Having one or two elite prospects is always great. However, having a deep farm system is safest the way to truly build your team into a sustainable contender.
The “Core 4”
The Yankees of the late 90’s believed in this philosophy. It was these same values that led to the grooming and blossoming of the infamous “Core-Four”. Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter all made their MLB debut at different times throughout the 1995 season.
As rookies in 1996, they began their careers and went on to become some of the very best players in the league at their respective positions. Immediately growing into team leaders and key contributors for Yankee teams that won four World Series Championships in five years- including three straight to close out the millennium (1996, 1998-2000).
Combined, these four players- two pitchers and two position players, are responsible for:an
- 1 Rookie of the Year Award
- 3 ALCS MVP’s
- 2 World Series MVP’s
- 2 All-Star Game MVP’s
- 8 Reliever of the Year Awards
- 10 Silver Slugger Awards
- 5 Gold Glove Awards
- 35 All-Star Appearances
- 19 World Series Rings
- 2- First Ballot Hall of Fame Inductions
The Yankees of the 1990s
The Yankees of the late ’90s symbolized what it meant to play as a team.
They weren’t the star-studded teams we became accustomed to knowing during the 2000s. These Yankee teams lacked those house-hold names most would consider the super-stars of that time. Instead, relying upon a mixture of both good and role players alike to continuously get the job done.
Those teams epitomized the slogan, “by any means necessary”.
If necessary, they could win a slugfest. And if necessary, they could win in a pitchers duel as well. They were situational specialists. Small ball or the long ball, it didn’t matter. They could do it all.
It takes something special to win four titles in five years. The 1998 Yankees are the winningest team in MLB history- going 125-49 including the postseason.
Those Yankees teams were real “teams”- not just a collection of high salaries and talent.
The Yankees of the 2000s
Somewhere along the line, in the early 2000’s- the Yankees’ ideology changed.
It became less about building through the farm system and more about bringing in household names from trades and free agency. This new way of team building put great emphasis on adding big-name players from around the league- at any cost.
Year-after-year, they would trade away top prospects and spend boatloads of money in free agency. Regularly, they’d set the market and end up bidding against themselves. They would drastically over-pay for players- oftentimes for players on the downside of their careers or passed their primes all together.
Here are a few of the Yankee’s misguided transactions over the years:
- $46 million between a posting fee and contract for Kei Igawa. That’s right, Kei Igawa.
- $153 Million for Jacoby Ellsbury
- $120 million for Jason Giambi
- $40 million for Carl Pavano
- Trading for 41-year-old Randy Johnson and giving him a 2yr $57 million extension
- Trading for Javier Vazquez– Twice. Plus giving him a 4yr $45 million extension
- $90 million for AJ Burnett
- Trading for Jeff Weaver
- Jose Contreras, Kevin Youkilis, Kenny Rodgers, Hideki Irabu, Lance Berkman, Pudge Rodriguez, Kenny Lofton, Kevin Brown, and the list goes on.
The Yankees have won 1 World Series title (2009), in the last 20 seasons (2001-2020).
During this span, they missed the playoffs on five separate occasions, including 2013, 2014, and 2016. While they did make the 2015 Wild Card eliminator, they lost their lone game to the Astros and never went on to play in a postseason series- essentially missing the postseason in four straight years. Something that hasn’t happened in over 25 years.
Yankees Less Focused On Spending Wildly In Recent Years
Fortunately for Yankee fans, the days of throwing ill-conceived cash at unworthy players appear to be in the rear-view mirror.
Hal Steinbrenner likes to keep the salary around or under the Competitive Balance Tax, better known as the Luxury Tax. This serves as a soft salary cap in a way- since there is no real cap in baseball.
Teams who spend over the pre-allotted amount in the luxury-tax are forced to pay a fine.
For the first year, the fine will be 17.5% of the amount they are over. Should they go over for a second consecutive season, the fine jumps to 30%, then 40% for a third year, and 50% for four years or more.
Yankees Recent Success A Result Of Good Scouting And Development
Thanks in large part to smart trades and excellent scouting, the Yankees have been home to one of the most talent-rich farm systems in baseball over the past few years. Nobody has done a better job at the pin-pointing of talent in the draft and on the international scene. Their scouting department has done a great job of utilizing all their resources and coming away with impact players year after year.
