New York Yankees
Overview (Present Rank: 17th | Future Rank: 3rd)
With a long reputation as baseball’s biggest spenders, the Yankees fell to second place in that category after Magic Johnson’s group purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers. With an unfathomable $216MM payroll, the Yanks only won an unimpressive 87 games in 2015. Owner Hal Steinbrenner practically paid $2.5MM per win last year. While that may dissuade the Moneyball fanatics over in Oakland, the Yankees aren’t slowing down anytime soon. New York will head into the season with an even higher $222MM Opening Day payroll this year.
Winning a game in the MLB is one thing, but lasting 23 consecutive years without a single losing season speaks for itself (longest active streak in MLB, NFL, or NBA). Even more impressive, the Yankees' 27 World Championships are at least 10 more than any other professional sports team in MLB, NFL, or NBA history. The core four of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettite are all long gone as a new era has begun in the Bronx. GM Brian Cashman has certainly fielded more talented teams in the past than the one he's giving Joe Giradi in 2016. Money talks, but even New York's massive 2016 payroll could fail to be loud enough at keeping this 23-year streak alive.
*Detailed analysis conducted April 2, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.
When Brian McCann signed a 5yr/$85MM contract with the Yankees, expectations were high. While McCann isn’t posting any Joey Votto-esque OBP numbers, he has been a solid contributor in his two years on the team. McCann has now homered 20 times in eight consecutive seasons, including a career-high 26 bombs in 2015. A decline in hard contact and plate discipline, as well as a less varied spray pattern shows McCann’s days as a Silver Slugger might be over. However, he's still under contract for three more seasons, and provides serviceable defense behind the plate.
The Yankees have another offensive-minded catcher in their system. A longtime top prospect, Gary Sanchez has had an up-and-down professional career thus far. Baseball America has placed the 23 year-old Sanchez inside their top-100 list five times in six years including No. 36 before this upcoming season. Sanchez finally passed the Double-A test after over two years, and proceeded to bat an excellent .295/.349/.500 in 132 Triple-A at-bats. Sanchez really matured as a player in 2015, and the Yankees made it clear they view Sanchez as their catcher of the future. With Sanchez having the potential of being a top-10 player at the position, McCann’s future becomes a much more cloudy situation.
Currently ahead of Sanchez on the depth chart is Austin Romine. Romine is a former top prospect himself having being featured on Baseball America’s top-100 list in both 2010 and 2011. His stock has plummeted since those days thanks to a career .201/.244/.278 slash line in 169 Major League at-bats. He’ll be handed the job of backing up McCann, but if he struggles in limited playing time, it’s only a matter of time before Sanchez takes his place. Luis Torrens has showed promise, but labrum surgery has put his future in doubt.
Future Outlook: Gary Sanchez is forcing the Yankees hand
After a slightly less successful year by Sanchez in the High-A/Double-A levels as well as the Dominican Winter League in 2013, Yankees management was doubting if Sanchez would fulfill his potential and emerge as New York’s starting backstop. In typical Yankees fashion, they spent $85MM to recruit the best catcher on the free agent market, Brian McCann to the Big Apple. Two years later, McCann is starting to see his age negatively affect his performance. Meanwhile Sanchez has re-emerged as a top-tier catching prospect in the baseball world. It remains to be seen whether Sanchez taking over the catching duties will send McCann out of town or into a full-time DH role. Make no mistake about it though, Gary Sanchez is the future at the position.
Mark Teixeira showed some signs of life in 2015 for the first time in three years. After hitting 30+ home runs in eight consecutive seasons, ‘Tex’ totaled just 49 long balls from 2012-2014 before knocking 31 balls over the fence in 2015. Entering a contract year at 36 years old, Tex will look to repeat that performance. With Greg Bird out for the season, the Yankees are forced to rely on Tex to play in at least 125 games, something he hasn’t done since 2011.
As previously mentioned, Greg Bird has been ruled out for the 2016 season. He made quite a lasting first impression last year by slashing .261/.343/.529 in his first 157 Major League at-bats, including an astounding 11 home runs. The labrum surgery will certainly hinder Bird’s development, but he proved he was Major League ready last year. It’s likely the Bronx Bombers stick to the plan of having him take over the first base job after Tex hits the free agent market if Bird can come back fully healthy.
