In its current state, the Yankees’ system is rather pedestrian, or middle of the road, when compared to the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball. The talent in the upper levels of the system underwhelmed in 2013 and many of the top prospects also dealt with significant injuries. The good news, though, is that the club has drafted extremely well and paired that with a strong international scouting presence, which made good use of their limited budgets. If a few of the lower level sleepers break out in 2014, this could turn into a Top 10, if not Top 5, system in short order.
The Year in Review: Sanchez saw his OPS dip almost .100 points between 2012 and ’13. He spent the majority of last season in High-A ball where he showed some pop with 34 extra base hits in 94 games but walked just 28 times, which led to a dismal .313 on-base percentage. The young Dominican catcher was given a late-season promotion to Double-A where he popped another eight extra base hits and received 13 free passes in 23 games.
The Scouting Report: Sanchez’s best tool is his above-average power from the right side of the plate and he could eventually hit 20+ home runs in the Majors. He needs to stick to a consistent game plan at the plate, which could help him make better contact and produce a better batting average (and on-base percentage). Behind the plate, Sanchez has made improvements with his game calling and receiving but the big-framed catcher still struggles with his blocking and overall mobility. He has a very strong arm and gunned down close to 50% of base runners attempting to steal agains him in 2013.
The Year Ahead: Sanchez, 21, will return to Double-A in 2014 and, if he gets off to a strong offensive start while continuing to make defensive improvements, he could reach Triple-A in the second half of the year.
The Career Outlook: Sanchez may have stagnated a bit during his third straight season in A-ball but he still has a strong future as an offensive-minded backstop with enough glove to be average or better behind the dish.
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The Year in Review: Murphy was a rare upper-level Yankees prospect that actually had a decent season. He produced a .773 OPS in 108 games split between Double-A and Triple-A, and later made his MLB debut. Along with his improved defense, he also popped 41 extra base hits. He was especially potent against left-handed pitching with a 1.076 OPS at the Triple-A level.
The Scouting Report: Murphy is the organization’s best all-around catcher and a lot of organizations would love to have him. He has a solid line-drive swing and produces gap power but he’ll likely top out around 10 home runs in the Majors with regular playing time. Defensively, he’s improved by leaps and bounds since being drafted and has a chance to be an average receiver with an above-average ability to control the running game.
The Year Ahead: Although he doesn’t have a lot left to prove in the minors, Murphy is probably headed back to Triple-A to await an injury to open the door for another big league opportunity.
The Career Outlook: Murphy is probably in the wrong organization to eventually work his way into consideration for the starting catcher’s gig with the likes of veteran Brian McCann and top prospect Gary Sanchez in the fold. He could serve as an above-average back-up catcher or a third-string catcher capable of also playing the corner infield spots.
The Year in Review: The Yankees had one of my favorite drafts in 2013 and Jagielo played a big part in forming that opinion. The third baseman out of Notre Dame was selected 26th overall and showed some decent pop during his pro debut. He slugged 21 extra base hits in the New York Penn League but also did his fair share of swinging and missing.
The Scouting Report: Jagielo has impressive raw power from the left side of the plate and can hit the ball out of any part of a ball park. He also has an improving approach at the plate and shows good pitch recognition despite the strike outs. Defensively, he shows a strong arm but may lack the range to remain at the hot corner long term.
The Year Ahead: Spring training will likely help determine if Jagielo opens the year in Low- or High-A ball. If he can make enough contact, he could move rather quickly through a system in desperate need of fresh blood.
The Career Outlook: Jagielo has a shot at developing into an above-average offensive player at the hot corner.
The Year in Review: Williams, like many of the key prospects in the system, had a disappointing year. He posted a .676 OPS in 100 High-A ball games and managed just 27 extra base hits. He wasn’t overly impressive during a late-season promotion to Double-A (.428 OPS in 17 games) or in the Arizona Fall League (.667 OPS in 22 games).
