Putting too much stock into the Gulf Coast League is even more dangerous than putting too much stock into the New York-Penn League. That said, for the Yankees, the GCL is all about early player development. For the rest of us, it’s all about first impressions, and quite a few young Yankees made impressive first impressions this year.
The Yankees rookie league team hit .298/.378/.466 as a group. They were tops in the GCL in all three slash categories — by at least 20 points in each category — and no other team slugged higher than .397. To go with all that offense, the GCL Yankees pitching staff tied for the team lead in strikeouts but also finished second in walks and landed in the bottom half in team ERA. On the whole, there was more good than bad coming out of the Yankees lowest American affiliate.
Hitter of the Year: 3B Dante Bichette Jr.
An easy call. The Yankees top pick in this year’s draft led the Gulf Coast League with 67 hits, 47 RBI and 17 doubles. Putting to rest some question about whether he deserved to be taken so high, Bichette actually got off to a slow start before becoming the best player in the GCL and earning a late promotion to Staten Island. Bichette earned plenty of praise and established himself as a legitimate hitter. The Yankees have moved slowly with most of their top high school picks recently, so Bichette could open next season in extended spring before going back to short-season Staten Island.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Taylor Morton
Sixteen different pitchers started games for the Gulf Coast League Yankees this season, and only one of them started more than six times. Things are different at this level, and in a lot of cases it’s easier to think of this as a single pitching staff rather than a rotation and a bullpen. Morton is clearly being groomed as a starter, and he had the strongest season of the bunch. Through 12 appearances — half starts, half lengthy relief outings — Morton had a 1.98 ERA to go with 35 strikeouts and eight walks. Half of his outings were scoreless and he had a 1.14 WHIP. A high school kid drafted in the ninth round last year, Morton was making his professional debut.
Breakout performance: CF Ravel Santana
The Yankees young center field depth extends beyond Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams. After two years in the Dominican Summer League, Santana’s first season in the States was a massive success, leading Baseball America to name him the second-best prospect in the Gulf Coast League (behind Bichette Jr.). Santana hit .296/.361/.568 with 10 stolen bases and a team-high nine home runs. Santana put up similar numbers last year in the Domincan, so this doesn’t look like a fluke season. The guy can play.
Disappointing numbers: 2B David Adams
Truth be told, the Yankees didn’t have any big names who had especially disappointing seasons in the Gulf Coast League this season. Instead, the bigger disappointment was the fact that Adams played more games at this level than at any other (and he played only 17 games here). A promising infield prospect, Adams was in Double-A last year and had the year cut short by injury. He was expected back this season, but he played in only 29 total games. He hit well in those games — .370/.421/.509 between the GCL and Florida State League — but obviously the Yankees wanted to see him on the field more than that.
Top prospect watch: SS Claudio Custodio
Bichette and Santana were the top prospects on this roster, but Custodio is another guy who could easily have been the Breakout Performer of the year. He landed on Baseball America’s list of top GCL prospects after hitting .325/.433/.414 with a team-high 26 stolen bases (he was caught stealing only twice). Originally signed by the Royals, Custadio wound up with the Yankees after it was discovered he had signed with Kansas City under a fake name. He led the Gulf Coast League in runs and put himself on the prospect map in his first season in the States.
Notable: Catching prospect just keep showing up in this organization. Find room on the list for C Isaias Tejada who hit .331/.404/.568 in his first action outside of the Dominican Republic. The bad news is that he threw out a league-worst 13.7 percent of base stealers… In addition to Custodio, the Yankees had INF Jose Rosario getting time at second, third and short, and he hit .331/.372/.529… 1B/3B Tyler Austin was a 13th-round pick last year and he raked in the GCL, hitting .390/.438/.622 to earn a promotion after just 20 games. He kept hitting in Staten Island, going .323/.402/.542 after the promotion… Another 1B/3B, Matt Duran, hit .301/.365/.506 in 23 games after being taken in the fourth round this year. He’s from New Rochelle… Two RHP who worked strictly in relief, Edwin Rodriguez and Mariel Checo, had 41 strikeouts apiece. Rodriguez reached that number in 39.1 innings. Checo did it in just 27 innings. Rodriguez had a 1.12 WHIP, Checo allowed a .184 opponents batting average.