Future Outlook: Greg Bird needs to come back healthy
With Mark Teixeira approaching free agency, the future of first base rests solely on Greg Bird’s shoulders...and one of them is covered in a cast. A team like the Yankees that is always in contention won’t rely strictly on Bird to produce at first base for them in 2017. Expect them to sign a guy like Mark Reynolds to at least take the pressure off against lefties (which Bird struggled against in 2015). Watch out for General Manager Brian Cashman to return to his creative ways, finding a taker for McCann, and possibly sign Edwin Encarnacion or Carlos Santana to solidify the middle of the order while simultaneously splitting at-bats between DH and first base so manager Joe Girardi can play Bird or A-Rod based on the opposing pitcher's throwing arm. With the Yankees, expect the unexpected here.
Since Cano’s departure, the Yankees have had a glaring hole at second base. After an unproductive season from Stephen Drew in 2015, Cashman knew the Yanks needed an upgrade. Despite Didi Gregorius’s presence at the shortstop position, Cashman went out and acquired Starlin Castro from the Chicago Cubs. Considering his reputation as one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game, the move to second base might be a blessing in disguise for the 26 year-old. Castro has the same skills he did when he batted .304/.343/.422 over his first two seasons netting him his first All-Star appearance, Rookie of the Year consideration, and MVP votes in 2011. He’ll have to get rid of the reputation ridiculing him for his perceived lack of effort to have a successful run in the city that never sleeps. If he can start hitting the ball in the air more, Castro might be the best ninth hitter in the league highlighting the Yankees’ deep lineup from top to bottom.
The acquisition of Castro put Rob Refsnyder’s future in doubt. Like Castro at shortstop, Refsnyder is a poor fielding infielder. While the Yanks hope Castro can make a smooth transition to second, Refsnyder has proven he can’t adequately handle the position. Refsnyder’s bat qualifies as Major League caliber, but his glove makes him a liability wherever he’s placed on the field. Until he can show that he can handle third base better, or make drastic improvements at second, he’ll be nothing more than a bench player for New York.
While Refsnyder has some hype surrounding him as he prepares to lose his prospect eligibility, he was never a top-15 prospect in all of baseball (according to Baseball America) like Dustin Ackley. After disappointing Seattle fans for five years, Ackley brought his versatile glove and mediocre bat to the Bronx last July. He bounced back slightly in his 23 games in pinstripes hitting especially well against righties. Ackley is nothing more than a platoon bat with an ability to play multiple positions at this stage in his career.
Future Outlook: From Robinson Cano to Starlin Castro
Cano was a stud while wearing pinstripes. He won five Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves, made five All-Star games, and was among the six top players in the American League MVP voting for four consecutive seasons. Now that he has taken his talents to Seattle, the Yankees brought in Starlin Castro to fill the big shoes Cano left. Castro hasn’t been able to counter the adjustments made against him since his excellent first two seasons. Still just 26 years old, Castro could re-emerge as one of baseball’s best hitters. Making more than $10MM less than Cano, the Yanks are hoping Castro can outperform the former Yankee hero as Cano approaches his mid-30’s while making almost half as much.
When the legend himself, Derek Jeter retired, a gaping hole formed at shortstop. After years of having a double-play combo of Jeter and Cano, all of a sudden the Yankees had neither. Cashman pegged Didi Gregorius as the guy he wanted to fill Jeter’s shoes. While Gregorius didn’t have to do much to outplay Jeter’s final season, a .290/.346/.406 batting line over his final 86 games showed the Yankees might have something in the defensively gifted 26 year-old. The Yankees are hoping the youthful tandem of Gregorius and Castro up the middle will become a fixture for years to come.
Shortstop is easily the strongest position for the Yankees long-term with names like Jorge Mateo, Tyler Wade, Abiatal Avelino, Wilkerman Garcia, Kyle Holder, and Hoy Jun Park all making their ways through the Yankees system. Holder and Park are lower level prospects with much to prove before they’ll be compared to the other three more impressive prospects.
