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Tuesday, September 17, 2013
2013 AB4AR Minor League Season Awards
The year on the calender changed, but the story stayed the same for the Yankee farm system in 2013. A lot of injuries, a lot of inconsistent performances from the top prospects, and not a whole lot to get excited about from the 2 most recent drafts. Depth is not the issue with the Yankee system right now. They've got plenty of "good" prospects who could all find a way onto their roster in the next 1-3 years if ownership decides to keep the payroll down. What they lack is a few or even 1 clear cut stud prospect who is absolutely going to be a future cornerstone of the team, and that became very apparent this year. A lot of the names on this list aren't going to be the names you see in the top 5 of any Yankee prospect list, but they're the names who played the best and did the most to stand out in another pedestrian season for prospects.
MVP- Greg Bird, 1B Low-A Charleston
Back injuries and a position change from catcher to first base slowed Bird's first 2 years in the system. Healthy again this season, he showed why the Yankees were willing to give him a huge signing bonus and why they wanted to get him out from behind the plate to maximize his offensive potential. Bird posted a .288/.428/.511 slash line in 573 PA for Low-A Charleston, good for a .429 wOBA and 170 wRC+. He was at least top 5 organizationally in every major offensive category, the biggest standout stat being his BB rate. Bird walked an astounding 107 times in 2013, a Votto-like 18.7% BB rate. His power is very real, his patience is very real, and he put both of them on full display in 2013. If he continues to produce at a high rate in those categories next year at High-A Tampa, he'll continue to move up the organizational prospect list.
Looking for the organizational leader in innings pitched this season? How about Greene, a 24-year-old righty who spent the last 4 years off the prospect radar despite some consistently strong K rates. Greene tightened up his command big time this year, improving his BB rate to below 6.0% across 2 levels a season after putting up a 12.5%, and pitched to a 3.38 ERA in 154.1 total IP. He split his 27 appearances between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton and responded well to his promotion, not giving up that much in terms of strikeouts, walks, or results. He was incredibly consistent for a championship-winning rotation and a much needed bright spot in a year almost bereft of any good starting pitching performances. It remains to be seen how Greene can hang long term and if his improved command this season was a mirage, but he's working his way onto the prospect map.
There were a couple other candidates who were deserving of this award. Rafael DePaula had a strong debut in Low-A ball before taking a few lumps in Tampa, and 2013 pick Gosuke Katoh tore up the GCL. But they were both bested by a 19-year old international signee from the DR who only pitched 44 innings. Severino made his US debut this year and was easily the most impressive of the Yankees' young international pitching crop. In 6 GCL appearances, Severino gave up just 16 H and 6 BB in 26.1 IP while striking out 32 and he struck out another 21 while walking just 4 in 4 starts for Low-A Charleston. He displayed both plus stuff (fastball/slider) and plus command for a pitcher his age, and hardly seemed affected at all about being thrown into an unfamiliar situation against tough competition. Expect him back in Charleston with a lot more hype to start 2014.
Manager of the Year- Tony Franklin, Double-A Trenton
Guided his club to a postseason berth despite injuries and regressed performance from a lot of his top name players, then once they got there he pushed all the right buttons to get them to an Eastern League Championship. And not just that, the Trenton Thunder won that title in style, taking 2 straight best-of-5 series 3-0. Franklin had to get a lot out of lesser-heralded guys to keep the offense going during the regular season, and then had a bunch of good bats to choose from late thanks to midseason promotions. He should have a fair amount of players back next season, including Sanchez, Williams, Austin, and maybe Heathcott. Let's see what he can do with that crew again next year.
Comeback Player of the Year- Jose Campos, RHSP Low-A Charleston
Campos' comeback wasn't flashy. Far from it. After being shut down with elbow problems that were never fully specified in 2012, the Yankees took the extra careful approach with Campos this season. He never threw more than 3 innings in his early starts, threw more than 4 only once, and was moved to the bullpen later in the season to keep his total IP count at 87.0 in 26 appearances. While the jury is still out on where his ceiling is located now after the injury, Campos showed that the tools that made him a top prospect are still very present. He struck out 77 in his 87.0 innings and walked just 16, good for a 4.5% BB rate and a nearly 5:1 K/BB ratio. He can still get guys to swing and miss and he can still locate his fastball. The command needs work, as does the secondary stuff, and he should be able to get back to a full workload to improve those things in 2014.
Most Improved- J.R. Murphy, C Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
Expectations were tempered for Murphy following his underwhelming 2012, but he bounced back in a big way and propelled himself right to the top of the team's organizational prospect list. .353 wOBA/116w RC+ in his 221-PA return to Double-A, .350/117 in 257 PA at Triple-A after his promotion, and he's even getting to moonlight as a Major League catcher with Austin Romine out. He hit for a good average, decent power, showed that his patience and plate discipline are real and plus skills for a 22-year-old getting his first upper level experience, and he continues to draw positive reviews for his all-around improved defense. Nobody did more to help their prospect stock than J.R. Murphy this season, and were it not for Bird's insane offensive numbers Murphy could have easily been the pick for organizational MVP.
A lot of bigger names could have filled this one. But guys like Sanchez, Williams, and Austin all finished the season playing Double-A ball and still have skillsets that make them viable future Major Leaguers. Bichette basically took whatever was left of his prospect value, production-wise, tool-wise, or anything-wise, and flushed it down the toilet. He hit .214/.292/.331 (.294 wOBA) in 486 PA for Low-A Charleston. In his return season at that level. It's one thing to hit that poorly over a full year, it's another to have that production be worse than what you did in the previous season at the same level and have your K rate jump to 24.5% in the process. You hate to give up on somebody who is still days from his 21st birthday, but there's nothing offensively or defensively in 2 years at the lowest full-season level to suggest Bichette is going to turn into anything. What a wasted 1st round pick.
Breakout Player of the Year- Rafael DePaula, RHSP High-A Tampa
Couldn't do a whole post on MiL awards without finding a way to work DePaula in. It's been a long time coming for this guy to finally make his true debut and he didn't disappoint. 2.94 ERA, 2.03 FIP, and 96 K (37.5% K rate) in 64.1 IP for Low-A Charleston. That's the type of dominance you don't have at any level without premium stuff. Even though DePaula's walks became a problem as the season went on and he didn't replicate that dominance in High-A (4.63 FIP, 12.9% BB rate in 11 appearances), it was still a very impressive year for the 22-year-old pitching in a full-season US pro league for the first time. The Yankees know what they've got in his arm now, and if they can make the right adjustments to his mechanics to make his delivery more repeatable and improve command, DePaula projects as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher.