After a long, pandemic-filled year, Minor League Baseball is back once more. Last year’s baseball season was odd for too many reasons to list, but it was especially odd to not have any MiLB baseball to follow. Keeping up with the latest and greatest in Yankee prospects is one of the best parts of any season – at least to me.
So while it’s hard to believe that Views hasn’t filed a DoTF piece since October 29, 2019, that changes tonight: DoTF will make its triumphant return tonight and every night thereafter until the season wraps in September. Before we get to that, though, there are a lot of storylines and players to keep follow this season. This is a long way of saying that I have a lot of thoughts. Let’s get right to ’em.
1. A New Minor League Structure: I hinted at this yesterday, when I gave a quick reaction to the released rosters, but wanted to expand on it more fully today. Minor League Baseball looks a lot different in 2021. A lot different. It feels like a lifetime ago now, but we first got word of this back in October 2019, when The New York Times broke a story about MLB’s plans to shorten the draft and remove the affiliation of 40 teams across the country. If this sort of thing matters to you, it was a Jeff Luhnow and Houston Astros driven initiative. It was met with stiff resistance from folks ranging from Senator Bernie Sanders to New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden.
Undeterred, MLB essentially implemented the proposal this year, reducing the number of affiliated teams from 160 to 120 and reshuffling those that remained into four levels: Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, and Low-A. I hate this – many of these teams have been around for decades – and think it is a foolish move from the league. For many communities, affiliated MiLB teams are the gateway into baseball fandom. My personal take is that MLB should try to grow the game, not contract it, but whatever. I am just a nobody. For what it’s worth, you can read MLB’s justification, which includes better training facilities for players (good) and higher pay (better), here.
Anyway, the point is that the Yankees minor league season is going to look a lot different in 2021. Gone are the Trenton Thunder, Charleston RiverDogs, and Staten Island Yankees, and there are fewer lower-level affiliates overall. Here are the new Yankee-affiliated MiLB teams, as a reminder:
- Triple-A: Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (International League)
- Double-A: Somerset Patriots (Eastern League)
- High-A: Hudson Valley Renegades (South Atlantic League)
- Low-A: Tampa Tarpons (Florida State League)
So, that’s pretty weird! But it is what it is. Yankees Minor League Baseball is back, and that’s pretty cool.
2. Minor League Rule Changes: The restructuring wasn’t all the tinkering that happened, though. As always, the league is using the minors as a petri dish for future rule changes at the big league level. It’s where they test out ideas and see how they work out in practice. There are a bunch of interesting ones, with each level getting a different suite of changes:
- Triple-A: Larger, less slippery bases (the bases will be 18 inches on each side as opposed to 15 inches)
- Double-A: A new way to ban the shift, requiring infielders to have their cleats within the outer boundary of the infield dirt
- High-A: Pitchers have to step off the rubber to attempt a pick-off
- All of Low-A: No more than 2 pickoff attempts per plate appearance
- Low-A West: 15-second pitch clock
- Low-A Southeast: robot umps calling balls and strikes
Like I said, some interesting ones. I would have never thought of changing the size of the bases, but the league claims that it will reduce contact at the bases and reduce the risk of injury. They also say it will perform better in wet weather. We’ll see, I guess. As for the rest, they’re all pretty standard “speed up the game” tools. Limiting pickoffs, pitch clocks, etc. More of the same.
The two interesting ones, obviously, are the shift – although it’s different than previous versions of “banning the shift” – and the robot umps. We’ve seen robot umps in the Arizona Fall League before, but this will be over the course of a full professional season. They’re using Hawk-Eye, for those who care about such things. It’ll be interesting, to say the least.
3. State of the Yankee System: Alright, so, with all of that out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff. It’s been a while since we checked in on the Yankee farm system. Rohan took a good look at many of the Yanks’ top prospects before Spring Training, and that’s a pretty good refresher. Be sure to check that out if you missed it.
Overall, the Yankees have a middling farm system. (They’re ranked #18 by Baseball America, for example.) That’s not because they have bad players or lack talent, mind you. It’s because they’ve graduated so many MLB-caliber players lately. The Yankees churn out plus relief arms, and a good portion of their everyday roster comes from within the organization, too. Eventually, that takes a toll – especially when the organization never gets an early round draft pick to restock the farm.
