The New York Yankees’ minor league talent has been often maligned over the last couple of years, but those who pay close attention to it know there is plenty to feel good about. The most cynical critics see a lack of impact talent, but the San Francisco Giants are just the latest example that having stars at every position is not a necessity when it comes to winning championships. It’s important to have good baseball players, and the Yankees boast at least one of those guys to dream on at every position in their system. The chances they all hit it big are close to zero, but they all seem likely to at least play on a big-league field at some point in their careers, and you never know what will happen from there.
Entering the 2014-2015 off-season, here are the top prospects in the Yankees’ minor league system at each position.
Catcher: Gary Sanchez
There’s a chance Luis Torrens might be the better catching prospect right now, but he’s not in AA and he can’t hit the ball over the fence the way Sanchez can. Sanchez’s greatest value to the Yankees may be in a trade, but if things go right for him he could be a weapon behind the plate and in the batter’s box. He has a big arm and legitimate power. The ceiling is high for him, but he has not won universal praise for his style of play. Sanchez has improved, and he will need to continue to do so as he reaches AAA at age 22.
First base: Greg Bird
When Bird plays, Bird hits and Bird gets on base. Currently tearing up the Arizona Fall League, Bird sees pitches and commands the strike zone, and when he swings he does damage. His career .283/.407/.488 slash line will attest to that. Although he has battled back problems, and those are nothing to trifle with, Bird is known as a serious-minded worker who should continue to improve defensively at first after converting from catcher. Bird has the potential to play every day at first when he gets to the Majors, and he should start next year in Trenton at age 22.
Second base: Rob Refsnyder
Refsnyder looked like a solid, hard-nosed player when he won the Most Outstanding Player award at the College World Series, and he hasn’t stopped looking like that as a Yankee. His name was mentioned a lot more than anyone thought in 2014, as many fans were dissatisfied with the second base position in the Bronx and wanted the 23-year-old to get an opportunity. Refsnyder can hit. He won’t be Robinson Cano, but no one is. If he can play average defense, and that isn’t a sure thing right now, he will hit enough to play every day. To be sure, he will put in the work.
Shortstop: Jorge Mateo
All we’ve heard about Mateo is that he oozes tools, and there are some who are so convinced Mateo is the real deal that it’s hard not to give him the nod as the top shortstop in the system. There are more interesting names in this mix, such as Abiatal Avelino and Tyler Wade, than there have been in a while, but if everything goes right for Mateo he will be the man. Mateo has top-end speed, the ability to excel on defense, and can sting the ball at the plate. He’s excited a lot of scouts and he’s starting to draw the attention of some fans, but at 19 he may be back in a short-season league in 2015.
Third base: Miguel Andujar
Maybe Eric Jagielo will continue to develop defensively and continue to hit for power. Maybe Dante Bichette will continue to build on his bounce-back season. Neither of them, however, provide the upside of Andujar. He’s potentially the best defender at third in the system, with some athleticism and a big arm. He also shows promise with the bat, although he flew under the radar a bit during a tough first half of the season. He played in a long-season league for the first time at age 19, and he rebounded from his struggles to hit .320/.363/.455 in July and August. He should be one of the younger players in the Florida State League in 2015.
Left field: Ramon Flores
You might be thinking that Flores is not really a left fielder, being that he played more games in right than he did in left this past season, but of the guys in the minors who primarily played left field (including Taylor Dugas, Michael O’Neill, Ben Gamel), Flores has the best chance of being an everyday player in the big leagues. He can play all three outfield positions and even a little first base, but he’s a prospect because of his bat. He’s reached AAA at 22, and his quiet left-handed swing coupled with a command of the strike zone make Flores a good candidate to contribute at the Major League level some day.
Center field: Jake Cave
This should be Slade Heathcott. This should be Mason Williams. Maybe by the end of next season it will be Leonardo Molina. But the only guy it can be right now is Cave. Whenever he stops hitting, we can start talking about someone else. It’s hard not to like Cave when you watch him play. He can hold down center field, he plays with intensity, and he will only continue to develop power. After leading the system in hits in 2014, Cave should head back to Trenton at age 22, and he’s likely one good year away from appearing on a Major League field.
Right field: Aaron Judge
Even with Judge’s exceptional physical abilities, no one should say they knew what to expect from him this season. It was entirely possible that he would go out and struggle in his first full professional season. He didn’t. At age 22, he hit .308/.419/.486 at two levels and added 17 home runs. He also showed athleticism and arm-strength in right field, and his profile is now prototypical for the position. Judge will likely start next season in Trenton, and another good season could put him in the Bronx some time in 2016.
Right-handed starter: Luis Severino
The stuff is electric and the arm is lightning-quick, but the best thing about Severino is that he throws strikes. Severino burst onto the national prospect scene this year at age 20, and he jumped from low-A Charleston up to AA Trenton by the end of the season. Along the way he struck out 127 in 113 innings and walked only 27. With Severino, the only concern is his health, as can be said of all pitchers. He could be in the Majors as soon as 2015 if things break right.
Left-handed starter: Ian Clarkin
Manny Banuelos could render this choice silly in 2015, but right now Clarkin looks solid while Banuelos still looks to fully regain his command returning from elbow surgery. In his debut season out of high school, Clarkin pitched in a full-season league at age 19 and even saw some time at high-A Tampa, where he will likely begin next season. He received high marks for his stuff, poise, competitiveness, and aptitude. He may not have a top-of-the-rotation ceiling, but if he stays healthy he’s a solid Major League starter, and those guys are getting more and more rare.
Right-handed reliever: Nick Rumbelow
Rumbelow leads a wave of former college relievers who are poised to challenge for big-league bullpen jobs in 2015. Nick Goody, Branden Pinder, and Danny Burawa all arguably could be the top righty reliever in the minors for the Yankees, but the 23-year-old Rumbelow has raced to the head of the pack. Drafted in 2013, Rumbelow had a remarkable first full season in 2014, pitching at Charleston, Tampa, Trenton, and Scranton in one year. He struck out 81 in 58.1 innings, and with a fastball-curveball combination reminiscent of David Robertson he may be ready for the Bronx in 2015.
Left-handed reliever: Jacob Lindgren
After being heavily criticized for some of their past top draft picks, the Yankees received high marks for taking Lindgren with their first pick in the 2014 draft, which happened to be in the second round. Lindgren was a dominant reliever in college, and professional baseball did not seem to be much of a challenge for him. He punched out 48 in 25 innings with a low-90’s fastball and a wipe-out slider, and with the lack of a reliable lefty reliever at the Major League level, it would surprise no one if Lindgren threw important innings for the Yankees in 2015 at age 22.