The Scouting Report: Williams’ stock slipped in 2013 as he showed up a little out of shape and with inconsistent effort on the field. He lacked pop last year and, while he’ll probably never be a power hitter, he needs to keep his swing short and quick to the ball. When he’s right, Williams has above-average speed and the ability to swiped 20+ bases. Defensively, he’s a strong fielder with a good arm and range, as well as solid reads.
The Year Ahead: Williams should open 2014 back in Double-A where he’ll look to rediscover his stroke, add more pop, and polish his base running.
The Career Outlook: Still just 22, Williams has time to step up his game but he currently projects as more of a solid regular than a true star outfielder.
The Year in Review: What was new with Heathcott in 2013? Well, he was a little underwhelming with the bat, ran through a few walls, and he got hurt… so, in other words, nothing. His season ended prematurely in August due to a knee injury and he reportedly had surgery in the offseason
The Scouting Report: To say Heathcott hustles is an understatement. Unfortunately, his all-out play lends itself to injuries — both of the serious and of the nagging varieties, which have cut into his development time and hindered his effectiveness. His aggression gets the better of him at the plate and he strikes out too much for someone who should be building his game around getting on base and letting others drive him in. Defensively, Heathcott plays a very good centre field with excellent range, good reads and an average arm.
The Year Ahead: As mentioned above, his season ended prematurely due to a knee injury and he reportedly had surgery in the offseason so it remains to be seen if he’ll be at full strength in early April. Heathcott may have to return to Double-A to open the 2014 season but he’ll likely see Triple-A by the second half (assuming he’s not on the disabled list).
The Career Outlook: Heathcott is the kind of player who’s probably always going to spend significant time on the disabled list because of how hard he plays the game. Even so, he’s going to be downright entertaining.
#6 Aaron Judge | 55/DNP
The Year in Review: A hulking monster at 6-7, 230 pounders, Judge was selected 32nd overall out of Fresno State University in 2013 but a quad injury kept him off the baseball diamond after he turned pro.
The Scouting Report: As expected with his size, Judge’s most impressive tool is his power but he struggles to keep a short, compact swing due to the sheer length of his arms. As a result, he may never hit of a high average but he should walk enough to produce a respectable on-base percentage to go along with the power output. Defensively, he has a very strong arm and enough range to stick in right field.
The Year Ahead: Judge, 21, will look to avoid the disabled list in 2014 while making up for lost development time. He’ll likely get an opening day assignment to Low-A ball to help him get his footing but could quickly move up to High-A ball if he hits well.
The Career Outlook: There aren’t many players built like Judge that have played at the Major League Baseball level so he’s definitely a somewhat unique talent, although he shares physical similarities to the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton.
The Year in Review: The 18-year-old hurler received a bit of a rude welcome to pro ball when he posted a 10.80 ERA in his first three pro games at the Rookie ball level. He also dealt with some minor injury issues, which caused him to miss time.
The Scouting Report: Clarkin was a steal with the 33rd overall pick in the 2013 draft. The lefty has an inconsistent, low-90s fastball with projection that could eventually push it into the mid-90s. His curveball also shows the makings of a plus offering and his changeup should be no worse than average. He needs to become more consistent with the command of pitches while also learning to attack the zone early in the count and trust his stuff.
The Year Ahead: Clarkin might very well open the year in extended spring training before receiving an assignment to a short-season team in June. There is an outside chance that a strong spring could push him into consideration for a full-season assignment but I wouldn’t bet on it.
The Career Outlook: The southpaw has a long way to go to reach his full potential as a No. 2 or 3 starter but all the ingredients are there for future success.
The Year in Review: I pegged Bird as the Yankees’ top sleeper prospect for 2013 and he rewarded me with a strong offensive season at Low-A ball with 59 extra base hits and a .938 OPS. He also walked 107 times in 130 games but struck out an eye-popping 132 times.
The Scouting Report: Bird is your classic three-true-outcome hitter with good power, a patient approach and a lot of swing-and-misses. He made some adjustments as the year went on, incorporating a little more loft to his swing, and walked more than he struck out in both July and August while positing an OPS above 1.000. He’s going to have to hit because he has limited defensive value but could be an average fielding first baseman with a little more polish.
