14) New York Yankees (16): Strengths: quartet of young hitters at the top, with Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Slade Heathcott all potential impact prospects, though all have some questions. Good depth in C+ types behind them. Weaknesses: impact pitching. I don’t count Manny Banuelos as an automatic Tommy John recovery. Wildcard: Rafael DePaula, who could vault up lists quickly once he pitches against people his own age.
So they’re not blowing the world away, but they’re not falling behind, either. The construction of the farm system–at least the top thereof–shows us how quickly things can change in a farm system. Just a few years ago, we were excited about the “Killer B’s,” pitchers Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and Dellin Betances. Aside from Jesus Montero, the farm was lacking in high-end position players. Now, the top four prospects are all position players with considerable upside. Sickels, of course, went more in depth with each prospect back in December when he named the organization’s top 20 prospects. Let’s get back to what Sickels said about the Yankees’ quartet: they’re high end, but they each have some risk. Let’s review it for each guy:
1. Gary Sanchez: The bat is legit, but are we going to see him behind the plate? In Jesus Montero, the Yankees have already shown that they’re willing to deal a hard-hitting catcher if his skills behind the plate aren’t up to snuff.
2. Slade Heathcott: Injuries, injuries, injuries. All the talent is there. All the desire is there (maybe too much?). But the health just isn’t there. He’s never had more than 351 PA in a professional season and even with an appearance in the Arizona Fall League this year, he finished the year with only 344 PA.
3/4: Tyler Austin and Mason Williams: These are definitely the most polished and least questionable of the two. However, both are so young and far away that any expectations of success are still unwarranted. Though more see it the other way, I’m more of a believer in Austin than I am in Williams. His approach at the plate is clearly advanced and his power/speed potential is certainly enticing. Williams may play the more premium position and is more athletic, but despite that, I’ll take the bat every time.
As Yankee fans, we’re not used to relying on prospects for anything more than trade bait for a few reasons. The team has long made a habit of signing high-priced, big name talent that blocks prospects from coming up. There has also been a tendency to trade prospects away to acquire that same talent. And frankly, the Yankees just didn’t have a good minor league system for a long time. Now, with the expectation of a lowered budget, the Yankees will (finally?) be forced to give their own guys a shot. Many have long clamored for the Yankees to do that, and I surely understand that call. However, giving the young guys a shot simply for the sake of doing so would have been ill-advised and still will be in the future. The difference this time is that the Yankees finally seem to have a group that might be able to be relied upon, even if it’s just one of them.