The 2016 IIATMS Top 30: Prospects 10-1

Gary Sanchez AZFL 2015 I've commented twice already on the mixed bag nature of the first 2 groups of prospects in this year's top 30 and I don't think that's a bad thing at all.  If anything, it shows how unpredictable the whole prospect ranking system because of the nature of prospects, and that's what makes stuff like this fun.  But the top 10 this year aren't as mixed.  In my evaluation, I see 2 very distinct groups of prospects that make up this highest tier.  I see a group of 5 players who can and likely will contribute at the Major League level in 2016, including a few more who are expected to take over regular starting spots in the lineup.  I also see a group of 5 players who have that same kind of ceiling but are about 2 years away from reaching that point.  The next wave, if you will.

That's a pretty good place to be from an organizational standpoint, especially when ownership is on a cost cutting crusade, and I think the makeup of this year's top 10 speaks volumes about the current state of the Yankee farm system and the positive trend it's been on over the last few years.  And now here they are, the top 10 prospects in the 2016 IIATMS Top 30:

10) Jacob Lindgren- LHRP, Triple-A SWB Age: 22, Throws: L Drafted: 2nd Round, 2014 2015 Stats: 1.23 ERA, 29 K in 22.0 AAA IP/4 ER, 8 K/4 BB in 7.0 MLB IP ETA: 2016

William's Take- There were mixed reactions when the Yankees drafted Lindgren in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft. Some were surprised the team would take a relief pitcher with their first pick and others were excited by the idea of a guy who could help right away.  After breezing through the minors and striking out 77 in 46.2 IP, Lindgren made his MLB debut on May 25th and pitched two strong innings against the Royals. He ultimately looked overmatched in his limited work, however. After not allowing a HR in any MiL appearance, he gave up 3 in just 7 innings of big league work. More alarming was that he was throwing 89-90 MPH after always being featured as a 92-94 MPH guy.  It all made sense when he went under the knife for the removal of bone spurs in his elbow, shelving him for the rest of the year.  Lindgren is never going to be a Chris Sale and probably not going to be Andrew Miller. But if he can regain his fastball after surgery and cut down on his walks, he can be very useful in the bullpen.

9) Dustin Fowler- OF, High-A Tampa Age: 21, Bats: L, Throws: L Drafted: 18th Round, 2013 2015 Stats: .298/.334/.394, 31 XBH, 64 R, 70 RBI in 518 PA (A-, A+) ETA: 2018

Brad's Take- I don't know what it is about the 18th round, but the Yankees know how to find talent there.  Brady Lail in 2012, Fowler in 2013, it's been a money round.  Fowler has already come a long way in his pro development after being drafted out of HS as a 2-sport athlete.  It's still probably too early to accurately gauge his true ceiling simply because he's making major improvements across the board, but 2015 was definitely a coming out party for him as a legitimate prospect.  He's got a little bit of everything to his game, with his hitting approach and power potential making strides and his speed and athleticism good enough to make him at least an average defensive outfielder and a threat on the basepaths.  It's worth noting that the Yankees sent him to the AZFL as a 20-year-old and invited him to Spring Training this year, so he's already got the attention of the organizational shot callers.  He can garner more national attention if his offensive game continues to blossom as he moves up the ladder.

8) Domingo Acevedo- RHSP, Low-A Charleston Age: 21, Throws: R Signed as international FA, 2013 2015 Stats: 1.81 ERA, 54 K/16 BB in 49.2 IP (SS SI, A-) ETA: 2018

Dom's Take- It is incredibly easy to compare Acevedo to fellow right-handed giant Michael Pineda. He regularly pumps his fastball into the upper 90s with movement, his slider has all the makings of a true plus pitch, and he can command both pitches fairly well (particularly considering his relative inexperience). There are some concerns with his mechanics, as he has been known to telegraph his off-speed pitches and lose his release point, and he struggles to maintain his velocity. That being said, Acevedo has the best pure stuff in the system right now, and a decent feel for a changeup. It's a top of the rotation profile if he sorts out his delivery. If not, it's also pretty easy to compare him to Dellin Betances...

