Looking Back At: Former Yankees Prospects (2017/2018 Offseason Traded)
The Yankees had set themselves up pretty well for the 2018 season when they went into the offseason after a disappointing exit from the postseason at the hands of the Houston Astros.
They had some extremely amazing seasons from their young developing core, from all the major fixtures of a baseball team with outfielder Aaron Judge (8.1 bWAR), starting pitcher Luis Severino (5.3 bWAR), catcher Gary Sanchez (4.1 bWAR), starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery (2.9 bWAR), and reliever Chad Green (2.7 bWAR).
Veterans like Brett Gardner (4.9), Aaron Hicks (3.9), Didi Gregorius (3.7), and CC Sabathia (2.8) were the remaining players who collected over 2.0 bWAR for the Yankees in 2017…and all these players were coming back!
They had a wonderful young core and powerful veteran presence, yet Brian Cashman and Co. saw opportunities to make trades with the Miami Marlins and a three-team deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks/Tampa Bay Rays to round out both the MLB roster and add to a diminishing farm system.
Let’s take a quick look at how those prospects from those two trades, and how the former Yankees traded away fared in their first season outside of the Yankees organization.
(trades will be listed chronologically)
Yankees Received: OF Giancarlo Stanton
Marlins Received: 2B Starlin Castro, and Prospects RHP Jorge Guzman and INF Jose Devers
As this post is dedicated towards the potential for talent that the Yankees have traded away, I will not dive into the seasons that both Giancarlo Stanton and Starlin Castro had for both of their new teams. (If you are interested, I have linked to a season recap post for each on their names above, as I will do with the next two trades.)
Of the two prospects the Marlins got back for the reigning NL-MVP, the notable piece going back was RHP Jorge Guzman, who had pitched his whole 2017 campaign with the Staten Island Yankees as a 21-year old. Quickly going over his stats, in his 2018 season, he pitched with the A+ affiliate for the Marlins, the Jupiter Hammerheads, where he pitched a career high 96.0 innings over 21 starts with a 4.03 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, and 101 strikeouts.
Guzman is a highly regarded prospect for the Marlins, and should be listed on every major baseball publications Top-10 team prospects list, including being #7 on BaseballProspectus’s 2019 recent list. At the beginning of the offseason, he was also added to the Marlins 40-Man Roster in addition to 6 other notable Marlins prospects. He was also one of 4 Marlins prospects to consistently pitch at/over 100 mph over the 2018 season in the minors, and he has hit digits as high as 103mph while in game.
The other prospect the Yankees traded away was infielder Jose Devers, who is cousins with Red Sox third-baseman Rafael Devers. He was considered more of a lottery-pick prospect, especially as a prospect who had just turned 18-years old, and has been a solid player for the Marlins farm system, even winning the MVP of his team, the previous-Marlins Class-A affiliate, the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
He hit to a very solid .272/.313/.330 (.644 OPS) in addition to 13 stolen bases over 85 games during his 2018 season, mostly at Class-A (sans 2 games with the aforementioned A+ Jupiter Hammerheads). BaseballAmerica did a nice little piece about Devers and fellow young prospect Luis Palacios from early October 2018.
Yankees Received: 3B Brandon Drury (ARI)
Diamondbacks Received: RHP Taylor Widener (NYY)
Rays Received: 2B Nick Solak (NYY)
The Diamonbacks got the only Yankees prospect from the 2017/2018 offseason who is currently on the MLB.com 2019 Preseason Top 100 Prospects List, with Taylor Widener, who is ranked #83 overall. Over 26 games (25 started) and 137.1 innings pitched, Widener pitched to a 2.75 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and a stunning 176 strikeouts, all as a 23 year-old for the Jackson Generals (AA).
Because I cannot do Widener justice, here is the blurb from MLB.com and the Top-100 prospect list:
“Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 55 Widener was largely a reliever at South Carolina and dominated out of the bullpen during his 2016 pro debut after the Yankees selected him in the 12th round. Moved into the rotation in 2017, he finished fourth in the system in strikeouts and sixth in ERA, then moved up to Double-A, where he finished off a playoff no-hitter. After being acquired by Arizona in a three-team trade in February that sent Brandon Drury to New York, Widener led the Double-A Southern League in strikeouts (176) and WHIP (1.03) and ranked second in ERA (2.75) in his second full season. Widener confidently attacks hitters with a plus fastball that sits at 92-94 mph, bumps a few ticks higher and has a high-spin rate that helps him generate whiffs. He made progress in 2018 in developing an effective changeup, now his better secondary weapon, and he continues to work on the consistency and action of his mid-80s slider. He has an athletic delivery that he can repeat well, which should lead to solid control. That Widener held up physically during his first two full seasons as a starter is encouraging considering he had ulnar transposition surgery on his pitching elbow in the fall of 2015 and also missed time with back and knee issues in college. Those prior injuries, combined with the fact that both his delivery and arm action require effort, have led some to forecast an eventual move to the bullpen, but the D-backs have been pleased with his development as a starter and will continue to develop him in that role.”
— MLB.com; 2019 Preseason, Top-100 Prospect List
The Tampa Bay Rays were the other team to grab a prospect from the Yankees in this trade, getting second-baseman Nick Solak. He was considered the second-coming of a recently failed 2B prospect in Rob Refsnyder, especially when his defensive value was called into question, as he was regarded as a bat-first prospect from his draft.
After being traded to the Rays, Solak played his entire 23-year old season with the Double-AA Rays affiliate Montgomery Biscuits, and hit very well over his 126 games, slashing .282/.384/.450 (.834 OPS) with career highs with both 19 Home Runs and 21 Stolen Bases.
Solak projects to be close to a Top-10 Rays prospect, ranking #13 on this Rays-based baseball blog, which seems to be very detailed after a quick read.
Quick Final Report:
Prospects are a gamble, a lottery, and most importantly a trade chip. With the top talent that the Yankees traded during the 2017/2018 offseason, it appears as though Brian Cashman and Co. did a wonderful job.
With getting the returns of two very solid MLB-players in Giancarlo Stanton and Brandon Drury (even though the later was traded away later in the season after the emergence of Miguel Andujar, but I digress), I would make these trades ten times out of ten.
Considering only 1 prospect they had traded away had made the MLB.com Top 100 prospects list (Widener), and the others had higher-rated replacements already in the organization (Albert Abreu vs. Guzman; Thairo Estrada vs. Solak/Devers), the depth was there and made these players available to net the Yankees great return.
Once again, I cannot fathom a complaint about the Yankees front office in relation to how well they made trades, and very rarely find themselves in a situation with a completely regrettable trade.