Breaking Down NY Yankees Top 10 Prospects to Start the 2014 Season

Peter Richman@ peter_f_richmanCorrespondent IApril 3, 2014

Breaking Down NY Yankees Top 10 Prospects to Start the 2014 Season

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    Yankees catching prospect Gary Sanchez
    Yankees catching prospect Gary SanchezStacy Revere/Getty Images

    The 2014 season is underway as the New York Yankees are two games into an opening series in Houston; they head to Toronto before the home opener Monday, April 7. Joe Girardi recently filled the final two roster spots with career minor leaguers, Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte, as notable other prospects saw significant playing time this spring.

    But with the $500 million spent this offseason covering immediate needs, that group of recent signings represents the biggest obstacle to many of the organization's top young talent.

    The winter shopping could have represented a lack of confidence in their prospects, it may have just been impetuous spending at the expense of them or it might have been a combination. 

    Consider that catcher Gary Sanchez is the No. 35 prospect in MLB according to Baseball America, but that the Yankees don't have one other player in the top 100. And a few of their other highly touted prospects, such as Mason Williams and Tyler Austin, had down years in 2013, calling their big league upsides into question. 

    Several publications have accordingly been unkind to New York's rank among all of baseball's systems. Tony Blengino of FanGraphs, for instance, recently ranked the Yankees minor league system at No. 20, as he focused on impact players within each organization's prospects—and the Yankees' lack of such stars outside of Sanchez.

    Blengino also noted the Yankees plan to boost their status with big spending on the international market, adding: "This system would rank even lower if not for a glut of interesting talent that toiled in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2014."

    Taking into account four rankings—from MLB.com, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs—as well as players' scouting reports, pre-2014 statistics and most recent performances, I've created an updated top-10 list for the start of the 2014 season. I'll provide a breakdown of each player's profile and their outlooks for earning a call-up to the Bronx.

     

    All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs unless noted otherwise. Baseball America's ranking can be found here with Josh Norris' scouting notes here (subscription required). MLB.com prospect rankings courtesy of their 2014 Prospect WatchFanGraphs' Marc Hulet's ranking can be found here and the ranking by Jason Parks of Baseball Prosectus can be found here.

No. 10: Ian Clarkin, LHP

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    From: San Diego, Calif. (Madison HS)

    Opening Day Age: 19

    Height-Weight: 6'2", 186 lb.

    Throws: L

    Highest Level: Rookie ball 

    Best Ranking: No. 7 (Baseball America; FanGraphs)

    Worst Ranking: No. 9 (Baseball Prospectus)

    2013 Stats (Rookie): 5.0 IP, 6 ER, 5 H, 2 HR, 4 BB, 4 K

     

    Profile

    The 33rd pick of the 2013 draft, Ian Clarkin is a very young, talented left-hander with three above-average or better pitches. His best is a low-90s fastball projected as future mid-90s, and his next is a plus offering—a sharp, 12-6 curve. He also features a changeup that's still improving, though it's noted for its deception and fading action.

    The main drawbacks are that he often doesn't attack the zone early enough, and he sometimes runs into command issues. But both MLB.com and Baseball America's Josh Norris note his competitiveness, as he led Team USA to gold at the 2012 18-and-under world championships and then added a stellar senior year of high school. 

    The Yankees felt lucky when he slipped in the draft because he was coming off such a strong 2012. Though his pro debut was cut short because of an ankle injury, and in only five innings, he compiled an ugly 10.80 ERA and 9.80 FIP.

     

    Outlook

    The consensus on Clarkin says he could blossom into a No. 2 or 3 starter, and his 6'2" frame and lefty arm make him a valuable commodity for the system. At just 19 years old, don't expect the Yankees to rush him through the minors, as he has yet to complete the entirety of a short-season campaign. 

No. 9: Jose Ramirez, RHP

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    Matt Slocum

    From: San Cristobal, Dominican Republic

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Height-Weight: 6'3", 190 lb.

    Throws: R

    Highest Level: Triple-A

    Best Ranking: No. 2 (Baseball Prospectus)

    Worst Ranking: Not in top 10 (MLB.com; Baseball America)

    2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 16 GS, 73.2 IP, 3.67 ERA, 4.60 FIP, 9.5 K/9

     

    Profile

    The tall right-hander primarily uses a two-pitch offering of a mid-90s fastball and changeup. He adds a curveball that requires further improvement and consistency.

    In 2013, he started eight games for Trenton, going 1-3 with a 2.76 ERA (4.26 FIP) and 10.6 K/9, but he followed that up with a shakier eight games for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he went 1-3 with a 4.88 ERA (5.05 FIP) and just 8.0 K/9 before his season ended early due to an oblique injury. 

