The New York Yankees have gotten off to a less than stellar start this season, but their farm system has produced a ray of light early on.
Yankee top prospects created a ton of buzz in spring training, with the likes of Jorge Mateo and Aaron Judge showing off the flashy tools that have made teams, players, and fans salivate. Roughly two weeks into the minor league regular season, here is a look at how they’ve done so far.
Jorge Mateo: Shortstop – Tampa Yankees (Single-A Advanced)
Twenty year-old, Jorge Mateo, has climbed to the number one spot on many Yankee preseason prospect lists, and for good reason. The shortstop’s most recognizable tool is his speed, which allowed him to steal a league leading 82 stolen bases in 2015. Just 12 games in, Mateo has already stolen seven bags. Mateo’s hit tool has also shined early on this season, posting a .298 batting average with a .398 on base percentage. While he has yet to homer in 47 at-bats, the power has been displayed in spring and in batting practice and there’s reason to believe he will eventually tap into that power in game action.
If there’s one thing that’s concerning, it’s Mateo’s 17 strikeouts in 12 games, good for a 29.8 percent strikeout ratio. Mateo’s strikeout ratio last year was just 19.6 percent, so it’s possible that this is way too small of a sample size to project over the course of a full season.
There’s a lot to love about Mateo. The shortstop’s speed is a game changer the way Billy Hamilton’s speed is. That tool alone will get Mateo to the majors very quickly. With some refinement in his hitting approach, Mateo has a chance to be a legitimate five-tool player in the future.
Aaron Judge: Outfielder – Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Triple-A)
There was some worry when Judge put up mediocre numbers during his first stint in Triple-A last season. In 260 at-bats with the RailRiders, Judge managed just a .224 batting average and a whopping 74 strikeouts. The power was certainly still there; the slugger belted eight home runs plus 12 for Double-A Trenton, but the strikeout ratio showed that the 6’8’’ outfielder was going to need to make an adjustment before getting the call to the show. Twelve games into the 2016 season, it appears Judge is making those adjustments in his second go around at Triple-A. The outfielder has posted a AVG/OBP/SLG triple slash line of .327/.352/.531 with two home runs and nine RBIs. While Judge’s strikeout rate is still high at 31.5 percent, his other offensive numbers have made up for it.
Aaron Judge is without question the Yankees top power hitting prospect. That power has come with the propensity to strikeout, and that probably won’t change much as Judge settles into the player he will likely become. I believe the Yankees will take that tradeoff especially if he continues to dominate at the Triple-A level. Judge’s shot at the big leagues is coming fast. Expect the big guy to make his debut by September at the latest.
Gary Sanchez: Catcher – Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Triple-A)
The backup catcher position was Sanchez’s to lose this spring … and boy did he lose it. The catcher managed just two hits in 22 spring at-bats, good for a .091 batting average. While Sanchez may have pressed himself into a slump, the early return for the 23-year-old in 2016 has continued the trend he started in spring training. In nine games, Sanchez is batting .167 with a .231 OBP. On a positive note, the catcher has hit a homer and has posted a 20.5 percent strikeout ratio which isn’t far off from the 19.2 percent strikeout ratio he posted at Triple-A in 2015. The youngster’s slump isn’t likely continue considering his abnormally low .185 BABIP.
Sanchez came into his own last season both at the plate and behind it, and that hasn’t been forgotten after a bad spring and slow start to the regular season. Once Sanchez gets it going, the Yankees will have their eyes keenly focused on the receiver to take over the backup catcher role from Austin Romine.
James Kaprielian: Starting Pitcher – Tampa Yankees (Single-A Advanced)
Kaprielian’s ceiling may not have been as high as some other college pitchers chosen in the 2015 draft, but he was certainly one of the most polished. Unlike some power pitchers who have a hard time developing a secondary arsenal, Kaprielian has plenty of pitches to offer. The right-hander’s fastball averaged 94 mph in his pro debut and he mixes in a curveball, changeup, and slider that all grade out as average to above average. Kaprielian not only impressed the Yankees this spring, he also caught the eye of Hall of Fame Blue Jay, Roberto Alomar, who said of the righty, “To me, he’s a big league pitcher right now.” Kaprielian has made two starts this year for the Tampa Yankees, and has dominated the competition to the tune of a 0.75 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, and 13 strikeouts in 12 innings.
You get the sense that Kaprielian’s ETA for the majors isn’t far away. While the right-hander has yet to pitch above Single-A ball, Kaprielian has the stuff to hold his own in the majors very soon. Kaprielian’s more conservative scouting reports project him as a number three starter, however having increased his velocity from the time the Yankees drafted him, Kaprielian could exceed those projections and sit atop a rotation.
Dustin Fowler: Outfielder – Trenton Thunder (Double-A)
Fowler has displayed a robust combination of tools since being drafted by the Yankees in the 18th round of the 2013 draft. The 2015 season saw Fowler improve across the board, hitting .298 and stealing 30 bases. The outfielder started out at the corners, but has now proved more than capable in center. So far this season, Fowler has continued where he left off from last year and currently sports a batting average of .340 and an OBP of .377. The 21-year-old has also added five stolen bases in seven attempts. The power has been slow to develop but the left-handed hitter is growing into his swing and should begin to hit more home runs in the future.
The Yankees appear to have another Brett Gardner-esque player on their hands, with Fowler possibly even more advanced at this stage in his career than the Yankees current left fielder was. There’s legitimate five-tool potential here just like Jorge Mateo. Fowler needs to work on his plate discipline, just a 5.6 percent walk ratio in 2015, but the outfielder has a lot of time for further development.