The case for trading Curtis Granderson instead of Jay Bruce

Jay BruceOn Thursday my esteemed Mets360 colleague Charlie Hangley made a convincing case to Sandy Alderson that in trading a lefty hitting veteran outfielder it should be Jay Bruce, not Curtis Granderson, who gets moved.

It is undeniable that Curtis Granderson is a fine baseball player and an even more exemplary human being. He epitomizes what we would all like to see in an athlete. There are really too few “role models” among the top athletes in any of the major sports. Granderson certainly is one of them.

Where he has been likened to David Ross and David Ortiz I would even throw in the throwback name of Ernie Banks. Banks played the game with an infectious enthusiasm and like Granderson seemed to have a perpetual smile pinned on his face. Granderson is justifiably popular with his teammates, Mets fans, Tigers fans, and Yankee fans.

OK, so why should one consider trading this player over a player who doesn’t seem to care all that much for the city of New York and who played quite poorly for the Mets when acquired from Cincinnati on August 1st of this year?

There are several reasons.

At the top of the list is the fact Bruce is a true right fielder. Granderson has always had decent range when used as a corner outfielder but has one of the weakest arms in baseball. Other teams know this and take advantage of his arm at will. Just as base stealers steal gleefully against Noah Syndergaard so too base runners fly from first to third base on almost any single to right field. Similarly they score from second on even short singles to right.

Ideally Granderson should be the Mets’ left fielder which would hide his throwing imperfections somewhat. But we all know that the welcomed resigning of Yoenis Cespedes has placed him in left field for the next four years.

Bruce is no gazelle in the field and has somewhat less range in right than Granderson. But Bruce possesses a true right fielder’s arm. A good many of those runners who would easily go first to third on Granderson would be pulling up at second if Bruce is manning right. This leads to runs saved quite often.

Offensively it is difficult to know which of these two players would bring more to the table. The Steamer projections for the two does give an edge to Granderson based mostly on the superior on base percentage he has.

Season Team PA HR AVG OBP SLG WAR
2017 J.Bruce 590 25 0.234 0.301 0.440 0.6
               
2017 C.Granderson 624 23 0.235 0.334 0.423 1.5

What projections like the above can not totally quantify is the chance of a player, due to injury, missing significant time on the field. And while Granderson certainly looks fit and flexible, more so than the ponderous Bruce, he is six years older than Bruce. On opening day Granderson will be a baseball grey beard of 36 years old while Bruce will be 30. That’s a significant enough difference to make one wonder who really is the more likely player to be on the field for 600 or more plate appearances.

There is also the matter of finances. Granderson will make $15 million during the 2017 season, Bruce $13 million. It is still debatable as to whether the Mets see themselves right now as a large, medium, or small market team based on payroll. My inclination is to think of them now as a middle market one and these teams factor in a few million here or there.

Lastly, and only Alderson knows this, there is the matter of which player can bring back more in trade. The rumor mill scuttlebutt is that Alderson has had more inquiries about Granderson than about Bruce. If so it is likely that Granderson can bring the team a better relief arm or prospects than can Bruce.

So while personally I would feel bad seeing the team jettison Granderson this offseason baseball-wise it might be the smarter move.

2016 Mets we won’t be rooting for this season

bruce and johnsonEither because they’ve been released, traded, rumored to be one or the other, or just in the doghouse, there are a number of players who suited up for the Mets in 2016 that will not return this season.

Gone but not forgotten:

Bartolo Colon, a fan and teammate favorite as much for his big personality and entertainment value as for his steady arm, signed with the Atlanta Braves for a surprising $12.5 million contract. He will be missed and well remembered by Mets fans for years to come.

James Loney did an admirable job filling in for the injured Lucas Duda and kudos to Sandy Alderson for bringing him on board when we needed him. With Duda presumably back to health, Loney has no chance of returning in 2017.

Kelly Johnson, the clutch hitting lefty who we’ve twice traded for in-season, is not likely to return in 2017, at least not before July.

Justin Ruggiano, a mid-season acquisition who filled in capably as a right-handed outfielder while Cespedes was on the DL, will be remembered well for his big grand slam, but he won’t be back with the team in 2017.

Derek Campbell, the often promoted/demoted utility man who can play every position except hitter, signed on to play ball in Japan.

