At the beginning of every offseason, Baseball America compiles a list of the top minor league prospects in each of the various leagues. These lists are compiled by the best of Baseball America’s staff, but also rely heavily on the opinions of scouts, executives, and minor league managers.
These rankings are going to show a few things which are worrisome for the Yankees. First is their lack of upper-level talent, where the Yankees placed just one player – J.R. Murphy – on a list in the “high” minors. Second is the fact that many prospects that had fans excited prior to the season failed to make the cut in their respective leagues. There’s more on that later.
You can see the rankings for free on Baseball America’s site, but their detailed scouting and prospect chats require a subscription. Here are the six leagues that include Yankees affiliates, coupled with the individual rankings of each Yankee prospect on the list.
Gulf Coast League (GCL Yankees)
10. C Luis Torrens
11. 3B Miguel Andujar
13. SS Abiatal Avelino
15. 2B Gosuke Katoh
17. RHP Luis Severino
20. SS Thairo Estrada
Placing six players in any league “Top 20” rankings should be considered a good thing, but this also highlights the state of the New York Yankees farm system. There is a lot of good, young talent in the lower levels, but as always, young talent has the highest risk. Not one of these six players listed has even hit their 20th birthday, meaning that while their potential may be through the roof, so is their ability to flop completely as they move up in levels. In this particular case, Torrens and Katoh are two prospects who really stand out. The team’s top international signing in 2012, Torrens has been transitioning from shortstop to catcher since becoming a pro, and has demonstrated a strong arm behind the plate. Katoh was drafted in the second round of the 2013 Draft and displayed great plate discipline and contact ability en route to a .310/.402/.522 batting line.
New York-Penn League (Staten Island Yankees)
6. 3B Eric Jagielo
When the Yankees made Jagielo their top draft pick this summer, the organization got exactly what they hoped for: a polished college hitter who plays a position of need. Better yet, Jagielo’s lefty swing should fit nice into Yankee Stadium some day. One has to wonder if fellow first-round pick Aaron Judge would have cracked the list had he not been injured. A few other draftees playing in Staten Island likely generated some interest towards this list, but there was not enough success initially to warrant a spot.
South Atlantic League (Charleston RiverDogs)
17. RHP Rafael DePaula
The fact that DePaula ranks only 17th on this list is a shock to me. He was arguably one of the best pitchers in the league prior to his midseason promotion to Tampa, and the long-term potential is there as well. Also surprising is that DePaula is the only Yankees prospect on this list. Several others, most notably Greg Bird, should have received strong consideration at worst, and there likely should have been at least one other to make the cut. Even though Baseball America’s list does not reflect it, there are quite a few talented ballplayers with a lot of potential in Charleston.
Florida State League (Tampa Yankees)
7. C Gary Sanchez
19. OF Mason Williams
Two of the biggest names in the New York Yankees farm system both made the cut in the Florida State League, even though neither ended the season in Tampa. Sanchez’s stock may have rose slightly over the year, though Williams’ definitely took a hit. After seeing him in Trenton at year’s end, it was apparent that he does not walk enough or see enough pitches to be a quality leadoff man. If Williams is to be a successful pro, he will need to improve his eye at the plate significantly. Though it is no surprise they missed the list, the Yankees do have a pair of guys in Tampa who could make a case for being in the “First five off” in Rob Refsnyder and Bryan Mitchell. Look for them to take the next step in 2014.
Eastern League (Trenton Thunder)
18. C J.R. Murphy
From my first day in Trenton this year, the media buzz constantly surrounded the trio of top prospect outfielders Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin, and Ramon Flores. Instead of any of them making this list, it was J.R. Murphy, who spent just half a season with the team before being elevated to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In watching Murphy and speaking with him many times early in the season, he was clearly making a concerted effort to improve his defense, and that effort definitely showed. With a good bat and a late-season Major League debut to go along with the improvements on defense, Murphy clearly belonged on this list. As for the outfield trio, I have never been high on Flores – he is not much more than a fourth outfielder in my opinion. All three outfielders were very young for this league and the inexperience showed. None will be downgraded much in offseason rankings for their struggles, but do not be surprised if some repeat the level, especially Austin, who missed six weeks with a wrist injury. Long-term, Heathcott is still the best of the bunch in terms of talent and his second half put him close to making the list this year.
International League (SWB Railriders)
Not one bit of surprise that no one from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre cracked this list. In fact, the only one who might have had a shot had they spent an entire season with the team was Mark Montgomery. Instead, the Yankees’ top relief pitching prospect took multiple trips to the disabled list with shoulder injuries. Fellow reliever Dellin Betances was not going to make this list, but had a strong second half and should be able to earn a spot in the big league bullpen next season. Guys like David Adams and Zoilo Almonte, both of which spent some time in New York, do not have enough upside to make this list, but could be solid pieces in 2014 and beyond.