Mateo and Wade each bring something unique to the table. Mateo has elite speed unmatched by any other minor league player. Garcia has an advanced approach at the plate at a young age, and Wade has positional versatility with a great makeup that enhances all of his abilities. Each of these guys could see themselves playing under the bright lights of New York City when it’s all said and done, but Mateo's combination of speed, quick bat, and defensive prowess making him one of the best prospects in the game.
Future Outlook: Gregorius isn’t the next Jeter, but NYY has options
It’ll be an interesting race to see which prospect takes over the position when Didi Gregorius becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. The competition is fierce, giving the Yankees a great amount of optimism going forward. Gregorius can still prove he’s the answer at the position long-term if he keeps hitting like he did in the second half of last season. The Yankees don’t have a can’t-miss prospect in the system which might hold them back. However, if Mateo continues to develop on the right path, or they lock up the solid, yet unspectacular Gregorius to an extension, they’ll still be able to generate positive production at the position. (EDIT: Adding Gleyber Torres likely doesn't affect the future of the position much as Torres would move over to 2B or 3B with Mateo or Gregorius sticking at SS).
Unsatisfied with the options at third base after Rodriguez’ age restricted him to the DH role, Brian Cashman went out and acquired Chase Headley before the 2014 trade deadline. Headley’s career year in 2012 that saw him post a .286/.376/.496 slash line with 31 HR’s, and 115 RBI’s looks more like an outlier at this point when compared to his career .264/.344/.401 line. Headley is still good for a respectable 10-15 HR’s with 50-60 RBI’s and adequate defensive play at the hot corner. Chalk his 4yr/$52MM contract as another prime example of the Yankees overpaying players past their prime as Headley is quickly approaching his 32nd birthday with three years left on his deal.
Unfortunately for New York, they don’t have many better options in the farm system. The best third base prospect they have is Miguel Andujar. The organization has been aggressive with their promotions of Andujar as he played a full season of High-A ball as a 20 year-old last season. The results weren’t terrific, but he showed the ability to make adjustments as the season went on. If Andujar fills out his frame and adds power to his swing, he could be the Yankees everyday third baseman in the future. (EDIT: Torres' addition could lead to his emergence as the future starting third baseman, but Andujar's improved approach makes him look like a viable starter as well).
Future Outlook: Upgrades needed
In a best-case scenario, Headley doesn’t decline at all these next few years even though he’ll be 34 years old when his contract expires, and Miguel Andujar makes all the adjustments needed to be the Yankees future third baseman. Realistically, Headley’s luck of avoiding injuries will run out, and Andujar will go through some growing pains before being an effective Major Leaguer if he ever is. Brian Cashman knows third base is a weakness of this team presently and in the future. Look for him to make a Yankees-like splash in free agency before 2019 with guys like Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Todd Frazier, and Mike Moustakas all hitting the market before or after the 2018 season. (EDIT: Yankees made their upgrade for the future by acquiring Gleyber Torres from the Chicago Cubs [7/25/16]).
New York currently only has one player they owe money to in the 2021 season, and that’s Jacoby Ellsbury. After he concludes his 7yr/$153MM contract in 2020, the Yankees own a $21MM Club Option for 2021, but at least have to pay the $5MM buyout. Signed away from the division rival Boston Red Sox, Ellsbury gives the Bronx Bombers a dynamic leadoff hitter to spark their lineup.
Of course, the Yankee version of Ellsbury has been a lot different than the one that batted .297/.350/.439 in his seven years while donning a Red Sox uniform. Ellsbury has shown clear signs of declining as he ages into his mid-30’s. Injuries are also a major concern for the nine-year veteran that limited him to 111 games in 2015. When he’s healthy, he’s still productive, but his health is starting to make him a liability.
Following three solid seasons of work, Brett Gardner was rewarded with his first All-Star appearance in 2015. Despite constantly being the subject of trade rumors, he has remained a steady, productive force. Gardner brings a little bit of everything to the table with an ability to run, hit for contact, hit for power, and field well. Now that he’s 32 years old, he might be on the brink of slowing down. However, Gardner hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down in his previous three seasons so maybe he’s the exception to the rule. He’s locked up for the next three years with a $12.5MM Club Option for 2019 that looks likely to be exercised at this point as well.
