State of the farm system [2019 Season Review]

Home of the RailRiders. (Michael Stokes, CC BY 2.0)

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.

The Risers

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 Disappointments

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.

The jury is still out

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.

Notable Draftees:

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

Alcantara. (Fangraphs)

Rapid-fire time. First, position players:

Kevin Alcantara made his stateside debut and “oozes projection”, per Baseball ProspectusDermis García 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.

Invaluable references:

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Looking Back on the Year that Was

6 Comments

  1. JG (Ben Francisco)

    Definitely a rough year for the farm but Deivi, Schmidt, and getting the Martian salvages it somewhat.

  2. meatface55

    It has to be weird for Park and Holder. They should be in Scranton this year but I am betting that one of them will stay in Trenton unless one of Wade or Estrada makes the big league team. Even with that two of them are going to have to play out of position

  3. Joy Illimited

    Thanks for this excellent work!

  4. This is always my favorite recap, catch up on the year on the farm.

    I don’t think option years burn in the manner you suggest here. Abreu has never been to the majors, thus I think he has 3 option years remaining. The option burns once a player is sent down after a ML stint (right?).

    • Dani

      An option is used once a player is on the 40-man and spends 20 days in the minors. Doesn’t matter if he ever was on the 25-man roster.

    • Derek

      Glad you enjoyed!

      Abreu’s options were burned during/after spring training in each of the last two years. Since all 40-man players are active during camp, they have to be optioned before camp’s end if they are going to the minors. Plus there’s the 20-day rule as Dani commented, for which the clock ticks once a player is optioned.

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