Calendars shedding another page as they embrace July not only catalyzes heat waves in the Northeast, but also the publishing of mid-season prospect lists. It’s a chance for analysts to recant past criticisms from the preseason and present the masses with prospects who converted their winter efforts into helium in their rise to relevancy.
This season has been one of riches for fans of the Yankees. The 3 1/2 games the club sits behind the Red Sox in the AL East heading into the All-Star break don’t do the first 96 games justice. Expectations were low coming out of spring training; another year into a soft rebuild was apt terminology for initial feelings. All that wishy-washy confidence for the future was quickly squashed in favor of the “now” after a 15-8 start to the season and numerous days atop the division. Propelled by the unlikeliest of heroes, there has been more than enough reason to watch Yankees baseball, especially with the injection of endless youth. With the debuts of Miguel Andujar, Dustin Fowler, Tyler Wade, Kyle Higashioka, Tyler Webb, and most recently Clint Frazier, one would think there is minimal talent left in their minor league system. For once, it’s a great to be sorely mistaken.
Jeff Paternostro and the BP Prospect Staff released their mid-season top 50 list on Thursday, and three notable Yankees made the cut.
Gleyber Torres – (#7, #15 preseason)
I’ve written about Gleyber three times (1, 2, 3) in hopes of the trifecta of columns upon Torres’ MLB debut, but the best laid plans often go ary. A torn UCL in his non-throwing arm has sidelined the Yankees’ top prospect for the rest of 2017, meaning New York won’t see Torres in a third jersey this season, or watch him showcase his talents at the 2017 Futures Game (more on that event later). What we do know is that Torres has shown a refined approach at each level, resulting in appealing slash lines and projectability greater than any prospect we’ve seen debut in pinstripes in some time. The only real bug in his game is speculation on whether the raw power he has shown, can at some point turn itself into realized game power. If it doesn’t, we’re still looking at a viable second or third base option, but not with the caliber of upside shown by others prospects inside the top 15. Keep in mind, he was a 20 year old at AAA before the injury, and that speaks volumes for just how much to take this premature criticism with a grain of salt.
If second base is Torres’ position, he’ll feature one of the more advanced approaches up the middle from square one, with Starlin Castro’s $10 and $11 million owed in 2018 and 2019 respectively, the only barriers to eclipse. If third base – my personal guess for his early-career reps – becomes home, Chase Headley would likely be the odd man out and that doesn’t seem like it will be hard news to break to fans. Torres arrival in New York will be the most anticipated of any prospect the Yankees have stashed away in the recent years. More hyped than the debuts of Judge and Sanchez is correct.
Chance Adams – (#37, not ranked preseason)
Unlike Torres, there is an opportunity for Chance Adams to reach the Bronx this season. While the knocks on his game are height and the lack of number one starter upside, ceilings aren’t the only factor considered on a prospect lists. A mid 90s fastball, combined with an advanced, low 80s slider are his go-to offerings, while he mixes in a good changeup and a fringe curveball. Eric Longenhagen mentions that Adams’ command has been suppressed through his career due to his release point leaning on the side of inconsistent. Backed up by the similar 9-11% walk rates between levels during the second half of 2016 and early into 2017, success stories like Marcus Stroman always come to mind if you desire reasons for even more optimism. The inconsistent release point remains one minor reason why Longenhagen is concerned that Adams never finds the command to be a more than his floor indicates, but there is still so much to like with the 22 year old.
This feels like a rank based on floor to possibly even out some riskier picks by the BP Prospect Staff, but one I can’t criticize in the slightest. Adams sits ahead of higher-profile arms like the Cardinals’ Sandy Alcantara and Red Sox’s Jason Groome, and just behind a player whom I’ve personally grown fond of in the Indians’ organization, Triston McKenzie (32.4% strikeout rate, 2.91 ERA in 90 High-A innings). With the risk embedded in starting pitchers across the board, Adams’ 2.50 ERA across 55+ AAA innings and little worry about health are great signs, and likely the reasons why he has vaulted into the top 40 prospects on BP’s list.
Justus Sheffield – (#47, #52 preseason)
Most notable is the leap Adams made over Sheffield to the number one pitching prospect in the organization. The move was warranted after seeing the results this lefty had at AA Trenton compared to Adams, and gaining the knowledge that Sheffield has yet to find his way to Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Although his 3.09 ERA looks near pristine, the present concern is the career-low strikeout rate of 20.2%. He’s also shorter than Adams – who as we now know gets knocked for his height – and tinkered with his repertoire early this season, which could make assuming too much off his early 2017 stats a big error in the aggregate.
I like the fact Sheffield’s stock hasn’t taken a hit due to the results not resembling that of Adams. One way of looking at it is that hope for Adams increased while Sheffield’s stayed the same. That alone bodes well for the confidence surrounding his makeup, and before we know it, this southpaw might be replacing Adams at AAA due to the higher-ranked prospects promotion. Sheffield’s promotion won’t be far off afterwards.
Note: Sheffield was placed on the Minor League DL Wednesday, July 7th, with an oblique strain.
2017 Futures Game
The Yankees had two representatives in the kick-off event of All-Star weekend: Pitcher Domingo Acevedo and outfielder Estevan Florial. The most interesting perk for a baseball nerd like myself? MLB’s Facebook page live streaming batting practice for each of teams. That’s where I got my first look at Florial in a resolution that wasn’t home video quality, and even though the common “five tools” tag on another farmhand becomes redundant, it’s tough to nix the assessment.
The first thing I noticed was the natural uppercut in Florial’s swing, similar aesthetically, but less exaggerated than the bat path of Freddie Freeman. It’s a swing that will lead to a decent amount of swing and miss, but also a lot of game power. Both were confirmed after observing the 30% strikeout rate and .502 slugging percentage he has through 74 games in A ball. In the game itself, the 19-year-old slotted in for two at bats, both against southpaws. He struck out against the Royals’ Foster Griffin and walked against the Athletics’ touted draft steal A.J. Puk. Each at bats gave us six pitches to look at, and from MLB.com’s pitch tracker, only three of the 12 were actually in the zone. Griffin elevated everything to Florial, while Puk buried everything away. Florial handled Griffin’s breaking pitches well, but whiffed on a great slider from Puk. Tough to infer much from the at bats themselves with such little exposure, but anytime a 19-year-old fits in with the caliber of young talent in this game, it’s a great sign.
Acevedo on the other hand faired much worse after allowing three runs on four hits and failing to showcase the power fastball he leverages from his 6’7″, 250 pound frame. The big righty has struggled since his promotion to AAA this season, after mowing through Trenton with ease. Only 12.1 innings into his final step before the Bronx, higher-level competition seems to have faired well off him, but as the the New York post highlighted after the game, Acevedo acknowledged the lapse and wants to learn from the experience. Compared to the youth in the Futures Game and in the Yankees’ system, Acevedo can be considered a veteran at 23 years old, and his wisdom may help to overcome any struggles sooner than later.
Some of this column’s details were reiterated from BP’s top 50 mid-season prospects list that I’ve linked to within, and will do so again here. Massive thanks to Jeff Paternostro and the BP Prospect Staff for their hard work and expertise.