Monday, July 31, 2017

Yankees make necessary trade to upgrade rotation in Sonny Gray

About an hour before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Yankees acquired Sonny Gray (along with $1.5 million in International Bonus pool money) from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for prospects Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian. This move, along with previous acquisitions of David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and Jaime Garcia, are clear indications the team is in "go-for-it" mode and gives them every chance possible to win the World Series now and in upcoming seasons.

When right, Gray, who is under team-control through 2019, is a no-doubt number 2, maybe even a little better, type of starter in a rotation. He strikes guys out, limits walks, and gets ground balls; three keys to success. Gray is also someone you have no problem giving the ball to in a big game; he is a fierce competitor and has shoved in the playoffs before. No doubt there is a bit of a dark, should I say gray, cloud over him, given the past injury problems (lat, forearm) and rough 2016 season (5.69 ERA, 4.67 FIP), but the upside is too great to ignore. The Yankees have a strong, deep farm system and trading three players, albeit good prospects in their own right, that may or may not have had a long-term future (at least in regards to the position players in Fowler and Mateo), is a good call.

To put it mildly, the Yankees, particularly in regards to their pitching staff, are stacked. The rotation options include Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Jordan Montgomery, Garcia, and now Gray. Pair that with a bullpen of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Robertson, Kahnle, Chad Green, and Adam Warren, 1-12 the Yankees may just have the best pitching staff in the American League. The staff has the ability to get length out of their starters, as well as shortening the game with their bullpen. It's a deadly combination that I'm sure every team in the AL is fearing come playoff time, should the Yankees take care of business and get there.

As for the playoffs, this move, along with the others, makes the Yankees the favorite to win the AL East. The Red Sox have been reeling of late; they've lost 14 of their last 23 games, David Price is back on the Disabled List, Rick Porcello hasn't come close to 2016 Cy Young form, and the offense is lacking power compared to last season. The Tampa Bay Rays have made some nice moves at the deadline themselves, but I don't think they have the firepower to jump over the Yanks in the standings; we saw a glimpse why last weekend in which the Yanks took three-of-four games. Even the AL West Houston Astros, who are steamrolling through the regular season, have question marks in their rotation. GM Brian Cashman smelled blood in the water and decided to strike.

I think the prospect package Oakland got was a good one, despite some feeling a little underwhelmed at what Oakland got. Fowler and Kaprielian, both out for the rest of the season (Fowler: knee surgery, Kaprielian: Tommy John surgery), have a lot of upside, especially Kaprielian, who has the upside of a top-of-the-rotation caliber arm. Mateo offers plenty of high potential as well, it's just a question of how much he'll hit. He showed some power to right field and right center after being promoted to Double-A Trenton, which had to get Oakland excited; not to mention the 80-grade speed and ability to play shortstop, second base, and center field. Fowler will have to show he can still run well after the knee surgery, but he was a legit center fielder with plus speed and improving power before getting hurt. All throughout talks that got leaked to the media it appeared Oakland wanted a shortstop and center fielder, and they got just that. Kaprielian's stuff is off-the-charts good according to scouts, but we'll have to wait and see how he does coming back from Tommy John. Overall this trade helps Oakland further advance their rebuild. There's risk on both sides of this deal, but also a trade both clubs needed to make.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Mid-season Top 20 Yankees prospects

Believe it or not we are already past the mid-point of the 2017 minor league season. A lot has happened on the farm, mostly some good, some bad, and unfortunately plenty of injuries. This list is going to have some tweaks compared to the pre-season list, but 15 of those on the pre-season list return on this mid-season list. As per usual, standard disclaimer: I'm not a scout, I don't go to any minor league games because I live on the other side of the country. All my information comes from reading around those who cover/scout the players, and from my untrained eye watching Enjoy.

20. Jorge Guzman -- SP, Short-Season Staten Island Yankees

After a stint in Extended Spring Training, Guzman has come out throwing fire for the SI Yankees. Reaching as high as 103 mph, Guzman's fastball not only is hard, but it comes with plenty of arm-side movement as well, allowing him to collect ground balls. Yankee coaches have noticed improvement with both his slider and change-up during Extended, and the results have shown in actual games. Still plenty of risk for someone who is still all the way in Short Season ball (bullpen risk, always a chance for injury, etc),
but plenty of upside as well.

