We’ve all heard it a thousand times and a thousand different ways. The Yankees system took a big step back in 2013. With pundits ranking the Yankees well into the lower third in baseball, the players in this sytem will have a lot to prove going into 2014. The precipitous fall in the Yankees system ranking seems a bit overblown to me, as there has been no real extraction of talent from the system between the beginning of 2013 and now. Injuries and down seasons made things difficult, but there is still the same amount of talent and potential in the system as there was last year, actually more.
It’s important to realize just how little these rankings mean. Their basis is almost entirely on performance in the past year. It’s truly a “what have you done for me lately” proposition. In fairness to the pundits, the Yankees haven’t done much for anyone lately in terms of prospects. These lists are fickle, and to prove that I will list 10 prospects that could improve the farm system ranking vastly simply by having a big year in 2013.
1. Cito Culver – Culver is at a premium position, and he hit .355/.394/.484/.878 the last 16 games of the season last year. He had nine homeruns on the season, and 13 SB. If he can hit .300/.350/.450/.800 for the season in 2014 with 10 HR and 15 SB people will start to understand why the Yankees drafted him so high. Not only that, but he will take this system up a notch or two.
2. Slade Heathcott – All in all his season wasn’t that bad last year, especially considering the bad start he had. He came on strong towards the end of the year and then he ended up needing knee surgery. He’s healthy to start 2014, and if he’s able to play like he did in the second half of 2013 and stay healthy for a full season people will quickly forget about his 2013 statistics. A season similar to his 2012 season (.302/.380/.461/.841) will change some minds about him and bring this system to higher levels. He was ranked the #63 prospect in baseball prior to the 2013 season. A big season would go a long way towards getting the Yankees back to the top 1/3 farm systems after this year.
3. Mason Williams – No player’s season epitomized the Yankees woes last year better than Mason Williams. He showed up to camp overweight, got a DUI, played with a lackluster attitude all season, and was coming off a shoulder injury. Many factors coming together for what amounted to a disaster season. The good news for the Yankees and Mason is that he has all the physical talent to rebound from that season. Not only that, but his shoulder is now completely healthy and he has showed up to camp back at his carrying weight and with a new attitude. One of the best athletes in the system, he was ranked the #32 prospect by Baseball America prior to 2013. He went unranked this year. If he can get back to his old self he will make a huge difference in the perception of this farm. A .298/.346/.474/.820 season with 20 SB and 11 HR, like he had in 2012 would take him right back where he was.
4. Tyler Austin – His story is getting scarier with every day that passes. The wrist strain he suffered towards the end of last season just doesn’t seem to be going away. He had pain in the Arizona Fall League which had him shut down, and more recently the pain has yet again returned in Spring Training. When he’s at his best, he hits for both average and power hitter and is a headsy base runner who plays an above average right field. He was ranked 77th by Baseball America prior to 2013 and went unranked this season. A big year from him obviously is a huge step in the right direction to bring them back to the top 1/3. If he simply matches his 2012 line he’ll be right back in the prospect conversation (.322/.400/.559/.960 with 17 HR and 23 SB).
5. Manny Banuelos – He was a forgotten man by most last season. He is still flying under the radar despite being back, hitting mid 90′s with the fastball, and looking sharp so far in Spring Training. He’s also a lefty which makes that velocity all the more impressive. People often forget he was the #29 prospect in the league according to Baseball America prior to the 2012 season. Needless to say a big season this year will lead to an improved perception of the farm system.
6. Bryan Mitchell – He is different than the players above him on this list in that a big year would be his first breakout season. He hasn’t been able to put together a good statistical season his entire career with the Yankees. He has had stretches of brilliance every season, usually towards the end of the year. Last year was no different as he put together three magnificent starts for Trenton to help lead them to a championship win. His main issue has always been control, but he struggled even with improved control last season. If he can harness his top notch stuff, including a mid to upper 90′s fastball and a plus plus curve, he will launch into top prospect status. A big season from him will easily take this system to the next level.
7. Abiatal Avelino – One of the youngest guys on this list, Abiatal Avelino has the ability that could put him on every top 100 prospect list out there if he has a big season in 2014. He took the GCL by storm in 2013, to the point where he is likely to start 2014 in the long season leagues with Low-A Charleston. If he can duplicate his line last year (.303/.381/.399/.780 with 28 SB in just 51 games), he will take this system up a few notches.
8. Aaron Judge – When a guy with the size and physical tools of Aaron Judge puts up numbers to match, it will never go unnoticed. A first round draft pick from 2013, he could give this system a major lift with a big season in 2014. He’s got surprising speed for his size and massive power. While it’s a long shot, if he ends up nearly as talented as Giancarlo Stanton as some think he can, the Yankees have a real gem on their hands and the system will leave others in the dust.
9. Eric Jagielo – The tools and size are not as flashy as Aaron Judge, but the overall talent might be even better. The Yankees thought so as they drafted him with their first pick in 2013. He could have been better in 2013, but he still impressed with a .826 OPS and six homeruns with 12 doubles in 55 games. If he can duplicate that over a 115 game schedule he’ll automatically lift the system. It would be even better if he improved his batting average from the .264 he his last year. He has 20+ homerun potential. If he lives up to that this season we are talking about a guy who will go a long way towards lifting the system to the top 1/3.
10. Luis Severino – Everyone expected Rafael DePaula to take the minors by storm when he came to the USA. He did that in the first half, but it was Luis Severino who captured the prospect world’s attention in the second half. He had a 2.45 ERA in 44.0 IP with 53 K in his stateside debut. Moreover he impressed scouts with his frontline stuff. He’s another guy who will vault this system to the top 1/3 with a big season in 2014.
The list doesn’t end here. Guys like Rookie Davis, Gabe Encinas, Angelo Gumbs, Rafael DePaula, Miguel Andujar, Brady Lail, Ty Hensley, Gosuke Katoh, and Ian Clarkin could all have a similar effect on the system.
The point is, all it will take is 3-4 of the guys mentioned above to break out this year and the Yankees will go straight from a bottom 1/3 system to a top 1/3 system just like that. To me, this just goes to show that these lists are almost meaningless. It means they are not evaluating the talent in a system, they are simply measuring how the system performed in a given year. It doesn’t take a “minor league expert” to know that the Yankees farm underperformed in 2013. It’s time people either stop talking about these lists or they start telling people something they don’t already know.