Biggest Breakouts in the Yankees Minor League System for 2016
The New York Yankees farm system emerged as one of baseball’s best in 2016, with a little help from some surprise performances. Here’s a look at some of the most exciting breakouts by Yankees farmhands this year:
– Miguel Andujar: The 21-year old third baseman earned a promotion to Double-A Trenton during his fifth year in the Yankees system, finishing with a .273/.332/.410 slash line in 570 plate appearances split between the Thunder and High-A Tampa. He set career highs with 140 hits, 12 home runs, 26 doubles, and 83 RBI.
He vaulted from 15th in New York’s system before the season all the way to the 8th spot according to MLB Pipeline’s updated rankings. That’s even more remarkable when you consider how many top prospects the Yankees brought in at the trade deadline. Even staying in the same spot in the rankings would have been impressive.
– Kyle Higashioka: Before this season, the 26-year-old catcher was mostly known to fans as one of the army of backstops needed to handle the pitching staff in spring training each year. He was well respected within the organization, but had close to zero prospect pedigree.
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A slight change in approach at the plate caused Higashioka to launch a career-best 21 home runs in 2016 while hitting .276/.337/.511 in 416 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. He had never before even reached double-digit homers in a season.
That performance will likely be enough to get Higashioka a spot on the 40-man roster this offseason or he will be able to walk as a minor league free agent. He looks ready to establish himself as a credible big league backup at the very least, and could even have starter potential if his production this season continues.
– Blake Rutherford– While it was admittedly in a sample size, few players in the system can match the show 19-year-old outfielder Blake Rutherford put on in the second-half with Pulaski. The team’s 2016 first rounder absolutely tore up the Appalachian League during his 25 game stint despite being 1.5 years younger than his average competition. He hit .382/.440/.618 in with seven doubles, four triples, and two homers in 100 plate appearances.
Rutherford’s season ended in late-August following a hamstring injury, but the issue is not expected to have any affect on next season. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com reported that he may even be ready to go for the Fall Instructional League.
Perhaps the best pure athlete in the Yankees system, Rutherford is an extremely exciting prospect who should have a strong showing in the various Top 100 lists next spring.
– Chance Adams: The Yankees experiment with transitioning 2015 fifth rounder Chance Adams to the rotation could not have been more successful. Adams made 24 starts split between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton in just his second professional season, pitching to a 2.33 ERA and striking out 10.2 batters per nine over 127.1 IP.
Adams looked like a strong candidate to boost the flagging big league rotation down the stretch, but after pitching just 35.1 professional innings and 59 as a junior at Dallas Baptist, he was shut down at the end of August to manage his workload.
His strong performance launched him up seven spots on MLB Pipeline’s Yankees Top 30 prospects list. The 22-year-old right-hander ranked 21st before the beginning of the year, and he’s currently in the 14th spot.
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– Jonathan Holder– The 23-year-old righty reliever climbed all the way from High-A Tampa to the big league club in 2016, opening eyes at every stop. Holder compiled a 1.65 ERA and 16 saves across the Yankees top three minor league clubs, striking out 13.9 batters per nine innings and allowing just one free pass per nine.
To top it all off, Holder earned a surprise September call up even though he won’t be Rule 5 eligible following the season. GM Brian Cashman told Joel Sherman of the New York Post, “I wrestled back and forth but ultimately decided he earned the right to be here.”
In Holder’s last minor league appearance of the season, he struck out the first 11 batters he faced, going four scoreless innings of relief to help the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Railriders clinch their postseason berth.
– Chad Green-The former 11th round draft pick saw his fastball velocity jump from the low 90’s up to 93-95 mph, topping out at 97 mph after coming over to the Yankees in the Justin Wilson trade this winter. That extra kick helped him dominate the International League all summer, posting a 1.52 ERA in 94.2 innings pitched for Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. He struck out 9.5 batters per nine in that span while allowing just 2.0 BB/9.
The 25-year-old has gotten the call from the Yankees for spot starts on several occasions over the course of the year, admittedly with mixed results. Two back-to-back August starts where he allowed just one earned run over 12 innings of work while striking out 16 showed he had what it takes to be a successful big league starter.
Green’s season ended on a down note this month when it was revealed he had a sprained UCL in his right elbow, although for the moment it appears he will be able to avoid the dreaded TJ surgery. “From what I know now, it is not worst case.” Green recently told reporters.
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The young right-hander has shown enough this season to make him a strong candidate for a MLB rotation spot next spring. He’s seen as a back-end starter type who can really rack of some innings because of his workhorse build.