19. Zack Littell -- SP, Double-A Trenton Thunder 

Coming over from the Seattle Mariners in an off-season trade, Littell has done nothing but provide consistent, positive results. His four-pitch combo of fastball-curve-slider-change helped guide him through the Florida State League, and is now leading him through the Eastern League. Scouts are mixed about the quality of his stuff, however, leading some to believe if he'll be "only" a fifth starter/swing-man type, but there should be room for more in there.

18. Nick Solak -- 2B, High-A Tampa Yankees

Both the reports and on-field results of Solak's hit tool have been very positive, some saying he has a chance for a 60, or even higher, hit tool. Statistically, he's put up a 155 wRC+, identical to his mark with Staten Island last season. Defensively, he is a capable defender at second base, so the overall package should be more than a Rob Refsnyder type (not exactly setting the bar high there). Solak's power has shot up in the last month (.268 ISO), and he'd probably be in Trenton if not for Jorge Mateo and Thairo Estrada already being there. But should this power surge continue, Solak could really shoot up lists even more.

17. Domingo German -- SP, Triple-A Scranton RailRiders

The slim right-hander is able to get his sinking fastball up to the high-90's and pairs it with a curve and change, all of which he can get swings and misses with. Tommy John surgery is on the resume, and there are questions as to if his (listed) 6' 2", 175 lb frame will hold up through the course of a season in a big-league rotation. However, he has a chance to be dynamite out of the bullpen if starting does not work out.

16. Albert Abreu -- SP, Injured

Armed with high-octane stuff, like some of the other arms already shown on this list and others still to come, Abreu has done a better job throwing strikes with all of his pitches compared to season's past. Unfortunately, injury his struck twice, once an elbow issue earlier in the season, and now a shoulder problem that has shelved him since early June. But the total package is a potential top-end of the rotation type of starter with three plus pitches, in fastball, slider, curve, and an average-better change.

15. Freicer Perez -- SP, Low-A Charleston RiverDogs

Quite possibly the breakout arm of the system, Perez has really taken off, especially the last month or so, for Charleston. He has one of the best fastballs in the system, reaching the upper-90's with running movement. Perez was fastball-curve-changeup coming into the season, but in mid-May he added a slider, and the results have been breath taking:

9 starts, 55.1 IP, 38 H, 1.79 ERA, 55 K, 11 BB

Perez is tall, listed at 6' 8", so it'll always be worth watching to see if his mechanics stay in check. Lately, that hasn't been quite a problem, as he hasn't walked a batter in his last three starts. The added slider has really helped, and Perez has a chance to really shoot up rankings as he moves forward. The upside is really high here.

14. Clarke Schmidt -- SP, Injured 

It's always a risk taking someone in the draft who just had Tommy John Surgery, but in the end this gamble by the Yanks could pay off in a big way. When right, Schmidt can get his fastball up to the mid-high 90's with late, hard life. His slider is considered a plus pitch as well, touching the low-90's, an above-average/plus curve, and an average change-up. There are some questions with his delivery, some don't like his arm action, but should Schmidt succeed at the next level he wouldn't be the first one to do so with a less-than-ideal motion/delivery. Plenty of risk, but lots of reward if things break right.

13.  Domingo Acevedo -- SP, Double-A Trenton Thunder

The same two questions about Acevedo apply now as they did coming into the season: will his slider improve enough to be a legit third offering and can he keep his mechanics under control enough to throw quality strikes? As the season has progressed Acevedo has alleviated those questions at least a bit. He has shown the ability to get swings-and-misses with his slider in Double-A, and the Yankees continue to refine his delivery so he finishes more straight forward to the plate, and less so off to the first base side. His two strengths also remain: his fastball and change-up. There haven't been as many 100+ mph readings from Acevedo this season as there have been in the past, but that is by design, as he's lessened the effort in his delivery in an "effort" to retain his mid-90's velocity late into outings. Sure there's still reliever risk here, but Acevedo is taking the right steps forward to answering his questions.

