Wells hasn’t played first base or outfield since his college days at Arizona in early 2020.

Sometimes, the organization telegraphs its thinking in public comments, and this one from Aaron Boone may indicate that Wells finishes the year in Northeastern Pennsylvania: “We also feel like he continues to make really good strides as a catcher. We want to keep that development progression going,” Boone told the New York Post on Saturday.

“Continues to make really good strides” is like saying “he’s not ready to be our catcher,” and also mentioning they’d like to get him reps at first base—when they haven’t done that in his development so far—doesn’t give the impression that Wells is ready to break through.

Nonetheless, there’s been enough chatter about Wells in recent weeks that it’s definitely possible, and Wells would fit with the idea of getting a look at young players, like they are with Peraza and Pereira. He’ll go on the 40-man roster this offseason regardless, and some things will get sorted out for the catching position this winter. Getting Wells up in September would give the Yankees more information toward what they’ll do with the roster in the coming months. Jose Trevino should be back next season, and what the Yankees choose to do with Higashioka, Rortvedt, Wells, Double-A backstop Agustin Ramirez, and any catcher in or outside the organization will be decided later.

Can you imagine being told in February that Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, Everson Pereira, Austin Wells, and Jasson Domínguez would be playing regularly for the Yankees in September? It could happen.

Update: It will indeed happen!

What will the next two weeks for Tampa mean in 2024?

On one hand, sending a first-round draft pick to play a couple weeks in Tampa at the end of the season is not really a big deal. But there is a story there that has implications for next year. It is not unprecedented for the Yankees to send a teenager to a full-season league, but it is noteworthy that 18-year-old shortstop George Lombard Jr. was bumped up to Low-A on Sunday to finish the season.

The organization obviously thinks highly of Lombard, considering he was drafted in the first round. But he was playing in high school just a few months ago, and he should be viewed in the context of other players the Yankees have who are near his age or who haven’t played above the rookie level.

Roderick Arias is a premium prospect, and he will be playing shortstop every day somewhere next spring. His presence on the FCL team pushed other players who could play short, like Hans Montero, Enmanuel Tejeda, and Keiner Delgado, to other positions. There was no rotation. When the Florida State League starts play next year, Arias will be 19 years old. Lombard will be 18. Montero, Tejeda, and Delgado will be with the Tarpons barring a trade, injury, or surprise decision, so it will be very interesting to see how the organization is prioritizing these players.

Scouts admire Lombard, and he’s clearly held in high regard by the Yankees. Has Lombard moved ahead of Arias in the pecking order? If he shows well in these last two weeks and during instructional camp, could he possibly make the leap to Hudson Valley out of spring training? Could he start playing third base already and line up alongside Arias in Tampa in 2024? Sending Lombard to Low-A, even for a short time, is a fascinating decision that could have ripple effects into next year.

What will the Yankees do with pitchers approaching innings limits?

Chase Hampton has been placed on the developmental list, presumably because he has reached an innings limit for the season. He threw 56.2 last year in college, and he reached 106.2 in his first full season this year. Considering he is now viewed as one of the Yankees’ top prospects, the wise move is to back him off now. The question is whether this will be the case with any of the other prospect pitchers.

Drew Thorpe pitched 104.2 college innings last year, and he’s up to 130 in his first pro season. Clayton Beeter is almost 30 frames past his career high. Richard Fitts is 19 past his. With Thorpe and Fitts in line to pitch into the minor league postseason, and Beeter on the verge of a 40-man roster spot and potential September call-up, would any of these pitchers join Hampton on the shelf?

Who will bring home a championship?

The big league club may be out of contention, but two of their affiliates will be playing in the postseason thanks to their first-place finishes in the first half of the minor league season. Scranton is currently a couple games out of a playoff spot, but Hudson Valley and Somerset will both compete in the postseason in their respective leagues, and prospects like Spencer Jones, Agustin Ramirez, Ben Rice, Jared Serna, and Anthony Hall will all be in the thick of it.

Several players who weren’t on the prospect scene last year, like Ramirez, Rice, and Serna, in addition to 2023 successes Brock Selvidge, Justin Lange, Jesus Rodriguez, Danny Watson, Jack Neely, and Zach Messinger, will all get a chance to extend their seasons and hopefully cap off strong performances. Winning at any level is a good thing, and if the big league club can’t take home a championship, it will be fun to root for the guys in the minors.