New York Yankees Top 20 Prospects for 2014
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. The book has been delayed by my head injury, but it will come out eventually. Thank you for your patience and we still need pre-orders!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Grade A-: Borderline A. Before you freak out, I won’t decide the final grade here until I get the Top 50 pitching list together and decide where I want to slot him, which will also give us a few more outings to study. The basic question: is he a genuine number one starter, or "just" a strong 2-3 guy? Personally I'd rather not rank him as a "prospect" at all given the professional caliber of baseball in Japan, but he's technically a rookie so I have to put him somewhere.
2) Gary Sanchez, C, Grade B+: Significant improvements in his defensive ability over the last two years stand out. Interestingly enough his bat looks more solid than star-like at this point, though he should still be quite productive. J.R. Murphy has the same pattern in his career but to an even greater extent. Sanchez is blocked until he is traded or until Brian McCann blows out his knee of course.
3) Greg Bird, 1B, Grade B: I doubt he’ll rank this highly on other lists and that is understandable, but my analytical process (which is a combination of objective measures and subjective factors) says he’s a Grade B and one of the top first base prospects in baseball. I will sometimes override the analytical result if the outcome seems intuitively incorrect or the slot looks weird on a list, but I have found that such overrides often backfire. So, we’ll stick with it. Bird could be something like Nick Swisher type hitter down the line and for all his flaws, Nick Swisher has had a very productive career. And you can dream beyond that for Bird.
4) Eric Jagielo, 3B, Grade B: I think his defense is actually underrated; he isn’t a gold glove but he should do well enough to stay at third as long as he produces as much offense as expected. Should produce power and OBP, but don’t expect high batting averages.
5) Slade Heathcott, OF, Grade B-: There is something of a disconnect with Heathcott between the positive impression he’s made on me when I have seen him in person and his objective performance which, while not bad, hasn’t lived up to his tools. Injuries have been a clear factor here. I suspect he may end up as a fourth outfielder but a good one, with strong defense but an erratic offensive output.
6) J. R. Murphy, C, Grade B-: Like Sanchez, Murphy has improved a great deal defensively and looks to have a steady bat, though with less upside.
7) Tyler Austin, OF, Grade B-: With a healthy wrist I expect his power will come back but, well, that’s what I hope anyway. I’m a writer, not a doctor. He did a good job with the strike zone in Double-A and I think his skills will translate to higher-level success if his body lets him. If healthy, he could leap ahead of everyone but Sanchez.
8) Aaron Judge, OF, Grade B-: Excellent tools from 2013 first-round pick out of Fresno State, could be a 20/20 player but we need to see how his hitting skills will translate into pro ball, if he’ll make contact sufficiently with a 6-7 wingspan, etc.
9) Luis Severino, RHP, Grade B-: Fast-rising right-hander showed mid-to-upper-90s fastball and improved slider and changeup along with very good 53/10 K/BB ratio in 44 pro innings (despite reports of shaky command). Just 20, could be some shiny-new-toy syndrome pushing him up lists ahead of guys closer to the majors, but he has legitimate mid-rotation potential, or could develop into a fine reliever.
10) Ian Clarkin, LHP, Grade B-: 2013 first-rounder didn’t pitch much in pro ball due to ankle injury. High school star from San Diego projects as a three-pitch southpaw starter with mid-rotation potential.
11) Gosuke Katoh, 2B, Grade B-: Strong debut from ’13 second-rounder with positive defensive reports and more pop than expected in rookie ball (.310/.402/.522). Beware GCL stars bearing hot stats, but Katoh has the scouting reports to back it up.
12) Mason Williams, OF, Grade C+: No doubt a controversial ranking with Yankees fans but I’d simply rather have Heathcott or Austin at this point. Williams has defensive skills and sound overall tools, but his hitting was terrible last year and rumbles about bad makeup became thunderous. I can overlook one or the other but not both. He has a lot to prove.
