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Yankees prospects: 2013 mid-season top five

Who are the Yankees top five prospects right now? How many of them could be top-100 prospects by the end of the season?

Jesus who?
Jesus who?
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Well, here we are, at the top five mid-season Yankees prospects. First, a recap of the list so far:

Rank Name Age Position Highest level 2013
6 Jose Vicente Campos 20 RHP Charleston (A)
7 Eric Jagielo 21 3B Staten Island (Low-A)
8 Slade Heathcott 22 CF Trenton (AA)
9 Aaron Judge 21 RF TBD
10 Jose Ramirez 23 RHP Scranton (AAA)
11 Tyler Austin 21 RF Trenton (AA)
12 Manny Banuelos 22 LHP Injured
13 Nik Turley 23 LHP Scranton (AAA)
14 Ian Clarkin 18 LHP TBD
15 Mark Montgomery 22 RHP Scranton (AAA)
16 Dietrich Enns 22 LHP Tampa (A+)
17 Peter O'Brien 22 C/3B Tampa (A+)
18 Brett Marshall 23 RHP New York (MLB)
19 Ty Hensley 19 RHP Injured
20 Angelo Gumbs 20 2B Tampa (A+)
21 Cito Culver 20 SS Charleston (A)
22 Luis Torrens 17 C GCL (Rookie)
23 Austin Aune 19 RF GCL (Rookie)
24 Jose Pirela 23 2B Trenton (AA)
25 Jake Cave 20 CF Charleston (A)
26 Rob Refsnyder 22 2B Tampa (A+)
27 Rookie Davis 20 RHP Staten Island (Low-A)
28 Jordan Cote 20 RHP GCL (Rookie)
29 Ben Gamel 21 LF Tampa (A+)
30 Evan Rutckyj 21 LHP Charleston (A)

Even in the past month, many of these rankings have changed, and will continue to do so through the end of the year. Such is the nature of following prospects. With that said, here are the top five Yankees prospects right now:

Rank Name Age Position Highest level 2013
1 Gary Sanchez 20 C Trenton (AA)
2 Mason Williams 21 CF Tampa (A+)
3 Rafael De Paula 22 RHP Tampa (A+)
4 Greg Bird 20 1B Charleston (A)
5 J.R. Murphy 22 C Scranton (AAA)

5. J.R. Murphy is a catcher drafted in the second round out of high school from Bradenton, FL. It took a $1.25 million signing bonus to get him to pick pro ball over the Miami Hurricanes baseball team. He has spent most of his time at catcher in the minor leagues, playing 297 of 312 career games at that position. He has a minor-league career batting line of .265/.330/.405, with a 8.8 BB%, a 15.4 K%, and a 105 wRC+. Out of high school, he was a bat-first catching prospect, and his defense was a bit rough over the first few years of his pro career. However, according to scouting reports, he has made some nice strides in that department this year, and now projects to be an average defensive catcher in the major leagues.

The great news about his glove has been supplemented by his best season with the bat since being drafted. This year, as a 22-year-old, he has a .268/.349/.420 line between Double-A and Triple-A, which is 14% better than league-average (114 wRC+). He has maintained an very good walk rate (10.7 BB%) with an equally impressive strikeout rate (15.1%). He has cooled down quite a bit since the All-Star break, posting a .212/.297/.333 line over 66 plate appearances, versus his .309/.377/.479 line in his first 94 plate appearances in Scranton. This shows he probably can use more time in Triple-A, especially considering this is his first year playing above A-ball. However, the bat has always had potential, and has produced at an above-average rate in his minor-league career. Combine that with the growth on the defensive side of his game, and he should be able to compete for the starting catcher gig out of spring training next year.

I'd expect him to start the year in Triple-A, and be called up once either he makes it impossible to ignore him, or one of the Stewart/Cervelli/Romine team implodes. Although he will probably not be the long-term answer at catcher for the team, given who the top prospect is, he should be a serviceable starter until 2016, at which point he can be used in a trade.

