Friday, February 19, 2016

2016 Pre-Season Yankees Top 20 Prospects

Prospect Season is in full swing and the various outlets all across the internet are releasing their takes on Yankees prospects. From Baseball America to Keith Law and to every Yankee blog, big or small, out there, everyone has an opinion and I have mine as well. By no means am I a scout. I read almost every prospect site at my disposal, talk to those who have seen the players in person, watch games that are broadcast on, and form my opinions from that. I try to lean more towards the scouting side of prospects, but I do take into account the numbers as well. Without further wasting your time, here are my Top 20 Yankee prospects for the 2016 season, with thoughts on all 20 prospects below the list:

1. SS, Jorge Mateo - Expected 2016 assignment: Tampa; ETA: 2018

2. C, Gary Sanchez - Expected 2016 assignment: Scranton; ETA: Already reached MLB

3. RF, Aaron Judge - Expected 2016 assignment: Scranton; ETA: 2016

4. RHSP, James Kaprielian - Expected 2016 assignment: Tampa; ETA: 2017

5. LHSP, Ian Clarkin - Expected 2016 assignment: Tampa; ETA: 2018

6. CF, Dustin Fowler - Expected 2016 assignment: Trenton; ETA: 2018

7. 2B, Rob Refsnyder - Expected 2016 assignment: Scranton; ETA: Already reached MLB

8. C, Luis Torrens - Expected 2016 assignment: Charleston; ETA: 2019

9. SS, Wilkerman Garcia - Expected 2016 assignment: Pulaski/SI; ETA: 2020

10. RHSP, Bryan Mitchell - Expected 2016 assignment: Scranton; ETA: Already reached MLB

11. LHRP, Jacob Lindgren - Expected 2016 assignment: New York; ETA: Already reached MLB

12. RHSP, Drew Finley - Expected 2016 assignment: Charleston; ETA: 2019

13. CF,  Mason Williams - Expected 2016 assignment: Scranton; ETA: Already reached MLB

14. RHSP, Domingo Acevedo - Expected 2016 assignment: Charleston; ETA: 2018

15. SS, Kyle Holder - Expected 2016 assignment: Charleston; ETA: 2018

16. SS, Tyler Wade - Expected 2016 assignment: Trenton; ETA: 2017

17. RHP Chance Adams - Expected 2016 assignment: Tampa; ETA: 2017

18. 3B, Miguel Anduar - Expected 2016 assignment: Trenton; ETA: 2018

19. RHSP, Brady Lail - Expected 2016 assignment: Scranton; ETA: 2016

20. SS, Hoy Jun Park - Expected 2016 assignment: Charleston; ETA: 2019

Some thoughts:

The top four, including the order, were pretty simple for me and this order has been set in stone since late last summer. Jorge Mateo's the easy call at number one, not just because he has immense upside, but because his floor is also pretty high. A shortstop who can be above-average/plus long-term at the position, an 80-grade runner, and solid contact skills are tools of a legit everyday SS at the big league level. Of course there are still hurdles for Mateo to climb, but if there is one prospect I had to bet on that will succeed at the Major League level, it's Mateo.

Secondly I had Gary Sanchez and the game-changer here is his improved defense behind the plate as well as his maturity. He has always had the power in his bat and with his arm, but his improved pitch-framing, blocking, and calling of games makes him a solid bet to be at least passable behind the plate.

I have Aaron Judge at three because, although he still has huge upside, he does have some work to do at the plate. When Judge was in Double-A he was able to demolish fastballs and things were looking up. But, when he got to Triple-A, opposing pitchers really hammered the low and outside corner with breaking balls and off-speed pitches, and Judge wasn't able to make the adjustment. However, it is a new season and Judge has worked hard this off-season in trying to lay off those pitches, so we'll see what happens.

James Kaprielian checks in at four and I can see him jumping up to number two by mid-season if Sanchez is able to graduate and if Judge's struggles continue. Kaprielian was known as a polished, low-ish ceiling arm with various off-speed stuff with an average fastball. However, his fastball gained a few ticks with Staten Island and there may be a chance for a number 2 starter here if things break right. He has a nice delivery that he is able to repeat with three off-speed pitches (slider, curve, change) that all grade out at least average-plus. With Luis Severino being penciled in as the only starter guaranteed to be under team control after 2017, the Yankees need to develop someone who can give them innings in the middle of the rotation and Kap has a good chance to do just that.

