It’s been a couple weeks since our last draft profile, so today we get back on track with Beck Way. The Yankees chose Way with the organization’s fourth round selection, which was also its last in the five round draft. A reminder, for the final time: the Yankees lost their fifth round pick as a result of signing Gerrit Cole. Ho hum.
Way, a 6-foot-4 right handed pitcher, was a quick riser after going undrafted in 2018 as a high schooler. He hails from central Pennsylvania but enrolled at Belmont Abbey, a Division II college located in North Carolina. Way didn’t spend to much time there, however. After spending his freshman year in the bullpen, Way transferred to Northwest Florida State Junior College.
Before we get to his one year in JuCo, we should touch upon Way’s performance in the Cape Cod League last summer. The righty appeared in 11 games, all but one in relief though he never threw more than two innings. He had a hard time with control (11 walks and 2 wild pitches in 13 2/3 innings), but impressed with 18 strikeouts. Various publications, including Baseball America, noted that his performance at the Cape helped Way gain recognition as a potential second or third rounder.
This year, Way got a chance to start primarily in JuCo. In seven games (six starts), Way threw 40 innings and recorded a microscopic 0.67 ERA. His control was much better (9 walks) and his strikeout tally remained excellent (58). The performance was impressive enough that Way committed to LSU for his junior season. That is, before the Yankees drafted him.
From the sound of it, Way is relatively deceptive on the mound. The Athletic’s Keith Law called his delivery “funky” while MLB Pipeline noted his three-quarters arm slot. Perhaps that’s why he struggled with his command in his freshman season and on the Cape, but he’s certainly projectable given his previously noted size.
Way sits in the low-to-mid 90s but can touch as high as 97, per BA. He complements his heater with a slider and changeup, with differing reports on which secondary pitch is better. According to BA, Way’s changeup is a plus pitch, whereas his slighty flashes solid-average but is inconsistent. Meanwhile, MLB Pipeline notes that his slider is the better pitch “when he stays on top of it”. The site also says he doesn’t use his changeup much, but there’s belief it can be an average pitch.
With his frame and three-pitch mix, there’s a chance that Way can be a starter long-term as long as his command remains in check. His JuCo performance as a starter certainly added some hope that he wouldn’t be relegated to relief down the road. Still, Fangraphs and BA both note that he’s probably better off as a reliever (though that’s always a fairly safe thing to say about any draftee pitcher). On the optimistic side, Law says that Way has “clear starter upside”. Further, Law believes that there’s room for velocity growth.
“There’s more in the tank with this guy when we get him in our strength and conditioning program…There’s just there’s a lot of room for growth here.”
And some more input from the Oppenheimer’s standpoint:
“Way made huge strides in Cape Cod last summer where his fastball’s been up to 98. He’s got good command of it to both sides of the plate. He has a loose, easy simple delivery to repeat (his mechanics). He’s got a really dynamic changeup that he feels comfortable using it any in any count. His breaking ball is going to be firmed up with our pitch-design guys and it’s going to be an effective out pitch also.”
Will he sign?
Way is the toughest sign of the Bombers’ three draftees. First rounder Austin Wells already signed for $2.5 million, which was just barely over slot. That leaves the Yankees with roughly $1,026,000 to play with for Hauver and Way. Slot value for Way is $438,700, but it’ll probably take more to keep him away from his LSU commitment. When I profiled Hauver, I noted that he seemed like an underslot candidate given that he was a college junior. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
The Yankees seem to make mountains out of molehills when it comes to college arms, so it’s hard not to give them the benefit of the doubt here. Way checks a lot of boxes: he’s tall, projectable, and already throws pretty hard. It certainly sounds like that’ll play in relief at the least, which would be a success for any fourth round pick. At best, it sounds like the Yankees might have a mid-to-back of the rotation starter on their hands. Of course, first the Yankees need to sign him away from his commitment.
After taking a college hitter with the organization’s first round pick, the Yankees did the same with its next selection. With no second round pick (thanks, Gerrit Cole!), the Yankees waited a long time to choose again after Austin Wells. Finally, in the third round, the Yankees drafted Arizona State outfielder Trevor Hauver with the 99th overall pick. Hauver was actually announced a second baseman, but we’ll get more into that in a bit. Let’s dive in to Hauver, who thankfully isn’t Trevor Bauer.
