Katoh worked out with the Yankees soon after the draft. (Jeff Gross/Getty)
Baseball America has started publishing their annual top 20 prospects lists for each of the 16 minor leagues this week, and the series continued today with the Rookie Gulf Coast League. Ninth overall pick OF Austin Meadows (Pirates) topped the list, predictably. The Yankees landed six (!) players in the top 20: C Luis Torrens (#10), 3B Miguel Andujar (#11), SS Abi Avelino (#13), 2B Gosuke Katoh (#15), RHP Luis Severino (#17), and SS Thairo Estrada (#20). LHP Ian Clarkin didn’t not have enough innings to qualify.
In the subscriber-only scouting report, Baseball America says Torrens “has a sound hitting approach and a loose, easy swing with good hand-eye coordination” while lauding his ability to recognize breaking balls and power potential because “his swing generates loft.” He is rough around the edges defensively, mostly due to a lack of experience — he moved from shortstop/third base to catcher last year — but his arm is strong and accurate. The Yankees gave Torrens a $1.3M bonus as their top international signing last summer.
Andujar “did a better job recognizing breaking pitches and taking a better hitting approach to use the whole field” this year than he did at the same level last year, though the write-up says he’ll sell out for power and still needs to improve his approach. “Avelino has a mature hitting approach for his age, with good barrel awareness that allows him to use the whole field and the discipline to not expand his strike zone,” said Baseball America while also cautioning that his lack of power has some concerned about how his bat will play at the upper levels. “At shortstop he has a good internal clock, shows smooth hands and footwork along with an above-average arm,” they added.
Katoh, who led the GCL in homers (six) and was second is SLG (.522), was described as a “difficult out” because of his “plate discipline and bat-to-ball ability … (he) works the count, uses the whole field and has plus speed.” Baseball America says his defense at second is a plus despite not having the arm for short. Severino “sits in the low- to mid-90s and has reached 98,” but can get radar gun happy at times. His changeup has jumped ahead of his slider, but the latter still shows signs of being a put-away pitch. Estrada, who is praised for his defense, is also said to have “excellent instincts and is an advanced hitter for his age. He has good bat control, makes plenty of contact and has a good hitting approach.”
Six prospects in a league top 20 list is an awful lot, though the obvious caveat here is that this is rookie ball. It’s the lowest level of domestic minor league baseball and literally every team has interesting prospects this far down. These six guys — I’m a fan of Avelino and Severino, in particular — are going to be real important to the Yankees going forward and not just because they might be able to plug them into the lineup down the road. Developing into trade bait would be a big help as well.
Anyway, the next league top 20 of interest to Yankees fans is the Short Season NY-Penn League, which will be released on Friday. 3B Eric Jagielo will definitely make that list while OF Michael O’Neill, OF Brandon Thomas, RHP Rookie Davis, and RHP Gio Gallegos are on the fence.
Baseball America just released their top 20 prospects in the GCL. Usually BA is not kind to Yankees prospects, sometimes even overly harsh. Not this year in the GCL. The guys who made the list are Thairo Estrada (#20), Luis Severino (#17), Gosuke Katoh (#15), Abiatal Avelino (#13), Miguel Andujar (#11), and Luis Torrens (#10).
Thairo Estrada is just 17 years old and is a polished hitter for his age. He hit .278/.350/.432/.782 in just his first year. He’s a slick fielding shortstop and I was actually pretty surprised that he was on this list. He’s light hitting and small with above average speed. That said he had a fine season, he’s young, and is at a premium position. He deserves the attention and will be fun to follow on his way up.
Luis Severino is a guy I expected to be much higher on the list. He has a fastball that touches 98 and his statistics were dominant. He even held his own as an 18 year old in Charleston. Look for him to make a big splash next year. He’s got a fantastic change up and his breaking ball has the potential to be plus as well. He had a 1.37 ERA and an 11 K/9 and just a 0.835 WHIP. He has superprospect potential.
Gosuke Katoh came in at 15. When drafted most would not have predicted he would hit the way he did. He is a plus fielder at second and shocked everyone with his bat and his power. He hit .310/.402/.522/.924 with seven homeruns, 11 doubles and five triples. He has a small frame and is 6-foot-2 so has room to fill out. If he fills out more his arm could improve enough to justify playing shortstop, and his power could improve as well. He’s a lefty bat and has plus speed. He is definitely a guy to watch out for as time goes by.
The best shortstop in the system this year was Abiatal Avelino. He hit .400/.481/.586 in the GCL and was promoted to the New York-Penn League for his dominance. There he held his own and hit .243/.303/.271 in a small sample size. He is an excellent fielder, has great patience at the plate, and has plus plus speed. He led the league in stolen bases in the GCL. If he develops some power he has the potential to be a star in the MLB. That said he doesn’t need to develop power to become a star.
Miguel Andujar made a big splash in his second GCL season. It’s worth noting that he was only 17 last year. This year he hit .323/.368/.496/864 with four homeruns. He also missed some time so he likely would have had more. He has shown he can hit for power and average and has begun to use the whole field this season. He is solid defensively at third, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to stick there if he continues to hit as he moves up the ladder. Next year he’ll be fun to watch wherever he ends up, probably in Staten Island.
Putting Luis Torrens at 10 was also quite surprising to me. He didn’t do much with the bat to justify such a ranking. He also wasn’t apparently particularly great behind the dish. That said, scouts felt he had a great approach to the plate and is able to recognize breaking pitches. He also has a natural loft to his swing. He’s just 17 years old so he has plenty of time to take those tools and develop them into performance. He’s another exciting prospect.
Some notable omissions from the list include Tyler Wade, Brady Lail, Joseph Maher, Rony Bautista, and Alvaro Noriega. Picking more than six Yankees might have been a bit excessive though. Hopefully this translates to success at higher levels.
Ben Badler: They had a great group in the GCL, especially with the international signings. From listening to scouts who’ve seen the rest of that organization, the reviews aren’t so glowing as you go higher up the system.
If Gosuke Katoh develops a stronger arm do you think he could be moved SS in the future? Ben Badler: I did hear some rumblings about possibly giving him some time at shortstop, but my money’s on second base.
Katoh, an 18-year-old high school second baseman out of Southern California, signed for a straight slot $845,700 bonus as the 66th overall in this June’s draft. He hit .310/.402/.522 (172 wRC+) with a GCL-leading six homers in 215 plate appearances after signing. “Katoh’s an excellent athlete with good range, smooth actions and clean hands. He’s a quality defensive second baseman, but his below-average arm prevents him from playing shortstop, though he does have a quick release,” wrote Badler in yesterday’s subscriber-only write-up. If the Yankees are going to give Katoh a try at short — and there’s no reason not to, really — this is the time to do it. Nice and early in his career.
NY): Could Torrens be the next Montero or Sanchez in terms of top to elite level prospect status? Ben Badler: He could become a premium prospect for them, but he’s very different from both of them. Montero was a big, sluggish first baseman trying to catch, but the bat and power were so intriguing with him (obviously not so much any more). Sanchez’s game is about power: power bat, power frame, power arm, with raw receiving that has come along this year. Torrens is more of a pure hitter a good approach and a lot of quickness to his game. Not running speed, obviously, but quick hands when he swings and a fast transfer to throw out runners. He’s a potential Top 100 guy in the future, but in a very different way from Montero or Sanchez.
It was not too long ago, just this past winter in fact, that the Yankees appeared to boast arguably the most talented trio of outfield prospects in the game. This season, however, either by injury or ineffectiveness, all three of those prospects, Tyler Austin, Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott, saw their stock plummet. It was a unnoticed, sad facet of an already dismal Yankee season. Luckily for two of the three outfielders, Williams and Austin, the Arizona Fall League offers a slight chance at redemption. They will join breakout catcher Peter O’brien as the Yankees representatives on the Scottsdale Scorpions.
