SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Minor League Depth, Draft Update, and Gary Sanchez!
By Andy Singer
I’m definitely in a different mood this week thinking about the Yankees. Sweeps have a way of doing that. I’m not saying that the team doesn’t still have issues (they do), but it’s good to see the offense round into form a little more. I’ve been one of the few in the corner of the rosom whispering that the offense would show some positive regression eventually, and it’s starting to happen. Multiple Yankees not named Aaron Judge have been hitting for weeks now, and it will get even better when the Yankees realize that there isn’t a single MLB caliber team that should ever bat Rougned Odor 3rd. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that that the Yankees started hitting more as the public conversation around illegal substances on the ball reached a fever pitch over the last few weeks. Let’s just say that I expect the positive trends to continue offensively now that changes have been made.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll examine the minor league pitching depth, talk about the upcoming MLB Draft, and analyze Gary Sanchez’s hot streak! Let’s get at it:
Kevin asks: The team’s strength for most of the season has been pitching, but it doesn’t look so solid lately. With Deivi Garcia struggling at AAA, are there any realistic options this year to come up to MLB and help?
Deivi Garcia has been as disappointing this year as any prospect I’ve liked in recent memory. I really did not expect control to be a major issue for Garcia as he rose to the high minors. However, it has now been part of his profile as a pitcher since 2019, and now it is legitimately holding him back as a pitcher. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: 8.5 BB/9 is not going to get it done anywhere, and it certainly means that Garcia won’t be a big league option anytime soon.
The good news is that there are other pitchers having big years down in the minors. The Yankees made a bevy of minor league promotions and demotions earlier this week, and much of it was done to get pitching to the upper levels of the minors.
Luis Gil was recently bumped from AA to AAA after dominating hitters with Somerset, striking out 50 in 30.2 innings to go with a 2.64 ERA. Anytime a pitcher makes it to AAA and is on the 40-man roster, they are a blink away from the majors.
Luis Medina has been my favorite pitching prospect in the Yankee system for years now, and he’s finally putting all of the pieces together in games. Medina recently moved from A+ to AA, and he’s basically been unhittable. At A+, Medina allowed just 5 hits per 9 innings while striking out 50 batters in 32.2 innings. In his first start at AA, Medina put on a show, dominating batters with all 3 of his pitches while striking out 10 batters in 5.2 innings. From a pure stuff perspective, few pitchers at any level of professional baseball can match what Medina brings to the table.
Glenn Otto was lost in the Rule 5 Draft this offseason, but was returned just prior to the start of the year. Otto is using a strong fastball and breaking ball to dominate AA hitters with 69 strikeouts in 41 innings. He may not remain a starter long-term, as Otto doesn’t have a 3rd pitch and sometimes struggles to hold his stuff deep into games, but the fastball and breaking ball would absolutely play up out of the bullpen.
I’m not sure any of these 3 could be counted on every 5th day at the MLB level this year, but in 2-4 inning outings? I think it is very likely that at least one of these 3 debuts this year in a valuable multi-inning relief role. Most importantly, there is definitely room in the current bullpen to add one or two good pitchers.
Ben asks: Any ideas yet on what the Yankees are going to do in the first round of the draft? Any positions of need that can be filled?
I’m not someone who believes in drafting for need in the early rounds of the draft. I think the Yankees should figure out who the best player available is, and draft that player regardless of position. For instance, the Yankees have drafted a bunch of catchers in recent years, but if the best player is a catcher when the Yankees’ number is called, I would have zero issue with them catching another catcher. Minor league failure rates are high enough that over-abundance of depth has a way of working itself out.
The first round of the draft is a mess after most amateurs lost a huge chunk of 2020 on both league and showcase circuits. For the first time ever, I’m not sure it’s inherently more risky to pick a high school player in the first round than a more developed college player because teams are still playing catch-up on their evaluations. Additionally, we are seeing a higher rate of major injuries and surprise performances both good and bad as players ramped up after a year of relative inactivity. All of this means that draft boards are all over the place, and changing by the day.
It wouldn’t shock me to see the Yankees take an injured/rehabbing star that was previously ranked as a Top-15 draft pick like Gunnar Hoglund or Jaden Hill in either Round 1 or 2. I have also seen the Yankees connected to multiple toolsy high school outfield bats, like Will Taylor, who is relatively advanced for a two-sport star.
Overall, I think this is a riskier draft than usual, but there is still plenty of talent where the Yankees are picking.
Bobby asks: Is there anything in Gary’s recent hot streak that makes you think he’s here to stay?
I am likely one of the biggest Gary Sanchez apologists writing on the internet, so I’m biased when it comes to questions like this. I’ve always loved Higgy as a backup catcher, but I never thought he was the answer as the starting catcher. Gary is slimmer and more agile on the field (this is backed up by his sprint speed readings by Statcast), and there are some underlying numbers that give me real hope that the real Gary Sanchez is right here in front of us.
There is one thing Sanchez is doing that he hasn’t done since 2017: he’s hitting breaking balls. Check out his numbers against them: .273 BA, .618 SLG, and 5 HR. That’s fantastic, and I’d bet that spin rates on breaking balls are going to drop around the league, making Gary even more potent against breaking balls. I was worried about the fact that his numbers against fastballs have sagged, but even those numbers are perking up over the last month. In short, I think Gary’s ascendance is for real.
Gary will always be prone to streaks with the big leg kick that starts his swing, but in the aggregate, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t hit enough to be an offensive centerpiece and play good enough defense to stick at catcher.