    Outlook

    Ramirez entered camp dealing with further problems from the injury and was optioned to Triple-A on March 9; he hadn't yet thrown a pitch in spring training. The Yankees are clearly being cautious with him—especially since he has long projected as a viable No. 3-type arm in the rotation. He'll begin the year in Scranton and work toward a 2014 call-up once he further polishes his stuff.

No. 8: Greg Bird, 1B

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    From: Aurora, Colo. (Grandview HS)

    Opening Day Age: 21

    Height-Weight: 6'3", 215 lb.

    Bats-Throws: L-R

    Highest Level: Low-A

    Best Ranking: No. 7 (MLB.com; Baseball Prospectus)

    Worst Ranking: No. 8 (FanGraphs; Baseball America)

    2013 Stats (A): 130 G, 573 PA, .288/.428/.511, 20 HR, 36 2B, 84 RBI, 107 BB, 132 K, 170 wRC+

     

    Profile

    Bird is a catcher-turned-first-baseman and former 2011 fifth-round pick of the Yankees. He's best known for his patience, plate discipline and maturity in spite of his age, as he drew a minor league-leading 107 walks last year. Bird also led the South Atlantic League in on-base percentage (.428), and Baseball America's Josh Norris called him "easily the Yankees' breakout player of the year." 

    His size is a perfect fit for the prototypical major league first baseman, and his solid power numbers are projected to increase with time and strength as he moves through the system. The first two things that jump out are his 170 wRC+ in 2013, but also his bloated 132 strikeouts.

    As FanGraphs' Hulet notes, Bird is a typical three-true-outcome hitter who has "good power, a patient apporach," but who also has "a lot of swing-and-misses." Since he's only recently transitioned to first, his fielding is serviceable but needs work. His lack of athleticism—a low run tool—wasn't helped by back problems in recent seasons. 

     

    Outlook

    Bird seems to be a consensus dark-horse prospect for the Yankees, as he has the offensive makings for an everyday first baseman, and since the Yankees lack organizational depth at the position behind Mark Teixeira.

    Despite a balanced swing and simple approach at the plate, however, he has a tendency to get long at times, which leads to strikeout susceptibility. His first real test will be for his offense—and his excellent ability to read pitches—when he moves up to High-A Tampa this year. 

No. 7: Aaron Judge, OF

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    From: Linden, Calif. (Cal State Fresno)

    Opening Day Age: 21

    Height-Weight: 6'7", 230 lb.

    Bats-Throws: R-R

    Highest Level: N/A

    Best Ranking: No. 6 (FanGraphs; Baseball America)

    Worst Ranking: No. 10 (Baseball Prospectus)

    2013 Stats: N/A 

     

    Profile

    The California native is a behemoth at 6'7", 230 pounds, and not surprisingly his power tool is his best. MLB.com notes that the 32nd pick of the 2013 draft has drawn comparisons to Dave Winfield, while Baseball America's Norris mentions Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins. He has plenty of speed and arm strength to project as a big league outfielder, but he never made his pro debut because of a quad injury.

    He was the Yankees' first college player drafted in the first round since 2001, so he comes with plenty of baseball experience and pro-ready expectation. But FanGraphs' Hulet points out that Judge "struggles to keep a short, compact swing due to the sheer length of his arms," and he worries that "he may never hit of a high average." But Hulet adds that "he should walk enough to produce a respectable on-base percentage to go along with the power output." 

     

    Outlook

    Judge is still only 21, though he lost a season of pro ball to injury and will begin his minor league journey by proving himself in Low-A. He'll hopefully work up to a High-A promotion if he can keep his contact and OBP up.

    The Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years) and Carlos Beltran (three years) signings threw up immediate roadblocks to Judge, and the additional re-signing of Brett Gardner didn't help. But his size makes it tough to ignore his 2014 campaign and potential for a prolific major league career.

No. 6: Tyler Austin, OF

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    Matt Slocum

    From: Conyers, Ga. (Heritage HS)

    Opening Day Age: 22

    Height-Weight: 6'1", 220 lb.

    Bats-Throws: R-R

    Highest Level: Double-A

    Best Ranking: No. 5 (Baseball Prospectus)

    Worst Ranking: Not in top 10 (Baseball America)

    2013 Stats (Rookie/AA): 85 G, 373 PA, .265/.351/.378, 6 HR, 17 2B, 40 RBI, 42 BB, 79 K

     

    Profile

    The Georgia native was selected in the 13th round of the 2010 draft and, for a while, was one of the highest-touted Yankees prospects. He got off to an outstanding full-season debut in 2012, batting .322/.400/.559 across four levels (rookie, A, A+, AA) with 17 home runs, 35 doubles and 80 RBI. But in addition to troublesome thumb and wrist injuries, the corner outfielder took a step back in 2013, hitting just six homers and 17 doubles as his slugging dropped below .400.

