(The Judge. Courtesy of Fresno St. Athletic Dept.)
Power can take you a long way in baseball. We all know that chicks dig the long ball, but owners, general managers, and coaches dig it too. The home run is the best possible outcome of any at-bat, and the more of them you're capable of hitting the higher your offensive ceiling is going to be and the more teams are going to want you around. The Yankee farm system isn't overloaded with power right now. It's got a few guys with serious power potential, but no one who's really stepped up and mashed at an elite level for a full season. If 1 or 2 of these high power potential guys starts translating it to consistent in-game power this year, 25-30+ in a season, they're going to draw a lot of positive attention. As an added feature to Prospect Week 2014, here are my top 5 power guys in the system right now.
1) Aaron Judge
Dude is a monster, a physical freak. At 6'7"/255, Judge is basically Rob Gronkowski playing baseball and the shows he's reportedly put on in college batting practice are legendary. He hit for big power at Fresno State, including winning the College HR Derby in 2013, and most scouts peg him at 40-HR potential based on his size, strength, and bat speed. What he has working against him is long arms and a long swing, which better pitchers can and will exploit. To truly tap into his natural power potential , Judge needs to keep his swing mechanics simple and improve his pitch recognition.
2) Peter O'Brien
A bat-first catcher, O'Brien led the Yankee system in HR in 2013 with 22. This came in his first year of full-season experience after a shaky 2012 debut for SS Staten Island and it definitely got him noticed by team scouts and coaches. O'Brien's high power potential is what's most likely driving the team's search for a new position for him, as he doesn't project to stay at catcher long-term. Like Judge, he needs to tighten up his approach at the plate and cut down on his strikeouts to reach a potential 30-HR ceiling.
3) Miguel Andujar
In the world of unrealized power potential, Andujar might have the highest in the system. He's young (18), with a good frame to pack on muscle and already has a good swing and approach at the plate for his age and experience level. Scouting reports are mixed on how high his ceiling truly is, but I think 25-30 HR is a very reasonable expectation if Andujar continues to improve like he did in 2013. The true test of his full potential will come when he makes a full-season league debut.
4) Gary Sanchez
While he's not the "Jesus Montero Jr." type of hitter he looked like in his early days, Sanchez still boasts a high offensive potential on the strength of his approach and power. He hit 17 HR in 2011, 18 in 2012, and 15 in 2013. 20-25 still seems like a realistic target for his ceiling, but as I mentioned last week, I'd like to see him get over the 20-HR plateau this year to feel better about keeping that goal in play.
5) Greg Bird
The pleasant surprise and offensive star of the Yankee system in 2013, Bird was 3rd in the organization with 20 HR and a .511 SLG hitting in the South Atlantic League and added 36 2B to go with it. Once a higher-value prospect as a catcher, Bird has been moved to first base to keep his back healthy. He'll have to prove he can keep this 20-25 HR power up at the higher levels of the system to become a true top prospect at the position.