The New York Yankees completed their season-opening six-game road trip Sunday with a 6-4 win to put them at 3-3 heading into Week 2. At the minor league level, three affiliates stand at .500, and the fourth is 1-3 after one week.
The big league club is already experiencing the benefits of having acquired high-quality minor leaguers this offseason in Yangervis Solarte and Dean Anna. The first injury of the year illuminated the thinness of the infield, bringing to mind all the questions of its depth this winter.
With Mark Teixeira on the early disabled list, Kelly Johnson has moved to the starting first base role. Because of the vacated third base, Solarte's last week-and-a-half has included his first MLB roster spot, his first at-bat, his first start and his first everyday job in the majors. Anna, likewise, has received his first big league start and has already contributed in limited time (2 G, 1-for-6).
Maintaining a pool of MLB-ready prospects can be the missing link for many teams, as key rookies have routinely thrived in initial call-ups, often bolstering a postseason run. But it's especially important in New York with the number of injury concerns heading into 162 games; a few fallen pieces can greatly accelerate big league debuts.
Last week, I broke down a top-10 list of the Yankees' best prospects, previewing their outlooks at the start of the 2014 season. For this first-week recap, I'm going to do a "stock up, stock down" of all 10, taking into account their 2013 numbers, relevant spring training stats and initial 2014 stats to get an idea of their early progressions.
|1.||Gary Sanchez, C||21||Double-A|
|2.||Slade Heathcott, OF||23||Double-A|
|3.||John Ryan Murphy, C||22||MLB|
|4.||Mason Williams, OF||22||Double-A|
|5.||Eric Jagielo, 3B||21||High-A|
|6.||Tyler Austin, OF||22||Double-A|
|7.||Aaron Judge, OF||21||Low-A|
|8.||Greg Bird, 1B||21||Low-A|
|9.||Jose Ramirez, RHP||24||Triple-A|
|10.||Ian Clarkin, LHP||19||Rookie|
First, a quick check-in on some notable performances from other players around the Yankees' farm system.
These are some other prospects and minor leaguers putting together strong early starts and the best opening-week performances.
|Scott Sizemore, 2B||SWB||9||5||.556||.636||.667||0||0|
|Rob Segedin, 3B||TRE||13||4||.308||.412||.538||1||2|
|Peter O'Brien, 3B||TAM||15||4||.267||.313||.467||1||1|
|Abiatal Avelino, SS||CHA||12||4||.333||.467||.500||0||3|
|Miguel Andujar, 3B||CHA||15||5||.313||.313||.500||0||0|
|Mike Ford, 1B||CHA||15||7||.467||.529||.533||0||2|
Aaron Judge (No. 7)
The Yankees are stacked with outfielders at both the MLB level (Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran) and in the minors (Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin), but it'd be tough—and foolish—to overlook an additional one. The 6'7", 230-pound California native was the 32nd pick of the 2013 draft but missed his first year of professional baseball to a pulled quad. Coming off a phenomenal final year at Fresno State, Judge is now four games into his pro debut at age 21.
In 15 at-bats, he has four hits, three walks and two runs scored (.267/.389/.267). It's obviously early, but the on-base percentage is an especially good sign, and if he can continue to complement his OBP and power with solid contact numbers, his stock will only continue to climb.
Don't expect him to emerge in the Bronx in 2014 since he's beginning the year in Low-A, but as he possesses plenty of high-level experience as a college player, he could be on the move quickly once the season wears on. Judge's power projects for 20-25 home run potential down the line.
Mason Williams (No. 4)
|2013||Tampa (High-A)/Trenton (Double-A)||117||478||117||.245||.304||.337||4||28|
|2013||Arizona Fall League||22||86||23||.267||.330||.337||0||4|
|2014||Yankees (Spring Training)||17||26||4||.154||.172||.231||0||4|
milb.com, baseball-reference.com, yankees.com
One of the Yankees' two blue-chip outfield prospects (Heathcott), Williams' offense took a step back in 2013. His stock has been up and down the last two years, as he debuted with a .298/.346/.474 line with 28 stolen bases in 2012 but hit just .245/.304/.337 with 15 stolen bags last year.
His 2012 season ended with a torn labrum that saw him develop a new slap-style swing approach and regressed numbers at the plate—that, in turn, has brought his upside and formerly praised tools into question. But his defense is still his calling card, and despite a shaky big league camp (.154), he's still accomplished enough at the plate in the Arizona Fall League (.267/.330/.337) and in the first few games of Double-A (.267/.389/.333, 3 BB, 0 K) to boost his stock heading into the second week.
