I have a confession. I'm bored. I'm bored talking about mediocre second and third basemen and I'm bored waiting around for the Rakuten Golden Eagles president to just embrace the inevitable and agree to post Masahiro Tanaka. I'm bored pondering which righty reliever the Yankees will overpay to "compete" with D-Rob for the closer role next year and I'm bored wondering how or if they are going to be able to move Ichiro.
Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus have both recently released their annual top 10 Yankee prospects lists, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. That means prospect ranking season is right around the corner, if it isn't here all ready, so I'm saying the hell with the Major League issues this morning and going with the prospects. I still have to put the finishing touches on my top 30 ranking for this season, but for the sake of conversation and debate here's a peek into my mindset.
Prospect I Value More Than I Probably Should- Tyler Austin
Austin slid down the rankings on both BA and BP's lists. BA didn't even have him in the top 10. I don't get that. I look at Tyler Austin and I see a guy who just played the bulk of the 2013 season as a 21-year-old in Double-A and managed to put up a decent .333 wOBA despite battling a wrist injury for almost the entire season. I see a guy with a polished approach at the plate who drew 41 walks in 366 plate appearances and has generally improved his BB rate as he's advanced from the lower levels. I see a guy who's a gamer, who's not afraid to step up and lead the charge in big games.
The reality of Austin's numbers is that he hasn't had a truly monster offensive performance since A-ball and the wrist problems could diminish what was already expected to be average Major League power at best. He may eventually profile as nothing more than a 4th OF, but right now I could still see him being an above-average starting corner OF and a run producer and that makes him a no-brainer top 5 prospect.
Prospect I Value Less Than I Probably Should- Bryan Mitchell
Every year his name pops up on top organizational lists and every year he gets the same type of write-up: "Big kid, dynamite stuff, huge upside, needs to work on consistency." Something like that. And every year he goes out and basically turns in the same performance. He was inconsistent and walked too many guys at Staten Island, he was inconsistent and walked too many guys at Charleston, and he was inconsistent and walked too many guys at Tampa. I value performance over upside and in my world Mitchell's performance hasn't come close to matching his reported upside. That said, he did look pretty good in his 3 late-season starts for Double-A Trenton and I'm not dumb enough to not recognize that the stuff is there. I have him way down in my rankings right now, and if he puts it together this year and gets bumped up to Triple-A, he's going to rocket up a lot of lists and I'm going to look a bit stupid for being so down on him.
Prospect I Really Hope Returns to Form This Year- Mark Montgomery
Coming into the 2013 season, most people expected to see Montgomery make the move into the Major League bullpen sometime in the late summer or early fall. The way he stampeded through the MiL system, it only made sense to think that way. His numbers through Double-A in 2012 were FILTHY. His workload was also a heavy one and I cautioned that it could come back to haunt him in 2013. It did, he struggled with shoulder problems, his performance suffered (4.00 FIP in 40 IP), and Montgomery ended the season on the DL. He should be back to full strength for the start of next season and it'd be nice to see the life come back to his fastball and slider. If he can regain his dominant form from 2012 or something close to it, he could end up being that extra arm that the Major League bullpen needs.
Prospect I Can't Help But Feel Like I Was Right About All Along - Angelo Gumbs
When the Yankees drafted Angelo Gumbs, everybody raved about his tools. I said let's see him actually play more than 7 GCL games first. When he tore up SS Staten Island in 2011, everybody rushed to put him in their top 10 lists. I said let's wait and see how he handles a full-season league first and I didn't even put him in my top 30. When he had a pretty good year in Charleston in 2012 I moved him into my top 20, but I still wasn't sold on just the tools. Gumbs was a complete disaster in 2013, bad enough that he was demoted from Tampa back to Low-A ball halfway through the year. After the demotion he didn't hit much better, .213/.261/.351 compared to the .214/.265/.302 he was hitting in Tampa, so if it was a motivational tactic it's hard to say it worked.
In fairness to Gumbs, he did battle injuries this season and I'm sure they had something to do with his struggles. Those injury problems were present in 2012 as well though, and to me they're part of a prospect profile that's more flash and unrealistic potential than substance and meaningful results. Tools are all well and good, but everybody's tools look good in rookie league. It's about what you can do with them at the higher levels that really matter and so far Gumbs hasn't shown me anything. He needs a big bounce back year in 2014 to re-establish his prospect value, maybe more than anybody in the Yankee system.
Prospect I'm Not Even Close to Sold On Yet- Aaron Judge
Big guy, big swing. Could be a strikeout machine if he doesn't have the smart approach and plate discipline you need against pro pitching.
Prospect I Wish Would Stay Healthy- Jose Ramirez
115.0 IP in 2010, 103.1 in 2011, 98.2 in 2012, 73.2 in 2013. Not exactly the trend you want to see from someone who's supposed to be one of the top pitching prospects in the organization. He impressed in Major League spring camp this year and made his way up to Triple-A, but if he can't hold his body together he's going to end up in the bullpen. That would be a major waste of his talent.
Prospect Who's Not Actually a Prospect But I Wish He Was- Matt Tracy
Big dude, big stuff, lefty, already working up at Double-A. He'd be a great guy to point to as a potential future starter or a really useful trade piece. He just hasn't been pitching that long, he hasn't established much control of his pitches let alone command of them, and he's always banged up. He also just turned 25, so the click could already be running out on his prospect timeline.
Prospect I Think More People Need to Pay Attention to- Ben Gamel
I look at him and what he's done in the last 3 years and I see Brett Gardner 2.0. I'm probably way off there but I can't help it. I'm a Ben Gamel fan.
So there's a little taste of the prospect thoughts that are rattling around in my head right now. There will be more to come when I get tired of the "who else can the Yankees bring in to platoon at second base?" talk again.
(Photo courtesy of the AP)