We've spent this week looking at the positional depth within the Yankees system, concluding today with the minor league outfielders. With Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury signing long-term deals to roam the outfield in the Bronx for seasons to come this offseason, there is really only one starting spot up for grabs at the big league level in the near future. It wasn't that long ago that Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and Tyler Austin were a trio of top prospects destined for the Yankee Stadium outfield in the future. How do things stand on that front now?
Adonis Garcia, Ramon Flores, and Zoilo Almonte lead the crop of Yankee outfield prospects at the Triple-A level. Almonte has seen major league time in each of the last two seasons, putting him in a prime spot to possibly be the fourth outfielder in place of Ichiro Suzuki next season. Before being called up in place of injured Carlos Beltran, Almonte was hitting .273/.324/.470 in 33 games with six home runs. Garcia currently owns the RailRiders' highest batting average at .303 with a .760 OPS through 44 games. He's been compared to Ronnier Mustelier, who the Yankees released earlier this season. The difference, according to Yankees vice president Mark Newman, came down to the fact that Garcia is a better defender than Mustelier. Garcia, like Mustelier, can play some third base as well. Flores is a former non-drafted free agent from 2008 who has risen as high as #11 on Yankee prospect lists. His .258/.345/.443 batting line so far this season is very close to what he did in 136 Double-A games a year ago. Still, there is only one starting spot at the big league level for the foreseeable future. It's not an ideal situation for prospects who are knocking on the door.
Trenton is the home of the majority of outfield promise within the Yankees' system with Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Slade Heathcott all on the roster. Each of the three outfielders found themselves at the top of Yankee prospects lists before a disappointing season a year ago took a bit of the shine off. Williams, especially, has had a rough go of it at the Double-A level. He's batting .200/.302/.270 through 46 games this season. The hitting prowess that he showed during his time with the Charleston RiverDogs has not yet translated to the higher levels of the minor leagues to this point, but his glove in center field is one of the best among Yankee prospects. Heathcott is, unfortunately, injured again as of this moment. Injuries have plagued his career to this point and he has only managed to appear in nine games this season after recovering from another injury delayed the start of his season. The tools are there and the ceiling is still pretty high, but Heathcott has to show he can stay on the field for any of it to matter.
Austin has had his share of injuries, as well, and the Yankees have also played around with giving him time at first base with Trenton's outfield overcrowded as it is. Whether from wrist injury or not, Austin has not yet been able to regain the same power he displayed in his half season with Low-A Charleston. In 32 games this season, he is batting .246/.326/.344 with just one home run. One prospect who has flown under the radar a bit, who is having the best season among Trenton outfielders, is Ben Gamel. Through 52 games, Gamel is batting .289/.328/.382 with 14 doubles and five stolen bases. Taylor Dugas has also had a very nice season for the Thunder, batting .286/.400/.429 in 38 games.
Jake Cave has been the star of the show for the Tampa Yankees in the outfield this season. Selected by the Yankees in the sixth round back in 2011, Cave has dealt with a serious knee injury that cost him major time in his professional career. Through 51 games this season he has a .318/.368/.424 batting line with two homers and seven stolen bases. He could be in line for a promotion later this year if the Trenton outfield picture thins out a bit. The Tampa outfield aside from Cave isn't overly exciting as far as known prospects go. Fortunately, that opens a door for promotions from Charleston at some point this summer.
One of those likely promotions is Aaron Judge from Charleston. Judge had to put off his Yankee debut until 2014 after being selected in the compensation round last year due to injury, but he is off to a fantastic start with the RiverDogs. In 51 games so far this year, Judge has batted .308/.405/.445 with five home runs. One look at the guy suggests that his power will continue to develop and the Yankees seem convinced of the same. All the other numbers are great and that's what really matters at this point. Paul O'Neill's nephew, Michael, plays alongside Judge in the Charleston outfield. To this point in the season, O'Neill has a .684 OPS in 49 games.
Judge is obviously the big draw here, being a college bat that could possibly move through the system quickly. The majority of outfield talent is still found at the Double-A level where the Yankees have to be hoping that the Big 3 regain their lofty statuses. Having it laid out this way makes it pretty clear why the team felt comfortable giving long term deals to both Gardner and Ellsbury instead of banking on multiple prospects to turn it around or progress at lightning speed through multiple levels. An outfield of Ellsbury, Gardner, and Judge is certainly something to dream about for a couple years from now, and it wouldn't hurt for the team to add a polished outfielder or two to the mix in this year's draft.