Logan Verrett, a 2015 surprise and 2016 flop, was just traded to the Orioles for cash considerations. If last year was any indication (5.20 ERA in 12 starts), we’ll accept a third party out-of-state check.

Alejandro de Aza, who went from odd man out in the outfield, to disappointment, to briefly hot, and back to odd man out, is a free agent and has about as much of a chance of returning to the Mets active roster as Rusty Staub.

Jon Niese, once a franchise cornerstone, traded in a lop-sided deal for Neil Walker, and brought back on a swap of bad contracts through a trade of Antonio Bastardo (no chance of him coming back in a Mets uniform) to Pittsburgh, had his remaining option declined for a $500,000 buyout. Not a bad severance package by civilian standards.

All but gone:

Jay Bruce‘s short reign as an inadequate cleanup hitter will almost certainly come to an end with the resigning of Yoenis Cespedes. Hopefully, we can get something solid in return like a useful bullpen arm or prospects to help make up for giving up Dilson Herrera for two bad months of Bruce.

Jerry Blevins, our best bullpen lefty the last two seasons, is a free agent and is rumored to be looking at multi-year contract offers. He may well be gone.

On the fence:

Fernando Salas, a mid-season pickup who helped solidify the back end of the bullpen, is also a free agent and may find a better offer elsewhere.

Rene Rivera proved a very capable reserve catcher, playing outstanding defense and getting an occasional clutch hit. Unfortunately, arbitration calls for him to get a raise to more than $2 million, a bit steep for a backup.

Jim Henderson, a reclamation project in the bullpen, had his moments in 2016. Depending on other options he could at least be invited to spring training, but he’d be no lock to make the opening day roster.

Erik Goeddel holds a similar fate.

Back in Vegas:

T.J. Rivera finally got a chance to prove himself in the big leagues and did not disappoint, hitting .333 in 105 at bats. If David Wright and the rest of the infield is healthy to start the season, he’ll likely begin the season in AAA, but he’ll be up in Queens before long.

Josh Smoker and Josh Edgin, our two remaining lefties in the bullpen, will likely duke it out for one roster spot with the other heading to Las Vegas to start the season.

Sean Gilmartin and Rafael Montero, on the other hand, are two pitchers we’ve probably all seen enough of for a while. If they’re still with the organization, they’ll begin the year at AAA.

Gabriel Ynoa gave us three emergency starts and a couple of mop-up innings as well, but delivered a 6.38 ERA, so he seems destined for Las Vegas to start the season.

Matt Reynolds, Ty Kelly, and Gavin Cecchini all filled in either due to injuries or September call-ups. They’ll all start the season in Las Vegas and hopefully we don’t see too much of them in Queens this year.

 

Memo to Sandy Alderson: Do not trade Curtis Granderson

GrandyPhase one is complete.

Against long odds, Yoenis Cespedes has returned to the New York Mets, though some did see it happening. That was the biggest task on GM Sandy Alderson’s off-season agenda. Let’s face it, letting Cespedes walk would have crippled the offense and driven a stake through the heart of this nascent “perennial contender” version of the Mets. Clearly, this was something the team had to do and to their credit, they did it. And while securing the services of a fine, power-hitting outfielder for the next four years was the main goal, there are also some collateral benefits to the move. First of all, this seems to have shaken off the shadow of Bernie Madoff. In giving Cespedes a contract with an annual average value of $27.5 million, owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz doled out the largest position-player contract this side of Miguel Cabrera. As the New York Post put it, “they can no longer be called ‘cheap.’” It seems the Coupons have left the building. The other fallout is that Alderson has now cemented his reputation as the smartest GM the Mets have ever had. With the moves that still need to be made for the team to seriously challenge the Washington Nationals for the NL East in 2017, he’ll need to prove it all over again.

With Cespedes in the fold, the outfield is now overcrowded. One of Jay Bruce, Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares and Curtis Granderson will have to be moved either to another position, or another organization. Conforto would seem to be the only one who could shift positions and if it were up to your intrepid columnist, he’d be getting a first baseman’s mitt from Santa Claus this year, with Lucas Duda blasting occasional home runs elsewhere. That would leave three men vying for two spots. The Mets love Lagares, their very own home-grown gold glover and really, the only one on the roster who can handle centerfield without worry. So if it comes down to Bruce vs. Granderson, the move must be to trade Bruce.

