As the off-season comes to a close, one of the new traditions for minor league enthusiasts is the release of ESPN insider Keith Law's annual ranking of the top 100 prospects. After learning yesterday that Law placed their farm system 13th overall, his full list came out this morning, and the Yankees have four prospects included on the ranking, a high number for them considering the fact that they were previously only placing one or two for multiple years in a row.
To see the full list, you should go ahead and pay for access to Law's article--as Craig Calcaterra noted, there aren't too many resources worth paying extra for in an age of mostly free content, but Law's insight is worth it. We can only offer a taste of it without taking too much from Law's work.
Aaron Judge was the Yankees' highest ranked prospect in the group, placing 36th overall, the ninth outfielder listed. The 23-year-old hit .255/.330/.448 with 26 doubles and 20 homers in 124 games between Double-A and Triple-A, though Law noted his slump to .224/.308/.373 upon his promotion to Scranton. Here's how he explained it:
He's excellent at covering the inner third despite his long arms, which is a positive skill overall but causes two issues: He hits too many grounders to the left side, and he's very vulnerable to soft stuff away, which led to the excessive strikeout rates in 2015.
Law had previously ranked Judge 13th in midseason 2015. Despite this flaw, Law is confident in Judge's abilities and thinks that his bat has enough potential to keep him in an everyday lineup. Since he's a good outfielder already with a strong arm, he could be a cornerstone in right field for years to come if he can cut down on the strikeouts a little bit more.
Shortstop Jorge Mateo cracked Law's top 100 for the first time in his young career, coming in at number 55. The speedy 20-year-old hit .278/.345/.392 in 117 games between Low-A and High-A, leading all of professional baseball with 82 stolen bases. The baserunning ability is obvious and Law mentions that, but it was more interesting to see what Law thought about other aspects of his game. He believes Mateo is a good enough shortstop to make the plays there and that he is terrific at simply getting the bat on the ball. For someone with Mateo's speed, that's a win by itself since as long as the ball is in play, he can at least try to use his speed to reach base. The key to his success will be making more authoritative contact--his slight tendency toward pop-ups won't help.
Just two spots behind Mateo is catcher Gary Sanchez, who returned to the top 100 after a one-year hiatus after hitting .274/.330/.485 between Double-A and Triple-A, crushing 18 homers and tacking on seven more dingers in the Arizona Fall League. Sanchez ranked 68th in 2014 but due to a decline in both performance and makeup, he didn't make the 2015 list. Fortunately, he turned his young career around with a much better attitude and more dedication to his craft behind the plate. Law said that he still needs to work on his receiving and game-calling technique, as his arm alone won't make him a good enough catcher, but if he can make some improvements both there and on his timing at the plate, he could be a borderline MVP candidate.
Rounding out the Yankees' portion of the top 100 at number 87 is pitcher James Kaprielian, the UCLA righty taken 16th overall by the Yankees in last year's draft. Since he only made it into a handful of games between Rookie ball and short-season Staten Island, Law is basing his optimism on the potential that Kaprielian developed in college. Thankfully for the Yankees, he learned a lot from his Pac-12 days, sitting in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball with a "wipeout slider" to boot. Law says Kaprielian's command is still a work-in-progress, as is the case with most pitchers recently added from the draft, but he's close enough already that he shouldn't have much trouble with the low-minors.
What do you think of Law's comments? Is this enough of a step forward for their prospects to make you optimistic about their future as well?