How do Yankees' top prospects fit New York's needs?
Free agents filled holes for 2014, but many talented farmhands waiting in wings
This series is designed to evaluate the role prospects play in each Major League organization, looking at the short- and long-term needs of each club and illustrating how prospects fit in both scenarios. Here's my look at the Yankees:
The Yankees satisfied most of their 2014 needs by turning to the free-agent market. Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and Masahiro Tanaka will all play roles for the Yanks in 2014. If the roster stays healthy and performs as expected, there will be little need for prospects in the coming season.
With Derek Jeter retiring, the most pressing need is for a permanent shortstop. The Yankees don't seem to have a replacement in the farm system.
Gary Sanchez has been a household name with Yanks fans for years. That's because he began play at age 17, having been signed as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic. Sanchez is an offense-first catcher. While his defense is improving, it is his bat that will take Sanchez to the big leagues. Last season between Class A Advanced Tampa and Double-A Trenton, the 21-year-old right-handed hitter smacked 15 home runs and drove in 71 runs. He had a combined batting average of .253, far below his composite .275 for parts of four Minor League seasons. But it will take a serious McCann injury before Sanchez makes it to the parent club.
PROJECTED 2016 YANKEES LINEUP
It must be noted that 22-year-old catcher J.R. Murphy is another backstop making progress. He has more experience than Sanchez and has hit well in the Minor Leagues. Murphy may actually land in New York before Sanchez.
Left-handed-hitting Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams probably provide the most advanced outfield help for the club.
Heathcott projects as a solid right fielder, with a strong arm and good speed. He has some offensive firepower, but not as much as one would like to see from a corner outfielder. Last year at Double-A Trenton, Heathcott hit .261 with eight homers and 49 RBIs in 444 plate appearances. He stole 15 bases.
Williams is an athletic center fielder with speed. His best tool is his defense, as he gets outstanding reads off the bat. Williams has played parts of four seasons in the Yankees' system, beginning last year at Class A Advanced Tampa and finishing the season at Trenton. For the year, he hit a combined .245 in 117 games.
Outfielder Aaron Judge is 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds. He was the 32nd player selected in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. Only 21, the Cal State Fresno product is expected to provide a much-needed power boost to the future Yanks outfield.
Right-handed-hitting Tyler Austin has played both the outfield and first base in the Minor Leagues. His versatility gives the Yankees a nice player, if needed. Austin isn't a powerhouse, but he can consistently offer contact hitting as an asset.
Greg Bird may be the Yanks' most intriguing prospect. This past season -- his first healthy one in three years -- Bird played at Class A Charleston. He walked an incredible 107 times and struck out 132 times. He also hit 20 homers and drove in 84 runs. Bird plays first base, a position of need in the system.
Gosuke Katoh, a 2013 second-round selection, gives the team a left-handed-hitting option at second base. In his fist pro season he hit .310 with six homers and 24 RBIs over 50 games and 215 plate appearances.
Eric Jagielo is moving through the Yankees' system as a very hot third-base prospect. The left-handed-hitting Jagielo batted .268 this past season after stops at both Yanks Gulf Coast Rookie League clubs and Class A short season Staten Island. In his 226 trips to the plate, he hit six home runs to go along with 16 doubles and a triple.
Right-handed pitcher Jose Ramirez made 16 starts last season, eight at Double-A and eight at Triple-A. He threw to a 2-6 record with a combined 3.67 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Ramirez has a lively arm on a 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame. He can bring the fastball at 96 mph, but his changeup might be his best pitch. Ramirez's slider is marginal and needs some continued refinement, but he's solid.
Lefty Nik Turley has a good fastball/curveball combination coming from a 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame. His command is solid, and he can be counted upon to eat innings. In six Minor League seasons, Turley has a 3.18 ERA in 486 1/3 innings.
Ian Clarkin was a 2013 first-round selection. He is a pitcher to keep an eye on, but he is still too raw and inexperienced to offer help for the Yankees' immediate pitching needs.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.