Judge, Sanchez show power for Yankees

Bird, Refsnyder reach big leagues; Mateo tops baseball in stolen bases

Aaron Judge could reach the Bronx in 2016 after leading the Yankees system in homers and RBIs. (Ken Inness/MiLB.com)

By Danny Wild / MiLB.com | November 30, 2015 10:00 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball.

The Yankees were one of the oldest teams in the Majors in 2015, but they also finally showed an increased willingness to give some of their kids a shot. Fans in the Bronx were introduced to prospects like Greg Bird, Luis Severino, Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Rob Refsnyder, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Chasen Shreve and Caleb Cotham. Dellin Betances, a product of the Yankees' farm system, led the team in appearances in his second straight All-Star campaign.

"We've been saying these names to our fans for two or three years now," Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner told MLB.com. "We've been showing video highlights of [Double-A] Trenton and [Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre], what they accomplished and what they do. Hopefully, people are getting excited about them."

The Yankees added to their list of prospects at the Draft with first-round pick James Kaprielian, who pitched in five games after leading the Pac-12 in strikeouts in consecutive seasons. 

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre went 81-63 before getting swept in the International League semifinals, while Class A Short Season Staten Island finished 41-34 and fell in the New York-Penn League Championship. Rookie-level Pulaski and both of New York's Dominican Summer League affiliates finished above .500.

Yankees Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Gary Sanchez, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (35 games), Trenton (58 games), New York (2 games): It seems like Sanchez has been in the system forever, yet he's only 22. New York signed the power-hitting catcher in 2009, and he finally reached the Majors after hitting .274 with 18 homers and 62 RBIs in 93 Minor League games. The Yankees' No. 5 prospect ranked second in the system in homers and fifth in RBIs while matching his 2012 career high in long balls.

"I think we're extremely happy with Gary," said Yankees vice president and director of amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer. "You take a look at the amount of improvement on passed balls and the way the pitching staffs pitched for him, you can see there's great improvement on the defensive side also. I think the guy's going to be knocking on the door real soon." 

First base -- Greg Bird, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (34 games), Trenton 49 games), New York (46 games): Yankee fans already are very familiar with Bird, who came up in August and became New York's first baseman following Mark Teixeira's season-ending injury. In the Minors, Bird hit .277 with 12 homers, 52 RBIs and a .356 on-base percentage. Combined with his time in the Bronx, the 23-year-old left-handed slugger totaled 23 homers and 83 RBIs.

"I think we thought he could be this kind of player, but the fact that it happened this quickly, without really any bumps in the road, as a guy filling in for Teixeira, we were pleased with that," Oppenheimer said.

Second base -- Rob Refsnyder, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (117 games), New York (16 games): The Yankees' top-ranked second baseman and No. 4 overall prospect batted.271 with nine homers, 56 RBIs, a dozen steals and a .359 OBP at Triple-A before hitting .302 in the Majors. Defense remains a question after he committed 18 errors at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. And the Yankees may turn to a veteran at second base anyway.

"I think he keeps getting better," Oppenheimer said. "The fact he continues to hit and every time he's challenged at every level, he continues to be offensive. People shouldn't lose the thought that he's been a second baseman forever -- he has not been a second baseman forever, so he's making a ton of progress. He's starting to look better defensively. Every year, he keeps getting better."

Shortstop -- Jorge Mateo, Tampa (21 games), Charleston (96 games): The 20-year-old has crazy speed, with his 82 stolen bases leading all of baseball (he had 24 more than Dee Gordon, who topped the Majors with 58). The right-handed hitter, now ranked as the Yankees' No. 2 prospect, hit .278 with two homers, 40 RBIs, 23 doubles and a .345 OBP this season, including a .321 average after he was promoted to the Florida State League. He played only 15 games in 2014, a year after stealing 49 bases in 64 games.

"The kid's played well, both offensively and defensively for us," Oppenheimer said. "Obviously those stolen bases make him a real game-changer. He's played the game hard. He doesn't seem like he lets up, he's a good-looking player."

Third base -- Kevin Cornelius, Staten Island (35 games), GCL Yankees 2 (25 games): The 23-year-old missed pretty much all of last year after the Yankees selected him in the 31st round of the 2013 Draft. In 60 games across two levels, Cornelius ranked third in the system with a .304 average while compiling nine homers, 11 doubles, 36 RBIs and a .394 OBP. Eric Jagielo also was good but was limited to 58 games due to injury.

"That's a great honor for him, he's persevered," Oppenheimer said. "What he's battled through and then gone out and performed is really a credit to his work ethic and desire."

