First, it was the “Big Three” (Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy). Then, it was the “Killer B’s” (Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman). And now … the fans don’t nickname Yankees prospects anymore. But this current group might finally be the one to form the next Yankees core. Luis Severino and Greg Bird both impressed last season, as the first wave of this Yankees youth movement. Both also exhausted their rookie eligibility. Severino will begin the season in the Yankees starting rotation, while Bird is likely to start the season in AAA, waiting his turn behind Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Severino and Bird are just the tip of the iceberg, though. Here are the top 5 New York Yankees prospects for 2016:
1) Gary Sanchez C – “I’d like to unleash the Kracken,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters earlier this offseason, referring to Sanchez. Sanchez absolutely destroyed the Arizona Fall League in 2015, putting up a .982 OPS, and crushing 7 homers in only 22 games. This was coming off a season where he hit 18 homers in 93 games, splitting time between AA (58 games) and AAA (35 games). His defense continued to improve as well, to the point nobody doubts he can stick at catcher anymore. This is a bat-first, power hitting catcher. It doesn’t get much juicier than that.
Prime Projection: 67/22/83/.280/4
2) Aaron Judge OF – The 6’7’’, 275-pound Judge is more Judge Dredd, than Judge Judy. There is no question about his raw power. Splitting time between AA (63 games) and AAA (61 games) in 2015, Judge launched 20 homers and stole 7 bases. Strikeouts are a real concern, though, as he struck out 144 times in 124 games. His numbers also tanked when he reached AAA, triple-slashing a measly .224/.308/.373. But the home run upside is too much to ignore, and even if he always struggles to make contact, the power is not going anywhere.
Prime Projection: 75/26/90/.260/7
3) Jorge Mateo SS – Mateo stole 82 bases in two levels of A-ball last season. He hit only 2 homers, but his 6’0’’, 188-pound frame leaves room for more in the future. With the 25-year-old Didi Gregorius firmly entrenched at SS, and 25-year-old Starlin Castro at 2B, Mateo does not have a clear path to playing time with the Yankees. Although, the Yankees did reportedly offer Mateo in a trade for Craig Kimbrel at the trade deadline last season, so he might be on a different team by the time he is major league ready anyway. Mateo has the upside to be a 5-category stud, but he has yet to play above A-ball, and his power has not shown up yet.
Prime Projection: 87/9/50/.275/42
4) James Kaprielian RHP – The Yankees drafted Kaprielian with the 16th overall pick in 2015. He is a fast moving, high floor college pitcher. Kaprielian throws a traditional four-pitch mix, sitting in the low to mid 90’s with his fastball. He projects as a mid-rotation starter, with good, but not elite strikeout numbers. Yankee Stadium and the AL East will not do him any favors either. If this write-up makes him seem safe and boring, that is because he is.
Prime Projection: 3.66/1.27/175 in 195 IP
5) Rob Refsnyder 2B – Refsnyder was prospect blocked last season by Stephen Drew and his .201 batting average. After Drew signed with the Washington Nationals this offseason to prospect block Trea Turner, it seemed like Refsnyder would finally get a real shot to win the second base job. But not so fast, the Yankees went out and traded for Castro. So it is back to AAA for Refsnyder. Refsnyder has an elite K/BB ratio, with average power and speed. All it would take is one injury to Castro, Didi, or Headley, to open up a spot on the major league roster for Refsnyder next season. He is also a prime candidate to be traded to a team with an opening at second base.
Prime Projection: 75/15/67/.285/12
By Michael Halpern