7) Ian Clarkin- LHSP, High-A Tampa Age: 20, Throws: L Drafted: 1st Round, 2013 2015 Stats: 5.48 ERA,17 K/14 BB in 24.2 IP (AZFL) ETA: 2018-2019

Dom's Take- A bit over a year ago, I was in the midst of an existential crisis while deliberating who I would rank as the Yankees second-best prospect (that may be a slight exaggeration). I inevitably went with Luis Severino on the strength of his overpowering raw stuff and higher ceiling, but I still felt that it was more of a toss-up than anyone was willing to admit. What Clarkin lacked in raw stuff he made up for in polish, athleticism, and the ability to command three average-or-better offerings (including one of the sexiest 1-to-7 curves you’ll ever see). Alas, while Severino was justifying his ranking with the Yankees last season, Clarkin was missing the entire season with a mysterious elbow malady. Surgery was apparently never discussed and, luckily, he was able to pitch in the AZFL. Better yet, his stuff was there and the rust was fairly minimal. A year of lost development for a pitcher is never a good thing, and Clarkin has a long road ahead of him to make up for that time. Nevertheless, I still believe that he might have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the Yankees farm system.

6) Rob Refsnyder- 2B, Triple-A SWB Age: 24, Bats: R, Throws: R Drafted: 5th Round, 2012 2015 Stats: .271/.359/.402 in 525 AAA PA / .302/.348/.512 in 47 MLB PA ETA: 2016

Scott's Take- Has hit at all levels, breaking out at AA (.342/.385/.548), returning to earth but still solid at AAA (.282/.370/.423), and had a strong MLB debut (.302/.348/.512).  That debut was only 47 PA, but it shows Refsnyder is neither intimidated by the bigs nor a “Quad-A guy” who clobbers the minors but is immediately overmatched by big-league pitching (e.g., Zoilo Almonte). So the odds seem excellent he’s an average or above-average MLB hitter: before 2015, his MLB projection was .262/.328/.390 (102 wRC+); now, his 2016 projection is .267/.329/.436. His defense has progressed to acceptably subpar, or average at best.

For a hint at what that mix looks like, I did this Play Index search for players who’ve done what we might expect from Ref: Since 2000, which 2Bs, age 23-27, had 1-3 oWAR (i.e., average-ish hitting), with under 20 HR, and dWAR of 0 or worse (i.e., average or worse fielding)? As usual for any list of comps, it’s a mixed bag, but overall promising. In reverse chron order: Johnny Giavotella, Jason Kipnis, Gordon Beckham, Neil Walker, Daniel Murphy, Howie Kendrick, Robinson Cano, Rickie Weeks, Kelly Johnson, Brandon Phillips, D'Angelo Jimenez, Luis Castillo, Alfonso Soriano, Jose Vidro.

Obviously Refsnyder isn’t likely to replicate the high-end outliers, but the lowest-end ones also seem unlikely, and in between are a lot of useful players we’d be pretty happy to see him emulate.

5) Mason Williams- OF, Triple-A SWB Age: 24, Bats: L, Throws: R Drafted: 4th Round, 2010 2015 Stats: .318/.397/.398 in 235 MiL PA / .286/.318/.571 in 22 MLB PA ETA: 2016

EJ's Take-  How many prospects on this list could reasonably post a legitimate all star (>5 WAR) season in 2016 or 2017? By my count, it's just Sanchez, Judge, and Mason Williams. Williams has his flaws, but brings great contact hitting, outfield defense, and real power to the game. It won't take any progress from his (injury shortened) 2015 season for Williams to be a starting caliber MLB outfielder, with an outside shot at being the best outfielder on the Yankee roster. Even if he ends up a 4th outfielder, Williams will be valuable. There is a real bias in prospect ranking toward the new and shiny, but oftentimes the not-as-old-as-he-seems guy with a ton of talent (see also: Sanchez) is the best prospect.

