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|1. Gleyber Torres, SS|
|Born: 12/13/96||Age: 20||Bats: R||Top CALs: Tim Beckham,Willy Adames, Wendell Rijo, Yamaico Navarro, Marcus Lemon|
|Height: 6-1||Weight: 175||Throws: R|
Background: The first trade of the year that truly meant that the game’s most decorated franchise would be undergoing the – duh, duh, duhhh – dreaded rebuild, the Yankees shipped flame-throwing southpaw, and eventual World Series Champion, Aroldis Chapman to the Cubbies for a package of four players squarely built around the Venezuelan-born shortstop. Torres, who signed with Chicago at the age of 16, continued to take important developmental steps forward in 2016. His power, which graded out in the “well below-average” category two years ago, has become a solid-average tool. And his walk rate jumped back up into double-digit territory. Overall, between both organizations, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Torres batted .270/.354/.421 with 29 doubles, five triples, 11 homeruns, and 21 stolen bases – in High Class A, at the age of 19.
Projection: First, here’s what I wrote in my book two years ago:
“Tremendous eye for such a young kid, solid contact s kills and enough pop to suggest it becomes an average-ish skill down the line. It’s still incredibly early, but CAL’s suggesting there’s quite a bit of upside between 2014 first rounder Cole Tucker and Colorado’s Trevor Story. Looks like a solid find on the international market.”
And I followed that up with the following in last year’s book:
“Well, he certainly looks like a potential steal – and I can’t believe I’m about to write this – for $1.7 million. But it’s true. Torres took some important steps forward with his defense last season, commanded the strike zone well for a teenager making his full-season debut, flashed doubles power that will likely develop into 12 or so homeruns down the line, and a potential above-average stick.”
Consider the following:
- In all three High Class A leagues, there were only five qualified 19-year-olds in 2016: Torres, Rafael Devers, Luis Urias, Jomar Reyes, and Michael De Leon. Of those five, Torres had the best walk rate, 10.6%, and second best offensive season (120 wRC+) and power (.151 ISO).
- The last time a 19-year-old posted a double-digit walk rate and an Isolated Power above .150 in any High Class A league: Addison Russell in 2013. In fact, since 2006 there has been only one other instance of that: Domingo Santana.
The power really took a noticeable step forward in 2016, so much so, that he could develop into a 20-homer threat down the line. Above-average speed with a matching eye at the plate at a premium position? That adds up to a tremendous amount of value. In terms of upside, think Xander Bogaerts circa 2016: .294/.356/.446 with a 4.7 fWAR.
Oh, yeah, one more thing: after a slow start to the year Torres batted .286/.366/.441 over his final 105 contests.
Ceiling: 5.0- to 5.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2018
|2. Clint Frazier, CF|
|Born: 09/06/94||Age: 22||Bats: R||Top CALs: Cameron Maybin, Michael Burgess, Caleb Gindl, Chris Parmalee, Domingo Santana|
|Height: 6-1||Weight: 190||Throws: R|
Background: It was eventually going to catch up with the Yankees – their continual off-season splurge on aging, expensive veterans. It was only going to be a matter of time before the team got too old. And we saw it happen in 2016. Brian McCann was barely worth a win above replacement in 130 games. Mark Teixeira’s production was 24% below the league average mark. Alex Rodriguez was forced into retirement decided to retire midseason. And just like every other team – rich or not – with a plan of “worry about it tomorrow,” that day happened in 2016 – the day that the Yankees decided to rebuild.
New York acquired the flame-haired, tools-laden outfielder with Justus Sheffield, another top prospect, J.P. Feyereisen, and Ben Heller from the Indians at the deadline for Andrew Miller. Prior to the trade, the former fifth overall pick spent all but five games (which were spent in Class AAA) hammering Eastern League pitching to the tune of .276/.356/.469 with 25 doubles, one triple, 13 homeruns, and 13 stolen bases. His over production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, topped the league average mark by 29% – the fourth best showing for a 21-year-old in the league.
Following the trade, the Yankees decided to keep Frazier in the International League for the remainder of the year. He batted a disappointing .228/.278/.396 with a pair of doubles, three triples, and three homeruns en route to posting a below average 90 wRC+.
For his career, Frazier, who grew up playing ball against fellow top prospect Austin Meadows, is sporting a solid .275/.355/.448 triple-slash line with 92 doubles, 19 triples, 50 homeruns, and 43 stolen bases in 416 games.
