Tampa Yankees Season In Review

The Tampa Yankees had a solid season in 2014, finishing the year with a 71-68 record and just 6.5 games out of first place in the overall standings. We take a look at where was the team's greatest depth, which prospects stood out, which ones could be 'sleeper' prospects down the road, and more.

The Tampa team wasn't anything if it wasn't streaky and therefore consistently inconsistent. They had nine losing streaks of at least three games during the course of the season, including two separate season-high five-game losing streaks from May 24-29 and then again from July 4-9, and they had seven winning streaks of at least three games, including two separate season-high seven game winnings streaks from May 13-19 and then again from July 19-25.

Pitching-wise they were above league average, striking out the second-most batters [1,089] in the 12-team league, finishing tied for third in WHIP ratio [1.26] and allowing the third least amount of hits [1,123], and placing sixth in ERA [3.48].

Offensively it was a mixed bag. They wound up second overall in home runs [87], fourth in doubles [236] and total bases [1,740], fifth in walks [449], and sixth in OPS [.703], but finished just seventh in runs scored [562] and ninth in batting average [.256].

The Greatest Depth

The depth of actual potential big league prospects was spread out pretty evenly between the pitching staff and the hitters this year, although there was slightly more depth offensively.

Top Position Prospects

There is a clear 'top two' among the position prospects; outfielder Aaron Judge and third baseman Eric Jagielo, both first round picks a year ago.

Judge, who began the year in low-A Charleston and hit .333 with nine home runs in 234 at-bats for the RiverDogs, wound up hitting a solid .283 with eight home runs in 233 a-bats for the Tampa Yankees and saw his walk ratio increase, walking 14 percent of the time in the South Atlantic League to walking nearly 18 percent of the time in the Florida State League.

The 6-foot-7 right fielder is a physical specimen with plus raw power potential but his overall hitting approach is anything but raw so he not only has a sky-high ceiling but the requisite batting skills for that potential to be tapped more likely than most. Throw in above average defensive skills in the corner spot and he provides the Yankees with one of the better overall position prospects.

Jagielo isn't the same kind of defensive player at third base. In fact, his ceiling is arguably only that of an average third baseman, but offensively, while he is still learning to balance his patient approach with being a bit more aggressive earlier in counts, the power potential should not be underestimated. He hit just .256 but clubbed 18 home runs in just 332 at-bats while dealing with a pulled oblique in his first full season and production-wise his bat isn't lagging all that far behind Judge's.

He still has a lot of room for improvement defensively at third and with his overall hitting so there is still some untapped potential, but even if he had to switch positions to either left field or first base in the comings years he still projects to have an impact bat.

The Biggest 'Sleeper'

The biggest 'sleeper' prospect is also one of the newest members to the Yankee organization -- outfielder Mark Payton. The former University of Texas standout was selected in the seventh round of this year's draft and ascended all the way to the high-A level, hitting a robust .320 with 21 extra-base hits and 29 walks in just 48 games [with just 32 strikeouts] between low-A Charleston and high-A Tampa in his debut season.

He has merely average at best power potential and the speed, while grading out slightly above average overall, is more average than anything stealing bases so there isn't a whole lot of ceiling to his game. However, his ability to draw walks, put the ball in play consistently, and the solid contributions he can have power-wise in the gaps and in the running game, collectively they make him a big-time 'sleeper' prospect as a potential big league reserve outfielder, perhaps even more if the bat continues to play at a high level.

Not Just Yet

The Tampa squad boasts a number of 'what if' candidates that could not only emerge as 'sleeper' prospects someday but perhaps one or two can regain their once top prospect status, including the likes of Angelo Gumbs, Cito Culver, Anderson Feliz, Claudio Custodio, Kyle Higashioka, Matt Snyder, Jose Rosario, and Mike Ford, all of whom should not be written off.

Gumbs and Feliz, both second baseman, have the two highest ceilings in this group, thanks in large part to their overall athleticism, plus bat speed, and above average to plus tools. Both, however, haven't been able to remain healthy for long stretches over the past two years [especially in Feliz's case] and that lost development time has put a serious kink in their games. More than anything a complete return to health for either would be a huge first step towards becoming a top prospect once again but they have to prove they're capable of remaining on the field.

Health has also been an issue for the trio of Custodio, Snyder, and Higashioka. Custodio, a plus defender at shortstop who is also learning to play the outfield, has plus-plus speed and shows a good bit of hitting potential too but has dealt with various leg injuries the past two years and that's never good for a player whose game is predicated on speed. He could carve himself a nice role as a potential bench player if he can stay healthy long enough to work on his offensive game.

Higashioka, once one of the better catch-and-throw backstops in the farm system, underwent Tommy John surgery and missed pretty much the entire 2013 season, and has all of 68 minor league games to his credit over the past three years [he played 82 games in 2011 which was his last "healthy" season]. He shows good power, a better bat than the stats reveal, and he is a true plus defensive catcher who now has to prove the arm strength is fully back. There is still some potential here but at 24 years old his leash is reaching its limit.

Snyder has needed his own private MASH unit ever since he was drafted in the tenth round of the 2012 MLB Draft while dealing with one freak injury after another. He's amassed a grand total of 458 at-bats in his first three seasons but has shown glimpses of the potential he has, clubbing 31 doubles and nine home runs over that sporadic time. He, like many of the aforementioned names, just needs to stay on the field consistently to develop some more and move from the 'what if' category squarely into the 'sleeper' group.

