The Shortstop Dilemma

It's no secret that the Yankees didn't have [and still don't have] a lot of upper-level minor league shortstop depth. However, the exact opposite now rings true at the lower levels, so much so that the Yankees have a bit of a dilemma on their hands heading into the 2015 season; how to find enough playing time for seven legitimate shortstop prospects among their two A-ball clubs.

Whether it was poor drafting or simply being unlucky with injuries, the Yankees have not been able to amass any real shortstop prospect depth of note at the upper minor league levels over the years and it prompted the recent trade of Shane Greene in order to get some immediate shortstop help at the big league level in the form of former Arizona Diamondbacks' shortstop Didi Gregorius.

Even with the trade, however, the Yankees still don't have a lot of upper minor league level shortstop depth. Both Ali Castillo and Cito Culver represent the best of the lot at the 'upper levels' and only Castillo has had any sort of experience above A-ball. Castillo, a superb defensive shortstop, has collected a mere 566 at-bats at Double-A Trenton the past two seasons. Culver, his defensive equal, has yet to get his first Double-A at-bat. And neither is considered any offensive threat of note either.

While Castillo has been able to put the ball in play over his career, he owns just 13 career home runs. Culver has struggled even more in the consistency department even though there has been a bit more power [20 career home runs thus far]. The duo hardly represents a viable potential long-term shortstop solution at the big league level given their offensive shortcomings. However, right below them the Yankees have some impressive shortstop depth brewing.

The Lowest Levels

Way down below at the lowest minor league levels, the rookie levels, the Yankees have amassed an impressive collection of potential shortstop candidates. Whether it's the defensive prowess of the likes of Yancarlos Baez or Yonauris Rodriguez from the Dominican Summer League, both of whom have some significant offensive upside too, or the advanced offensive-defensive combinations of newly signed top International free agents Diego Castillo, Wilkerman Garcia, and Hoy Jun Park, the Yankees have a number of potential long-term shortstop candidates through the extreme lower levels.

However, it's at the long-season A-ball level where fitting in a rapidly developing impressive group of shortstop prospects becomes a bit of a quagmire.

The Candidates

Abiatal Avelino, Tyler Wade, Vincent Conde, Jorge Mateo, Angel Aguilar, Thairo Estrada, and Tyler Palmer are all ready to tackle the long-season leagues both offensively and defensively right now. Each one grades out at least as big league average on the defensive side of the ball and mostly above average or better, and outside of Conde, this year's 9th round pick out of the University of Vanderbilt, the majority of them each have significant long-term offensive potential too.

Avelino boasts a career .282 average thus far and has struck out a mere 99 times in 169 minor league games. Wade, a career .277 hitter thus far, has struck out a bit more [164 times in 179 games] but has shown good patience [91 walks]. Conde, a three-year starter for a high profile collegiate program like Vanderbilt, walked 19 times in his first 38 professional games in Staten Island this past season. Aguilar led the Gulf Coast League in home runs, Estrada has a real knack for barreling the baseball, and Mateo might have some of the best tools in all of baseball. And Palmer, an undrafted free agent signing, displays average or better tools across the board and shortstop is his best defensive position.

The Dilemma

Conventional wisdom suggests that the natural injury attrition rate will help pare down the need to get everyone at-bats. But barring injury and with so many qualified candidates and obviously not enough spots available at the A-ball levels, conventional wisdom also suggests that some are going to have to be held back in the short-season leagues too. However, stunting the development of prospects ready to move up right now, and perhaps further stunting the development of some high-end prospects right behind them by taking away their playing time, could have some real negative effects up and down the Yankee farm system.

'The Pref List'

In each minor league system and at each position there's a 'pref list', one which ranks the players' priority order in regards to getting the most repetitions. Of the seven shortstop candidates seemingly ready for the A-ball levels in 2015, here is the likely order of who should get the majority of playing time at the shortstop position:

1. Jorge Mateo: Clearly the physically most gifted shortstop prospect on both sides of the ball and already one of the top prospects in the entire farm system, getting him the most repetitions at the shortstop position is a no-brainer.

2. Abiatal Avelino: Not nearly as 'toolsy' as Mateo, the fact is this Dominican native is one of the more consistent performers on both sides of the ball right now. And after missing significant time this past season with a quad injury, getting him a lot more reps at shortstop is crucial.

