Last year, Yankees prospects burst onto the scene and had an impact as both Greg Bird and Luis Severino made their major league debuts. It was a huge success for a farm system that could generate the prospects, but not the big league success that counted after that. Now that Greg Bird is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery, the torch will have to pass on to Gary Sanchez, perhaps a little prematurely, for a fan base that is starved for homegrown talent.
People already expect big things from Luis Severino. There might be the threat of a future as a reliever, but right now he's going to get every chance to pitch in the rotation. He'll be the biggest homegrown prospect given a starting spot since Phil Hughes a few years back now. His 2.89 ERA was impressive, but his 4.37 FIP looked a little scary, especially if that were stretched over a full season. Still, ZiPS projects a middle ground of 3.80 ERA and 3.85 FIP over 154 innings, which is something the Yankees would probably take in a heartbeat for his first full season.
Sanchez, on the other hand, won't have a clear path to the majors just yet. He's only 23 and has plenty of time ahead of him, especially since he might be better off in Scranton than on New York's bench full time. He can help the Yankees now, but as long as Brian McCann is healthy he isn't going to get a lot of playing time. Greg Bird was in much the same spot last season with Mark Teixeira ahead of him, but he eventually found a way to the big leagues.
His ZiPS projections seem to be a bit on the optimistic side as he will somehow get 446 plate appearances at the big league level with 20 home runs and 67 RBI over the season. A 99 OPS+ is perfectly acceptable from a young catching prospect, and it leaves room for improvement. On a lefty-dominant team, another right-handed bat would go a long way. Conventional baseball wisdom believes that you should never use your backup catcher if you don't have to, but using Sanchez as a pinch hitter in key situations would offer the Yankees an extra weapon off the bench that the team didn't have last season. Right now there's no indication as to who will take the 25th spot on the roster, but a team already relying on versatility could use a little more since Sanchez can hit lefties very well.
It's unfair to ask Gary Sanchez to step up like this, considering he might never get the chance, but there was no real indication that Greg Bird would be a major league option in 2015. ZiPS is on his side, and all he really needs to do is offer a small portion of those numbers to tide fans over until 2017 when Severino, Bird, and hopefully Aaron Judge will be contributing in the majors right along side him. Brian McCann is projected to have a great year. As the backup catcher, there's not a lot expected from him. All Sanchez has to do is provide some hype and a little taste of the things to come for 2016 to be a success.