EJ’s post from earlier today highlights the disappointing nature of the Yankee farm in 2012, and for the most part, I agree. It has been a frustrating season to follow, particularly at the upper levels. The combination of injury and regression has hurt the stock of a number of prospects who might otherwise be contributing to fill holes on the major league team today. While Freddy Garcia and David Phelps have performed adequately thus far, I know many Yankee fans would have loved to see Manny Banuelos get his feet wet in the big leagues to start the audition process for a spot in the 2013 roation. With injuries to Mariano Rivera and David Robertson and recent struggles by Cory Wade, it would have been nice to bring up Dellin Betances to solidify the Yankee bullpen. And with Russell Martin scuffling and Chris Stewart performing mediocrely, it would have been nice to bring up Austin Romine to challenge for the starting catcher job.
Unfortunately, injuries have sidelined Banuelos and Romine, while Betances’ control has regressed dramatically, to the point where he earned a demotion to AA Trenton. Jose Campos, the hard-throwing young pitcher acquired in the Michael Pineda/Jesus Montero trade, has been sidelined with a sore elbow after impressing early in the season. Angelo Gumbs was off to an impressive start before recently going on the DL with an injury, and another early draft pick, Slade Heathcott, has missed most of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery. Dante Bichette, who had a great 2011 season in the Gulf Coast League, has had a tough go if it so far in Charleston. Cito Culver, who hasn’t shown the ability to hit his way out of a paper bag, has continued to demonstrate those tendancies.
Despite the injuries, there have been plenty of bright spots at the lower levels. Gary Sanchez has made strides as a catcher while hitting well in his second tour of duty in Charleston. Mason Williams has showed impressive pop of late while flashing his other tools. Tyler Austin has continued to mash anything that remotely resembles as baseball, and has made progress with his outfield defense. All 3 of these players, who just moved up to Tampa, have raised their stock this season, winding up on Baseball America’s midseason Top 50 list. The aforementioned Gumbs and Heathcott have looked good when healthy, and it is nice to see Ravel Santana back so soon after a devastating ankle injury in 2011.
At the upper levels, there have been some solid performances from players who may not have star upside, but could find themselves becoming solid big league regulars one day. These include Corban Joseph, who is likely trade bait assuming Robinson Cano resigns, Melky Mesa, who will bring significant defensive value to the table if he can be an adequate offensive contributor, and Ronnier Mustelier, whose bat and versatility could make him a useful utility option at some point.
Additionally, my optimism stems in part from looking at the long-term. While injuries have hampered some Yankee prospects this season, and will likely hurt their prospect ranking, I would argue that none of these injuries appear likely to have a major effect on long-term value. Assuming the Yankees are just playing it safe with Campos and Banuelos, and they aren’t on the road to elbow surgery, I think their long-term projections are still fairly rosy for these two as becoming potential impact pitchers. The same goes for Gumbs with his elbow and possibly Heathcott if he continues to perform well following his return from shoulder surgery. Of course, all bets are off if Campos and Banuelos continue to have setbacks, but so far I am not going to worry too much about them.
I’m more concerned about regressions than minor injuries at this point, and there have not been many examples of the former. Betances and Bichette are the only guys who I would classify as top prospects who have gone backward this season in terms of performance. In Bichette’s case, he is definitely young enough to turn things around, especially since he was aggressively promoted to full-season ball after playing in the GCL last year. Betances is another issue entirely, a legitimate disaster whose main defect has gotten worse as he has advanced through the system, as he has fallen from a former top 100 prospect to a guy that most people would probably rank outside of the organizational top 10..
Overall, I think the collective ceiling of the system has increased over 2012 (in large part due to the progression of Austin, Williams, and Sanchez), though the floor has lowered a little bit. Basically, I think there is more star potential on the farm than there has been over the past few years. There’s still a lot of season left, and strong performances by several underperforming prospects, or strong debuts by several new draftees could go a long way to improving the stock of the Yankee farm. With so much of its strength in the lower levels, there is definitely more variability in future outcomes, but there is still a lot to like about the system currently.
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