Whether you are a prospect nut (like many of us here) or you know absolutely nothing about Yankees prospects, you need to check out Kiley McDaniel's "Evaluating the Prospects" piece on the Yankees' system. It's the most comprehensive and up-to-date list you'll find on the web, and it's free. Anyway, I want to take a look at the analysis offered here, because it definitely gives a much rosier view of the system than what we've been hearing over the past few years.
The piece opens up regarding the Yankees' international spending this year and there are a couple of interesting tidbits, starting with this one:
The big story with the Yankees farm system is their July 2nd spending spree last summer and the harsh critiques ownership gave the player development and scouting departments the summer before that.
We here at Pinstripe Alley had wondered whether structural changes around scouting and player development would actually have an effect on the outlook of the club (and were not just cosmetic changes), but it appears it has worked thus far. It seems like this is not Fool's Gold–the front office and ownership have committed to the farm system through investments and also through the structure of their minor league clubs:
the Yankees have the most short-season clubs of any other organization: two in the DSL, two in the GCL and two more in Pulaski and Staten Island. With that many roster spots to fill, the team can sign as many players as they want and not be forced (like many teams are) to avoid signing multiple high profile players at the same position that are at the same level. Yankees officials joked that making their Low-A Charleston roster is much more difficult now, with one comparing it to being a top recruit for Alabama’s football team, but struggling to get on the field because they’re so deep with touted players.
That's certainly good to hear. This strategy is as old as the hills; Branch Rickey reportedly helped the Cardinals put together 32 (!!) farm teams to stockpile young talent. Having as many teams as possible gives you more room to sign players, naturally, and the Yankees have done just that.
After detailing the structural doings of the franchise, McDaniel (and Dave Cameron) outline "Big League Growth Assets", and then the overall outlook of the team. The big league growth assets are as follows:
It's no surprise that two of these were acquired via trades this offseason. The idea that both Nathan Eovaldi and Didi Gregorius are not done growing is an exciting proposition, and the possibility of a league-average shortstop (at 24, no less) and an above-average starting pitcher who are both cost-controlled gives the Yankees even more financial flexibility in the coming years. I was a bit surprised by Chase Whitley's Future Value of 45–I personally would peg him closer to 40–but age is certainly on his side so we'll see.
On the overall outlook side, Cameron states the following:
The Bronx Bombers still spend plenty of money, but they’re not lapping the league in payroll anymore, and are now attempting to compete on a more level playing field. This culture shift means the team is actually getting younger for the first time in a while, moving away from rosters constructed heavily through free agency. It also means the Yankees aren’t as strong as they used to be, and probably have another year or two before they can begin to enjoy the fruit of their current labors. The emphasis on youth and value will pay dividends, and it’s inevitable that the Yankees will become a dominant force in the AL East once again; it just probably won’t happen in 2015.
Sure, it is true that 2015 may be yet another mediocre year in what would be three straight, but the future is much brighter. There's no reason to go full-rebuild like the Phillies because, frankly, they've acquired enough young talent to hopefully help them get out of this rut and into a new direction.
To no one's surprise, the top prospect in the system is Luis Severino. McDaniel gives a loose comp to Yordano Ventura, but he warns not to take that literally. Overall, he gives Severino a 60 Future Value with moderate risk; his realistic role would be as a mid-rotation starter or closer, and I would be totally fine with that.
He then goes on to describe Aaron Judge, the second best prospect in the system by his standards. The key with him is that expectations were pretty low to begin with and he has proven them all wrong at each level. There are no physical comparisons historically at his development stage and age, so it's pretty tough to tell how he'll fair as he moves up the ladder. He's also described as having moderate risk associated with him, but I will say the possibility of .270/.340/.490 and 30 home runs gets me pretty excited. I would take that any day of the week.
The number three spot is occupied by Greg Bird, and that makes enough sense. McDaniel said he got reports that Bird "...looked like a young, healthy version of Nick Johnson", so that would be something the Yankees need desperately. A left-handed power hitter with patience is cut right from the Yankees' mold. Excitement regarding Bird prompts the obligatory GIF:
Jacob Lindgren as the fourth spot makes sense as well, considering he is so close to the big league level that risk is extremely low; even if the Yankees extract a few wins out of him in his career, it's very much worth it considering how quickly the organization gets a return on their investment. A win in 2015 is worth much more than a couple in 2019. McDaniel believes that as well:
Maybe his value craters next year and future draft studies just see him as a bust that looked good for a minute, but there’s significant trade value here and that’s the definition of a good pick: creating value.
There's the possibility that Lindgren could flash four average pitches, and we all know he has a wipe-out slider that is easily a 65.
Jorge Mateo rounds out the top five, and the likes of Ian Clarkin and Rob Refsnyder fall into the "45 FV" category, for better or for worse. There's understandably a lot of excitement around Mateo, and McDaniel states that his full season debut at Low-A this year is one of the most anticipated in all of baseball, so while there is a chance he falls flat on his face, he could start to rocket up prospect lists next year. Clarkin falls into the category of a decent prospect with a profile that fits into the middle of the rotation, and Refsnyder is described in the following way (certainly an important profile for many Yankees fans):
Refsnyder’s swing is a little awkward, but he makes it work: he starts with high hands and has a high leg kick, but it’s controlled and he loads his hands lower late, allowing him to have a short, direct stroke. The expectation is that he’ll compete for the second base job this year and if the bat, power and defense all play as expected, this could be a solid everyday player.
Prospects described as 40+ FV are the following: Eric Jagielo, John Ryan Murphy, Luis Torrens, Gary Sanchez, Bryan Mitchell, Miguel Andujar, and Jake Cave. An interesting note is how far Sanchez has fallen that he is now among the company of Andujar and Cave, so clearly his makeup is an obvious concern. He's now become a fringe prospect at best. He has time to turn it around, but he is definitely heading in the wrong direction.
The key to the Yankees' current upswing in minor league talent comes from depth. There aren't any described as having a 65+ FV, but there are more 40 FV's out there than for most clubs. All you need is a few to break in the right direction and you have major league contributors. There are 21 on this list in total, and I definitely can't cover them all here, so I would certainly recommend reading all of their reports.
Another interesting fringe prospect that Carson Cistulli is a fan of is Mike Ford. I'm actually pretty familiar with him myself. He went undrafted out of Princeton and was signed as a free agent after ripping the Cape Cod League to shreds a couple of years ago. He was the Ivy League Player and Pitcher of the Year in 2013 and put up ridiculous numbers there, as well. I watched him play a doubleheader at Cornell right at the end of the season where in one single game he threw 140 pitches over ten innings and then hit a game-winning grand slam. He continued to perform well at both Low-A and High-A with the Yankees, and Cistulli had similar praise but from a statistical standpoint:
He’s been nearly as proficient as a professional, recording markedly above-average strikeout rates and isolated-slugging marks (10.6% and .166, respectively) — the two metrics, those, most predictive of future major-league success for batters in the low minors — over 433 plate appearances, always while younger than the league-average age.
There are some more notes about other interesting prospects in the rest of McDaniel's report which I won't cover here, but it's safe to say that the Yankees' system has gone through a sharp turnaround from a couple of years ago when they were looking over a cliff–they had an increasingly aging roster with large contracts and seemingly no minor league relief on the horizon. That has certainly changed. I can't say for sure who will work out and who won't, but I think it's safe to say that at least a few of these players will contribute in the future, however small their role may be. Hopefully a few turn into solid, everyday players, but only time will tell. Prospects will break your heart, but once in a while they give you some hope.