It'll be interesting to keep an eye on Williams to see if he can consistently hit for average and swipe 20-plus bases this year, since a late-season injury or expanded roster size could bring about his MLB debut in the Bronx.
Gary Sanchez (No. 1)
|2012||Charleston (Low-A)/Tampa (High-A)||116||435||126||.290||.344||.485||18||85|
|2013||Tampa (High-A)/Trenton (Double-A)||117||454||115||.253||.324||.412||15||71|
|2014||Yankees (Spring Training)||8||11||4||.364||.364||.909||2||3|
milb.com, baseball-reference.com, yankees.com
Sanchez, the Yankees' No. 1 overall prospect and one of the premier young talents in the minors, had a down year in 2013 (.253/.324./412) despite a .290/.344/.485 line (18 HR) in 2012. His ability to hit for average and his defensive skills were the primary question marks heading into 2014, but he's made improvements in his footwork and game-calling, beginning the year as Trenton's starting catcher.
His power and arm tools are still his most heralded, and early home runs in 2014 have been the best sign for his upgraded stock. Two of his four spring training hits were homers, and, of his three hits in Week 1 of Double-A ball, two were doubles and one left the park.
The biggest story with Sanchez is monitoring his development this year. Neither Austin Romine nor John Ryan Murphy have proven to be superstar catching prospects, so if Sanchez can hit closer to that .290 mark, approach 20 homers and remain efficient on defense (threw out nearly 50 percent of base stealers in 2013), he could be up to Scranton by season's end and in position for a debut as early as next season (Romine, after all, despite hitting .179 this spring, has already been recalled since Teixeira's injury.).
Eric Jagielo (No. 5)
|2013||Rookie, Staten Island (Low-A)||54||190||51||.268||.381||.458||6||27|
collegesplits.com, milb.com, baseball-reference.com
In Alex Rodriguez's wake, third base has become a position lacking depth or long-term certainty—with Kelly Johnson shifted to first in Teixeira's absence, Yangervis Solarte has become the current everyday starter for the big league club. This is why the Yankees drafting another college prospect, and close-to-MLB-ready talent at No. 26, Notre Dame's Eric Jagielo, was so important last year.
The 6'2", 195-pound left-handed hitter put together an outstanding last year for the Irish (.388/.500/.633, 9 HR, 53 RBI) and was very good in his pro debut between rookie ball and High-A Tampa (.381 OBP, 16 2B, 27 RBI in 54 G), committing only three errors at third.
His stock has taken a quick, albeit minor, hit through the first week of 2014, but he's gone just 1-for-15 (.176) with an ugly nine strikeouts and two walks in four High-A games. That his one hit was a homer is the lone bright spot, and he's still an exciting organizational talent with his lefty swing that seems custom-fit for Yankee Stadium.
John Ryan Murphy (No. 3)
|2013||Trenton (Double-A)/Scranton (Triple-A)||108||413||111||.269||.347||.426||12||46|
|2014||Yankees (Spring Training)||14||26||2||.077||.111||.192||1||5|
Murphy doesn't possess any plus tools, yet he's been a top prospect in the system for years on the basis of projecting as a reliable everyday catcher. But of late, his bat has not even reached a level of being serviceable, and his opening week of 2014 baseball has been a dismal continuation of his slump that began in late 2013.
He was a second-round pick in 2009 and was still No. 3 on my list last week because, should he break this offensive slide, he's an MLB-ready backup on most teams. A .265/.330/.406 hitter in six minor league seasons, Murphy played 16 MLB games in a 2013 call-up, but he went only 4-for-26 (.154) with nine strikeouts, one walk, one extra-base hit and one RBI.
He came to 2014 camp in a positional competition (with Romine and Francisco Cervelli) for Brian McCann's backup, but he definitively eliminated himself, going 2-for-26 (.077) in 14 games. And after one week in Scranton, Murphy has no hits in seven at-bats.
With Sanchez moving through the system and McCann the five-year everyday starter, the Yankees may be better off trading Murphy for an extra infielder (such as insurance at first base) if he doesn't start producing in 2014.
Unchanged through Week 1
These five prospects—due to injury or extended spring training—have yet to see game action in 2014; their stocks have not fluctuated since last week's top-10 ranking or earlier offseason lists.
As their sample sizes increase over the next month or two, their respective stocks will be analyzed and broken down. (For current breakdowns of each, refer to last week's top-10 piece.)
OF, Slade Heathcott (No. 2)
OF, Tyler Austin (No. 6)
1B, Greg Bird (No. 8)
RHP, Jose Ramirez (No. 9)
|2013||Trenton (Double-A)/Scranton (Triple-A)||17||73.2||.250||1.262||7.0||4.4||9.5|
LHP, Ian Clarkin (No. 10)