Kevin Cornelius
Kevin Cornelius hit .304 with a .394 OBP in 207 at-bats across two levels in 2015. (Gordon Donovan/MiLB.com)

Outfield

Ben Gamel, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (129 games): The 23-year-old led the system in hits, total bases and triples, ranked third in RBIs and doubles and fourth in runs scored, batting .300 with 10 homers, 64 RBIs, 13 steals and a .358 OBP. He was named an International League end-of-season All-Star and honored by Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as its Rookie of the Year after earning Eastern League All-Star honors with Trenton in 2014. MiLB.com also named him a Yankees All-Star in 2013, and he was added to the 40-man roster earlier this month.

"Benny has always been a guy that swings the bat and, especially at his age, he's way under the league average in terms of age. And every league he moves to, he hits in," said Oppenheimer. "The kid's been a really hard worker, getting better at every facet. His running speed improved, his power is starting to come, he can play all three outfield positions well and he's a strong, quality teammate."

Aaron Judge, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (61 games), Trenton (63 games): The 2015 Futures Game All-Star started the season at Double-A, where he hit .284 with 12 homers in 63 games. The Yankees' top prospect saw his average drop 60 points after moving up to Triple-A, although his strikeout and walk numbers remained the same. Overall, the towering 6-foot-7 right fielder batted .255 with 20 homers, 72 RBIs, 26 doubles and a .330 OBP in 124 games. He led the Yankees in homers and RBIs and finished second in strikeouts.

"What can you say? Judge got to Triple-A and at a real accelerated rate," Oppenheimer said. "He's continued to perform and not just for power but defensively. I think he's got a chance to be a standout-type guy. This year, moving forward, he needs to continue to work on a few things. The guy has a really high ceiling."

Dustin Fowler, Tampa (65 games), Charleston (58 games): The Yankees' No. 18 prospect hit .298 with five homers, 70 RBIs, 30 steals and a .334 OBP in 123 games across two levels, ranking second in the system in RBIs, third in hits and total bases and seventh in runs. The 20-year-old is prized for his overall tools and speed on the bases, and the Yankees also are high on his defense in center. But a lack of power probably limits his status behind Judge.

"Again, he's a young kid who really has a chance to have five tools," Oppenheimer said. "A guy who can run, has power, swings the bat well. He works hard and he also plays the game easy, so I think we're really fortunate with Fowler. He went out to the Arizona Fall League and proved to be a team player and played quite a bit and had a good year out there against quality competition."

Designated hitter -- Trey Amburgey, Staten Island (21 games), GCL Yankees (37 games): The 13th-round pick this summer looked good in his transition to the pros, hitting .346 with five homers, 30 RBIs and a .399 OBP. He led the system in batting.

"He's pretty good, he's got a chance," Oppenheimer said. "He's a guy we got a little later in the Draft, but he's got good tools and his swing, he really can generate some quality exit velocity resulting in power. He's got speed to steal bases, he's got the combination of power and speed, and that gives him an chance to be pretty good."

Right-handed starter -- Luis Severino, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (11 games), Trenton (8 games), New York (11 game): The 21-year-old went 9-2 with a 2.45 ERA and 98 strikeouts over 99 1/3 innings across two levels before making his Major League debut on Aug. 8. He averaged a strikeout an inning, allowed only two homers and held opponents to a .201 average in 19 starts. Also worth mentioning is Rookie Davis, a 22-year-old who went 8-7 with a 3.86 ERA, ranked second in the system with 129 strikeouts and moved up to No. 10 in New York's prospect rankings. He was added to the 40-man roster this month.

"I think I'd go with Severino [over Davis] because he went to the big leagues and had success, and that's the hardest jump and he did a nice job at time when we really neded it," Oppenheimer said. "He was a shot in the arm for our big league club to get us into the postseason."

Left-handed starter -- Jordan Montgomery, Tampa (16 games), Charleston (9 games): The 25-year-old went 10-8 with a 2.95 ERA and 132 strikeouts over 134 1/3 innings across two levels, leading the system in strikeouts and ranking seventh in ERA. New York's No. 25 prospect walked 36, hit just one batter in 25 starts and held opponents to a .236 average while throwing one complete game and earning a pair of Pitcher of the Week honors.

"Jordan is a guy who coming into the system had pitchability, and this year we saw an increase in velocity and overall he was a tick better on all the stuff," Oppenheimer said. "Pitchability stayed quality and the stuff improved to somewhere where he doesn't have to rely on being pinpoint all the time."

Reliever -- Mark Montgomery, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (7 games), Trenton (39 games): The right-hander led the Yankees in appearances and saves in 2015, going 4-4 with a 2.66 ERA and 53 strikeouts over 50 2/3 innings t two levels. Once ranked among the organization's top prospects, Montgomery was the Bombers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2012. Fellow righty Johnny Barbato also had an excellent year, going 4-0 with three saves and a 0.36 ERA in 14 Triple-A outings.

Danny Wild is an editor for MiLB.com. Follow his MLBlog column, Minoring in Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More