This season minor league games will actually begin before the major league games. This is a new and interesting concept, as has not been set up like this for at least the past few seasons. It’s not going to change anything as far as the season goes except that it’s likely Triple-A will end sooner with respect to September call-ups, freeing up more players for the honor. Other than that, it will also mean that we will see players get promoted to the next level at an earlier date this year. This is not groundbreaking, but it just means there will be exciting decisions made sooner.
This article will examine which players the Yankees organization could be sizing up early on for quick promotions. I will pick one for each level, while mentioning some others who could end up quick risers. I will start with the lowest level, which will also be the hardest because it’s very difficult to predict who will even be there to start the season let alone who will be promoted.
The GCL doesn’t start until June 18th, so there is a lot that could happen between now and then that would preempt certain players from even appearing at that level. There could be injuries or promotions before the season even starts. Regardless of that, some players who begin the season in the GCL will be promoted to higher levels.
The easy target is Hayden Sharp, but since I just did an interview with him I’ll choose someone else. One of the other young pitchers expected to start in the GCL this year is Rookie Davis. William “Rookie” Davis was drafted in the 14th Round and is a 6-foot-3, 235-pound right handed pitcher drafted out of high school. He was committed to ECU before signing with the Yankees. Yankees drafted him as a pitcher and last season he went 9-0 with a 1.02 ERA at his high school. He also struck out 136 in only 61.1 innings. Over his four seasons in high school Davis was 25-4 with a 1.67 ERA and 415 strikeouts in 209.1 innings.
Davis’ fastball gets up to 89-92 mph and can sit 90-91. His curve ball has some shape can be an average pitch at times already. At instructs his fastball reached up to 95 mph, and he developed his changeup. His changeup is now pretty devastating. He has extremely good control for his age. If he exhibits the type of control he is capable of then Staten Island, and even Charleston are not out of the question by the end of the season. It’s also possible given his polish that he starts at Staten Island. If so I apologize in advance for not having a crystal ball.
Others who could move quickly if they start in the GCL are Jordan Cote, Daniel Camarena, Joey Maher, Chaz Hebert (aka all of the high school talents drafted in the 2011 draft), and Greg Bird (C).
Also starting June 18th is Staten Island, New York’s short season-A affiliate. This is a touch easier, although still unpredictable since the season doesn’t start until later. Isaias Tejeda had a breakout season last year in the GCL.
Being a catcher buried deep in an organization rich in catchers (especially before the Montero trade), Tejeda didn’t receive much attention early in the season. As time went on and he continued to rake, people started to take notice. By season’s end, it appeared (and still appears) that the Yankees had yet another solid catcher on their hands. He hit .331/.404/.568 in the GCL last season. He hit 6 HRs, 11 doubles, 3 triples, and even contributed 5 SB in 39 games. He is blessed with excellent patience, and a decent feel for playing the game behind the dish.
Tejeda is relatively new to catching, but he shows a lot of potential and already has an average arm and makes quick adjustments. Isaias “The Hata” Tejeda, as I like to call him, hated on pitchers last year in a major way with his powerful, patient stroke. He’s now 20 years old, which is a reasonable age for a kid in Staten Island.
The key here though is that Gary Sanchez will start the 2012 season in Charleston. There is a strong likelihood “The Sanchize” will move to High-A Tampa on the quick. If that should occur, someone will need to fill the void in Charleston. That man could be Isaias Tejeda if he continues to show the hitting prowess he did last year to start the 2012 season in Staten Island. Other candidates to make quick moves, if they are in Staten Island, are Taylor Morton (likely headed to Charleston), Evan Rutckyj, Gabriel Encinas, Matt Duran (also possibly in Charleston), and Justin James.
I just mentioned Gary Sanchez as a likely fast mover in 2012. Because there are so many options though, I am going to talk about another guy who cannot be ignored at this level. Matthew Tracy, at his age, is going to have to move quickly to catch up with his similarly aged counterparts. That said, the Yankees don’t seem to be in any rush to move him along.
Any prospect that’s already 23 in Low-A is going to have get some quick promotions at some point though. Tracy is no exception. He is a pretty big, 6-foot-3, 212-pound lefty who posted some impressive numbers in Staten Island last year.
Tracy looked so good out of the bullpen with his three pitch combo of fastball, curve ball, and changeup that the coaching staff put him into the starting rotation for good. The results? 47.1 IP, 3.04 ERA, 48 K, and 16 BB. His fastball sits in the 92-94 range, and he has a lights out changeup which he can control very well and uses to get outs. His curve ball has improved by leaps and bounds since signing with the organization. His stuff and poise on the mound have already drawn comparisons to Andy Pettitte. While I would fall short of saying he is the next Andy just yet, he has shown some real promise in the early going. Given his age, handedness, and poise, he is my most likely candidate to make a quick entrance and exit from Charleston as soon as he shows he can handle single a hitters.
The River Dogs are a team full of quick moving candidates, including Mason Williams, Branden Pinder, Tyler Austin, Dante Bichette Jr., Phil Wetherell, Ben Paullus, and especially Gary Sanchez. I haven’t came up with an official nickname for Tracy yet, but given that he’ll hopefully be traveling a lot from state to state this year for promotions, I think the name “M-Trac(k)” may be appropriate.
