As you know, the Yankees don't really have many big time prospects ready to contribute to the major league team, especially when it comes to the middle infield, so they'll hope to bring some into the organization next week during the MLB Draft. What they do already have is talent in the lower levels of the minors so it could be a few years before we see what they can offer. Now that Derek Jeter is retiring and Robinson Cano is gone, second base and shortstop remain two of the team's biggest needs in the coming years. It's an open game for any minor league players who want to work their way up the ladder and onto the Yankees at some point in the next year or two.
There aren't many prospects on the Triple-A team this year, especially when it comes to the infield. When it comes to the middle of the infield, Corban Joseph and Jose Pirela are the only two names that jump out with any kind of semi-prospect value. Joseph has been in the system since 2008, and at 25, has already seen his chance come, and likely go. He hit .266/.366/.474 for Scranton in 2012, in what was a career year for him that gave him a chance in the majors (for two games) last year. Just when it was all finally coming together for him, CoJo missed a majority of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. He came into camp this season with at least a chance to make an impression as a possible option at second base, but he struggled mightily and has hit only .205/.250/.282 so far this season. It's probably safe to assume that Yankee brass has passed him over.
Jose Pirela has been around even longer, since 2007, and at 24 he is just making it out of Double-A after three consecutive seasons in Trenton. It's not because of his offense, as you can see from his .269/.337/.383 career line, but because of his defense. After moving from short, where he was a disaster, he has improved a bit at second, enough to at least be a potential bench option. Unfortunately, without much of any prospect hype, the Venezuelan second baseman might be doomed to Quadruple-A player status, if he's lucky.
For a team that has plenty of talent at catcher and outfield, they didn't exactly share the wealth with the infield. In fact, they really only have one middle infield prospect in Rob Refsnyder. Converted from the outfield after being drafted, Refsnyder has had a challenging time adapting to the infield. He made 25 errors at second last season, but has seemingly improved in 2014, at least as of now. After being one of the system's hottest hitters in 2013, he has put up a .296/.347/.458 season so far this year, proving that he should be able to hit enough at the position, if his glove allows it. To show you just how poor the second base depth is in the system, Refsnyder is really the de facto top second base prospect, despite him still being more on the fringe than anything else. All we can really hope for is that he continues to improve defensively and pushes up the ladder; if he can finish the year in Triple-A, he could be given a long look in spring training next year.
The Tampa Yankees are home to some of the more disappointing prospects in the Yankees organization. There was a time when second baseman Angelo Gumbs was considered to be one of the top prospects in the system. He hit .272/.320/.432 with 26 stolen bases and seven home runs back in 2012, however, since then he's suffered from injuries and general ineffectiveness until he slid off most prospect radars. He's rebounded slightly in 2014, but he's still struggling to recapture his former prospect status.
Cito Culver was the Yankees' top draft choice back in 2010. It was a questionable choice then and it is a questionable choice now. The Yankees overdrafted to grab someone they thought could be the shortstop of the future when many more talented players were still on the board. This is his fifth year in the organization and he has never finished with an OPS over .700 at any point in his career. You can't even say he's a good shortstop because he's committed at least 15 errors in the field every year and that number is only going up. Right now he is hitting .228/.291/.293 for Tampa and would likely be looking at college options right now if it wasn't for his status as a former first-round pick.
The Charleston RiverDogs are pretty stacked when it comes to promising middle infield prospects. Right now they have two top shortstop prospects splitting time in the field – 2013 fourth-round pick Tyler Wade and international signing Abiatal Avelino. Last season Wade hit an impressive .291/.412/.349 in his professional debut. The original plan was to have Avelino in Low-A and keep Wade in extended spring training, but the 19-year-old Wade impressed the Yankees enough to change their minds and he has hit .277/.344/.353 so far. He just needs to recapture some of that ability to get on base and he could be on prospect lists relatively soon.
Avelino is considered to be the better player, ranking as the No. 18 prospect in the system according to MLB.com. He got a lot of attention when he made his American debut last year and is now hitting .294/.349/.387, despite the fact that he is currently projected to miss about a month due to injury. If Avelino can return strong, he should have free reign to head to Tampa at some point, since Cito isn't really offering much.
Playing second base for Charleston is 2013 second-round pick Gosuke Katoh. Many believe that the Yankees had overdrafted to land the elite glove of Katoh. The problem was that, despite his great defensive profile, he lacked the arm for shortstop and was believed to have too small of a frame for any future power potential. However, when he finally played, Katoh put up an unimaginable .310/.402/.522 season in rookie ball. He was looking to be a very exciting player to watch because, not only did he have gold glove-caliber defense on his side, but he also proved evaluators wrong and showed he could hit.
The 2014 season has slammed the door on this dream and brought us all back to reality . So far he has hit a terrible .176/.302/.280 and he's already struck out 56 times in only 151 plate appearances – a 37.1% strikeout rate! While he is still taking walks at a 13.9% rate, it's looking like he might not be able to adapt to the better pitching of the South Atlantic League. It would be nice to see him turn things around, but at what point do you pull the plug and demote him for his own good?
Bonus Baby Bomber:
While he's not currently assigned to any level, someone to pay attention to is Thairo Estrada. He's an 18-year-old shortstop out of Venezuela and he spent his first pro season on the Gulf Coast, instead of in the Dominican. In 2013, he hit .274/344/.429, though his defense might be lacking (10 errors). There's no telling where he could end up this year – Staten Island? Charleston? back to rookie ball? We'll have to wait and see.
Clearly there is talent to be had, it's just not anywhere close to contributing to the major league level. Still, shortstops and second basemen should be a priority in the draft this year, at least in order to fill the lower minors once the players there now are promoted.