3. Tyler Wade: Right up there with Avelino is this former fourth round pick, not only on the 'pref list' but in terms of an already advanced game on both sides of the ball. Ranking more like 2-A, Wade, like Avelino, has the chance to move rather quickly through the minor leagues given his current skill set and only slightly ranks behind Avelino on the 'pref list' due to his ability to play some second base too.

4. Angel Aguilar: [In the photo above] he absolutely has the defensive chops to stick at the position long-term and, despite not being a physically big guy, he has some tangible power potential too. He lags behind the others on the 'pref list' though because he shows the kind of power that could potentially play at third base, especially if he keeps growing, and the kind of arm that could slot over there too. And he also has the agility to play second base too and that would be an even more welcomed addition offensively given his hitting potential.

5. Thairo Estrada: Just as in the case with Avelino and Wade, Estrada could easily flip with Aguilar on the 'pref list'. He too has some impressive offensive potential with his superb plate discipline and innate ability to barrel the baseball. A bit of a sleeping giant in prospect circles, the fact that he can play a plus defensive second base and perhaps even slide into centerfield should the need arise only puts him a little further down on the 'pref list'; it's not an indictment on his shortstop abilities.

6. Tyler Palmer: This isn't your normal undrafted free agent signing. He has an impressive collection of tools; average power potential, above average speed, solid defensive abilities, and advanced plate discipline. Tools-wise he's right up there with the lot of them outside of Mateo and right now only lags behind the majority of them due to inexperience.

7. Vince Conde: A superb defensive shortstop with a lot of big-time college experience, he lags behind the others on the 'pref list' simply because he doesn't have nearly the same offensive potential as the aforementioned names. He has some speed and shows good plate discipline, but there isn't a whole lot of power and fits more into the Castillo-Culver mold as a defensive-first shortstop prospect.

Increasing Versatility

With so many solid shortstop prospects at the A-ball levels and below, increasing the defensive versatility of each player is not only warranted to increase their respective playing time coming up through the minor leagues but, as the Yankees have shown in recent years, it's an important aspect for their burgeoning big league players. As the young shortstop prospects begin to prove their defensive mettle at the position, each one is sure to get some repetitions at other positions to increase their versatility.

And in specific regards to the current crop of A-ball ready shortstop prospects right now, that transition has already started. Aguilar played one game in the outfield in the Gulf Coast League last year and played a lot of third base at Instructional League. Though Estrada didn't get an official minor league at another position in 2014, he played a lot of second base during Instructs. Wade played 15 games at second base in Charleston this past season, one game at third, and saw a lot of time at second base during Instructs this offseason too. Palmer, despite shortstop being his best position, played second, third, and even some outfield too in the Gulf Coast League in his debut season this past year.

Potential Solution

It seems inevitable that one or more of the Avelino-Wade-Mateo-Aguilar-Estrada-Conde-Palmer group is going to have to be held back in Extended Spring Training to begin the 2015 season and perhaps even get further playing time in the short-season leagues, especially in Staten Island if the Yankees do not draft a shortstop in the 2015 MLB Draft. And with Pulaski now in the affiliate mix, it opens up one more spot for another shortstop prospect to get some much needed playing time. However, that is as far down as anyone from this group should go given the fact that the Yankees will need to find enough at-bats for Yancarlos Baez, Yonauris Rodriguez, Hoy Jun Park, Diego Castillo, Wilkerman Garcia, and others [including Ricardo Ferreira too] among the two Gulf Coast League and two Dominican Summer League teams.

However, it would not be surprising to see the Yankees go with a combination of Avelino, Wade, and Conde in high-A Tampa to start the 2015 season, with Avelino getting the bulk of the shortstop reps and with he and Wade flip-flopping between shortstop and designated hitter [and with Wade getting reps at second base too], and with Conde as the man off of the bench.

In Charleston a possible scenario exists where Mateo is the starting shortstop and spelled by the likes of Aguilar and Estrada, both of whom could play an array of positions like second base, third base, and even some outfield, until the short-season leagues open up and one of them is sent down. And Palmer could open up as Charleston's super-utility man, getting sparing reps at shortstop while also playing a multitude of positions. By the time June rolls around it would them become apparent which one needs more playing time in the short-season leagues.

It's not an ideal scenario but it's a good problem to have, finally having to worry about some depth at the shortstop position.

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