12. Dillon Tate -- SP, High-A Tampa Yankees

A shoulder problem sidelined Tate up until mid-June, but he has come back strong, allowing just seven runs in 23.2 innings for Tampa. The fastball is back, too, sitting in the mid-high 90's. Tate's slider and change have been very good as well, giving him a three pitch mix he was lauded for coming out of UC Santa Barbara a couple years ago as the number 4 overall selection. Scouts have always liked Tate's athleticism and delivery as well, and if you put everything together, there is a chance at a special arm at the next level.

11. Miguel Andujar -- 3B, Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 

Once again Andujar has continued his trend of struggling at a new level for a while, adjusting, crushing the opposition, then moving up the minor league ladder. He's done that this season, starting over at Trenton after underwhelming a bit in 2016, but took off in early May. Andujar had a brief one-game trial with the Yankees, collecting three hits, including a double, but now finds himself in Scranton where he's so far down pretty well against Triple-A competition. As per usual, Andujar has an aggressive approach, but when he connects the ball can  go a mile. His defense has slowly made strides as he's advanced through the system, but he still needs some work overall, mainly with his throws across the diamond.

10. James Kaprielian -- SP, Injured 

The man they call Kap is on the shelf with Tommy John Surgery and won't be back until sometime in 2018. The TJ doesn't come as too much of a surprise, as he battled elbow problems for most of 2016, before coming back for the Arizona Fall League. When right, Kaprielian sat in the mid-high 90's, and displayed upwards of three plus off-speed pitches. Scouts are skeptical of his delivery, specifically in regards to his arm lagging behind the rest of his body before his front foot lands during his motion, and they wonder if that was the cause of his UCL snapping. Nevertheless, if he can recover from the surgery and regain his stuff, Kaprielian has sky-high potential.

9. Tyler Wade -- INF/OF, New York Yankees 

Several players on this ranking are where they're at because of the combination of their risk/upside, but Wade is in this spot because of his high probability of being a productive major leaguer. Originally a shortstop, the Yankees have moved Wade around all over the diamond in an attempt to expand his versatility. Overall, Wade has the potential to be an everyday player at second or shortstop, but it's always nice to have the ability to move to the outfield or third base in a pinch. Wade can put great at-bats together, he hits lasers to all fields, has plus speed, and has a good glove up the middle. On top of that, he's done a better job of crushing low and in pitches, giving him a chance to hit for a little power as well.

8. Jorge Mateo -- SS, Double-A Trenton Thunder

It took quite a while, 203 games to be exact, for Mateo to get out of the Florida State League and up to the Eastern League, but it has happened. I don't think anyone is happier to move from Florida to New Jersey outside of Mateo, and the early returns on the field show that. Although it's only been a couple weeks, Mateo has shown a great ability to drive balls to the opposite field gaps, and even over the fence as well. The speed and defense, which now include some time in center field, are and always will be there. But if Mateo continues this early trend of using the whole field at the plate, his stock will skyrocket.

7. Justus Sheffield -- SP, Injured 

Sheffield has been solid, not exactly spectacular, in his stay in Trenton thus far. Statistically, he hasn't missed as many bats as you'd like for a prospect of his caliber (7.9 K/9), and the walks (3.3 BB/9) and homers (1.3 HR/9) are a bit high, especially the latter figure. But the lefty has three pitches that range from average/plus and has an athletic, albeit with some effort, delivery. The ceiling isn't sky high, but he's avoided arm troubles (although he is currently on the shelf with an oblique injury) his entire career and is still quite young (he turned 21 in May).

6. Blake Rutherford -- OF, Low-A Charleston RiverDogs

Last year's first round pick has stepped into full season ball and has sorta held his own for the most part. As he was coming out of the draft, Rutherford is an all fields hitter, although you'd like to see more extra base power. Sure, Charleston is no hitter-friendly ballpark (he has a .628 OPS at home vs an .823 OPS on the road), but coming in I'd hope Rutherford would have more than one home run on the season through close to 70 games played. Surely, part of this has to do with Rutherford hitting the ball on the ground a lot (50.3%) There has also been some talk, however, of Rutherford not making enough hard contact, and that could be another reason for the lack of power. Hopefully a late July/August power/hard contact surge is in the works.

5. Estevan Florial -- OF, Low-A Charleston RiverDogs

Florial might just be the most interesting prospect in the entire system. Really, he does everything: hit for big-time power, swing-and-miss a bunch, take a walk, run like the wind, have a cannon of an arm. The upside is very high: a possible five-tool star, but the downside is quite big as well if he can't manage the swing-and-miss (15.3% whiff-rate, 10th highest among 89 Sally League qualifiers). How he'll adjust moving up the minor league ladder will be fascinating to watch in the coming years.