4. Greg Bird is a first baseman drafted in the fifth round in 2011 by the Yankees out of high school in Aurora, CO. Bird was known for his big-time power and polished bat coming into the draft, and it took $1.1 million to sign him away from the University of Arkansas, the highest bonus given out by the Yankees in 2011. He was a catcher in high school, but the Yankees immediately moved him to first base. He only got 13 PA in 2011, and split 2012 between the GCL Yankees and Staten Island. Over a 109 PA in 2012, he had a .337/.450/.494 line, with a 180 wRC+, striking out in 21.1% of his plate appearances, while walking in 15.6% of them.

He has built on this in 2013, with a .289/.416/.503 line in Charleston over 474 PA, with a 17.5 BB%, a 23.8 K%, and a 144 wRC+. The home runs have not showed up in Charleston, but he has hit 20 doubles. Since 2011, he has a .287/.408/.452 line in his first 392 professional PA, with 7 HR, 26 2B, 64 BB, 93 K, and a 162 wRC+. He has a legit, possibly even elite, bat, which is good since he is a first baseman. In fact, he may be the best first base prospect in baseball right now, especially looking at performance. And he has only gotten better as the season as gone on. He put up a .281/.405/.455 line in 224 pre-ASG plate appearances, and a .288/.430/.569 in the 160 plate appearances since.

In the minor leagues this year, with a minimum of 400 plate appearances, he is 7th in wRC+, with his 62% above league-average production. The six players ahead of him are all at least 25 years old, and three of them are in the Mexican League. Of the five first basemen with 400 plate appearances age 20 or younger, he is first in wRC+, the next closest being Dan Vogelbach at 126 wRC+, 36% lower than Bird. He looks like he could be the eventual replacement for Mark Teixeira in a few years - he could join the club some time in 2016. He is the best first base prospect the Yankees have had since Nick Johnson, and should be a top 100 prospect for them by the end of the year.

3. Rafael De Paula originally signed with the Yankees in 2010 for $500,000, after being blocked the year prior from signing by MLB, due to his shady records. After admitting that he was actually a year older than he originally said he was, the Yankees signed him. However, it took him over two years to finally get a visa to come play ball in the states, due to the same issue. He threw 61.2 innings over 14 starts in the Dominican Summer League in 2012, with a 1.46 ERA, 1.84 FIP, 35.9 K%, 7.6 BB%, and a 4.7 K/BB ratio.

His performance in 2013 has many Yankees fans excited, and led to him making many mid-season top 50 prospect lists. He started the year with Charleston, putting up a 2.94 ERA, 2.03 FIP, 37.5 K%, 9.0 BB%, and a 4.2 K/BB ratio. This lead to a spot on the International Team at the Futures Game. He pitched a scoreless inning, with a strikeout, and hit a batter with a errant slider. After the Futures Game, he was promoted to Tampa. He has not been as effective in High-A ball, seeing a jump in hits and walks, and a drop in strikeouts that has produced a 6.25 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 24.3 K%, 12.8 BB%, and a less -than-stellar 1.9 K/BB ratio. He will probably start 2014 back in Tampa until he proves he can adapt and produce better than he has thus far. Given how little pro experience he has due to the visa issues, we have to go more on his stuff and scouting reports, and take a wait-and-see approach, especially once he reaches AA in late 2014 or 2015.

De Paula has the best stuff of any pitching prospects in the Yankees system right now. His mid-90s fastball has good movement and some late hop. His slider is inconsistent, but when it's on, it is nasty. The change-up is a work in progress. If his slider command and consistency comes along, he probably won't need much of a change-up, even as a starter. If it doesn't, and his change doesn't develop into a plus pitch, he could still be a plus late-inning relief arm. But right now, the team will continue to develop him as a starter until he proves he can't do it, with dreams of a top of the rotation arm dancing in their heads.

2. Mason Williams was drafted in the fourth round in 2010 out of high school in Winter Garden, FL. He was ranked in the top 150 draft prospects by Baseball America, as a small, toolsy prospect who had questions about his bat but with elite speed and defense in center field. It took $1.45 million to sign him away from South Carolina, the largest signing bonus the Yankees gave out in 2010. He quickly climbed up the rankings for the Yankees, and was seen as one of their top three prospects at the end of the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The tools he showed in high school were quick to translate to pro-ball, and he produced at an above-average rate in every stop after his first summer in the minors.

