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Gleyber Torres at short for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League on October 12, 2016. ( <a href="http://moosetography.zenfolio.com/">Ryan "Moose" Morris - Freelance Photographer</a>)

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2016 Yankees: The Emergence of The Next Dynasty

As 2015 was coming to an end, the Yankees had a lot of optimism for the upcoming season. On the big club, Designated Hitter Alex Rodriguez and first baseman Mark Teixeira had resurgent seasons.  Right-handed pitcher Luis Severino showed electric stuff in his rookie season and was destined for the starting rotation.  First baseman Greg Bird was promoted to replace an injured Teixeira late in the season and opened a lot of eyes while putting his power on display.

In the minors, catcher Gary Sanchez, shortstop Jorge Mateo, outfielder Aaron Judge and first-round pick Pitcher James Kaprielian were headlining a system that had recently been ranked amongst the middle of the 30 MLB teams. It was quite an improvement from the bottom third they had routinely been rated.  During the past decade, the system had struggled to produce any impact talent.  It had been described as dreadful as recently as 2014, which led to the International spending spree as well as the need to pay premium rates to sign free agents.

It didn’t take long before the season started to unravel.  Before spring training even began, Greg Bird had shoulder surgery which would sideline him for the entire season.  Bryan Mitchell, the team’s most productive pitcher this spring, injured his toe towards the end of spring training and was out several months.  Kaprielian started off the year at Class A Tampa, dominating the competition.  That was until he too was lost for the season, with an elbow injury.

Injuries were not the only thing hampering the Yankees season.  Severino struggled early and often before being sent to the minors. The starting rotation, other than Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, were inconsistent, with Nathan Eovaldi eventually heading for Tommy John Surgery.  as did his regular playing time, which limited his ability to get out of the prolonged slump.  Even Jorge Mateo was suspended by team officials for violating team policy.

The 2016 New York Yankees were a team going nowhere as the trade deadline was approaching.  They had a roster of aging, overpriced, former stars; whose best years were clearly in their rearview mirror.  The team lacked enthusiasm, and the overall majority of fans and media were calling for the front office to hit the reset button and trade away assets.

Not everything within the Yankees’ organization was negative.  Their full season affiliates were dominating.  Outfielder/first baseman Tyler Austin had reemerged as a true prospect, just months after clearing waivers. Judge and Sanchez were progressing nicely at Triple-A Scranton. First-round pick, outfielder Blake Rutherford, who was viewed as a top 5 talent, fell to 18, where the Yankees selected and signed him.

General Manager Brian Cashman had some tough decisions to make.  He didn’t want to throw up the white flag and give up on the season, but he needed to shake up the roster.  He found trading partners with the blue-chip prospects that the Yankees needed in return for some of their most productive players.

Trades rarely work out well for both teams.  However, the trades that the Yankees made at the end of July with the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, and Pittsburgh Pirates may ultimately work out for each of these clubs.

To the Cubs, the Yankees sent controversial left-handed reliever Aroldis Chapman, who can throw 105 MPH. In exchange, the Cubs sent a package highlighted by shortstop Gleyber Torres and including right-handed pitcher Adam Warren and outfielders Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford.  Chapman has helped lead his new squad to the World Series, attempting to end the sport’s longest drought at 107 years.  Torres is a consensus top 25 prospect that recently was named the Arizona Fall League player of the week for the second time this season.  Warren is a returning trusted established member of Manager Joe Girardi’s pitching staff.  McKinney is a former top 100 prospect.  Crawford is a developing prospect at Class A Tampa.

The Yankees traded lefty reliever Andrew Miller to the Indians, who have a 67-year championship drought of their own.  The prospects they received in return were outfielder Clint Frazier, righty relievers Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen as well as left-handed Justus Sheffield.  Miller is an elite reliever that has completely dominated this postseason and has provided Manager Terry Francona the versatility to shorten the game.  Heller made his major-league debut after being traded.  Feyereisen is the closer at Double-A Trenton.  Frazier is another top 25 prospect, whose bat speed has been described as legendary.  Sheffield is also a top 100 prospect that is currently a starter, but he could fast track his journey to the big leagues by converting to the bullpen.

The Pirates’ 36 years without a championship is the third longest in the league by a non- expansion team.  They traded Ivan Nova, who will be a top free agent pitcher in this year’s weak free agent class.  He pitched very well down the stretch, likely increasing his earning power and likely resulting in the Pirates giving him the qualifying offer that will get them a compensation draft pick.  Rather than losing Nova for nothing, the Yankees got two prospects.  Tito Polo is an outfielder with Class-A Tampa.  Stephen Tarpley is a left-handed pitcher, also at Tampa.

GM Brian Cashman managed to toe the fine line of upgrading for the future while providing MGR Joe Girardi with the talent to stay in playoff contention.  He traded oft-injured Vicente Campos to the Arizona Diamondbacks to bring back Tyler Clippard to help bolster the bullpen.  Alex Rodriguez was unconditionally released.

The roster voids were filled with the next wave of Yankees prospects.  Gary Sanchez made his return with a historic two-month run.  Tyler Austin had a resurgence and showed a knack for hitting in the clutch.  Aaron Judge made his much-anticipated debut, with mixed results.  The youth and energy contributed to an unexpected surge which allowed the team to stay alive in the pennant race until the last week of the season.

The Triple-A Scranton RailRiders won both the International League championship as well as the annual Triple-A Championship game.  Led by International League Player of the year Ben Gamel, they posted a record of 91-52.  Double-A Trenton Thunder finished 87-55.  Class-A Tampa Yankees 77-58.  Low-A Charleston RiverDogs 76-63. The Staten Island Yankees 44-21. Rookie Pulaski 29-37. Gulf Coast League East 19-36. Gulf Coast League West 24-31.  All combined, the minor-league affiliates totaled to go 447-363, a very impressive .552 winning percentage.

As the year is wrapping up, the team has sent several top prospects to play in the Arizona Fall League.  Of those Dillon Tate, Gleyber Torres, and third baseman Miguel Andujar were all named All-Stars.  Also, Kaprielian and Bird are back healthy and playing.

The Yankees have graduated several players that have lost their prospect status.  Greg Bird will be given the opportunity to win the vacancy of the retiring Mark Teixeira.  Gary Sanchez will look to build on his amazing rookie campaign, making Brian McCann available via trade.  en capable.  Bryan Mitchell returned from injury late in the season, pitching both in the bullpen and starting rotation.

There were several players that have advanced to the majors and likely will be in the position to compete for a major-league roster spot come spring training.  Aaron Judge needs to cut down on his strikeouts to be productive.  Tyler Austin will be pushing Bird and Judge at first and right, respectively.  Right-handed reliever Johnathon Holder, who won the MiLBY Award for top reliever, will look to continue his success.  Luis Cessa and Chad Green, both right-handed starters acquired from the Detroit Tigers for Justin Wilson, should be in the mix for the starting rotation.

The current state of the Yankees farm system has a reason for fans to be optimistic, ranking in the top 2 or 3.  Per the recently released top 10 list by the highly respected Baseball America, it is possible for the team to place as many as seven prospects in the industry’s top 100.  They are newcomers Torres, Frazier, and Sheffield along with holdovers Judge, shortstop Jorge Mateo, 2015 first-round pick righty James Kaprielian, and 2016 first rounder outfielder Blake Rutherford.  The system is also as deep as it is top-heavy, with lots of diversity amongst the positions.  In fact, the team traded Ben Gamel to the Seattle Mariners for two additional prospects, to free up a 40-man roster spot. There are also several young players from the 2014 International spending spree that are coming stateside to play.

The Yankees are well positioned to be able to build their next dynasty.  Their minor leagues are loaded with talented players.  It is impossible to judge the success of the trades until after several years.  It will take time before we have an idea of who these young men develop into as players.  Certainly, not all of them will make it.  Some will likely be used as commodities to improve the big club.  One thing that is for sure is that the Yankees are set up for future success in a way we have not seen in a very long time, and that is an extremely exciting proposition.

November Pinstriped Prospects birthdays:

Jonathan Loaisiga (22)

 

Happy Birthday to each of you!

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