SSTN Top 15 Yankee Prospects: Ghosts of Prospects’ Past
Before we finish our series on the SSTN Top 15 Yankee Prospects, I thought it might be a really good idea to put this group of Yankee prospects into some form of context. I was on the Bronx Beat Podcast the other night, and we had a really fun discussion about the group of guys that comprised the River Ave Blues 2015 Top 30 Yankee Prospects. It’s a longer episode, but I recommend checking it out:
2015 was an exciting year for prospects, much like 2020! The Yankees had spent years trying to rebuild a nearly barren farm system, and the system was finally stocked with interesting prospects. I think it is interesting to understand exactly what happened to the 2015 group in the context of possible outcomes for the prospects on the SSTN Top 15 list. While Bronx Beat host EJ Fagan and I discuss most of these prospects in-depth on the podcast, I divided important prospects from that era into a few groups.
The first, and possibly the most interesting, are the guys who didn’t quite pan out for one reason or another:
PROSPECTS WHO DIDN’T WORK OUT (RELATIVE TO PROSPECT STATUS)
· Greg Bird
· Rob Refsnyder
· Jacob Lindgren
· Ian Clarkin
· Jorge Mateo
· Tyler Austin
· Eric Jagielo
· Bryan Mitchell
· Ty Hensley
· Austin DeCarr
· Slade Heathcott
· Ramon Flores
· Goskue Katoh
· Brady Lail
· Leonardo Molina
This list is fascinating to look at relative to the prospects that are on the SSTN Top 15 Prospects list. Most of the pitchers on this list, including Hensley, Clarkin, and DeCarr, all had big time breaking balls that caused the Yankees to dream of high strikeout numbers. That never materialized. Injuries decimated both Clarkin and Hensley’s stuff to the point that they would never be viable big league options, while DeCarr turned out to be one of the over-slot draft picks who just wasn’t as good as billed. Still another, Jacob Lindgren, was billed as a can’t-miss reliever, only to never make it to the big leagues with a high-80 to low-90s MPH fastball and looping slider that diminished following injuries.
We saw the injury bug destroy position player prospects on this list as well. Leonardo Molina was a speedy, toolsy outfielder that the Yankees signed out of Latin America at 16, only to watch as he sadly hurt his ankle, sapping him of speed and mechanics at the plate. Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin both had injuries ravage their careers, though Austin is still hanging around the fringes of the Majors. The most famous of these is obviously Greg Bird, who sustained shoulder, ankle, and foot injuries that fundamentally changed his career trajectory after making a huge splash in his rookie season.
Still others on this list just never quite lived up to their prospect reputations. Jagielo had carrying tools in his arm, power, and bat, but strikeouts and pitch recognition issues halted his ascent through the minors. Rob Refsnyder over-performed his tools at every level except for the Majors, though he is still hanging around. Jorge Mateo has not yet found a way to break through AAA despite loud tools.
THE JURY IS STILL OUT
· Miguel Andujar
· Luis Torrens
Miguel Andujar had a huge rookie season, and sadly wrecked his shoulder in April 2019. He looked great in Spring Training this year, and many (myself included) believe that he will fulfill his promise at the plate, but there is certainly risk that he could be Greg Bird 2.0.
Luis Torrens is one of the most fascinating prospects on this list. Torrens was a great prospect in the Yankee system, whose ascent through the minors was delayed by injuries. The Padres surprisingly drafted Torrens as a 21 year old in the Rule 5 draft prior to the 2017 season despite the fact that Torrens had only just reached Low-A Charleston for the Yankees. Somehow, the Padres hid Torrens on the roster the entire season, and he has continued his development between the minors and Majors ever since. Torrens has performed well in AA, and is lauded for his defense, so he may yet be a productive big league catcher. I feel awful that the Padres may have stunted his development by stashing him in the Majors with little playing time at age 21, but it is an interesting experiment.
UNHERALDED PROSPECTS WHO WORKED OUT (HIDDEN GEMS)
· Mike Ford
· Jordan Montgomery
· Caleb Smith
Now we start getting to the fun stuff. None of these guys appeared on River Ave Blues’ list, but they were mentioned in other prospect rankings. Mike Ford was a favorite of many prospect observers (myself included, as you are all aware) due to his patience and pop. Ford opened a lot of eyes last year, and just his performance last year means that he has likely outperformed his prospect status
Monty was a light-tossing lefty who gained a bit of velocity and learned to utilize all of his pitches effectively to become a good Major League pitcher. Time will tell how Tommy John Surgery will effect his career, but he proved he belonged.
Caleb Smith might be known as the one who got away. Smith was traded along with Garrett Cooper for current Yankee prospect Mike King. King should aspire to have Smith’s career. Smith has blossomed into an above-average starting pitcher with strong strikeout numbers which leads me to believe that Smith is on the ascent. The 40-man roster crunch was likely a consideration when the Yankees made that trade, but I think this is a deal that Cashman would want back.
TOP PROSPECTS WHO WORKED OUT (RELATIVE TO PROSPECT STATUS)
· Luis Severino
· Aaron Judge
· Gary Sanchez
· Domingo German
· Jake Cave
· Chasen Shreve
· Tyler Webb
· Abiatal Avelino
I don’t think we need to talk much about the guys at the top. Sevy, Judge, and Sanchez are part of the core of the current Yankee roster. For all of their injury concerns, they are All-Star caliber players, and more than lived up to their prospect status.
We have spoken a lot about German this off-season for all of the wrong reasons. Still, the Yankees acquired German for almost nothing, and he appears to have exceeded his prospect status in terms of performance.
Cave, Shreve, Webb, and Avelino are not Yankees in 2020, however all spent time in the Yankee farm system and have carved out MLB careers. Cave and Avelino are important bench pieces for the Twins and Giants, respectively; Webb threw important innings for the Cardinals last season; and Shreve threw some good, important innings early in his Yankee tenure.
When looking at the wide range of outcomes for the guys who were considered the Yankees’ top prospects in 2015, it is important to understand the reality of likely outcomes for the group of prospects we’ve been talking about in the 2020 SSTN Top 15 Prospects list. Some of the guys on that list will likely have injuries alter their career trajectories; others may not overcome known flaws in their games; raw prospects may never turn tools into in-game skills; still others may march through the minors and be part of the next Yankee core; and some that we have barely discussed may just surprise us. The moral of the story? Prospects will excite you, and break your heart.