Thursday, February 8, 2018

2018 Yankees' Top 20 Prospects

It's that time of year once again: Prospect List season. Publications from all over the webs release their opinions of farm systems across the game of baseball, and I will offer my take on the Yankees' farm. As always, I'm not an expert. I scour the web for scouting reports, and I give a big thanks to publications like Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, ESPN's Keith Law, Fangraphs, Pinstripes Plus, etc for all of their content. I watch games for myself all through the season on MiLB.tv as well. For eligibility I use the standard 130 at-bats for position players and 50 innings for pitchers cutoff; but I exclude service time. Sitting on the bench and hardly playing shouldn't exclude you from being a prospect, in my opinion. Obviously, these rankings are entirely subjective. I try to weight everything: ceiling, floor, risk, proximity, health, performance, you name it. Add it altogether and you have the 2018 top 20 Yankee prospects:

20.  RP Ben Heller

As the third piece of the Andrew Miller trade, Heller has had a couple cups of coffee with the Yankees but hasn't cemented a role in New York's bullpen just yet. The 2018 season could be the year for that. Heller has video game stuff: a darting two-seam fastball, and a slider that was once a slurve but has gotten sharper. He has even improved his change-up and his funky delivery is sure to give batters fits.

19. OF Billy McKinney

A knee injury that seemed to nag him for years, McKinney was healthy in 2017 and had his best season in years. McKinney was solid with Trenton, his third season at the Double-A level, but at Triple-A a swing change helped him clobber the ball in his first taste of the level. If the added power is real, McKinney has real value. I like the swing, it's quick, and that could do wonders at Yankee Stadium if he gets a real chance there. A natural corner outfielder, the Yankees had McKinney play some first base during the Arizona Fall League to add some versatility.

18. RHP Taylor Widener

Widener has turned into a nice find for the Yankees, picked in the 12th round in the 2016 draft, where he was a reliever for the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Yankees put him into the rotation going into his first full-pro season in 2017 and they were rewarded pretty nicely. Widener can touch mid-90's with the fastball, has a put-away slider, and a decent change-up. As a former reliever, Widener pitches exclusively out of the stretch and his delivery reminds me of former Yankee Chase Whitley. Widener can be better than Whitley, though, as it's possible Widener can turn into a solid back-end starter.

17. RHP Matt Sauer

A classic power right-handed prep arm, Sauer was nabbed by the Yankees with their second-round pick in the 2017 draft out of (Matt Vasgersian voice) Santa Maria, California. Like typical prep right-handed arms, Sauer reaches the mid-90's with his fastball and has an out-pitch curve. The change-up has potential, but is still a work in progress, and that is understandable. Some scouts, however, believe the delivery is violent and Sauer does throw across his body a bit.

16. RHP Jonathan Loaisiga

Loaisiga has jumped onto the prospect scene some, even with only 32.2 innings pitched (all below Low-A) in 2017, and has earned the Yankees' trust to add him to their 40-man roster this winter. Loaisiga has a solid three-pitch mix of fastball, curve, and change. The delivery is also smooth, and for a guy who is only 5' 11", having that arsenal and delivery aren't bad starting points. However, Loaisiga is already 23 years old, has had Tommy John surgery, and only has compiled 103.2 innings pitched since 2013. The 2018 season will be a big one for Loaisiga; another injury-plagued season could push him off the 40-man roster next winter with another batch of high-end prospects set to be due up for protection. And because he's on the 40-man, I expect the Yankees to move Loaisiga quickly, even as a starter. Don't be surprised if he sees some time in Double-A Trenton towards the latter end of the season if he coasts through the A-ball levels.

15. 2B Nick Solak

Drafted out of Louisville, the 2016 second round pick's first full season of pro ball went just about as expected; rake in High-A and get a good taste of Double-A in the season's final month. Solak has a good approach at the plate, hitting the ball hard to all fields, but the swing is a bit level, so his future power output may be limited some. Defensively at second base Solak is okay, he's made improvements since converting from the outfield, but progress with his footwork should help him going forward. Noted as someone who is a bit "scrappy," Solak has a chance to be an everyday second baseman or a solid utility guy that can go between second base and the outfield, possibly even center field.

