Fangraphs has released its annual top 10 prospect lists, breaking down the minor league systems for all 30 MLB ballclubs. In order, from 1 to 10, the Yankees are: Gary Sanchez, J.R. Murphy, Eric Jagielo, Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Aaron Judge, Ian Clarkin, Greg Bird, Jose Ramirez, and Tyler Austin. This list will mainly focus on the players’ tools and expectations.
1. Gary Sanchez- The big name. Going into 2014, Sanchez is a powerfully built catcher in Double-A Trenton. In fact, his power is the most scintillating aspect of his game. While he’s no Mike Piazza, he could potentially be a dependable low 20 home runs, 20 doubles guy at some point down the line. Speaking of Piazza, there can easily be a defensive liability comparison. Sanchez is not known for his glove; he makes more errors than he should. He does possess a strong arm, however, which solidifies him as a catching candidate. This season, Sanchez will most like toil in Double-A, and earn a Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre promotion midway through the season. Even if Sanchez catches fire, he is not in any way threatening Brian McCann‘s starting job.
2. J.R. Murphy- If fantasy minor league baseball existed, J.R. Murphy would be the quintessential handcuff. Sanchez is influenced by Murphy, and vice versa. Murphy, a catcher by trade, had a cup of coffee last season playing in the Bronx, but he didn’t impress, batting .154 in 16 games. Of course, that shouldn’t be looked too far into. To use Piazza again, he only hit .232 in his first 21 games. Besides, J.R. Murphy is the anti-Gary Sanchez: an average hitting, strong defensively, regular-sized backstop. He could be a decent player eventually, but with McCann and Sanchez blocking his entrance to Yankee Stadium, specifically home plate, Murphy would serve better for a position change (third base?) or as trade bait. Murphy is by no means a bad player, but he just doesn’t fit in the Yankees’ system. Expect him to start the season at Triple-A.
3. Eric Jagielo- Drafted in the first round out of Notre Dame last year, the 21-year-old Jagielo possesses raw power. A lefty swinger, righty fielder, he has great strength and the ability to knock the ball out of most parks. His hot corner fielding needs work. His arm isn’t outstanding. But he has a total of 55 career minor league contests, none above the level at Low-A Staten Island. Jagielo is a pure future pick. If his hitting develops, he could go far, maybe even Triple-A far. With another season coming, look for him to adjust to pitchers better than last year. 20 cumulative home runs wouldn’t surprise me, given his offensive prowess.
4. Mason Williams- Another familiar name. Williams is the highest ranked outfielder on this list, roaming center field (and well too) in High-A Tampa and Trenton. Fleet of foot, he is also a strong base stealer. His hitting leaves much to be desired, though. After hitting a blistering .349 in Staten Island during the 2011 campaign, he regressed, hitting .245 in 2013. The 100 point drop is concerning, and leaves his future murky. I don’t think the Majors should be on his mind right now; he should focus on refining his game in either Trenton or Scranton.
5. Slade Heathcott- He is an all-out player. He hustles. All the time. While it’s entertaining to see so much effort put into every at-bat and every play in center field, it’s disrupting his career. He busted his right knee in August, and had surgery to repair it over the offseason. Before his injury, he was hitting only .261 in Trenton, with 8 outfield assists. He remains an above average fielder with a good glove and good range, but his bat is not on par for the Major League-level yet. Hopefully he recovers well, and finds a hitting stroke. If he regains his form, he might (small chance) earn a late season call up to the Majors simply because of his energy; his enthusiasm could really help when the wild card chase becomes tight.
6. Aaron Judge- A 2013 first round draft pick out of Fresno State, Judge is a 6’7″, 230-pound behemoth of a player. He won the 2012 College Home Run Derby, and crushed multiple long balls. Usually I don’t watch college baseball HRDs, but when I watched Judge mash multiple 400+ foot shots, he reminded me of a young Frank Thomas. Last year, a quadriceps injury prevented him from playing, so Judge has never seen a professional pitch coming into 2014. He won’t be Major League ready for at least two years; this season will be an transition period between college and the minors. While he may not hit for a high average, his strength will carry fly balls over the fences. If you live near a Single-A stadium, make sure you have home insurance because a few balls might land in your yard.
7. Ian Clarkin- Chosen directly after Judge, Clarkin is the first pitcher on this list. He pitched in only three games last season, to the tune of a 10.80 ERA along with injuries. A starter with a low-90′s fastball, Clarkin has the potential to become a middle of the rotation starting pitcher in the long term future. He might pitch a few games in Tampa if he performs well. Otherwise, a year in Staten Island and Charleston is likely.
8. Greg Bird- This first baseman is a solid hitter. With 20 home runs last season and 84 RBI, he showed good power last season. He also walks a lot (107) and strikes out a lot (132). He isn’t a great fielder, even at first base, but he is serviceable. He will probably play between Tampa and Trenton this season. He reminds me of Jack Cust. Moving on…
9. Jose Ramirez- Currently, he is a starter with a mid-90′s heater and a decent changeup. He actually played in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season for 8 games, but got hurt with various ailments. His ERA was hovering around 5, much worse than his career ERA of 3.72. After he rehabs his injuries, he should return to Double-A or Triple-A to continue his ascension to the Majors. Most likely, he will pitch in the minors the entire season, but if his starting gig never pans out, he could become a decent reliever with two-plus pitches.
10- Tyler Austin- He was the 77th ranked prospect last year by Baseball America. This year, he isn’t even on their list, and is barely on Fangraphs‘s list. After a really promising 2012 season with 17 homers, 23 swipes, and a .322 batting average, Austin stole only 4 bases, hit 6 home runs, and batted only .257 in Trenton. A right wrist injury sapped his power, and really hindered his performance all-around. As Mark Teixeira has shown, wrist injuries are fickle things, and can pop up unexpectedly. I would like to say Austin returns to his 2012 form, but I don’t buy that. Next season will be a recovery season for the 21-year-old utilityman. His stats are important, but his ability to heal should be his top priority.