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Yankees Farm System: Glass Half Full?

A lot has been written in the lead up to Spring Training about the Yankee’s Farm System.  Most of it has been negative.  In fact, nearly all of it has been negative.  The bad press began with Keith Law ranking the Yankees 20th overall on  Then Wally Mathews and Andrew Marchand did an exhaustive account of how barren the system was and may remain for the foreseeable future.  While it cannot be argued that the Yankees have a great amount of major league ready talent for 2014, they do appear to have several prospects who could make an impact in the Bronx in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

As recently as three years ago, the Yankees had the Number 10 Farm System in MLB.  The single biggest factor in the slide from 10 to 20 has been injuries and 1st round busts. However, the draft is more than just the first round and players recovering from injuries.  If several prospects recover from injuries and other continue to develop, we could be talking about how deep the Yankee Farm System is a year from now.  When one looks at the system through a glass half full perspective, there is quite a few items they can build upon.  The Yankees Double A affiliate, Trenton Thunder, were named the Minor League Team of the year and Eastern League Champions.  That team sported some of the brightest stars in the system including Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Nik Turley and, of course, Yankees super-prospect Gary Sanchez.  Several of these prospects will get a full year at Trenton this summer or move up to Triple A Scranton-Wilkes Barre.  They should be able to continue their development and continue to get closer to the big leagues.  If that happens then, simply by natural development, the outlook of the Yankees Farm System will improve dramatically.

Being a Yankee prospect is no easy task.  For every member of the Core Four, there are dozens of Eric Duncans, Brien Taylors and now possibly Dante Bichette Jrs.  In order to have a functional organization you don’t need every prospect to be a signature talent.  You need to develop talent at all levels.  While Joba Chamberlain was a first round pick with a blazing fastball and received all the hype as debuted in pinstripes, there was another marginal prospect named David Robertson coming along as well.  Now Joba is a Tiger and Robertson is the heir to the Sandman himself, Mariano Rivera.  Yankee fans need to be patient and lower expectations for the current crop of prospects.  Even developing an “average” major league player is a necessary accomplishment that should not be overlooked.  And while it has been quite a long time, since the Yankee organization developed a full-fledged star, they have put out a number of Major League caliber players, and it waits to be seen as far as who will be next.

The severe rash of injuries that plagued the 2013 Yankees gave Yankee fans a rare opportunity in the Bronx to watch young energetic players on an everyday basis.  This led to some surprises and many disappointments.  Two Yankees in particular that showed a lot of promise for 2014 were Zoilo Almonte and Preston Claiborne.

Zoilo came up and provided an instant spark last summer, getting some timely hits and playing a solid corner outfield before succumbing to injury himself.  He probably could have benefited from a full year in AAA before getting a chance at a fourth outfielder job this spring but switch hitting outfielders with power are always welcome.  His path to the Bronx may be blocked by Ichiro being entrenched as the current fourth outfielder and Kelly Johnson‘s ability to play the outfield as well.  But should a spring training injury or trade occur, Zoilo will most likely be one the first call ups this season.

Preston Claiborne came up mid-season and instantly made his presence felt with 14 straight walk-less outings and allowed just one run in his first 20 innings in pinstripes.  Claiborne faded terribly down the stretch finishing the season with a 4.11 ERA and 4.14 FIP in 50.1 innings, including a allowing nine runs and four homers in only five innings in the month of September.  Major League hitters appeared to figure him out to some degree coupled with the increased fatigue of a season spent traveling back and forth from Scranton to the Bronx.  It will be interesting to see if he has made the adjustments needed to continue to be a part of the Yankee bullpen in 2014.  Barring injury, he appears to be a favorite to grab one of three spots currently open.

I expect that simply due to less injuries in 2014 than 2013 (and really how could there be more?) for both the minor league prospects and the major league players, the Yankee system will be allowed to develop.  I believe this will allow them to jump back into the top half of major league baseball with an outside chance of getting into the top 10 if some of the big name prospects (Sanchez, Williams, Austin, Heathcott and Manny Banuelos) make a big jump.