    Austin has an average arm and speed that projects more for the corners than center, and he's a pure hitter with a compact swing. MLB.com praises his bat speed and ability to sit back on offspeed pitches, while FanGraphs' Hulet mentions his "good gap power," his "solid eye at the plate" and adds that he possesses "enough over-the-fence pop to make things interesting."

     

    Outlook

    After a sparkling debut, the wrist and thumb issues really set him back, as he was pulled early from the Arizona Fall League and subsequently missed spring training. If he can regain full health—and maintain it—while raising his slugging and average back to their prior levels, he could move quickly to Scranton and be in perfect position for an opportunity in the Bronx late in the season. 

No. 5: Eric Jagielo, 3B

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    From: Downers Grove, Ill. (Notre Dame)

    Opening Day Age: 21

    Height-Weight: 6'2", 195 lb.

    Bats-Throws: L-R

    Highest Level: Rookie ball

    Best Ranking: No. 3 (FanGraphs)

    Worst Ranking: No. 8 (Baseball Prospectus)

    2013 Stats (A-/Rookie): 54 G, 226 PA, .268/.381/.458, 6 HR, 16 2B, 27 RBI, 27 BB, 56 K

     

    Profile

    Another first-round college pick by the Yankees, Jagielo was drafted No. 26 overall out of Notre Dame. His power tool is his most impressive, as he hit 13 homers in his sophomore season, 13 in the Cape Cod League that summer and nine more his junior year to go along with a 1.133 OPS and .500 OBP that ranked sixth in the country.  

    As a power-hitting third baseman, he's of particular value and interest to the big league ballclub, which can begin to look beyond the mess of Alex Rodriguez as the everyday starter (and with Kelly Johnson the current solution); MLB.com calls his left-handed pop "tailor-made for Yankee Stadium. FanGraphs' Hulet points out Jagielo's strong pitch recognition (despite the high strikeout totals), his raw power and his ability to hit to all fields. 

     

    Outlook

    Though Jagielo has a solid arm for third, his range had been the one aspect calling his long-term positional viability into question. With his recently improved defense, he seems to have made enough strides to calm critics. He's expected to move quickly through the system because of his advanced bat and lack of third base depth for the organization.

No. 4: Mason Williams, OF

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    From: Winter Garden, Fla. (West Orange HS)

    Opening Day Age: 22

    Height-Weight: 6'1", 180 lb.

    Bats-Throws: L-R

    Highest Level: Double-A

    Best Ranking: No. 2 (MLB.com)

    Worst Ranking: No. 6 (FanGraphs)

    2013 Stats (A+/AA): 117 G, 537 PA, .245/.304/.337, 4 HR, 24 2B, 28 RBI, 40 BB, 79 K

    2014 Stats (Spring): 17 G, 26 AB, .154/.172/.231, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 4 K

     

    Profile

    For the past few years, Mason Williams' name has been among the brightest of future stars for the Yankees. Just a fourth-rounder in 2010, the 22-year-old's defense and range in center field have always been superb, while his consistency at the plate has been the only red flag. Prior to 2013, he's shown off all three of his best tools—hit, field and run—though a regression last year and questions of his effort level brought further concerns.

    In his full-season debut in 2012, he hit .298/.346/.474, stole 28 bases and struck out 47 times in 91 games before a torn labrum ended his year. But last year, in 117 games that saw his promotion to Double-A, he dropped to .245/.304/.337 with 15 stolen bases and 79 strikeouts. As Baseball America's Josh Norris said: "Williams didn't show the same tools he had in 2012, particularly at the plate, where he rarely made hard contact and adopted an Ichiro-style slapping approach."

     

    Outlook

    Williams wasn't the only hot prospect with a down year in 2013, although the disappointing campaign was followed by a lackluster big league camp (.154).

    But he's only 22, the outfield is currently filled in the Bronx and his rare athleticism should continue to bolster his case for a call-up in late-2014. He'll begin in Double-A and will have to make better contact, improve his comfort (and consistency) with his approach and raise his average while also swiping enough bases to boost his stock back to its 2012 level.

No. 3: John Ryan Murphy, C

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    Eric Christian Smith/Getty Images

    From: Bradenton, Fla. (The Pendleton School)

    Opening Day Age: 22

    Height-Weight: 5'11", 195 lb.