Hauver, a 21 year-old junior draftee, swings from the left side and throws from the right. This isn’t his first draft rodeo: the Royals took him in the 37th round back in 2017 following a strong high school career at Perry in Gilbert, Arizona. Perfect Game pegged Hauver as the state’s top shortstop, fourth-best prospect in Arizona, and 169th nationally. Rather than sign, Hauver chose to remain close to home and headed to Arizona State.
It took some time for Hauver to adjust to the collegiate ranks. As a freshman, he hit just .227/.344/.293 in 90 plate appearances. Perhaps some of his struggles can be linked to his positional switch, as he moved off of shortstop to play the outfield.
His freshman slump didn’t carry over to his sophomore season. Hauver spent most of the season in the leadoff spot and recorded an impressive .339/.433/.574 triple-slash along with 13 dingers in 289 plate appearances. Then, in his brief junior year, the left-handed hitter socked 5 homers in 83 trips to the dish while hitting .339/.494/.695.
Even though Hauver had a very good finish to his Arizona State career, he wasn’t close to being the Sun Devils’ best professional prospect. Spencer Torkelson (1st overall) and Alika Williams (37th) were off the board before Hauver’s name was called. Even Gage Workman, taken three picks after Hauver, probably is a better prospect depending on the publication of your choice. That said, for what it’s worth, Hauver was a better performer than Williams and Workman. Torkelson, of course, was on another level.
What the scouts say
From a big board perspective, Hauver could be considered a reach for pick number 99. Fangraphs, MLB Pipeline, and Baseball America ranked Hauver the 107th, 130th, and 201st best prospect in the 2020 draft. Those sites ranked the Yankees’ fourth rounder, Beck Way, higher than Hauver. Of course, the draft isn’t always about picking the best available given the bonus pool rules.
Hauver has some similarities to the Yankees’ first rounder, Wells. Now, the bat isn’t up to par with Wells, but Hauver is a bat-first prospect with defensive uncertainty. Moving off the infield as a freshman is already strike one. Strike two: Baseball America calls Hauver “an average defender or a tick below, with not enough range for center field or enough arm for right field”. If the infield is his end game, MLB Pipeline indicates that second base is the most likely landing spot. Hence the Yankees’ announcement of his position.
Fortunately, things look better for Hauver in the batters’ box. Scouts laud Hauver’s approach and barrel control. Both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline project him to have average game power or better, while Fangraphs adds that his swing has a lot of lift. That sort of offensive profile works well at second base, but would make him fringy in left field. Unsurprisingly, the Yankees want to give Hauver every opportunity to stick in the infield dirt. Damon Opponheimer elaborates:
“The idea is if he can play in the middle of the field and we can get that to be something that’s a doable thing, then you add his bat to the middle of the field,” Oppenheimer said. “It can make him even that more valuable. He’s got a desire to move back to the infield.”
On top of the keystone, the Yankees will give Hauver some reps at third base. Considering Baseball America’s note about his arm strength, it’s hard to envision him at the hot corner. Either way, second base seems to align best with Hauver’s defensive capabilities and offensive potential. The good news is that he still has plenty of time to fend off the third strike defensively.
Will he sign?
There’s little incentive for Hauver to return for a senior season, so I’d expect him to go pro. The 99th pick’s slot value is $587,400, but an underslot deal seems plausible considering his draft stock.
There’s a Nick Solak and Josh Smith vibe to this Hauver pick. Both Solak (2016) and Smith (2019) are recent collegiate bat-first middle infielders that the Yankees took in an early round (both Solak and Smith were second rounders). Solak, now with the Rangers, has hit well in his brief big league career while Smith raked in his professional debut with Staten Island last summer.
The Yankees seemingly have done well with this type of selection in recent years. That said, it’s somewhat concerning that Hauver is a tweener. He played just one game in the infield at Arizona State over three years, so the Yankees have some work to do to get him comfortable on the dirt again. And really, he’ll have to stick at second base for his bat to be playable.
With Spring Training upon us on Wednesday, it’s yet again time for another round of prospect rankings and evaluations. Baseball America (subs req’d), Baseball Prospectus (subs req’d), and MLB.com’s Pipeline all released their Top 100 prospect lists in the last few weeks. As you can imagine, each of those lists included some Yankees.
As with all prospect rankings and projection, there is a good amount of guesswork involved. Even the very best scouts/analysts are often very wrong with prospects – baseball is a tough game even for those born with the tools –and therefore, there is always a wide range of opinions and projections. With that in mind, here is what the experts are saying about the Yankees’ system and a few holistic takeaways at the end.
What They’re Saying
Of course, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus’ lists are each behind a paywall, so I’m only going to stick to the basics for those. (You should be subscribing to both sites, if you can. They’re worth it.) Here is what they say about the Yankees:
Jasson Dominguez (38): The 17-year-old phenom has a MLB ETA of 2024, with BA noting that “his combination of elite tools, athleticism and performance have him primed to follow the path of Ronald Acuña, Juan Soto and other international stars who raced to the majors by the time they were 20.”
Clarke Schmidt (62): BA argues that the soon-to-be 24-year-old can make his MLB debut in 2021 after “showing his full potential” in 2019.
Deivi Garcia (65): Everyone’s favorite prospect phenom actually ranks as the second-best pitcher in the Yankees system, per BA, due to his small frame “raising questions” about his ability to remain in the rotation long-term. Still, they expect Deivi to make his debut in 2020.
Deivi Garcia (24): In a chat following the list’s publication, BP lead prospect writer Jeff Paternostro expressed surprise that they were much higher on Deivi than others in the industry. He said that his “curve has been a monster for two years, the velocity has steadily increased and he’s added a good slider, and the change is fine”, later adding that “he looked like a potential top of the rotation starter on our staff live looks.”
Jasson Dominguez (46): BP routinely argues that it is uncomfortable ranking J2 prospects given the lack of information and often misleading J2 scouting reports. They included Jasson because “the recent success of Wander Franco, Julio Rodriquez, and Marco Luciano does provide more confidence in reports surrounding The Martian.”
Jasson Dominguez (54): MLB’s scouting report on Dominguez is glowing, saying that “a scout willing to be aggressive could grade each of Dominguez’s five tools as well above average, and his instincts are nearly as impressive as his physical ability. He’s a switch-hitter who’s loaded with bat speed and strength. He has a smooth swing from both sides of the plate, advanced feel for the barrel and a disciplined approach, so he should hit for power and average.” Sign me up!
Clarke Schmidt (88): Also high on Schmidt, MLB says that he “has three pitches that grade as plus at their best, and his slider did as well before he scrapped it to focus on his curveball. He uses two- and four-seam fastballs, ranging from 92-97 mph with heavy sink on the former and cut and carry on the latter. His tumbling changeup bottoms out at the plate and his low-80s curve features good depth.”
Deivi Garcia (92): According to MLB, Garcia has “one of the best breaking balls in the Minors, a high-spin curveball with so much depth that he sometimes has difficulty landing it for strikes. He also dodges bats with a fastball that ranges from 91-97 mph with high spin rates that give it riding life up in the strike zone. He added a mid-80s slider in 2019 to give batters a different look, and he also flashes a solid changeup with fading action.” Still, concerns about his size place him below Schmidt on the list.
Believe it or not, there actually was a bit of consensus on the Yankees’ best prospects, huh? Granted, each of the major outlets obviously had varying opinions, but there were no real surprises. I think there’s enough here to draw a few conclusions:
1. The Jasson Dominguez Hype is Real: It only feels natural to start with Jasson. We’re going to be hearing a lot about him in the next few years. In that sense, he reminds me a lot of Gary Sánchez. It felt like we were reading about The Kraken for a decade before he made his debut in 2016. There is one big difference, though: it won’t take Jasson seven years to make his debut. (Gary signed with New York as a 15-year-old back in 2009.) It feels like a broad consensus at this point that Jasson will follow the Acuña fast-track if all goes well. That’s pretty exciting.
Nearly everyone glows about his physical tools. Danny Rowland, the Yankees’ international scouting director, is even on record as saying that Dominguez has “possibly the best combination of tools, athleticism, and performance” that he’s ever seen. The Yankees have also repeatedly said that if you took the best tools of every other position player in the system and molded them into one player, you’d get Jasson. That is, uh, high praise! It’s also the only reason to spend your entire $5 million pool on one guy.
It seems as though the major scouts agree, too. Each of the scouting reports are glowing – as is everything we’ve ever read about him – and it is difficult not to get excited. We’ve now seen a number of young Latin American prospects fly through the minors, many of whom are some of the game’s brightest stars. And, I mean, it’s easy to see why people are enamored with him. Look at a screengrab of a recent interview with him:
It’s not too difficult to see why people expect him to fly through the lower minors at least. Still, it’s worth noting that BP’s skepticism is warranted. He’s never played a professional game and there is a lot yet to learn about Dominguez. For, now, though the hype is real. Here’s the MLB.com video that’s the source of the screengrab:
2. There is Deivi Consensus (Kind of): Everyone agrees that Deivi Garcia has MLB-caliber stuff. In fact, that sounds like an excuse to post one of my favorite gifs:
I could watch that curve all day. Thanks to the Future’s Game, we know that Garcia’s curve clocks in at 78-80 mph and it’s long been an open secret that it has a very high spin rate. His curve, along with his new slider and good fastball, are why he struck out so many batters last year. As a 20-year-old, his strikeout rate (32%) ranked 2nd among all pitchers in Double-A and Triple-A last season. Pretty good! In any case, nobody doubts the stuff. (He got hit around in Triple-A, but he’s young. I don’t think that raised too many red flags.)
The only question — one with no real answer yet — is whether he’ll be in the rotation or bullpen long term. I admit that I’m biased: to me, the results are the results. I don’t put a lot of stock into the “oh, he’s short” argument. But, at the same time, I get it. The list of successful pitchers 5’9 or shorter is, uh, short.
Thanks to Play Index, I sorted the best pitchers 5’9 or shorter (MLB.com lists Deivi as 5’9) by their career bWAR. To qualify, pitchers had to be under 69 inches and have 75% of their appearances be as a starter. Here’s the list:
Bullet Joe Bush
Not exactly an inspiring list! It’s a bit more generous at 5’10 (Tom Gordon) or 5’11 (Pedro) but yeah. There’s not a huge sample here. All of this is to say that it makes sense for there to be some doubt. The 2020 season will be an important one for Deivi’s future.
3. Clarke Schmidt is Divisive: So, what about Clarke Schmidt? He doesn’t appear at all on BP’s list but ranks higher than Deivi on both MLB.com and BA’s rankings. It’s interesting! And it’s part of a larger trend, with BP much more sour on Schmidt than their peers. They even ranked him as a future reliever in their midseason rankings.
Like Deivi, though, Schmidt has great stuff, but there are questions. He’s had a lengthy injury history (Tommy John weeks before the draft plus other injuries) and is absolutely a high-risk, high-reward type pitcher. I’m personally not sure what to make of him. Occam’s razor, though, tells us to be at least interested in Schmidt. His stuff is obviously very good and I’m very excited to see what the new pitching apparatus will do with it.
Overall, he’s one of the few potential impact prospects in the upper levels of the Yankees’ system. If all goes well, he’ll earn a call-up to Triple-A sometime in the season and possibly even suit up in the Bronx when rosters expand. That’s pretty neat! Here’s some video:
So, that’s about where things stand with the Yankees’ high-impact prospects. There are few surprises — nearly everyone agrees on who they are — and both Deivi and Schmidt could potentially make a Bronx impact this year. That’s where things stand going into camp with the best in the system. We’ll have more coverage of other top prospects in the system in the next few days. Get ready, everyone. Prime prospect watching season is nearly here.
If there’s one thing you can say about the Yankees, it’s that team leadership continues to push things forward despite its success. The team won 103 games last year — its most in a decade — but that has not stopped the team from making major institutional changes in the last several weeks. Last week’s overhaul of the strength and conditioning program, coupled with the Matt Blake hire, obviously stand out. The reality, though, is that these are just two moves in a flurry of changes that has now been going on for at least the last year.
It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees when looking at these moves independently. It’s important to take a step back and take a holistic view of these changes for a clear sense of these changes and what they could mean. To that end, I’ve put together an overview here that details the overhauls as it relates to the team’s hitting apparatus, pitching apparatus, and its strength and conditioning. (Please let me know if I’ve missed anything significant and I’ll add it.) When you look at it all, you see that the Yankees are continuing to push the boundaries at every level they can.
Last year, Brian Cashman said that “there are loads of technology and analytics and data which we are on top of. What we are not on top of, we will close the gap.’’ As I think is pretty obviously clear, staying on top of things is the modus operandi of the Yankees these days. Let’s walk through this.
The Yankees began transforming their pitching infrastructure back in February, when they hired Desi Druschel to serve as Manager of Pitch Development. Desi, who joined the organization by way of the University of Iowa, is considered a leading thinker at the intersection of technology and pitching. At Iowa, he implemented innovative new programs to develop his pitchers, which you can read about here.
Shortly after the move, Danny Borrell, the team’s well-regarded MiLB Pitching Coordinator, left the organization for Georgia Tech. (Obviously, this was a good opportunity for him and may not have had anything to do with Briend.) Numerous other changes followed, including:
Larry Rothschild: MLB Pitching Coach
Scott Aldred: Pitching Coordinator, High-Minors
Tim Norton: Pitching Coach, Double-A Trenton Thunder
Gabe Luckert: Pitching Coach, Low-A Charleston Riverdogs
Justin Pope: Pitching Coach, Gulf Coast Yankees
One interesting note here: the team kept Joe Migliacco, the Tarpons’ pitching coach, on board. Migliacco came with Drushel from Iowa; he’s presumably of a similar analytic cloth. The team hired Brett DeGagne to serve as an MiLB pitching coach. I don’t believe there have been any other announcements about who is filling the MiLB gaps — we should get those soon — but I think we have a good sense here of the mold of those future coaches. They will be like Briend, Blake, and Drushel. Forward-thinkers, data-heavy, etc.
The changes to the pitching structure are surely more complete, but the Yanks also made changes to their offensive development tree. That begins with Dillon Lawson, who became their MiLB hitting coordinator last year. He came to the Yankees by way of the Astros, where a colleague called him “the hitting coach of the future.”
Lawson preaches patience and pitch recognition. Multiple levels of Yankee affiliates credited him for better approaches at the plate in 2019. Said Staten Island hitting coach Ken Joyce:
“That’s been the approach since spring training started. We have a new hitting coordinator in Dillon Lawson that has brought in the philosophy to teach the strike zone and look for better pitches and do damage when we get them.”
At this point, it should go without saying that Lawson is a data-driven thinker. That’s the Yankees’ way, after all. He recently made the news when the Yankees hired Rachel Balkovec as a MiLB hitting coach. She is the first woman to be a professional full-time hitting coach — and, you guessed it, she has an eye for analytics. Like Briend and Lawson, she hails from a Driveline background. She also focuses on pitch tracking for hitters, which is also similar to Lawson.
She told the New York Times that she was “blown away by the Yankees hitting staff” during the interview process, adding that “they are making aggressive operational changes to compete in the rapidly changing landscape of player development.”
These changes are not as stark as on the pitching side, but they are changes nonetheless. The team is continuing to add new talent to its player development apparatus — even though they’ve been one of the best in the league at producing MLB hitters.
Strength & Conditioning
This brings us to this weekend’s news. Eric Cressey is now heading the strength and conditioning department. Steve Donahue is now “trainer emeritus.” Michael Schuk is the new head trainer. Two other coaches remained on staff, with other changes. We covered it all here, so check that out for more.
As you probably guessed, Cressey is a leader in his field. By all accounts, multiple teams were in on him. This is obviously the area where the Yankees had the most to gain and they went out and got the big fish in the sea. That’s good news. There’s not much more to say here that hasn’t been said already, but I think this move is clearly a part of a well-established pattern. We’ll have to see how it works out.
Overall, this is a pretty striking set of adjustments to make for a team that has been a few outs away from the World Series twice in the last three seasons — success that comes largely on the back of players that were developed just before these changes. Major changes have now come at nearly every level and across every department. (They have been for decades, really.) This does not even count the Tanner Swanson hire, who is the new catching coordinator and quality control coach. He is known for his progressive views on pitch framing.