Another major difference has been the sensible spending by the front office, accompanied by a few exceptional trades by Brian Cashman. Smart, under the radar moves, have been responsible for bringing in some of the teams’ most important contributors in recent years.
Here are a few examples:
- Shane Green to acquire Didi Gregorius
- Giovanny Gallegos and Chasen Schreve to acquire Luke Voit
- Aroldis Chapman for Gleyber Torres and then re-signing Chapman during the offseason
- Cash considerations to acquire Gio Urshela
- John Ryan Murphy to acquire Aaron Hicks
- Signing DJ Lemahieu for 2yr $24million
- Re-signing Luis Severino for 4yr $40million
These are the type of moves that allow for the financial flexibility to be able to sign a Gerrit Cole and still remain around the luxury tax.
Yankees Return To Familiar Model of Building
The Yankees have certainly had a change of transactional philosophy in recent years. Clearly reverting back to their old model from the late-90’s, where rosters are built through player development, contractual control, and savvy free-agent acquisitions/trades.
They have not yet won a World Series title, but a healthy roster combined with the acquisition of pitching ace, Gerrit Cole, should put them over the hump of their two ALCS losses in three years.
The organization is again putting a premium on player development and the farm system. Let’s look a little closer at a few of the Yankees’ top prospects heading into the 2021 season and get familiar with some of the names you could be hearing soon.
Prospect #1- Luis Medina
Age: 21 DOB: 05/3/1999 Signed: 07/8/2015 From: Dominican Republic
HT: 6’1 WT: 175lb Bats: R Throws: R
Luis Medina signed a $280,000 free-agent contract with the Yankees in July of 2015. At the time of his signing, he was freshly 16-years-old and could already touch 100mph. He was considered to be extremely raw and lacked game experience.
The Yankees wanted him to add weight to his ultra-thin build as well as tinker with his unpolished mechanics before putting him into real-game action.
Medina is now 21 years old and heading into his fifth season of pro-ball.
With three plus-plus pitches, scouts say there is no question that he has the best pure stuff in the Yankees system. He has a lightning bolt for a right arm, and he displays exemplary arm speed with little-to-no effort. He has a fastball that sits at 98-99 mph and regularly touches 102mph with a natural cut. His low-80’s curveball is electric and can be more un-hittable than his fastball. There are times when his changeup is the best pitch in his arsenal. It operates around 90mph with devastating splitter-like action, which moves down and away from left-handed hitters.
When he’s on, it can be downright demoralizing to face him.
Thus far, he has not displayed the ability necessary to harness all of his talents together. This has resulted in a 5.51 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, and nearly 1-BB/9 through his first four pro seasons.
It hasn’t been all bad though. His 11-K/9 and 7-H/9 are reasons for optimism.
There is hope within the organization that Medina has turned a corner. He experienced his most success as a pro down the final stretch of the 2019 season. Jose Rosado– who is the pitching coach at the Yankees High A affiliate in Tampa, spent a lot of time working with Medina. In the hope to find more consistency with his delivery, Rosado slightly altered his release point. The results were immediate. He gave up just 9 earned runs with only 15 walks over his final 45.2 IP.
Luis Medina has had a difficult time throwing strikes. He displays a smooth delivery which he has trouble repeating at times. It appears that this is more of a mental issue rather than a physical nature. This could be a problem, as physical problems can eventually be worked on and easily fixed. Pitching requires a strong mindset with the ability to forget and continuously focus on the task at hand.
There may not be another player in the league who possesses such a huge gap between ceiling and floor.
Although unlikely, we could potentially see Medina in some capacity this year. The Yankees have other arms to turn to at the moment, but should he harness his capabilities and continue on where he left off, there is nobody in the organization with more potential.
He has a ceiling of a front-line starter and an ace of the staff. While at the same time possessing enough control problems and a lack of mental focus that could never see him contribute at the Major League level.
It will be interesting to see how his career unfolds.
Prospect #2- Estevan Florial
Age: 23 DOB: 11/25/1997 Signed: 03/19/2015 From: Dominican Republic
HT: 6’1 WT: 195lb Bats: L Throws: R
Estevan Florial has been regarded as one of the top prospects in the Yankees system for several years now. His raw tools are undeniable, and he was one of the elite prospects on the 2014 International Market.