Curtis Granderson came to the team as a free agent prior to the 2014 season. He was Alderson’s first really “big” signing in the four years he’d been here and almost immediately, gave legitimacy to Alderson’s efforts. The fact that he was a spurned Yankee – and took a little bit of a backhanded swipe at that franchise when he was introduced – helped. His 2014 season was dreadful, to be sure. His OPS+ that year barely peeked over 100 and fans got on him a bit, despite a second half surge. Little did we know we were seeing a pattern unfold. He got off to a slow start in 2015, heard it from the fans, but turned it around to become their third hottest hitter down the stretch, behind Cespedes and Daniel Murphy. Last year? Same thing. A torrid final six weeks helped carry the Mets to the Wild Card game. So he seems to have a knack for picking up his game at precisely the right time. He’s also shown himself to be a true leader, both in the clubhouse and in the community. With David Wright in eclipse, it will be up to Granderson to be the wise head in the room. He’s been compared to Keith Hernandez in that regard. To me, he’s more like Tommie Agee: the player who’s faced adversity and overcome it, stunningly at times.

Sandy Alderson now must go to work on phase two. Don’t let this man go.

Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley.

Don’t Judge Judge Until Verdict’s In

Aaron Judge's two home runs fueled the RailRiders  in 2016 (Photo by Martn Griff)

Saw it again on one of those blogs that appear on the web again the other day.

“Yankees Need to Trade Aaron Judge.”

The story, of course, is written on the silly and dumb basis Judge, in 27 games with the Yankees hit just .179 (15-for-84) with 42 strikeouts. Yes, those stats show the 24-year-old power hitter struggling in the short-term, but do you throw the baby out with the bathwater?

If you throw up a blog that had no contact with players, knows nothing of Judge’s personality, perhaps. That is what it is in this digital age where fake and unconfirmed journalism is all over the place. So somebody’s an “expert,” having seen some of Judge’s Yankees at-bats on television. You’re ready to join the BBWAA, we guess.

Not that reporting is always perfect, but talk to players and confirm your sources before wasting words and bytes on the web. Enough of the soapbox, let’s explore what is the reality with the 6-foot-7, 275-pound native of Linden, Calif.

What did Judge hit in his last ten games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre? The answer is .353 (12-for-34) with three homers and 11 RBIs. He also struck out 12 times. Why is this important? Because it is a microcosm of his career. And not because this slice of stats is impressive.

Let Yankees general manager Brian Cashman tell it.

“It appears, when Aaron moves up a level, he has a bit of adjustment.”

Let the player himself explain it.

“Pitching gets better at each level,” Judge said back in 2015. “I recognize these pitches, and know what I want to do with them. It takes a bit of time to get my reactions going with them.”

A logical explanation for both Judge and many other players as they advance through the minors and reach the majors. Clete Boyer, who became a Yankees All-Star third baseman in the 1960s, batted .175 (20-for–114) in 47 games in 1959, his first season with the Yankees. Just one if many examples, he hit much better in a 16-year career.

Was Boyer a power hitter? No, he was a great fielder who batted in the .250-.260 area most years and had a few decent home run years, in fact hitting 26 in 1967 when he played for the Atlanta Braves.

So what of Judge, who has immense power and a good batting eye? Last season, in a smattering of games, he may have gotten maybe 10 percent fastballs. He saw more junk than rusting cars in a parts lot. His challenge is to adjust to them, Chances are, as he said, he’s recognizing those pitches, but is not yet reacting to them.

He has certainly shown he can do that at every level because he hammered fastballs earlier in the season in the minors and rarely saw them after May 1. He adjusted and pounded a lot of off-speed stuff – at each level.

That is the reality. That is what scouts saw. That is what those who cover the Yankees system saw. His 27  games with the Yankees in 2016 were a struggle. It was also a learning experience for him. That is the reality. The odds are heavily in his favor.

Until then don’t Judge, Judge.

 

Where will Jay Bruce land?

J-BruceNow that the Mets have secured Yoenis Cespedes for four years, it is time to make additional moves to improve the team. The Mets do not need three left handed hitting corner outfielders. A good center fielder, who could lead off, but, more realistically, the Mets could trade Jay Bruce for a good bullpen arm.

What teams are in the market for a left handed power hitting right fielder? Here are the teams who could possibly match up with the Mets. The pipe dream would be to acquire a top reliever such as Roberto Osuna or Wade Davis, but pitchers of their caliber would cost more than Bruce.

