Where is the Yankee Farm System At, How Can it Help, and What is the Path Forward?
by Cary Greene
July 23, 2021
Starting the year, the Yankee Farm System wasn’t highly regarded by baseball insiders. The top prospects had been hurt by injuries and a lack of playing time, or they had slid dramatically for other reasons. There were lower-minors types who had big upside, but a lot of that talent was still wait-and-see and a long way from impacting the big league club.
Some of that has changed. It’s been a good year for the minor leagues so far.
Still, what the Yankees lack is an “uber prospect” like a Wander Franco or a Mackenzie Gore – someone who has mastered all levels of the system and is seen as a blue-chip future all-star and whose arrival is imminent. This explains part of why the Yankee system is rated lower than we might expect.
Still, the Yankees have Jason Dominguez, right? Here is hoping his path to the Majors is fast and direct.
Let’s look at the system overall and see where the Yankees are:
HOW THE YANKEES FARM SYSTEM IS PERFORMING THIS SEASON:
Resoundingly, the Yankee system is showing this year that it has quite a bit of high-end talent and a solid amount of depth. In fact, at the Triple-A level, the Yankees have the clear cut second best team in all of minor-league baseball, the Scranton RailRiders, who are only eclipsed by Tampa Bay’s Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls.
No matter where you look, the Yankees have a very good team, sitting in or near first-place in their respective divisions. In Double-A, the Somerset Patriots are another example, though they’re in a bit of a slide recently, the Patriots rank as the second best Double-A team at the halfway mark this season – sitting behind only Boston’s affiliate, the Portland Sea Dogs who recently moved into first place in the Northeast Division.
Moving down to the High-A level, Hudson Valley Renegades are the fourth best team, eclipsed only by Bowling Green Hot-Rods, Tampa Bay’s affiliate, the Quad Cities River Bandits, who are with the Royals, and the Everett Aqua Sox of Seattle.
In Low-A baseball, the Tampa Tarpons are bested only by the Tampa Bay’s affiliate, the Charleston River-Dogs.
This speaks to success, and lots of it.
Of course, one cannot help but see that Tampa’s farm system is right there with, or even ahead, of the Yankees.
WHAT KIND OF SYSTEM DO THE YANKEES REALLY HAVE THOUGH?:
When you add up all the minor-league talent and look at the results the depth is clearly providing, the Yankees system appears to be getting it done but of course, a lot more goes into how systems are ranked and considered.
It’s all about each system’s higher-end talent and that’s where the Yankees get dinged. A case-in-point example would be to compare the unanimous #1 ranked system in baseball, which belongs to the rival Tampa Bay Rays, to that of the Yankees.
Tampa has a very deep system of course, one which is highlighted by one superstar, Wander Franco (who has a Future Value of 80), three more potential stars with Future Values of 60, nine players with a Future Values of 50 and ten more behind that with a value of 45+ and 40. Tampa has upper end studs and very high end depth. That’s a scary good collection of talent and one that should keep the Rays at the top of the game for some time.
It should be noted also that the Rays don’t trade their better prospects. They keep them and develop them. The Rays do wheel and deal, but their trades almost always involve dumping a star player for a prospect haul. That’s exactly how they’ve become so good. This is a philosophy that was implemented by now Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom.
When we contrast the Ray’s system to that of the Yankees, we see that the Yankees have significantly less depth, headed by just eight players with a Future Value of 50 or more. That group includes Dominguez by the way. The Yankees then have six players in the 45+ to 40 Future Value range. Suffice it to say that the Yankees are light years away from being able to compare to the Tampa Bay system.
So, while the teams are being successful, the Yankees just do not have the depth of talent that the Rays have.
WHAT’S THE OUTLOOK ON THE YANKEE SYSTEM PRESENTLY?:
Oodles of unexpected breakout players inhabit the the Yankee’s system from the lower levels right up to Triple-A, according to many baseball insiders and scouts.
Anthony Volpe, Ezequiel Duran, Oswald Peraza, Diego Castillo, Josh Smith, and believe it or not, Hoy Park have all become significantly more valuable prospects this season.
Park has been a revelation at Triple-A, to the point other teams are now forced to pitch around him. Volpe is destroying Low-A baseball and I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to be promoted to High-A soon.
From a pitching perspective, there are a number of breakout pitchers who weren’t valued all that highly in the Yankee’s system at the start of the year, but who are coming around.
23-year-old lefty Edgar Barclay is pitching very well for the Tarpons this year so far. 24-year-old Zach Greene, no relation to me, and 25-year-old righty Janson Junk and soon to be 27-year old Rob Marinachhio are all having super seasons in Somerset. Johnny Brito, a 23-year-old with Hudson Valley is pitching great as well. Greg Weissert, a 26-year-old righty at Triple-A Scranton is also totally dealing this summer.