He had to wait to sign until 2015. He was penalized for one year after the MLB discovered he had tried to assume a different identity while registering for school in the Dominican Republic.
In March of 2015, Florial signed with the Yankees for the sum of $200,000.
Legitimate 5-tool potential. He possesses the most all-around ability in the entire system, not named Jaason Dominguez. The bat-speed he produces from his smooth left-handed swing generates well above-average power to all fields. He possesses tremendous speed and arm strength, which make him a perfect fit in centerfield. His quickness and instincts allow him to track down fly balls from gap-to-gap. While his arm strength continues to receive plus-plus grades from scouts.
He can get too pull-happy at times which results in too many swings and misses. This has led to concerns over how effective he will be against big-league pitching.
His elite abilities have been undermined at times due to his overly aggressive approach at the plate. He posted the worst walk (8%) and strikeout (33%) rates of his pro career during the 2019 season. This was after making much progress in both areas during the previous two seasons.
His young career has also been slightly hampered by the injury bug. Having to miss time due to injuries to his right hamate bone in ’18, and his left wrist in ’19.
Florial is a legitimate five-tool player. If he can continue to improve his on-base proficiency and refine his base-stealing acumen, there is no limit to how good he can become. He has genuine potential to become a 30-30 threat with gold glove defense in centerfield.
Over the span of 2018-19, he accumulated 745 at-bats. During that time, he batted .291/.345/.395 with 42-2b, 11-3B, 19-HR, 92-RBI, and 39-SB.
The Yankees trading for outfielder Greg Allen on Wednesday could signal the end of the road for Brett Gardner. This only further opens the door for Florial to compete for reps in the big leagues, should he continue his growth.
Florial has all the ability in the world. If he continues to improve and mature as a player, the sky is truly the limit for him. His 30-30 capabilities and gold glove defense in centerfield provide him with legitimate All-Star and MVP potential.
Those are certainly lofty expectations for any player.
The tools he already has, such as elite arm-strength and speed- make him suited for a fourth outfielder role and late-game defensive sub right now. If he continues to improve his approach at the plate, he could be in line for much more.
With Brett Gardner seemingly out of the picture, it opens the door for Florial to see some real playing time at the big-league level in 2021.
Prospect #3- Oswald Peraza
Age: 20 DOB: 06/15/2000 Signed: 07/2/2016 From: Venezuela
HT: 6’0 WT: 175lb Bats: R Throws: R
Oswald Peraza was the highlight of the Yankees 2016 International crop. He signed $175,000 and was regarded for his excellent glove and bat-to-ball skills.
He has yet to post big numbers, largely in part to the Yankees aggressively challenging him to play up in level. Peraza has some of the very best tools in the entire system. He has more than held his own as a freshly turned 19-year-old in Class A.
Peraza is another potential five-tool player at the top of the organization. He stands out amongst his peers for his excellent bat-to-ball skills- as he laces line drives to all fields from the right side of the plate. His arm hit tool, glove, and speed all rank as above average plus tools. He possesses one of the most complete toolboxes in the entire system.
His plus speed and aggressive mentality on the bases translate into steals. He applies pressure to the entire defense by just being on base. The threat of the steal takes the pitcher’s attention away from the batter. Diverting his focus can allow for mistakes. It also changes their delivery to a quicker, less comfortable, slide-step.
The threat of speed on the base paths will also force the middle infielders to cheat toward second base. This will open holes and create offensive opportunities for his teammates.
Making consistent contact and running hard down the line keeps consistent pressure on the defense. Forcing them to speed up their process will lead to more mistakes.
Defensively, he is a smooth operator at shortstop and is very fluid in his actions. His terrific arm strength allows him to make all of the necessary throws.
He needs to add strength to his frame.
Cut down slightly on aggressiveness at the plate. He needs to start seeing more pitches and getting deeper in counts.
Learn to start driving balls in the air more as he continues to get stronger.
He stands out in all phases of the game. His skill set is that of one of the most complete 19-year-olds in the minor leagues. He may currently lack in physical size and strength, but his exit velocities are some of the highest in the entire system. Once he adds strength, he profiles as a 20+ home run per year player.
