The 2016 minor league season is almost upon us and with that is a look at five "sleeper" prospects who have a chance to breakthrough this season and perhaps put their stamp on the prospect map. In my opinion, a "sleeper" is a prospect who hasn't gained much attention from the national media, although they may be known among those like myself who follow prospects closely. These prospects may appear on top 20 or 30 lists, but they don't get talked up as much as they deserve. As a caveat, and I have mentioned this in my pre-season top 20 prospect list, I am not a scout, so feel free to take these opinions with a grain of salt. To the sleepers:
1. LHSP Jordan Montgomery
Why he's a sleeper: Montgomery wasn't a top draft pick and is more of a command-over-stuff kind of guy. He doesn't have a real plus pitch, thus doesn't have a high ceiling overall, but has several pitches that rate as average or slightly above. Montgomery split the 2015 season between the two A-ball levels and while he put up good numbers in both leagues, it was still in A-ball, and as a polished arm out of the SEC, he was supposed to carve up A-ball. Most are in wait-and-see mode with Montgomery and he'll face his first true test this season in Double-A.
Why you shouldn't sleep on him: Montgomery's ceiling may not be much higher than a number four starter, but he does, for prospect standards, have a decent shot to reach that ceiling. Montgomery repeats his mechanics well and he uses an over-the-top delivery, which helps him get nice downward plane, especially with his curveball. Although his K/9 did drop from 11.3 in Charleston to 7.6 in Tampa, his K/9 in the month of August was over 9 after an increase in velocity. Montgomery had sat in the high-80's, low-90's for most of the year, but in the season's final month his velocity sat in the low-90's, reaching up to 94 mph. Overall Montgomery reminds me a bit of Boston's Brian Johnson. In 2014 Johnson didn't receive a lot of hype from the national media (at least for Red Sox prospects standards) but with a big year in Double-A his stock soared. The same could happen for Montgomery.
2. SS/2B Thairo Estrada
Why he's a sleeper: Right off the bat Estrada didn't receive much attention at all coming out of Venezuela, as he signed for a meager $49K bonus. In 2015 Estrada played with first round pick Kyle Holder at Staten Island, so naturally the attention was focused more towards the defensive wizard Holder than Estrada. This season Estrada will play with Holder and Hoy Jun Park, thus Thairo figures to get overshadowed once again. With the bat Estrada won't blow you away, as he uses a more contact-oriented approach and he shouldn't hit for much power. Statistically, while he was solid in 2015, some will look at the .267 BA and 108 wRC+ and come away a bit unimpressed.
Why you shouldn't sleep on him: Estrada is a smart, instinctive player and he uses that to his advantage in the batter's box, on the bases, and in the field on defense. He'll give you good at-bats thanks to his approach, which is almost a little Rob Refsnyder-like, and is smart and heady on the bases. In the field, although he saw most of his time at second base last season, Estrada can play short and has the arm to play third if need be. Overall, I could see Estrada turning into a Kike Hernandez type, since he crushes lefties, to go along with the athleticism, tools, and smarts to play all over the field.
3. OF Trey Amburgey
Why he's a sleeper: Mid-round draft pick in last year's draft that came away with two first rounders, both of whom played with Amburgey at Staten Island last season. Amburgey does have plus speed, but he needs to refine his defense in center field. Although he posted big numbers in his debut season, as a mid-round college player, Amburgey did so at only the GCL and NY Penn League levels, and will have to prove himself in the full season leagues in 2016 before more people buy into him.
Why you shouldn't sleep on him: Athleticism. Amburgey is a very good athlete and his speed is his best tool. He also has long had plus raw power and it started to show in his debut season, as he clubbed five homers, all coming with Staten Island. If Amburgey can continue to show power in games and steal bases, along with improving defensively in center field, his stock should rise quickly.
4. RHRP Cale Coshow
Why he's a sleeper: Coshow was just another college reliever taken in the middle rounds by New York in 2013, in the same draft as Nick Rumbelow and Tyler Webb; a year after the team took Nick Goody and James Pazos in the middle rounds of the 2012 draft. Because of those relievers, and other relievers ahead of him in the upper levels, Coshow is overshadowed.
Why you shouldn't sleep on him: Coshow features a fastball that sits in the mid/upper-90's in relief and gets natural cutting life on the pitch. His slider is his best off-speed weapon and if he can continue to improve it, he can really dominate in short relief. Coshow was stretched out as a starter in the second half of last season, getting up to Trenton, but I don't think that'll be his long-term role. Sometimes the Yankees like to have their relievers stretched out as starters so it gives them more in-game action to work on the command of their pitches. It's hard not to look at Coshow and his 6' 5", 260 (that might be a bit light) lb frame and think of Jonathan Broxton. Coshow could become a shuttle reliever for the Yankees as soon as this season.
5. OF Carlos Vidal
Why he's a sleeper: Vidal was signed in the same year, although not during the same class, 2014, as the team's international spending spree. Vidal is very much like a former Yankees' prospect, Ramon Flores, in that he has a sound approach at the plate, some speed, and is a bit of a "tweener" overall. Throughout his journey to the big leagues, Flores was always overshadowed by other top outfield prospects, and I expect that to be no different with Vidal.
Why you shouldn't sleep on him: The reasons why he may be underrated may be also why you shouldn't sleep on him, if that makes sense. His patient approach and willingness to use the whole field gives him a good chance to hit down the road. He isn't the biggest guy around, listed at only 5' 11", 160 lbs, but he displayed some impressive power last year, hitting nine home runs for Pulaski while also sporting a .189 ISO as a 19-year-old. Vidal should open the 2016 season with Charleston, a killer for left-handed power, so it should be interesting to see how his power translates in Low-A.