Monday, February 10, 2014

Depth Below AA:

Mason Williams was arguably the Yankees' best prospect coming into the 2013 season. However, he had a shoulder injury at the end of 2012 and while he was ready at the start of last season, he really underperformed. This was in part due to being out of shape.

But it was also due to change in hitting style, as he began slashing at balls, and adopting an Ichiro Suzuki hitting style. He apparently went back to old approach during the Arizona Fall League, and while the results weren't there he reportedly looked like his old self.

Williams really needs to rebound next year because right now the only aspect of his game that scouts agree on is his plus speed, and plus defense. He is more than capable of being a good hitter, so 2014 will be a major year for him.

Mason will begin the 2014 season in AA, but fans will get to see his progress during spring training. It was only a year ago that Williams was considered a top 50 prospect, and the Yankees really need him to return to that level next year.

Williams will probably be joined in AA, by Taylor Dugas, and Ben Gamel. Dugas is an interesting player because he has such a good eye at the plate. Dugas's great eye, makes him a very good hitter, and one that might find a way to hit in the majors. However, Dugas has little else going for him, as he is only a slightly above average runner, and isn't an elite defender.

Dugas had an .799 OPS in High-A last year, so he will most probably be pushed to AA. Considering he will be 24 next season he should move past AA soon. He might not have the highest ceiling, but so far he is putting up good numbers and working his way up the ladder.

In some ways the same can be said about Ben Gamel. Gamel is similar to Dugas in the sense that he might end up as a fourth outfielder. He has a lot more power than Dugas, but he might not have enough to become a starter. He is faster than Dugas and is also a better defender so he has a better chance to become a starter.

The Yankees have always seemed to believe Gamel would hit for more power, and have always been high on him. Gamel will begin the 2014 in AA, where he will try to show that he can be more of a power hitter.

The reason it's so important for some of the above players to have a great 2014 is that the system has a pretty good outfield in Tampa. The Tampa Yankees outfield is projected to feature Aaron Judge, Ericson Leonora, and Jake Cave.

Aaron Judge was one the Yankees three first round picks last year, and while he didn't get any game time last season, it is believed he will begin the year in High-A. According to Keith Law, Judge has the ability to be a top 50 guy next season if he performs the way he should.

He truly has all-star potential, as he could develop plus power. Despite his size he isn't a bad runner and can currently handle center field. He won't bat for high average, but he could be a .260 hitter in the majors, and his on-base percentage would be a lot higher.

Judge could begin the season in A+ and would probably spend some time there, because he isn't really polished yet. Judge has more upside than the other two outfield options and will probably be the one who gets to play center.

That isn't to say Leonora and Cave aren't good options; they both were very productive last season. Leonora's strong year kind of came out of nowhere as he really struggled in the GCL last year. Leonora hit.295/.337/.347/.812 between the GCL and Sally league. This performance put him back on the prospect map.

Leonora is a good runner, who seems to have power potential and a good hit tool. His numbers in a great pitchers park suggests that he may be a true prospect. Tampa will be a good test for him, and we should soon learn whether he is more than a one year wonder.

Like Leonora, Jake Cave also kind of came out of nowhere as the former 6th round draft pick has only appeared in one game since being drafted in 2011, due to injuries. For a while it seemed like he would be the systems new Slade Heathcott, a talented player who can't stay on the field, but he put up a healthy season last year.

He really did well last season considering just how little he played over the past few seasons. Cave had a .748 OPS in a pitchers league, and in a terrible hitters park. While observers would want to see more homerun power, he did finish third in the league in doubles, and based off his age and his hitting environment, homerun power should come as he advances through the system.

The Yankees  A-Ball team outfield is also has talent, but none of their players are as proven as the guys in Tampa or above. The Charleston Riverdogs outfield will probably feature the likes of Michael O'Neill, Brandon Thomas, Daniel Lopez, and Yeicock Calderon.

All of these players were disappointing last season and may be running out of time to turn things around. Thomas, and O'Neill who were just drafted last year have the best chance to turn things and there's less urgency for those prospects to perform next season.

Brandon Thomas, was a 8th round pick last in 2013, after enduring mononucleosis in his last college season. His illness seemed to have hampered his tools in his final season and affected his performance in Low-A. His draft stock was actually higher in 2012, as the Pirates took him with their 4th round pick.

Baseball America ranked Thomas as the best athlete taken by the Yankees in 2013 draft, and he does have raw power potential. In general Thomas was supposed to have a nice combination of tools when he was drafted, but he really struggled in his debut.

Likewise O'Neill, was also abysmal in his debut, but has some nice tools. O'Neill was  the Yankees third round draft pick, and is probably best known for being Paul O'Niell's nephew. O'neill's best tool is his speed, and BA claimed he was the fastest Yankee pick. His speed will allow him to play center long term.

O'Neill also has some pop, but his lack of plate discipline may stop him from ever reaching his potential. But O'Neill was ranked relatively high before the draft so it is way too soon to give up on him, even if he struggles a bit next year. 

However Calderon and Lopez both have to breakthrough next season, as they have been stuck on the same level for a couple of seasons now.  Calderon is known for his power, but so far has shown little else in his minor league career. His big weakness is his defense and he often looks like a DH trying to play the outfield. Calderon does have good bat speed, but doesn't have the greatest approach at the plate. Calderon will be 22 next season, so he will really have to start moving through the system. Last year in A-Ball he had sub .600 OPS. 

Lopez's struggles were even worse, as he couldn't even hit his way out of the NYPL, a league that Calderon dominated. Lopez's main strength is his speed, and none of his weaknesses are as glaring as Calderon's. However he has struggled since excelling in the GCL league two seasons ago. While it was once believed that he could develop into a decent offensive weapon he really has shown very little potential in the past couple of years. 


The Yankees biggest sleeper in this category is Leonardo Molina. Molina was the Yankees biggest international signing this year. Ben Badler ranked him as the 5th best international free agents. Molina has plus-plus speed, and is considered a good defender. He also has a good hit tool. Molina truly has great potential and if he makes it to the GCL next year he will be one of the youngest players there. 

2013 draftee Kendall Coleman was one of Baseball America's sleeper prospects from last years draft. BA's Conor Glassey wrote that Coleman is the type of bat teams should be patient with, and implied that Coleman has good power potential down the road. Based off his recent pics on Twitter, Coleman looks to be in good shape, and should begin the 2014 season in the GCL or NYPL.


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


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