Why I’m Bullish on the Yankee Farm System

Yesterday, I decided to jot down a quick ranking of Yankee prospects. I was trying to think about how good Greg Bird was. Bird is an interesting prospect. People often (overly) fixate on his high on base percentage at Charleston this year, and write his skill set off as a walking machine. But given the ballpark (90 run factor, 92 home run factor), and his age (20, with less than a full season of experience), Bird’s 20 home runs in 127 games is pretty impressive. He is only going to get stronger, and there aren’t a lot of tougher power environments than Charleston. Bird is a very solid prospect with lots of major league potential.

But where is he in the Yankee farm system? Here are the players that I knew clearly ranked above Greg Bird: Sanchez, Heathcott, Austin, Williams, Murphy, Judge, Jagielo, Clarkin, Banuelos and Hensley. On top of them, I could see a case that I’d rather have any of DePaula, Andujar, O’Brien, Ramirez, Katoh and Turley over Greg Bird.

Put differently: Greg Bird is a very solid prospect with lots of major league potential, but you could argue that the Yankees have between 10 and 16 better prospects in their system than him.

That’s pretty good! There is no doubt that the current Yankee farm system has less top end talent than previous generations of Yankee prospects. Gary Sanchez is the only top-100 prospect of the group, and he hasn’t truly broken out in a big way yet. But behind Sanchez are an intriguing, high-ceiling group of prospects.

Two or three years ago, that 8-16 group of prospects would have included names like Adam Warren, Graham Stoneburner, David Adams, Brandon Laird, or David Phelps. There was a much larger drop off between the top-8 and the middle tier. Now, there really isn’t much of a middle tier. All of those 16 guys are a whole lot better than Graham Stoneburner was in 2010, or Adam Warren was in 2011.

I’d love to have a few more A prospects in the system, but the Yankee farm system has a whole lot of B- to B+ guys right now. Even going back to the Yankee system heydays of 2005-2007, I don’t think you’ll find a deeper system. I think there’s 4-5 major league players in this group, easy. Are there any stars? Probably not. Guys like Sanchez, Heathcott and Williams have the tools, and the young pitchers definitely have the stuff, but we can’t really call them potential stars until they put everything together.

But would anyone be surprised to see the 2018 Yanekes carry 5 of those players, say, Eric Jagielo, Manuel Banuelos, Tyler Austin, Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez, all in starting roles? I don’t think that is all that implausible. And there are lots of interesting players below that group as well, including Culver, Montgomery, Marshall, Mitchell, Torrens, Severino, Flores, Custodio, Refsnyder and Gumbs, among others.

The road to a long term winning Yankee team has always run through the farm system, and the Yankees are in a stronger position than people are giving them credit for.

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

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