The Yankees have started to make an attempt to get younger. Last year, they traded for Nathan Eovaldi and Didi Gregorious, gave rookies Luis Severino and Greg Bird prominent roles, and avoided trading top prospects. The goal of building a team that can have short term and long term success, which is what the Yankees are trying to accomplish, often starts with the use of major-league ready prospects. While the Yankees don’t have as much top-heavy prospect talent as last year, due to the promotions of Severino and Bird, they still have some players developing in Double-A and Triple-A that can contribute in the majors as soon as this season.
Aaron Judge, RF
Here’s the obvious one. Judge has huge power, coming from his 6-foot-7 frame, and also has surprising contact ability and athleticism. Judge figures to be an impact bat in the heart of the lineup, who also can bring solid right-field defense. Strikeouts will always be a part of Judge’s game thanks to his long arms and huge strike zone, and that’s a big reason why he didn’t reach the majors in 2015. Although Judge was impressive in Double-A last season, he struggled in his first taste of Triple-A. It was a big jump for the 23-year-old, and while a .224/.308/.373 line with just eight home runs in 61 games isn’t what we hoped for, it’s not overly worrisome. Judge is unlikely to make the team out of spring training, partly because he needs more development and partly because there isn’t a clear opening need for him in the outfield yet. Ideally, Judge should get at least half a season more in the minors to develop, but early success in the minors or an injury in the majors could cause Judge to become a factor in the Yankees’ lineup by the All Star Break.
Gary Sanchez, C
Sanchez has gone the way of Greg Bird this fall, with Sanchez’s Arizona Fall League causing his value to skyrocket. Sanchez showed that he could translate his raw tools into the game, impressing team officials enough for them to trade 24-year-old John Ryan Murphy to the Twins. Now, Sanchez figures to be the Yankees backup catcher in 2016 and could be their starting catcher once Brian McCann has to move off the position. Like Judge, Sanchez could probably use some more minor-league development, as his defense lags behind his offense. But, the Yankees likely prefer Sanchez to Austin Romine as their second catcher. Sanchez won’t get many at-bats, but his impressive bat and arm could open some eyes in his limited chances.
Rob Refsnyder, 2B
Refsnyder spent all of 2015 on the brink of the majors, but ended up with just 47 plate appearances. Refsnyder isn’t very flashy, but brings an above-average hit tool and fringe-average tools everywhere else. He could start at second base for a less-competitive team, but the Yankees don’t seem to be high on Refnsyder. If the team doesn’t make a trade or sign a player like Ben Zobrist, Howie Kendrick, or (gasp) Daniel Murphy, Refsnyder could platoon with Dustin Ackley at second. But, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him on another major-league team come Opening Day.
Jacob Lindgren, RP
After an electrifying professional debut in 2014, Lindgren was expected to contribute in the Yankees bullpen in 2015. A bone spur in his elbow ended that hope after just seven innings of 5.14 ERA ball, but the team is hoping for a return to form for Lindgren in 2016. Should his stuff return after injury, Lindgren’s ridiculously high strikeout numbers could land him a middle-relief role in the bullpen in 2016. Lindgren has the talent to succeed early on and earn a bigger role in the bullpen as the season progresses. If he’s healthy, Lindgren could have a surprisingly big impact in 2016, especially if the Yankees end up trading Andrew Miller. A strong spring training should give Lindgren a major-league spot to start the season.
Brady Lail, SP
Remember Chase Whitley? Brady Lail has a chance to assume a similar role in 2015. Lail had a breakout 2015, with a 2.45 ERA in Double-A putting him on the prospect map. The 22-year-old ran into trouble in a limited stint in Triple-A, posting a 4.62 ERA in 37 innings. Like Aaron Judge, the Triple-A performance wasn’t encouraging, but nothing alarming. Lail could be a long man for the Yankees or a spot starter in the second half of 2016, but doesn’t figure to make a huge impact. Long term, Lail could turn into a decent back end-starter—one who resembles Mike Leake.
Mason Williams/Slade Heathcott, OF
Okay, I got a little lazy, but Heathcott and Williams are similar players. Both are extremely talented, but injury and attitude problems have led to them being disappointments as prospects. Still, both received chances in the majors and flashed some tools before getting injured (again) in 2015. It seems that the two outfielders have matured, and if injuries haven’t eroded their talent, the two players each offer intriguing upside. That said, it is most likely that they turn into fourth or fifth outfielders, and one of them could get that role out of Spring Training next season.
Jake Cave/Ben Gamel, OF
Now we move on from underachieving but talented players to overachieving but less gifted prospects. Cave and Gamel both feature average-at-best skills across the board, which is useful but not flashy. Neither is likely to hold a starting job in the majors, especially given a surplus of outfielders in the high minors. But Cave has always performed in the minors, and Gamel looked like a different player in Triple-A last season, with a surprisingly good performance. Gamel is currently farther along than Cave and could get a major-league look first, although neither are likely to get more than a handful of at-bats in 2016 due to the team’s already crowded outfield.
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