The Year Ahead: Bird will move up to the Florida State League in 2014 where he’ll find a stiffer challenge in what is widely considered a pitcher’s league. He’ll look to make more contact while continuing to post a .400+ on-base percentage with a strong power output.
The Career Outlook: The young first baseman has the makings of developing into an average or better first baseman at the big league level but he’s not going to hit for a strong average if he keeps swinging and missing so much.
The Year in Review: Ramirez was held back in extended spring training in 2013 and did not make his season debut until late April. He made nine appearances (eight starts) in Double-A and held hitters to a .192 batting average. Then promoted to Triple-A, Ramirez started another eight games but was shut down in July when injuries popped up again.
The Scouting Report: The Dominican righty has a nasty one-two punch with his mid-90s fastball and plus changeup. His curveball still needs a fair bit of polish to become a reliable, average offering. That development will be key in helping him remain in the starting rotation, as will the ability to avoid the infirmary.
The Year Ahead: Ramirez should return to Triple-A to prove he’s healthy and also look to polish his breaking ball enough to stick in the starting rotation, similar to the Cardinals’ Michael Wacha.
The Career Outlook: Ramirez has a chance to be a solid No. 3 starter if he reaches his full potential. If starting fails, though, he could have a future as a dominant high-leverage reliever with two plus pitches.
The Year in Review: Austin had a disappointing season in 2013 while dealing with a wrist injury. Playing mainly in Double-A, his power dried up and his slugging percentage slipped from .559 in 2012 to .378. The young outfielder was assigned to the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost development time but the wrist injury popped up again and he was yanked after just four games.
The Scouting Report: Seemingly, the wrist injury sapped much of Austin’s power in 2013 and he struggled to consistently drive the ball. His bat was noticeably slower last year. When he’s right, the outfielder shows good gap power with enough over-the-fence pop to make things interesting. He has a solid eye at the plate and isn’t afraid to take pitches and work the count. Defensively, Austin is an average corner outfielder with good arm strength.
The Year Ahead: Wrist injuries have a nasty habit of lingering so Yankees fans will have to keep their fingers crossed for Austin. He’ll likely return to Double-A to open up the 2014 season and will reportedly spend some time at first base and third base, as well as in the outfield.
The Career Outlook: The disappointing 2013 season put a real damper on future projections for Austin. He’ll be given the benefit of the doubt in the hopes that his diminished offensive production was the result of the injuries.
The Next Five:
Luis Severino, RHP: Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Severino reached Low-A ball last year and could be a Top 100 prospect in a year’s time if he continues to follow his current development track. The right-hander has power stuff, including a low-to-high-90s fastball, breaking ball and changeup. He should open 2014 back in Low-A ball and will look to improve his command and overall consistency.
Gosuke Katoh, 2B: A second round draft pick in 2013, Katoh had a strong debut on both sides of the ball. The second baseman got on base, produced a strong batting average, and also hit for power. The only thing he didn’t do was steal bases. The left-handed hitter showed an advanced approach and good feel for the game.
Abiatal Avelino, SS: The 18-year-old shortstop played solid defense at three minor league levels in 2013 and was also a forced to be reckoned with on the base paths; he stole 28 bases in 32 attempts. He also showed a good eye at the plate by making a ton of contact and walking more than he struck out (20 BBs to 17 Ks). Avelino will have to continue to get stronger as he moves up the ladder after just 14 of his 60 hits went for extra bases.
Jose Campos, RHP: The Yankees appeared to have pulled off a real steal of a deal in early 2012 when the club acquired Michael Pineda and Campos from Seattle for young slugging catcher Jesus Montero but the deal hasn’t really worked out for anyone. Montero was a disappointment and both arms have dealt with injuries. Campos, though, continues to show glimpses of brilliance and is just 21 years old.
Luis Torrens, C: A big ticket signing from 2012, Torrens played better than his numbers would indicate. He showed the potential to develop into an above-average defender while showing flashes of becoming a strong hitter with patience and a developing eye. The biggest deficiency in his game right now is his lack of in-game pop (.299 slugging percentage in 2013).