Yankees youngsters look most ready to help at game's highest level
January 11, 2016
The 2016 season has a lot to live up to following a season deemed "The Year of the Prospect." Will there be another Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa or Francisco Lindor? A class like the Major League rookies of 2015 had never been seen before and likely will never be seen again.
But that's not going to stop us from looking at what could come from prospects in 2016 with the help of Steamer600 projections taken from FanGraphs. Steamer600 takes previous performance, age, level and other factors into account and projects stats for any given player over a full Major League season. That accounts for 600 plate appearances for non-catcher position players, 450 plate appearances for catchers, 200 innings for starting pitchers and 65 innings for relievers.
For the next six weeks, we'll take division-by-division looks at these Steamer projections to see which prospects look like they'll have the best chance to impact the Major Leagues this season. We'll focus mostly on prospects ranked among the top 30 in their farm systems by MLB.com who have played at least at the Double-A level. But we'll also include all top-100 prospects, just because they're the players who garner the most "Call him up!" pronouncements from fanbases, no matter their level of development.
We start in the American League East, where one prospect may rise above the rest.
Jump to a team:
Gary Sanchez's 2015 felt like it was a long time coming, given how long he's been at or near the top of Yankees prospect lists, but it was indeed a breakout campaign for the backstop in his age-22 season. After starting his third straight season at Double-A Trenton, he earned his first promotion to Triple-A in mid-July and hit .274/.330/.485 with 18 homers, 23 doubles and 62 RBIs in 93 gamesfor the season. The Yankees brought him up for a taste of the Majors in mid-September, but he only appeared twice as a pinch-hitter.
Sanchez's stock jumped even more in the Arizona Fall League, where he had a .295/.357/.625 line and led the circuit with seven homers. Defensively, he continued to show off an impressive arm, throwing out 35.6 percent of attempted basestealers in the Minors and a whopping 61.5 percent (16-of-26) in the AFL.
Since Sanchez was beginning to round into more of a finished product, it came as no surprise when New York dealt backup backstop John Ryan Murphy to the Twins in November for outfielder Aaron Hicks, opening the door for Sanchez to slot behind Brian McCann come Opening Day, should the Yankees decide the native of the Dominican Republic is ready to go. He'll battle veteran Austin Romine for that spot come Spring Training.
From a Steamer perspective, Sanchez looks like the better option. Although his Steamer600 projections oddly aren't available -- likely because FanGraphs lists him at the only position he's played in the Majors: PH -- we can extrapolate his regular Steamer numbers (which are based on 106 plate appearances) to the standard 450 PA for catchers. When we do that, Sanchez looks like his pop would translate nicely to the bigs with 17 homers and a .427 slugging percentage. If he were to play the whole season, he'd be worth 2.5 fWAR -- roughly the same as Derek Norris (2.4) in 2015, though Norris had 557 plate appearances.
The Yankees would be ecstatic to see Sanchez match his projections, even without the regular playing time, but they might not want to halt their No. 5 prospect's development by having him sit behind McCann and go with Romine instead. But here's something to keep in mind: Steamer600 has Romine pegged for just 1.1 fWAR over 450 plate appearances.
At least as far as this projection system is concerned, the answer seems clear: Sanchez is ready.
Most ready: Sanchez. But a quick word on Rob Refsnyder. Steamer liked the second baseman a year ago, and given another 2.5 WAR projection, it seems to like him again. With a 103 wRC+, it certainly believes his bat can stick. However, it doesn't think highly of his defense, nor should it. Refsnyder showed his limitations at second during a couple looks in the Majors with a -15.5 UZR/150. As such, the Yankees traded for Starlin Castro to take over this season. Refsnyder's bat should be ready when needed, but in the meantime, he'll likely be waiting at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre again.
Give it time: Aaron Judge is listed as the organization's top prospect, and given his 6-foot-7, 275-pound frame and light-tower power, there are reasons to dream of seeing his bat in the Majors right away. Steamer believes he could be a handy player, particularly in the power department with 22 projected homers. But his 99 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR projections don't scream Opening Day spot. That's fine for the Yanks, who already have veterans Carlos Beltran and Brett Gardner in the corners. An improvement on his .680 OPS at Triple-A to start 2016 could propel Judge to the highest level in the summer, but he and the Yankees should be content to wait.