After the top four it may appear that the rest of this list is a crapshoot, but when compiling this list, I asked myself which prospects had the best chance of being average regulars, or 50 FV, while also weighing upside. For me, there were two prospects, Clarkin and Fowler, that stood out from the rest.

Who to exactly choose for the fifth spot was a coin flip for me. I went back and forth between Ian Clarkin and Fowler for the longest time but ultimately chose Clarkin. Despite missing all of the 2015 regular season with elbow problems, Clarkin still has a good four-pitch mix of a solid-average fastball, a plus curve, an improving change, and a cutter that should help him get more ground balls. Couple that with good athleticism on the mound and there is the makings of a potential number 3, or possibly better, starter. He just needs to stay healthy.

Just a tick below Clarkin is Dustin Fowler. Fowler has the chance for a plus hit tool, with plus speed, and above-average center field defense. I am admittedly biased towards left-handed starters, so that's why I chose Clarkin over Fowler in this case, but I could see Fowler leap-frogging over Clarkin by mid-season.

Next is the world's most talked about non-top-prospect Rob Refsnyder. It seems like when any kind of acquisition is made by the Yankees, we always ask ourselves, "how does this affect Rob Refsnyder?" But the story remains that, although Refsnyder does have the potential for a plus hit tool, his defense is still probably fringe-average at best. Based on what we saw last season, I think we know by now that fringe-average defense at the second base position is not enough for the Yankees' liking. I do think that Refsnyder can be an everyday second baseman for someone, and would not be surprised if he got traded to a team like Oakland or Anaheim by the Trade Deadline. But for now and the foreseeable future, Refsnyder will serve as second base depth for the Yankees.

Coming in at eight and nine are Luis Torrens and Wilk Garcia. Torrens would be higher on this list, perhaps as high as the top four, had he not gotten hurt last year, but his shoulder injury hampered his stock just a bit. When healthy, Torrens has the chance to be an above-average or better catcher thanks to his all around tools at the position. He also has a nice stroke from the right side with some pop too, and if things break right down the line, he, not Sanchez, could be the Yankees' catcher of the future. But we still have a long, long ways to go before we think about that.

Wilk Garcia, along with Torrens, could shoot up this list with a good, healthy season. The Yankees challenged Garcia by sending him to the GCL after a very brief trial in the DSL and he responded very nicely. The reviews are a bit mixed defensively, some saying he has all the tools to stick at short, while others say he does not have the necessary foot speed to stay at short and may move to third down the line, but we'll have to wait and see. Where most agree though, is Garcia's bat, where he has a mature approach at the plate and sweet swings from both sides of the plate.

Bryan Mitchell rounds out the top 10 and on pure stuff alone he'd be the Yankees' best pitching prospect. Unfortunately for Mitchell, pitching goes beyond just stuff, most notably command. His high-octane fastball, curveball, cutter combo is the nastiest trio of pitches in the system, but it all plays down because of his inconstant command, which is why I think long-term he will end up in short relief. The Yankees may not pull the trigger on that just yet, but I could see Mitchell thriving as a set-up man or closer down the line.

At 11 is Jacob Lindgren, and while a bout with home run-itis and surgery to remove bone spurs ended his season a down note, he comes into camp with a chance to claim one of the Yankees' three open bullpen slots. With a strong spring, I see him getting one of those slots, especially if his trademark wipeout slider shows up. Lindgren does not have the typical velocity you like to see from a reliever, even as a left-handed reliever, but he does have a long history of getting ground balls. Ground balls and strikeouts, no matter the velocity, is always a recipe for success.

Drew Finley comes in at 12 and just reading through various scouting reports, Finley seems very much like the right-handed version of Ian Clarkin. Like Clarkin, Finley is a polished prep arm out of a San Diego, with a solid-average fastball and a plus curve. Should he have success this season in Charleston, I can see Finley, like Clarkin in his first pro year, jump up the rankings in short order.

