Final Report Card Grades for NY Yankees Prospects at the Arizona Fall League

Peter Richman@ peter_f_richmanCorrespondent INovember 19, 2014

Final Report Card Grades for NY Yankees Prospects at the Arizona Fall League

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    2011 fifth-rounder Greg Bird hit .271 during the regular season, but the first baseman sparkled in the Arizona Fall League.
    2011 fifth-rounder Greg Bird hit .271 during the regular season, but the first baseman sparkled in the Arizona Fall League.USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Yankees enter the winter months searching for answers at the major league level after missing the postseason for the second straight year. But the picture, and potentially the future, is much brighter in the farm system after several prospects excelled in the Arizona Fall League this past month.

    Eight Yankees minor leaguers contributed to the Scottsdale Scorpions of the East Division. And with three position players logging 20 or more games of the 32-game schedule, some of the offseason samples allow us to gauge their progressions ahead of 2015. 

    Though there were some obvious duds—particularly among the pitchers—other performances were noteworthy. After an uninspiring regular season, one outfielder showed great improvement at the plate, while another continued his solid hitting (and slugging) from 2014. One top Yankees infield prospect even took home AFL MVP honors after a red-hot campaign saw him lead the league in homers and runs.

    Get caught up with notes and recap of their AFL seasons, and be sure to check out all of their final report card grades.

3B Dante Bichette Jr.

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Dante Bichette Jr., the 22-year-old third baseman who finished a strong 2014 with a promotion to Double-A Trenton, picked up 19 hits in 20 AFL games for Scottsdale. But he recorded just one extra-base hit, 11 RBI and seven walks while striking out 18 times in 73 at-bats.

    His .260/.317/.274 line left much to be desired, and his failure to leave the ballpark—he doubled once—didn't help his cause. He had three multi-hit days, including a 3-for-5 final game of the AFL, and three multiple-RBI days, including a 1-for-5 day in which he drove in three.

    Drafted in the first round in 2011, he got off to a hot start in his first season of rookie ball, batting .342 with three home runs, 17 doubles and 47 RBI in 54 games. But he struggled to put it all together at the plate the following two seasons.

    He spent 2012 and 2013 at Low-A Charleston, batting a combined .232/.308/.331 (83 wRC+, per FanGraphs) and striking out 213 times. Bichette improved in High-A Tampa this past season, where his .271 average, nine homers, 27 doubles and 64 RBI earned him his first Double-A time for 18 games—but there he finished the year on a low note with a .224 average and just four RBI.

    Grade: C

C Kyle Higashioka

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    A 24-year-old from Huntington Beach, California, Kyle Higashioka has been easy to miss in an organization ripe with catching depth and talent.

    The 2008 seventh-rounder has obscured himself after toiling unproductively in the minors for seven seasons (he owns a career line of just .229/.296/.350), reaching Double-A for seven games in 2013. 

    He totaled only 22 at-bats in the AFL (appearing in just six games), but he performed well with nine hits—four of which went for extra bases, including a homer and three doubles—and three walks (.409/.480/.682).

    He picked up a base hit in each game and went 5-for-10 with a homer and two RBI in his first two.

    Grade: B+

RF Aaron Judge

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Aaron Judge, the 32nd pick of the 2013 draft, jumped on everyone's radar with a stellar first year of pro ball (.308/.419/.486, 17 HR, 24 2B, 78 RBI) between Charleston and Tampa. At season's end, Baseball America bumped him up on its top-10 Yankees prospect list from last year's No. 6 to this year's No. 2.

    In 24 AFL games, the 6'7", 255-pounder picked up 25 hits in 90 AB—including four homers and five doubles—and he drove in 15 and walked 13 times (.278/.377/.467). Judge recorded six multi-hit days and two four-RBI performances (he went 2-for-5 with a homer in the first and 2-for-5 with two homers in the other). He failed to record a hit in just five games.

    Judge, who was named to the fall league All-Star Game, finished tied for fifth in the AFL in total bases, sixth for homers, tied for eighth in RBI and walks, 10th in slugging and 11th in OPS.

    It was a typical sample size for the 22-year-old power-hitting right fielder (who should be on the move in 2015, beginning with a likely start in Double-A).

    Grade: B+

RF Tyler Austin

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Tyler Austin's recent history has seen the right fielder battle back from several injuries, and his last two AFL campaigns have been no different. His 2013 season in Scottsdale ended after just four games, and his most recent one was cut short a few days early after he collided with Greg Bird while chasing a foul ball. The good news is that the setback is minor, as the 23-year-old only suffered a bone bruise on his left knee and will just need to rest for a few weeks.

    Logging 19 games for the Scorpions, the former top prospect collected 21 hits in 69 at-bats (.304), with five of them (including two homers) going for extra bases. He struck out just 12 times and collected multiple hits in six games. His best streak came on consecutive days on October 29 and 30 when he went 3-for-4 in both, drove in three, scored twice and stole a bag.

    Austin filled out his stat sheet nicely with 13 RBI, 10 walks and four stolen bases (.392 OBP) for a fall that should have him feeling confident ahead of spring training.

