Here are a few lower-level prospects who have either yet to make their official minor league debuts or haven't chipped in with a high average who show the requisite hitting skills to one day be mentioned among the top ten in the Yankee farm system.
SS, Diego Castillo: This Venezuelan teenager signed just last summer and already he has the look of being a high-average hitter someday, thanks mostly due to his consistent swing path, advanced knowledge of the strike zone, and ability to use the whole field. Don't be surprised if he is among the top hitters for average in the short-season leagues this coming season.
OF, Kendall Coleman: His career .137 average in his first 18 professional games helps disguise just how good a hitter this former 11th round pick could be someday. His patience is superb, he shows good strike zone discipline, and he was hitting the ball the other way with more regularity before his season-ending injury last season. The taller 6-foot-4 frame would normally suggest a few more problems mechanically but there's some Judge-like [see below] upside here hitting for average.
SS, Thairo Estrada: He has been more than respectable with the bat in his first two professional seasons, hitting .276 through his first 73 games, but it doesn't shed nearly enough light on just how good a hitter he could wind up being someday. His plate discipline is plus, his bat speed is plus, and he employs a short, compact swing, one that utilizes the whole field. With a Refsnyder-like bat, he has all the makings of a being a .300-plus hitter someday.
Best Bounce-Back Candidates
Here are some prospects who have shown a real proclivity for hitting in the past but have struggled recently and/or haven't been able to stay healthy, but could one day find their way into the Top Ten.
2B, Gosuke Katoh: This former second round pick hit just .222 in Charleston last year in his first taste of the long-season leagues but there are some signs that could be an aberration. He hit .310 in his debut season in the Gulf Coast League the year prior, he hit a more respectable .251 in the second-half last season, and his 71 walks last season ranked second in the entire South Atlantic League. Throw in a offseason adding weight, getting stronger, and re-working his swing, he could be due for a resurgence with the bat in 2015 and beyond.
1B, Matt Snyder: This former Ole Miss product can flat-out hit but the only thing more tangible than his proficiency with the bat is his ability to sustain freak injuries. There's no doubt he could be a true .300-plus hitter with his second to none plate discipline should he stay healthy; he just needs to prove he can stay healthy.
OF, Mason Williams: It wasn't all that long ago that this former fourth round pick was considered one of the better hitters by nearly scout in the game but yet his average has continued to decline the higher he has climbed up through the minor leagues, culminating in a career-low .223 average last season. He's not nearly that bad a hitter and he did run into some bad luck, but more than anything he just needs his confidence back. Don't be surprised now that he's two years removed from shoulder surgery if he returns to being the .300 hitter he was before the injury.
Here are a couple of hitting prospects who have done well but haven't hit nearly as well as they have the potential of doing, and who could one day become one of the better hitters in the farm system.
OF, Dustin Fowler: An 18th round pick out of high school in 2013, Fowler had a very respectable debut in the long-season leagues last year, hitting .257 with nine home runs as a teenager in the South Atlantic League. Hidden behind the pedestrian batting average is some real hitting potential. He's far more patient than his 13 walks would suggest and he isn't a big strikeout guy for somebody with power [just 53 strikeouts in 66 games]. Still quite raw, one who believes he can hit almost any pitch, he's learning now to balance which pitches he can drive better and which ones to let go. There's some .300 hitting potential if he can find that balance.
3B, Eric Jagielo: The same can be said of this first round pick in 2013; he's learning how to balance being patient but yet aggressive at the same time. A .259 hitter two years into his career, he has so much more hitting potential than the numbers would suggest. He is a pronounced opposite field hitter with plus bat speed, above average patience, and a good idea of the strike zone. Like Fowler he's trying to learn which pitches to drive better and which ones to lay off of but there is a solid foundation to potentially become a high-average hitter if things come together for him.
Just like every organization, the Yankees have some excellent hitters whose long-term big league profiles are a bit muddied by their limited power potential. It may limit their respective starting potential and relegate them more to reserve status someday, but it shouldn't detract from their ability to hit.