Blue Jays

With Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista on the market, the Blue Jays need to look at options to fill the void of potentially losing both players. They already filled part of void with Kendrys Morales. Ezequiel Carrera is listed as the right fielder in the depth chart for the Jays. Bruce would add a nice left handed bat to a heavy right handed lineup. The challenge with the Jays is that they lost Brett Cecil and need bullpen help as well. Joe Biagini may be an option, but the Mets can do better than that. A trade with the Blue Jays for Bruce may require a third team.

Mariners

The Mariners have Ben Gamel slotted to play right field. Seattle solidified their lineup with the acquisition of Jean Segura, but they could use a right fielder. The challenge with the Mariners is that they have a heavy left handed hitting lineup. Nick Vincent is a 30 year old right hander who relies on a slider. Vincent has a career 2.94 ERA.

Rays

Steven Souza is slotted to play right field and Nick Franklin is the DH in the depth charts. The Rays need to improve their offense. Alex Colome would be the best target, but a more realistic trade would be for Danny Farquhar who had 46 strikeouts in 35 innings last year.

Royals

The Royals depth chart has Lorenzo Cain in right field and Jarrod Dyson in Center. Cain could move to center field and Bruce would move to right. Bruce would fill the void left by Kendrys Morales, who signed with the Blue Jays. Wade Davis is in his contract year, but the Royals with a chance to contend in 2017, would be hard pressed to trade Davis or Kelvin Herrera. Brian Flynn held batters to a .198 average last year.

Orioles

Joey Rickard is the right fielder on the Orioles depth chart. Eager to fill the void left with Mark Trumbo on the open market, the Orioles are a good match for the Mets. Mychal Givens struck out 96 batters in 74.2 innings with a 3.13 ERA in 66 games.

The Red Sox could be in the mix for Bruce to replace David Ortiz at DH. With Cespedes in the fold, Sandy Alderson now has the flexibility to add important parts to the team and now has more options available.

I don’t think the Rays want to take on Bruce’s $ 13 million contract for 2017. The Mariners have too many left handed hitters in their lineup. The Blue jays are looking for bullpen help and don’t have any really good pieces to trade. I would like to see the Mets go after and get either Givens or Flynn. If the CBA gets settled, there should be a lot of action in D.C. at the winter meetings.

My gut tells me that Bruce will land in Baltimore.

Baseball America Names Gleyber Torres Top Prospect in Arizona Fall League

Gleyber Torres in the Arizona Fall League ( Ryan "Moose" Morris - Freelance Photographer)

The 2016 rendition of the Arizona Fall League was one of the most exciting ones in a while, with a plethora of baseball’s best prospects listed across the rosters of all six AzFL teams.

For the first time in a long-time, the better prospects across the league were some of the younger players listed on their respective rosters. That included highly regarded Boston Red Sox prospect Yoan Moncada at just 21-years old, New York Yankees hard throwing  22-year old right-hander Dillon Tate and 19-year old New York Mets prospect Eloy Jimenez amongst others.

Each year Baseball America releases their list of the Arizona Fall Leagues Top 20-prospects at the culmination of the short season, and the number one ranked 2016 prospect is none other than New York Yankees top prospect, Gleyber Torres.

According to Baseball America, Torres, who was the focal piece of the trade package sent at the trade deadline from the Chicago Cubs to the New York Yankees for Aroldis Chapman, actually turned in one of the best performances in the 25-year history of the Arizona Fall League—and he’s still only 19-years old.

As a matter of fact, the young shortstop also became the youngest player ever to receive the Joe Black Award as the Arizona Fall League MVP after leading the league in batting average (.403) and OPS (1.158), and finishing second in slugging percentage (.645) in just 62 at-bats.

He spent time at both middle infield positions in Arizona, but according to Baseball America, many scouts believe his long-term position will likely be at second base.

Additionally, Yankees 2015 first-round draft pick James Kaprielian ranked as the seventh-best prospect in Baseball America’s  Top-20 list.

Kaprielian went to the Arizona Fall League as a rehab stint for an elbow flexor strain he suffered in 2016 after just three starts early in the regular season. Down in Scottsdale, the former UCLA Bruin turned in seven solid outings, finishing with a 4.33 ERA while fanning 26 batters in 27 innings pitched.