From borderline non-prospect to top 15, Mason Williams claims the 13th spot on this list. Williams' days of attitude problems and seemingly lack of desire on the field appear to be behind him, as he was able to reach the majors and hold his own before shoulder surgery shut his season down in June. Tool-wise, Williams is basically a poor man's version of Mateo, with speed (more of the 60-grade variety, not 80), plus defense at a premium position (CF), and contact ability, which he always had even during his rough patches. Those three tools should make him at least a solid fourth outfielder in the long-run.

Hard-throwing right-hander Domingo Acevedo is 14, and the opinions on him range pretty widely. Some say he has front-line starter potential and is a top-5 prospect in the org, while others view him as just another young buck who can throw hard but not do much else. I tend to lean more towards the latter side at this stage of Acevedo's career, but I do realize there is high upside here. Someone who can throw over 100 mph in a starting role with a potential plus change-up and is an imposing presence on the mound is nothing to scoff at. If I had to guess Acevedo will be a reliever long-term, given there are so many moving parts in his delivery, which affects his command, but I can envision a scenario where he has Dellin Betances-like impact in the bullpen if he can keep his mechanics somewhat in check.

At 15 is Kyle Holder, a supplemental pick from this past year's draft. I certainly was not a fan of the pick at the time, and I'm still not, but I can't ignore the fact that Holder was probably the best defensive player taken in the draft. Most view Holder as a 70 defender at short, and while he may be a 30 bat, 20 power type of hitter, that may be enough to turn himself into a Brendan Ryan type of player. It's certainly not a sexy profile, but it's one that can help him stick around the majors for a while, and the team that drafts and develops that type of player should deserve credit.

Next is Tyler Wade, whom I've seen crack the top 10 on several Yankee prospect lists, and I just don't see the hype. Wade is probably a 20 power bat and if he loses even a little bit of arm strength he may have to move off of short and over to 2B. He does have plus speed and up until Double-A has had good contact skills, so I guess in a perfect-world scenario he carves out a David Eckstein type of career. Wade and Holder are probably interchangeable, but because Holder is more likely to reach his upside than Wade, I give the edge to Holder.

Number 17 is another recent draftee, Chance Adams. Adams was able to breeze through the lower minors after being drafted thanks to an uptick in fastball velo and a knockout slider. A reliever through college, the Yankees will try to convert Adams into the starting rotation, as they think his change-up is also a weapon. If starting doesn't work out, Adams could have a Lindgren-like ascent to the majors and be a part of the Scranton Shuttle.

Although he'll be only 21, you could say that Miguel Andujar is becoming the Bryan Mitchell of position prospects. The tools are there for him to be an above-average or better player, but the results have not shown up quite yet. Andujar has tremendous raw power and the tools to be a good defender at third, it's just his inconsistencies have gotten the best of him so far. In each of his two years in the full season leagues, Andujar has struggled coming out of the gate, but to his credit, he has made adjustments in the second half, ending his seasons on a high note.

Brady Lail is at 19 and you can argue that him and Luis Cessa, who I have at 21, are interchangeable. Lail is a bit of a kitchen sink guy who will attack the strike zone with two-seamers, cutters, curves, and change-ups. He's not someone who will miss a ton of bats, at least as a starter, but he will generate grounders and I could see him filling the Adam Warren role if things break right.

The fifth and final shortstop on the top 20 is Hoy Jun Park. The Yankees had Park skip the GCL altogether and start at Pulaski and he responded well. Park has the tools to stick at short long-term to go along with above-average speed and a potential above-average bat. Park turns 20 in April and with all the SS talent set to begin the season in Charleston and Tampa, it will be interesting to see where Park ends up, whether that be in Charleston or Staten Island.

Overall this is a solid farm system despite the graduations of Luis Severino and Greg Bird and the trades of Rookie Davis and Eric Jagielo. If those four were still eligible/kept I might rank Severino number one, Greg Bird third, Davis nine, and Jagielo 14. Jake Cave, who was lost in the Rule 5 draft, wouldn't make the top 20. For those who "just missed," I'd have Cessa at 21, Ben Gamel 22, Thairo Estrada 23, Domingo German 24, and Jordan Montgomery 25.