4) Jorge Mateo- SS, High-A Tampa Age: 20, Bats: R, Throws: R Signed as international FA, 2012 2015 Stats: .278/.345/.392, 23 2B, 11 3B, 66 R, 82 SB in 500 PA (A-, A+) ETA: 2018

Tamar's Take- The young shortstop had his first year of full season baseball in 2015, spending the bulk of the year in Low-A Charleston along with 21 late-season games in Tampa. The 20-year old Mateo hit a combined .278/.345/.392 in 2015, with those numbers improving upon his promotion to High-A, but speed continues to be the main story. Mateo swiped 82 bags last season, best in all of pro baseball, while getting caught only 17 times. A solid fielder whose skills at the plate are still rather raw, Mateo is getting a fair amount of notice heading into 2016, landing on multiple top prospect lists and earning an non-roster invite to spring training. At the start of last season I did a more detailed scouting report, which can be found here.

3) James Kaprielian- RHSP, Low-A Charleston Age: 21, Throws: R Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 2015 Stats: 3.97 ERA, 14 K/4 BB in 11.1 IP (GCL, SS SI) ETA: 2017-2018

Dom's Take- If Clarkin doesn’t have the highest ceiling among the team’s pitching prospects, that’s because Kaprielian is really freaking good. Last year’s first round pick features four average or better pitches, with his change and curve being his two best offerings. His fastball went up a few ticks when he made his professional debut, sitting 93 to 96 (as compared to 90 to 93 in college), which could be the difference between a third or fourth starter and a top of the rotation profile. Kaprielian drew praise for being both ‘safe’ and ‘polished’ following the draft, yet some folks view that as a backhanded compliment - and that could not be further from the truth. Much of his value stems from the fact that he could be ready to help the Yankees as soon as this Fall, and his floor is as high as most any pitching prospect in the game. Kaprielian does not have the flashy breaking ball of Clarkin or the velocity of Severino, but he has everything else that you could ask for in a starting pitcher.

2) Aaron Judge- OF, Triple-A SWB Age: 23, Bats: R, Throws: R Drafted: 1st Round, 2013 2015 Stats: .255/.330/.448, 26 2B, 20 HR, 63 R, 72 RBI in 540 PA (AA, AAA) ETA: 2016-2017

EJ's Take- What type of hitter will Aaron Judge be? For good reason, the first sentence in any conversation about him is his size. He's a massive, surprisingly athletic hitter. He would be one of the largest hitters in MLB history if he makes the majors. His size, and to some extent his batting practice home runs, suggests that he can be an elite power hitter. However, Judge hasn't been a traditional power hitter in games yet. He hits the ball very hard, allowing him to maintain a .281/.375/.467 batting line in the minors despite a strikeout rate over 25%.

There appear to be three outcomes for Judge: 1) He'll sell out for more power, increasing his strikeout rate further and lowering the batting average 2) He'll keep his current batted ball tendencies, and look more like a 20-25 home run hitter with more singles and doubles or 3) He'll keep the high strikeout rate, but neither maintain his batted ball tendencies or find elite power. He's a fascinating player, who could be anywhere from impending bust to the next Giancarlo Stanton. The good news is for now he's a strong enough defensive outfielder that he could be a valuable MLB regular even without everything clicking.

1) Gary Sanchez- C, Triple-A SWB Age: 23, Bats: R, Throws: R Signed as international FA, 2009 2015 Stats: .274/.330/.485, 23 2B, 18 HR, 50 R, 62 RBI in 400 PA (AA, AAA) ETA: 2016

Brad's Take- Did people even realize how good a year Gary Sanchez had in 2015?  I honestly didn't until I looked up the numbers for this list.  He hit .295/.349/.500 for SWB AFTER being promoted, over 50 OPS points better than what he was hitting at Trenton.  And he absolutely owned the AZFL.  The idea that Sanchez was no longer a top 100 prospect heading into last season was always garbage to me, and he proved that in a big way with his performance.  He basically gave Cash the green light to trade John Ryan Murphy.  Defensively he's never going to be a Gold Glover.  He lacks the athleticism to be a truly great ball blocker and his framing is nothing special.  But he can gun down runners like it's going out of style and the reports on his defensive progress continue to be positive.  2016 is shaping up to the be the year that Sanchez starts to take over as the next great Yankee catcher, and as a potential 20+ home run guy with a cannon for an arm, it could be the start of an All Star career.