Friday, January 31, 2014

2013-2014 AB4AR Top 30 Prospects: 10-1

(Courtesy of

This is it, the top 10.  The cream that's risen to the top of the Yankee farm system.  For the first time in a few years, it feels like the organization's top prospects are actually close to breaking into the Majors.  There's high-level pitching, a lot of high-level hitting, and a smattering of lower-level guys with major upside to balance things out.  From seeing some of the mainstream top 10 lists that have already come out, I can tell you that mine's pretty different and there are more than a few names on the AB4AR list that didn't show up anywhere on the others.  I stand by my selections though, and truly believe that these are the 10 best players in the Yankee farm system right now.  If you missed either of the first 2 days, here's Part I here and Part II here.  After the jump, the third and final part of the 2013-2014 AB4AR Top 30.

10) Jose Campos- RHSP, High-A Tampa (2012-2013 Rank: 6th)

The lesser of the 2 elbow injuries that struck in 2012, Campos returned to full-time action in 2013 and the team didn't take any chances with his health.  Campos made 26 appearances for Charleston - 19 of them starts - and worked a total of 87.0 innings, never pitching more than 5 innings in a game and only reaching that 5-inning mark once.  That was the bad news.  The good news is that Campos still showed the same makeup that made him a top 10 prospect.  He struck out 77 in his 87 IP, a tick down from the mid-20s K rates he registered in 2010 and 2011, but he walked only 16, good for a 4.5% BB rate.  He also didn't give up too many hits or home runs, so the plus fastball command is still very much intact.  Now that Campos is healthy at age 21, the Yankees need to let go of the reins a bit and let him dial the velocity and workload back up.  He has a long way to go to build arm strength and his offspeed stuff still needs work.  I'd expect a full season in Tampa this year to let that happen.

9) Ian Clarkin- LHSP, GCL Yankees (2012-2013 Rank: NR)

The last of the 2013 1st round picks (33rd overall), Clarkin fell victim to similar injury tweaks that delayed Judge's debut and didn't get a lot of game action after signing.  He did manage to pitch in 3 GCL games late in the season and the results of those outings (5 IP, 6 ER, 4 BB, 4 K) are hardly enough to say anything definitive about him as a pro prospect.  What gets him into my top 10 is the scouting report, and it's a damn good one for an 18-year-old lefty.  Clarkin sports a solid 3-pitch mix of a low-90s fastball, a power curveball that's downright filthy when he's commanding it, and a developing changeup.  His 6'2" frame is still thin as a young kid, so there's the chance that he could add some velocity as he adds muscle and smooths out his mechanics.  That's the area that really needs the most work, as you can see in the gif below:

(Used courtesy of Mike Axisa/RAB)

The bag of tools is filled to the brim with Clarkin, and he's the type of young pitcher that Gil Patterson can really mold and develop into a stud.  Had he been able to pitch a full season of rookie ball last year, I think there's a chance we'd see him Charleston this year.  Because he didn't, I expect a return to the GCL.

8) Manny Banuelos- LHSP, Triple-A SWB (2012-2013 Rank: 4th)

Last year, I justified my decision to keep ManBan in the top 5 by saying this:

"Long story short, Banuelos is still ahead of the curve and still has time to become the pitcher we thought he was capable of being a few years ago. The odds aren't as good, but the opportunity is still there."

All of that logic holds this year.  There was just no way I couldn't not move him down a bit after he missed the entire season recovering from TJS.  Now the recovery process is over, ManBan has had plenty of time to rehab and get back on a regular throwing program, and he'll come into ST this year ready to hit the ground running and possibly compete for a Major League rotation spot.  The odds of that aren't very good, as I'm sure the Yanks want him to get some more work under his belt in Triple-A, but in ManBan they have a 23-year-old lefty with a good fastball, good changeup, a developing cutter, and some history of plus command.  If all that comes back together, Manny still has top-of-the-rotation upside.

7) Eric Jagielo- 3B, Low-A Charleston (2012-2013 Rank: NR)

Jagielo was the only 1st rounder to get significant on-field team in 2013, and after a slow start in Staten Island he finished strong and showed why he was the 1st of those 1st round picks.  A .266/.376/.451 tripleslash (.390 wOBA), 6 HR, 14 2B, 27 RBI, 7 HBP, and an 11.9% BB rate in 218 PA was enough of a taste of all Jagielo's skills to get me on board with them and him.  21 and turning 22 a little after the start of this season, Jagielo is a big kid at 6'3"/215 and has a balanced offensive makeup that projects him to hit for a good average and plus power.  He's a lefty swinger with good plate coverage and power to all fields, and the time spent at Notre Dame helped him improve his plate discipline and pitch recognition skills immensely.  Defensively, Jagielo registers as just average in terms of range and fielding skills, although he does have plus arm strength and the early scouting reports make it sound like he'll stick at third.  He's ticketed for a trip to High-A Tampa to start the year and could get pushed to Trenton if he rakes there.

6) Rafael DePaula- RHSP, High-A Tampa (2012-2013 Rank: 28th)

It felt like DePaula was the Keyser Soze of the Yankee system for the last year or 2.  We'd heard about him for a while, but nobody had ever seen him pitch or gotten any real concrete information about when he was going to come stateside or what we should expect from him when he got here.  We finally go our first real look at him in 2013 and as I said last week, it was a tale of 2 seasons.  DePaula was straight filthy in 13 Low-A starts, pitching to a 2.94/2.03 ERA/FIP split with 96 K in 63.1 IP.  He was quickly shuttled up to Tampa where his command wasn't as sharp (4.63 FIP, 30 BB in 49.0 IP) and his overall production suffered.  The mixed results in his first year of full-season ball are outweighed by his ace-caliber tools, which include a mid-90s fastball, a hard swing-and-miss curveball, a work in progress changeup, and some pretty good mechanics for a pitcher who missed the better part of 2 years.  He really needs to improve the command of his secondary stuff this year, which he'll get the chance to do in a likely return to Tampa.

