Saturday, March 4, 2017

Some scattered thoughts on MLB.com's top 30 Yankee prospect list

With Spring Training games already underway we are seeing Prospect Season come to a close. Several outlets have released their top 100 global prospects and individual team lists over the past few months. The general consensus is the Yankees have seven top 100 prospects in baseball, and while that's awfully impressive, it is the depth after those top 100 guys that puts the Yankees' farm in the upper-echelon of systems across the game. MLB.com released their top 30 prospects in the second-ranked Yankee farm system. It's a pretty straight forward list for the most part (not too many surprises until you get to the back-end of the list) but I have some thoughts

The top 15 players, not necessarily the order, just the players themselves, are identical to my top 15. The only differences we had among the top 15 were a few players we had one spot lower or one spot higher. Great minds think alike, I guess? Jokes aside, I do think you can put the top 15 in tiers: The Gleyber Torres and Clint Fraizer tiers by themselves at 1 and 2, respectively; the rest of the consensus top 100 guys, Aaron Judge, Blake Rutherford, Jorge Mateo, James Kaprielian, and Justus Sheffield in the 3-7 range in whatever order; the Chance Adams, Dustin Fowler, Albert Abreu, and Miguel Andujar tier to round out the top 11; then the Jordan Montgomery, Tyler Wade, Domingo Acevedo, and Dillon Tate tier to finish off the top 15. After that, it's kind of a free-for-all of sorts, but interesting how my list and MLB.com's were so similar in that regard.

These are the Chance Adams tool grades: Fastball: 65, Slider: 60, Changeup: 55, Curveball: 50, Control: 55, Overall: 55. Pretty impressive. Should Adams be able to stick in the rotation long-term he will have plenty of success. Two plus or better pitches to pair with another above-average change and above average control is a fine recipe for success. If he has just a semblance of command, I can easily see a number 3 or better starter out of Adams. Of course, there are reasons to believe Adams won't be a starter long-term (straight fastball, only 6' tall, quirky arm action), but should he clear those hurdles, watch out.

I agree with MLB's notion that Acevedo will end up in relief. Acevedo has a max-effort delivery, had shoulder problems last year, and the slider is still pretty below-average. He should be an effective reliever nonetheless with that high-octane fastball, plus change combo, however. Some are still holding out hope he sticks as a starter, I just wouldn't keep my hopes up.

They still have some faith in Tate, labeling him with a plus fastball, a 55 slider, and average change and control. Given his rough 2016, that's not too bad. The scouting report says Tate is 6' 2" and 165 lbs., but seeing pictures of him that weight total seems a bit light. Nonetheless, MLB says Tate could use some weight gain so he doesn't wear down through the riggers of the season as a starter. After being acquired from the Yankees, the team allowed Tate to revert back to his original mechanics, which the Texas Rangers tweaked after they drafted him; I'd have to think that will help in the long run. It'd be great if Tate saw, say, a half-grade jump on all four of his tools, that would bring him back to where he was coming out of Santa Barbra in 2015. Fingers crossed.

It looks like MLB is back on the Tyler Austin bandwagon. After not appearing on their Yankees' top 30 in 2016 and 2015, Austin appears at 16 in 2017. That's what a .294/.392/.524 season combined at Double-A and Triple-A, plus a 31-game look in the Bronx where he clubbed five homers and a .758 OPS can do for you. They give him four average-to-above average tools, and after being left off the prospect map the two seasons prior, you take that and run (although I do think they are selling him short a bit on power, giving him a 50 rating there).

Estevan Florial and Zack Littell are ranked 17 and 23, respectively, and for those who follow me on twitter I have made it known that I like those two a lot, and I can see both of them make big jumps this season and onto next year's lists. Florial is a human tool shed (with Keith Law saying he may have five plus tools some day, which would make him a bonifide star) that will get his first extended taste of full season ball. Littell is a guy who throws strikes with all of his pitches, is durable, and collects ground balls. They note that Littell's fastball is in the more 89-91 mph range, but I wonder if the Yanks could get a velocity spike out of him like they have out of so many others in the system.

Nolan Martinez at 19 was interesting, particularly due to the fact that the scouting report notes that he had the highest spin rate (2685 rpm) on his fastball among the 2015 World Wood Bat Association World Championship. They say the higher the spin rate on a fastball the more likely there will be swings and misses on it, so that's a good sign. Should his 89-92 mph fastball bump up as he fills out more, it should gain perhaps another grade from his 60 rating. The Yankees value statistical analysis pretty highly and I'd have to imagine Martinez' high spin rate on his fastball played some kind of role in him being selected (and receiving an over-slot bonus). Also, he's from Southern California, so you know Scouting Director Damon Oppenheimer loved him from the get-go.

Ian Clarkin checks in at 21 and if you were to just read the scouting report you'd think he would rank a bit higher. MLB gives him three above-averages pitches with average control. His fastball is in the low-mid 90's and the changeup has progressed well. His curve has taken a bit of a step back but is still a solid offering. Certainly his past injury problems play a role in this ranking, but should he stay healthy I can see Clarkin slot in as a no. 3-4 starter.

Kyle Holder is at 25, which I guess you can argue on the surface (I'd probably have him lower in the 30's), but when you look at his tools, specifically the hit tool, he probably deserves to be ranked higher, possibly as high as the mid-teens. MLB rates Holder as a 70 defender and 55 thrower at shortstop, which is right along with the consensus (some may think he's an 80 defender). But they have his hit tool as a 45, which kinda shocked me. Coming out of the draft and now in pro ball I have seen plenty of reports saying he's a 30 hitter, which is terrible, and a grade-and-a-half between the two is considerable difference. Scouts rate a 45 hitter as a .250 average, and that would be a really good outcome for Holder. Someone who Holder could turn into at the major league level is Andrelton Simmons, albeit with a still very strong 70 glove compared to Simmons' 80. Simmons is also a career .261 hitter, which rates right at a 50-grade on the scouting scale. One grade lower glove and a half grade lower hit tool is still a big leaguer in some capacity.

Another intriguing player is Donny Sands at 27. The Yankees selected him as a third baseman in the 2015 draft, but moved him to catcher. They did this with Luis Torrens, who was a third baseman as an amateur, and aside from injuries that has worked out well. MLB lists Sands as a future 50 defender at catcher, and that would be pretty swell from a converted infielder. And Sands can hit too. With the graduation of Gary Sanchez and the (temporary?) loss of Torrens to the San Diego Padres, the Yanks could use another quality catching prospect.

To round out this post and MLB's list is Taylor Widener. Widener was selected as a reliever in the 12th round out of the University of South Carolina. He had such great success in his debut season last year, coupled with great stuff, the Yankees will try him out as a starter in 2017. It's hard not to think of Chance Adams in this instance, someone the Yanks drafted as a reliever but saw traits as a starter, gave it a go in the rotation the following season, and it looks like the Yankees may have struck gold there. They'll be looking to do the same with Widener in 2017. But to have Widener, a relative unknown to most at draft-time, at 30 on this list that could have easily been expanded to 45  says a lot about his ability and potential.