Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Yankees set to prosper from deep farm system

The New York Yankees are in the midst of a strategy shift concerning how they run their on-field business. After years of over the top free-agent signings, some with great reward and others now bogging down payroll, the club has begun to resurrect its farm system and combine it with their financial might with a look to sustainability.

The Yankees have one of the deepest farm systems in all of baseball according to respected minor league scout Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs. It may not contain the best of the best players, but it’s grown in terms of the quantity of quality players at all levels.

The Yankees are not likely to turn into the Tampa Bay Rays where it concerns payroll, but there is certainly a new-found desire to mix in young talent, some of which is being developed in the minor leagues.

The Yankees have several talented players knocking on the door, a few more are a year or two away and others won’t get their call to the Bronx, but could find themselves climbing the ladder in another organization.

The Yankees will have two young players in spring camp, Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder, who at one point this offseason were being considered front runners for the second base job. They’ll still get a shot to prove themselves, but with Stephen Drew signing, it might take a huge spring to leapfrog the veteran. While Pirela is not a rated prospect, Refsnyder checks in at number six according to MLB.com and number seven at Baseball America.

New York has stressed youth via the international market this year. During this signing period, the Yanks have nabbed 10 of the top 30 international prospects according to Baseball America. The biggest catch of them all is unsigned in Yoan Moncada, who had a private workout for the Bombers recently. Moncada will come at a steep price, and the Yankees would have to ante up double the bonus for Moncada as a penalty for surpassing the spending threshold. Moncada is the type of talent that has a “can’t miss” label placed on him and that’s hard to live up to.

Prospects are surely not as “can’t miss” as they are often made out to be. Manny Banuelos was once thought of as the next great member of the Yankees’ rotation. Injuries and uneven performance find him pitching in the Atlanta Braves organization this spring as the Yanks finally gave up on the soon-to-be 24-year-old lefty.

The Yankees almost gave up on Dellin Betances two years ago before switching him from a starter to a reliever. He was incredible in 2013 at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre and simply dominated with the Yankees in 2014.

It’s a tale of two options. The Yankees gave up on Banuelos who is young and might still breakout in the big leagues. They took a flyer on moving Betances to the bullpen and at 23 years old he could be the closer for the Yankees in 2015 and beyond.

The longest tenured Yankee who came up through the system is now Brett Gardner. The speedy outfielder was a third-round draft pick in 2005 and fought his way up the ladder reaching the majors in 2008. Gardner was one of the few recent Yankees to receive an extension for his services; he’ll be with the club barring a trade through the 2018 season (Gardner has a team option for 2019).

Who could be the next homegrown Yankee to earn a long-term agreement?

Of the crop of Yankees in the farm system right now, Luis Severino is one to watch. He was just named the seventh best right-hander in the minors by MLB.com. He is the top Yankees prospect according the MLB.com and Baseball America. Baseball Prospectus lists Severino as the number-two minor league player in the Yankees’ system. With a mid-90s fastball, which can reach the upper 90s and the ability to consistently throw strikes, Severino is on a fast track which might see him reach Triple-A early on.

But, will Severino reach the Bronx? Part of the Yankees thinking is no doubt to bring up the best talent to New York, but they are also cognizant of the extreme value a player like Severino might have in securing a young yet established Major League player. If Severino could be part of a package to land an already experienced and superior big leaguer without breaking the bank, the Yankees would have to think hard about it.

And then there is Gary Sanchez, a catching prospect who seems to have been with the organization forever. It’s been five seasons to be exact, and the next season or two will be pivotal for Sanchez and the Yankees.

Sanchez’s bat has not grown as quickly as expected. He was considered a no-doubt power-hitting catcher, but he’s hit just 28 homers combined in the last two seasons. However, he’s still listed as the number two prospect in the system by MLB.com, and the Yankees would be happy for him to flourish in 2015.

Sanchez, 22, could be a very valuable trade piece for the Yankees especially if he is establishing his value on the field. With Brian McCann cemented as the Yankees' catcher for at least the next few seasons (he is under contract through 2018, with a 2019 club option), the team might feel that Sanchez is worth more as a trade piece than in the system. It’s not just McCann’s presence that allows the Yankees to think about trading Sanchez, but they have a solid catcher in John Ryan Murphy and another young backstop in Luis Torrens, who while just 18 years old is the Yankees’ number 10 prospect according to MLB.com.

Finally, the Yankees have wisely stockpiled a bunch of young relievers who have significant upside – Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb, Chasen Shreve and James Pazos just a few among them. The role of the reliever has taken front row for many organizations and some could turn to the Yankees significant dearth of bullpen arms – lefties and righties – for supplies over the next few seasons. What’s best about the surplus is the Yankees can move players without impacting their own bullpen – which could be a major strength for years to come.

There are position players who have begun to make a name for themselves as well – Aaron Judge, Eric Jagielo, Gregory Bird, Jorge Mateo and Tyler Austin all have the potential to make a major league club. The hope that most of them reach the big leagues with the Yankees is something significantly fresh for fans used to an old veteran squad.

But, among the many mentioned above, some might never wear the pinstripes in Yankee Stadium. Some will wither away and others will be traded. There are players not mentioned and currently unproven who might sneak up on us and win a job in the Bronx in the years to come.

One thing is certain; the Yankees have built a solid farm system over the last few seasons and with continued emphasis in the international market and sound decisions in the amateur draft the program can continue to grow. With some luck the Yankees can bring some of these players into the fold in the Bronx, or utilize them to land others via trade, with the chance of creating a new core to lead the club to another run of postseason success.

Rob Refsnyder photo courtesy of Tom Hagerty via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



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