Yankees' Next Wave of Pitching Prospects Filled with MLB Talent

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 27, 2017

From left, New York Yankees prospects James Kaprielian, Chance Adams, Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres appear on stage together at the Hard Rock Cafe, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in New York. Rather than bring veterans, the Yankees had the four respond to fans' question at a town hall meeting along with Starlin Castro and general manager Brian Cashman. They hope the rebuilding club transforms into a power resembling the teams that won four World Series titles from 1996-2000, one opposing fans will hate but respect. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

In the surest sign the New York Yankees see themselves as a rebuilding team, they put on a "Winter Warm-Up" almost entirely focused on prospects.

And in the surest sign the rebuilding plan has a chance to succeed, half the featured prospects were starting pitchers.

This is all new for the Yankees, both the idea of promoting future stars over present players and the notion that pitchers can come through the farm system and succeed in New York. The last Yankee-developed pitcher to make as many as 150 career starts for the club was Andy Pettitte, who debuted 22 years ago.

The top of the 2017 rotation features Masahiro Tanaka (signed out of Japanese baseball), CC Sabathia (signed as a free agent) and Michael Pineda (acquired in a trade). The top of the rotation in 2019 or 2020, the Yankees hope, could include homegrown pitchers such as James Kaprielian and Chance Adams (both Yankee draft picks) and Justus Sheffield (acquired from the Cleveland Indians in last summer's Andrew Miller trade but now being developed by the Yankees).

Those three pitchers were invited to New York for the January warm-up and are also the organization's three top pitching prospects, according to Baseball America. The Baseball America list also features Domingo Acevedo, and the Yankees would add Dillon Tate and Jordan Montgomery to the list of pitching prospects with real chances to succeed.

"They do have an impressive depth of starting pitching prospects," one National League scout who follows the Yankees system said.

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Two other scouts familiar with the system agree it includes quality depth but cautioned that the Yankees don't have anyone who projects as a future ace of the staff. They best project as solid second starters, another National League scout said, with more who figure to fill out a major league rotation.

That's not bad, and there's always a chance some of the prospects will outdo the projections. Remember, the day the New York Mets promoted Jacob deGrom and Rafael Montero to the major leagues, Montero was regarded as the better and more advanced prospect. By the end of the season, deGrom was the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year.

After missing most of the 2016 season with an injury, James Kaprielian impressed scouts in the Arizona Fall League.
After missing most of the 2016 season with an injury, James Kaprielian impressed scouts in the Arizona Fall League.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

And remember, Baseball America ranked the Yankees' own Joba Chamberlain as the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball heading into his 2008 rookie year—ahead of Clayton Kershaw, who was also a rookie.

Chamberlain, who signed a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday, is the most cited example of what can go wrong, especially with Yankees prospects. The difference now is the depth of talent and the organization's commitment at developing it.

The commitment will likely be tested because some of the young pitchers will struggle. The Yankees have already seen that with Luis Severino. After looking like a future ace in a late-season 2015 audition, Severino was so bad as a starter in 2016 that many believe his future is in the bullpen.

Severino could still make it, but the Yankees' hope is he'll soon be pushed by the next wave that features Kaprielian, Sheffield, Adams and the others. While the younger group doesn't include anyone expected to compete for a major league job this spring, scouts see a chance some could contribute by the end of the year.

Yankees fans already love Gary Sanchez, but for the rebuilding plan to succeed, some of the pitchers Sanchez catches will need to develop into stars too.
Yankees fans already love Gary Sanchez, but for the rebuilding plan to succeed, some of the pitchers Sanchez catches will need to develop into stars too.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Kaprielian, a 22-year-old right-hander who was a 2015 first-round pick out of UCLA, might be the one to watch in 2017. After missing much of the last minor league season with a strained right flexor tendon, Kaprielian was throwing 97 mph in the Arizona Fall League.

Sheffield, acquired from the Indians in last summer's Andrew Miller trade, has also been clocked as high as 97 mph.

"A lot of people love him," one National League executive said. "His name is out there. When teams talk to the Yankees about trades, he's the one they ask for."

While the Yankees would rather hold on to all the talented arms they've accumulated, the reality is they could deal some away. That's particularly true if they want to trade for a major league-ready ace, as the Boston Red Sox did when they picked up Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox in December.

Michael Kopech, who went to the White Sox in that deal, is seen by some scouts as a future ace.

"The Yankees don't have anyone like that," one of the NL scouts said. "There are not a lot of givens with their guys. They could end up with the best pitching on the planet, or they could have problems."

The Yankees want their fans to believe it will be the former. Like any rebuilding team, they'd like to think they're developing future stars.

"I think it's exciting times for us," general manager Brian Cashman told reporters last week, as relayed by Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. "We have a lot of quality, young, hungry talented players, and we still have some veterans mixed in here. I think if we stay healthy and perform up to our capabilities, I think we can start writing a new chapter in Yankee-land with exciting futures ahead."

Cashman wasn't just talking about the pitchers. Catcher Gary Sanchez, outfielder Clint Frazier and shortstop Gleyber Torres were also featured in the Winter Warm-Up. Sanchez, who hit 20 home runs in just 201 major league at-bats in 2016, might already be the team's most popular player.

For the rebuilding plan to work, the guys he catches will need to become just as good.

                            

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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