Most of their talent is concentrated at the lower levels of the farm, and it’s focused heavily on the upside. This is well reflected in the Top 100 lists compiled by our public prospect experts. Here is a summary of how the Yankees fare on each of those lists:
- The Athletic: 3 total. Clarke Schmidt (48), Jasson Dominguez (66), Deivi García (81). You can view the full list here. (subs req’d)
- Baseball America: 3 total. Jasson Dominguez (26), Deivi Garcia (48), Clarke Schmidt (56) You can view the full list here. (subs req’d)
- Baseball Prospectus: 3 total. Deivi García (17), Jasson Dominguez (59), Clarke Schmidt (96). You can view the full list here. (subs req’d)
- ESPN: Jasson Dominguez (40), Deivi Garcia (71). You can view the full list here. (subs req’d)
- FanGraphs: 6 total. Jasson Dominguez (51), Deivi García (60), Oswald Peraza (67), Clarke Schmidt (75), Alexander Vargas (91), Luis Medina (97). You can view the full list here.
- MLB Pipeline: 3 total. Jasson Dominguez (27), Clarke Schmidt (78), Deivi García (89). You can view the full list here.
All of this is to say that this is going to be a big year for the Yankee farm system. They have a ton of high-upside very young players – 24 of their top 30 prospects on Baseball America haven’t played above A-ball – and their consensus top overall prospect has never played a professional game. Many are pitchers, too, and as we all know, there is no such thing as a pitching prospect. Factor in a lost year of development time, and it’s easy to see this season as super important for the Yanks farm.
The same was true last year, really, but it is even more true now. This time next year, the Yankees system could be extremely well-regarded…or it easily could slip to less-heralded status. I’m excited to see what happens, though.
4. New Pitching Apparatus: Helping shepherd those prospects into big league success will be an entirely new pitching apparatus and development tree. It’s hard to believe, but 2021 will be the first full season of the Sam Briend era. The Yanks brought him on in June of 2019, so that wasn’t a full season, and then there was last year. The Briend hire, which was exciting to me at the time, led to a bunch of accompanying changes.
For example, the Yanks hired Desi Druschel from the University of Iowa to be the Manager of Pitch Development. (An example of his work at the collegiate level is here.) They also made a bunch of changes to their MiLB pitching staffs, and we knew they hired Brett DeGagne from the collegiate level as well. None of this is a surprise. New bosses tend to shake things up, after all. Last month, the organization announced the coaching staffs at each level. It’s all interesting, but I’m focused on the pitching. Here are the new pitching coaches:
- Triple-A Scranton: Dustin Glant
- Double-A Somerset: Daniel Moskos
- High-A Hudson Valley: Brett DeGagne
- Low-A Tampa: Gerardo Casadiego
Glant, Scranton’s coach, was a 2019 hire for the organization. The former pro came to the Yankees by way of Ball State, where he took over the pitching coach duties for the 2017 season. In that first season, Ball State pitchers struck out 491 batters. By the time he left, in 2019, they struck out 621. Pretty good.
Like Glant, Moskos was hired in 2019. He joined the Yankees via Driveline (like Briend). He was set to coach Class-A Charleston last year, but he gets a promotion to Double-A Somerset for 2021. DeGagne, coaching Hudson Valley, joined the team in 2019 from North Iowa Area Community College. Finally, Casadiego is a familiar name to close followers of the system. He’s been with the Yanks for almost a decade now, working in the Dominican Summer League and with the Pulaski Yanks in years past.
It’s not an entirely new system, but it’s pretty darn close. I’ll be curious to see what they do. For what it’s worth, most of these coaches, Casadiego aside, didn’t have a ton of professional experience as coaches, but all of them are billed as forward-thinking, analytically-minded minds. I’m excited for them to get a full season with the talented young arms in the system. Should be cool.
We’ve already seen a lot of changes at the big league level in the Briend/Blake era. The big league Yanks throw considerably more changeups now, for example, and we saw the introduction of the so-called “Gas Station” analytic set-up at Spring Training this year. These are the guys running that ship. We’ll have to see what happens now, but I’m excited to follow along.
5. The Faces on the Farm: Finally, let’s get to the players themselves. Feels like it’s probably about that time. For a refresher on last year’s draftees, check out Derek’s coverage of 2020 first rounder Austin Wells, second rounder Trevor Hauver, and fourth rounder Beck Way. That will get you up to speed on some of the new faces around here. I touched on a lot of the roster stuff Sunday, so check that out if you missed it. It has more detailed thoughts about who was placed where, and why. You know the drill by now.
