Baby Bombers: 3 Up, 3 Down
We have all witnessed the success that the Yankees have had on the big stage early on in the 2022 season. The Yankees enter Sunday in first place in the AL East, having rattled off an 11-game winning streak and taking 2 out of 3 games from the Toronto Blue Jays, a team with whom they will likely battle for the AL crown all season long. It's a good time to be a Yankee fan! As good as the big club has been, it would be easy to ignore the farm system. That would be a mistake.
The Yankees boast one of the better farm systems in baseball, with a plethora of interesting prospects with loud tools and high ceilings. A few breaks in the right direction this season, and the Yankees could be on the verge of graduating multiple impact prospects in the next year or two. More to the point, some of those guys may even arrive as soon as this season. With that in mind, I think it's prudent to take a look at how some of the guys we're dreaming of down on the farm are performing early in 2022. While we should be careful not to get too high or too low based on small sample sizes, I think that there is plenty to learn in early season numbers. Without any further ado, let's take a look at some guys trending up, and some guys trending down:
Ken Waldichuck has been simply unhittable in the early going for AA Somerset. After a fast start last season, Waldichuck got his first taste of AA, and struggled somewhat in 16 starts, producing a 4.99 ERA with bumps in both his walk rate and home run rate primarily to blame for any struggles. 2022 has simply been a complete turnaround for the young lefty.
Waldichuck was sent to Somerset to repeat AA, and to say that he's pushing for a promotion would be an understatement. In 18.2 innings pitched (4 starts), Waldichuck has a 1.45 ERA, with 28 strikeouts against just 6 walks, 4.8 H/9, and a 0.857 WHIP. In short, he's been totally dominant to the point that video game numbers might actually pale in comparison. If not for the logjam of pitching prospects in the upper minors right now, I'd say that Waldichuck would be due for a promotion any minute. It may not hurt to let Waldichuck see the league once through to make sure this performance isn't a mirage, but it doesn't really look like Waldichuck is being challenged by AA hitters right now. Waldichuck commands his mid-90s fastball well and is beginning to show both control and command with his slider. I think the Yankees are going to need to find room for Waldichuck at Scranton-Wilkes Barre in short order.
Yes, I know I have a thing for Medina. He is one of my favorite prospects not just in the Yankees' system, but in all of baseball. I can't think of a pitching prospect in the league with three pitches as good as Medina's. All that's missing is consistency, fastball command, and enough control to harness the stuff multiple times through a batting order. The early signs in AA are promising on all fronts.
Medina still is walking a fair number of batters early in 2022 (6.2 BB/9), but he's pairing that with strikeouts (16 in 11.2 innings pitched) and an utterly tantalizing ability to limit hits (just 5 hits in 11.2 innings, just 3.9 H/9). Medina has drastically cut the number of hitters he is allowing to reach base when compared to his performance at AA in 2021, and as a result he's allowing fewer runs, posting a 2.31 ERA. Yes, the walks are still a bit worrisome, but when you limit hits and strike guys out at the rate Medina certainly will all the way up the ladder, you can live with them. Medina still lives in the high 90s throughout his starts, and even reaches back for 100+ late in starts when he needs it. Medina could hack it as a high leverage reliever in the big leagues right now, but the Yankees owe it to themselves to see if Medina can start. This is his last season to prove it, as he's out of options, but don't be surprised to see him in the Yankees' bullpen before season's end, even if his ultimate role proves to be in the rotation.
Wesneski has been nothing other than impressive early on in the AAA season. Hayden Wesneski and Ken Waldichuck are often lumped together in scouting lists due to similar profiles despite pitching with opposite hands. Scouts and talent evaluators are split as to which young Yankee they prefer, but neither guy is making that choice easy in 2022. Wesneski has seen his velocity bump up a couple of ticks (like every other Yankee prospect) each of the last couple of seasons, which has allowed his secondary offerings to play up. Of note, Wesneski has been tossing the new slider seemingly everyone in the system is throwing (the Yankees call it the "whirly") to great affect.
Wesneski has struck out 26 batters in 24 innings through 5 starts, limiting hits at 5.6 H/9, walking just 5 batters, and allowing a 2.63 ERA. Wesneski has just 35 innings of total experience at AAA, so the Yankees will likely allow him to get over 100 innings before even considering a call-up, but he's on the short list if the Yankees need an extra starter or an injury replacement in the rotation.
Honorable Mention: Cooper Bowman
Bowman almost certainly didn't find his way into the top-20 of any Yankee prospect lists coming into 2022, but he's a prospect I really liked after he was drafted in the 4th round of the 2021 MLB Draft. At Louisville, Bowman had a feel for putting the bat on the ball and showed some speed on the basepaths. He's shown all of those things early on in his tenure with the Yankees, and I think people need to take notice.
At A+ Hudson Valley, Bowman has stolen 14 bases (!) in just 88 plate appearances and has only been caught once. He has also displayed impressive plate discipline, walking 20 times versus 19 strikeouts. While the strikeout numbers are a bit high for a polished Division 1 ballplayer, it hasn't hurt him with a .262/.432/.477 batting line thus far. Bowman is stroking liners all over the field as a gap-to-gap hitter, really applying pressure as a baserunner, and displaying solid fielding at both 2B and SS. Bowman is a name to watch.
Maybe I'm not being fair, but this feels like a make-or-break season for Breaux. Breaux would have been left exposed in the Rule 5 Draft this offseason had one actually occurred, which tells me that the Yankees are not sold on Breaux long-term despite having reached the upper minors. Breaux hasn't done anything to disavow the Yankees of that notion thus far.
Breaux has flashed his trademark power, with 5 homers in 68 plate appearances, but he hasn't really done much else, batting .188 while walking just 4 times against a whopping 21 strikeouts. When combined with the fact that Breaux remains rough behind the plate, it's getting harder to squint to see an impact big leaguer.
While he's playing a little better in recent days, with a home run over the weekend, he is hitting the ball on the ground almost exclusively, which makes it nearly impossible to capitalize on his elite truly exit velocities. Of significant concern are his strikeouts, as he has struck out a stunning 33 times in 101 plate appearances against just 7 walks. Maybe a good weekend is a sign of things to come, but it's beginning to look like the Yankees rushed Dominguez out of the complex leagues last season.
Peraza entered the 2022 campaign seemingly on the cusp of Major League playing time. The slick fielding shortstop had hit well both at AA and in a cameo appearance at AAA in the 2021 season, and just needed to show a continuation of that progress in 2022 to be a Yankee after midseason. By those standards, 2022 has been a disappointment.
Peraza has hit .213/.292/.350 with 2 home runs in 89 plate appearances. Peraza has stolen 6 bases without being caught, which is excellent, and his plate discipline looks decent on the surface with a manageable 16 strikeouts against 6 walks. The underlying numbers indicate that Peraza may be hitting into some bad luck, so I have high hopes that Peraza won't be on this list again.
Honorable Mention: Anthony Volpe
Volpe makes this list because the expectations were so high for him in 2022. Volpe may yet go on a tear, but he'd have to see some pitches to make that happen. Volpe has not seen a ton of strikes down in AA this season, and while his 15 walks in 96 Plate Appearances speaks to that fact, his 24 strikeouts in the same timeframe show that he's reaching to try to make something happen. Indications are that Volpe is working to right the ship, and the plus side is that he's stolen 10 bases while only getting caught once, hit 3 homers, and appears to have an improved arm at SS after offseason work to improve his arm strength. Let's hope Volpe's early season struggles (,187/.333/.373) are a blip on the radar.