Given the fact that Slade Heathcott is going to start the season on the DL, the most obvious candidate to quickly move from High-A to Double-A is J.R. Murphy. He’s still not a shoe in to start there, as the team may opt to advance him straight to Double-A. It’s more likely, however, that he starts in High-A and ends up moving quickly to Double-A as soon as he starts to drive the ball like last year.
Last season Murphy was slated to start the season at some other position besides catcher. There were defensive concerns, and Gary Sanchez was already there at the same level, so it seemed it was best to move on. Then, something happened. JR Murphy’s defense improved to the point where coaches began to think he could stick at catcher long term.
Given that a solid bat is much more valuable at catcher than elsewhere, it was a no brainer for coaches to give Murphy another shot there. He responded by hitting very well in Charleston for half the season with a .297/.343/.457 batting line, and six homers. He then received a promotion to High-A Tampa. He struggled to adjust at first, but then began to learn how to hit High-A pitchers. Just as he was starting to get the hang of it, he got injured and the Yankees shut him down for the season.
The bat has never been in question, so as long as he holds his own in the field he can fill the void that Austin Romine left in Double-A as soon as he proves he’s ready. If he develops some more power, he could be an exciting option in a year or so for the major league team. Word out of camp is that he is mashing already, so look for it to be a short stay in Tampa for “Murph.” There aren’t a ton of other potential movers in High-A, but the other candidates include Jose Ramirez, Ramon Flores, Nik Turley, Mikey O’Brien, Kyle Roller (if he’s there), and Rob Segedin (if he’s there).
There are a couple of pitchers starting the season at Double-A Trenton, namely Shaeffer Hall and Brett Marshall, who would be in line for a quick promotion to Triple-A if the rotation wasn’t so stacked there. There’s always the chance that they could trade one of those guys to open up some space, or that someone gets injured. I’m not banking on that though, especially given that the return for anyone not named Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances is likely to be insignificant. That leaves us with David Adams, Corban Joseph, Ray Kruml, Zoilo Almonte, Ronnier Mustelier and Chase Whitley as the remaining candidates for a midseason promotion.
Of these, Raymond Kruml has already been promoted so he doesn’t count, and Corban Joseph & Chase Whitley may start in Triple-A, so I’m going to discount them. I already did an article on Zoilo Almonte. David Adams is my candidate to get promoted midseason. There are a few reasons for this. I really like Corban Joseph, but I think he might need a little more time in Double-A before he’s ready for Triple-A. If he starts on the Empire State Yankees and shows his inexperience, he and Adams could be in for a switcheroo.
After a two year hiatus with a miserable ankle injury, it appears that at the beginning of the preseason David Adams was at 90-95%, meaning he will likely be at 100% soon. We’ve all seen what he can do in the past with the bat, and he can and will force the front office’s hand if he hits that way in Double-A to start the season. He’s not getting any younger at 24 to start the season, and getting value out of him as a prospect may necessitate quick movement. He could easily supplant a guy like Pena as the first call-up in case of a SS, 2B, or 3B related injury. Given his age and the maturity we’ve already seen with the bat, promoting him to Triple-A quickly may be an easy decision. Affectionately known as “DAdams” to BBD Prospects due to his advanced age in comparison to some of his colleagues in Double-A, he’s one of the closest players in this article to contributing at the major league level.
Before the flurry of starting pitcher related moves made be the Yankees recently, I would have said that someone out of the trio of David Phelps, Adam Warren, or D.J. Mitchell would have been the first call-up to major league camp. As things stand today, there are seven starting pitchers ahead of all three of them on the depth chart. That could change as it has become obvious that Cashman is trying to move Freddy Garcia. Even if he is successful in such a move, there is a one pitcher buffer before any of those three will be considered.
Aside from the non roster invitees who are not considered Yankees prospects and would have a good shot at a call-up should an injury occur, the first man to reach the Bronx from the minor leagues will likely be a relief pitcher. I am discounting guys like Ramiro Pena who have already been up and down. My pick for the first call-up is George Kontos. Kevin Whelan got a brief taste last season, but he got a quick hook because he displayed a lack of control while in the majors. Cashman has a tendency to give someone else a try before giving a guy a second try, and Kontos appears ready.
Kontos pitched a whopping 89.1 IP out of the bullpen last season in Triple-A. He had 91 K and walked 26 batters. The ERA was 2.62. Kontos is known for his absolutely filthy slider, and a good low to mid 90’s fastball to go along with it. His control is usually pretty good. If the injury bug should bite the bullpen again, which seems almost inevitable the past few seasons, then he should be the first call up. Whelan and Ryan Pope are the other in house candidates. Cesar Cabral and Clay Rapada are both currently playing their asses off for the last spot in the bullpen. There’s a chance that whichever one loses will somehow end up in Triple-A to start the season at least. If that’s the case, they will probably be the first call-up. Austin Romine is another guy who could be pushed into duty if there’s an injury to Cervelli or Russell Martin.
Midseason promotions can be one of the trickiest sciences for coaches to master. Moving a guy up too soon or waiting too long can damage a player’s development. The goal is to advance players through the system rapidly without sending them to a level they are not ready for. In the past the Yankees have screwed this up in various ways, often rushing prospects along. It seems as though in recent years they have improved their methods. This year it will be fun to see who ends up being a part of the first round of promotions. Trying to predict promotions often results in looking foolish later on, but it’s still fun to think about. Hopefully these players perform to their abilities and show the Yankees that they are ready for the next level.