Projection: The knock on the young slugger early in his career was his propensity to swing-and-miss, a lot. He fanned in more than 31% of his plate appearances during his debut in the Arizona Summer League and then he hovered around the 30% mark the following year in Low Class A. Since then, though, he’s made tremendous progress on making more consistent contact. The tools are quite obvious: solid eye, 25-homer power, speed, and a solid hit.
But he’s not without some red flags either…
For instance, removing his first 43 games of the year – he batted .314/.400/.533 from April 7 to June 1 – Frazier numbers are far less impressive. Hell, they’re downright concerning: .235/.295/.398 with 83 strikeouts in 322 plate appearances.
And just like last season, CAL remains unimpressed.
There’s an awful lot to like about the explosive athlete, but, again, he’s far from a lock to achieve his potential.
Ceiling: 4.0- to 4.5-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2017
|3. Aaron Judge, RF|
|Born: 04/26/92||Age: 25||Bats: R||Top CALs: Matt Joyce, Danny Dorn, Jai Miller, Marvin Lowrance, Bryce Brentz|
|Height: 6-7||Weight: 275||Throws: R|
Background: One word immediately comes to mind: consistency. Here are his wRC+ totals for every minor league stop: 147 (AAA), 98 (AAA), 147 (AA), 149 (A+), and 167 (R). Outside of the little hiccup he suffered through at the end of the 2015, the former Fresno State outfielder has been a reliable, formidable force at the plate. Last year he spent the season fine-tuning his approach in the International League with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In addition to hitting a robust .270/.366/.489 with 28 doubles, one triple, and 19 homeruns, Judge also shaved off noticeable percentage points from his red flag-esque strikeout rate; he fanned in 23.9% of his plate appearances, his lowest mark since his 2014 showing in the Sally. For his career, the behemoth is sporting an impressive .278/.373/.473 triple-slash line, bashing 68 doubles, eight triples, and 56 homeruns in 348 games.
Projection: Per the usual, here’s what I wrote prior to the Yankees grabbing him at the end of the first round in 2013:
“Judge, a hulking 6-foot-7, will always have to contend with an abnormally large strike zone and the subsequent questions surrounding it. But he’s incredibly athletic, has a history of solid plate discipline, and could be another 20/20 candidate down the line. A reasonable comp might be Milwaukee ‘s Corey Hart, another gangly, athletic outfielder with a similar skill set.”
And I followed that up with this in last year’s book:
“Since then, Judge has proven to be a dynamic middle-of-the-order thumper. Through his first 1,100+ professional plate appearances he’s walked nearly 13% of the time, shown 25- to 30-homerun potential, and hit for a decent average. In terms of offensive ceiling think something along the lines of Matt Joyce’s 2011 season with the Rays: .277/.347/.478. And if he doesn’t make the club come Opening Day, which is a possibility given his struggles in Class AAA, he won’t – or shouldn’t – be kept down for long.”
Well, he didn’t end up seeing any time with the big league club before August – although, a knee injury and the subsequent time missed in the middle of the season certainly didn’t help things. It’s still debatable if he was actually ready for The Show or not – just look at his bloated punch out rate (44.2% in 95 plate appearances). In terms of ceiling, I still think Judge is capable of hitting .277/.347/.478 which puts him in the Matt Joyce, Danny Tartabull range. But he definitely needs to cut down on the swings-and-misses…
Defensively, according to Clay Davenport’s metrics, Judge has been a stud out in right field – which shouldn’t be all that surprising given his noteworthy athleticism.
Ceiling: 3.5- to 4.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2017
|4. Domingo Acevedo, RHP|
|Born: 03/06/94||Age: 23||Bats: R||Top CALs: Aaron Blair, P.J. Walters, Jose Guzman, Scott Mitchinson, Charles Brewer|
|Height: 6-7||Weight: 190||Throws: R|
Background: Ignoring his first start of the year, which, to be honest, wasn’t all that poor, the homegrown Dominican hurler was nearly unhittable over the course of his remaining seven starts with the Charleston RiverDogs in the South Atlantic League last season: 39.0 IP, 43 strikeouts, just seven walks, and only six earned runs (1.38 ERA). The domination was enough to convince the front office brass that the 6-foot-7, 190-pound right-hander was ready for the minors’ next test – the Florida State League. And was he… Acevedo would make another 10 starts for Tampa, fanning 26.0% and walking just 7.2% of the total number of hitters he faced. Overall, the hard-throwing starter finished the year with a career best 93.0 IP, 102 strikeouts, and just 22 walks with an aggregate 2.61 ERA. For his young career, he’s averaged nearly 10 strikeouts and just 2.5 walks per nine innings.
