Surprising prospect earns Baseball America's Yankees 'Player of the Year' honor

No, not a Martian. This man is of earth.
Hudson Valley Renegades catcher Rafael Flores during media day on April 5, 2023.

Renegades Media
Hudson Valley Renegades catcher Rafael Flores during media day on April 5, 2023. Renegades Media / Patrick Oehler/Poughkeepsie Journal /

Typically, in prospecting parlance, you'd expect an offensive force to be named an organization's "Player of the Year." Each franchise usually names a "Minor-League Player of the Year" and "Pitcher of the Year" to reward extra talents with oversized checks prior to a random April game.

In order to earn the organizational honor, a pitcher would have to be leaps and bounds better than the system's best sluggers -- and that's exactly what happened on the Yankees' farm this summer when righty Drew Thorpe established himself as an impossible-to-ignore force across two levels.

Though the 2022 second-rounder was shut down with a late-season injury and will not pitch in the Eastern League playoffs, there's reason to believe the issue pertains to his non-throwing arm, according to Mike Ashmore. That means Thorpe's season is in the books, and it was a spectacular one, beginning to end.

Thanks in large part to his elite changeup, the only "questions" that surrounded the righty involved the timing of his promotion up the ladder. When he got the (slightly delayed) nod to Somerset, he didn't disappoint.

Baseball America Yankees Minor League Player of the Year 2023: Drew Thorpe

The assumption on draft day was that Thorpe's change might already be MLB-ready, and that he could be a fast riser if his fastball played in the pros.

Those early assumptions were proven accurate, as the 22-year-old buzzsawed through Hudson Valley with nary a hiccup, piling up a 10-2 record, 2.81 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 109 innings. That earned him a five-start Double-A cameo, where he flushed batters at an even higher rate (1.48 ERA, four more wins, and 44 more Ks against just a trio of walks).

In total, the righty led the entire minor leagues in strikeouts, and inspired this whopper of a quote from Double-A Somerset pitching coach Grayson Crawford about his mysterious off-speed pitch.

"There’s a lot of deception on it for sure. The miss is the biggest thing . . . letting the hitters tell us where that needs to go, how much he needs to throw it.

We’ve actually challenged him to throw some other things at times—because the changeup has played so well—just to help develop new pitches."

Grayson Crawford

Thorpe earned an extended rest by passing every 2023 test with flying colors; even if his "double-plus" change is unavailable on any given day, it's just a portion of his five-pitch arsenal.

The Yankees might've had more electric pitching prospects rise through their ranks in recent decades, but Thorpe could be the most pro-ready in years (and it's tough to see him "maybe landing in the bullpen if things don't work out").

Nope. He's a starter, and an exciting one. And his time appears to be coming quicker than most thought when Brian Cashman "gutted the upper minors of arms" at the 2022 trade deadline.