Diverging perspectives on the Yankee farm

We have already seen a number of analyses of the Yankee farm this offseason (from Keith Law and Kevin Goldstein, among others), and this otherwise quiet Tuesday has blessed us with two more takes on the system.  Baseball America released its annual top 100 prospects list today, and as a bonus Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus released a writeup on the top 5 prospects in the Yankee system.  Both provide interesting (and different) takes on the Yankees’ top prospects, which gives some insight as to the high risk/high reward nature of the current Yankee farm.

4 Yankee prospects cracked the venerable BA list, and the names will not surprise anybody.  Manny Banuelos was the top Yankee prospect according to BA, checking in at #29.  This more or less represents the consensus ranking of Banuelos by other sources, and the lower variability makes sense because Banuelos has already pitched at higher levels.  Dellin Betances, the second Yankee on the list, checks in at #63, though there has been substantial variation in his ranking by other sources (likely because there is some doubt about whether Betances can develop the consistent command and mechanics to stick as a starter).

Gary Sanchez checks in as the #3 Yankee prospect on the BA list, and #81 overall.  BA justified the low ranking by citing Sanchez’s well-documented defensive and makeup concerns, and while I agree that these are both potentially serious problems, this is still lower than I have seen him ranked anywhere else.  I wonder if this is perhaps BA compensating for ranking Sanchez as the #30 prospect last year despite playing almost the entire season in rookie ball.  While Sanchez’s defense and makeup issues were serious this year, a 50+ place drop seems a little excessive for a guy who despite his early struggles put together an OPS above .800 as an 18 year-old catcher in full season ball.  Mason Williams is close behind Sanchez at #85, which is probably about where I would place him (Keith Law was much higher on him, and Kevin Goldstein was a little lower).

While the BA list represents the aggregated opinions of several writers and the scouts they speak with, Jason Parks’ list of the Yankees’ top 5 (which EJ posted on earlier), displays a very different viewpoint.  Perhaps because it is the work of a person who is a scout by trade, the list is much heavier on scouting than numbers, and probably more focused on ceiling than your typical industry list.  Honestly, it could very well be a “highest ceilings” list rather than a top prospects list, with Sanchez on top, followed by Banuelos, Betances, Williams, and Angelo Gumbs.  Parks does put an 80 speed grade on Williams (the highest possible grade), which illustrated the exciting potential he has.

As EJ mentioned earlier, Gumbs at #5 is a huge surprise.  I am fairly high on him relative to most other sources, but wouldn’t even consider putting him at #5 at this point (he may not even be the #5 prospect on the Charleston Riverdogs this year, depending on who you ask).  Even though I am not as aggressive as Parks is on Gumbs, I think Parks explains well what there is to like about Gumbs: he has great athleticism, the ability to profile at an up-the-middle position (2b or CF), and excellent bat speed that allows power projection down the road.  Even though his 2011 production was not that impressive, the combination of loud tools and youth gives Gumbs star potential if everything works out.

As I have discussed previously, a lot of the strength of the Yankee farm system is at the lower levels.  This gives the farm a ton of variability in terms of possible outcomes, with huge boom/bust potential.  While somebody like Banuelos or Betances seems to project as a major league reliever at worst, the downside for the lower-level guys is never making it to the majors.  Nonetheless, there is some serious upside among guys like Sanchez, Williams and Gumbs, as well as others like Dante Bichette and Jose Campos, that should make this crop of prospects fun to watch in 2012.