5 New York Yankee Prospects Who Could Exceed Expectations
Many players in the major leagues were high draft picks or heralded prospects early in their professional careers, but there are many others who weren't looked at as future stars when their careers started.
For the New York Yankees, players like Gosuke Katoh, Greg Bird and several others haven't received much fanfare thus far in their careers but could down the road if they continue to develop and improve.
The list of young Yankee minor leaguers that follows is comprised of players who have performed well and look primed to become more well-known prospects down the road.
To judge how they project in the future, I obviously look at present performance. If a player doesn't have gaudy statistics in the lower minor leagues, then they aren't likely to suddenly start performing better later on.
Statistics in rookie leagues like the Gulf Coast League aren't always indicators of future success, though. Dante Bichette Jr., for example, was the MVP of the GCL in 2011 but has struggled to a .199 batting average in his second year at Low-A Charleston.
Still, for every Bichette Jr., there is a player who performed well in rookie ball and continued to play well at higher levels.
The lesson learned is that there are factors to consider other than just performance when looking at how a player will perform in the future.
For hitters, I weigh strikeout-to-walk ratios more than power numbers. Power tends to come later as players fill out their bodies, and plate discipline is a great indicator of success in leagues where many of the pitchers don't have great control.
For pitchers, I also look at strikeout-to-walk ratio, since the better pitchers separate themselves with better control and command. Fastball velocity, future projection and development of secondary pitches are also taken into account in deliberating future performance.
The following players are listed in no particular order since projecting which sleeper prospects are more likely to develop is nothing more than a guessing game.
Brady Lail, GCL Yankees 1, RHP
It's a relatively cheap investment that could pay off for the team in a big way down the road.
Lail's fastball sat in the upper 80s while in high school, but while playing in an independent summer league after graduating, the Deseret News reported that he was consistently in the low 90s with his heater and even ran it up to 94 at times.
This improved velocity, coupled with what Baseball America called a "sharp curveball," makes Lail a very intriguing prospect.
In his short career, the right-hander has racked up 36 strikeouts against just six walks in 37 innings.
The Yankees thought enough of Lail to move him up to the High-A Tampa Yankees for a spot start earlier this year. He struggled in the outing, but that he got the nod over the dozens of other young pitchers in the organization shows that the Yankees view him as advanced for his age.
Listed at 6’2” and 175 pounds, he should fill out and get stronger as he gets older. The Yankees hope that as this happens, he will add a tick or two more to his fastball velocity.
If that happens, Lail could emerge as a legitimate major league prospect down the road.
Gosuke Katoh, GCL Yankees 1, 2B
Katoh was the Yankees' second-round pick in the 2013 MLB draft at No. 66 overall.
Still, the Yankees obviously had a higher opinion of him than others and signed him to a slot-value bonus of $845,700.
Thus far, it looks like the Yankees got it right.
Coming out of high school, reports said that Katoh had plus speed and the potential to be a plus defender but was too weak to be able to hit at the professional level right away.
Apparently Katoh didn't get that memo, as he has done nothing but hit since signing.
The 18-year-old second baseman has slugged his way to a 1.110 OPS in the early going thanks to 11 extra-base hits and 13 walks compared to just 11 strikeouts.
It remains to be seen whether Katoh can continue to hit for power at the higher levels of the minor leagues, but it would surprise no one if he did.
The 6’2”, 180-pounder had 10 home runs his senior year of high school and already has three this year for his GCL team.
As I've mentioned, it's important to keep these statistics in perspective, but for a player allegedly too skinny to hit for power, they must be taken into account.
If Katoh can continue to fill out his skinny frame, he has the look of a polished hitter and defender who could quickly move up the ranks in the Yankees' minor league system.
Dietrich Enns, Tampa Yankees, LHP
Enns is the oldest player to make this list, but his performance this year has been impossible to ignore. He's pitching in his second level this season and could become one of New York's best pitching prospects if he continues the way he's been going.
On the season, the 22-year-old left-hander has a 1.46 ERA to go along with 95 strikeouts and just 22 walks in 68 innings.
He’s now the right age for his level and still putting up great numbers. Over his last 15.2 innings in Tampa, Enns hasn’t given up a run and has 15 strikeouts against just two walks.
A 19th-round pick in 2012, Enns was viewed as a reliever coming into this season, but, as Yankees VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman told The Trentonian's Josh Norris, his performance in long relief forced the Yankees to give him a look as a starter.
Enns, whose fastball sits in the low 90s, credits his success this season to the development of his slider.
If he can continue to improve that slider and work on his changeup and fastball command, Enns could see time with the Yankees’ big league club as soon as next season.
Look for him to turn some heads whenever he does make that debut.
Greg Bird, Charleston RiverDogs, 1B
The 20-year-old Bird was the Yankees fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft, and the team gave him $1.1 million bonus to keep him from following through on his commitment to the University of Arkansas.
Bird was drafted as a catcher but has since moved to his permanent home at first base.
Regardless of position, the Yankees gave him the bonus because of his bat.
Bird is listed at 6’3”, 215 pounds, and his big frame should allow him to hit upwards of 25 home runs down the road.
He has plus-plate discipline, too, as he has walked 62 times in 85 games.
Bird has shown glimpses of power this year, hammering 11 home runs while playing his home games in a park where runs are 7.1 percent less prevalent than in parks the RiverDogs visit on the road.
Since he is big and has below-average speed, he is limited to first base, and his bat will have to carry him to the big leagues.
I like his chances to make it, though.
Prospects like Bird who can only play one non-premium position tend to get underrated, but there is a place for a high on-base guy with plus power in any lineup—no matter his defensive limitations.
Gio Gallegos, Staten Island Yankees, RHP
Gallegos was signed out of Mexico in 2011 for just $100,000, and after starting his professional career in 2012, the right-hander has done nothing but impress.
Gallegos makes this list mainly because of his ability to throw strikes.
In his career thus far, he has 44 strikeouts and just three walks in 55 innings. Control like that will play at any level, and it would be no surprise if Gallegos moves rapidly through the minor league system.
Gallegos isn't just a strike-thrower with mediocre stuff, either.
He can run his fastball up to 92 mph and has a curveball that could be an average offering in the future. Everything plays up, too, because of his good mound presence. According to Dave Gershman of The Penn League Report, he has a plan on the mound and is able to execute it well.
Gallegos may not have the upside of the other players on this list, but if he is able to sharpen his breaking ball, he could definitely be a serviceable fourth starter.
That would certainly exceed expectations for a guy who received as little as he did to sign.