There is one thing I missed, though: it seems like Alexander Vizcaíno and T.J. Sikkema are hurt. They weren’t on any of the rosters, and I’d expected them to be. That must mean they’re nursing something. We’ll keep an eye on it and keep you posted. Bummer, though. Hopefully it’s not too serious.
Anyway, here are 10 players I’m excited to follow in 2021, in alphabetical order. A brief note about each follows:
- Kevin Alcantara: Signed in the 2018 IFA class, Alcantara is considered one of the highest-upside bats in the Yankee system. Just 19, the outfielder owns a .255/.305/.360 line as a professional. Scouts at Baseball America say he’s added about 20 pounds in weight since signing as a 16-year-old. The 6’6 outfielder is fast and might see time in Low-A in 2021, though he’ll have to keep his swing compact at that size in order to be successful. BA says he has “one of the highest ceilings among the group of lower-level Yankee prospects.”
- Jasson Dominguez: What more is there to be said about Jasson Dominguez at this point? Everything has basically already been said already. I know that some folks are trying to read into why he’s not on an affiliated roster yet, but we don’t need to overthink it. This is a young kid without a single real game of professional action to his name. We’ll see him soon enough, and he may be talented enough to skyrocket through the minors. That’d be nice.
- Estevan Florial: Hopefully, Florial can take the next step in 2021. It’s been a long road for the 23-year-old outfielder, who’s career has been derailed by injuries and contact issues. Remember, this is a guy who struck out 33% of the time in High-A in 2019. Florial has the potential, as we all know, and the Double-A assignment will be a big test for him in 2021.
- Luis Gil: The flame-throwing Gil owns a 2.74 ERA in his pro career, coupled with a high 90’s fastball that Baseball America ranks the best in the Yankee system. As is often the case with young arms, control is his big issue. He’s replaced his curveball with a mid-80s slider, and tweaked his changeup grip. Given what we’ve seen at the big league level so far, it’s probably a good bet that he’ll keep working on that pitch this year. Control is going to be the big thing to watch with Gil.
- Yoendrys Gomez: Not rostered so far – perhaps he’s injured, too, or the Yankees just wanted to hold him back a bit – the 22-year-old pitcher throws strikes with a plus fastball and curveball. Baseball America says his average FB velocity is 95 miles-per-hour now, which is nice. He strikes out about one batter per 9 in his pro career. The added velocity could be a boon for him, as he puts the ball over the plate – and a little extra zip helps cover iffy command.
- Luis Medina: Everyone loves Medina. He apparently got up to 102 mph on the fastball this spring, and his stuff (FB, CH, SL) is just nasty overall. His control has always been his big issue, but he seemed to make significant progress on that front in 2019. He turned a corner at the end of that season, and was absolutely dominant in the Dominican Republic this year. Let’s hope he can build on it in High-A and make the jump to Double-A Somerset before season’s end.
- Oswald Peraza: The 20-year-old shortstop with great contact skills will begin the season at High-A Hudson Valley. He’s a good defender with speed who will try to elevate the ball a bit more in 2021. Overall, he’s a .267/.350/.346 hitter as a professional, topping off at High-A in 2019.
- Anthony Seigler: 2018’s first round pick hasn’t been able to perform as professional. He’s been hurt in 2018 and 2019, and then the pandemic happened. I’m curious to see how he handles the High-A assignment and to see if he has made any offensive strides. He is a defense-first switch-hitting catcher. That’s a profile I’ll always be interested in.
- Alexander Vizcaíno: The 23-year-old Vizcaíno made a few tweaks to his delivery in 2020 at the Alternate Site – apparently boosting his strike throwing ability. He appears hurt so far, as the Yanks didn’t roster him. Safe to bet he’s hurt, unfortunately – the Yankees have protected and elevated hime very step of the way. I look forward to seeing what he can do in 2021, once he recovers from whatever is ailing him.
- Alexander Vargas: The 20-year-old shortstop gained weight without losing his defensive prowess, per Baseball America. Looking forward to seeing what he does in the GCL in late June. He’s one of a few non-pitching prospects with upside in the Yankee system, who could end up being a “leadoff type shortstop.”
[Exhales.] Phew. That was a lot. Thanks for sticking with me, and I hope you’re as excited as I am by the prospect of a new minor league season. It should be a good one. See you all later tonight for DoTF, where I’ll try my best to fill Steven’s shoes.