13) Jose Ramirez, RHP, Grade C+: Jason Parks loves this guy and he could be right. You have to love his arm strength and he’s often performed well, but checkered health history, Triple-A command problems, and uncertain role are also important factors.
14) Dellin Betances, RHP, Grade C+: I think he’s perfect for bullpen work and he’s made a lot of progress over the last 12 months in harnessing his ability.
15) Manny Banuelos, LHP, Grade C+: Placeholder ranking until we see how his stuff and command recover from Tommy John.
16) Rafael De Paula, RHP, Grade C+: Extremely effective in Low-A but High-A hitters exposed flaws with his command and secondary pitches. A lot of people jumped off the bandwagon but his fastball is so good that he can be a useful bullpen asset even with erratic secondaries.
17) Luis Torrens, C, Grade C+: Signed for $1,200,000 out of Venezuela in 2012, jumped to GCL in ’13 and drew strong scouting reviews for both defense and offensive potential. Early numbers aren’t there (.241/.348/.299) in the power department but observers expect it will come. Rookie ball performance is often not predictive. He controls the zone and has a good swing to go with the tools.
18) Jose Campos, RHP, Grade C+: Was a curse placed upon the Michael Pineda/Jesus Montero trade? Campos performed decently in the Sally League (3.41 ERA, 77/16 K/BB in 87 innings) but reports indicate his velocity was down and secondary pitches not as crisp. Still a prospect as a possible back-end starter or bullpen candidate.
19) Miguel Andujar, 3B, Grade C+: Borderline C. Another strong GCL performer, hit .323/.368/.496 which is a lot of punch for this league. Signed for $700,000 out of the Dominican in 2011 but seems overlooked at this point with flood of C+ type prospects in the system. Abiatal Avelino and Thairo Estrada also bear close watching and could rank around here.
20) Nik Turley, LHP, Grade C+: Borderline C. Doesn’t have the hot fastball to rank higher, but still gets his strikeouts and is very tough on left-handed hitters. Decent year in Double-A/Triple-A (3.79 ERA, 141/76 K/BB in 145 innings, 121 hits), could see the majors as fifth starter or relief option if he can get the walks down.
OTHER GRADE C+: Abiatal Avelino, SS: Rookie Davis, RHP; Dietrich Enns, LHP; Ramon Flores, OF; Pete O’Brien, C; Caleb Smith, LHP.
OTHERS: Zoilo Almonte, OF; Jake Cave, OF; Jordan Cote, RHP; Cito Culver, SS; Thairo Estrada, SS; Shane Greene, RHP; Ty Hensley, RHP; Bryan Mitchell, RHP; Mark Montgomery, RHP; Vidal Nuno, LHP; Jose Pirela, 2B; Robert Refnsyder,OF.
In some ways I really like the Yankees system. They have a considerable amount of depth, with a large number of C+ and high-ceiling C prospects, many from Latin America, at the lower levels. Some of these could truly blossom in the next year or two, although which names those will be remains to be seen. It may not be the guys with the most press clippings.
They have a collection of power arms with a lot of intrigue, although many of them are likely to wind up in the bullpen. They also seem to do a good job finding college pitchers in middle and later rounds who become useful assets along David Phelps lines. Even in the "others" section there are guys who could contribute in the majors quickly, including reliever Mark Montgomery (if he fully gets his stuff back after sagging last year) and enigmatic flamethrower Bryan Mitchell.
In other ways, this is a system with significant issues. Injuries seem a common factor: whether that’s a bad luck fluke or evidence of a systemic problem is hard to know. Most of the position players project as solid players, not stars. That could change if Judge and Jagielo make a clean transition from college to pro ball and if Bird can repeat his production at higher levels, but we need to see it happen. Tanaka looks great so far, but he is a result of having tons of money, not player development. Most of the pitching prospects will probably wind up as relievers.
Overall, there are things to like here and things to wonder/worry about, which makes it a middle of the pack system. It could look a lot better in six months once we see results from the ’13 draft class and get more data about the guys who populated the GCL rosters.