14. RHP Clarke Schmidt

A bit of a surprise pick at the time, the Yankees took Schmidt with the 16th overall selection despite the right-hander having undergone Tommy John surgery earlier in the spring. But when healthy Schmidt features a four-pitch mix of a fastball in the mid-90's with good sinking action, a plus slider, and a good curveball and change-up. Some question the delivery, but it doesn't look too violent from my admittedly untrained eye. I think some are sleeping on Schmidt (and admittedly I may be doing the same with this ranking), and with his arsenal and track record of pitching in the SEC, Schmidt can really rise once he recovers from Tommy John and pitches in pro ball.

13. RHP Luis Medina

Signed out of the Dominican for just under $300,000, Medina may have the highest upside of any pitching prospect in this system. At 18 years of age, Medina sits in the mid/upper 90's, and has touched 100 mph with his fastball, that features cutting action. His change-up and curve also have the potential to be plus pitches down the line. The delivery looks similar to that of current Yankees' ace Luis Severino, but Medina does seem to use his lower half more than Severino. The two drawbacks are his issues throwing strikes and the fact that he's only pitched in Pulaski; hopefully the first corrects itself with further experience and refinement, and I also wouldn't be surprised if the Yankees had Medina start the year in Low-A Charleston. A year from now, Medina could rocket high up this list.

12. RHP Domingo Acevedo

Acevedo has had a nice steady climb through the minors the past few seasons (getting over his blister problems from years' past doesn't hurt), thanks in part to his plus fastball-plus change combo. Acevedo used to rip it as hard as he could in starts (hence him touching 103 mph in the past), before wearing down quickly. Now Acevedo sits more in the mid 90's and can hit 100 mph when he needs to. The change-up is still his primary out pitch, and the slider is still behind that. Acevedo throws two different kinds of sliders, one that is softer with more break and another that is harder, almost cutter-like. From watching him, I prefer the harder, cutter-like slider.

While he has toned down the effort in his delivery a bit, there's still a lot of moving parts and plenty of effort, which may affect his command. Especially for a guy his size, Acevedo does a good job of throwing strikes, but can struggle with commanding his pitches within the strike zone. Ultimately, there's still a decent chance Acevedo ends up in the bullpen, but as long as he stays healthy he should continue to get more opportunities to start.

11.  SS Thairo Estrada

Estrada has climbed steadily through the system, and his stock continues to rise after his all-around solid 2017 campaign. He showed off his smooth, plus defense up the middle at short and second. Estrada can make all the plays at both positions, and has a strong arm. The soon-to-be-22-year-old's defense is so smooth, in fact, that he reminds me a little bit of former Yankee Robinson Cano in that regard; Estrada just makes it look easy defensively.

At the plate Estrada is a line drive hitter who makes a lot of contact. He makes so much contact, in fact, that I wonder if he could benefit from adding more loft in his swing, which could tap into more power, and he can live with an increase in strikeouts. If he doesn't add power, though, Estrada projects to be at least a very fine utility player at the next level, and could start for a number of teams.

10. RHP Dillon Tate

Since being acquired by the Yankees a couple summers ago, Tate has gone back to his old mechanics that helped make him the number 4 overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft. Tate is back to the upper 90's with his fastball, although it can be a little straight. His slider and change-up also can be above-average too. Tate is athletic, has a deceptive delivery, and overall should project as a starter long-term as long as he can stay healthy. Staying healthy could be a big "if," however, as Tate missed part of 2016 with hamstring problems and a good chunk of 2017 with a shoulder problem.

9. RHP Freicer Perez

Signed for relative peanuts during the Yankees' international spending spree that was the 2014-15 international class, Perez has moved up the ladder steadily and has even more room to grow. Perez is listed at 6' 8", but looks taller, closer to 6' 10". Sitting in the mid-90's, Perez can touch the upper 90's as well, with a slider that he added in May of last season that helped him take off. Perez boasts a change-up and curve that are improving as well, which gives him a solid four-pitch mix. Scouts note that Perez' arm slot can tend to vary through his starts, which may telegraph some pitches. Otherwise, the delivery is clean.

8.  RHP Domingo German

In what looked like to be a lost trade involving Nathan Eovaldi coming to the Yankees and Martin Prado with David Phelps going to the Miami Marlins, German gives the Yanks a chance to salvage that deal. Although slight and slender, German can get swings and misses with all three of his pitches: fastball, curve, and change-up. He can touch the upper 90's, and hold that velocity late in starts. Listed at 6' 2", 175 lbs , you wonder if he will be able to hold up as a starter in a Major League rotation. It will be interesting to see what direction the Yankees go with German; he can easily stick in the bullpen or they can continue to start him with his strong three-pitch mix.

