Even though I just got back from Arizona, I'm in a New York State of mind.
This week's Pipeline Inbox begins with two questions about the Yankees' farm system, with fans perhaps looking to see if any help might come from within in the Bronx.
Since I was just taking in some Arizona Fall League action, I figured it was only right to include questions about two prospects currently playing there. We'll also hop across the pond to take a Red Sox question from someone currently in Great Britain.
Have a question about prospects?
E-mail your query to MLBPipeline.com reporters Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
Which Yankees prospects do you think will make an impact on the big league squad next year?
-- Andrew B., Atlanta
While the Yankees' Minor League system is not quite as bare as it once was, more of the talent currently sits at the lower levels. As a result, it's difficult to see many impact players ready to contribute in 2014.
That doesn't mean there won't be any help at all next year. Taking a look at the Yanks' Top 20 Prospects list, a few names pop out. Zoilo Almonte, who saw a good amount of big league time (with mixed results) in 2013, should get another shot. Catcher J.R. Murphy also received his first callup and could be in the catching mix.
Of the players who have yet to reach the big leagues, reliever Mark Montgomery is the one who probably has the best chance at soon impacting the 25-man roster, though his shoulder woes this year might make one pause before he gets a guaranteed spot at the back end of the bullpen.
A few others to keep an eye on, all of whom played at least some of this season in Double-A: outfielder Ramon Flores, lefty Nik Turley, right-hander Bryan Mitchell and outfielder Slade Heathcott (more on him in a bit). Mason Williams is playing in the AFL (had to tie that back in somehow), and while most agree he needs more time, you never know how the Fall League can act as a springboard. I see Gary Sanchez as a long shot in 2014 as well. Finally, a wild card: Manny Banuelos. If he's back and healthy, he has the stuff to compete at the highest level.
What's your opinion of Slade Heathcott? Also what do you think Eric Jagielo's ETA in the bigs is?
-- Kyle W., Piscataway, N.J.
I have to admit, I'm not sure what to think of Heathcott these days. His 2012 season, albeit interrupted by injury, seemed like a bit of a breakout -- one in which he started using his considerable skills consistently. In 2013, Heathcott moved up to Double-A and again missed time, with his season ending due to knee problems in early August.
The good news is that prior to being shut down, Heathcott did look like he was figuring things out in the Eastern League. After a rough start (.191/.282/.294 in April), things got better. He hit .306/.342/.549 in July. That kind of production continued into August, but Heathcott played in just eight games. If he can hit like that again in 2014, then I might have to reassess my answer to the question above this one. But more than anything, Heathcott really needs to show he can stay healthy for an entire season. Last year, he set career highs in games played (103) and at-bats (399).
As for Jagielo, the 2013 first-rounder out of Notre Dame had a solid, though unspectacular, debut in the short-season New York-Penn League. As a college hitter, one who most think will swing the bat well, the expectation is for him to move fairly quickly. I could see a path that has Jagielo starting his first full season in Tampa. If that goes well, a promotion to Double-A Trenton in 2014 isn't out of the question, putting him in line for a second-half 2015 big league debut. If you want to be a bit more conservative, then the start of '16 is reasonable.
What is happening with Kyle Parker within the Rockies' system? How is he viewed within the organization? While he is going to start in the Minors, how long (if) until he gets a shot in The Show? Also, what would be expected from him?
-- Steve K., Buffalo
Parker, ranked No. 9 among the Rockies' Top 20, is coming off a solid season, his third in the organization since Colorado drafted him in the first round in 2010. Keep in mind, it's taken some time for the former Clemson quarterback to get used to focusing on one sport only, but clearly the organization believes he has a future, or it wouldn't have sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he was hitting .275 with two homers over his first 19 games.
Parker has shown an ability to hit for both average and power since becoming a pro, with a .293/.374/.510 career line to prove it. He's hit 20-plus homers in each of his three seasons. It's looking like Parker's defensive home is first base, where he was playing exclusively in the AFL. Todd Helton's retirement leaves a hole at first, and the Rockies do have options. They could move Michael Cuddyer there and have someone like Charlie Blackmon or Corey Dickerson play right field. Or they could give Parker a shot sooner rather than later. It does look like he should have the power profile for the position, so even if it doesn't happen next year, he should get a full-time shot the following season.
What do you think of Addison Russell after his first full season of Minor League ball? Worth the hype from his partial season last year?
-- Mike H., Milwaukee
In a word, yes. The A's top prospect isn't ranked No. 17 overall on the Top 100 for no reason. Oakland felt strongly enough about Russell's abilities and his makeup to send him straight to the Class A Advanced California League, something not typical for a high-school draftee. He won't turn 20 until January, and all he did was finish ninth in the league -- as one of its youngest regulars -- in OPS. Russell had 56 extra-base hits while stealing 21 bases and playing a smooth shortstop by all accounts.
The A's continue to challenge Russell, sending him to the AFL. His overall numbers (.246/.319/.343) might not stand out, but it's a small sample size, and it comes at the end of a long first full year. Even if the production doesn't match what Russell did during the regular season, scouts in Arizona have come away impressed with his all-around game. He'll be more than ready for Double-A, and he could push Jed Lowrie out of the way well ahead of schedule.
Do you think Matt Barnes will be in the bigs in 2014? And how high is his ceiling?
-- Nick D., Witham, Essex, United Kingdom
I have to be honest here, I've always liked Barnes, maybe more than a lot of other prospect hounds out there. He began the season as the No. 38 prospect on our Top 100. Barnes was bumped down to No. 59 when we re-ranked in July and is currently No. 53, moving up due to others graduating to the Majors. Was it, or is it, an over-ranking? It could be.
Barnes' season was so-so, though he still managed to strike out 11.3 per nine innings. He has two potential plus pitches in his fastball and breaking ball, while his changeup should be Major League average. Three pitches with decent command should land you a rotation spot in the big leagues at some point. And Barnes did improve after having a 5.32 ERA and .285 batting average against in the first half of the season. He had a 2.68 ERA and .228 BAA in the second half, earning a late promotion to Triple-A (he tossed 5 1/3 shutout innings in his only regular-season start there before getting two playoff starts under his belt).
Those all seem like positive strides. If that carries over into 2014, even if Barnes starts in Triple-A, he should see time in Boston when the need arises. Projecting him as a front-line starter -- as I once did -- might be overshooting, but he could be a good No. 3 starter at the Major League level.