Yankees' breakout lefty hitting prospect gets well-deserved love on end-of-year list

Is a complete surprise Yankee leveling up in the prospect rankings?
New York Yankees v Oakland Athletics
New York Yankees v Oakland Athletics / Lachlan Cunningham/GettyImages

The New York Yankees' farm system graduated a class of familiar names towards the end of the 2023 season, even though Jasson Dominguez's star burned brightly for too short a time.

Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza have left prospect rankings in their shared past. Everson Pereira and Austin Wells will do the same before long. Dominguez, when he returns from surgery, will probably receive some time at Triple-A to build up reps before he, too, becomes a certified big-leaguer.

So, who fills their massive void? 2022 first-round pick/Aaron Judge knockoff Spencer Jones is the incumbent. FCL Yankees like Roderick Arias and Keiner Delgado should earn some shine. Trey Sweeney ended 2023 on a heater, and his left-handed swing oozes potential. 2023 first-round pick George Lombard Jr. opened a few eyes during limited duty as well.

But the biggest winner just might be a 12th-round pick from Dartmouth who plays a little catcher, mans a little first base, and never, ever stopped hitting in 2023, rising through the ranks to Double-A Somerset and making it look easy.

For his surprising prowess, Ben Rice received MLB Pipeline's "Hitting Prospect of the Year" honor for the Yankees organization, a momentous step forward for a player who simply refused to be forgotten this season.

Yankees' Ben Rice, Drew Thorpe earn system honors from MLB Pipeline

Thorpe, of course, earned Pitcher of the Year honors in the system. That was a cinch; he also won MiLB's league-spanning award for the best pitching season in the minors.

But Pipeline's Rice writeup was a surprise only because we weren't sure just how many people were noticing the constant barrage of 3-for-4s.

"A back injury cost Rice two months and prevented him from officially qualifying for Minor League leadership, but among players with 300 plate appearances, he ranked first in wRC+ (183) while batting .324/.434/.615 with 20 homers in 73 games and rising from Single-A to Double-A."

MLB Pipeline

Is "first in the minors" for offensive prowess good? Just trying to figure out if that's good.

Rice still ranks a humble 23rd on Pipeline's Yankees Top 30, and it's yet to be seen whether he captured the attention of Baseball America's evaluators this season. He's still viewed as a tweener, potentially without a position.

But Austin Wells was deemed "not a catcher" by the masses, only for his receiving skills to look more big-league ready than his bat in his September cameo. No one knows what Rice will be yet, but the goal for him couldn't be clearer: Just keep hitting. And keep hitting lefty. The rest will fall in line.

So far, so potent.