While the Yankees have been playing better of late, the 9-17 hole they dug for themselves to begin the season makes a playoff berth a longshot. Even if they do somehow manage to scrape together another Wild Card appearance, this collection of aging former superstars just plain isn’t good enough to make much noise in the playoffs. The good news for Yankees fans is that GM Brian Cashman has done an excellent job of revamping the farm, and the upper levels of the system are beginning to pay promising dividends.
New York has not been shy about promoting their young arms in the last few years. Luis Severino is the most prominent example, but Johnny Barbato, Chad Green, Nick Goody, Tyler Olson, and Conor Mullee are other unproven pitchers who have received a look at the big league level this season. The team’s decision makers have been surprisingly reticent to give their homegrown position players the same opportunities, however. Having the league’s oldest group of position players while you sit in last place is not a good look. Here are three Yankee farmhands who are overdue for their shot in the Bronx:
1. Gary Sanchez– .269/.315/.504 in 127 PA
The 23-year-old catcher lost the backup catcher role to Austin Romine in the spring because of a combination of service time considerations and lackluster performance. Sanchez has now accumulated the 35 days in the minors necessary to push his free agency back a year and has been tearing up the International League after a slow start to the season.
He did receive a call-up last week because the Yankees were facing two tough lefties in Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Of course, after (very understandably) going 0-for-4 with a strikeout against Sale, he was inexplicably demoted the next day, with the light-hitting Romine serving as DH against Quintana. Even with that glaring hole in the lineup, the team would not give Sanchez his shot.
With Alex Rodriguez on his way back from the disabled list, playing time will be harder to come by, but Sanchez absolutely has earned his chance with the Yankees. Coming into Tuesday, New York ranked dead-last in the American League with a .377 slugging percentage. Leaving a potentially elite young power bat in the minors is a mistake. A straight platoon with McCann as well as spelling A-Rod occasionally would be a good way to ease Sanchez into the lineup.
2. Rob Refsnyder– .293/.336.398 in 143 PA
While his overall line isn’t overwhelming, Refenyder is 22-for-40 this month and recently had a 16 game hitting streak. He has been learning a new position, so the slight dip in performance early on isn’t too worrying. With roughly 1,000 successful Triple-A plate appearances to his name, Ref has demonstrated he can hit at the minors’ highest level. There are few teams in the league where he would still be toiling in the International League with his resume. Unfortunately, the Yankees seem to be one of them, and there has been no indication that they think he is ready for a regular big league role.
Part of that is they don’t have a clear place to put him. If Chase Headley kept playing like he did in April, third might have been an option eventually, but he has turned it around of late. Starlin Castro is locked into the keystone for the next four years (with Jorge Mateo and Tyler Wade also knocking on the door sooner than you think). Refsnyder doesn’t have the bat to be a real difference-maker in the outfield.
That said, Ronald Torreyes and Dustin Ackley have gone a combined 15-for-80 with no power. With Castro’s ability to backup shortstop, Refsnyder could replace either guy and hopefully provide a spark to the lifeless Yankee offense.
3. Aaron Judge– .261/.318/.472 in 157 PA
Admittedly, this would probably be a terrible idea. Judge is pretty universally seen as the Yankees’ top prospect, so rushing him to the big leagues could be a potential disaster. His first taste of Triple-A in the second half of 2015 exposed the big man’s flaws to the light of day. He has trouble recognizing breaking balls, especially away, and his giant frame leaves him very susceptible to strikeouts.
On the other hand, Judge has been one of the most dynamic two way players in the International League in 2016. He ranks second in the league with seven long balls, has cut his K rate to a very manageable 24.8 percent, and has impressed with his athleticism and arm strength in right field. The defensive boost alone he would provide over the hobbled husk of Carlos Beltran would lower the offensive bar he would need to reach considerably.
The prospect of pairing Sanchez and Judge in the second half Yankee lineup is an enticing one. With few American League teams expected to sell at the deadline, the Yankees would likely receive valuable chips in return for expiring contracts. Moving Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran in June would open up some opportunities on the roster, and finally let the Yankees see what they have in some of their top prospects.