Yankees vs. Red Sox: Outfield Prospects

Comparing what the Yankees and Red Sox have at each position in the minor leagues, we take a look at the crop of outfield prospects in each system. Which system is deeper? Which prospects have the most power? The highest ceilings? Take a look at this comparison between the two rival AL East farm systems.

The Two Farm Systems: The two organizations have some real high potential impact talent among their crop of outfield prospects right now but the fact is they could not be more different from a depth standpoint.

Boston's best outfield prospect is Jackie Bradley Jr., a first round pick out of the University of South Carolina in 2011, who hit a combined .315 with 42 doubles, nine home runs, and 24 stolen bases between high-A Salem and Double-A Portland in what was essentially his debut season last year.

Blessed with superb big league strike zone discipline, he sported a ridiculous .430 on base percentage last year after drawing 87 walks [compared to 89 strikeouts]. The power is average though and the speed is above average, and while he projects to be a solid defensive centerfielder, his best tool is his hitting and on base abilities.

The Yankees combat Bradley with Mason Williams, another high-average hitting centerfielder with a bit more physical tools. He has plus speed, plus-plus defensive abilities in centerfield, and a bit more power potential. While he has Bradley-like strike zone discipline, however, he doesn't nearly draw as many walks. So even though the two of them project to be big league starting centerfielders they are a bit different -- Bradley's bat should be more consistent but Williams has the chance to be more dynamic.

Boston has another strong starting outfield candidate in Bryce Brentz, a slugging corner outfielder drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft. He hit a combined .290 with 30 doubles and 17 home runs between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket last year, and he has plus long-term power potential. He has great arm strength to go with average defensive play and offensively he will strike out a bit too much as his plate discipline is not nearly polished right now.

New York has a right-handed hitting slugger in the corner outfield spot of their own in the form of Tyler Austin. All the 21-year old did last year was hit a combined .322 with 35 doubles, 17 home runs, and steal 23 bases over four minor league levels. Like Brentz he has plus power potential but shows more athleticism in the outfield defensively, a better eye at the plate, and better contact hitting ability.

The Red Sox don't have another bonafide top outfield prospect beyond Bradley Jr. and Brentz right now, however, while the Yankees have two more to throw into the mix with Williams and Austin. Perhaps the highest ceiling outfielder in either system is New York's Slade Heathcott, a first round pick in 2009.

Conjuring up images of a Lenny Dykstra-Grady Sizemore hybrid, the left-handed hitting Heathcott has above average power potential, plus speed, plus defense, and the chance to be a high average hitter. Once boasting plus arm strength, that has been downgraded to above average after two shoulder labrum surgeries, but he is still an electric player on both sides of the ball.

New York's Ramon Flores, a Venezuelan native, does not have nearly the same high ceiling as Williams or Heathcott but fits more into the Bradley Jr. mold as a sweeting-swinging lefty with outstanding big league plate discipline and patience, average power potential, and average to slightly above average speed. While the batting potential is nearly identical, Flores is probably just a shade below Bradley Jr. defensively and is better suited in a corner outfield spot.

While the quartet of Williams, Heathcott, Austin, and Flores get most of the accolades nationally right now, the fact is the Yankees have a pair of high-ceiling outfielders who are closing in on being big league ready, including Zoilo Almonte and Melky Mesa, both Dominican natives.

Almonte is a switch-hitter who has plus power potential from the left side who hit .277 with 21 home runs at Double-A Trenton last year and also stole 15 bases. He's average to potentially slightly above average defensively and he has had his bouts with inconsistencies in the past, but he has also had moments where he is one of the most dominant players in the league for stretches. A member of the 40-man roster, he is on the short list of potential replacements for Curtis Granderson while he's on the disable list.

Mesa, another 40-man roster guy, has one of the highest ceilings in either organization, possessing plus-plus defensive skills, plus-plus arm strength, plus power, and plus speed. However, prone to striking out in bunches, his bat also lags behind the aforementioned names here and that might prevent him from maximizing his great set of tools. He has had 20-20 seasons in the minor leagues and could do the same in the big leagues if given the opportunity.

Boston's Brandon Jacobs and Jeremy Hazelbaker both fall into the Mesa mold as an ultra-toolsy players blessed with a great combination of power, speed, and defense, but whose inconsistent bats might hold them back long-term. The 22-year old Jacobs clubbed 30 doubles and 13 home runs for high-A Salem last year, and stole 17 bases, but he also hit just .252 and struck out a whopping 128 times in 114 games.

Hazelbaker had 24 doubles, 19 home runs, and 36 stolen bases between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, but also struck out 114 times. Much like New York's Mesa, to his credit his ratios have improved as he has climbed the minor league ladder but there is still a significant swing and miss factor. At 25 years old now though, he needs to make the most of his opportunities now.

Boston's Keury De La Cruz falls into the Zoilo Almonte mold as a player who can tend to lose focus at times but still has the chance to be very productive over the course of a season. Also a Dominican native, De La Cruz hit a combined .307 with 20 home runs [he had 37 doubles and eight triples too] and 20 stolen bases between the two A-ball levels. The 21-year old left-handed hitter is also average to potentially above average defensively.

The Red Sox also have some upper level depth in the outfield right now, including Juan Carlos Linares and Alex Hassan. Both are solid hitters with decent power but both project best as reserve outfielder types at the big league level because they don't have the one outstanding physical tool.