Double-A pitchers are easily capable of being called up in short order so the Yankee pitching prospectus is way brighter than most bloggers realize. There are at least four pitchers who could be called up before the end of year. The Yankee system is actually significantly better than it was given credit for at the start of the season.
FAN’S WANTS MUST BE TEMPERED AGAINST THE YANKEES FUTURE:
Many people would like to see the Yankees swing a few deadline trades this year for a few difference makers, in order to help them catch – you guessed it, the Tampa Bay Rays and the upstart Boston Red Sox. If Brian Cashman does this, it’s going to cost the Yankees system substantially and at this time next year, there is a very good chance the Yankees might have a system that is valued quite a bit lower. This leads the Yankees down a path of spending big money to be able to compete with young, talented teams that are constantly bringing up game changing prospects. Is that really a future vision you’d support?
We all want the Yankees to contend this year, but it should not be done at the expense of mortgaging the future. That’s the situation the Yankees are now in. Their minor league system is showing growth and improvement. There’s hope on the horizon. Should they trade that hope for the immediate needs of 2021?
Arguments pop up all the time that persuade fans to believe that the Yankees don’t need as many high-end prospects constantly impacting the big-league roster because the Yankees have money and they can go out and buy established talent every off-season. These views have some merit but we also have to consider sustainability. If the luxury tax is a cap, the Yankees actually need to rely on young talent to build a competitive big league roster.
THERE IS SUCH A THING AS ACCUMULATING TOO MUCH TALENT:
One one hand, there is such a thing as accumulating too much talent. If a team does this and fails to develop it, there is a thing called the Rule 5 Draft. Held each December, the Rule 5 Draft allows clubs without a full 40-man roster to select certain non-40-man roster players from other clubs. Clubs draft in reverse order of the standings from the previous season. Players signed at age 18 or younger need to be added to their club’s 40-Man roster within five seasons or they become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Players who signed at age 19 or older need to be protected within four seasons.
Not every club will make a selection, but those that do pick a player must pay $100,000 to the club from which said player was selected. Rule 5 Draft picks are assigned directly to the drafting club’s 26-man roster and must be placed on outright waivers in order to be removed from the 26-man roster in the subsequent season. Should the player clear waivers, he must be offered back to his previous team for $50,000 and can be outrighted to the minors only if his original club does not wish to reacquire him.
Teams with holes to fill can take players from teams with deep systems via the Rule 5 Draft. The Yankees don’t often have much need to do this, because they usually have a hard enough time promoting the talent they do have, mainly because their roster is already flush with free agent acquisitions. In other words, the Yankees can’t even find places to put players they probably should be hanging on to. A nice example of that recently is when Bloom and the Red Sox cherry-picked Garrett Whitlock from the Yankees this winter, via the Rule 5 Draft. Whitlock owns a 1.38 ERA and is pretty much an All-Star reliever at this point for Boston. He’s also likely to become a starter next season according to internal chatter coming from the Red Sox front office.
THE YANKEES STRUGGLE TO MOVE PLAYERS THROUGH THEIR SYSTEM:
Assessing all factors, it would be prudent for the Yankees to focus on identifying a very short list of certain minor league players and basically making them untouchable. The problem is, the Yankees aren’t moving their talent through the system fast enough, so if they don’t get better at this, they’ll lose several more players to other teams in the coming years.
One reason for this is that the Yankees play guys out of position. I don’t know why they do this but other teams, especially scouts, catch on to this from day one. An example of this is 22-year-old Catcher Austin Wells who is hyped as the Yankees 6th best prospect by MLB.COM – yet numerous scouts from other organizations have flat out said that best case scenario, Wells is an emergency catcher at best. Catcher is not his projected Major League position. Because the Yankees are playing Wells out of position, they’re denying him valuable reps at first base (where he projects) stunting his development and costing themselves in the long run. At some point, Wells will have to start learning the footwork and throwing skills necessary around the bag at first. By the time the Yankees finally move him there, it may require an entire extra year to develop him. He’ll be a player that the Yankees will risk losing to the Rule-5 Draft, or they’ll have to trade him just before it for a low return. Brian Cashman has a long history of offloading players ahead of the Rule 5 Draft after all. The Yankees’ talent also gets cherry picked by more savvy front offices.