Over 1147 plate appearances so far, he has been 19% better than league-average offensively, with a 119 wRC+. This has translated to a .298/.352/.426 line, with a 7.4 BB% and a 12.9 K%, and 62 stolen bases in 98 attempts. In 2013, he has struggled offensively, although he has turned it around of late. On the year, he has a .265/.331/.360 line for Tampa, but a .303/.340/.414 line since the All-Star break, with a 8.5 BB%, 12.9 K%, and a 98 wRC+.

He has been compared to another toolsy outfield prospect the Yankees once had, Austin Jackson. A-Jax was traded away for Curtis Granderson, and has turned himself into one of the better players in baseball, putting up 14.1 fWAR since his debut in 2010. However, Jackson had a career .763 OPS in the minors, with a 112 wRC+, versus Mason's .796 OPS and 119 wRC+. Plus, Jackson struck out almost twice as often as Mason (23.8 K% vs. 12.9 K%).That is not to say that he will be as good as Jackson, only that so far he has performed better in the minors than Jackson did.

He has plus speed, but he still needs to work on to turn into a productive tool on the basepaths, as he only has been successful stealing bases 63.3% of the time. Combine that with potentially elite defense, and there is a reason why he is the most exciting outfield prospect the team has had since Ruben Rivera. He has had some maturity issues, not always listening to his coaches (according to reports), and being arrested for a DUI If he can get the maturity level up (and he is only 21), he should be an average starter in the majors, with the potential to be an all-star.

1. Gary Sanchez was signed by the Yankees in 2009 as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican for $3 million, which is the 4th-highest signing bonus the Yankees have ever given to a player. Seen as one of the better international bats that year, the Yankees decided to develop him at catcher, drastically increasing his value if the position stuck. So far, so good. Each year, he has had modest improvements defensively, but like Murphy, he has taken a big step forward in this facet of his game in 2013. Looking at traditional stats, he has posted the highest fielding percentage of his career (.988), the highest caught-stealing rate (45%), and the lowest rate of passed balls (13.75 per 100 games).

Over his minor-league career, he has a .277/.341/.475 line, with a 22.0 K%, a 7.8 BB%, and a 126 wRC+. That would be outstanding production for any position, and doing it as a catcher makes him a premium prospect. He has legit power, and although he could afford to walk some more, his strikeout rate has dropped by more than a third, from 27% to 17%, in the past two years, which is a great sign. His plus bat speed is now being complemented by better contact rates, which will lead to better power and production.

In 2013, he began the season with Tampa, looking to build on the 117 wRC+ in 185 plate appearances he had there in 2012. He actually did worse in Tampa this year over 399 plate appearances, only producing a 105 wRC+. However, he also had the lowest BABIP in his career by far, 31 points below his next-lowest rate (Charleston in 2011), and 64 points below his second-lowest rate (Tampa last year). The Yankees decided he was ready for a promotion, and promoted him to Double-A Trenton this past week, at the ripe old age of 20. He has a .944 OPS, 169 wRC+ in his first 18 plate appearances in Trenton. At this point, he will probably return to Trenton to start 2014, with a mid-season promotion to Scranton if all goes well. If not, he will still be 21, and a full season in Double-A next year will not set him back much. By 2016, he should be battling Murphy to be the starting catcher in the Bronx, and could turn JR into trade bait. Either way, he is a very exciting prospect, and should be on most top-30 prospect list this offseason.

So there you have it, the top 30 Yankees prospects at the mid-season break. Some things have changed since this list started, and some more will change by the time the offseason gets here. The Yankees system should have at least two players on top-100 lists, and could have as many as four by the end of the season. After this year's draft, the future is looking brighter for the Yankees system than it has since the heyday of Brackman, Betances, Banuelos, and Montero.

And just for fun, here is an All-Yankee Prospect Starting lineup (have to be healthy):

1. Mason Williams, CF
2. Slade Heathcott, LF
3. Gary Sanchez, C
4. Greg Bird, 1B
5. Peter O'Brien, DH
6. Eric Jagielo, 3B
7. Tyler Austin, RF
8. Angelo Gumbs, 2B
9. Cito Culver, SS

SP #1 - Rafi De Paula
SP #2 - Jose Vicente Campos
SP #3 - Jose Ramirez
SP #4 - Nik Turley
SP #5 - Dietrich Enns
LHRP - Francisco Rondon
RHRP - Mark Montgomery

So, who is your #1 Yankees prospect right now? Vote below.