Over the past few years the New York Yankees have been throwing good money after bad, attempting to win another championship with an aging roster. This past week, however, Brian Cashman was allowed to trade off old assets for future gains. Brandon Magee looks at the new Bronx Bombers that have made the Yankees farm system perhaps the best in baseball.
The New York Yankees sent seemingly every player on their major league squad that had any value to new lands before the non-waiver trade deadline passed. Aroldis Chapman went to the Chicago Cubs, Andrew Miller was sent to the Cleveland Indians, Carlos Beltran became a Texas Ranger, and Ivan Nova now dons the black and yellow of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In return, the Bronx Bombers received just a single player with major-league experience – Adam Warren. Instead, the Yankees beefed up their already ascendant minor league system with an abundance of talent. Who are these new prospects and how have they performed so far as professional ballplayers?
July 25th: Let the Games Begin
One week prior to the close of the trade deadline, the Yankees and Cubs agreed to swap the fireballing portsider for Adam Warren and three minor leaguers – outfielders Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford as well as the big prize, shortstop Gleyber Torres.
While Warren immediately rejoined the Yankees – he had previously been sent to the Cubs from New York in the Starlin Castro swap – the other three took their places in the Yankees farm system.
Torres, a 19-year-old, joined the Tampa Yankees in the High-A Florida State League after playing in 94 games with the Cubs High-A affiliate in the Carolina League, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Torres has been a consistent batter in his three minor league seasons – with his stats for the Pelicans (.275/.359/.433) being nearly identical to his .283/.357/.403 career line. Like most minor league shortstops, he is still learning his craft, committing 20 errors so far this season. If Torres continues with his consistent improvement as he climbs the ladder, he may well push Didi Gregorius – who has three more years of arbitration eligibility remaining – into trade candidacy as early as the 2018 offseason.
While Torres was a top 50-prospect coming into the season, McKinney was also rated in the top 100 according to Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com. However, the 21-year-old outfielder has regressed from his first Double-A season last year. In 77 games last season with the Tennessee Smokies, McKinney put forth a fine line of .285/.346/.420 with 30 extra-base hits. While he has shown minor growth this season in his ability to take a walk, his power has tumbled with only 17 extra-base hits in his 94 Double-A games. Between the Smokies and the Trenton Thunder, McKinney is batting .251/.352/.326. His outfield play has also been erratic, committing five miscues but throwing out six runners.
Rashad Crawford is an older lottery ticket. The 22-year-old outfielder was a teammate of Torres in Myrtle Beach and continues to be his teammate in Tampa. In 90 games this season, the lefty-hitting Crawford has batted .251/.323/.372.
While Torres and McKinney are both promising prospects, do they make up for the loss of Rookie Davis, Eric Jagielo, Tony Renda, and Caleb Cotham – the four prospects they sent to the Cincinnati Reds in the trade that brought Chapman to the Yankees?
July 31st: The Big Fish
While the Chapman deal brought the Yankees prospects that are at least a few years off, the haul for fellow left-handed reliever Miller may have more immediate benefits for the Bombers. The New Yorkers received a trio of pitching prospects – Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller, and J.P. Feyereisen – and uber-outfield prospect Clint Frazier.
Frazier, the fifth overall pick in the 2013 Rule 4 Draft, pounded the pitching of the Eastern League this season. The 21-year-old put up a line of .276/.356/.469 with 25 doubles and 13 home runs in his first go-round in Double A with the Akron RubberDucks. His dominance with Akron earned him a promotion to another part of Ohio, Columbus, where he hit four singles and a triple in his first five Triple-A games before being traded to the Yankees. He has been kept at that level with the Bombers, joining their International League club in Pennsylvania. Frazier joins the Yankees deep high minors prospect outfield pool (Aaron Judge, Ben Gamel, Mason Williams, Jake Cave, and Tyler Austin) as a possible replacement for the departed Carlos Beltran next season.