 

 

 

The 2017 Mets outfield

OutfieldWith Yoenis Cespedes in the fold for a reported four year, $110 million contract, we get a better idea of what the 2017 Met outfield will look like. Most likely the Mets will carry five outfielders to start the season, given the way Terry Collins likes to burn through his bullpen.

Cespedes will be a fixture in left field. Given his strong arm right field might be a better fit, but he has made it known he doesn’t like right field and doesn’t care for center either since it puts more stress on his lower body, so left field it will be. He’s 32 and he had a few leg issues last season so he’s not going to play 162 games (no Met will). He could be rested for 10-15 games to keep him sharp. His overall batting stats were excellent in 2016, but he really pounded lefties with a slash line of .341/.457/.674, so ideally the games he does sit out for rest would be against right-handers.

Center field could work as a platoon for the Mets. Against lefties the right-handed Juan Lagares could start, the former gold glover is easily the best defensive outfielder on the team, but he has struggled at the plate the last few seasons. Curtis Granderson would be the other half of the platoon, he is a sub-par defender at that spot at this point of his career but he is still dangerous at the plate as his 30 homer production in 2016 shows. I would insert Lagares back into center field from the seventh inning on in games Graderson starts if the Mets have a small lead to protect.

We can’t platoon in right field since barring a trade the other two outfielders will bat left-handed. Most likely Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce will share right field, Collins could choose to play the hot hand at the time. In addition Conforto could get the starts in left field when Cespedes is rested.

Had Cespedes not signed I’m sure management would have felt compelled to obtain a right-handed batting outfielder, but that pressure is gone. This setup outlined here has three left handed batters and two who bat right-handed to handle the outfield chores. Should there be an injury, or an extended slump by any outfielder not named Cespedes, Brandon Nimmo could be brought up from the minors. He too bats left-handed, with decent average but not the power expected of a big league outfielder. He has shown adequate defense at all three outfield spots during his time with the Mets in 2016.

Having fortified the outfield by signing Cespedes, the Mets could well give Washington a run for its money in the battle for the NL East in 2017.

Newest Yankees Prospects Highlight Baseball Prospectus Top Prospect List

Gleyber Torres in the Arizona Fall League ( Ryan "Moose" Morris - Freelance Photographer)

On Monday, Baseball Prospectus released their version of the New York Yankees 2017 top 10 prospects.  There were no real surprises. Shortstop  Gleyber Torres, fresh off his Arizona Fall League MVP award, was at the head of the list.

Their list is very similar to that of the one Baseball America released last month. In fact, the top 7 players are the same, only varying slightly in order.

Shortstop Jorge Mateo, outfielder Aaron Judge, and right-handed pitcher James Kaprielian are the only holdovers from last year’s rankings. Catcher Gary Sanchez and utility player Rob Refsnyder have graduated from prospect status.

Half of the top 10 were not in the organization six months ago. Outfielder Blake Rutherford was selected in the first round of the June amateur draft.  Torres was acquired from the Chicago Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman deal.  Outfielder Clint Frazier and left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield came over to the Yankees from the Cleveland Indians as part of the package for Andrew Miller.  Right-handed pitcher Albert Abreu was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Brian McCann to the Houston Astros.

Right-handed pitcher Chance Adams and shortstop Tyler Wade round out the rest of the list for the organization that has one of the league’s deepest and well-stocked farm systems.

 

 

MiLB.com Names 2016 New York Yankees Minor League All-Stars

Shortstop Jorge Mateo will learn from his suspension. (Photo by Bryan Green)

The 2016 season was one of the most uncomfortable, yet exciting campaigns for the New York Yankees organization as a whole.

For the first time in the lifetime of all millennial New York Yankees fans, the Bronx Bombers drastically restocked their depleted farm system.  They shipped two of the best relievers in baseball as well as veteran Carlos Beltran at the MLB Trade Deadline for some of the most highly touted prospects in all of baseball, including Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield and Dillon Tate.

They continued adding to their pipeline this winter by shipping veteran backstop Brian McCann to the Houston Astros for a pair of hard-throwing right-handed prospects, including the Astros 10th-ranked prospect Albert Abreu.