One reason the Yankees are optimistic Gardner and Ellsbury can produce into their 30’s is because of their current right fielder. Carlos Beltran was 38 years old for most of last season, but still managed to hit more home runs than 88% of the league with 19 long balls. Beltran’s abilities as a switch hitter are fading from the right side as he hit just .255/.305/.447 against southpaws last year. With Hicks in town, expect Beltran to get some rest when a lefty is on the hill. Beltran will hit free agency after the season, and while he might retire, his last game in pinstripes will surely come in 2016 no matter what the team's winning percentage is with top prospect Aaron Judge on the brink of getting major league at-bats himself.
(EDIT: With the team out of contention and Beltran producing at a high level in a contract year, the Yankees were able to acquire 2015 4th overall pick RHP Dillon Tate (along with RHP Erik Swanson and Nick Green) from the Texas Rangers. Click here to see how Beltran fits in on a Rangers team now stacked with offensive talent [8/1/16]).
Chris Young was considered one of the best bench outfielders in the game last year. After signing a 2yr/$13MM deal with Boston, Brian Cashman quickly made a move to acquire his replacement: Aaron Hicks from Minnesota. Hicks has built a reputation as a defensive stud with numerous appearances on Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems segment, none better this Willie Mays-esque catch.
As a former first round pick and top prospect, Hicks has all the tools to become an everyday outfielder. Because of his still improving plate discipline, he won’t be given that role off the bat, but if any of the current outfielders go down, Hicks will be the first man to step up. Hicks will likely get more playing time against lefties whether Beltran is healthy or not thanks to his outstanding .307/.375/.495 slash line against southpaws in 2015.
Like the shortstop position, the Yankees have numerous standout outfield prospects in their minor league system. They’re hoping their No. 1 prospect in the entire system (according to Baseball Prospectus) can become their everyday right fielder. Aaron Judge, 6’7”, 275 lbs, is getting Giancarlo Stanton comparisons naturally because of their similar height and raw power. If Judge wants to become an offensive force like Stanton, he’ll have to improve his approach at the plate and get better at hitting advanced off-speed pitches. Once he takes care of that, the Yankees could have a middle-of-the-order bat they don’t have to buy for once.
Many evaluators were sleeping on Dustin Fowler (unrelated to Chicago Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler) before 2015. After a breakout season, he’s unanimously ranked within the Yanks’ top-10 prospects among various prospect publications. Fowler has the speed and glove to be an above-average center fielder. Scouts are mixed on whether his bat will play up at the next level, but he showed promise by hitting .289/.328/.370 in High-A as a 20 year-old. Fowler is currently blocked in center field by Ellsbury, but by the time he’s ready for the majors, Ellsbury could move over to a corner spot, be traded to another team, or Fowler could theoretically play in left for a few seasons.
In addition to Judge and Fowler, the Yanks have a trio of outfield prospects that could develop into fourth outfielders including Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Jake Cave, and Ben Gamel. Each has a chance at gaining a starting role if everything goes right, but right now Aaron Judge and Dustin Fowler are ahead of all three of them from a tools standpoint.
(EDIT: After acquiring OF Billy McKinney in the Aroldis Chapman deal and OF Clint Frazier in the Andrew Miller deal, the two young outfield prospects are poised to join Aaron Judge in the Yankees future outfield. Click here to read more about McKinney or here to see what Frazier will bring to the Bronx Bombers [7/25/16]).
Future Outlook: All rise, here comes the Judge
Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner can be under team control for the next four seasons. Of course, they’ll both be on the wrong side of 35 by then too. Uncoincidentally, baseball’s Evil Empire has multiple outfield prospects climbing through the system. Aaron Judge will certainly lock down the right field spot going forward once he makes a few adjustments at the plate. Dustin Fowler might emerge as a replacement for Ellsbury. It also isn’t impossible to imagine one of Ben Gamel, Mason Williams, or Aaron Hicks improving their game enough to claim the other spot. There is also early rumors linking Bryce Harper to the Bronx when he hits free agency before the 2019 season. Good things are coming to the Yankees outfield. (EDIT: The additions of Clint Frazier and Billy McKinney have turned good things to great things for New York's outfield once the 2020's arrive [7/25/16]).
