A couple of weeks ago I reached out to John Sickels for a Q&A session concerning the Yankee's farm system. If you like to follow baseball prospects and enjoy in-depth reports, John is a must follow over at Minor League Ball. I would like to thank John again, for taking time out of his busy schedule to complete this interview. You the reader are in for a treat and I hope that you enjoy this as much as I have.
PSA: Where do you see the Yankee’s farm system heading into 2015?
I think this is a farm system in a transitional phase. There are a lot of critics and with Mark Newman's retirement, there will no doubt be some changes with the approach. But on the other hand, the system has shown some strengths. Dellin Betances was outstanding as a rookie, Luis Severino broke out, Ian Clarkin performed well, they have a knack for finding decent pitching prospects in later rounds of the draft, and the heavy investment in Latin America this past summer adds a jolt of impact talent to the lower levels. That will take time to bear fruit, of course, but while the system is not among the elite in baseball, it is far from a disaster in my view.
PSA: What players improved and disappointed the most this season?
Severino made the leap from promising rookie ball pitcher to one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in baseball. Aaron Judge showed more polish than anticipated. Robert Refsnyder had an outstanding season and looks like more than just a sleeper type now. On the negative side, Mason Williams’ stock continues to slide, Gosuke Katoh was disappointing, and Slade Heathcott lost most of the season to injuries.
PSA: Over the past few years, which was the bigger problem with the farm system scouting or development? Why?
I don’t know. Untangling the exact causality of disappointment is pretty much impossible from an outsider’s perspective and the insiders who have such information aren’t going to say much other than a general vagueness about needing to improve in all phases. As noted, I don’t think the system is in THAT bad of condition. They were very budget-oriented with many of their draft picks in some recent years, but they’ve still found some useful players nonetheless and are clearly willing to spend money internationally. Some prospects have prospered, others haven’t. That’s true for most farm systems. There are a few organizations which clearly have elite farm systems and a few that are clearly poor, but most teams are in the middle and that’s where the Yankees are.
PSA: Which prospect is currently under-the-radar, that you feel will breakout in 2015?
I think Miguel Andujar can break out. He had a very strong second half. They did spend $750,000 to sign him and people who follow the system closely know who he is, but the average fan isn’t likely to have heard much about him yet and on a national level he hasn’t received much attention. I think that will change in 2015.
PSA: Was there a Yankee prospect in the past who you felt was a "sure thing" that ended up fizzling out?
If you want to go back to the 90s, I was a huge fan of Ruben Rivera. The tools were obvious and I thought he could be something like Bobby Bonds. The reasons for his failure had little to do with his natural talent though. I also really liked D’Angelo Jimenez. He wasn’t a total bust and had some success as a role player, but I thought he could be much more than that. Ricky Ledee was another one like that. Jose Tabata hasn’t lived up to expectations either.
PSA: Out of the trio of Sanchez, Murphy and Torrens, which would you, rather have? Why?
That’s tough. Murphy is already in the majors, which has value, and Sanchez is close. Torrens may have the highest ceiling, but he’s also the furthest away and least-defined as a player. If I’m a baseball team, who would rather have would depend on what I need: on pure upside I would go Torrens/Sanchez/Murphy, but if I’m a real team and need someone ready to help more quickly, I’d go Sanchez/Torrens/Murphy.
PSA: Do you think that Robert Refsnyder, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Tyler Austin will become Yankee line-up mainstays?
This is the Yankees, so "will become" is always hard to predict with young players given that there are veterans that have to get out of the way first and always possible free agent signings. I will just say that I still see it possible for all four players to become regulars, with the Yankees or someone else. Austin has had a rough couple of years but I haven’t given up on him yet. I don’t think Refsnyder is a future star, but he should be a strong role player at least.
Bird and Judge are decent bets to be mainstays somewhere eventually, Bird could be something like Nick Swisher and Judge’s ceiling is the highest of the group. Eric Jagielo still has a shot, Jake Cave looks promising, and one or more of the big budget Latin American guys from this past summer could be better than any of the guys ahead of them, although who that is exactly is still unknown.
Once again a huge thank you to John for his time!! You can check him out over at SBN sister site Minor League Ball.