It's great to keep an eye on the low level of the minor leagues, but a decade of prospect watching has taught me to be skeptical of top prospects. Every year, the MLB draft offers a few future All-Stars to the thirty teams. Every year, these prospects run through the minor league grist mill, and the cream rises to the top. It's easy to be excited by an 18-year-old who could some day hit 40 homers in the Show, but there are a lot of those.
But if you're a Yankee fan dedicated to the big league team and uninterested in hardcore prospect watching, you need a different kind of top prospect list, one that is exclusively focused at near-big league ready talent. This is especially true given just how overly cautious the Yankees have always been with their minor leaguers.
1. Rob Refsnyder - Has made the difficult transition from college outfielder to professional infielder, but even the most generous scouting reports call his defense a work in progress.
2. Jose Pirela - Rob Refsnyder's offensive potential has garnered more attention, but Pirela's .305/.351/.441 in Triple-A while playing nearly every position on the diamond is just as exciting to me, though there are questions about his defense as well.
3. John Ryan Murphy - Didn't show nearly the power I was hoping for this year. I had hoped that escaping the pitcher's paradise in Scranton would allow him to take a big step forward, but I was impressed by what I saw of his defense, and that means that one of Murphy or Francisco Cervelli is likely trade bait this offseason.
4. Manny Banuelos - This might be a make-or-break season for the slight southpaw. Coming back from Tommy John surgery, this is likely his last chance to prove he can make it as a starter. If the 2015 Yankees have anything close to the trouble keeping their starters healthy that they've had the last two seasons, Banuelos will certainly have the chance to prove himself.
5. Greg Bird - Played only 27 games in Trenton during 2014, but his performance so far in the Arizona Fall League has to bring extra expectations. If Mark Teixeira gets hurt again, or if the Yankees find themselves again struggling to get adequate production from the DH spot, could Bird be a fix?
There are certainly other players who will have the chance to help the Yankees this coming season: Zoilo Almonte and Ramon Flores, Bryan Mitchell and Tyler Webb. Maybe that entire lot doesn't have a single future All-Star appearance between them, but a championship team needs 25-30 players contributing. And I hope those guys have a ring in their future.