Now that A-Rod’s legs can’t handle the everyday responsibilities of playing the hot corner, he’s settling in nicely as the full-time Designated Hitter. Arguably the greatest hitter of this generation, Rodriguez’ career is littered with controversy. Fortunately for fans everywhere, this outlook doesn’t focus on what happens outside the lines, but strictly what happens inside them. A-Rod had a nice bounce-back year in 2015 that saw him earn MVP votes after being suspended for the entire 2014 season. Rodriguez’ monster 10yr/$275MM contract only has two years remaining. As Cashman awaits for Rodriguez’ $21MM salary to be off the books in two years, he can still expect some solid production despite being in his age-40 season. Despite the old age, he did bounce back to hit 33 home runs last year after all.
(EDIT: After a very disappointing 2016 season, the Yankees announced A-Rod would be released on Friday, August 12 and would stay with the team as a special advisor which will effectively end his 22-year MLB career. However, with only four home runs needed to reach the historic 700 mark, it'd be foolish to assume Rodriguez doesn't attempt a comeback next year to achieve the legendary milestone [8/8/12]).
Future Outlook: Question marks remain after A-Rod departs
After Rodriguez is gone, the most likely scenario sees Gary Sanchez taking over the catching duties pushing McCann to the DH role. Sanchez might be ready to make that move in 2017 pushing Cashman to trade one of them. The Yankees could always acquire a bat from outside the organization to fill the role like Edwin Encarnacion or Mark Trumbo. Right now, there is no ideal replacement in the organization, unless they believe Rob Refsnyder’s bat is worthy of the role.
(EDIT: Now that A-Rod is out of the picture, the team is planning on splitting the DH/C duties between McCann and Sanchez for the remaining of the season [8/8/12]).
The Yankees have become famous for putting signs in their clubhouse like “motivated professionals only.” However, a sign they need to put in there is “Missing: the old CC Sabathia.” The old Sabathia was the guy who started his Yankee career with four consecutive seasons of 200+ IP, an ERA below 3.38 in each one, and 74 wins over that time frame. The new Sabathia is the guy who is averaging less than 142 innings over the last three seasons, never had an ERA below 4.73, loses more games than he wins (23-27), and has seen his velocity drop to 90 MPH after averaging 94 MPH earlier in his career.
To make matters worse, Sabathia ended his 2015 season early to check himself into rehab because of his ongoing alcoholism. Nobody knows what to expect from Sabathia in 2016, but if he hits the disabled list for over 45 days or ends the season there because of shoulder problems, New York can rid itself of his $25MM option for 2017.
The lefties in the farm system look even more bleak. Almost all of New York’s higher ranked left-handed prospects come with serious question marks. Ian Clarkin just missed the entire season because of elbow injuries, which could be a continuous problem due to his high effort delivery. Jacob Lindgren will never have a future in the rotation. Jeff Degano has his own injury problems and if he does make it to the bigs, it’ll likely be in the bullpen as well.
One prospect with enough stuff to outweigh the negatives is Jordan Montgomery. He had an excellent season in 2015 less than a year after being drafted out of South Carolina, where he served as the Friday night starter (ace). He’s very polished with all of his pitches, harnessing his command enough to get batters out despite the lack of an overpowering fastball. His heater still sits in the low 90’s that can touch 94 MPH on occasion. His over the top delivery hides his changeup and curveball well. He has also developed a solid cutter to the mix to keep batters off balance. Montgomery has a high floor as a swing starter with the ceiling of being a No. 4 starter in a big league rotation if he can keep improving his pitches.
(EDIT: In addition to OF Clint Frazier, the Yankees also acquired LHP Justus Sheffield from the Cleveland Indians for reliever Andrew Miller. Click here to see what to expect from Sheffield once he reaches the bigs [7/31/16]).
Future Outlook: Improve the weakest position of the team
If any random fan can identify lefty starters as the biggest weakness of this Yankees organization, then General Manager Brian Cashman, who gets paid a hefty $3MM/year to figure out how to fix those weaknesses surely has figured out the same thing. He didn’t do much to improve the situation this past offseason, but in his defense, he already has four effective right handers under team control, with plenty more in the farm system.