THE YANKEES ARE ACTUALLY WAY TOO RELIANT ON ANALYTICS:
Another problem the Yankees have in spades is that they’ve become too reliant on analytics. Did you know Michael Fishman’s job title is not Head of Analytics? It’s Assistant GM. Let’s not kid ourselves because we didn’t fall off a turnip truck yesterday. The Yankees have a major problem. Fishman has become in many regards the real GM of the Yankees. Hal Steinbrenner will invest money, but only if he believes the investments are sound and so Cashman relies on Fishman to explain to the room why whatever move they’re contemplating is a good one….at which point, I wonder….what does Hal Steinbrenner need Cashman for exactly? Oh yeah, right, to negotiate the contracts with the players Fishman chooses to go after.
The Yankees obsession with analytics is far reaching and it has created a negative impact on the Farm System and the way the team trades and drafts. The damage Fishman has done is profound. Not only are the Yankees a one dimensional, home run or bust, fundamentally flawed and predominantly right-handed team at the big league level – but many players the Yankees have gone after are players that this brain trust loves. They look at power arms, spin rates, all sorts of things when they evaluate pitchers, but somewhere outside the room, probably near the water cooler or in the dining room inside the clubhouse, there is a small table of scouts getting ready to fly home. Every one of them is aware that the player being acquired has serious flaws. It seems the Yankees look at data, not the actual players themselves.
ANALYTICS HAS HURT HOW THE YANKEES DRAFT PITCHERS:
Laughably, many pitchers the Yankees have gone after don’t even know how to pitch. A great example of this can be found in Luis Gil, Luis Medina, Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo and others. Sure, the Yankees have lots of power arms with high spin rates, but very few of them know how to pitch, with the exception of Yoendrys Gomez, the Yankees 21-year old righty who pitches currently for the Tarpons and who scouts from other teams routinely report on as being the only top Yankee pitching prospect outside of Clarke Schmidt who has a feel for pitching.
In the name of analytics and in order to achieve more velocity or better spin rates the Yankees also tamper with developing prospects, to the point of completely goofing them up mechanically. This causes many Yankee prospects value to depreciate faster than a newly purchased cars once driven off the lot.
Look at what they’ve done with once promising pitching prospect Deivi Garcia. A scout who watched Garcia recently said on the condition of anonymity to NJ Advance Media, “Deivi Garcia has gone so far backwards that it’s sad to watch. The Yankees changed his delivery and they’re trying to teach him this flat sweeping slider that’s not effective. He had a plus curveball that he’s not throwing it as much. Honestly, I don’t know what the Yankees are doing.” He continued, “I think a lot of this is in an effort for Garcia to throw harder. His delivery is very Driveline-like where it’s over-rotational, and when you watch him pitch from his balance point, he flies open. The big thing on Driveline is to land on your front leg and kind of load your body forward, but Garcia is so over-rotational that he spins off, hits his leg and falls off to first base on every pitch.”
OVERRELIANCE ON ANALYTICS HAS HURT POSITION PLAYER DRAFTING AND DEVELOPMENT:
The analytics group haven’t only stunted the Yankees minor league pitching, they’ve sabotaged position players being developed as well. As noted, the Yankees often draft players and then start them right off playing out of position. In addition, the Yankees have made many terrible draft choices. The decisions reek of pure analytics void of any scouting influence. In fact, let’s not just look at Austin Wells, let’s look at every single catcher the Yankees have drafted recently with the exception of Antonio Gomez, who actually is a catcher.
Scouts from other organizations are completely baffled as to what the Yankees saw in Anthony Seiger that prompted them to spend a 1st Round Pick on him. At the time, the Yankees loved his switch hitting ability and defensive promise. Scouts pointed out his batting skills were so far behind, they’d likely never enable him to hit over .200 and we’re seeing this in full bloom now. Currently Seigler is hitting exactly .202 in High-A for Hudson Valley. And the supposed defense in terms of pitch framing and blocking balls, which is rated as fair, is offset by his weak ability to throw out runners. 27 base-runners have successfully stolen on him this summer alone. He’s only managed to throw out 5 would-be base stealers.
These same scouts will quickly tell you that Josh Breaux, who the Yankees drafted based on his power potential and arm strength, is another player who is grossly out of position. In fact, though he has a strong arm, he has a very slow transfer rate and he’s extremely inaccurate with his throws, as evidenced by 48 runners stealing on him so far this year. Breaux has only thrown out only 10. Those numbers simply won’t cut it going forward. He’s also a poor pitch framer and he’s borderline terrible at blocking balls. Scouts feel he’s probably better suited to be a home run or bust DH, but his strike out rate is so alarming that there are concerns if can even stick at DH.
I’ve illuminated some of the major problems that are going on with the Yankees system, they’re truly too numerous to go through any further. Things are a mess right now with the Yankees and it truly does point back to over valuing analytics.
Let’s turn our attention now to how much gas is in the tank right now. Is it enough to get the Yankees to the Trade Deadline and beyond? That’s a really tall order obviously. Almost unthinkable considering the Yankees schedule. Who can the Yankees turn to internally?
