The New York Yankees' failure to reach the playoffs in 2013 has been written about ad nauseam, but rather than lament the disappointments of the recent past, there are some good reasons to look toward the future.
In spite of the Bombers' farm system being ranked somewhere in the middle of MLB by Bleacher Report's Mike Rosenbaum, there are prospects whose value continues to grow with each passing season. Each should shine in 2014, whether it is at a minor league level or in "The Show."
When discussing the future of the franchise, the name Gary Sanchez is often mentioned first. The 20-year-old catcher has been promoted four times in his three seasons with the organization.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, the youngster made an immediate splash by hitting .353 in the Gulf Coast League and after just 31 games was promptly promoted to the NY-Penn League Staten Island Yankees.
He hasn't looked back.
Blessed with a gun for an arm and good power at the plate, Sanchez has yet to experience a setback on his rise through the organization.
MLB.Com has him ranked 26th among baseball's top prospects—second among catchers.
There is no reason Sanchez shouldn't remain a rising star in the Yankees' farm system. Look for 2014 to bring another late-season promotion to Triple-A for the future backstop in the Bronx.
It is difficult to consider Romine a prospect, but that is really what he was prior to being thrust into the backup role with the Yankees early in 2013.
He entered last season as the starting catcher with the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Rail Riders, and after hitting .333 in 14 games, the 25-year-old was called up by the major league club to replace the injured Francisco Cervelli.
Through June Romine struggled at the plate, hitting just .145. Things turned around for him over the next two months, and he batted .318 in that time frame, raising his average to .227. He suffered a concussion on September 10 and had just one more at-bat over the remainder of the season.
Assuming that he returns to full health when camps open in February, Romine will be in the mix for the starting-catcher spot with the team. Much will depend on whether the Yankees pursue a veteran catcher in free agency (Brian McCann comes to mind) or decide that their best options lie in-house.
Regardless, Romine showed the Yankees that he can handle the pressures of playing with the major league club and that, if given an everyday opportunity, he will shine.
While we're on the topic of catchers, rookie J.R. Murphy made his debut at Yankees stadium this past fall. He managed to see action in 16 games, and even though he only hit .154, the fact that the club thought enough of Murphy to bring him to the Bronx speaks volumes.
With his call-up in September, the 22-year-old marked his fifth promotion in four seasons and in 2013 was named one of the top 20 prospects in the Eastern League by Baseball America.
In 2014, expect the battle for one of the catching spots on the New York Yankees roster to include Murphy. He has a good arm, decent power and now major league experience to bring to the table.
Another September call-up in 2013 was 25-year-old pitcher Dellin Betances. Once considered a top prospect as a starter in the Yankees farm system, his career has been a roller-coaster ride.
Control issues and continued failure as a starter led the Yankees to move Betances to the bullpen at Triple-A Scranton. The improvement was immediate, as the right-hander dominated in his new role. As a relief pitcher, Betances held a 1.35 ERA and microscopic 0.98 WHIP.
During his brief stint in September, the hurler only threw five innings in six appearances. While his 10.80 ERA with the major league team won't be something he'll want to remember, he did give a glimpse of his capability by striking out 10 and only walking two.
Given the expected turnover with the Yankees this offseason, it would be surprising if Betances isn't considered for a spot on the roster when the team breaks camp in 2014.
Betances knows next season will be his golden opportunity to shine, so expect him to make the most of it.
Time is of the essence for Ronnier Mustelier. The 29-year-old Cuban defector who was signed by the Yankees in 2011 isn't a youthful prospect like those mentioned above. However, he is a professional hitter.
When healthy, Mustelier wields a decent bat, and in the three minor league seasons he has spent in the Yankees organization, he holds a .306 average.
At Triple-A Scranton last season, he hit .272 with seven home runs in 84 games. Throughout the year he dealt with injuries and was even being considered for a roster spot in the spring before suffering leg contusions while chasing a pop-up during a game. He hit .314 last March and has shown his versatility on the field in being able to play outfield, third base and first base.
If he can remain injury-free, 2014 likely represents his best (and perhaps final) chance at breaking camp with the team in the Bronx.
The 24-year-old Almonte exploded on the scene with the Yankees after being called up in June last season. That month, he hit .303 with an OPS of .836 while giving life to a team struggling with injuries to its stars.
In July, the dynamic outfielder would cool down, hitting just .236 over the first two weeks of the month while playing nearly every day.
Unfortunately, Almonte suffered an ankle sprain and was placed on the DL on July 20. He wouldn't play again until September.
Prior to joining the Yankees in June, Almonte hit .297 at Scranton, showing he's more than capable at the plate.
As a member of the 40-man roster, Almonte will be in the outfield mix for the Yankees in 2014. With good health and an opportunity to play daily, look for next year to be a breakout one for him.
Other prospects who should at least improve upon last season include:
Tyler Austin: The 22-year-old top outfield prospect continues to get promoted at least once a season. He hit .257 at Double-A Trenton last year, and as long as he can remain healthy he should see some time with Scranton before 2014 is out.
Mason Williams: Like Austin, 22-year-old Williams is a top outfield prospect in the organization. At Trenton he hit only .153, but his ceiling (and expectations) remain high. He was sent with Austin and catching prospect Peter O'Brien to the Arizona Fall League.
Mark Montgomery: Another 22-year-old prospect (what is it with the 22-year-olds?) who has the potential to shine is pitcher Mark Montgomery. His biggest issue is being able to stay healthy (apparently an organizational theme). At Scranton, Montgomery had a 3.38 ERA over 40 innings pitched as a reliever. He strikes out batters at a rate of 11 per nine innings and will be on the fast track to the majors if he can stay upright.