Projection: Well, here’s what I wrote in last year’s book:
“Owner of one of the system’s top fastballs, the big right-hander has shown brief flashes of dominance throughout his career, particularly during last season: over his last four starts with Staten Island he posted 29 and walked just six in 23.1 innings of work. He’s always shown a fantastic ability to miss bats and limit walks, but let’s see how he handles (A) full season ball and (B) an age-appropriate level of competition, which won’t happen until he makes it up to High Class A in the second half of 2016. Acevedo’s a potential sleeper breakout player this year.”
Acevedo not only handled his aggressive assignments well last season, he simply dominated. And if it wasn’t for the franchise governing his innings so tightly, he would have been one of the most talked about prospects in the minors. He could be one of the most electrifying starters the system has developed in years. And despite only throwing 50.1 innings in High Class A, I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts the year off in the Eastern League.
Ceiling: 3.5- to 4.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2018
|5. Justus Sheffield, LHP|
|Born: 05/13/96||Age: 21||Bats: L||Top CALs: Luke Jackson, Phil Bickford, Randall Delgado, Jake Thompson, Frank Lopez|
|Height: 5-10||Weight: 195||Throws: L|
Background: Not to beat a dead horse, but I do think it’s worth mentioning (for the third consecutive time): there’s a lot to like about Sheffield, but smaller starting pitchers aren’t very common in today’s game. Between 2000 and 2015, there were only six starters standing 5-foot-10 or less to throw 100 innings: Chad Gaudin, Jesus Sanchez, Kris Medlen, Mike Hampton, Mike Leake, and Wandy Rodriguez. So Sheffield, who stands a mighty-mite 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, definitely has his work cut out for him. The Yankees acquired the promising lefty as the second top prospect in the Andrew Miller deal with Cleveland at the deadline. The southpaw made 24 starts in High Class A before closing out the year with a four-inning appearance in the Eastern League. Overall, he finished the year with 125.1 innings, 129 strikeouts, 53 walks, and a stellar 3.09 ERA.
Projection: Size aside, there’s a pretty damn good foundation on which his prospect status is built upon. Lofty draft status? Check. Lefty? Check. Big time swing-and-miss numbers? Check. Solid average or better control? Check. A ton of success against significantly older competition? Check. So it’s not surprising that the Yankees – along with the Indians for drafting him – threw caution to the wind and grabbed him as part of the Miller deal. Sheffield looks like a solid mid-rotation caliber arm – one that will undoubtedly get plenty of press from the New York hype machine. Here’s one final thought though: statistically speaking, the likelihood that Clint Frazier and Sheffield both turn out to be better than average Major League Baseball players is unlikely. Attrition rate is a real thing. Prospects bust all the time.
Ceiling: 3.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2018
|6. Chance Adams, RHP|
|Born: 08/10/94||Age: 22||Bats: R||Top CALs: Eduardo Perez, Joel Pichardo, Jency Sils, Charlie Rosario, Matt Esparza|
|Height: 6-0||Weight: 215||Throws: R|
Background: If the biggest breakout in the system doesn’t go to Domingo Acevedo, then it’s Adams who certainly gets the nod. A JuCo transfer to Dallas Baptist University following two years at Yavapai College, Adams was simply unhittable working out the school’s bullpen during his junior season: 59.0 IP, 83 K, and 13. And it certainly looked like the Yankees were going to take the safe route by keeping the hard-throwing right-hander in the bullpen after they selected him in the fifth round two years ago. He threw another 35.0 innings between three stops during his debut – showing a relative ease in the lower minors with the potential to reach the big leagues as soon as late 2016.
But the front office, in all their infinite wisdom, continued to stretch Adams out as they pushed him into a fulltime starter last year. And the results were astounding.
He left a wake of splintered bats over the course of 12 starts in the Florida State League, averaging more than 11 strikeouts and just 2.3 walks per nine innings. And he continued to assault everything in his way once he got bumped up to Trenton in the second half of the year: 69.2 IP, 71 K, 23 BB, and a 2.07 ERA.
