Yankees Farm Report Part Two: High-A Tampa Yankees

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Yankees farm system has a lot of talent. Some of it has not even started playing yet, including the bulk of the 2014 International signing class. Until some of those promising players start playing–guys such as Dermis and Wilkerman Garcia–Tampa’s talent pool will be a bit thin. But what they do have is intriguing young pitchers.

Florida is the next stop, with the lazily named Tampa Yankees. But whereas Charleston’s best players were all offensive, the pitchers lead the pack at Tampa.

The enigmatic Ian Clarkin is first in the rotation. He has started six games and pitched 32 innings. Right now his ERA is 1.95, and his WHIP is 1.18. And he’s only given up 25 hits in those 32 innings while striking out 28. That’s a good way to start a season.

However, a player must have a quality track record to be considered a quality prospect, which is why Gosuke Katoh is not on this list. Clarkin has a good history; the problem is, he also has a bad one.

The good Ian has long been considered a top pitching prospect. The Yankees drafted him 33rd overall back in 2013, taking Aaron Judge as their first pick that year. And, every year he has pitched in the Yankees system, he has pitched well. In 2014 he threw to a 3.12 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, and in 2016 those numbers were numeric palindromes: 3.31 and 1.33.

You Can Learn as Much by What is Not There

Did you notice the problem? He has no line for 2015. That’s the downside of his track record: his injuries. He went on the DL twice in 2014, the last time knocking him out for the entire 2015 season. Last year, he underwent surgery, which ended his season in July.

Clarkin is a good pitcher when he pitches. The wrong side of his history is that he just doesn’t pitch that much. Still, he is ranked as the Yankees 19th best young player and is pitching well. We’ll see if he moves up, or back onto the DL.

Right behind Clarkin in the rankings is number 20, Zack Littell. If Clarkin’s name is one you have heard about for years, Littell will probably be new to you. That’s because he just came over from the Mariners last year in the James Pazos trade. And he is one of two very promising, and refreshing, top pitching prospects at High-A.

Zack leads the team in innings pitched with 53 and is second in ERA (2.03). That makes him third overall in the Florida State League as Clarkin has not thrown enough innings to qualify. He has given up one hit for every inning pitched (53)–and he needs to work on that—but he has also struck out 41.

And all Without Overpowering Stuff

But improving is what Littell is all about. Every year of his pro career he has lowered his ERA. Two years ago it was 3.91 while last year it was 2.66. His fastball velocity has improved slightly, as well. But one thing that does not need improvement is his curveball. Baseball America declared it the best in the Mariners system and, my guess is, it is one of the best now in the Yankees system.

Littell will be promoted soon, and we should find out by the end of this Yankees season if this is another Brian Cashman Steal-Deal.

More from Yanks Go Yard

2017 will also show if Josh Rogers, 11th round draft pick in 2015, is a real prospect or not. He, like Littell, dominated High-A, until he got promoted to New Jersey. Rogers, while at Tampa, threw 52 innings but gave up only 45 hits. He struck out 51 batters and walked only eight. It all added up to an ERA of 2.22 and a WHIP of 1.01.

That made Rogers sixth in ERA, two behind Littell, and third in WHIP. Had he not already been promoted two games ago, I would now be writing he needs to be advanced. So far, that has not worked out. Josh has had only those two starts but his ERA is 4.38. Two promising aspects are that he got markedly better in his second start and his WHIP is still just 1.05.

So, Why “Refreshing”?

The common link that makes them a bit unusual and certainly refreshing is that neither is a hard thrower. Both seem to live in the low-90’s. This seems to fly in the face of current group think, which is that only flamethrowers are worth developing. The drafting of Rogers and trading for Littell shows signs that the Yankees are starting to think about pitchers, not just throwers.

That is all good news for Chance Adams, but more on him later.

Both of these players are successful because they know how to pitch. They do so by changing speeds and locations, by studying scouting reports, and being focused on the mound. Perhaps that is a result of not being able to blow people away. Either way, both have been doing very well with the stuff they have.

Next: Find out how Aaron Judge is already Impacting Mickey Mantle's Legacy

And both project as back-end starters, although the odds are only one will ever make it beyond Scranton. That is not as exciting as future aces, but it takes more than just five starting pitchers to make a winning season. My guess is one or both of them will be serving as quality Triple-A depth by the middle of next year.

But now it’s time to follow Rogers to Trenton in Part Three.