Even with graduating two of their top prospects to the major leagues in 2015, the New York Yankees still have one of the top farm systems in baseball and it now boosts some impressive depth in the upper and lower minor leagues.
Coming into the 2015 season, there were some question marks in the Yankees system, Greg Bird had just made a name for himself after a strong Arizona Fall League, but he had yet to be tested in the upper levels of the farm system. Luis Severino had only a small cup of coffee in Double-A and Jorge Mateo only played in 93 ballgames over 3 seasons.
Now that the 2015 season is over, we find ourselves with Greg Bird established as the Yankees future at first base, Luis Severino is not a regular member of the New York Yankees rotation and Jorge Mateo has broken out from the nap to shed the sleeper prospect title and become a bonafide top prospect in all of baseball. In addition, the Bronx Bombers found help whenever they needed it from some former top prospects in Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott and some other unlikely minor leaguers who got to make their major league debuts in 2015 like Matt Tracy, Diego Moreno, Nick Goody, Caleb Cotham, Nick Rumbelow, and Branden Pinder.
After the 2014 season the Yankees found themselves with strong depth behind the plate. They dealt from that strength, trading Francisco Cervelli to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Justin Wilson. Cervelli went on to have his best years in the majors as the Pirates everyday catcher hitting .295 with 7 homeruns and 43 RBIs. This offseason the Yankees traded Wilson to the Tigers for 2 minor league starting pitchers, filling a need in the upper levels.
With Wilson gone, it opens up a spot in the bullpen for another young prospect to make a name for himself. There are many, we already saw lefties Jacob Lindgren and James Pazos make their MLB debuts in 2015 but there are more waiting like Tyler Webb. Webb who missed a considerable portion of the 2015 season due to injury returned in the Arizona Fall League where he was 2-0 with a 5.84 ERA over 9 games, striking out 12 in 12 1/3 innings of work.
In 2016 we could see former highly touted relief prospect Mark Montgomery make it to the big leagues. Montgomery seemed to have returned to form this past season and could be a solid contributor in the bullpen. Johnny Barbato, who was recently added to the 40-man roster, has shown to be a good prospect to fill a role in the bullpen in 2015 striking out 70 batters over 67 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Conor Mullee battled multiple injuries and even had Tommy John surgery twice in his 6-years with the organization but now at 27-years old he is healthy and can use his mid-90s fastball as a tool to get batters out. Without a doubt the Yankees have found themselves with a plethora of solid bullpen candidates coming up through the system. More are on the way from the low minors that have not yet pitched in Double-A.
Starting Pitching Depth
On the other-side of the pitching spectrum the Yankees have quietly rebuilt their upper minors pitching depth thanks to some stand out performances in 2015 and the recently acquired starters they got from Detroit. Bryan Mitchell was one of the top starters for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders in 2015, posting a 3.12 ERA in 75 innings over 15 games. The Yankees could use Mitchell as the swingman in their MLB bullpen, filling the role of Adam Warren who went to Chicago in the deal for Starlin Castro. If they decide not to, he returns to Triple-A to become the ace of a Scranton staff that will likely feature Caleb Smith, Brady Lail, Luis Cessa, and Jaron Long. Kyle Haynes also belongs in the conversation for a spot as a starter in Triple-A.
In Double-A, the Yankees find themselves with a bit of a surplus with Rookie Davis, Eric Ruth, Miguel Sulbaran, Cale Coshow returning to Trenton and the likes of Jonathan Holder, Chaz Hebert and Chad Green joining the party. Some solid starters like Gabe Encinas, Vicente Camps, and Dietrich Enns could find themselves converted to full-time relief pitchers due to the crunch and if they do could be helping the big club sooner rather than later.
That does not go to mention guys like Eric Wooton and Conner Kendrick, who went where ever the Yankees needed them. Kendrick, 23, pitched at least one game with each of the Charleston RiverDogs, Tampa Yankees, Trenton Thunder and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders this past season.
Thin Behind the Plate
After trading Cervelli last offseason and trading John Ryan Murphy this offseason, the Bronx Bombers find themselves thin at the position that was one of their strongest last year. Fans are clamoring for former top prospect Gary Sanchez to take over the backup role in New York but only has 35 games in Triple-A and a couple of games in the bigs in September.
