We are now midway through the minor league season, which is often the time when high-performing prospects are advanced to the next level, and poor performers are demoted. The earlier signing deadline for draft picks and new limitations on bonuses also increase the pressure to promote players, in order to make room for the new signees. Most followers of the Yankee system have pointed to several prospects on the Charleston Riverdogs, particularly catcher Gary Sanchez (135 wRC+) and outfielder Tyler Austin (172 wRC+), as being likely candidates to move on up.
Last night, Josh Norris got the scoop on the Yankees’ promotion plans, and a number of top prospects are involved. From Charleston, Austin and Sanchez are on the move, along with centerfielder Mason Williams (127 wRC+). This means that the Yankees’ 3 best position player prospects will be moving to Tampa together. All 3 players have performed at a very high level this season, so it is understandable to see the Yankees move them aggressively.
Sanchez’s promotion seemed somewhat overdue given that he spent the 2011 season in Charleston as well, as did Austin’s promotion, given his ridiculous production this season. I am a little surprised to see the Yankees be this aggressive with Williams, though the fact that he turned his performance up a notch in June (1.001 OPS and 5 homers) might have convinced the Yankees he was ready. Part of me wonders if moving these guys up is an attempt to boost their trade value, since acquiring a Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels will likely require at least one of these guys.
As always, promoting several players requires the movement of several other prospects, and the Yankees look to be making those moves as well. Rob Segedin, JR Murphy, and Neil Medchill were bumped to Trenton to open up roster spots for the Charleston trio, and several other prospects were moved down to Charleston and Tampa. In the case of Murphy, the promotion gives Sanchez the opportunity to be Tampa’s full-time catcher, while allowing Murphy to still get regular reps at the position. Segedin is having a solid 125 wRC+ season so far, so his promotion makes sense on the basis of performance. Murphy’s performance (98 wRC+) has not been as impressive, but his .855 OPS in June is a positive trend, and hopefully he can continue his momentum.
These promotions will definitely provide new challenges to the promoted prospects. For hitting prospects (since these moves primarily involved position players), they will be facing higher levels pitchers with better command and more sophisticated secondary offerings. Promoted pitchers will face hitters with better plate discipline and pitch recognition, to say nothing of power and plate coverage. How the prospects are able to respond to the higher level of competition will speak volumes about their ability to overcome adversity and make adjustments, which are important predictors of major league success. Strong performance at the next level could also skyrocket them up the prospect lists, while an anemic performance may do the opposite.
Sanchez, Austin, and Williams will each have important areas of their game to work on at the higher levels. Sanchez’s defense, while vastly improved, still needs work, and he still strikes out more than you would like to see. Austin needs to prove that he can continue to rake against more advanced pitchers, and that his outfield skills are up to the task of sticking at the position. Williams needs to work on his approach at the plate and centerfield play, while demonstrating that his recent power surge wasn’t a fluke.
With the promotion of the Charleston 3, Tampa becomes the most interesting affiliate in the Yankee system. Charleston will still be interesting with Dante Bichette trying to turn things around, although two of its best remaining prospects (Angelo Gumbs and Jose Campos) are currently on the DL. It is noteworthy that virtually all of the prospects moved were hitters, which speaks volumes about the success (really, the lack thereof) of pitchers in the Yankee system this year. It has been a good year for hitting prospects so far and a bad year for pitching prospects, but there is plenty of time for one or both of these trends to change. On the pitching side, a healthy Campos and Manny Banuelos, and a fixed Dellin Betances could make that kind of a difference, and hopefully we will see this happen over the summer.
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