We don’t have the level of information needed to have solid opinions here, though. All of this sounds good on paper — I suspect it will all work out just fine — but who knows?
Anyway, I think this is good. A bad organization is a stagnant one, after all. And no matter what else you can say about the Yankees — you definitely cannot say that they have been stagnant.
With 2019 coming to a close, so does our season review series. We’ve covered everything on the Major League side of things, but now, let’s get to what happened down on the farm in 2019.
Not only did Deivi García climb the ladder from High-A to Triple-A this season, he also leaped up prospect lists. Though he ran into some trouble with the MLB ball at Triple-A, the righty was awfully impressive, especially for a 20 year-old. Overall, he threw 111 1/3 innings across three levels and had a 4.28 ERA and 3.28 FIP. He walked a few too many (11.1 percent), but had a ridiculous 34 percent strikeout rate. García was in major league bullpen consideration by the end of 2019, but ultimately didn’t get an opportunity. We may see him with the Yankees next season, especially now that he’s on the 40-man. For the time being, he should start 2020 at Triple-A Scranton.
Clarke Schmidt‘s first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2017 was impressive. The former first rounder topped out at Double-A and pitched to a 3.47 ERA and 2.68 FIP in 90 2/3 innings pitched. The soon-to-be 24 year-old righty will be back in Trenton to start 2020, but could move quickly. One more interesting note: Baseball America prefers Schmidt to García and has the former as the Yankees’ second-best prospect.
Once a little-known rookie baller in Minnesota’s organization, Luis Gil has developed into a top prospect and is now on the Yankees’ 40-man roster. He’s still a ways away from the bigs as the 21 year-old made just three starts at High-A in 2019. Nonetheless, he was overpowering: Gil allowed only one homer in 96 innings between Charleston and Tampa this season and posted a 2.72 ERA and 2.66 FIP in 96 innings. He walked too many (11.6 percent), but struck out plenty (30.2 percent). There’s still a few more years of development to go for the hard-throwing righty, but it’s safe to say he was a steal in exchange for Jake Cave.
2017’s fourth-rounder Canaan Smith had a big season with Charleston. After an ugly .191/.281/.316 (81 wRC+) in Staten Island a year prior, Smith broke out in Single-A and hit .307/.405/.465 (154 wRC+) in 528 plate appearances. The left fielder also launched 11 homers and swiped 16 bags. Expect the 20 year-old to jump to High-A Tampa next year, perhaps finishing up with Trenton in Double-A.
The Yankees acquired Josh Stowers from the Mariners in exchange for Shed Long, who the Yanks initially acquired for Sonny Gray. Stowers split time in center and right field in Charleston and put together a nice offesnive campaign. The former second round pick for Seattle in 2018 batted .273/.386/.400 (135 wRC+) for the RiverDogs and stole 35 bases. High-A Tampa is the logical next step for 2020.
Ezequiel Duran put on an impressive power display as a 20 year-old in the New York-Penn League. The second baseman swatted 13 dingers in just 277 plate appearances and had a .256/.329/.496 (143 wRC+) batting line. He’ll need to cut down on strikeouts (27.8 percent), but his raw power and solid glovework at the keystone make him someone to watch. He should get his first taste of full season ball in 2020.
Garrett Whitlock was terrific in Double-A Trenton before succumbing to the dreaded Tommy John surgery. The 6-foot-5 righty had a 3.07 ERA and 3.14 FIP in 70 1/3 innings for Double-A Trenton, putting him on the doorstep for a promotion to Triple-A and also not too far from the majors. Such a performance had already made Whitlock an unabashed success for an 18th rounder. Alas, we probably won’t see him again until 2021. He’s Rule 5 eligible after the 2020 season.
In a mildly surprising decision, the Yankees added Miguel Yajure to the 40-man roster last month. He had a fantastic 2019 mostly at High-A Tampa, but did make his final two starts at Double-A. Overall, the 21 year-old had a 2.14 ERA and 2.65 FIP in 138 2/3 innings. The righty isn’t overpowering, but is known for good control (5.4 percent walk rate). He should spend most of 2020 with the Thunder in Double-A.
