Every winter, the baseball industry's leading public experts on prospects release their evaluations of each organization. Today, it is Baseball America's turn to dissect the Yankees' system, and the results are a little surprising. Their Top 10 Prospects list has a much different look to it than the 2015 edition, and not just because Luis Severino and Greg Bird both graduated.
The Yankees' highest ranked prospect is not slugger Aaron Judge, who led several Top 10 lists last year, but instead 20-year-old shortstop Jorge Mateo. Although he had never played full-season ball prior to 2015, Mateo's potential and tool set were already well regarded, as he debuted at number three on Baseball America's Yankees list last year. After hitting .278/.345/.392 between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa and leading all of organized baseball with 82 steals in 2015, Mateo became the Yankees' top prospect according to writer Josh Norris. Mateo has a high ceiling with a glove that could very well stick at shortstop, so this is far from a complete shock.
Perhaps more intriguing is the fact that catcher Gary Sanchez beat Judge out as well. Sanchez turned 23 just a few weeks ago and is coming off his best season in the minors to date, one which saw him reemerge on the top prospects scene after a couple shaky years of development that included questions about both his defense and his makeup. Then Sanchez batted .274/.330/.485 with 18 homers between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, made his MLB debut in a cameo at the end of the season, and followed it up by mashing Arizona Fall League pitching with seven homers in 22 games. With John Ryan Murphy now with the Twins, Sanchez could very well be the Yankees' primary backup catcher in 2016; his future is quite bright.
Judge slots in at number three in wake of an up-and-down season split with Trenton and Scranton. He slugged .517 with 12 homers in just 63 games with Trenton but slipped to a .224/.308/.373 line in the International League while struggling on breaking pitches. It would be foolish to write Judge off yet though, and Norris certainly isn't doing that. There's a reason why Judge is so talented, and this was only his second professional season. Another season in Triple-A will be more important in helping the Yankees decide if Judge will be ready to succeed Carlos Beltran in right field.
All the players ranked from #4 through #7 are completely new to the Baseball America Top 10. Top 2015 draft choice James Kaprielian makes an impressive debut at fourth overall. Since the UCLA righty was touted as one of the draft's most big league ready arms, it makes sense that he is already ranked this high despite just 11 1/3 professional innings. Some have even said that he's polished enough to perhaps make his MLB debut sometime in 2016; he'll start off somewhere in A-ball, but it should be fun to see how he approaches the challenge.
Kaprielian is followed by 6'7" flamethrower Domingo Acevedo, up-and-coming righty starter Rookie Davis, and Mateo's fellow shortstop prospect, Tyler Wade. The soon-to-be 22-year-old Acevedo opened plenty of eyes in 2015 with his velocity and a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts with the Staten Island Yankees--look for the Yankees to be aggressive with him if they like what they see, as they did with Luis Severino. Davis is not far off from the big league rotation, though he does need some more in the high minors, which is why the Yankees felt they needed to acquire Luis Cessa and Chad Green to increase the Triple-A rotation depth. Wade is a bit of an odd pick for the top 10 since he appeared to be shaky in Trenton after a midseason promotion from Tampa, but since the former Thunder beat writer Norris is so well-connected to the organization, his opinion should be highly valued.
The list is rounded out by fan favorite Rob Refsnyder at eight, Rookie Ball breakout star Wilkerman Garcia at nine (potentially the prize of the Yankees' 2014 international spending spree), and High-A outfielder Dustin Fowler at ten. Note that Refsnyder appearing so low here should suggest what the industry thinks of him and that while a nice hitter, he has enough question marks surrounding him that it makes sense why the Yankees decided to trade for Starlin Castro rather than gamble on Refsnyder starting or a platoon with Dustin Ackley.
Further changes from the 2015 list include Ian Clarkin, Jacob Lindgren, Luis Torrens, and Miguel Andujar all slipping due to seasons plagued by either injury or ineffectiveness. It doesn't particularly matter with Lindgren, who will more likely than not lose prospect eligibility through regular work in the big league bullpen this year, and the other three are young enough for it to not be too concerning.
What do you think of Baseball America's list?