Projection: Just to put this into perspective a bit, consider the following: among all minor league hurlers with at least 120 innings under their belt last season, Adams’ strikeout-to-walk percentage, 21.2%, ranks fifth. Of those arms with better marks – Brock Stewart, Jose Taveras, Mitch Keller, Jordan Yamamoto – only Stewart and Adams spent significant time above Low Class A. CAL seems to be a huge fan, comparing him to some of the better arms in the minors in Stephen Gonsalves, Brent Honeywell, and Lucas Giolito. At worst, Adams is a dominant backend reliever. At best, he’s a very good #2#3-type arm.
Ceiling: 3.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2017/2018
|7. James Kaprielian, RHP|
|Born: 03/02/94||Age: 23||Bats: R||Top CALs: N/A
|Height: 6-4||Weight: 200||Throws: R|
Background: Fun Fact: The last time the Yankees took a collegiate arm in the opening round of the draft was in 2008 when they grabbed Stanford southpaw Jeremy Bleich with the 44th overall pick. Fun Fact Part II: the last time they took a collegiate right-hander in the first round was in 2007 (Andrew Brackman, North Carolina State University, 30th overall selection). Fun Fact Part III: two of the five most valuable first round picks in franchise history were collegiate arms (Eric Milton from the University of Maryland and Ian Kennedy out of the University of Southern California).
Anyway, Kaprielian was practically unhittable during his entire three-year career with UCLA. He spent his freshman season working out of the bullpen, throwing 40.2 innings with a solid 53-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The following year, 2014, he moved into the rotation and put together an even better stat line: 106.0 IP, 108 K, 35 BB, 2.29. And, of course, not to be outdone, he upped the ante during his climactic junior season: 106.2 IP, 114 K, 33 BB, and a 2.02 ERA.
The big right-hander would make stops at two different levels – rookie ball and the New York-Penn League – during his debut two years ago and looked poised to move quickly in 2016. And then a damn elbow injury – a strained flexor tendon – forced him out after three dominant games to open the year.
Projection: Here’s what I wrote about the former Bruin before the draft two years ago:
“Very, very little to dislike about Kaprielian: he’s not overpowering, per se, but his advanced approach allows him to miss plenty of bats; he does a solid job of limiting free passes; he’s performed well at the highest amateur levels of competition, against premium opponents; he’s sturdy, but hasn’t been overworked.
Kaprielian is, quite frankly, everything one would look for in a polished collegiate arm – one that is very likely to move quickly through the minor leagues.
The lone knock on the big right-hander has been his inability to avoid the long ball over the past two seasons with UCLA; he’s allowed nine dingers in his last 198.2 innings of work, or about 0.41 HR per nine innings.”
It’s tough to write anything different this time around as well – though, that’s in large part due to the fact that he’s thrown just 29.0 minor league innings. On the positive side, Kaprielian has looked solid in his return to the mound in the Arizona Fall League, throwing 27.0 innings with 26 punch outs and just eight walks. The homeruns have been a bit of an issue still; he coughed up eight in the AFL.
Despite the lack of a minor league track record, I don’t think it’s out of the question that Kaprielian begins the year in Class AA. His polished collegiate background along with his AFL success certainly bodes well for him. He still looks like a solid mid-rotation arm.
Ceiling: 2.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2018
|8. Blake Rutherford, CF|
|Born: 05/02/97||Age: 20||Bats: L||Top CALs: N/A
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 195||Throws: R|
Background: The Yankees haven’t exactly had a solid track record with prep bats in recent years: Dante Bichette, Cito Culver, Slade Heathcott, C.J. Henry, Jon Poterson, Eric Duncan, and Bronson Sardinha. Hell, that’s every first round prep bat taken by the organization since 2000. To find a meaningful, impact high school bat taken in the opening round you’ll have to go all the way back 1992, when they took some kid out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, by the name of Derek Jeter. Anyway, New York grabbed Rutherford with the 18th overall pick last June, out of Chaminade College Preparatory School in West Hills, California. The lefty-swinging center fielder blew through the Appalachian League after a solid showing in the GCL. Overall, he batted a combined .351/.415/.570.