The clock is ticking on Estevan Florial. The tools are omnipresent, but he once again struggled to take a step forward. Part of the problem was injured again. Last year, Florial missed significant time after a broken hamate in his hand. This year, he fractured his wrist in Spring Training and didn’t start his season until June. Once healthy, the just-turned-22 center fielder hit .237/.297/.383 (101 wRC+) during his second stint with High-A Tampa. There’s still time for him to right the ship, but he’ll need to start producing and stay healthy. He’s on the 40-man roster now, so he’s going to burn his first option year in 2020. Odds are he starts off in Tampa once more.
Not much good happened for 2018 first-rounder Anthony Seigler. A quad strain delayed the start of the catcher’s season — he joined Charleston in June. Unfortunately, the backstop’s time there didn’t last long as a cross-up resulted in a patella fracture. In 120 plate appearances, Seigler hit a paltry .175/.328/.206 with just three extra base hits, all doubles. Also of note: Seigler had a Brian McCann-Carlos Gómez moment after taking exception to a batter’s reaction after hitting a homer. The 20 year-old switch-hitter should be back in Charleston next year with a clean slate.
After such an impressive stateside debut in 2018, Antonio Cabello floundered in 2019. The jump from the GCL to Pulaski wasn’t kind to the 19 year-old outfielder, who hit .211/.280/.330 (70 wRC+) in 56 games. A dislocated shoulder late in 2018 may be partially blameworthy for a rough 2019. Another look with Pulaski seems likely in 2020.
Everson Pereira had a tough time in Staten Island this summer. The 18 year-old outielder struck out 35.1 percent of the time and owned a .171/.216/.257 (46 wRC+) batting line in 74 plate appearances. He still has plenty of time to turn things around and show why the Yankees paid him a $1.5 million bonus to sign out of Venezuela in 2017. Perhaps another turn in Staten Island is in order next summer.
Brandon Wagner cratered after a huge offensive campaign in 2018 for Tampa. That year, the lefty-swinging first baseman slugged 20 homers in 87 games at the level and posted a 154 wRC+. He didn’t fare quite as well after a mid-season promotion to Trenton, but it wasn’t a big deal. But this year, in a full season with the Thunder, Wagner didn’t hit for power (8 homers in 456 plate appearances) and struck out 32.2 percent of the time. He hit just .177/.289/.279 (74 wRC+). As a result, the Yankees didn’t protect the 24 year-old from the Rule 5 draft, but it didn’t matter. 2015’s sixth-round pick will need to turn things around next season, likely once more in Double-A.
Luis Medina turned his season around at a moment’s notice and is now on the 40-man roster because of it. We’ve been waiting for him to unlock his potential for a few years now, but nothing clicked until late this summer. In his first 14 starts, Medina had a 8.38 ERA and 6.33 FIP in 58 innings. His biggest issue was control — he walked 55 batters in that period. But after, the 20 year-old flamethrower dominated. He started eight more games — six for Tampa and two for Trenton — and had a 1.77 and 2.02 FIP ERA in 45 2/3 innings. He started throwing more strikes while mowing down opponents (35.2 percent strikeout rate and 8.4 percent walk rate). It’s hard to rush to judgement after such a short period of success, but it’s also difficult to temper enthusiasm for Medina. He’ll be in Trenton come springtime.
The Yankees took Matt Sauer with the team’s second round selection in 2017, but he’s yet to eclipse 90 total innings since then. He had a solid year with Staten Island in 2018 and had hoped to build on it with Charleston this year. Alas, the 20 year-old righty made just two starts before his season ended. Tommy John surgery will likely keep him out of action for most, if not all, of 2020.
It’s not clear what Trevor Stephan‘s long-term role will be. The Yankees have kept him as a starter, but he may be better off as a multi-inning reliever out of the Chad Green mold. Stephan stalled a bit this season: he spent most of 2018 in Double-A Trenton and began there once more in 2019, but was demoted midway through the year. He regained success in High-A Tampa and returned to Trenton for his last two outings of the season. And those last two starts for the Thunder were good: nine innings, three walks, fourteen strikeouts, and one run allowed. As a 24 year-old who’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft next offseason, Stephan will need to force the issue in 2020. As such, a move to the bullpen could be in the cards.