    Bats-Throws: R-R

    Highest Level: MLB

    Best Ranking: No. 2 (FanGraphs)

    Worst Ranking: No. 4 (MLB.com; Baseball America)

    2013 Stats (NYY): 16 G, 27 PA, .154/.185/.192, 0 HR, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 9 K

    2014 Stats (Spring): 14 G, 27 PA, .077/.111/.192, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 BB, 6 K

     

    Profile

    After a solid run through the minors (2009-13), the 2009 second-rounder had a disappointing September call-up in 2013 (.154) and save for a homer, simply didn't show up this spring (.077). He's been in the future catching conversation along with Gary Sanchez for the previous few seasons. But after entering camp in a backup competition—with eventual winner Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine—he swiftly took himself out of the Opening Day roster discussion.

    None of Murphy's tools are plus, but he's trustworthy behind the plate with a smooth offensive approach that allows for short strides and solid contact. Baseball America's Norris writes: "His line-drive bat produces consistent solid contact to the gaps with fringe-average power, and the Yankees project him as a potential future .280 hitter with 10-12 homer power." MLB.com compliments his improved footwork, accuracy and release. 

     

    Outlook

    With the McCann signing, Cervelli ahead of him and Sanchez projecting much higher, Murphy is somewhat in limbo at the start of 2014. He's slated to begin in Scranton, though he may be better used in a trade to shore up the infield or bullpen.

    If he produces in Triple-A and an injury takes out one of the big league catchers, Murphy could get an early second shot in the Bronx. If not, he could receive another September call-up.

No. 2: Slade Heathcott, OF

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    From: Texarkana, Texas (Texas HS)

    Opening Day Age: 23

    Height-Weight: 6'0", 195 lb.

    Bats-Throws: L-L

    Highest Level: Double-A

    Best Ranking: No. 2 (Baseball America)

    Worst Ranking: No. 5 (FanGraphs)

    2013 Stats (AA): 103 G, 444 PA, .261/.327/.411, 8 HR, 22 2B, 49 RBI, 36 BB, 107 K

     

    Profile

    Heathcott was another Yankee who dealt with injury in 2013 and put up unremarkable numbers. After an outstanding 2012 that ended in Tampa (.307/.378/.470, 60 G), his Double-A season ended in August because of his knee (he underwent surgery this offseason). The 23-year-old was the 29th pick in 2009 and continues to be seen as the Yankees' premier center field talent, as his best tools are his well-above-average speed, arm and fielding. 

    MLB.com points out that his bat speed and strength profile as a middle-of-the-order threat, but that he needs to "refine his hitting ability," which can get too long due to his uppercut, and which sees him become overaggressive at times. 

     

    Outlook

    With the logjam in the Bronx outfield, Heathcott is in no rush at 23 years of age, though he still projects as a third of the future big league picture. His defense is the best in the system and he's drawn comparisons to Bryce Harper for his everyday effort level.

    He'll start in Scranton, so expect to see him in late-2014 if he can stay healthy, match (or better) the performances of Zoilo Almonte, Ramon Flores and Adonis Garcia (who all had excellent camps) and improve his plate discipline and production from 2013. 

No. 1: Gary Sanchez, C

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    From: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

    Opening Day Age: 21

    Height-Weight: 6'3", 235 lb.

    Bats-Throws: R-R

    Highest Level: Double-A

    Best Ranking: No. 1 (All)

    2013 Stats (A+/AA): 117 G, 509 PA, .253/.324/.412, 15 HR, 27 2B, 71 RBI, 41 BB, 87 K

    2014 Stats (Spring): 8 G, 11 AB, .364/.364/.909, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 0 BB, 3 K

     

    Profile

    Sanchez remains the Yankees' highest-touted and best prospect at the start of 2014. His two plus tools—power and arm—are off the charts, as he represents the heir apparent to McCann. FanGraphs' Hulet projects Sanchez as a 20-plus home run hitter in the majors, provided he "[sticks] to a consistent game plan at the plate" to "help him make better contact." Though his home run totals remained consistent through a promotion up to Double-A, his batting average and OPS took dips from their 2012 levels.

    The biggest questions defensively have regarded his footwork and blocking ability, and while those still remain, Hulet notes: "Sanchez has made improvements with his game calling and receiving," adding that his well-above-average arm still impressed in 2013 (threw out nearly 50 percent of base stealers).

     

    Outlook

    Sanchez, who signed with the Yankees in 2009 at just 16 years of age, certainly continued to impress this spring, hitting two homers in limited action. He'll be the starting catcher in Double-A to open 2014, and he has a bright future ahead of him if he continues to make strides behind the plate and maintains his power numbers. 

     

    Peter F. Richman is a Featured Columnist for the New York Yankees. Follow him for more on Twitter: