It’s been a tough start to the year for the farm system. With a handful of top prospects missing the start of the season as they recovered from offseason health problems (Slade Heathcott, Greg Bird, Ty Hensley), the Yankees have watched more injuries strike down a significant portion of other recognizable names. From Nik Turley and Jose Ramirez in Spring Training, to Tyler Austin last week, to the announcement of Jose Campos‘ season-ending TJS over the weekend, there’s seemingly been a top guy going on the DL every few days. That’s created opportunities for other players to step up, but so far nobody has created a bigger name for himself than he already had. With April 2 days away from ending and the sample sizes growing to an almost meaningful size, here are the guys who’ve helped and hurt their prospect stock the most in the first month.
Stock Up: Dan Burawa
He followed the “Jose Ramirez 2013 Spring Training” career plan and impressed coaches in camp with his velocity and attitude, and he carried that momentum into the start of the Triple-A season. Burawa has yet to allow a run in 5 appearances this month. In fact, he’s only given up 2 hits in 6.2 innings pitched and he’s struck out 12. He’s also walked 5, which shows the leaky command hole in his prospect makeup, but he’s probably done enough to secure the #2 spot behind teammate Mark Montgomery in the organizational relief prospect food chain. Only problem now is that he’s back on the DL for an unknown reason. Hopefully it’s something minor and not related to his oblique injury that cost him last year.
Stock Down: Zoilo Almonte
I write this knowing full well that Zoilo is slugging .500 right now and leads the team in HR (6) and RBI (18). Those are all nice and give Joe an easy option to call up if one of his Major League outfielders hits the DL. But after a quasi-breakout year in SWB last year, I was really hoping for Zoilo to come back in 2014 and be even better. That hasn’t happened. His BB rate is back down (6.1%), his K rate is way back up (25.6%), and heading into last night’s game he had an OBP below .300. I was holding out a sliver of hope that Zoilo could be more than a 4th or 5th bench OF, but his start to this year hasn’t been indicative of anything more than that.
Stock Up: Zach Nuding
He’s not a very well known name as a prospect, but he’s off to a nice start in his return trip. 5 starts, 29.2 IP, 23 H, 8 ER, 7 BB, 28 K. Experimented with as a starter and a reliever last season, Nuding is firmly entrenched in the rotation now with Bryan Mitchell on the DL and he’s responding well. Long-term he looks like a sleeper relief prospect because of his fastball and lack of consistent secondary stuff, but here’s no rush to convert him. If he is starting to figure some things out, let him keep starting and see how he does over the summer. If this early production holds, maybe give him a late-season promotion and see what happens.
Stock Down: Mason Williams
Also in his return to Trenton after 17 games at the level in 2013, Williams hasn’t done much to improve on last year’s disappointing campaign. In 108 plate appearances, he’s hitting just .222/.287/.313 with 6 XBH and 3 stolen bases. I haven’t read much about any change, better or worse, in his attitude, but the issues with his approach are still very present in his offensive game. Keith Law called him “too aggressive for his own good” when he scouted the Thunder a few weeks ago and that’s not something you want to read about a 22-year-old in his 4th year of pro ball. Williams needs to pick it up or his stock is going to take a huge hit after this season.
Stock Up: Peter O’Brien
I wasn’t a big believer based on his age and the high K rates he put up in A-ball last year, but O’Brien was another who turned some heads in spring camp with his monster power and approach to the game and he’s one of the few hitters who’s shown that he deserves a promotion right now. 90 PA so far in his return season to this level, .337/.371/.723 tripleslash, 8 HR, 8 2B, 16 RBI, and a K rate below 20% (18.8% to be exact). He also hasn’t been quite the butcher in the field that he was last season as he’s started to get some work in right field. He still has no long-term position, but his bat is very real and it doesn’t need to be beating up on poor A-ball pitching anymore.
Stock Down: Cito Culver
If you were still on the Culver bandwagon, I think it’s safe to get off now. .215/.265/.269 in 102 April PA, almost a 25% K rate, and already 6 errors in the field. This is Culver’s 3rd year of full-season A-ball. He was drafted in 2010. He hasn’t shown any signs that he’s gotten any better in those 3 years. It’s over.
Stock Up: Luis Severino
I can’t wait to see how the rest of his season unfolds and how high he shoots up the prospect rankings when it’s over. This kid’s good. He had the restraints put on him for his first 3 starts, when he threw fewer than 4 innings in each outing. Since the gloves have come off, he’s been dynamite. 5.2 shutout innings with 8 Ks and no walks 2 starts ago, 5 innings with 1 ER his last time out, 1.89 ERA overall in 19.0 IP. He threw less than 45 innings last year, so the team is going to limit his workload. But if he ends up somewhere near 100 with BB and K numbers like he has right now, he’s a top 3-5 organizational prospect heading into next year.
Stock Down: Gosuke Katoh
In fairness to Katoh, the blame for his poor performance should fall on the team for sending him to Charleston in the first place. Yeah he dominated in the GCL last year, but that level of competition isn’t much better than what he was playing against before he got drafted. This is a 19-year-old kid who’s never played above a high school level of competition and the Yankees sent him to a full-season league against pro pitchers in their early 20s. He’s in over his head and it shows. .175/.333/.281 batting line with 31 strikeouts in 57 AB. Katoh wasn’t ready for this and the Yanks pushed him too fast. The best I’m hoping for now is a season-long maintaining of his strong BB rate and some gradual improvement as he gets used to the level. That would be a positive sign that he can learn to hang with good pitching.