Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this year's top 30 list, I think it's only appropriate that we take a minute to recognize some of those prospects who are no longer with the Yankees. The prospect world is a volatile one year-to-year. One year a guy's a blue chipper at the top of your system, the next he's out of all rankings and/or out of your organization completely.
There's a pretty good-sized list of former prospects who are elsewhere heading into 2015. That'll happen when you make a lot of trades. Some of these guys were big names in the system as recently as the start of last season, some are late bloomers, some are players who, for whatever reasons, were never able to break in and earn a regular role with the Major League club. At least the first one's still in the system though. Gotta have one good graduation in every former prospect class, right? Presented together for the first time ever, the 2014 class of former Yankee prospects.
John Ryan Murphy- A fast riser on the prospect circuit after a strong year with the bat at 2 levels in 2013, Murphy came back down to earth a bit last year with a .246/.292/.397 slash line in his return trip to SWB. Once again, injuries at the Major League level forced him into action and he ended up accumulating enough roster time to no longer qualify as a rookie in 2015 despite only getting 85 big league PA. Barring any bad injury luck, he's the shoo-in to win the Major League backup job this year and the team has high hopes for him. He's received very positive reviews for his defensive work and he still projects to hit enough to be an above-average backup and even a capable starting catcher.
Slade Heathcott- A consensus top 5 Yankee prospect 2 years ago and a consensus top 10 prospect in 2014, Heathcott's injury problems finally did his stock in this past year. He played in a mere 9 games coming back from knee surgery before further knee issues shut him down and forced him to undergo another surgery. He's had a plethora of knee and shoulder problems since he was drafted, and at age 24 it's hard to see those going away. He's no longer on the 40-man roster and was re-signed recently to a MiL deal. He may open the season in the Triple-A outfield, and if he does there's always a chance his natural tools could click and force him back into the outfield picture. The Yankees don't appear to be too confident in that happening, however, and that's a belief I share.
Shane Greene- The latest homegrown pitcher to be overrated by the hometown fan base, Greene was shipped off to Detroit as part of the Didi Gregorius trade earlier this offseason. To his credit, he turned what looked like a middling MiL career into a burgeoning Major League one by tightening up his control in 2013. But at 26 and with a season-long BB rate in the mid-8.0s last year, there's a chance we may have already seen the best of Greene pitching in the American League. A move to the back end of the Tiger rotation ensures we'll see him again at some point, and I genuinely hope he continues to have success.
Rafael De Paula- Briefly considered a potential ace in the making when his pro career started in 2012, De Paula battled command and home run problems upon reaching High-A in 2013 and returning there in 2014. He was still striking plenty of batters out (26.4% K rate in 89.0 IP), but his ceiling was coming down quickly when the Yankees traded him to San Diego for Chase Headley. In 8 starts for the Padres' High-A affiliate, De Paula pitched to a 6.54 ERA and 5.36 FIP with 41 K and 17 BB in 42.2 IP. He turns 24 in 2 months and has yet to make any noticeable improvements to his game. He could end up being a reliever long-term. We'll always be left to wonder what could have been if he didn't have that long delay in coming stateside.
Vidal Nuno- He was never considered much of a prospect due to his age and lack of velocity, but Nuno was a great undervalued find for the Yankees and served a purpose as a warm body in the rotation for 14 starts. He was shipped out and replaced for the remainder of 2014 by Brandon McCarthy, which is a pretty good total return for a soft thrower who was plucked off the MiL free agent wire. Nuno predictably pitched better in AZ post-trade (3.90 FIP, more Ks, fewer BB in 83.2 IP) and he'll be in competition for a spot in the D'back rotation this season.
Peter O'Brien- His power made him very attractive to a lot of Yankee fans last year, but his lack of position and high strikeout totals didn't project good things for the future. Like Nuno, O'Brien was traded to Arizona prior to the deadline and now he finds himself there trying to nail down a permanent home in the field. The D'backs reportedly like him more as a catcher than the Yanks did and they are planning on keeping him there in 2015. It's worth noting that O'Brien was pretty good in the AZFL (.256/.393/.512, 5 HR, 22.4% K rate in 107 PA).
Zoilo Almonte- 2014 was Zoilo's last chance to carve out a meaningful role on the Yankee bench and he couldn't do it. He hit a measly .139/.139/.222 with 14 strikeouts in 36 Major League PA, and overall his offensive performance in his return trip to SWB wasn't as good as his 2013 production (103 wRC+ compared to 122). There was never the question of tools with Zoilo. It was a matter of whether or not he could put them together to become a good enough Major League hitter. His time under Yankee control ended at the end of last season, and Almonte signed a 1-year deal with the Braves to try to break in there.
Mark Montgomery- Once the crown jewel of the Yankee relief prospect crop, Montgomery has seemingly never recovered from the shoulder problems that hindered him in 2013. His velocity isn't nearly what it was, nor is his command, and now he might not even crack the top 5-8 best relief prospects in the system. He wasn't all that bad in 2014 (3.03/3.96, 34 K in 29.2 Triple-A IP), but with other guys leaping over him onto the 40-man roster and a host of up-and-coming relief arms in Trenton and SWB, Montgomery finds himself lost in the shuffle. He's in need of both a major performance rebound and a lot of injury help to get himself back in the mix for a Major League bullpen spot.
** Coming up tomorrow- the guys who just missed the cut for this year's top 30. **