This year a unique thing is going on in the Yankees farm system. If you break each team into their components, i.e. the rotation, the bullpen, and the lineup there is an interesting phenomenon going on. Let me delve into it.
In short, the best rotation belongs to Charleston, the best bullpen belongs to Scranton Wilkes-Barre, and the best lineup belongs to Trenton. The best team all around belongs to High-A Tampa.
The reason Charleston’s rotation is so endearing is that it combines high ceiling with mystery. The high ceiling is rounded out by Gabe Encinas, Rookie Davis, and Luis Severino. The mystery will be in the last two spots. First of all, who will occupy those spots? Secondly, how will they perform? Gio Gallegos, Caleb Smith, David Palladino, Connor Kendrick, and Cale Coshow will all be fighting for rotation spots.
Double-A Trenton holds the most dangerous lineup on the farm. It will also be the lineup with the most to prove. With Gary Sanchez at catcher they have the best hitting catcher on the farm. They also have Matt Snyder at first, Robert Refsnyder at second, and Peter O’Brien at third and backing up Sanchez at catcher. It’s also possible O’Brien will start out as High-A Tampa’s catcher, in which case we will see Rob Segedin get some time at third. Carmen Angelini will likely get an opportunity to play shortstop. The outfield will be filled with potential. Tyler Austin and Slade Heathcott could start out here, but even if they don’t Trenton will have Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and Ramon Flores.
Finally, a look at the most exciting bullpen, which clearly belongs to Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Part of what makes their bullpen so exciting is the lack of additions by the major league team this off-season. The other part is the talent that will be there. The Yanks will have Mark Montgomery, Chase Whitley, Francisco Rondon, Dan Burawa, Jeremy Bleich, Graham Stoneburner, and Fred Lewis coming out of the pen. They are all high ceiling relievers who could make the big league team at any moment. There’s a lot of flamethrowers in that group and it will be exciting to see how they are unleashed on the rest of the league.
The Tampa Yankees of High-A
In my early minor league roster predictions the team doesn’t look quite as exciting, but there have been some recent developments that have changed things significantly. Those recent developments involve the strong possibility that both Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo will be a part of this team.
There are a few guys who could end up catching for Tampa. It is probably the biggest question mark heading into the season. The Yankees could put Peter O’Brien there to get more reps at catcher. That might end up being good for his development. If they choose to start O’Brien in Trenton, then they will likely go with Jackson Valera, who had an above .800 OPS last year for Charleston. They could also go with Trent Garrison who was the starter for Staten Island and did hit three homers in just 103 at bats. He could definitely be a sleeper going into the season.
First base will not be in question for High-A Tampa. That position will be occupied by Greg Bird and his 20 homeruns last season. Bird had a .938 OPS on the season and is one of the most promising bats in the Yankees system. He’s also one of the top first basemen in the minors.
Second base will be occupied by one of the players seeking redemption in the Yankees organization. That player is Angelo Gumbs. He’s coming off the worst healthy season of his career. His physical tools are phenomenal and he has the capability of turning around his career. This coming year will be a huge year in determining if that is a possibility or a pipe dream.
Cito Culver will start the season at shortstop. He finished the year in High-A in 2013 and with good reason. He was in the midst of the hottest stretch of his career so far. He was on a tear when he arrived in Tampa and he continued it through the end of the season. He has breathed life back into his career and 2014 is likely to be his coming out party if his performance continues at the recent rate.
Eric Jagielo has a good chance to man the hot corner for Tampa, as per the off-season rumor mill. If he does, this team becomes all the more exciting. Jagielo has power and polish, and he’s being given an opportunity to make a name for himself this year. If not Jagielo, then another redemption candidate, Dante Bichette Jr., will be the third baseman.
The outfield will be made up of Jake Cave, Erikson Leonora, and Aaron Judge with Taylor Dugas also getting some time. Judge is no guarantee to make the team but with his polish and now talent he has a good chance to break camp in High-A. Jake Cave is coming off his first healthy season, and now he can finally look to build on that season. If he can develop some power he’ll be a big time outfielder in the minors. Leonora had a big year in 2013 and will look to build on it, while Dugas continues to try to develop a plus tool that could give him a ticket to the majors.
Reymond Nunez will be with the team as a DH or utility infielder. Last year at Charleston he finally showed some of the power he was rumored to have. He hit 15 HR and had 21 doubles. He needs to work on his patience though and will have to hit for more average going forward, as he hit just .256 last season.
The Tampa Yankees also have a solid rotation to go into the season with. Rafael DePaula, Jose Campos, Dan Camarena, Dietrich Enns, Cesar Vargas, and Evan Rutckyj are all options going into next season. Rookie Davis and Gabe Encinas have an outside shot of making the team as starters. Rafael DePaula and Jose Campos are two of the top tier arms in this farm system. Camarena will be a top prospect if he adds a few ticks on his fastball, and Enns was a major breakout player last season. Vargas is a “steady Eddy” kind of player who pounds the zone, and Rutckyj is a long term project who has a high ceiling if he’s able to tap into his size.
The bullpen is the most difficult sector of this team to predict, mostly because there are several relievers drafted in 2013 out of college who could end up there. Tyler Webb, Phil Wetherell, Eric Ruth, and James Pazos will likely be members of the bullpen. Nick Rumbelow, Dillon McNamara, Phillip Walby, and Stefan Lopez will also be candidates to join the Tampa bullpen. Of those Tyler Webb and Pazos have the highest ceiling. Pazos was hitting the upper 90’s this offseason.
It’s easy to see why Tampa is the most exciting team on the farm. All three sectors of their team are filled with high ceiling talents. If the offseason continues at it’s current course, High-A Tampa will be the team to watch come opening day. You could certainly make an argument that Trenton or Charleston will also be exciting, but when I tune in in 2014 Tampa will by my first priority.