Uncomfortable, because under the watchful eye of Hal Steinbrenner, Yankees President of Baseball Operations Brian Cashman has the Yankees organization in some incredibly unfamiliar territory. Sellers at the trade deadline, closed checkbooks during free-agency and a prospect overhaul. Business tactics unheard of for any Yankees fan born in the early ’90s.

Exciting, because for the first time in a long time, the New York Yankees have one of the most electric farm systems in all of baseball, which was displayed at both the major and minor league level in 2016.

The Yankees swapped out aging veterans at the tail end of their career like Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann for the likes of Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, and instead of the team waving the white flag and folding while all the young guns piled on some major league at-bats during an extended cup of coffee, the kids actually made a run at the wild card and weren’t mathematically eliminated until the last week of the regular season.

Down in the pipeline, the Yankees minor league affiliates were just as exciting. The Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders claimed the 2016 Governors’ Cup and the Triple-A National Championship. The Double-A Trenton Thunder made it all the way to the Eastern League Finals before falling to the Akron RubberDucks. The Class A Advanced Tampa Yankees made it all the finals where they too fell just short, losing to Bradenton in the Florida State League Championship while the Class A Charleston RiverDogs and Class A Short Season Staten Island Yankees reached the playoffs as well.

While the big league Bombers missed the playoffs, the 2016 season might forever be remembered as the year in which the Yankees farm system was finally put back on the radar. Brian Cashman not only did an incredible job of re-tooling and re-stocking the pipeline with trade chips, but he also put the Yankees one-step closer to developing their next major core – one that might one day replace the illustrious core four of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte  as the next Yankees dynasty.

That said, before the calendar flips to 2017, let’s take a look at the 2016 MiLB New York Yankees Organization All-Stars:

Kyle Higashioka . (Photo by Martin Griff)

Kyle Higashioka . (Photo by Martin Griff)

Catcher – Kyle Higashioka, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (39 games), Trenton (63 games):

A minor league catcher earning All-Star rights over Gary Sanchez?

Believe it or not, Higashioka showed more pop down in the minors than Sanchez did in 2016. In 102 games across Triple-A and Double-A, the 26-year old backstop batted .276 with 21 home runs, 81 RBIs, and an impressive .337 on-base percentage. Higashioka was also named to the Eastern League All-Star team and led the Yankees system in home runs and finished third in RBIs.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRider's Tyler Austin on deck against the Charlotte Knights at PNC Field in Moosic, Pa. on Tuesday, June 7, 2016. (Photo by Martin Griff)

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRider’s Tyler Austin on deck against the Charlotte Knights at PNC Field in Moosic, Pa. on Tuesday, June 7, 2016. (Photo by Martin Griff)

First baseman — Tyler Austin, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (57 games), Trenton (50 games):

The 25-year old Tyler Austin broke into the major leagues in grand fashion when he went back-to-back, belly-to-belly with Aaron Judge in his first major league at-bat in Yankee Stadium on August 13th.

Austin slugged his way to the minors after hitting .294 with 17 home runs and 78 RBI in 107 games across both two levels. He also played a significant role in the Yankees second-half wild card run, appearing in 31 big league games while averaging .286 in the month of September.

Interestingly enough, Tyler Austin was able to make a name for himself due to absence of Greg Bird and his season-ending shoulder injury, and now both figure to compete with one another in 2017 for the starting role at first base with Mark Teixeira out of the picture.

Thairo Estrada with the Charleston RiverDogs (Photo by Martin Griff)

Thairo Estrada with the Charleston RiverDogs (Photo by Martin Griff)

Second baseman —Thairo Estrada, Tampa (83 games), Charleston (35 games):

Thairo Estrada followed up his impressive 2015 season by hitting an impressive .290 with eight home runs, 49 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 118 games across Class-A and Class A-Advanced in his first full minor league season.

Miguel Andujar in the Arizona Fall League ( Ryan "Moose" Morris - Freelance Photographer)

Miguel Andujar in the Arizona Fall League ( Ryan “Moose” Morris – Freelance Photographer)

Third baseman – Miguel Andujar, Trenton (72 games), Tampa (58 games):

While the Florida State League All-Star Miguel Andujar ranked second among Yankees Minor Leaguers with 83 RBIs and fourth with 140 hits, he still remained under the radar in the Yankees farm system. He followed up the 2016 season with an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League, where he was named a Rising Star and later added to the New York Yankees 40-man roster so that he can be protected from other teams in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.

