No matter what you think the Yankees should do this offseason, which players you think they should sign and which players you think they shouldn't sign, one thing we can all agree on is the need for them to get something from their farm system next season. There's been a lot of talk from the highest levels of the front office about how they need to get younger and need to get more from their prospects, but very little action in the way of roster building and playing time decisions to back up that talk. Next season is the time for the actions to match the talk. The Yankees have an aging, broken down group of veterans, a rotation full of injury risks, and a greater number of legitimate fill-in options at the upper levels of their system than they've had in recent years. When guys start getting hurt, or before guys even start getting hurt, the focus for next year's roster should be on supplementing or replacing them with some of the upper-tier prospect talent in place of cheap, washed up veteran bums. That route has proven more hurtful than helpful the last 2 years, and it's time to start using the present to build for the future.
Here's the group of players from those upper MiL tiers most likely to break in with the Major League club in 2015:
Second base was a fallout zone this past season. And while Martin Prado can bring a lot of stability to the position, his defensive flexibility and the penchant for the older guys to get hurt could lead to him playing multiple positions regularly. Refsnyder put himself on the map with a monster 2014 season split between the 2 highest levels of the Minors, and the starting second base job is right there for the taking for him heading into spring camp 2015. I'm sure the Yankee shot callers would love nothing more than for Refsnyder to have a good ST and earn himself the job. Even if he doesn't, though, it's highly likely that early injuries or poor performance from the position will lead to him getting a quick call up. His situation next year is very similar to the one that got Robinson Cano his invitation to the show.
If Refsynder is the in-house favorite to take over the starting second base job, Pirela may be on his way to becoming the favorite for the utility bench job. He turned a few heads with a strong handful of games to end the regular season, and he's built up a reputation in the Minors as a guy with a solid all-around hitting approach and the skills and athleticism to play multiple positions. That flexibility alone makes him a better option for a bench spot than most of the guys the Yanks have had there for the past few seasons. His relatively young age (25) and the potential room for improvement that comes with it should strengthen his case for a bench spot if he plays well in the spring.
Does this one really need an explanation? The Yankees didn't spend their first pick in this year's draft on a college reliever so they could dilly-dally with him in the Minors. Lindgren made 19 appearances across 4 levels after signing and struck out 47 batters in 25.0 innings pitched. He's young, he's got a plus fastball and a Major League-caliber strikeout slider, he can pitch multiple innings, and pitch effectively to righty and lefty hitters as a southpaw. Pretty sure every bullpen could use a guy like that, and it wouldn't be a shock at all to see him steal a roster spot out of ST.
Mitchell is the next in line for the David Phelps Memorial "Undervalued Triple-A Starter Who Gets Called Up and Makes a Positive Contribution" Award after his finish to the 2014 season. Phelps is firmly entrenched as the bullpen swingman, Adam Warren has similarly locked down an important middle relief role, and Shane Greene may have secured himself a spot in next year's rotation with the job he did. Mitchell has big time stuff, bigger than Phelps or Warren did when they broke in, and big time command issues, bigger than the ones that used to plague Greene. He'll most likely open the season in the Triple-A rotation, where an injury or 2 will be all it takes to get him up and into a regular spot on the Major League staff.
These guys all get lumped together as mid-season bullpen reinforcement candidates, and they could combine to form a very formidable SWB 'pen if none make the team out of spring camp. Ramirez is the odds-on favorite to get the first call simply because he's already on the 40-man and got a little taste of the MLB game in 2014. Guys like Dan Burawa and Nick Goody can also be added to this list. As usual, the Yanks have plenty of relief prospect depth.
Admittedly a fringe candidate, but one with a closer path to the show than people might realize. Carlos Beltran isn't going to hold up physically in right field, there aren't any big name prospects ahead of Austin at SWB, and he heated up in the second half this season as he got further away from his wrist problems (.779 OPS in July, .919 in August). He's continued to hit well in the AZFL and with a bunch of other outfielders in Trenton, he could get a quick bump up to Triple-A to start next season. Once that happens, he's a Beltran tweak or strain or tumble over the wall away from getting called up.
Basically the poor man's Austin as a fringe 4th/5th outfielder. Flores was having a nice year at SWB this season before an injury derailed him, and he's already on the 40-man at age 22. He doesn't offer the upside that Austin does as a hitter at the Major League level, but he's always had a good approach and should be a good contact guy. He's also a better and more flexible defensive outfielder. Think of him as the outfield version of Pirela. Unless the Yankees load up on veteran guys for the bench before the season, Flores could slide into Zoilo's spot as the up-and-down injury replacement outfielder.
Never forget about ManBan. He turns 24 before next Opening Day and it's hard to believe that it will have been 3 years since he was almost universally regarded as a top 20-30 prospect in the game. He looked like he was starting to put things together and really shake the rust off in July and August of this year, and he should be set to open the 2015 season in the Triple-A rotation with the reins significantly loosened. The Yankees will still treat him carefully, but if ManBan picks up where he left off at the end of this year he's going to be a potentially big time shot in the arm to the rotation or the bullpen, whichever needs him more, at some point next year.
That's the group of players that stand out to me as the most likely to get a shot, and it would be nice if 2 or 3 of them broke in and stuck with the Major League club next season. Anybody I missed? Let me know in the comments.