OF, Taylor Dugas: The former all-time University of Alabama hit leader continues to be a stellar hitter for average at the professional level. He's a career .295 hitter who has walked 29 more times than he's struck out and there's no reason he wouldn't be able to do the same at the big league level. With well below average power and merely average at best speed, however, he best projects as a big league reserve outfielder.
OF, Mark Payton: Last year's seventh round pick out of the University of Texas grades out just a tick below Dugas hitting-wise but has a bit more power potential, enough to perhaps one day secure a starting outfield spot at the big league level. However, while the power is better than Dugas', it still pales in comparison to most other outfield prospects and that's a dicey proposition when considering he also rates a bit behind others as a true centerfielder. Still, like Dugas he can flat-out hit and that should open up some doors for him.
3B, Rob Segedin: This former third round pick has some of the best plate discipline around and he's shown in spurts to have the ability to be a very high average hitter. However, he has battled injury problems [hip surgery] and even some vision issues [he has begun wearing glasses], and that has led to some inconsistencies. It's his limited power potential though at a power-hitting position that continues to be his biggest stumbling block but the guy can still rake at times.
SS, Abiatal Avelino: It may not be long before this Dominican shortstop is considered one of the elite hitters in the farm system. While the bat speed, patience, and strike zone discipline are all above average, it's his innate ability to let the game come to him and take what the pitchers give him that truly stands out. He's a .282 hitter who still hasn't collected his 100th strikeout yet 169 games into his career and he's just now scratching the surface of his hitting potential.
1B, Mike Ford: He's not tall [standing just 6-foot-0], he doesn't have plus power potential, and he wasn't a high round draft pick [he actually was an undrafted free agent signing], so right off the bat he's been relegated to 'sleeper' status. The fact is though that this Princeton product is a very, very good hitter. The average stands at just .279 through his first 488 at-bats but the plate discipline is truly uncanny; he's a better hitter than he's shown thus far.
2B, Ty McFarland: Last year's tenth round pick has all the earmarks of being an eventual .300 hitter or better; top-notch plate discipline, an advanced ability to use the whole field, and consistent swing mechanics. An argument could easily be made he's among the Top Ten right now but simply just falls victim to an impressive group of hitters. He's legit.
C, J.R. Murphy: There are a lot of similarities between Ford and this former second round pick; smaller stature and less than plus power being two of them. But just like Ford too the in-game power is quite useful and the above average to plus plate discipline suggests that Murphy's career .263 average is only going to go up from here. He's a much better hitter than folks realize and will not be surprising at all if he becomes a .300 hitter at the big league level someday.
|STEADY CLIMB: Pirela, photoed here in 2007, has continually gotten better. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
1B, Kyle Roller: "Roller is a very selective hitter who uses the entire field, two essential traits for being a high-average hitter." That was our first report on Roller when he was drafted back in 2010. And just like with Pirela, Roller has continually gotten better with age, culminating in a career-high .300 average last season. Even though he's about to turn 27 years old in March the scary part is he still has more hitting upside than he's shown.
C, Gary Sanchez: It's tough for catchers to find that balance between developing their defensive games and fine-tuning their bats, and that's what the Dominican native has found out first-hand. Known more for his power than his consistency with the bat, the fact is he is still a very good hitter for average. His .274 career mark is more than respectable and like Roller the best has probably yet to come. He might not ever be an elite average hitter overall but he should be among the best at his position.
SS, Tyler Wade: Like Avelino, this 2013 fourth round pick out of high school gets lost in the shuffle of solid hitters merely because he doesn't have a lot of power but the fact is his bat control is among the best the system has to offer. He shows advanced patience and pitch recognition, and he's about as consistent as they come for a teenager. A career .277 hitter thus far, he has a bit more hitting potential too than he's shown.