What the fans want might not be what is best for his development, becoming the big league backup might sound good right now but it would limit his playing time. A return to Triple-A in 2016 might be the best thing for him, playing every day and getting the call if something were to happen to Brian McCann. Until then, Austin Romine is penciled in as the backup catcher at this point.
Newly acquired catcher Santiago Nessy will figure into a rotation with returning catcher Kyle Higashioka and fan favorite Wes Wilson for the remaining spots in the upper levels. While all are solid organizational players, the next big catching prospect is in Single-A and returning from surgery. Luis Torrens will turn 20 May 2, and will be returning from shoulder surgery. He sat out all of the 2015 regular season but did see sometime in the Florida Instructional League as a designated hitter. In addition, guys like KJ Alexander, Colin Slaybaugh, Radley Haddad and Alvaro Noriega could find themselves filling roles in the upper levels when needed.
In the outfield, the Yankees find themselves with a plethora of solid prospects in the upper levels. Trading for Aaron Hicks only added to the depth. Right now they find themselves with Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Ben Gamel and Aaron Judge as options to be in Triple-A. Tyler Austin, while he does play right field and left field, is expected to become a regular first baseman or just a backup off the bench.
The depth would force Taylor Dugas to return to Double-A again, joining Mark Payton and Jake Skole while welcoming Dustin Fowler to the mix. Teodoro Martinez, still contracted after signing as a free agent during the season, is an option as a fourth or fifth outfielder in Double-A.
Infield Depth Thin at Upper Levels
When we move to the infield we find where the Yankees have holes. While Rob Refsnyder is still the top infield prospect the Yankees have in the upper levels he is far from perfect. While he has gotten better defensively since switching over to second base from the outfield, there is still doubt he could play the position long-term. Refsnyder does not have the arm to move back into the outfield and many in the organization questioned his attitude after some grumbling in Double-A in 2014 and rumors swirled again about an attitude issue after his brief stint in the big leagues in July. With Castro now penciled in as the starting second baseman at the big league level and Tony Renda ready to move up to Triple-A, he finds himself at a crossroads in his career. It is possible that the Yankees would trade him, but what would that return be?
At first base, Greg Bird is expected to return to Triple-A to start the season with Tyler Austin likely playing some time at the position as well. Mike Ford and Matt Snyder are the guys expected to fill the role in Double-A. Newly acquired infielder Pete Kozma is going to start off as the regular Triple-A shortstop, as former first-rounder Cito Culver has proven to be little more than an organizational utility man now.
Tyler Wade will fill the role as the everyday shortstop for Trenton, while Billy Fleming has earned a Double-A spot. Fleming has versatility having spent time at first base, second base, third base and even in the outfield this past season. Eric Jagielo is slated to return to fill the third base role in Double-A, but injuries cost him a lot of development time and there remains a lot of questions about his glove and if a move to first base would be in his best interest. Dante Bichette Jr. could find himself pushed up to Triple-A just because right now there is no one else to take the role but do not rule out the Yankees signing someone and Bichette moving into a role off the bench.
Coming Up Through the Ranks
The Yankees are finding new roles for guys who have been with the organization a while as well. Catcher Isaias Tejeda only played 20 games behind the plate last season, instead learning to hone his skills on the infield corners to give him extra versatility. Jake Hernandez who is primarily a catcher had extended time at first base during the last year.
In addition, the large amount of quality shortstop depth in the low minors has spilled over into the other positions. Thairo Estrada spent most of his season as a second baseman while Abiatal Avelino, Angel Aguilar and Vince Conde have bounced around from third base-to-shortstop-to-second base throughout 2015.
On the mound in the lower levels the Yankees find themselves with some more intriguing names coming up through the ranks. Left-handed pitcher Ian Clarkin returned in the AFL after sitting out for the entire season with an elbow injury and is going start with High-A Tampa. Joining him will be 2015 first round draft pick James Kaprielian. Kaprielian is a right-handed pitcher with a fastball that could reach 96 miles per hour along with a curveball, slider and changeup that already has scouts gushing. He will rise quickly through the system and could see time in The Bronx towards the end of the season. Jordan Foley made a name for himself with a solid 2015 season in Charleston and a cameo in Triple-A. Throw in lefty Jordon Montgomery and you have the strong start to the Tampa Yankees 2016 rotation.