He plays with a great feel and possesses an excellent internal clock. This allows him to make plays in all facets of the game.
The Yankees’ lack of interest in adding Francisco Lindor could have a lot to do with how highly they regard the future of this young player.
There is an excellent chance he will be in the big leagues once he physically matures a little bit more. He already has the mental make-up and defensive skill set to play at that level.
There is a legitimate all-star ability here. A potential .300 hitter with 20-20 capabilities, or better. He also provides excellent tools and instincts on defense as well.
Barring injury, he will likely not see the big leagues regularly until 2022 or 2023.
Things get tricky is they re-sign DJ Lemahieu. He could potentially be blocked defensively in that case. However, if things do not improve at shortstop, they could always move Voit to DH, slide Lemahieu over to 1B, and Gleyber back to 2B. In which case, SS would be open for Peraza.
Of course, barring injury, that would take Stanton out of the DH slot and into the outfield- where there is already a logjam of players. A logjam that includes another elite prospect waiting for his opportunity to show what he can do at the MLB level.
One thing is for certain, the Yankees must improve their defense at shortstop. Whether that means Gleyber turning things around or they find a defensive replacement- they have to get better defensively up the middle.
These are good problems to have. There is no doubt the Yankees will find a way to work them out.
Age: 22 DOB: 06/3/1998 Signed: 02/12/2015 From: Dominican Republic
HT: 6’2 WT: 185lb Bats: R Throws: R
Luis Gil’s professional career started off slowly. It took 9-months during the 2014-15 international signing period before the Twins inked him for $90,000. He missed all of the 2015 season after coming off shoulder surgery in the Dominican Republic.
Following spring training in 2017, he was traded to the Yankees in a deal for Jake Cave.
In a system loaded with power arms and flame throwers, it is Luis Gil who possesses the best fastball in the system. Regularly pitching at 98-99, he routinely throws well into the triple digits while going deeper into games as a starting pitcher.
His fastball is always an attraction during the game. Fans routinely make noise after each pitch lights up the stadium radar gun. Unfortunately for opposing hitters, that’s not all his fastball does. It will oftentimes feature significant riding action, which makes it extremely difficult for hitters to catch up to- especially up in the strike zone.
He has a terrific power breaking ball which exceptionally high spin rates. The tight spin makes for a sharper break, and the ball usually arrives in the zone with slider velocity.
To make it as a starter, Gil will need to continue to develop and refine his changeup.
He lacks some polish and has had some control issues in the past.
Gil has pitched to a 2.41 ERA with 240 K in 184 IP over 4 levels during the last 3 seasons. He has improved in each of his professional seasons and had his best statistical season thus far in 2019. Setting career highs in:
- Innings Pitched- 96
- Games Started- 20
- Strikeouts- 123
- K/9- 11.5
- BB/9- 4.2
- H/9- 6.6
- WHIP 1.23
- HR Allowed- 1
Luis Gil probably has the second most electric arm in the entire system. He has put together an excellent minor league career thus far. Considering his lack of amateur experience, he has shown a mound presence that is mature beyond his years.
The one thing he does have over his peer- better control. Along with having better control, he is developing his control at a faster rate. If he can continue to piece everything together, he may be able to make an appearance in the big leagues this year.
He is another prospect with a wide range of ceiling-floor capabilities. With his ceiling reaching that of an ace, and his floor is that of a high-leverage reliever. He has a great profile to be a dominant closer for many years to come.
Prospect #5- Jasson Dominguez
Age: 17 DOB:02/7/1003 Signed: 07/2/2019 From: Dominican Republic
HT: 5’10 WT: 210lb Bats: S Throws: R
The Yankees had $5.4 million in their 2019 international bonus pool, and they used a record $5.1 million of it to sign Dominguez out of the Dominican Republic in July of that year.
He has yet to even play in a professional game but is already easily considered their top prospect. His nickname is the “Martian” because of his never-before-seen attributes. He’s set to make his pro debut in 2021 and is already being compared to all-time greats like Ken Griffey Jr. Bo Jackson, and Mickey Mantle.
Lofty expectations for anyone, let alone a kid who’s yet to even play one minor league game.
