Friday, February 7, 2014

Outfield is the last category of this series, and it might be the deepest position in the farm system. This is especially true for the major league ready section, which features players that spent the majority of the year in AA. Like the SP and RP categories, the OF category will be broken down into two parts. The first part will look at players who spent most of the year in or above AA.  

Major League Players:

The Yankee prospect closest to being a Yankee starter is Zoilo Almonte. Almonte made the team last year but his time in the majors was cut short due to an injury. Almonte doesn't have the highest ceiling, but he has some power and is a switch-hitter so he does have some appeal. Almonte has decent tools, but none of his tools are plus.

Almonte has always been an aggressive hitter, that had an all-or-nothing approach at the plate. But in 2014 it had looked like he finally became more selective in AAA, as he doubled his walk rate. This resulted in the loss of some power but overall he had good numbers at AAA last season.

However, he really struggled in his short stint in the big leagues. Almonte had a WRC+ of 55 in 34 games. This is a very small size and he might be a better player than Ichiro Suzuki at this point of their careers. If he can't beat out Ichiro for the Yankees 5th outfielder spot he will either end up in AAA or traded. Considering he kind of looks like a fourth outfielder, it may be in the Yankees best interest to trade him.

After Almonte, the Yankees have two former consensus top 100 prospects who could begin the year at AAA, and have a legitimate chance to rebound. Slade Heathcott, and Tyler Austin are two big reasons why so many changed their stance on the Yankees system but they both have the ability to make the majors next season.

Slade Heathcott, has one of the highest ceilings in the organization but has been injured for basically his entire career. In my opinion, games played is his most important stat. Last season he was relatively healthy and set a career high in games played.

Heacthcott is the type of player that plays the game too hard. Nothing can stop him from hustling on every play. This style of play leads to a lot of injuries, and he has had multiple shoulder and knee surgeries in his career.

When healthy he looks like a future big leaguer, but his lack of playing time means he is a bit more raw than he should be. He currently strikes out over 20 percent of the time, but that number is improving, and most project him to be an above average batter in the future.

He has or had the potential to be a five tool player, but at the moment his two strongest tools are his speed and his defense. He still has an above average arm despite undergoing shoulder surgery, which is pretty remarkable.

Slade didn't display his hit or power tool in 2013, until the end of the season. By August he really began to show he could play baseball at a high level (.852 OPS after the All-Star game). Unfortunately, he wasn't able to finish the year healthy.

Likewise, Austin's season also ended early because of injuries, as he was forced off of the Arizona Fall League because of a lingering wrist injury. This injury bothered him for most of the season and took away much of his power. Because of this his numbers look very pedestrian last season, and some are now pegging him as a fourth outfielder.

He still has one big supporter in Keith Law, who noticed he was injured before it actually was announced, based off of how his swing looked. When healthy he shows gap power, and should be able to hit enough homeruns to be a corner outfielder. His defense in right is average, and he has a strong arm. Additionally he steals a surprising amount of bases for a guy without good speed.

 Austin should be given the chance to redeem himself in either AA or AAA next season, and is an interesting player to watch in spring training. He'd be even more interesting if the Yankees allowed him to practice third-base.

The last player in this section is Ramon Flores. Flores played the 2013 season as one of the youngest players in the Eastern League. While he didn't show much power and struggled initially he didn't do so badly considering his age.

Right now his only real strength is his ability to work counts and take walks.  While that is a very important aspect of baseball he needs to do hit for more power to be considered more than a fourth outfielder. He isn't fast, and he isn't a great defender so he really needs to become the type of offensive player scouts believe he could be.

Power is the last tool to really develop, so he still has time, but the Yankees are starting to stockpile outfielders throughout their system, so he will really need to breakout soon. In his defense he is working hard on his power and has gained a lot of muscle in recent years. So far the results aren't there, but if the power comes he will become a pretty good offensive player.


Josh Sabo is a Minor League writer for Yanks Beat Blog.


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