7. SS Tyler Wade:

Wade fits under my eligibility guidelines; he accrued 81 days of service (45 days is normally the maximum), but spent a lot of time on the bench, and thus only had 58 big-league at-bats. And in those 58 at-bats, Wade struggled mightily. But that's not the real Wade. When right, Wade hits to all fields, has good patience, and plus speed on the bases. I can see him hitting for more power than people think, too; he has bulked up and did a better job of crushing mistake pitches while in Triple-A. Defensively, he can play all over the infield and outfield; he may be mistake prone at times, but he has the foot-speed and hands to make all the plays. The potential, I think, is a Brett Gardner type of skill-set that can play all over the field.

6. RHP Chance Adams

The first four months of last season Adams looked electric, showing a mid 90's fastball, a hard, biting slider, and a solid curve. He looked like a potential mid-rotation starter during that period, but August happened and Adams appeared to be running on fumes during that final month of the season. It was Adams' second full season of starting, but it's certainly not something you want to see out of one of your better pitching prospects. By all accounts Adams was healthy and he should see some time with the Yankees this season (if he's not traded), but if the August downturn was a sign of things to come, a shift to the bullpen could be in the cards.

5. RHP Albert Abreu

Acquired in the Brian McCann trade last off-season, Abreu showed off his high-octane stuff across two A-ball levels. The fastball sits in the upper-90's, and the curve and off-speed flash plus as well. Abreu did miss a chunk of time this season with a shoulder injury, which is obviously never good, but he did display his top-shelf stuff in front of scouts in the Arizona Fall League. Prior to 2017 Abreu had struggled with control, walking 4.5 batters per nine innings during his three years in the Houston Astros org. But in 2017 Abreu cut down that number to 3 per nine. For Abreu it's all about staying healthy (he recently had appendix surgery and the start of his spring training will be delayed) and throwing strikes. If he does that, he can reach his high potential.

4. OF Estevan Florial

There has never been a Haitian-born player to reach the big leagues, but with his gaudy tool-set, Florial should be the first. He's got a quick bat that could help him hit upwards of 30 HR's at the next level, he's a plus runner, and has a strong arm out in center. The biggest drawback is his rawness for the game. While he can work good at-bats at times at the plate, he can tend to get over-aggressive and swing at bad pitches as well: fastballs up, breaking stuff down away, etc. In the field he can make the great catch, but at times his routes can be poor. This isn't to say these problems aren't correctable, it's just he needs time, and at 20 years old, time is still very much on his side. The upside here is high: think of Curtis Granderson with a better throwing arm.

3. LHP Justus Sheffield

The top pitching prospect in the system, Sheffield had a solid regular season in Trenton; up to the mid 90's with his fastball, good slider and change-up. During that season, however, Sheffield suffered an oblique strain that sidelined him for several weeks. He did come back for a final tune-up start in the regular season before making a couple of starts in the playoffs, and he looked good there as well. But the reports when he later pitched in the Arizona Fall League were extremely glowing: consistently hitting the upper 90's, great slider, plus change-up. There is still some modified effort in his delivery, but so far he hasn't had any arm troubles.

2. 3B Miguel Andujar

Andujar had climbed up through the farm system quietly, often having to adjust to a new level when he arrived, but in 2017 after a slow start in April, the third baseman took off. From watching him it appeared that Andujar added some loft to his swing, and that resulted in a career-best 16 home runs. That may not sound like a lot, but his home ballparks in Trenton and Scranton are very much pitcher-friendly. It's not hard at all to see Andujar hit 25+ annually at the next level; the bat-speed is tremendous and the ball flies off the bat when he makes contact. He can get over-aggressive, sure, but he still does a good job putting the bat on the ball even when he expands the zone.

Defensively, it's easy to say he's not great, but he's not terrible, either. He has all the physical tools to play the position, he just needs more reps and getting major-league instruction should help; he figures to be the Opening Day third baseman for the Yankees should the team opt to not sign a veteran. One of his drawbacks defensively is his throws; the Yankees have tried to lift his arm a bit while making throws across to first and second to prevent the ball from sailing on him. In the end, he should be fine, but it's the bat that will carry him long-term.