New York has a pair of Cuban defectors who, like Linares and Hassan, project better as big league reserve outfielders than starters because the bat tool is the most present but don't have much else. Ronnier Mustelier and Adonis Garcia, both right-handed hitters, have shown they can hit for average [especially Mustelier], have decent power, and can come up with big hits. Mustelier is the better hitter and Garcia is the much better defender.

Where the Yankees have another advantage depth-wise though is at the lower minor league levels. Ravel Santana and Jake Cave are two more potentially high-ceiling outfielders who have yet to break into the long-season leagues. Both have above average speed, above average to potentially plus power potential, and both are gifted defensive outfielders, but both have had injuries plague them recently; Santana with a broken ankle in 2011 and Cave with a broken knee cap. Both have the talent, however, to someday be Top 100 prospects in the game if they can get back to their dynamic ways.

New York also has some more depth at the A-ball level with the likes of Ben Gamel and Rob Refsnyder, both of whom are high energy, scrappy players, and both of whom possess innate hitting ability. Gamel is a plus defensive corner outfielder who can man centerfield quite well in almost Jackie Bradley-like fashion, shows above average speed, and average power potential. He hit over .300 in low-A ball last year too.

Refsnyder, last year's College World Series MVP for the University of Arizona, is a right-handed batter who excels at hitting offspeed pitches, has average to above average power potential, and average speed. He may see some time at second base though where the bat would play better, but even if the transition does not go well he still has a strong ceiling as a starting corner outfielder type.

Both organizations have a stable of 'what if' outfield prospects at the lowest minor league levels, including Boston's Aneury Tavarez, Williams Jerez, Kendrick Perkins, and Manny Margot, and New York's Chris Breen, Nathan Mikolas, Ericson Leonora, Yeicok Calderon, Wilmer Romero, Sandy Brito, Alexander Palma, etc.

Each one has at least one plus tool that will put them into the long-term conversations, especially Margot's plus-plus speed and Breen's plus power, but each has an equal question mark in the short-term that puts them on the outside radar for now.

How Do They Compare In...

Power: With Austin and Brentz essentially canceling each other out, Williams and Bradley Jr. doing the same, Mesa and Hazelbaker almost even, and De La Cruz and Almonte a wash, the Yankees have a bit too much here with the likes of Ravel Santana, Jake Cave, Rob Refsnyder, Ramon Flores, etc. Advantage: Yankees

Hitting For Average: This one is a mismatch from the get-go. Only Bradley Jr. and De La Cruz have proven to be high average hitters for the Red Sox, and the Yankees can stroll out Austin, Williams, Flores, Heathcott, Gamel, Refsnyder, etc. Advantage: Yankees

Defense: Again, the Yankees have a few too many plus defenders in centerfield right now -- Williams, Heathcott, and Gamel -- and even their corner outfielders are at least above average. New York has too much depth here. Advantage: Yankees

Speed: This is one area where the Red Sox can make up some ground, especially when Margot comes States-side in 2013. Still, the Yankees have just enough to make this categorical comparison a wash. Advantage: Even.

Overall Potential: The adage 'there's strength in numbers' absolutely applies when it comes to prospects. While Bradley Jr. and Brentz will have big league impacts, the rest of Boston's outfield prospects are not bankable yet. The Yankees on the other hand have the 'big four', a bit more potential impact at the upper levels, and more potential impact depth at the lower levels. Advantage: Yankees.

Highest Ceilings: Slade Heathcott (Yankees), Mason Williams (Yankees), Tyler Austin (Yankees), Jackie Bradley Jr. (Red Sox), Bryce Brentz (Red Sox), Ravel Santana (Yankees), Ramon Flores (Yankees), Melky Mesa (Yankees), Zoilo Almonte (Yankees), Keury De La Cruz (Red Sox)

Best Power: Tyler Austin (Yankees), Bryce Brentz (Red Sox), Slade Heathcott (Yankees), Melky Mesa (Yankees), Zoilo Almonte (Yankees), Keury De La Cruz (Red Sox), Ravel Santana (Yankees), Brandon Jacobs (Red Sox), Jeremy Hazelbaker (Red Sox), Chris Breen (Yankees)

Best Average: Jackie Bradley Jr. (Red Sox), Mason Williams (Yankees), Ramon Flores (Yankees), Ronnier Mustelier (Yankees), Tyler Austin (Yankees), Ben Gamel (Yankees), Rob Refsnyder (Yankees), Keury De La Cruz (Red Sox), Jake Cave (Yankees), Slade Heathcott (Yankees)

Best Defense: Mason Williams (Yankees), Slade Heathcott (Yankees), Melky Mesa (Yankees), Jackie Bradley Jr. (Red Sox), Ben Gamel (Yankees), Jake Cave (Yankees), Jeremy Hazelbaker (Red Sox), Brandon Jacobs (Red Sox), Tyler Austin (Yankees), Ramon Flores (Yankees)

Best Speed: Mason Williams (Yankees), Slade Heathcott (Yankees), Jeremy Hazelbaker (Red Sox), Melky Mesa (Yankees), Jackie Bradley Jr. (Red Sox), Ben Gamel (Yankees), Ravel Santana (Yankees), Tyler Austin (Yankees), Brandon Jacobs (Red Sox), Keury De La Cruz (Red Sox).

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