Top Ten Hitters For Average
10) OF, Jake Cave: From the very moment he was selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft there were a bunch of baseball people believing Cave could be a very good hitter someday. His progress was delayed for two years after knee injuries but he's been well worth the wait, hitting .288 through his first 1,000-plus at-bats. There's even more untapped potential too as he is just now learning when to be aggressive earlier in counts. He has the look of being a consistent high-average hitter.
9) OF, Tyler Austin: This former 13th round pick back in 2010 has had some rather pedestrian batting averages the past two seasons [.257 and .275 respectively] and it has helped disguised some otherwise pretty special hitting ability. In fact, he's still a career .298 hitter and his .336 post All-Star batting average last season are both testaments to that. Keep in mind he battled a nagging wrist injury for the better part of a year and half and if he remains healthy he can still be one of the truly elite hitters. Don't sleep on his potential.
|SPEED HELPS: Mateo can leg out a lot of infield hits. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
7) OF, Alexander Palma: On the nearly opposite end of the Mateo spectrum is this Venezuelan native. He's not nearly as fast and therefore isn't a threat to leg out too many infield hits but he's also blessed with some of the best plate discipline around. He has struck out just 30 times in his first 356 professional at-bats and with incredible bat control it stands to reason that he will only see more success the higher he climbs where more strikes are thrown. He has batting title potential both short-term and long-term.
6) 3B, Miguel Andujar: In true Jake Cave-like fashion, this Dominican native's .268 career mark does not remotely do any justice with his long-term potential with the bat. The soon-to-be 20-year old is advanced beyond his years sitting back and waiting on offspeed pitches but he also has the elite bat speed to catch up to most fastballs. Throw in above average plate discipline and patience, and an Avelino-like ability to not press too much at the plate, he has the look of becoming a special hitter in due time. He's shown that in spurts thus far in his career, including hitting .319 in his final 64 games in low-A Charleston last season.
|IT'S COMING: Torrens hasn't chipped in with a high average yet but it's surely coming soon. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
4) C, Luis Torrens: Like Bird, Torrens' special hitting potential is mostly lost on national pundits. Of course a career .249 batting average doesn't exactly light up the proverbial radar. Still, few players have his natural disposition for hitting. He has a short, compact stroke with plus bat speed and like many good hitters he is very adept at using the whole field. Like Gary Sanchez though, it may take some time for this catcher's bat to catch up in actual performance numbers but it shouldn't detract from his long-term hitting potential. Quite frankly, he is a better looking hitter than many of the aforementioned names at a similar age and Torrens is still just 18 years old!
3) OF, Ramon Flores: For years we've prophesied the hitting prowess of this Venezuelan native and at times he's made us look good. Still, the fact is his career average stands at a more respectable .271 level than a truly special realm. However, he is still only 23 years old and he's already seen some extensive Triple-A action. He's the kind of relentless grinder whose impact isn't truly felt unless watching him daily. There's still considerable untapped potential hitting-wise, not unlike a young Robinson Cano who incidentally didn't put it all together until he reached the big league level.
2) OF, Aaron Judge: At first glance what's most impressive about this 2013 first round pick is his sheer size [6-foot-7] and plus power potential. Both traits are exceptionally hard to overlook. However, despite his large size and longer limbs he's also an astute hitter with surprisingly consistent mechanics. He has a great feel for the strike zone, he's short to the ball, and rarely over-swings. He hit a combined .308 in his debut season last year and like Palma it stands to reason he could be even more successful as he sees more strikes the higher he climbs.
1) Rob Refsnyder: If there's a better hitter out there we certainly haven't found him. This former fifth round pick and College World Series MVP has some of the best hitting traits around. It starts with brimming confidence, it's paired with superb strike zone knowledge and a consistent swing path, and it's rounded out by arguably the most calm and professional demeanor around. His career .297 batting average doesn't do him justice; he's a hitter who continues to get better as he gains more experience and that is indeed a scary proposition for opposing pitchers.