Yankees prospects have ample talent to form new core
New York's next group of young players could follow Luis Severino and Greg Bird's path
By Mike Rosenbaum
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the New York Yankees.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The New York Yankees ushered in a wave of young talent last season in right-hander Luis Severino and first baseman Greg Bird. Both players played keyed roles in helping the club reach the postseason, with Bird filling in admirably for an injured Mark Teixeira and Severino providing stability to a worn down starting rotation.
The next crop of Yankees prospects to reach the big leagues has a chance to be even more impactful, a group that includes slugger Aaron Judge, up-and-coming outfielder Dustin Fowler and, although he's further away than his aforementioned peers, highly touted shortstop Jorge Mateo. All three players received significant playing time in big league camp before being reassigned to Minor League camp.
"By all accounts, Judge, Mateo and Fowler impressed during Spring Training not only with their performance, but also with their professionalism, especially in regards to how they prepare and compete," said Yankees Vice President of Player Development Gary Denbo. "We're proud of that. We pride ourselves on preparing guys for the opportunity to play at the Major League level, and those guys, thus far this spring, have done that for us."
Judge, MLBPipeline.com's No. 31 overall prospect, didn't tear the cover off the ball as some expected he might, collecting just one hit and striking out seven times in 14 at-bats, though he was also was trying to implement a specific mechanical adjustment at the plate.
"He is going through an adjustment right now with his swing, incorporating a higher leg lift, and he's doing very well with it," Denbo noted. "We think it's going to help him develop better pitch recognition and put him in a better position to hit overall. We expect big things out of Aaron. He's a great athlete, a great worker and a great person, and those things usually add up to a player who can make adjustments and go on to have a nice career."
Fowler, the Yankees' sixth-best prospect, has continued to build on his breakout 2015 campaign in his first big league camp.
"Dustin's defense in center field has improved tremendously, and we have scouts who now think he can play there in the Major Leagues," said Denbo. "He's continued to make strides at the plate, both with his hitting ability and approach, and the power is becoming a more consistent part of his game."
In identifying the standouts in Yankees camp this year, look no further than shortstop.
Mateo, the Yankees' No. 1 prospect and No. 30 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100, is the player who's generated the most buzz, opening eyes as a 20-year-old in his first big league camp. In his 2015 full-season debut between Class A Charleston and Class A Advanced Tampa, the Dominican Republic native hit .278/.345/.392 with a Minor League-leading 82 stolen bases.
"Mateo went over to big camp and performed well," Denbo said. "His tools are undeniable; he's fun to watch. He's the kind of guy that, when he's on base, you can't help but watch him run instead of where the ball's going. You can't say that about many players.
"He worked hard over the offseason and improved his strength. He has the ability to do things with the ease of effort, and he has that as a hitter. The ball gets off his bat, and it doesn't require a lot of effort for him to hit the ball into the gaps. It's very exciting what he can do on the field."
Also standing out at shortstop this spring has been No. 14 prospect Hoy Jun Park, who received a $1 million bonus out of Korea in July 2014. He made his highly anticipated pro debut last season in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, where he posted a .734 OPS with 19 extra-base hits, 12 steals and a 50/34 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 56 games.
"Defensively, he's just outstanding," Denbo said. "He has great footwork and body control. As a former hitting coach, when I watch him, it's difficult to find any flaws in his swing -- and for me to say that about a young guy like Hoy is very unusual. He's very sound, with great balance and looseness to his swing. He's an impressive young man."
The Yankees signed No. 12 prospect Luis Torrens out of Venezuela for $1.3 million in July 2012. He received his first taste of full-season ball two years later with an assignment to the Class A Charleston, though a shoulder injury limited him to just 62 games. The promising backstop's progress was further derailed in 2015, as offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum kept him out of action for the entire season.
"Torrens spent most of last season rehabbing his shoulder before returning healthy for instructional league in the fall. He looks great this spring; he's in great shape, much bigger and stronger than he was last year and throwing well," Denbo said. "His looseness as a hitter gives him adjustability with the bat, and now he's got some strength to go with it. We think he has a good chance to help us as a catcher in the Major Leagues."
No. 10 prospect Ian Clarkin is looking to get back on track this season after he missed all of 2015 with an elbow issue. While he returned to the mound in time for the Arizona Fall League, the left-hander was noticeably rusty after the long layoff. But after a healthy offseason, Clarkin is beginning to look more like the player the Yankees drafted in the first round back in 2013.
"Ian is healthy and right on schedule to come back this season," said Denbo. "The breaking ball is back to what it was when we drafted him -- and it was an above-average breaking ball then -- and he's had good life on his fastball, pitching to both sides of the plate. We expect good things from Ian this year and it's good to have him back."
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.