Power Arms on the Way
It is hard to talk about the Yankees pitching depth and not talk about right-hander Domingo Acevedo. The 6-foot 7-inch tall, 190-pound 21-year old pitcher from Villa Los Almacigos, Dominican Republic exploded on to the prospect map with an incredible performance for the Staten Island Yankees in 2015. After missing sometime early in the season and a shaky start due to blisters on his pitching hand he turned things around to become the ace of the Staten Island staff and formed a powerful 1-2 punch with Kaprielian that catapulted the Baby Bombers into the playoffs.
Acevedo demonstrated a powerful fastball that was sitting in the mid-90s through most of his starts hit as high as 103-miles per hour in one game. While he blows away hitters with the powerful fastball, he is learning how to better control his secondary stuff. His changeup is considered an advanced pitch for a player of his experience and his slider is still a work in progress. He ended his year with a brief stint in the Arizona Fall League where he was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA, striking out 11 in 12 innings of work out of the bullpen.
Also throwing heat is left-handed pitcher Rony Bautista, a sleeper prospect if there ever was one. The 24-year old just completed his sixth season in the organization, splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation for the Charleston RiverDogs. At 6-7 he, along with Acevedo, and several others like David Palladino are some of the tallest players in the game. Bautista possess a fastball that has topped out at 97 miles per hour at times but struggles repeating his delivery.
Not to be overlooked is 21-year old Anderson Severino. At 5-foot 10-inches tall he is not the prototypical flamethrower but has a fastball that has reached as high at 96 miles per hour. This past season he made his debut in the United States with the Gulf Coast League where he was 2-3 with a 2.61 ERA, striking out 32 in 41 1/3 innings. Out of the 11 games he pitched in this past year, 9 of them he started with his best game coming on July 18 when he threw 5 1/3 innings allowing no earned runs walking 2 and striking out 6 batters. That was 1 short of his career high of 7 strikes which was on August 15, 2015 in the Dominican Summer League.
The Yankees have had several pleasant surprises this season, the most notable was that of 13th round draft pick Trey Amburgey. Amburgey was selected out of St. Petersburg Community College in Florida and made his professional debut with the Gulf Coast Yankees. In 37 games in the Rookie league he hit .333 with 5 doubles and 4 triples but it was when he earned a promotion to the Staten Island Yankees he took off. Over 21 games in Class-A he hit .367, helping to lead the team into the playoffs. He came out of nowhere to be one of the top power hitters on the team, belting 5 homeruns, hitting 2 triples and 6 doubles while driving in a total of 18 runs.
Meanwhile in Pulaski, Carlos Vidal made his case to be considered one of the Yankees top prospects with a breakout season with the Pulaski Yankees. Vidal just recently turned 20-years old and was making his United States debut in 2015, after making his professional season the year before in the Dominican Summer League. Over 60 games with the Yankees newest Rookie-level affiliate he hit .303 with 15 doubles, 2 triples and 9 homeruns while driving in 46 runs, walking 29 times and stealing 16 bags. His success has drawn early comparisons to former Yankees prospect Ramiro Pena except with more power.
An under-the-radar guy to look out for is 2015 23rd round draft pick Garrett Mundell. Signed out of Fresno State the right-hander made just 18 appearances this past season, throwing 26 innings and has not allowed a run yet as a professional. He struck out 35 batters and walked just 7 between the Pulaski Yankees and Charleston RiverDogs using a fastball in the low-90s that has topped out at 94, a splitter and slider.
A Bright Future
The Yankees are in a position now that their farm system can contribute a mix of impact prospects and solid players at the major league level. Over the next season we expect guys like Webb, Davis, and more to make their MLB debuts but in the years coming the Yankees will find themselves with guys that can fill in roles they need. The farm system has come a long way in a short amount of time, with the front office now behind building from within it is certain that fans will be able to see a consistent contender.