[Photo by Robert Pimpsner]
SS, Abiatal Avelino: He's only 19 years old [he turns 20 on Valentine's Day] and he already has some long-season league experience under his belt after collecting 220 at-bats in low-A Charleston last season so he still has plenty of time on his side and therefore the need to have a breakout season might not be seemingly as dire as for some other players in the grand scheme of things, but the fact is a year ago he was considered the top shortstop prospect in the farm system and he's not only getting passed by some other guys on the depth chart but a slew of others are quickly beginning to catch up to him.
Already Tyler Wade has passed him level-wise [Wade had 507 low-A at-bats last season], Jorge Mateo has recently passed him in prospect ranking circles and is nipping on Avelino's heels for playing time at a similar minor league level, and he has the duo of Angel Aguilar and Thairo Estrada racing up behind him from the lower levels. Avelino, despite his youth, needs to stay healthy in 2015 and immediately perform. As past prospects have proven [Anderson Feliz, Claudio Custodio, etc], it doesn't take much time missed before a top prospect can quickly become an afterthought if he's not careful.
RHP, Rookie Davis: He's got size [6-foot-5, 235 pounds], power [a 4-seam, a 2-seam, and a cutter that have all hit 96 mph], one of the deeper repertoires [he throws six pitches now], and has one of the best work ethics around, and yet this former 2011 draft pick is about to be entering his fourth professional season and he's coming off of a rather disastrous 4.93 ERA performance in low-A ball last season.
He desperately needs to develop a plus secondary pitch to go along with his power fastball assortment and further improving his overall command would go a long way too. Both would not only help him get back on track [he posted a 1.90 ERA in 2013] and about-face his sliding prospect status, but it would also help him fend off some younger pitchers who are now starting to come up behind him [Domingo Acevedo and Simon De La Rosa, just to name a couple]. No longer 'young for his level' since he turns 22 in April, Davis needs a breakout season now.
RHP, Ty Henlsey: As bad as Davis needs a breakout season, consider this; Hensley [in the photo above], a former first round pick in 2012, is just three months younger than Davis and he hasn't even made it to the long-season leagues yet! Like Davis there are some things to be very much excited about, including a fastball that once again hit 96 mph last season and a plus breaking ball that could allow him to move relatively quickly once he gets going. The problem, however, is getting it going.
He's had a shoulder issue, hip surgery, and various setbacks along the way, and most recently got injured in an offseason altercation. It's impossible to have a breakout season if you can't stay on the field and more than anything Hensley needs to log some serious innings in 2015. It isn't even about performance at this point for him, it's about getting his innings up and some experience under his belt. He has just 42.2 career innings under his belt in three years and another injury-marred campaign could pretty much kill his already eroding prospect status.
C, Gary Sanchez: The top International free agent signed back in 2009 just turned 22 years old this offseason and he had a really underrated 2014 season that not only saw him hit a very respectable .270 with 13 home runs as one of the youngest position players in Double-A last year but some significant progress defensively too. Young for his level every step of the way throughout his career, the production has been very steady indeed.
While those are all positives, the oft-criticized makeup questions linger but they're really not as concerning as much as the fact that he has a lot more potential than he's actually shown thus far and he really hasn't broken out yet with the bat. Throw in the fact that he was added to the 40-man roster over a year ago and is burning options in the minor leagues, despite the fact that there isn't an immediate catching threat prospect-wise coming up behind him just yet, Sanchez needs a breakout season offensively to either drive up his trade value and/or become a more viable big league option for the club in the short-term.
OF, Mason Williams: This former fourth round pick in 2010 who signed for a reported $1.5 million is perhaps the organizational poster-boy for needing a breakout season. Once the top overall prospect in the farm system, his production has increasingly slipped each of the past four seasons, going from hitting .349 in 2011 to hitting .398 in 2012, down to hitting .245 in 2013 and bottoming out with a .223 average last season. Off-season shoulder surgery could have been part of the reason for his decline in 2013 but he remained relatively healthy last season.
Still young for his level [he will play nearly the entire 2015 season as a 23-year old] and showing some signs of still possessing the top-shelf talent he once had, he simply needs to reverse his sliding trend and break out with a more representative showing this coming season. The Yankees still have faith in him as evidenced by them adding him to the 40-man roster this offseason but that confidence could be short-lived if he has anything close to the rather unproductive season he had last year. Frankly, it's time to put up some numbers.
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