Wild card: Luis Cessa, who was traded by the Mets in the Yoenis Cespedes deal last July, came to the Yankees in a deal with the Tigers for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson. As a pitcher with a 6.97 ERA in 12 Triple-A starts, the 23-year-old right-hander doesn't look like someone who could or should make the jump to the Majors. However, Steamer doesn't think he'd fare too badly, especially in the control department with a projected 2.6 BB/9. The Yankees' No. 16 prospect is on the 40-man roster, so he's an emergency starter candidate for now.
Top-100 talent: If you're one of those people who saw Jorge Mateo's 82 steals and salivated about what he could do in the Majors, let now be the occasion to pump your brakes. Those steals came at both Class A levels, and the 20-year-old shortstop hit .278/.345/.392 between Charleston and Tampa. He's still at least two seasons away from a big league debut.
Most ready: Ariel Miranda put up a 3.60 ERA with 71 strikeouts over 70 innings between the Gulf Coast League, Class A Advanced Frederick and Double-A Bowie in his first season since signing out of Cuba. And when Steamer combined that with his numbers from his homeland (most recently, a 3.24 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 in 2013), he ended up having the fourth-highest projected WAR among all Orioles hurlers, behind Kevin Gausman (3.0), Ubaldo Jimenez (2.3) and Chris Tillman (1.8). The 26-year-old left-hander isn't on the 40-man, so the O's believe he has some work to do before they would bring him to the Majors. But keep him in mind over the summer.
Give it time: You could make the case that Chance Sisco deserves a shot now, given these projections, but the 20-year-old has played only 20 games of Double-A ball. A .326/.402/.436 hitter over his first three seasons in the Minors, Sisco has proven to be plenty adept in the box, but the Orioles aren't in any rush to push him, especially with the hope he'll add some power as he matures. With Matt Wieters accepting a one-year qualifying offer, Sisco will be given time to prove himself at Double-A and -- potentially -- Triple-A this season with an eye on a 2017 debut.
Wild card: The Orioles grabbed Joey Rickard from the Rays in the Rule 5 Draft after he hit .321 with 23 steals across three levels in 2015. We had him in the lowest possible category when we ranked the stickiness of this year's Rule 5 picks because the Baltimore outfield is already sort of full (and will be even moreso if Chris Davis signs and pushes Mark Trumbo out there as well). Steamer doesn't see him being a major offensive contributor, so if he does somehow stick, his greatest value might be as Adam Jones' backup in center.
Top-100 talent: Hunter Harvey (broken fibula, strained elbow) and Dylan Bundy (right shoulder) both endured injury-riddled campaigns in 2015 and Steamer isn't big on either making a big impact. For Harvey, that's no worry, considering he's yet to pitch above Class A. Bundy, however, is out of options and must start the season on the Major League roster or disabled list or be designated for assignment. As the No. 4 overall pick in 2011, Bundy will be afforded as many chances as he can to stick, and that'll likely mean an elongated rehab assignment.
Most ready: The readiness of Henry Owens, who has exhausted his rookie eligibility, will be a debate at Red Sox Spring Training next month, but according to Steamer, there's another young left-hander who might be even more deserving of a long look. Steamer has Brian Johnson down for a higher WAR than Owens (1.4 vs. 1.3) and a much better FIP (4.29 vs. 4.64). The problem with Johnson has been staying healthy -- a left elbow issue limited him to 96 innings at Triple-A Pawtucket and one start in the Majors. Beyond Owens, Johnson also will compete with newly acquired southpaw Roenis Elias to see who will get a chance to crack into an already crowded Boston rotation.
Give it time: The fiasco that may be Hanley Ramirez at first base could prompt calls to bring up 2014 first-rounder -- and former Kyle Schwarber Bash Brother -- Sam Travis, especially if the 22-year-old first baseman continues to hit well. Steamer has Travis down for an average 99 wRC+, which would be fine if he played somewhere other than first base. As such, a return to Double-A Portland and potential midseason promotion to Pawtucket seems to be in the cards while the Sox hope they don't have to call Travis' number too early.
Wild card: That said, Steamer thinks Jantzen Witte would be the better fallback option at first. The 2013 24th-rounder is a non-prospect, but this projections system likes his .312/.379/.500 line in 2014 at Class A Advanced Salem and Class A Greenville and his .283/.363/.414 line last season at Portland. The Steamer difference between him and Travis is defense, leading to a higher projected WAR for Witte. In a pinch, the Sox could turn to Witte rather than rush Travis.