Projection: Obviously, nothing much to go on in terms of stats. But the initial showing is very, very promising. Above-average power, strong plate discipline, and a promising hit tool. Of course, posting a .500 BABIP in 25 games in the Appalachian League tends to make you look better than you are too.
Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell
MLB ETA: N/A
|9. Jordan Montgomery, LHP|
|Born: 12/27/92||Age: 24||Bats: L||Top CALs: Scott Diamond, Andrew Heaney, Kea Kometani, Jeff Locke, Kyle Lobstein|
|Height: 6-6||Weight: 225||Throws: L|
Background: The former fourth round pick out of the University of South Carolina finished his time in the Eastern League with the second best FIP, 3.21, among hurlers with at least 100 innings last season. And for those keeping track at home, that mark was the worst of his entire career – by a relatively large margin too. The organization bumped the polished southpaw up to the International League in early August for six final starts to end his season. His FIP for those games: an impeccable 1.90. Small sample size be damned. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound lefty finished the year with a career best 139.1 innings, 134 strikeouts, 45 walks, and an aggregate 2.13 ERA. For his career, he’s averaged 8.8 strikeouts and just 2.7 walk per nine innings to go along with a 2.61 ERA.
Projection: Fair is fair, so this is what I wrote about the former Gamecock in last year’s book:
“One of these lefties that won’t continue to miss bats in the mid-levels of the minors, but has a chance to succeed because of pitchability. Montgomery isn’t overpowering, but knows how to pound the strike zone. He’s looked incredibly promising in his year-and-a-half in professional baseball as he’s never posted a FIP north of 2.89. Most guys like this don’t pan out, but once in a blue moon they do. Montgomery could be one of the guys that do.”
Wrong. He did continue to miss at bats in 2016. And his strikeout percentage in the Eastern League, 22.2%, was an improvement from his time in High Class A. Now I’m convinced. He’s handled each stop with relative ease and hasn’t stumbled for any length of time. Montgomery looks like a solid #3/#4-type arm, an innings eater. Hopefully, he gets an extended look in New York, which isn’t always the easiest for non-blue chip prospects.
Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2017
|10. Albert Abreu, RHP|
|Born: 09/26/95||Age: 21||Bats: R||Top CALs: Alex Santana, Andy De La Cruz, Adrian Houser, A. Malinowski, A. Espinosa|
|Height: 6-2||Weight: 175||Throws: R|
Background: Acquired along with prospect Jorge Guzman for Brian McCann and (what one can assume a lot of) cash, Abreu is one of the year’s bigger pop up minor leaguers. Signed out of the Dominican Republic a couple years ago, the lanky 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-hander made the successful leap from the Appalachian League in 2015 to dominating the Midwest League last season before capping it all off with a three-game stint in High Class A. Overall, Abreu threw a career best 101.2 innings while fanning 115, walking 58, and posting a decent 3.72. And for his career, the hard-throwing hurler has punched out nearly a quarter of the total hitters he’s faced, though that’s comes with some – *clears throat*– wavering control; he’s walked nearly 12%.
Projection: Among all 19- and 20-year-old hurlers with 90+ innings in the Midwest League, Abreu’s strikeout percentage, 27.1%, ranks fourth and his walk percentage, 12.8%, ranks dead last. How’s that for good and bad? But let’s take a look at his final 10 games in Low Class A: 49.2 IP, 42 K, 21 BB, 1.09 ERA.
But let’s take it a step further, shall we? Consider his following walk rates:
- His entire 21 games in Low Class A: 4.90 BB/9 in 90.0 IP
- His final 14 games in Low Class A: 4.74 BB/9 in 62.2 IP
- His final 10 games in Low Class A: 3.81 BB/9 in 49.2 IP
- His final 8 games in Low Class A: 3.49 BB/9 in 38.2 IP
- His final 5 games in Low Class A: 3.48 BB/9 in 20.2 IP
Now, look, it’s a small sample size. But perhaps – just maybe – there’s something more at work here. Abreu made a pretty big leap in a year’s time, going from Greenville to the Quad Cities so there’s some adjustment period that one would expect.
If he can continue to miss bats with the type of control he showed over his final 49.2 innings in Low Class A, the Yankees may have gotten themselves a fantastic mid-rotation caliber arm – with upside.
Ceiling: 2.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2019
Author’s note: A special hat tip the following websites for the use of the their statistics – fangraphs, baseballreference, baseballprospectus, statcorner, and ClayDavenport.com