20-year-old left-handed starter Justus Sheffield was the other big name that the Yankees received from the Indians. Sheffield, a first-round pick in 2014, has been pitching reasonably well in his first High-A season with the Lynchburg Hillcats. Over 19 starts, Justus has served up a 3.59 ERA and a 1.374 WHIP. While he has shown some regression from his 2015 season in walks allowed (40 in 95 1/3 innings to 38 in 127 2/3 innings) and in strikeouts (going from 9.7 K/9 to 8.8 K/9 this season), he has continued to show progress in limiting hits (a reduction from 9.5 H/9 to 8.6) and has also shown maturity with runners reaching on errors, limiting his unearned runs to only two this season. While it is always difficult to judge the future path of pitching prospects, Sheffield has certainly displayed his talent in his first three seasons.
J.P. Feyereisen may be the hidden gem of the deal. The 23-year-old has been used exclusively in relief since being drafted out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2014, and has quickly ascended to Double-A in just his second full season. With the RubberDucks, Feyereisen put up a 2.23 ERA with four wins and five saves in 33 relief appearances. J.P. has been a strikeout artist, with 56 in 40 1/3 innings (12.5 K/9) for Akron and has also limited the hits (30). Like many minor league relievers, he does have a touch of a wild side – giving up 20 free passes this season (4.46 BB/9). Feyereisen, if he can keep up his flame throwing ways, could see a quick ascendency to the big leagues.
Ben Heller, who turns 25 today, has also been used exclusively in relief since being drafted in 2013. Heller was nearly unhittable in 15 games to start the year in Akron this season, giving up a mere three hits in his 16 1/3 innings of relief while whiffing 23. While he was unable to keep that level of artistry up after his promotion to Triple-A Columbus, his 2.49 ERA and 1.066 WHIP in 28 appearances for the Clippers have certainly been good. He has also continued to show his strikeout ability, whiffing 25 in 25 1/3 innings. Heller may get a chance to accomplish his Big League dreams with the Yankees this September.
August 1st: The Last Good Piece
Dillon Tate was the big prize for the Yankees in this trade, with the Rangers sending the fourth overall pick of the 2015 draft to the Bombers. In his first full season, the 22-year-old right-handed starter had struggled with the Hickory Crawdads of the South Atlantic League. In his 17 games, Tate had recorded a 5.40 ERA with a 1.615 WHIP in 65 innings. Dillon also allowed nearly 11 hits per nine innings and gave up 27 free passes in Hickory this season. But, one season does not a career make and the Yankees are hoping to unlock the promise that led to Tate being drafted so high.
Erik Swanson spent his first two seasons with the Rangers as a reliever, but he was switched to a starter this season in Hickory. The 22-year-old righty has been very good in the role, going 6-4 with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.254 WHIP over his 81 1/3 innings. He has also maintained his ability to strikeout batters at a similar rate to what he showed in relief with nearly one strikeout per inning.
Nick Green is a low-bet lottery ticket. The 21-year-old pitcher – who was originally drafted by the Yankees in the 2013 draft out of high school, but did not sign – has struggled in his second season in short-season Spokane. While he has improved upon his ugly 2015 season, Green has posted an ERA of 4.98 and a WHIP of 1.369 in seven starts. There may be a kernel of hope for a transformation into a better prospect. Green has whiffed 44 batters in only 34 1/3 innings, an ability that he had not displayed in his first two professional seasons.
August 1st: Oh, We Almost Forgot…
Much like Yankees fans did not know what to expect with Nova on the mound, they don’t know who they are getting back from the Pittsburgh Pirates in a trade that was consummated at the trade deadline. The Pirates will be sending the Bombers a pair of Players to be Named Later – both likely to be lower level lottery tickets or possibly named Cash Money.
Given the Yankees current middling season, the Yankees braintrust was correct to check the market for possible overpays for the major league players they no longer needed to stay at .500. Brian Cashman, finally able to go prospect hunting, did an excellent job of filling the minor league coffers. For a quartet of talented major leaguers, the Yankees received ten interesting prospects, a pair of PTBNLs, and Adam Warren. While the paths of the ten to twelve prospects are yet to be written, the pedigrees of Frazier, Sheffield, Torres, and Tate can not be denied. And the Yankees – who already had an exciting minor league system – could now have the best in the game. That’s one way to win the trade deadline.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.