5) Mason Williams- CF, Double-A Trenton (2012-2013 Rank: 2nd)

Both the Yankees and I were hoping for big things for Williams in his return to Tampa after he put up a .331 wOBA in 22 games there to finish the 2012 season.  What we got was an out-of-shape, sometimes lackadaisical player who struggled to produce, stay healthy, and stay out of trouble (early-season DUI) for the entirety of the year.  Williams hit just .261/.327/.350 in 100 High-A games (461 PA) before getting moved up to Trenton, where he didn't hit much in 17 games, and then assigned to the AZFL, where he didn't hit much again.  Williams did show some progress in his patience at the plate, working a career best 8.5% BB rate, but the changes to his swing and hitting approach led to a decrease in both average and power, something he needs to correct in 2014.  He's still got speed for days and he's got the defensive tools to play center field in the Majors right now.  He needs to show a more mature all-around approach to his game in 2014 and rebuild his offensive tools to get his momentum going in the right direction.

4) Slade Heathcott- CF, Triple-A SWB (2012-2013 Rank: 5th)

If prospect status was determined by tools and effort alone, Heathcott could be the runaway #1 player in the Yankee system.  Because it's not, and because Slade still hasn't figured out how to dial it back a bit to keep himself off the DL, he finds himself at #4 after another up-and-down season.  To his credit, Heathcott did set new career highs in games played (103) and PA (444) in 2013.  His production in those games, however, left some people wanting more.  Heathcott hit .261/.327/.411 (.334 wOBA) with 8 HR, 7 3B, 22 2B, 59 R, and 15 SB in 23 chances, and those numbers were boosted by a hot streak he was on before a knee tendon injury ended his season.  He had offseason surgery on that knee, which could delay the start to his spring camp, but if he comes back from that he still has 3.5-4-tool potential.  23 years old now, Heathcott has been added to the 40-man roster and should start the year in Triple-A, so the time for that potential to be realized is now.  If it is, the weak underbelly of the Yankees' OF bench depth could push him into consideration for some playing time late in the year.

3) Tyler Austin- OF, Double-A Trenton (2012-2013 Rank: 3rd)

Keith Law thought enough of Tyler Austin to give him a pass on his pretty mediocre 2013 season, and this is one area where we agree 100%.  We've seen how much wrist injuries can impact good hitters.  Look at what it did to Teix and Jose Bautista.  Austin suffered his, admittedly one not as serious as a torn tendon sheath, early in the season and never had a chance to rest it let alone recover from it.  His offensive production took a huge hit as a result (.257/.344/.373, 333 wOBA, 6 HR in 466 PA), but I'm willing to give him a mulligan based on his history and his makeup.  Austin is hands down the most advanced hitter in the Yankee system right now.  His approach is sound, his pitch recognition is very good, he has a very balanced swing, and he's got some pop.  Just look at his 11.2% BB rate and tell me the guy doesn't know what he's doing up there.  He's also got some hair on his peaches, so I'm willing to give him a healthy year to prove himself before getting off the bandwagon.

2) J.R. Murphy- C, Triple-A SWB (2012-2013 Rank: 12th)

If we're all agreeing that Greg Bird was the MVP of the system in 2013, and we should be, then I think we'd all agree that Murphy was a comfortable and close 2nd.  Murphy did it all last season.  He hit for average (.270 in Triple-A), he hit for power (12 HR and 29 2B in 108 MiL games), he drew walks (11.2% BB rate in Double-A), he played good defense, he improved his receiving, and he threw runners out (37% CS).  He even got himself called up to the big time late in the year.  J.R. Murphy put himself on the map in 2013 and the future could look even brighter for him.  He'll only be 22 at the start of this season, he's gotten better at every level as he's advanced through the system, and he's probably going to steal the starting Triple-A job from Austin Romine.  Right now, Murphy's ceiling has reached what Romine's originally was and he only has half a season of Triple-A experience, so there's room to raise that ceiling to that of a pretty good 2-way Major League catcher.  Look around, there aren't many of those left.

1) Gary Sanchez- C, Double-A Trenton (2012-2013 Rank: 1st)

I know I sounded down on him the last time I mused on prospects, but the truth is that Sanchez is still, unquestionably, the best prospect in the Yankee farm system.  His overall numbers don't jump at you, but in fairness to him, a .348 wOBA with an 11.8% BB/14.5% K rate split as a 20-year-old in Double-A is nothing to scoff at.  His BABIP at both levels was over 60 points below what it was in 2012 and 2011, he still drove in 71 runs in 117 games, and he threw out 44.44% of potential base stealers (48-108).  The tools are all very much there and Sanchez is still very young for his level and getting better.  He's got great raw power, great contact skills, and he's improving his patience and pitch recognition.  If he can smooth out his swing a bit and put some polish on his approach, it should all start to come together.  He also continues to draw positive reviews for his defensive development, especially his plus throwing arm.  He isn't going to be Brian McCann as a pitch framer, but who is?

Sanchez could spend the whole year at Double-A in 2014 and still be ahead of the curve, so there's no need to get down on him.  His ceiling remains an elite-hitting catcher with average defensive value and there isn't anybody else in the Yankee system who can compete with that at his respective position.  If he starts to put the pieces together at the plate in 2014, I think we'll see someone from the Romine/Murphy tandem traded to make room and playing time for Sanchez at Triple-A.  He's that good.

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