New York Yankees

New York Yankees: 1st-Quarter Stock Up, Stock Down for Top 10 Prospects in 2014

Peter RichmanCorrespondent IMay 12, 2014

New York Yankees: 1st-Quarter Stock Up, Stock Down for Top 10 Prospects in 2014

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    In an Apr. 26, 2014 win against the Angels, No. 3 prospect, catcher John Ryan Murphy (left), hit his first MLB home run and caught David Robertson's third save on the year.
    In an Apr. 26, 2014 win against the Angels, No. 3 prospect, catcher John Ryan Murphy (left), hit his first MLB home run and caught David Robertson's third save on the year.John Minchillo/Associated Press

    The New York Yankees (19-17, 2nd AL East) and their minor league affiliates have just wrapped up the first quarter of the 2014 season, and every rung of the organization has reached at least the 35-game mark.

    A month-and-a-half of baseball has unfortunately—and much too rapidly—begun to resemble the ever-changing personnel in 2013 that ultimately missed the playoffs. But the best news is that the Bombers still remain in prime position to make a midseason, and late-season, push for the postseason. Because, despite plenty of injuries to, and shuffling of, the Bronx pitching staff, it has been New York's timely hitting that has continued to bail the club out and preserve its perch near the top of the AL East. 

    Since the start of the season, we've updated the stock reports for the top 10 prospects—including a one-month update following April and weekly updates since Opening Day—that have provided various glimpses into the progress, value and outlook of top young talent. And some of the top players, like catcher John Ryan Murphy (No. 3), center fielder Slade Heathcott (No. 2) and catcher Gary Sanchez (No. 1), could not only put together breakout performances the next short years, but could also significantly impact the big league club.

    Only one top-10 prospect (Murphy) has made large contributions to the big league team in 2014, but it remains crucial to keep tabs on the best young organizational talent. The Yankees can both project their rising stars while looking ahead to open roles in 2015, and they can continue to determine who's already MLB-ready in order to be prepared should more injuries create further major league roster needs.

    Based on individual stats and trends from recent seasons, 2014 first-quarter performances and outlooks for each player's fit and production in the bigs, the following breaks down the first-quarter stock of all top-10 Yankees prospects.

     

    NYY Organizational Roundup for 2014 1st Quarter

    (MLB, AL East) New York Yankees: 19-17, 2nd

    (AAA, IL North) SWB RailRiders: 19-16, 3rd

    (AA, EL Eastern) Trenton Thunder: 23-14, 2nd

    (A, FSL North) Tampa Yankees: 16-19, 4th

    (A, SAL Southern) Charelston RiverDogs: 19-16, 4th

    (SS, NYPL McNamara) SI Yankees: N/A; season begins June 13, 2014 vs. Brooklyn.

     

    *Top 10 rankings in this report refer to a start-of-the-season breakdown from Apr. 3, 2014.

    **All statistics updated through game action on May 11, 2014 and courtesy of milb.com, baseball-reference.com and yankees.com unless noted otherwise.

No. 10: LHP Ian Clarkin, Low-A Charleston RiverDogs

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    Last Week Stats

    1 GS (May 9), ND, 4.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K

     

    Notes

    The Yankees selected the 6'2" left-hander 33rd overall in the 2013 draft, but Clarkin made just three rookie starts last year and didn't make his full-season debut until May 3 this season (spent April in extended spring training).

    In that debut, the 19-year-old picked up the win after five innings of scoreless pitching in which he allowed four hits, struck out five and allowed no walks. In last week's start—a no decision—the San Diego, California, native was pulled after 4.2 innings, but he allowed just one earned run on three hits and two walks, and struck out another five while walking two.

    With three above-average pitches that include a low-90s fastball and a plus curveball (as seen in the video above), Clarkin is tough on lefties and deceptive to hitters on either side since he hides the ball well. 

    The Yankees seem to be showing good faith in the young pitcher, promoting him past short-season baseball to Charleston to begin 2014, and he's proven capable in his first two outings—his only appearances in the first quarter of the year. That isn't a large sample size, but these two starts are a strong early indication of Clarkin's potential and competitiveness.

    Baseball America's Josh Norris noted Clarkin's "competitive streak" prior to the season (subscription required): "Clarkin helped USA Baseball’s 18U national team win gold at the 2012 IBAF World Championship in South Korea, spinning six strong innings in the final to beat Canada. His strong spring pushed him into first-round consideration in 2013, and the Yankees took him with the third of their three first-rounders."

    MLB.com, which ranks Clarkin No. 8 among Yankees prospects, projects him as a No. 2 or 3 arm down the line. Given the expectations, the trust and the early returns, Clarkin's stock is moving in the right direction two weeks into May, and he could be on the move quickly through the system if the strikeout-to-walk numbers remain consistent and if he can prove rock-solid for seven- or eight-inning outings.

     

    1st-Quarter Stats

    2 GS, 1-0, 9.2 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 10 K, 0.93 ERA, 0.931 WHIP, 9.3 K/9

     

    1st-Quarter Stock: UP

No. 9: RHP Jose Ramirez, Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

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    The 6'3", 190-pounder has returned from injury for two innings in early May, allowing one hit and one run along with three strikeouts and one walk.
    The 6'3", 190-pounder has returned from injury for two innings in early May, allowing one hit and one run along with three strikeouts and one walk.USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week Stats

    2 G, 1-0, 2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 13.5 K/9

     

    Notes

    MLB.com, in its pre-2014 ranking, ranked Ramirez No. 13 among Yanks prospects, calling him "the most big league-ready pitcher in the Yankees system," adding that "he might have the best changeup in the entire organization -- including the majors."

    Ramirez was first activated from the disabled list on May 6, 2014, as the Yankees released outfielder Ronnier Mustelier. Last season, between Double-A (42.1 IP) and Triple-A (31.1 IP), Ramirez started 16 games and went 2-6 with a 3.67 ERA and 9.5 K/9. His first two appearances of 2014 came last week, and the 24-year-old allowed one hit and no runs in two combined innings—including a win.

    If he can keep his walk totals down and stay healthy, the big-bodied right-hander has No. 3-type stuff—a fastball reaching 96 mph and a changeup with splitter action that "makes hitters look silly," according to MLB.com.

    His slider needs some refinement and command, per the same pre-2014 report, but the overflow of injuries to the Yankees pitching staff could continue to narrow the gap between Ramirez, who is already up at Triple-A Scranton, and the Bronx.

     

    1st-Quarter Stats

    2 G, 1-0, 2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 13.5 K/9

     

    1st-Quarter Stock: UP

No. 8: 1B Greg Bird, High-A Tampa Yankees

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    Greg Bird has slowly made his return from injury since May 7, when he picked up a hit, run and RBI in his 2014 debut.
    Greg Bird has slowly made his return from injury since May 7, when he picked up a hit, run and RBI in his 2014 debut.Associated Press

    Last Week Stats

    4 G, 14 AB, 4 H, .375/.571/.946, 1 HR, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB, 3 K

     

    Notes

    After missing the first five weeks of 2014 with back problems, Greg Bird made his return on May 7 and has picked up four hits in 14 at-bats to go along with two walks, a homer, a double and three RBI.

    The 21-year-old from Aurora, Colorado, was a fifth-round pick of New York in 2011, and he's posted a .288-plus batting average and .428-plus OBP each of the past two seasons, while leading the South Atlantic leading in OBP in 2013. Last season, he played 130 games for Low-A Charleston and slashed .288/.428/.511 with 20 homers, 36 doubles, 84 RBI and 107 walks.

    With a smooth lefty bat, big frame (6'3", 215 lbs.) and limited athleticism—due to back problems that prompted a conversion from catcher to first base in 2013—Bird is an interesting prospect to keep an eye on with a lack of organizational depth at first base.

    He begins 2014 with a promotion to High-A Tampa, where he's now logged his first four games. His power tool has been questioned and graded less than his hit tool in the past, per Baseball America's Norris, but with two extra-base hits in his first four, including one that left the yard, it looks like Bird has more power/loft potential in his swing than initially expected.

    If he can finish the year healthy and see a transition to Double-A, you'd expect a season debut at the higher level in 2015 with a path to Scranton established. Drafted out of high school, his ceiling can only get higher if he can project as a 30-homer, 30-double, 100-RBI addition to a lineup against higher levels of pitching. 2013 was a breakout year for the young first baseman, but he'll have to back it up with a prolific 2014. 

     

    1st-Quarter Stats

    4 G, 14 AB, 4 H, .375/.571/.946, 1 HR, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB, 3 K

     

    1st-Quarter Stock: UP

No. 7: RF/DH Aaron Judge, Low-A Charleston RiverDogs

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    Last Week Stats

    6 G, 18 AB, 3 H, .167, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 4 BB, 5 K

     

    Notes

    "Aaron Judge's problem is never going to be how hard he hits the ball. We're not worried about that at all," said vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman, per The Journal News' Chad Jennings

    After a hot first month of 2014, the 32nd pick of the 2013 draft finally cooled off a little last week, collecting just one extra-base hit, and three total hits, over six games. But he only struck out five times, bringing his season total to just 26 in 33 games. 

    At the first-quarter mark of his first pro season, the 6'7", 230-pound Californian leads the RiverDogs in walks (21) and runs scored (18), is second in hits (35), average and OBP, third in OPS (.832) and fourth in RBI and homers (see him crush his first pro homer in video above). 

    Baseball America's Norris referred to the 22-year-old Judge as "a physical beast," who "has earned physical comparisons with Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton." His large frame makes his path to the ball equally long, a shortcoming that may negatively impact his batting average in the long term.

    But the polished Fresno State product shows off slightly above-average speed and brings a solid glove and arm to the outfield. Though his power has not always been there in 2014 (3 HR), he's impressed so far with his .300-plus average, .400-plus OBP and third-best walk total in the South Atlantic League. 

    "Not surprised about the plate discipline," said Newman. "We thought we had that when we drafted him. He really impacts the ball. ... We're going to let that (home run power) emerge over time."

     

    1st-Quarter Stats

    33 G, 116 AB, 35 H, .302/.410/.422, 3 HR, 3 2B, 15 RBI, 21 BB, 26 K

     

    1st-Quarter Stock: UP

No. 6: RF Tyler Austin, Double-A Trenton Thunder

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    Last Week Stats

    2 G, 9 AB, 3 H, .300, 0 XBH, 0 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K

     

    Notes

    Tyler Austin, a 2010 13th-rounder, returned from the DL last week after being sidelined because of a strained groin. Logging just two games (May 10-11), Austin picked up three hits to bring his first-quarter average to .262. 

    After batting .322/.400/.559 in 2012, the 22-year-old from Georgia hit just .265/.351/.378 last season and injured his thumb.

    Having been in the Yankees farm system since 2010, Austin has not reached Triple-A, and his ongoing injury woes, coupled with diminishing production at the plate, could see his stock continue to dip as 2014 progresses. And with the surplus of Yankee outfielders in the Bronx and at the highest levels of the minors, there isn't much room for Austin to be on the move at this juncture, anyway.

    MLB.com still calls Austin "a gifted hitter" with "a short stroke and plenty of bat speed," saying, "he does an excellent job of staying back and waiting on offspeed pitches." The pre-2014 prospect list also emphasizes that added loft in his swing will increase his power production in the future; unfortunately, he and the Yankees have yet to see that in action, with only three extra-base hits in his first 16 games. 

     

    1st-Quarter Stats

    16 G, 61 AB, 16 H, .262/.352/.344, 0 HR, 1 2B, 2 3B, 6 RBI, 9 BB, 15 K

     

    1st-Quarter Stock: DOWN

No. 5: 3B Eric Jagielo, High-A Tampa Yankees

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    Last Week Stats

    6 G, 23 AB, 6 H, .261/.292/.522, 1 HR, 3 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 7 K

     

    Notes

    The 26th pick of the 2013 draft out of Notre Dame, third baseman Eric Jagielo is tied for the team-lead in RBI (19) and is second in home runs (7), slugging (.571) and walks (14). He isn't hitting for average, though 13 extra-base hits—including the six doubles—show his ability to drive the ball to all fields.

    Baseball America's Norris puts the 21-year-old's stroke and plate discipline into perspective: "With his sweet lefty stroke, Jagielo is made for Yankee Stadium. He’s a polished hitter with above-average vision at the plate that allows him to turn on fastballs and stay back on breaking pitches." 

    That Jagielo's bat is considered polished because of his playing time in college only benefits his stock in his progressions through the minors. Similar to Bird, his below-average athleticism and defense are the only red flags. But offensively, Jagielo's been solid since the start of the season, and he added his seventh home run and three more doubles this past week.

    MLB.com noted his improved patience at the plate in 2013, and argued that his arm strength is enough to offset the questions of his staying at third base. If Jagielo can boost his average and OBP he should remain on track for MLB.com's estimated 2016 MLB debut—especially since the Yankees don't possess a surefire MLB starter at third after Yangervis Solarte (who is only in his second month of the big leagues).

     

    1st-Quarter Stats

    34 G, 127 AB, 31 H, .244/.324/.457, 7 HR, 6 2B, 19 RBI, 17 R, 14 BB, 32 K

     

    1st-Quarter Stock: UP

No. 4: CF Mason Williams, Double-A Trenton Thunder

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    Last Week Stats

    6 G, 25 AB, 3 H, .120, 0 XBH, 1 RBI, 5 BB, 5 K

     

    Notes

    After batting .349 in 2011 and .298 in 2012, Williams took a step back in 2013 when he hit just .245/.304/.337 with just 15 stolen bags and 28 RBI. 

    Scouts, including Baseball America's Norris, noticed last season that "Williams didn't show the same tools he had in 2012, particularly at the plate, where he rarely made contact and adopted an Ichiro-style slapping approach." As MLB.com agrees: "He covers the plate well, but his slashing swing saps most of his power."

    He hasn't been able to turn his swing, or offense, around in the first quarter of 2014, currently batting below .200 with sub-.300 OBP and slugging and with just eight RBI through 34 games. According to Norris, his above-average defense "didn't suffer" along with his production at the plate, as his "range, instincts and routes" continue to be praised (see video above of Williams' excellent center field arm).

    He'll need to prove he can hit Double-A pitching should he hope to make the jump to a role in Scranton or the Bronx down the line. But for now, as MLB.com points out: "Williams is still fairly young and has the tools to profile as a leadoff hitter if he can put everything together."

     

    1st-Quarter Stats

    34 G, 140 AB, 27 H, .193/.289/.264, 1 HR, 5 2B, 8 RBI, 5 SB, 19 BB, 21 K

     

    1st-Quarter Stock: DOWN

No. 3: C John Ryan Murphy, New York Yankees

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    Last Week Stats

    2 G, 8 AB, 5 H, .625, 0 XBH, 2 RBI, 0 BB, 5 K

     

    Notes

    John Ryan Murphy only played limited time this past week (two games), but he continued to prove to Joe Girardi and Yanks brass that he can profile as a reliable everyday catcher with excellent game-calling skills. More than that, Murphy has essentially been a dark-horse savior—and stabilizing presence behind the plate—for the constantly realigned pitching staff and bullpen.

    Since his second call-up to the big leagues (in the wake of Francisco Cervelli's injury), Murphy has only added confidence in his offense with 11 hits in 10 games, including his first major league homer.

    Though he struggled to find his stroke since his late-season call-up in 2013—as well as through spring training and April in Scranton—Murphy has put his smooth swing on display (his first MLB homer, in video above, looks effortless and his swing was quiet).

    "Murphy has enough power to hit 15 homers annually in the Major Leagues," writes MLB.com. "He uses a calm approach and compact stroke, allowing him to make consistent contact."

    MLB.com says of the 22-year-old's defense: "Murphy always has had solid arm strength, and he's gotten better with his footwork, release and accuracy on his throws. He has made strides with his receiving as well." 

     

    1st-Quarter Stats (MLB)

    10 G, 27 AB, 11 H, .407/.407/.556, 1 HR, 1 2B, 5 RBI, 0 BB, 6 K

     

    1st-Quarter Stats (AAA)

    7 G, 26 AB, 5 H, .192/.192/.308, 0 HR, 3 2B, 3 RBI, 0 BB, 5 K

     

    1st-Quarter Stock: UP

No. 2: CF Slade Heathcott, Double-A Trenton Thunder

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    Last Week Stats

    N/A (knee)

     

    2013 Stats (AA Trenton): 103 G, 399 AB, 104 H, .261/.327/.411, 8 HR, 22 2B, 7 3B, 49 RBI, 15 SB, 36 BB, 107 K

     

    Notes

    Slade Heathcott, the other top Yankees center field prospect (Mason Williams), is a raw, athletic talent, but he has yet to see the field in 2014 after undergoing offseason knee injury.

    Originally projected to begin the year above Williams (who had a down year in 2013) in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Heathcott might be plugged into the Double-A Trenton outfield logjam to start the year.

    Last week, Vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman told The Journal News' Chad Jennings that Heathcott is about a week away from returning from the DL, and that the 23-year-old Texan will "'most likely" be assigned to Trenton.

    Heathcott appeared in 103 games for Trenton last season, where he hit .261/.327/.411 with 22 doubles, eight RBI, seven triples and 15 stolen bases. His all-out attitude on the field has been compared to Bryce Harper, and MLB.com highlights his defense and range: "His speed, arm and outfield defense all rate as better than average, making him an asset in center field and capable of playing all three outfield positions."

    Prior to his most recent surgery, Heathcott already had knee and shoulder injures in high school, and the continued time off the field has taken valuable at-bats away from the young outfielder. MLB.com points out, however, that if he "can refine his hitting ability," the 2009 first-rounder "has the bat speed and strength to be a power threat in the middle of a lineup."

    The only problem—because Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are blocking the way, and Williams is already in center in Trenton—is finding a spot for him should he be ready as soon as next year to fill a role in the Bronx.

     

    1st-Quarter Stats

    N/A (knee)

     

    1st-Quarter Stock: N/A (knee)

No. 1: C Gary Sanchez, Double-A Trenton Thunder

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    Last Week Stats

    6 G, 27 AB, 4 H, .148, 0 HR, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 SB, 1 BB, 6 K

     

    Notes

    The unanimous No. 1 Yankees prospect, catcher Gary Sanchez, had just one extra-base hit this past week, but still added a double, three RBI and his first stolen base on the year.

    Sanchez is a career .273/.341/.465 hitter, so his first-quarter production (.254/.331/.424) is not off by his own standards. And since he hasn't exceed 85 RBI in a full season while collecting 17, 18 and 15 homers in each of the past three years, respectively, his four home runs and 23 RBI through 30 games are a great sign for the 21-year-old.

    The five-year signing of Brian McCann threw up an obvious roadblock into Sanchez' MLB path, but it also eased some of the pressure to move the young talent through the system. Over the next quarter of the 2014 season, you'd like to see him around the .275-.280 mark for average and approach the .400 level for OBP. But the strikeouts are down (as is common with Sanchez), the raw power has been there in flashes (see grand slam in video above) and he's still shooting the gaps when he's not leaving the yard (eight 2B).

    "Sanchez’s bat still rates as the best in the system by a long shot, thanks to effortless, well-above-average raw power and an above-average hit tool," writes Baseball America's Norris. "Scouts see his floor as being a .260-.270 hitter with at least 20 home runs annually, which would be all-star caliber production for a catcher."

    It will be interesting as 2014 rolls along whether the Yankees decide to put plans in motion to move Sanchez to a corner infield spot to boost his flexibility—and stock—for the big league bacllclub.

     

    1st-Quarter Stats

    30 G, 118 AB, 30 H, .254/.331/.424, 4 HR, 8 2B, 23 RBI, 13 BB, 23 K

     

    1st-Quarter Stock: UP

     

    *For previous weekly stock updates from the first quarter of the 2014 season, please check out Weeks 1-3 (Apr. 7Apr. 14Apr. 21), as well as the first monthly update (Apr. 28, 2014) heading into May and last week's report (Week 5, May 7).

    Peter F. Richman is a B/R Copy Editor and Featured Columnist for the New York Yankees. For more NYY opinions/discussions, feel free to reach out via Twitter:  

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