Mason Williams – Williams, 21, was ranked by Keith Law as the 35th overall prospect in baseball and by Baseball America as the 41st overall prospect heading into the season. By the time the Top 50 midseason rankings rolled around, he had fallen off both their lists. Exposed to the Florida State League (A+ level) for the first time (aside from just 22 games in 2012) and then briefly to the Eastern league (AA), Williams saw his offensive numbers drop across the board. He looked completely over matched, putting up an anemic .245/.302/.337 slash line (it .298/.346/.474, a .641 OPS (it was .820 last year), and hitting only 4 home runs (he hit 11 in 119 fewer at bats last season). Once touted as a prospect who could hit 15-20 home runs in the majors with a .280 – .300 batting and stellar defense in center, Williams is only 21 and still has plenty of time to put his career back on track. He’ll start with the AFL in October.
Tyler Austin – Although not as toolsy or as projectable as Williams, Austin found his way onto the prospect radar by showing excellent ability with the bat in 2012. In 472 plate appearances across four different levels (mostly A and A+), Austin thrashed to a .322/.400/559 batting line with 17 home runs. Everything fell apart this year. In 83 games for Trenton (AA), he hit only six home runs, and sputtered to a .257/.344/.373 line. Adding insult to injury, he missed almost the entirety of the summer with a wrist injury. Austin will look to make up for the missed games and get his swing back on track in the AFL He lacks the defensive chops that Williams has, so he’ll have to start hitting again if he is to ever be a productive big leaguer.
Peter O’brien – The lone bright spot on this list, O’brien,22, broke out this year with a monster campaign in A and A+ ball. He was drafted in the second round of last year’s draft and then showed good pop, hitting 10 home runs in his 212 professional at bats, but got on base at a troubling pace, hitting .212 with a .256 OBP. The young catcher managed to improve his on base ability and maintain his home run swing, going yard 22 times while getting on base at a .350 clip. 20 year old Gary Sanchez has long been considered the future of the Yankees behind the dish, but O’brien, who is closer to the majors and has proven himself statistically to a much greater degree, could leapfrog him.
Prospect ranking season is underway and Minor League Ball released their end of season update for the top 75 prospects in baseball. The only Yankee to make the list was Gary Sanchez at No. 42. He had previously placed at No. 35 in July and No. 46 before the season, so he's moved all over the place.
While he did drop in rank after mid-season, he was also rated as the second best catching prospect in baseball behind Travis D'Arnaud at No. 24. John Sickels states that he's making progress on his defense, despite all the talk of the contrary this season. It would be nice to get a consensus on how good or bad his defense really is.
While not ranking, several other Yankee prospects made the Honorable Mentions list: Greg Bird, Rafael De Paula, and Mason Williams. De Paula had made the midseason list at No. 48, but after struggling in High-A this season his value clearly took a nosedive. Hopefully Greg Bird will continue his surge in 2014 and start shooting up prospect lists.
By Mike AxisaVia Bob Klapisch: Brian Cashman acknowledged the Yankees will look to address their unproductive farm system and player development issues in the coming weeks. “I understand why people are bringing that up, and it’s something we’re going to be looking at,” said the GM. “I have no problem dealing with reality … We’re not going to the playoffs, we’re not good enough to be there. We don’t belong there. The key is to find a way to get back. That’s not foreign to us. Sometimes things don’t go the way you planned, but you have to keep getting back up.”
Hal Steinbrenner called a staff meeting to discuss the team’s farm system issues a few weeks ago, and, not surprisingly, Joel Sherman hears “there has been frustration and anger [at the highest levels of the organization] about the lack of young talent available this season as injuries mounted.” Sherman says it is believed amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman are most likely to be replaced if changes are made, and changes should be made. Outside of some relievers and bench players, the Yankees have gotten nothing from their player development system in recent years. It’s gone on too long to ignore.