Top-100 talent: Andrew Benintendi blasted on the scene as an advanced college bat in his first season, but Steamer gave him no points for doing well at the short-season and Class A levels. There's a good chance Benintendi would beat those low expectations, but Steamer can only go off the professional info it's given. Similarly, Rafael Devers and Yoan Moncada showed lots of promise in their first full seasons at Greenville and, as Steamer shows, that doesn't mean they warrant immediate Major League promotion. Moncada could be fast-tracked this season with a 2017 debut in mind, while the younger Devers should still have 2018 in his crosshairs.
Most ready: Blake Snell told the MiLB.com podcast earlier this offseason that he was aiming to become an American League All-Star in 2016. Steamer doesn't seem to think such a lofty goal is within reach, but it's not betting against his Major League prospects, either. Even though he sported a 1.41 ERA and 10.9 K/9 in the Minors in 2015, Snell is projected to pair a more average 4.07 ERA with a still-impressive 8.5 K/9 in the Majors. The Rays would like to get the southpaw more Triple-A experience and, once that happens, there's an even better likelihood he could beat those projections following a midseason promotion.
Give it time: For a pitcher who hasn't thrown more than 78 innings in a season, Steamer is surprisingly high on Rays No. 6 prospect Taylor Guerrieri. He went 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over 36 innings at Double-A Montgomery to close his 2015 season, giving the projections plenty of hope. Another year removed from 2013 Tommy John surgery, the 23-year-old right-hander has been added to the 40-man roster and could get a look at some point in 2016 if he's healthy, although a return to the Southern League is likely to start the season.
Wild card: Power plays at every level and Richie Shaffer showed plenty of it with 30 homers between the Majors and Minors last season. Steamer doesn't like him in other areas, namely average and OBP, and that hurts him here. Shaffer will need all of that power to earn a big league spot out of Spring Training or he'll be back in Triple-A Durham, waiting for a chance to spell Evan Longoria at third or James Loney at first.
Top-100 talent: Rays No. 5 prospect Daniel Robertson's stock dropped a bit last year, but Steamer thinks he could hold his own as a Major League shortstop, while top prospect Willy Adames is still at least two years away after a season in the Florida State League. Tampa Bay acquired Brad Miller from the Mariners in November, so neither should be rushed anyway.
Most ready: Not a heck of a lot to choose from in an organization with the bulk of its talent at the lower levels of the farm system, but No. 22 prospect Andy Burns offers a somewhat intriguing projection. Steamer projects him to be worth one more win than Darwin Barney (0.5 WAR), the Blue Jays' current backup plan at third base behind AL MVP Josh Donaldson. Burns hit only four homers and stole six bases at Triple-A Buffalo in his age-24 season last year but has historically been a better mix of speed and power in the Minors, thus the rosier projection here.
Give it time: Dwight Smith Jr. doesn't project as much more than a fourth outfielder even at his ceiling, and his Steamer projections show he's not exactly ready for a long look at the Majors. But if he can return to his 2014 form (.284 average, .816 OPS, 12 homers, 15 steals at Class A Advanced Dunedin) at Double-A or Triple-A, he could work his way into the conversation.
Wild card: Roemon Fields, a former post office worker, has the neat story of being discovered at a small international tournament in 2013 and has worked his way up to Triple-A, solely because of his 70-grade speed. Like the other Blue Jays listed here, Fields isn't on the 40-man roster and, as his projections show, he's not likely to hit his way to Toronto early this season. However, in a world where Terrance Gore can make all eight of his career postseason appearances as a pinch-runner, Fields could fill a similar role if the Jays make another postseason run in 2016 or beyond.
Top-100 talent: No longer a football player, Anthony Alford broke out with a .298/.398/.421 line and 27 steals at Class A Lansing and Dunedin last season and is easily the best position player prospect in the system. But Steamer wants to see more of where that came from at higher levels if it's going to make him look ready for the Majors. Jonathan Harris, the 29th overall pick, struggled in 12 appearances at Class A Short Season Vancouver (0-5, 6.75 ERA) and while he's a college pitcher, that's all Steamer has to go on.
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.