July 2016 was a big month for the New York Yankees. The Yankees made several trades that began the transformation into the team that is currently in first place in the American League East.
Two of the deals were centered around their stud relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Obviously, the deals worked out just fine for the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians respectively, as both teams squared off in the World Series that year. While the returns on Chapman are paying off with Rookie of the Year candidate Gleyber Torres at second base, the Miller trade is still waiting the full-time arrival of some of its pieces.
Clint Frazier, OF
A victim of the overcrowded outfield situation in New York, Frazier earned elite prospect praise for years thanks to impressive bat speed and huge power. He lost his rookie status last season in a not-so-impressive small-sample size debut before he hit the disabled list with an oblique issue. He had a slow start to 2018 recovering from a concussion, but has been impressive in both Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and New York, showing his flare for power and newfound ability for more consistent contact.
Frazier was once seen as a centerfielder, but he has the power both at the plate and in his arm to excel in the corners. That’s not to say that he can’t play centerfield, as he has well above-average speed and range. I once viewed Frazier as having 20-20 potential, but with improved swing mechanics and huge arm strength that generates awe-inspiring power, he seems to be becoming more of a hitter. Frazier has always had a lot of swing-and-miss, but seems to be improving at his overall pitch recognition and not swinging for the fences every time.
The 23-year-old likely would be starting in the Indians outfield had he still been there, but now he has to wait his turn in the Bronx. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the Yankees dangle Frazier’s star-power to other teams at the deadline with the need for starting pitching. The returns on a player that is ready for an immediate impact at the big league level should be solid.
Justus Sheffield, LHP
Sheffield is hands down the best starting pitching prospect in the Yankees system. That unfortunately doesn’t mean he is quite ready yet for the Yankees rotation-deprived needs.
Our heralded leader, John Sickels, had Sheffield ranked No. 4 entering 2018 behind Chance Adams. That’s likely changed as Adams has struggled and Sheffield has arrived in Triple-A. Here’s what he said:
Age 21, first round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2014, traded to Yankees in Andrew Miller deal; limited to 98 innings by strained oblique but performed reasonably, posting 3.12 ERA with 88/34 K/BB between Double-A and rookie ball rehab work; 93-96 with peaks at 97-98, highly impressive for a lefty; command of slider and change-up can be erratic but when everything is working he shows three plus pitches; I’d like to see a lower walk rate but overall his stock is holding. ETA late 2018.
Sheffield has always had the stuff, it’s simply a matter of commanding it. He was electric in Scottsdale over the fall, striking out 22 and walking just three in 20.1 innings. The walk issues seem to have found him again, currently walking 4.73-per-nine on the season. His 10.78 strikeouts-per-nine and favorable ground ball rate help keep him out of too much trouble, but the walks do need to come down.
The newly-turned 22 year old has made six starts with the Railriders. Aside from he walks, his numbers have been just fine (a 3.49 FIP and .167 batting average against stand out). He may not be ready to step in for Masahiro Tanaka this week, but some more fine tuning and he’ll be in the Bronx sooner than later.
Ben Heller, RHP
Heller was a nice bullpen piece in the minors who made his big league debut that same 2016 season the Yankees acquired him. While it wasn’t stellar, he became a part of Joe Girardi’s Scranton Shuttle and was much improved in nine MLB appearances in 2017. The 6’3” righty hit the DL early this season with bone spurs and, somewhat surprisingly, wound up with Tommy John surgery, ending his 2018 campaign before it started.
Now 26, there is plenty to like about Heller. His fastball-slider combo will be what keeps him part of the Yankees bullpen. Known for an upper-90s fastball that has hit triple-digits and a somewhat higher walk rate than preferable for a reliever, all eyes will be on that velocity and command when Heller returns sometime in 2019.
J.P Feyereisen, RHP
Another reliever, Feyereisen has yet to make his big-league debut. He has been at his best thus far in 2018 as one of the key relievers in the Railriders bullpen. You won’t find his name on prospect charts, but ever-increasing velocity and poise seem to have Feyereisen on he cusp of his debut.
Feyereisen is similar to Heller in his fastball-slider combo. He is also similar to both Sheffield and Heller in posting walk rates that are a tad bit too high, especially for a reliever. That said, he has worked around an unfavorable .347 BABIP by stranding 86.5 percent of his runners. Something concerning is a high fly ball rate the past few seasons which isn’t promising for pitchers in Yankees Stadium.
The Yankees have an excess of bullpen arms, but with Tommy Kahnle’s velocity a concern and a seemingly close game every night, Feyereisen should likely see his big league debut this season. With no room on the 40-man roster, Feyereisen was left unprotected this offseason, surviving the Rule 5 Draft and returning to the Yankees for a second big-league spring training. Now 25 years old, he is making the most of that opportunity. He will likely be up and down until a more permanent role is available, but he is showing the stuff and progression necessary to be a quality arm out of the bullpen.