Yankees Dustin Fowler Could Be the System’s Most Underrated Prospect

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New York Yankees MiLB center fielder Dustin Fowler may be ready to force his way onto the big league roster in 2017 after a strong Double-A campaign.

With all the big name prospects the New York Yankees added to their minor league system at the 2016 trade deadline, it was easy to overlook Dustin Fowler’s excellent year in his first taste of the upper-minors.

One of Fowler’s most notable improvements was in the power department. He reached double digit home runs (12) for the first time in his young career, and bumped up his slugging percentage by 64 points over the previous year.

The 21-year-old put up a .281/.311/.458 batting line overall in 574 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton. He’s a true five-tool talent who projects to be average or better in all major aspects of his game, although the power had been lagging behind the others until this year. He swiped 25 bags in 36 attempts this year, and probably profiles as a top of the lineup type bat down the road.

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Chosen in the 18th round back in 2013, Fowler has always had impressive tools, but fell in the draft because of a commitment to Georgia Southern University. A well over-slot bonus of $278,000 ultimately convinced him to sign with New York, and Fowler has quietly established himself as the organization’s center fielder of the future over the last four years.

The main obstacle to Fowler receiving big league playing time next year is the sheer number of outfielders the Yankees have in the upper minors. Even with his strong season, there are a ton of young guys ahead of him on the depth chart, even if one or two get moved this winter. Fowler is likely to get his second invite to big league spring training in 2017, but is not a serious threat to win a job.

He’s expected to begin next year with Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, but with a hot start, he could force his way into consideration depending on how the big league outfield roster shakes out. None of the Yankees major league outfielders are exactly a sure thing at this point.

There have been whispers about them shopping veterans Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Judge struck out in 44.2% of his PAs in his first big league stint, Clint Frazier really struggled after his promotion to Triple-A, Mason Williams hasn’t shown he can stay healthy for a full season, and neither Aaron Hicks or Rob Refsnyder did anything with the bat last year.

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Realistically, Fowler will have to wait until Ellsbury is hurt, moved off center, or traded before he can get a chance at every day playing time. The four years and $84+ million owed to Jake definitely hurts Fowler’s chances in the near future, but the front office has shown they will reward high performing players with playing time. If Fowler keeps this up, they will find a spot for him next year.