1. SS Gleyber Torres

The crown jewel of the farm system. Torres would not be on this list had he not suffered season-ending Tommy John surgery last June, but he is raring to go in 2018. Torres has the potential to be a perennial All-Star; he has power to all fields, his approach at the plate continues to improve; he is smooth as glass defensively with a cannon arm. It is not at all hard to see him as a .300+ hitter, with 20+ HR's, and above-average-to-possibly-plus defense wherever he ultimately lands defensively. Torres can definitely play shortstop long-term, but Didi Gregorius is entrenched at that spot at the big league level, so second base may be Torres' home. His only blemish, if you can really call it that, is sometimes he can get over-aggressive on the basepaths; he doesn't have the fastest speed and at times he can push the envelope a little too far, but that is correctable. Overall, this is a guy you can build around.


Here are some who were in consideration for making the list, not necessarily the next 10, but those you should keep a close eye on. Listed in alphabetical order by last name:

RHP Cody Carroll - Carroll has battled control problems over the years, but you don't have to be pinpoint in the bullpen. He sits in the upper 90's with his heater and has a slider and splitter as his secondaries. As a reliever it will be interesting to see if he sticks with both of those secondaries or decides to scrap one down the road and just stick with two total pitches. Carroll could see some big league time in the Yankees bullpen this summer.

OF Jake Cave - Cave has added loft to his swing and as a result hit 20 home runs after hitting 17 the previous three years combined. Also as a result to the added loft, his swing is quite long and he is susceptible to left-handed pitching. Cave plays all three outfield spots, but I don't think he has quite enough foot-speed to play everyday in center.

RHP Deivi Garcia - Garcia is a sleeper arm that could pop up more on lists with a good 2018. He is a skinny right-hander that can touch the mid-90's with his fastball. His best secondary pitch is a curveball, that reportedly reaches 3000 rpm's, which is nuts.

IF Dermis Garcia - Right now Garcia is a one-tool player, but if you have one tool it may as well be power, I suppose. It's true light-tower power and he can hit bombs to all fields and at all ballparks. He does run a little better than I had thought, but speed clearly will not be an asset for him long-term. Originally a third baseman, Garcia may wind up having to move to first base or DH. I can see Garcia becoming a Peter O'Brien type, but with more walks, and that could be enough to carve out a role as a masher off the bench for someone.

OF Isiah Gilliam - A bit of a sleeper, Gilliam provides patience and pop from both sides of the plate. Gilliam has worked hard on making adjustments with his swings and the results have shown, posting an .825 OPS in the South Atlantic League. Originally a first baseman, the Yankees moved Gilliam to the outfield after they drafted him. At the least, Gilliam should be serviceable in the outfield corners, and that increases his value. I think he has a real chance to break out on the national prospect scene in 2018.

SS Kyle Holder - Always a plus-plus defender at short, Holder hit okay in 2017, but his .271 average was pretty empty and he didn't draw many walks or hit for much power at all. I still think the best-case scenario here is utility infielder, and that's not bad, but I don't see him sticking with the Yankees long-term.

RPH Nolan Martinez - Lauded for his pitchability coming out of Culver City, California in 2016, injuries have hampered Martinez' stock. Sidelined for the majority of the 2017 season because of shoulder problems, Martinez sits low 90's with a good curve and quality change-up when he does appear on the mound.

RHP Glenn Otto - There will always be concerns with pitchers coming out of Rice University given their heavy workloads there (and Otto did have some shoulder problems early last spring), but Otto displays impressive stuff. He sits in the mid 90's with a strong curveball, and an improving change-up. There have been talks that Otto, a college reliever, will make the transition to the rotation a la Chance Adams and Taylor Widener.

RHP Trevor Stephan - Stephan was the Yankees' third-round pick in this most recent draft. He has a strong two-pitch mix with his fastball and slider; the fastball hits the upper 90's and the slider is sharp. I don't really like the delivery, there's a timing issue with his arm as he plants his front leg; there's not much of a change-up either. I think the bullpen is likely long-term, but he has a chance to dominate there.

RHP Juan Then - Picked up by the Yankees in exchange for Nick Rumbelow going to the Seattle Mariners, Then has turned some heads in his lone season. He's more in the low 90's now with his fastball, but projects for more velocity as he further grows into his body. There's also a chance for a couple above-average secondaries, and the delivery is clean. Some were surprised the Mariners gave up Then, although he only pitched in the Dominican Southern League, for Rumbelow. This could turn out to be a nice steal for the Yankees down the road.

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