Though the 21-year old is still a ways away from the major leagues, I think the increased push from the Yankees front office to trade veteran third baseman, Chase Headley; this winter is a direct result of Andujar making a name for himself down in the minors.

Jorge Mateo (Bryan Green)

Jorge Mateo (Bryan Green)

Shortstop – Jorge Mateo, Tampa (113 games):

The 21-year old Jorge Mateo began the season as the New York Yankees’ number one overall prospect, but was later replaced at the top of the pipeline when the Yankees went out and brought in Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier at the deadline.

A good problem for anyone to have.

Following his 82-stolen bases in 2015, Mateo came back down to earth a bit, hitting .254 with eight home runs, 47 RBIs, and only 33 stolen bases.

Mateo, a 21-year-old who stole 82 bases in 2015, turned in more modest totals this season, hitting .254 with eight homers, 47 RBIs, and 33 thefts.

It’ll be interesting to see whether or not the Yankees hold onto Mateo after going out and acquiring another shortstop in Gleyber Torres, but that’s a conversation for the future.

Outfielders

Aaron Judge with the SWB RailRiders (Cheryl Pursell)

Aaron Judge with the SWB RailRiders (Cheryl Pursell)

Aaron Judge, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (93 games), New York (27 games): 

The towering 24-year-old reached the Major Leagues in just his third minor league season after hitting .270 with 19 homers, 65 RBIs and a .366 OBP at Triple-A Scranton. Like Tyler Austin, Judge also homered in his first Major League at-bat with an absolute blast that hit the windows of the Mohegan Sun Lounge in dead center field, but he later slumped to a .179 average with just four home runs and 10 RBIs in 27 big league games down the stretch. Judge figures to fight for an outfield job next spring, pending the New York Yankees signing a veteran free agent this winter.

Yankees minor league outfielder Dustin Fowler (Photo by Martin Griff)

Yankees minor league outfielder Dustin Fowler (Photo by Martin Griff)

Dustin Fowler, Trenton (132 games): 

The New York Yankees’ No. 12 ranked prospect led the entire Yankees system with 88 RBIs in 2016. Fowler, now 21-years-old showed both power and speed this summer, hitting .281 with 12 home runs and 25 stolen bases. Notably, he led all Yankees Minor Leaguers with 15 triples and 248 total bases in route to being named a 2016 Eastern League All-Star.

Mark Payton  (Photo by Martin Griff)

Mark Payton (Photo by Martin Griff)

Mark Payton, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (2 games), Trenton (97 games), Tampa (24 games):

Across three levels, Payton hit .282 with ten home runs, 62 RBIs, and a .418 OBP and was even named a Florida State League All-Star.

Charleston RiverDogss' Chris Gittens (Photo by Martin Griff)

Charleston RiverDogss’ Chris Gittens (Photo by Martin Griff)

Designated hitter – Chris Gittens, Charleston (107 games):

In 102 at-bats as a DH in 2016, the 21-year old Chris Gittens hit .251 and impressively tied Higashioka for the system lead with 21 long balls. He notched 70 RBIs, good for fifth among all Yankees Minor Leaguers, and ranked 18th with 97 hits while being named the South Atlantic League postseason All-Star.

Chance Adams  (Photo by Martin Griff).

Chance Adams (Photo by Martin Griff).

RHP – Chance Adams, Trenton (13 games), Tampa (12 games):

Remember the name Chance Adams.

The 2015 fifth-round pick had a season for the record books, pitching to a 13-1 record with a 2.33 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 127 1/3 innings. He finished the year as the Yankees’ 14th-best prospect and was named a Florida State League All-Star.

Adams worked as a reliever in 2015, appearing in just 15 games. But his new and improved arsenal of pitches and his impressive 2016 campaign as a starter gives the future Yankees rotation a glimmer of hope if he can stay healthy and continue to develop.

 Dietrich Enns  (Photo by Martin Griff)

Dietrich Enns (Photo by Martin Griff)

LHP – Dietrich Enns, Trenton (12 games), Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (14 games): 

Dietrich Enns, a 25-year-old southpaw, pitched to a rather impressive 14-4 record with a 1.73 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 135 innings. The Yankees’ No. 25 ranked-prospect was also an Eastern League All-Star and ranked fifth among Yankees pitchers in strikeouts in 2016.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Enns get an extended look in spring training this March after his impressive body of work in 2016.