4. Dustin Fowler -- OF, Injured 

Fowler would be higher on this list, perhaps as high as third, if not for the gruesome and extremely unfortunate torn patellar tendon injury he suffered attempting to catch a foul ball in his major league debut a few weeks ago. Everything was coming together for Fowler, especially in the power department, where he clubbed 40 extra-base hits and sported a .249 ISO (fourth-highest in the International League). But the knee injury puts a damper in his stock, at least a bit, until he shows it doesn't affect his speed, which helped made him a legit center fielder.

3. Chance Adams -- SP, Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Adams had a spectacular first full season in the system in 2016 and has only built on that in 2017. His four-pitch mix is lead by his plus fastball and wipeout slider that can get swings and misses from both righties and lefties. Adams' curve is a good third pitch, and his change-up has come along as well. There has been some odd fear-mongering about Adams' lack of grounders, but the fact is he misses bats, gets a high number of infield popups, and has arm-side movement on his fastball. Sure, he'll give up some homers at the next level (who doesn't), but Adams should be just fine as a starter. The question is how much he'll improve on his change-up and if he can get quicker outs and be a little more efficient than what he's shown in Triple-A thus far.

 2. Clint Frazier -- OF, New York Yankees

As some have seen for the first time, Frazier's "legendary bat speed" is as good as advertised (despite what Suzyn Waldman tells you). He is an all-fields hitter and can poke extra base hits down each line. His patience has really come on this year as well, making him a classic Yankee-type hitter, for lack of a better term, with his combination of patience and power. The defense, specifically route-running, could use some work, but I expect that to improve with further major league instruction. At the end of the day, the bat is Frazier's meal ticket, and it has a chance to be a very special one.

1. Gleyber Torres -- SS/3B, Injured 

Torres was well on his way to reaching the majors this season as a 20-year-old before a very fluky elbow injury sliding home, which resulted in Tommy John Surgery, ended his season in late-June. He was crushing the competition in both the Eastern and International Leagues, and was seeing extended time at third base as well. Torres could be a legit 60-60 hitter (hit and power tool), or even better, and can play a strong shortstop. Did I mention he was only 20 years old? Sure, the Tommy John Surgery sucks, and sure he loses some development time, but for now it's only a small bump in a very promising road ahead.

Closing Thoughts

First observation: Injuries Suck. Six of these 20, or six of the top 15, are currently hurt; four of those are out for the rest of the season, another (Sheffield) could be out the rest of the way if the Yankees want to be extra cautious, and we don't know when the last (Abreu) will be back. Not to mention a couple others (Rutherford, Tate) have seen time on the DL as well. Injuries happen, but as fans we can do nothing but cross our fingers and hope their recoveries go well.

Now, despite the injuries, the Yankees' farm is still pretty damn stacked. Consider: Aaron Judge and Jordan Montgomery have both graduated from prospect status this season, yet the Yankees have seven players on Baseball America's mid-season top 100 list. Also, when guys like Guzman, Littell, and Solak are at the back of an org top 20, things are going pretty well. The future is very much bright.

I'm sure people will quibble about the order, everyone does at every list, but I will say this: the 3-7 rankings are very tightly close together. Had Fowler not gotten hurt, he'd be number 3. So weighing Fowler and his injury, Rutherford's and Sheffield's okay seasons, Florial's high-risk/high-reward profile, and Adams' stuff and close-to-MLB-readiness, made for a difficult ranking. The separator: Adams is close to MLB-ready, has at least two plus pitches, and the growing consensus is that he'll be able to stick as a starter.

Prediction time: between now and July 31 do you see anyone from this list getting traded? I expect Brian Cashman to do some buying (and buying beyond a Tyler Webb-Garrett Cooper type deal), at least for a reliever (and perhaps another first baseman); maybe a Brad Hand or Ryan Madson type reliever. Obviously, someone like Torres or Frazier won't go for a reliever, but perhaps someone or two from the back half of this list will go. Cashman has called himself "an aggressive trader" in the past. We'll see if that'll be the case by the end of the month.