Last weekend, Minor League Ball began its look at some prospects that may not be household names just yet. Just because a prospect isn’t in the Top 100, doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential to be a solid big-leaguer one day. That was the case with the first two farm systems on the list.
Today we turn out attention to the New York Yankees. While Estevan Florial may have increased his stock more than any other in the system, everybody knows who he is. That is especially true after the trade deadline, when he became arguably the organization’s most untouchable prospect.
Here’s a list of three Yankees farm hands in which you should be familiar:
NICK SOLAK, 2B
Solak was selected by the Yankees in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft. He was part of a big Louisville Cardinals draft class, seeing six players off the board before the fifth round. Solak is living proof that not enough people watch college baseball or the low minors.
He was good in Louisville and the Cape Cod League. He was really good in professional debut at Staten Island. And he continued to be good this year in what many felt was his breakout season.
Solak has shown a keen ability to make consistent contact and get on base in the ACC, Cape Cod League, New York-Penn League and now High -A and Double-A ball. He spent most of 2017 in Tampa, but handled a late season promotion to Trenton with relative ease.
Combined, Solak slashed .297/.384/.452. He did have a little more swing-and-miss in him this season than in the past, striking out 100 times in 538 plate appearances, but he also walked 63 times, a fantastic 12 percent walk rate. Despite being an overwhelming ground ball hitter (nearly 60 percent of his batted balls) Solak generates enough power to stick at second, blasting 12 home runs and 26 doubles. Six home runs went to right field, six to left, so his right-handed bat isn’t a victim of pure pull-power.
There’s no reason to not expect Solak in Triple-A next season. If the Yankees didn’t have so much infield depth, he’d likely be rated much higher.
THAIRO ESTRADA, IF
If it seems like Thairo Estrada has been around forever, he has. Signed out of Venezuela in 2013, he made his debut at just 17 years old. Now 21, Estrada went from under-the-radar to All Star in Double-A.
Here’s who Estrada is: a contact hitter who has player second, short and third over his career. The right-hander is not big — standing at just 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds — so to expect anymore than his career-high eight home runs hit in 2016 would be unfair. But that’s not who Estrada is. Estrada has complied a career .287/.347/.392 slash line, so his big 2017 is no fluke. Though he isn’t a walk machine, he works counts and rarely makes an unproductive outs, evidenced by a 12 percent strikeout rate.
Buried in a system deep with infield depth, Estrada will likely never be a starter. That said, Ronald Torreyes became a folk hero this season in the Bronx, invoking memories of Luis Sojo before him. Estrada has the opportunity to be even better than those two in the same role.
FREICER PEREZ, RHP
The big righty — 6-foot-8 is actually really big — had a breakout 2017. He put up the best numbers of his young career in his first go of full-season ball. The most impressive part was that he got better as the year progressed.
For those that saw him early in the season (like myself), Perez was nowhere near as impressive as he was by season’s end. As with any tall, young pitcher (21 years of age) command was an issue. That all changed, as he was dominant while adding upper-90s velocity to his top-notch fastball.
He was at his best in June and July, but finished August strongly as well. Perez went 8-0 in the second half, posting a 2.36 ERA and microscopic 0.93 WHIP. His strikeout and walk numbers were much more on par with what was expected of him, punching out one batter per inning and getting his walks-per-nine under the three mark.
Simply put, Perez was outstanding.
Perez got the call in Game 1 of the South Atlantic League Playoffs against Greenville. Arguably the best team from start to finish, the Drive were stymied against Perez in what may have been his best start of the season. He went six innings, allowing just four hits, striking out nine and walking none. Not bad for being on the big stage.
Perez has a bit of a ways to go. He’s a lot of fastball right now, with a very average arsenal outside of that. Though he made big improvements, he may profile more of a bullpen arm in the future.