As the Yanks know from their 2009 World Series ring, having a lefty frontline starter can be extremely beneficial. It’s expected the Yankees use at least one of the three draft picks they have in the top-100 on a southpaw. Other than third base (which they can easily fix with other avenues), there isn’t a position in this organization that is in desperate need of an elite prospect more than left-handed starting pitchers. Being an annual contender, the Yankees are likely to make instant upgrades as well, with mid-rotation guys like Jon Niese, Wade Miley, and Hector Santiago all likely available on the market over the next two years.
(EDIT: Acquiring Justus Sheffield was a good start, but the Yankees could still use another quality lefty in future rotations while the next couple of years are still in dire need of a productive left-handed starter [7/31/16]).
Seven years and $155MM later, the Yankees got their ace in Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka has had two impressive seasons while wearing pinstripes. Unfortunately, he’s dealt with serious elbow injuries too. Partially tearing his UCL and not getting Tommy John surgery makes it likely those injuries will continue to linger on. When he’s on the hill, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game with a chance at getting even better considering he’s still just 27 years old and just two years into his major league career. The Yankees just hope he spends more time on the field than he does on the DL.
The Yankees might not have to rely on Tanaka to be their Opening Day starter for long. Luis Severino burst onto the scene with 11 dominant starts for the Yanks down the stretch in 2015. While he’ll never be able to add a Rookie of the Year award to his collection, he’s got his eyes on a bigger prize, the Cy Young award. Just 22 years old, Severino has plenty of time to achieve that. With a 95 MPH fastball, devastating changeup, and plus slider, Severino has all the makings of a future ace. Once he makes some adjustments to his mechanics to get more consistent command, nothing will stop Severino from becoming a household name in the Big Apple.
Of course, high velocity doesn’t always translate into production, Nathan Eovaldi will tell you that. Eovaldi possesses a 97 MPH heater, highest among any pitcher with at least 140 innings in 2015. Despite the excellent fastball, Eovaldi has never owned a WHIP below 1.315 or a K/9 above 7.1 (mediocre numbers at best). In need of a quality secondary offering, Eovaldi finally found it in a split-fingered fastball midway through the 2015 season. After it became his second most thrown pitch, Eovaldi finished with a 3.43 ERA over his last 14 starts. At 26 years old, Eovaldi still has the potential to evolve into a borderline frontline starter. However, New York only has two years to find out if he'll reach that level of success as he’s eligible for free agency after the 2017 season.
(EDIT: Nathan Eovaldi will reportedly miss the entire 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. It is likely he never pitches again in the Bronx [8/16/16]).
Unlike Eovaldi, who improved as the season went on, Michael Pineda began to fall apart over the course of the 2015 season. After going 9-5 with a 3.64 ERA, and a ridiculous 8.54 K/BB ratio in the first half, he was responsible for a 3-5 record, a 5.80 ERA, and a 4.61 FIP down the stretch. At 27 years old, and just two years removed from a sensational 1.89 ERA 2014 campaign, there are reasons to be optimistic about the 6’7” hurler. We’ll see which Pineda comes to play in 2016. If his track record means anything, it’ll be a boom or bust season.
While many believe Eovaldi and Pineda haven’t hit their ceiling yet, 2013 might have been Ivan Nova’s peak. In 139 innings, he owned a 3.10 ERA, 1.285 WHIP, and a 3.47 FIP. Nothing extraordinary, but that was his career best in all categories. Now 29 years old, and another year removed from Tommy John surgery, Nova will look to regain his 2013 form which would make him a valuable commodity before he hits free agency after the season. With Tanaka, Eovaldi, Pineda, Severino, and Sabathia ahead of him, he’ll have to rely on injuries to get another opportunity to start games. Realistically, no pitching staff ever stays healthy all season, so Nova will have his time to shine. It’s up to him to take advantage of it. He has the talent to do so, but has yet to put it all together.
(EDIT: Ivan Nova has been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a player to be named later. Click here to see how Nova fits in Pittsburgh's rotation now that Francisco Liriano is wearing a Blue Jays uniform [8/1/16]).
