After years with a barren farm system, it would appear that for the 2015 season and beyond, the Yankees have a plethora of outfielders coming down the pipeline. While the Yankees tend to load up on high-priced outfield bats like Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, their success with Brett Gardner could sway the organization to change directions and give their internal options a chance to prove that they can hack it in the majors, regardless of how they profile. Right now they have several MLB-ready options and could have more in the near future.
Out of those that could play in the majors right now, one is already currently there. After a long and winding frustrating journey, Slade Heathcott finally made it to the big leagues and he's done nothing but impress while he's been with the team. Released from the team just a few short months ago, he's proving that a healthy Slade Heathcott could have some value with both the bat and the glove. In only five games he's collected five hits, including a double and a home run, and while he won't hit .385/.385/.692 going forward, he should be able to put his name into the discussion for fourth outfielder going forward.
The other prospect who could be in the majors right now is Ramon Flores, another potential solid fourth outfielder-type. While everyone has clamored for the next superstar, role players have their value too, and if you can save money on the bench players, they become that much more valuable when they perform. For years, Flores has been an under-the-radar prospect mainly because he projects as an in-betweener, as in he doesn't have the glove for center field and he doesn't have the power for a corner outfielder. What he lacks in pure talent, he makes up for in an ability to hit–he's slashing .293/.383/.427 this season–with a solid eye at the plate–12% walk-rate in Triple-A–making him a solid choice for a fourth outfielder. He might have already made it by this point if he didn't suffer a severe ankle injury last year that kept him out for most of the season, but he's currently back to where he left off.
Aside from Slade and Flores, the Yankees have a few others who are pretty close to making it as well. Mason Williams was a former top prospect who seemed to get exposed when he hit the upper minors. For the longest time his value took a nosedive as his bat eroded and he looked like a mess at the plate, but something clicked for him this year and he's hit so well that he was promoted to Triple-A Scranton after 34 games in Trenton. Everyone knows he has a major league-level glove right now, so if he's suddenly figured out how to hit, who knows what could happen from here. He has a shot to make it as a fourth outfielder/defensive replacement-type without the bat, but if he's able to hit now, things could change for him in a hurry. The other prospect, Tyler Austin, could end up being a solid right field/first base-type if he can remember how to be a consistent hitter. After an unreal 2012 season, he suffered a wrist injury that seemed to hamper his abilities up until the end of last year. Unfortunately, things have fallen apart for him in Triple-A and now he's on the brink, but if he can turn things around there might still be some hope for him yet.
As far as top prospects are concerned, the conversation begins with Aaron Judge, who many believe to be the top talent in the system. The six-foot-seven outfielder proved to be a much better hitter than anyone expected him to be as he's shown an advanced eye for hitting and an ability to hit for both power and average. He still might end up having a strikeout problem, but his power potential and his skills in the outfield could make up for it to some extent. This is only his second professional season, but he's already in Double-A Trenton and he could finish the year in Scranton. With Carlos Beltran's contract expiring after next season, the Yankees have to be eyeing Judge for a 2016/2017 debut.
The other top outfield prospect the Yankees have is Jake Cave, who many describe as a poor man's Brett Gardner. He can hit for average, play the outfield well, hit for some power, and move around on the base paths, though he may not be as fast or as gifted as Gardner. His ability to play center field makes him an intriguing option, whether it's as a backup outfielder or as a trade chip in the near future. He doesn't possess the natural abilities you want to see from a top prospect, but he's hanging around for a reason and he shouldn't be passed over so easily.
Two high-level outfielders who might not be considered much prospects include Ben Gamel and Taylor Dugas. Gamel started the year off in Triple-A for the first time and right now he's in the midst of his best offensive season to date. Dugas, though, is currently stuck in Double-A Trenton at the age of 25, so things aren't looking great for him. His calling card is his impressive plate discipline as he has a 15.7% walk-rate and a 10.8% K-rate going for him right now, so he's at least worth keeping an eye on.
As we get further away from the majors, it gets more and more difficult to rely on prospects coming through the system, however that doesn't mean they should be ignored. 2014 draft pick Mark Payton was given a surprisingly quick rise through the system and has been hitting well enough in A-ball to deserve a call-up to Trenton–if only there were room for him. Michael O`Neill, nephew of Paul O`Neill, might not have the bat his uncle had, but he stole 42 bases last season and that can't be overlooked. Venezuelan outfielder Alexander Palma tore up Rookie-ball last year and is now playing with the Charleston RiverDogs. Top international signings like Juan De Leon and Leonardo Molina are receiving high praise and long consideration for Yankees top prospect lists this year, and while neither have done much yet, their youth and overall skills keep scouts intrigued.
It would seem that the Yankees are filled with outfield talent at every level of the system, but there's plenty of room for more. As players are promoted and graduate to the majors, spots will open up that will need to be filled at the A-ball levels. With 2014 international signings like Juan De Leon, Jonathan Amundaray, Bryan Emery, and Antonio Arias coming into the system this year, the Yankees might focus their attention mostly on pitching, but if they can nab an advanced bat like they did with Payton, there will be plenty of space for him too.