 

2016 Season in Review: Kyle Higashioka

Kyle Higashioka (Photo by Cheryl Purcell)

The Yankees 2016 prospect season saw the rise and acquisition of many new faces. Half of MLB.com top-10 Yankees prospect weren’t even in the organization at this point last year. But this past season wasn’t just about the Yankees getting new and better prospects, another theme that developed was the reemergence of some injured or forgotten prospects. Kyle Higashioka certainly falls both these categories.

Higashioka has always been known as a good defensive catcher, and for a while there was hope, he would improve his offensive game. However, due to injuries and an overall lack of playing time, he has never been able to show much potential on offense. That is until this past season, where he broke-out and showed a completely unexpected offensive output.

Kyle began his season of redemption with the AA Trenton Thunder, where he played 63 games. In those 63 games, he put up the following offensive stats: .355 OBP, .509 SLG, .216 ISO, .380 wOBA, and a 136 wRC+. His dominating season came out of nowhere, and I don’t think many fans thought Higashioka could keep playing at this elevated level of performance.

However, Higashioka was able to prove his doubters wrong by playing just as well after his promotion to AAA. In 39 games in AAA Kyle put up the following numbers: .306 OBP, .514 SLG, .264 ISO, .361 wOBA, and a 131 wRC+.

Overall, Higashioka had one of the best seasons of any Yankee prospect; his 21 homers tied him for first in the Yankees system, and his .847 OPS would’ve ranked 5th in the system for players playing above A-ball.

Higashioka’s dominating season help jump-start his career earned him a spot on
the Yankees 40-man roster, which is impressive when you realize that no other team in baseball seemed to want him last season. He was eligible to be taken in last season’s Rule-5 draft and wasn’t even mentioned as a guy that teams should think about taken. Now just one year later Kyle has played himself onto the Yankees roster and potentially could see the majors in 2017.

Of course, there still is the possibility that Higashioka’s season was a mirage, but I think it’s worth noting that there are reasons to believe in him as a prospect. Perhaps the biggest reason to believe in Higashioka is that he has always looked like a major league caliber player. Sure he never had this great of an offensive season, but he always was considered a great defensive catcher, and great defensive catchers always have a chance to make the majors.

So at the end of the day, his floor might be that of a major league backup, which is certainly valuable. With that said there are two big reasons to believe his offensive showing this year was no fluke. The first reason is that he was always considered to have decent power.

This is what Baseball America had to say about Higashioka all the way back in 2008: “His righthanded uppercut impressed scouts at the 2007 Area Code Games, and he has interesting power potential, though it’s just pull power right now.” And that scouting report has been accurate; he had put up strong power numbers since 2011 when he had a .134 ISO as 21-year-old in Hi-A.

Mike Axia from Riveraveblues.com broke down Kyle’s power progression over the course of his minor year career, and that breakdown is shown below.
2009: .079 ISO in 247 PA with Short Season Staten Island
2010: .113 ISO in 359 PA with Low-A Charleston
2011: .136 ISO in 324 PA between Charleston and High-A Tampa
2012: .157 ISO in 164 PA between Tampa and Double-A Trenton
2013-14: .198 ISO in 109 PA around Tommy John surgery
2015: .117 ISO in 348 PA between Tampa and Triple-A Scranton
2016: .255 ISO in 326 PA between Trenton and Scranton

As you can see Higashioka clearly had his best season last year, but he has always shown decent power for his position.

The second reason to believe in his offensive potential is that he truly worked on changing his swing over the past two seasons. According to an interview done by Brendan Kuty of NJ.com. Higashioka and John Elliott—his longtime coach— “focus on swing plane” … in order to “give Higashioka’s cut more incline it produces less grounders.” Additionally, Kuty reported that “Higashioka has also added a reverse toe tap and a leg kick to aid his timing.”

Lastly, it’s important to note that Higashioka hasn’t been this healthy in years, he played just 24 games between 2013-2014, and battled a thumb injury in 2015. So it’s not a big deal that at 26 he’s old for a prospect. It’s not like he had much developmental time.

Higashioka will most probably begin the 2017 season in AAA, and, I feel that Higashioka development will be one of the most interesting stories to follow next season. If he proves that 2016 wasn’t a fluke, it would give the Yankees a pretty good insurance option for Gary Sanchez, and could even give them a valuable trade chip.