A few years back, Yankees fans coined the term Killer Bees to describe the Yankees top three prospects. All three were pitchers, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Brackman. Brackman has since moved onto basketball, and two of the three Killer Bees are still in position to make an impact in the organization. Banuelos is back from Tommy John surgery and looking ready to contribute. He’s already pretty close to where he was prior to the surgery. Even though the jury is still out, both are still used as a cautionary tale by all about prospects.
Now that their prospect luster has worn off and no one refers to them as the Killer Bees anymore, there is a new group of prospects in town. That’s where MASH comes in. The acronym stands for Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, Gary Sanchez, and Slade Heathcott. All are hitters. All have the potential to mash the baseball. All four have also been top 100 prospects at one time or another. In terms of top 100 rankings and star potential, they don’t quite match up with the Killer Bees, but like it or not they are the next wave and all are legitimate prospects. This is not to take away from Greg Bird and some of the lower level players looking to make an impact this year, but they are a bit further from contributing.
The question on everyone’s mind though is whether or not these four will flop in spectacular fashion like many of the prospects before them. To argue that any other outcome is more likely at this point would be asinine. Asinine, but not impossible.
The M in MASH is our favorite prospect to chastise, Mason Williams. His issues have been well documented, but the latest news has him showing up to camp in shape. Nothing can change what happened last season but he can turn the page with a fresh start in 2014. He is as physically gifted as anyone in the system. He’s still quite young and has plenty of time to turn things around. He’ll start in Double-A and is one big season away from being a factor in the majors. At the very least he can make himself a major trade chip with a good year in 2014. I’m not betting against a guy who is as talented as he is with what is hopefully a new found determination.
Tyler Austin represents the A. He has shown in the past that he can hit for power and average. He has also shown that he can be a heady base runner who can steal some bases despite not having plus speed. Defensively he has found a position as he is already an above average right fielder. Last year he hit just .265/.351/.378/.730 with six home runs and 17 doubles. His wrist was bothering him all season though and likely sapped him of his power. The hope is he can return to his 2012 season, where he hit .322/.400/.559/.960 with 17 home runs. If he’s healthy, there’s not a reason in the world he can’t.
This group is clearly highlighted by Gary Sanchez, the S in MASH. Sanchez is arguably the only one in the group who didn’t take a step back last season. He hit 15 homers and had a .253/.324/.412/.736 line on the season. More importantly, his defense improved to the point where he should be a serviceable defensive catcher.
Depending on who you ask that may or not be the case, but his defensive numbers were impressive. He threw out 44% of would be base stealers last season. It would be hard for a lousy defender to do that. His offensive prowess is not in question. He has 25-30 homerun potential in the long run. If he can stick at catcher those numbers would be awesome. Brian McCann is now in his way, but DH and first base will be beckoning at McCann as soon as Sanchez looks ready to make the jump.
The H in MASH is the biggest wildcard of them all. Slade Heathcott is the most dynamic player in the system when healthy. Staying healthy, however, has been the bane of his existence. He is recovering from yet another surgery this off-season; this time it’s the knee. It was minor surgery. He has become an expert at rehabbing though so I have no question he will make a full recovery. Last season he started off slow but by mid-season he had completely turned his season around. The stats don’t show it because of just how bad his start was. He still managed to hit .261/.327/.411/.738 with eight homeruns and 15 stolen bases on the season in under 400 at bats, which isn’t that bad.
When he’s right, he compares favorably in terms of tools to Mike Trout, but obviously not the same kind of talent. If he can stay healthy, he’s a five tool threat. Heathcott rounds out the fab four and the Yankees hope he can fulfill all of his potential.
After all of those optimistic descriptions, it’s time for a reality check on multiple levels. First of all every single one of these players has red flags, much like the Killer Bees (Brackman and Betances’ control, and Banuelos’ size). With Heathcott and Austin it’s their health. With Sanchez it’s his average, and with Mason Williams it’s his work ethic and character.
More importantly, these guys are prospects. All have been top 100 prospects at some point in their career. The problem is even top 100 prospects fail at a high rate. Thus, all four have a high risk of failure no matter what happens from here on out.
For all of these reasons I am going on record now saying that if just one of these guys succeeds and helps the major league team as an above average player I will consider MASH a resounding success. If they help the team by being a part of a trade for a player that makes the team better, then they will again have been a resounding success.
The Yankees’ system is wildly underrated right now and after this season their ranking will go up. These guys are a part of that. A regression to the mean in injuries and ineffectiveness will improve the perception of this system vastly, and that is what I believe is in the cards this season. MASH will be a big part of that, especially if they can all stay healthy.