Quite frankly, it’s been refreshing to see many of our fellow Yankees media contingent concur just how good a year the Minor League system had in 2014.
While the strength of the system, especially in the upper minors, is pitching, there are several position players who will help the Yankees sooner rather than later. While shortstop Jorge Mateo has impressed scouts and observers, he’s certainly a few years away from The Bronx. If all goes well, this package of excellent fielding and potential power ought to arrive in 2017.
By the time Mateo does make it to New York, the five players below, if their respective careers follow what has transpired, ought to be entrenched in their roles by 2017. The era of fill-ins, by that time, will, if ll goes well, just a bad memory.
So here are a chosen five with potential, and what each has to do to achieve his goal of contributing in Pinstripes:
OF Aaron Judge – Perhaps the best Yankees hitting prospect in 10 years. This is the real deal, athletically and for the situation. Has tremendous power to right field, which will fit perfectly in Yankee Stadium. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound native of Linden, Calif., was just named Arizona Fall League Player of the Week. Fans who watched MLB Network’s coverage of the AFL’s Fall Stars game saw join their televisions just what type of power he has. Judge hammered pitching at both Yankees Class-A stops – Charleston and Tampa in 2014 – batting a combined .308 (144-for-467) with 24 doubles, 17 home runs and 78 RBIs. He has an advanced approach at the plate and doesn’t look to hit a home run every at-bat. He’s good at lining mistakes to the opposite field. He will start 2015 at Double-A Trenton and needs to close a few holes in his swing, which, for his size, is not elongated. He ought to fill the Yankees’ right-field spot by 2016.
1B Greg Bird – Some asked why the Yankees traded Pete O’Brien. Judge was one reason, catching depth was another and a third was this player is a much better first baseman than O’Brien, whose swap to Arizona brought in a valuable piece in Martin Prado. Bird is more athletic than some give him credit for. His defense at first base is better than average, ad his bat, as he is showing in the Arizona Fall League, certainly plays to that position. The type of player who is focused – he has the best plate approach of anyone in the Yankees system – and has a daily goal of playing better than he did the day before. A back injury limited him to 369 at-bats between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, hitting .263 (96-for-369) with 30 doubles, 14 homers and 43 RBIs. Look for him to start at Trenton to start 2015 with a quick move to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre if all goes well. The Aurora, Colo., native’s goal is to succeed Mark Teixeira at 1B sometime in 2016. He’s got a shot.
2B Rob Refsnyder – Is there anyone not rooting for this native of Laguna Hills, Calif., who got people excited by hitting .342 (78-for-228) the first few months of the 2014 season. Overall, with his promotion to SWB, he hit .318 (164-for-515) overall, with 34 doubles, 14 homers and 63 RBIs. Offensively, Refsnyder’s game is basically big-league ready. He has a relaxed, confident approach at the plate. The issue is whether his defense at second base will get to the point where it is at least adequate. The Yankees do not need Dan Uggla 2.0 out there. He needs to continue to improve on his work with the double play and get used to the movement of shifts and his reactions. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman stated they will see the conversion of Refsnyder, an outfielder, to second base. The Atlanta Braves did that with Kelly Johnson several years ago. The view here is Prado will likely play second base in New York, Jose Pirela could be the utility infielder and Refsnyder will go back to Scranton to work now what he has to work on, but ought to see some big-league time in 2015.
OF Ramon Flores – People seem to forget about this native of Barinas, Venezuela, who is just 22 and still developing. He does everything in the field well and can play all three outfield positions. He battled injuries this past year at Scranton, hitting .247 (58-for-235) with 17 doubles, seven home runs and 23 RBIs. Scouts are waiting to see his power develops. At the plate, he recognizes pitches and has an advanced approach. His routes to balls in the outfield are precise as well. There is no reason why he can’t be an outfield reserve for the Yankees in 2015. Also played some first base here and there in the minors. A good spring-training performance could earn him a trip north to The Bronx, where, if he us called upon, will likely deliver with a key hit or play. Otherwise, especially with Chris Young’s impending deal, it’s back to Scranton, from where he likely would get a call-up during the 2015 season.
OF Jake Cave – After missing the 2012 season with a knee injury, then bouncing back to hit .282 (131-for-464) with Charleston in 2013, Cave had a strong 2014 season, earning a promotion to Trenton after hitting .304 (117-for-385) at Tampa. He then proceeded to hit .273 (48-for-176) after replacing the struggling Mason Williams as the Thunder’s leadoff hitter. He plays the game all-out and makes the plays in center field. A scout compared him to Brett Gardner during his time in Trenton (2006-07). Cave, who will be 22 Dec. 7, actually arrived in Double-A a year younger than Gardner. The native of Hampton, Va., does have one major facet if his offensive game to work on. He struck out 128 times last season, and as a leadoff hitter, he needs draw more walks, of which there were just 42. He has a good arm and the right makeup to battle in what is a crowded outfield situation in the Yankees system. With work, just like Gardner, he could help in 2016.