Almost all of the Yankees’ top prospects fall into one of three categories: shortstop, outfielder, or right-handed starting pitcher. The top pitching prospect the Yankees possess may depend on who you ask. The two players fighting for that top spot are Domingo Acevedo and James Kaprielian. The argument might exist about which player will be better in the long run, but it’s unanimous Acevedo is the one with the higher ceiling, which is quite possibly the highest ceiling in all of baseball.
Acevedo stands at an imposing 6’7” with one of the fastest heaters in any Major League organization. It's only fitting that his name starts with 'ace,' because that's exactly what he's destined to become. His fastball sits regularly between 96-100 MPH and can even touch 103 on occasion. Yankee fans will be able to see that kind of electricity first hand when Chapman comes out of the ‘pen this season. Some evaluators believe Acevedo is headed for the bullpen as well because of a lack of secondary offerings and an inability to consistently pound the zone. However, knowing he didn’t start pitching until he was 16 years old, it’s clear Acevedo is still very raw and has room to improve.
Acevedo is a boom or bust prospect, but has an arm that is certainly Major League caliber. The real question is whether he can improve his command and offspeed pitches enough to stay in the rotation, or if his fastball alone will carry him to the bullpen. The strides he made solely in the 2015 season with both of those concerns makes it more believable he can end up as a dominant frontline starter alongside Luis Severino for years to come.
New York used the highest draft pick they’ve owned (16th overall) since 1993 on UCLA ace James Kaprielian. Kaprielian doesn’t have a fastball that can touch 100 MPH like Acevedo, but he can still get it to the 93-94 MPH range on occasion, and adds a four pitch arsenal to his resume. He has a higher floor than Acevedo because of his ability to locate his pitches well, but still needs to improve his command more to become a regular presence in the Yankees rotation. If all goes well, Kaprielian could be a prominent mid-rotation starter.
The Yankees also have two lower-ceiling prospects in Brady Lail and Drew Finley. Neither impose much of a threat to dethrone Tanaka or Severino from atop of the rotation, but if they can continue to harness their command, they could be solid fillers as spot starters or even back-end rotation pieces if the Yankees don’t have better options by then.
(EDIT: The team added to it's long list of high-ceiling right-handers with the addition of 2015 No. 4 overall pick Dillon Tate from the Texas Rangers in exchange for OF Carlos Beltran. Click here to see what Tate will bring to the Yankees once he reaches the bigs [8/1/16]).
Future Outlook: Tanaka, Severino, and Acevedo, watch out!
The Yankees have three future aces in their organization right now. Two of them are already penciled into the rotation, with one of them already proven to be an ace-caliber pitcher (Tanaka). Tanaka is only 27 and still has five more years of team control. Luis Severino has flashed his ace potential, but still needs to improve his command before he settles into that role. Acevedo has more overpowering stuff than either of those players, but has a long ways to go before reaching the rotation. If James Kaprielian can exceed expectations, the Yankees could have the best rotation in baseball by 2020. That’s not even counting all the cap space they’ll have which will likely go to an ace-caliber pitcher as well. The future is bright in the city that never sleeps.
It takes money to make money. The Yankees will be the first one’s to tell you that because the rich just got richer. Already equipped with a top-3 bullpen, the Yanks went out and acquired possibly the best closer the league has ever seen in the flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman. The Cuban Missile is a free agent at year’s end, but will bring the most electric arm in MLB history with him to the East Coast for at least the 2016 season. Of course, his domestic violence case will keep him out of the first 30 games this season.
While Chapman is out, the Yankees can still rely on Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to anchor the bullpen. Alongside Chapman (and Betances), Andrew Miller has arguably been the most dominant reliever over the past two seasons. His excellent 2014 season earned him a lucrative 4yr/$36MM contract and the closer role in the biggest market out there. He’s barely on the wrong side of 30 with plenty of gas left in the tank. Expect another monster season from Miller whether he closes games or not.
(EDIT: With the Yankees enduring a mediocre season, the team decided to sell at the trade deadline and acquire young talent for their premier relief pitchers. New York traded Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs for SS Gleyber Torres, OF Billy McKinney, RHP Adam Warren, and OF Rashad Crawford. Brian Cashman also dealt Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians for OF Clint Frazier, LHP Justus Sheffield, RHP Ben Heller, and RHP J.P. Feyereisen. Click here to see how Chapman fits in Chicago's bullpen this year, or click here to view Cleveland's team with Miller now the team's best reliever [7/31/16].)