Ford, like Snyder, is a first baseman with solid power potential and is noted more for his bat than his physicality. He hasn't had to deal with injuries like Snyder has though but he is a limited defensive player in that he will be a first baseman or designated hitter type only. And while he shows promise with the bat, hitting a combined .292 with 13 home runs between low-A Charleston and high-A Tampa in his first full season this year, the 22-year old undrafted free agent stands just 6-foot-0 and doesn't have a whole lot of projection to his game at a power hitting position. He's going to have to continue hit his way up the minor league ladder.

Rosario, a Dominican native, has battled some nagging injuries but his biggest issue is just trying to find playing time over players with higher upsides or who signed for bigger bonuses. Not extremely toolsy, he's simply just a good ball player in nearly every facet of the game but his power is average at best, his speed is average at best, and defensively, while solid, he doesn't really stand out at any one position. He hit a combined .310 with a solid .795 OPS while playing for three different teams at a multitude of positions in 2014. He could sneak up on folks as he continues to climb the ladder and remain productive. He just needs an everyday opportunity and it remains to be seen if he'll be granted that in the coming years.

Culver is the one guy from this group that hasn't had to handle a bunch of injuries over the years but he has had a different issue and that's been transitioning from switch-hitting to batting exclusively from the right side. He's done that for the past two years and the progress hasn't exactly been too steady, hitting just .234 after the switch. It's up from his .228 average while switch-hitting the previous two years but the difference in production has been marginal at best. A plus defensive shortstop in every sense of the term, he doesn't need to hit a whole lot to be an impact player but he does need to hit more than he has thus far.

Top Pitching Prospects

The clear top two pitching prospects from the Tampa squd this season were right-hander Brady Lail and left-hander Caleb Smith, both of whom began the year [and spent a majority of it] pitching in low-Charleston. Neither are elite pitching prospects in the farm system but both offer solid average or better long-term big league potential.

Lail, a former 18th round pick out of high school in 2012, has a bit more upside at the current time given the fact that he pitched most of the 2014 season as a 20-year old. He combined to post a solid 3.62 ERA between low-A Charleston and high-A Tampa with a 1.21 WHIP ratio and striking out 116 batters in 134.1 innings. Stuff-wise he possesses at least three above average big league offerings [four if you include the two fastballs] and one plus pitch [the changeup], but he's not a plus arm guy yet and that limits his ceiling to more of the middle part of a big league rotation potentially.

The same can be said of Smith projection-wise. His fastball is actually a tick above Lail's at times, although it isn't consistent, and the changeup is nearly as devastating. But like Lail the breaking ball, while above average, hasn't shown the plus potential just yet and the glaring difference between the two is Smith can be very hittable during stretches. He just needs to pick up the consistency a bit more and avoid the clunkers [he allowed six earned runs or more in four starts this past season].

The Biggest 'Sleeper'

As opposed to the position prospect side of things, the Tampa pitching staff actually has quite a few 'sleeper' prospects from the squad in 2014, including right-handers Cesar Vargas, Philip Walby, and Alex Smith, and left-handers Dietrich Enns and Miguel Sulbaran.

Vargas, a Mexican native, is the pitching version of Jose Rosario in some respects in that he has been overshadowed by some higher ceiling arms and pitching prospects with bigger bonuses over the years but the difference is this 22-year old is starting to carve a niche out for himself after transitioning from the starting role to the bullpen. He posted a combined 2.58 ERA between low-A Charleston and high-A Tampa this year while striking out 76 batters in 69.2 innings. He has three above average pitches, including a 92-94 mph fastball, and long-term could provide a Chase Whitely-like versatile role for the Yankees if he keeps pitching well.

Stuff-wise Walby, last year's 12th round pick out of San Diego State University, is very similar to Vargas in that he has a 92-94 mph fastball with deception and a quality above average big league breaking ball. The changeup isn't nearly as advanced, however, and neither is the consistent strike-throwing ability. He has been ironing out some mechanical flaws though so there is some untapped potential here as he continues to smooth things out and pitch more consistently ahead in counts.

Smith is the king of the underrated because he doesn't put up the eye-popping strikeout numbers nor does he light up the radar gun. What he does do, however, is fill the zone with 91-94 mph sinkers, attack batters early in counts to induce harmless contact, and let his defense work behind him. He's posted a 2.70 ERA over the past two years but at 25 years old he does need to prove it more at the higher levels soon but conventional wisdom suggests he should only get better as the defenses behind him get better.

Sulbaran, acquired from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Eduardo Nunez, falls into the diminutive crafty southpaw category whose secondary pitches are better than the average 90 mph fastball. He simply knows how to pitch backwards and get batters out consistently, but the lack of size, power, and projection will allow him to fly under the radar.

Enns, drafted in the 19th round in 2012 out of Central Michigan University, might have the highest upside of the names in this group. He was sitting in the 91-94 mph range with his fastball and boasting a true plus changeup and a slider with long-term plus potential before he underwent Tommy John surgery this year. It remains to be seen if he can have the same kind of stuff upon his return but he has proven to be an impact left-handed reliever during his short career with the Yankees thus far.

Not Just Yet

Left-hander Conner Kendrick, last year's 9th round pick out of Auburn University, has shown glimpses of having above average stuff but it has fluctuated quite a bit over his first two years and so has the overall pitch-ability. He'll range anywhere from 88-93 mph with his fastball, and the breaking ball and changeup can flash some above average potential but there isn't real consistent part to his game yet and that's why he posted a 5.78 ERA in Tampa this year. He still has some time to develop but he'll need to show a bit more from game to game before he can slide into the 'sleeper' category.

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