Much has been written about Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Rob Refsnyder, Jacob Lindgren and Jorge Mateo. We know Sanchez and Refsnyder have an excellent chance to break camp with the Yankees, each with inside tracks towards bench spots on the 2016 squad. We know Lindgren will have an excellent shot at rejoining a bullpen he debuted in last season, if not in April, than at some point this year.
We are aware of Judge and Mateo; the former poised to make his debut sometime in 2016 and with top prospect status and potential expectations to replace Carlos Beltran in 2017. The latter is gifted with top level speed, a potential base stealer with wide range at shortstop and a little bit of power. Mateo could be in New York one day, but likely not for another few of years as he tries to conquer A ball at just 20-years-old.
It still leaves the other half of the Yankees’ top 10 prospects, ranging from solid starters to intriguing middle infielders. Nobody on this list is expected to help in 2016, but in 2017, as the Yankees enter a time of mass transition with numerous long-term deals coming off the books, many of these names can help fill the void at an affordable price.
James Kaprielian (#3): A right-handed starter taken in the first round in 2015, Kaprielian, reflects a newer draft strategy for the Yankees. In the days of Phil Hughes, New York tended to take higher upside, high school pitchers with long roads for development. But most recently, with Kaprielian, the focus seems to have shifted towards taking “safer” picks with heavily seasoned starters who could make a MLB impact in two to three seasons but may not be the ace ceiling of another player in the draft.
Kaprielian fits that bill.
The 6’4″ starter will be just 22 when the season starts, but could debut as early as 2017 despite only having played in A ball in Staten Island for a total of nine innings last season. The righty has a skillset somewhat similar of Ian Kennedy; a sneaky fastball in the low 90’s with developed offspeed stuff and excellent location at a young age. With five of the Yankees’ six starters all having expiring contracts by the end of 2017, Kaprielian should have a shot at the rotation even if New York spends big on pitching the next couple of years.
Ian Clarkin (#6): Clarkin has a similar timeline to Kaprielian and was taken with the same aforementioned draft strategy, but couldn’t be more different from his high prospect counterpart. While Kaprielian has been the poster boy of durability and had a decorated college career, Clarkin hasn’t actually played yet in the Yankees’ system due to injuries and was drafted as an 18-year-old. Still just 20, Clarkin is poised to pitch a full season and capitalize on the pitching arsenal that has many projecting him as a #2 starter, potentially debuting as soon as 2017. Drafted 33rd overall, with the Yankees’ second pick, (after recently traded Eric Jagielo) Clarkin is 6’2 and left-handed.
If Kaprielian is the Nissan Altima, a nice if not conservative ride you can rely on to get you from point A to point B, Clarkin is the Corvette with a questionable engine. He’s just as developed with location and know-how, but he has a low to mid 90’s fastball and a 12-to-6 curve to go with some secondary pitches. Clarkin has the best potential of any starter presently in the system and is a lefty to boot, but it will take a healthy and effective 2016 to get him back to his original track of a fast riser in the system.
Tyler Wade (#8): Wade is not as prominent a prospect (4th round pick) as the two pitchers ahead of him on the list, but he still brings intrigue. At 21-years-old, Wade is already in AA, batting .204/.224 in 113 at bats last season as a 20-year-old. He will likely spend all season in AA with a potential AAA callup, but the left-handed hitter is solid defensively with a strong enough arm to stick at short stop long-term. There is room for improvement as a hitter (or else he would be a top prospect overall), but Wade is currently adjusting to a slap-hitter of sorts who can get on base and steal bases. He has good speed but hasn’t used it to the best of his ability and will work on base-running and contact for most of the year.
Currently blocked by Didi Gregorius and now Starlin Castro, a big season for Wade may make him an attractive trade candidate, especially with the more talented Mateo lurking one level lower just in case.
Kyle Holder (#9): Another shortstop with a high ceiling of sorts, Holder is 21 and played for the Staten Island Yankees in A ball last season. Holder was the 30th overall pick in the 2015 draft and was a two sport athlete in high school, opting to go the baseball route over basketball despite being highly touted for both. Holder offers elite defensive ability, with an already MLB caliber glove, but he will need to prove over the next couple of years he can hit enough to warrant a spot on a MLB roster. The ceiling here may be Brendan Ryan esque as a role player who can offer elite defense and won’t slow anyone down on the bases, but it remains to be seen how his light bat might develop, especially since he only recently has been able to focus on it full-time.
Brady Lail (#10): Lail is probably closest to the majors of anyone on the list, having pitched in AAA Scranton mostly as a 21-year-old. Now at 22, Lail will repeat AAA in 2016, putting up a 4.62 ERA and 1.70 WHIP in 37 innings the first time around. Lail tops out around 94 with a fastball and is a starter who can be thrown in the mix with Kaprielian and Clarkin as potential rotation options around 2017 or 2018 depending on how he does in a full season at a high level. With four pitches he can throw for strikes, Lail definitely has major league potential, but likely as a #4 starter, making him the lowest ceiling of the group. If Lail and Wade take big steps forward, they could be an attractive trade package without giving up the “blue chippers”.