Once upon a time, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos were the top prospects in New York’s system. Now Betances is known as one of the game’s best shutdown relievers while Banuelos is struggling to crack Atlanta’s big league roster. It just goes to show the unpredictability when judging and analyzing a prospect's’ potential future. However, there is no unpredictability surrounding Betances anymore. Almost every other team in the majors would insert Betances into the closer role immediately. Unfortunately for him, he has Miller and Chapman ahead of him. Fortunately for the Yankees, he has Miller and Chapman ahead of him.
Outside of New York’s “Big 3,” they have some solid, young pieces filling the rest of the bullpen. Besides Nova in the long relief role, New York has Chasen Shreve, Bryan Mitchell, and Johnny Barbato all under 26 years old ready to take on full-time roles in the ‘pen. None of these three have thrown over 71 innings at the big league level (Barbato hasn’t even thrown a single pitch in the MLB). Shreve’s ability to get lefties out, Mitchell’s overpowering fastball, and Barbato’s lethal curveball separates them from a bunch of young relievers in New York’s organization. 2016 will be a big season in understanding their future outlook.
Besides Chapman and Miller, the Yankees do have two more highly touted lefties in their system. Jacob Lindgren receives more praise than James Pazos nationally because of the movement on his fastball and ability to locate it better, but Pazos is the player that comes with a higher ceiling thanks to his deceptive delivery, mid-90’s heater, and wipeout slider. Pazos’ command still leaves much to be desired in his young professional career though. If he can start to locate his pitches better, Pazos could be a dominant setup man alongside Lindgren.
Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, and Luis Cessa represent the bottom tier of relievers the Yankees have that at least project to make some noise at the Major League level. None of the three have any special trait, but their minor league track record makes it easy to see them fill in as a long reliever or low-end middle reliever.
In between the two lie Cale Coshow and Chance Adams. They both employ mid/high-90’s fastballs with sharp sliders that could end up as above-average pitches. They could each join the numerous young relief arms in the 2017 Yankees bullpen and beyond.
Future Outlook: The “Big 3” has formed in NYC, but for how long?
The Yankees could have a “Big 3” in the rotation come 2020, but they already have a “Big 3” in the bullpen. Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman were the three leaders in strikeouts by any relief pitchers in 2015, and now they'll all team up in the Bronx. Any time the Yankees lead after the 7th inning, the other team will be hearing the fat lady singing... Loudly. Behind the relieving trifecta are some unproven, young arms with powerful stuff. Jacob Lindgren and James Pazos might not pitch much this year, but could develop into excellent setup men in the future. If the Yankees can somehow manage to afford to keep Chapman along with the $9MM salary they're already paying Andrew Miller, other teams should be worried, very worried.
(EDIT: New York traded Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, but received a great package of young prospects in return that could manufacture the next dominant Yankees team. Adam Warren, Ben Heller, and J.P. Feyereisen will never be as dominant as Miller or Chapman, but they could be valuable contributors in New York's bullpen as the decade dwindles down. The Yanks can always find bullpen upgrades later on when the team is in contention [7/31/16]).
Overall Outlook: A new era in NYC
Gone are the days of the Yankees leading the league in spending, and buying player after player. While that method won them a World Series in 2009, trying to recreate that approach has led to them missing the American League divisional series for three consecutive seasons for the first time since the Wild Card was instituted in 1994. Now they’re emphasizing growth and development from within. With high-ceiling players like Domingo Acevado, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez, it’s up to the Yankees to develop the high quality talent they have to succeed in the future.
For the first time in years it seems the Yankees have a brighter future than present. While they could make a run in 2016, the team is more of a fringe playoff contender than a legitimate World Series candidate. With Teixeira’s, Rodriguez’, and Sabathia’s contracts all coming off the books within the next two years, the Yankees can go back to their free spending ways while also keeping their elite prospects in tact to form another dynasty similar to the one that saw them win four titles in five years during the late-90’s. The Yanks have been relatively quiet in recent years, but watch out for these pinstripes to make some noise as they close out the decade.