Albert Abreu will burn his final minor league option in 2020, making this upcoming campaign a pivotal one. His stuff is ridiculous — he can hit 101 on the gun and a nasty curveball — but he often doesn’t know where it’s going. This year, he threw 96 2/3 innings for Trenton to a 4.28 ERA and 4.36 FIP. Somehow, in spite of his arsenal, he only struck out 20.7 percent of opponents. The Yankees may be a little more aggressive with him next year since it’ll be the team’s last chance to freely option him to the minors. Maybe he gets one more go of it as a starter, at least to begin the year, but he probably winds up in the bullpen for Scranton (or the Yankees?) before season’s end. Surely other teams have called about him as a bullpen acquisition target, too.
I’m not going to get to everyone here, obviously, but the Yankees’ first four selections in the 2019 draft are worth commenting on.
This year’s first round pick, Anthony Volpe, made his professional debut with the rookie-level Pulaski Yankees. There’s no reason to make much of his .215/.349/.355 (102 wRC+) performance in just 150 plate appearances. The 18 year-old will probably begin next season in extended spring training before perhaps returning to Pulaski, or more aggressively, Staten Island.
TJ Sikkema was terrific in his brief professional debut with Staten Island. In 10 2/3 innings, the southpaw allowed just one run and struck out 13 batters. As a college draftee, Sikkema could move quickly next summer. We may see the 38th overall selection in High-A, or even Double-A, before the end of 2020.
Second rounder Josh Smith absolutely destroyed New York-Penn League pitching after signing. In 141 plate appearances with Staten Island, the middle infielder hit .324/.450/.477 (177 wRC+). Charleston or Tampa seem to be logical landing spots for him in 2020.
Power-hitting third rounder Jacob Sanford struck out a bunch (32.5 percent) in 249 plate appearances for Staten Island, but also blasted 7 homers en route to a .238/.289/.411 (109 wRC+). He’s a major project for player development, but his left-handed raw power is tantalizing. The 22 year-old outfielder may need another look in Staten Island before moving up to full season ball.
Others of Note
Rapid-fire time. First, position players:
Kevin Alcantara made his stateside debut and “oozes projection”, per Baseball Prospectus…DermisGarcía continued to hit for power but still struck out too much, and prospect fatigue has assuredly set in…Catcher Josh Breaux, the team’s second rounder in 2018, posted an impressive 141 wRC+ in Charleston…Last year’s third-rounder Ryder Green held his own in Pulaski (117 wRC+)…19 year-old shortstop Oswald Peraza split time between Staten Island and Charleston and held his own (103 wRC+) while making plenty of contact (12.6 percent strikeout rate)…Kyle Holder, a defensive wizard at shortstop, hit well at Double-A (119 wRC+) and was Rule 5 eligible this winter, but was not protected nor selected…Hoy-Jun Park had a nice season with Trenton as well (120 wRC+), though more power would help (.099 ISO)…25 year-old first baseman Chris Gittens won the Eastern League MVP award after he posted a .281/.393/.500 (164 wRC+) for Trenton…All of us eagerly await the debut of Jasson Dominguez.
And now, the pitchers:
Michael King made his major league debut in September after missing most of the season, but figures to get some big league starts in 2020…Roansy Contreras posted an impressive 3.33 ERA and 3.67 FIP in over 130 innings for Charleston as a 19 year-old…Yoendrys Gomez made six starts apiece for Pulaski and Charleston and had a nearly identical ERA (3.99) and FIP (4.00)…Nick Nelson, a recent 40-man addition, was stellar in just under 90 innings between Trenton and Scranton (2.81 ERA/3.22 FIP)…Last year’s fourth-rounder Frank German missed time with arm issues, but still pumped out 76 innings for High-A Tampa with an impressive 25.3 percent strikeout rate…Six-foot-eight Freicer Perez didn’t pitch this season due to an undisclosed shoulder injury…Reliever Brooks Kriske got a spot on the 40-man after dominating in relief for Tampa and Trenton…Alexander Vizcaino made prospect list waves after impressive 26.1 percent and 7.8 percent strikeout and walk rates, respectively, combined between Charleston and Tampa.