WHAT THE YANKEES HAVE DONE TO-DATE OUT OF DESPERATION:
The Yankees recently called up Hoy Park, Chris Gittens, Trey Amburgey, Ryan LaMarre & Greg Allen as emergency Covid related roster fill-ins.
WHAT THE YANKEES NEED MOST:
Talk to any baseball expert and they’ll tell you mostly the same thing. The Yankees desperately needs to upgrade from Brett Gardner in centerfield. That’s priority number one. Gardy is hitting .191 with a .301 OBP and an OPS of .603, while providing an UZR of -.05 in CF and +.04 in LF. HIs bat is killing the Yankees.
INTERNAL SOLUTIONS FOR CENTERFIELD AND THE OUTFIELD AS A WHOLE:
From looking at the numbers and evaluating what improvements certain Scranton players have made, the Yankees should use Hoy Park, Ryan LaMarre, and Greg Allen as their outfielders right now and going forward.
The team may even want to call up Thomas Milone from Scranton as his hitting is vastly improving and he’s a solid defender in the outfield. He could be someone who could play centerfield short term. Milone’s lefty bat could come in handy in the upcoming Tampa series as it could help the Yankees deal with all their right-handed relievers.
From a Defensive perspective, Brett Gardner is still the best and most proven centerfielder, though Ryan LaMarre offers a lot more offensively. Unfortunately, LaMarre is also right handed which means at best, LaMarre might platoon with Gardy for the time being.
The numbers say that the unbalanced Yankees ought to give Hoy Park a chance in center rather continuing to give “starter’s At-Bats” to Brett Gardner, who makes extremely weak and unproductive contact and doesn’t get on base nearly effectively enough.
Park doesn’t have a ton of experience in centerfield, but he has logged some time there recently in Scranton’s outfield so it’s not like he’s never played the position professionally. Park provides infinitely more productive contact ability at the plate and is very good at getting on base as well. If the Yankees want to contend, they should be starting Park in centerfield and if he proved competent, they could simply move on from Gardy. They have a perfect little window of time to implement this.
Another observation is that Chris Gitten’s offensive game is just not translating to the majors right now, but he hasn’t made a single error in 72 innings. Based on his Minor League numbers over his past two full seasons, Gittens absolutely warrants a longer look and since he’s actually helping the team quite a bit defensively, clearly a patient approach with Gittens is warranted right now. I got the sense the last time the Yankees called him up that he was just starting to acclimate himself. Bouncing Gittens off the bag right now in order to play DJ LeMahieu there and play Rougned Odor at Second-base is a big mistake. Coincidentally, there are actually a whole bunch of teams who are interested in acquiring Chris Gittens on the cheap. He’s 27-years-old, but remember, he was robbed a full year of development last year, coming off a Triple-A MVP season.
My Take on All This:
I do think the window is closed on this Yankee team, it would take a miracle – and one I’ll be rooting for to happen – for this team to even make the playoffs, let alone get to and win a World Series.
In the American League alone, Houston, Boston and Tampa Bay all loom as teams the Yankees would have to get past. True, the Yankees just won a series in Houston but Houston was missing Correa, Bregman, Diaz, Alvarez, Urquidy, James and Barber so they were far from full strength.
The Yankees do need a big-time, difference-making outfielder who excels in centerfield. If that player can be obtained at the deadline, I think Cashman should indeed go for it and I firmly believe he should look for a player who can impact the team at least through the 2022 season.
Hoy Park should be starting in centerfield for the foreseeable future, barring a trade.
Brian Cashman will have a chance to re-tool the roster a bit this off-season. The Free-Agent class is a very strong one. In the meantime, mortgaging the future and making too many moves at the deadline is not advisable.
With Severino (August) and Kluber (September) potentially coming back, the Yankees will get the equivalent of two aces added to their rotation – which by the way is not the Yankees main problem. The main problem is the offense.
The Yankees need to get Giancarlo Stanton back to the outfield and be able to use DJ LeMahieu at second base more. Too many impact players are playing out of position where they can’t impact the team enough. The plan is to do this at the end of July. Why wait?
With Covid-protocols in place, this is going to be a bumpy ride from here on out to the deadline. I don’t expect much but it will at least be worth watching. The Scranton kids do a lot of little things right.
Gary Sanchez should be DHing with Higgy catching and Stanton in RF right now. I can’t stress how important this is. The Yankees need Sanchez’s bat and Higgy’s glove and they need them both now. They simply can’t wait.
If a trade is made for an impact centerfielder, Park needs to start platooning at SS with Gleyber Torres and also should be used in left field as a platoon with LaMarre and or Allen. The bottom line is that Park’s bat needs to be in the Yankee lineup.