Scouts have raved about him as the easiest five-tool player ever graded. That’s not all. Every one of his tools has been graded as well above average. His physical abilities are like nothing scouts have ever seen before.
He’s a switch-hitter who’s loaded with bat speed, power, and strength- from both sides of the plate. He has an advanced feel with a smooth swing and tremendous barrel control- meaning he should hit for average and power- from both sides of the plate.
Previously a catcher, he has since been tried at shortstop before being moved to centerfield. His plus arm and well-above-average speed and quickness profile him as an excellent defender at virtually every position on the diamond.
It could be detrimental to put such lofty expectations on such a young kid. A kid who has never even played one inning of professional baseball is expected to be better than Ken Griffey Jr.and Mickey Mantle?
The young player is being set up for failure. Thus, even if he’s successful by regular standards, he has failed, due to the extremely high expectations placed on him.
He will now live in a world where just being great is no longer good enough. Where just being an average Hall of Fame player- isn’t good enough. Where now, anything he does in his career, no matter how great or outstanding, will be looked as a failure- should he not be, “Mickey Mantle”.
And that’s not fair.
We need to remember; this is a kid who has never even played in a professional game. A kid not even old enough to vote, drink a beer, or drive his car after 9 pm.
Let him tell his own story.
He is projected to be the type of player who can change the course of a game when he’s not even in the batter’s box.
There have been numerous people from the Yankees scouting and player development departments to sing his praises.
Steve Wilson, the Yankees’ international crosschecker said, “Jasson has the best package of pure tools that I’ve ever had the chance to see at this young of an age.”
Donny Rowland, the Yankees international scouting director said of him, “He’s the kind of player that makes the hair on your arm stand up.”
PinstripePlus.com’s Patrick Teale said, “Everybody I trust, they all say he’s a switch-hitting Mike Trout.”
Everything you read on him speaks to his greatness. His plus five tools have him pegged to be possibly the highest graded prospect ever.
The Yankees say they will take their time with Dominguez. Ideally, they would like to get him 3-4 years of seasoning before making his big league debut. Additionally, considering he won’t even make his professional debut until spring 2021 at the earliest, it is highly unlikely they wait until 2025 to bring him up.
Once that happens, he is expected to be an immediate impact player, capable of being a 30-30 or even a 40-40 player right from the start. That would be incredible, but this is not a video game.
It would be best to temper our expectations for several reasons.
Either way, Yankee fans will be bubbling with anticipation until the day comes for Jasson Dominguez to make his much-awaited pinstripes debut.
Drafted by the Yankees in the first round of the 2020 MLB draft. He has a tremendous offensive profile and possesses all ingredients necessary to make an immediate offensive impact.
Uses a good approach to recognize pitches and manage the strike zone well. He possesses a quick, controlled, left-handed swing. He’s displayed plus natural raw power with wood bats in the Cape Cod league.
There is little doubt that Wells will be an impact bat in the big leagues.
The uncertainty comes from him finding a position on the defensive side of the ball. His receiving skills as a catcher are shaky and he possesses a below-average arm.
Scouts see him as a Kyle Schwarber type. He would maximize his offensive capabilities by not dealing with the physical demands of catching.
Contreras is very advanced for his age. Already has a great feel for sequencing his pitches and repeating his delivery.
He reached Single-A in 2018 at the age of 18. He led South Atlantic League with 12 wins and was the only teenage pitching prospect in the entire circuit.
All three of his pitches grade as above-average offerings and feature high spin rates.
His fastball sits 92-94mph and will occasionally touch 97mph. The high spin rate on his fastball creates riding action, which makes it much more difficult to hit. His best secondary offering is his mid-80s changeup with heavy sink. This causes it to be very tough on lefties. He throws a curveball with a high spin rate as well. The tight spin leads to a sharp bend.
This is the type of pitcher who will have a good career as a starter in the big leagues.
Therefore, he represents someone who was forced to learn the art of pitching because he wasn’t able to blow hitters away with the most electric stuff in the league. Someone who is a ‘pitcher’ and not just a ‘thrower’. A student of the game who has an understanding of sequencing, pitching in counts, and different in-game scenarios.
Roansy Contreras could compete for a spot in the starting rotation as early as this year.