Over the past few years, the Yankees system’s strength was definitely in the catching department, with players such as Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, John Ryan Murphy and Luis Torrens.
Yet, the Yankees signed Brian McCann, a former Atlanta Braves All-Star, to a long-term contract, and traded Francisco Cervelli to Pittsburgh, where he had an outstanding season as a starter on a team that won 98 games, for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson, who also registered a solid campaign in The Bronx.
Left with McCann, Romine and Sanchez on their 40-man roster, and with Torrens coming back from shoulder surgery and remaining a top prospect, the Yankees, even with the trade of Murphy to Minnesota for outfielder Aaron Hicks, are well-stocked with backstops.
The same pattern is emerging at shortstop, with Jorge Mateo, Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, Abiatal Avelino and Kyle Holder listed on many Yankees top-prospect lists that are emerging around this time. Mateo is recognized as a top prospect universally, but the others all have strengths and could eventually play in the majors.
So naturally the question, as it was the past few years with the catching, is what do the Yankees of with shortstop depth? Not all of the above-mentioned shortstops will play with the Yankees – and there are others such as international signee Dermis Garcia, who has soft hands, but is physically outgrowing the position.
Bear in mind also, Didi Gregorius, who is 25 and played at All-Star level the second half of 2015, is under Yankees control through the 2019 season.
Obviously this is an area the Yankees will look at as far as trades are concerned. How valuable are these prospects? Let’s take an educated guess:
Jorge Mateo – The Yankees know the 20-year-old – he does not turn 21 until next June 23 – would bring a carload of talent if put on the trade block, but it is doubtful that would ever happen. The native of Santo Domingo, D,R., is the type of game-changer not often seen.
The legitimate debate in the South Atlantic League last summer was who was the Class-A circuit’s best player – Mateo or Boston signee Yoan Moncada, who cost the Red Sox 20 times what Mateo did the Yankees. He hit .268 (98-for-365) with 18 doubles, eight triples and 71 steals in 86 attempts in 96 Charleston games and disrupted all opponents.
Mateo then went on to bat .321 (27-for-84) in 21 Tampa games and added 11 more steals for an MILB-leading 82. He did commit 30 errors at the two stops, but remember Derek Jeter had 56 at Class-A Greensboro in 1993 at the same juncture of his career.
“A lot of us expected the Yankees to start Mateo in a short-season league,” said a scout from a National League team. “They challenged him with Charleston, and he was a dominating performer on the bases. The kid is a special talent.”
Expect Mateo to start 2016 at Tampa, then advance to Double-A Trenton. He could push for big-league playing time by 2017, perhaps astride Gregorius in the same infield.
Tyler Wade – The native of Murrieta, Calif., earned a promotion to Double-A Trenton the last month of the 2015 season despite committing 24 errors in 71 starts at Tampa.
“I was pressing too much, trying to make plays I really couldn’t,” said the personable Wade. “I’m glad I got the promotion and I am trying to relax here (Trenton).” Wade made seven errors in 28 Trenton starts, but hit just .,204 (23-for-113) with the Thunder. The 2013 fourth-round pick may have been pressing with Trenton as well.
He’ll get a fresh start at Trenton in 2016, but Mateo will be on his heels. What his future in the organization is will likely come into focus then.
Thairo Estrada – He won’t turn 20 until next Feb. 22 and, after two stints at Staten Island, the most extensive in 2015, when he hit .267 (66-for-247) in 63 games. Estrada started at second base in 45 of them and played well in the field with just 11 errors at the two positions. He is ready for a full-season shot at Charleston and, if he plays solidly at both second and short, could prove valuable to both the Yankees and as a trade chip.
Abiatal Avelino – Avelino, who has a good bat – his career avenge in 292 games is .272 (316-for-1,159) – made 58 starts at second base in Tampa last season. Chances are, with Mateo at shortstop, he’ll stay at second base for 2016 at Tampa, and may be get a shot at Trenton later in the season. He has also played third base, He’ll only turn 21 Feb. 14 and, while he fell off to .252 (102-for-405) in 103 Tampa games, he also stole 38 bases. It would not surprise if he was included in a trade package.
Kyle Holder – A native of San Diego and the Yankees’ top draft pick in 2015 as the 30th selection out of the University of San Diego, Holder gets high marks from some. He hit just .213 (48-for-225) in 56 Staten Island games after looking much better at the plate in college, A lefty hitter, he does not strike out. Holder can be given a pass on his first season. He will turn 22 next May 25 and will get a long look as a first-round draft pick.
An assignment to Charleston would answer whether or not he is another Cito Culver. The Yankees brass thinks not.