    His regular season was less than compelling in his second stint with Trenton (.275/.336/.419, 110 wRC+), and he failed to reach double digits in home runs for the second straight year. Look for Austin to log his first playing time at Triple-A Scranton this season.

    Grade: A-

1B Greg Bird

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    Greg Bird, the 22-year-old first baseman and former fifth-round pick in 2011, was far and away the standout performer for the Yankees in Scottsdale. He was also the best player in Arizona, earning MVP honors at season's end. Adding to his resume, he was also named MVP of the fall league All-Star Game, in which he hit the longest-ever home run in the contest at 450 feet (see the video above).

    In 26 games, he racked up 31 hits in 99 at-bats (.313) with six homers, six doubles and 21 RBI (156 wRC+). Bird recorded nine multi-hit games, three games with three or more hits and one two-homer performance. In the opening game of the AFL, he went 3-for-5 with a homer, two doubles, three runs and a fall-season-high four RBI. He also demonstrated his solid plate discipline and got on base with 13 walks, which tied with Judge for the team high. 

    Bird led the AFL in home runs and runs (21). He was second in hits, RBI, total bases and OPS (.947). He was also third in slugging (.556) and sixth in batting average.

    He came off a strong 2014 regular season between Tampa (.277 in 75 G) and Trenton (.253 in 27 G) that opened some eyes with 14 homers, 30 doubles and 63 walks (139 wRC+)—Baseball America moved him up on their top-10 list from No. 8 in 2013 to No. 4—but his outstanding AFL performance has really validated his stock. Since the organization lacks depth at first base, look for Bird to be on the move after starting 2015 in Double-A.

    Grade: A 

RHP Alex Smith

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    Alex Smith, a 25-year-old from Manchester, Connecticut, was one of three Yankees pitchers for Scottsdale. He was completely ineffective, allowing an ugly 25 hits—two of them homers—and 12 earned runs over 10.1 innings.

    Opponents hit .446 against Smith, who walked eight and struck out seven. He pitched a scoreless inning twice (in back-to-back games on October 27 and 31), but in the first one he still walked one in a hitless frame. In the second, he gave up two hits.

    An undrafted free agent who signed with the Yankees in 2012, Smith actually put together a solid 2014 campaign for Tampa (2.74 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 in 65.2 IP) and had an excellent 20-game span for Charleston in 2013 (1.01 ERA, 9.6 K/9, 1.0 BB/9 in 35.2 IP). 

    Grade: F

RHP Caleb Cotham

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    Caleb Cotham, the 6'3" right-hander, was roughed up in 10 appearances. The former Vanderbilt Commodore didn't fool many opposing hitters, allowing 18 hits in 13.1 innings (including nine earned runs on two homers).

    He allowed at least an earned run and two or more hits in half of those appearances. His worst performances came on October 20 in a six-hit, three-run outing over two innings and on November 8 in a four-hit, two-run showing over one frame. He had one of the worst welcomes to the fall league imaginable, surrendering both of his long balls in his first game.

    If there's a silver lining, it's that Cotham walked only two and struck out over one batter per inning (14 K total, 9.45 K/9). However, with opponents batting .321 against him, this was a largely failed fall campaign. 

    He was a fifth-round pick in 2009, and this past season he made 18 appearances (11 of them starts, ranging from the Gulf Coast League to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre). He allowed 57 hits in 54 innings with a 4.67 ERA and 3.88 FIP.

    Grade: D

RHP Kyle Haynes

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Despite giving up 11 hits (.244 batting average against) and eight walks (1.63 WHIP) in 11.2 innings, Kyle Haynes put in the top performance of the three pitchers. 

    In 10 games, he allowed three earned runs for a 2.31 ERA (4.24 FIP). Four of his outings were hitless and scoreless, and the 23-year-old recorded two saves in three opportunities. 

    Drafted by the Pirates out of VCU in the 20th round of 2012, Haynes was the player to be named in the trade that shipped catcher Chris Stewart to Pittsburgh after the 2013 season. He pitched 69.2 innings for Tampa this season, posting a 3.49 ERA and 3.51 FIP. However, while he gave up just one home run all season, he also allowed more than a hit per inning.

    Grade: B-

Final Grades Roundup

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    Dante Bichetter Jr. (left) with AFL MVP Greg Bird.
    Dante Bichetter Jr. (left) with AFL MVP Greg Bird.USA TODAY Sports

    Position Players

    • Greg Bird, 1B: A
    • Tyler Austin, RF: A-
    • Aaron Judge, RF: B+
    • Kyle Higashioka, C: B+
    • Dante Bichette Jr., 3B: C

    Pitchers

    • Kyle Haynes, RHP: B-
    • Caleb Cotham, RHP: D
    • Alex Smith, RHP: F

    Arizona Fall League statistics courtesy of MLB.com; 2014 regular-season statistics via Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, unless otherwise noted.

    Peter F. Richman is a Yankees Featured Columnist and Copy Editor for Bleacher Report: 

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