Spring training is underway and top prospects such as Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo and others are generating excitement in the fanbase that hasn’t been seen in years. I recently reached out to former Mariners and Astros pro scout Bernie Pleskoff, for his thoughts on the Yankees farm system and some of their top prospects.
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It really is amazing how important prospects and controllable players are to most baseball organizations.
We have seen time and time again how clubs covet draft choices for the annual First Year Player Draft. Many clubs refuse to sign free agent players with draft choice compensation tied to their availability.
Since inception, rejecting the “qualifying offer” has been a non-starter for free agents waiting to join a new team. As a result, there are clubs that have entered a re-stocking phase for their franchise based upon selecting solid players in the draft and/ or trading for prospects when yielding a top tier veteran in a trade to a team on the cusp of winning a division.
In an attempt to build a contending club, teams like Philadelphia, Atlanta and Milwaukee are refreshing their organizations with young players collected in trades with pending contenders.
The New York Yankees are somewhat in the middle of the pack regarding the depth and breath of their farm system. A simple big league graduation, like that of first baseman Greg Bird last year can cost a team a notch or two in the overall farm system strength standings. However, a team like the Yankees can receive an injection of energy, skill and cost containment from the graduation to the parent club of even one quality player like the now injured Bird.
In recent years the Yankees have developed some of the finest offensive catching prospects in the game. Players like Jorge Posada, Francisco Cervelli, Jesus Montero, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine and the emerging Gary Sanchez have sparkled in their development. Most continued that glow in the big leagues. Montero is still trying to find his footing.
Make no mistake, the Yankees development of catching prospects has long been admired in baseball. Now in the near term the team faces the daunting task of replacing aging and physically fragile position players and pitchers.
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Baseball prospects serve several purposes:
First and foremost, the organization hopes the prospect will graduate to the parent club. That is the best overall outcome.
The prospect player can also help strengthen the parent club by being a component in a trade to yield a player or players that fill a particular need.
Prospect players may be used to “fill in” for an injury or poor performance for a brief period of time, returning to the Minor Leagues after an emergency stint on the big league roster.
Prospect players are needed to complete the organizational rosters of each and every Minor League club. Fielding teams in varying levels of Minor League skill and development takes lots of professional baseball players. Few have the skill to play Major League quality baseball.
Like all teams, the Yankees have players in their farm system that could fulfill one of the first three needs noted above. The remainder of their prospects completes the fourth, yet still important roster filling need.
Generally speaking, only one in ten prospects make the big leagues. Those odds are not good.
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In my opinion, the Yankees boast three prospects that are as close to “can’t miss” as possible. I think each of these three individuals will enjoy long and memorable Major League careers.
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No. 1– Gary Sanchez-C-6-foot-2, 230 pounds
I saw Gary Sanchez grow as a defensive catcher and offensive force in six weeks of play in the Arizona Fall League. Pitchers on his team I spoke with marveled at the way he handled in-game management. I saw him block balls well, throw with carry (on a very strong arm) with good “pop” time, and lead the team on the field.
Offensively, Sanchez hit some of the longest and hardest hit line drive home runs in AFL memory. He made a tremendous impact as a slugger.
While Sanchez may scuffle a bit initially with the Major League club, I think he will make the necessary adjustments offensively to confidently and consistently hit the best pitchers in the world. He just needs a chance to play.
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No. 2– Aaron Judge-OF- 6-foot 7, 275 pounds
I debated with myself where to rank Sanchez and Judge. I think Aaron Judge will be an impact slugger in the big leagues. I just don’t know if his time will come by mid-year or in September. I’ll say this though. It will be tough to keep such a loud and forceful bat out of the Yankees lineup for long.
The arrival of Judge will depend upon the health and production of outfielders already in place. Players like Carlos Beltran are proven stars. Judge is a rookie. If the Yankees fall out of contention, Judge may get his chance sooner than later.
However, a player with the skill and savvy of Beltran will be an asset in a pennant race.
When I saw him hit in the Arizona Fall League, his monster size and strength made Judge stand out as a premiere prospect.
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No. 3– Jorge Mateo-SS–6 feet, 190 pounds
Mateo is not as advanced as either Sanchez or Judge. Hence my ranking. The Yankees have a top-notch shortstop now in Didi Gregorius. I think he will more than adequately staff the position for years to come. However, Mateo’s incredible speed is a factor that cannot be ignored. Only 20 years old, he could eventually force Gregorius over to second base.
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No. 4– James Kaprielian-RHP-6-foot-4, 200 pounds
Kaprielian has a complete arsenal that includes a plus fastball, curveball, and changeup and an average slider. His control and command are both solid. He doesn’t over power hitters with high velocity, but his grasp of the importance of command is crucial to his success. He could move quickly.
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No. 5– Dustin Fowler-OF-6-feet, 195 pounds
Fowler is a left-handed hitting center fielder with good speed and very good overall defense. He likely won’t hit much, but he can save many games with his defense. Offensively, if he learns to slap the ball on the ground and use his plus speed, he could get infield hits and set himself up to steal plenty of bases. The power may come later, but for now, he’s a gap hitter.
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No. 6– Wilkerman Garcia-SS-6 feet-175 pounds
Garcia is only 17, but his maturity and complete set of tools make him an intriguing and impactful prospect. He can hit, play solid defense, and run. He has little to no power at this point. However, there should be some growth remaining and that may translate to power. Garcia joins Mateo as future infield depth for the Yankees. If his power does develop, Garcia could ultimately land at third base.
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No. 7– Domingo Acevedo-RHP- 6-foot-7, 190 pounds
Acevedo is a power pitcher with a fastball that can easily touch 100 miles per hour. He’s probably his best from 95-97, he uses a wicked changeup to fool hitters and get them off balance after throwing the fastball.
Very tall and very slender, I see Acevedo moving quickly through the system as a strong and dependable arm as a starter or Aroldis Chapman type closer with velocity and deception.
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No. 8– Tyler Wade-SS/2B-6-foot-1, 180 pounds
Wade’s best tool is his speed. He can hit well enough to get on base. His threat to steal is real, and the Yankees can certainly use his speed in the future. He has little, if any power.
Wade is fundamentally strong, showing good range, a solid arm and good hands. He is capable of playing second base as well as shortstop. His lack of power limits him to the middle infield.
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No. 9– Jacob Lindgren-LHP-5-foot-11, 210 pounds
Without having the great size of many other starting pitching candidates, Lindgren can bring his fastball to the mid-90s with command. He doesn’t have the smoothest delivery, but he does have a fastball/slider combination that can make him a force at the back end of the bullpen.
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No. 10- Drew Finley-RHP-6-foot-3, 200 pounds
Finley can become a sleeper for the Yankees. He has good control on his plus fastball and curveball. He also throws a good changeup and has the ability to eat innings if he can keep his good command. There are times he gets too much of the plate, but his curve and changeup really make his fastball better.
Others of interest:
There’s reason for excitement in the “Yankee Universe” with some prospects that are shaping up to contribute to the Bronx Bombers in short order. They are not alone though, with players such as Dustin Fowler and others that could also fill needs for the ballclub. We thank Bernie Pleskoff for his time and his thoughts on the Yankees prospects and system.