Tyler Austin: It certainly had been a rough year and a half for this former 13th round pick who had previously destroyed the lower minor league levels to the tune of a combined .336 batting average at the A-ball level and lower before injuring his wrist in Double-A Trenton. He hit just a combined .253 over the ensuing year and half, however, while recovering from the injury before finally getting healthy and finishing out with a .336 batting average in the second half last season.
With above average or better or power, above average or better hit tool, and an average or better speed-defense combination, he still has one of the highest ceilings in the entire Yankee farm system. However, now a member of the 40-man roster and seemingly ticketed for Triple-A Scranton in 2015, he is also one of the outfield prospects closest to the big leagues, especially considering he, Chris Young, and the now oft-injured Carlos Beltran are the only right-handed outfield bats available to the Yankees.
Jake Cave: This former sixth round pick has long been lauded as one of the better 'sleeper' candidates despite having a pretty significant ceiling and it's because he missed his first two seasons with a knee injury. Well he has certainly begun tapping that considerable potential since then though, finishing second in hits in the farm system in his first full season in 2013 and then leading the farm system in hits last season.
Throw in significant progress defensively in centerfield and slowly emerging in-game power with room to get a lot better, his game is not only rounding into form but there is still a lot more untapped potential. His slugging percentage is getting better as he gets older and more mature, and even though he might not have the highest ceiling in the farm system his is still among the very best.
Aaron Judge: The 2013 first round pick entered his debut season last year with the reputation of being a Giancarlo Stanton-like slugging physical specimen who had shown very good plate discipline and a short swing in college, and who had to prove he could do it at the professional level. A combined .308, 17 home run season at two A-ball levels later that also saw him draw an organizational leading 89 walks and he's quickly proving that reaching his immense ceiling isn't such a far-fetched notion.
With plus power to all fields, plus strike zone discipline, a knack for hitting consistently, and an above average to borderline plus defensive game in right field, Judge has not only the highest ceiling among the outfield prospects in the Yankee farm system but he has budding star potential too.
Closest to the Majors
Taylor Dugas: With limited below average power potential and average at best speed, there isn't a whole lot of ceiling in this 5-foot-8 former University of Alabama all-time hits leader. He is what he is at this point and that's a professional hitter in every sense of the term. He boasts a career .295 average with more walks than strikeouts and he can play all three outfield spots in solid fashion. And now with some Triple-A experience under his belt, he provides some outfield bench depth for the Yankees should the need arise.
Ramon Flores: Signed out of Venezuela back in 2008, Flores, like Cave, had long been lauded as one of the better 'sleeper' prospects due to his professional approach to hitting. With merely average other tools though he is still quite the 'sleeper' candidate but now he's closing in on being big league ready. He'll be entering his second year on the 40-man roster and his second season in Triple-A Scranton so the Yankees will have no qualms whatsoever calling on his services should the need arise.
Ben Gamel: Even though he's not quite the same accomplished hitter, this former tenth round pick falls more into the Dugas category as a somewhat limited ceiling guy due to the below average in-game power but one who also shows a lot of outfield defensive versatility, the kind that could be readily available to step in at the big league level should the need arise. He doesn't excel at any one category but he can chip in at a lot of different areas and, seemingly ticketed for Triple-A in 2015, he isn't too far off from being a big league option.
Mark Payton: It isn't often a recent draftee immediately falls into the 'closest to the majors' group but with very few weaknesses in his game last year's seventh round pick probably won't be long for the minor leagues. The ceiling isn't very vast so he falls a little bit closer into the the Dugas-Gamel category as a somewhat limited player but with perhaps a bit more power there is some starting potential and therefore is a bit of a 'sleeper' too. Still, he could be a viable big league option as soon as 2016.
Chris Breen: It's tough to label anyone a 'sleeper' after they've led a league in OPS like Breen did in the New York Penn League last year but he falls in this grouping more due to his underrated defensive potential. He's played some first base and he has limited range in the outfield, but he shows average or better potential with the glove and offensively he has power to spare. Another good offensive showing in 2015 and Breen, who could arguably be in the 'highest ceiling' category right now, might not be a 'sleeper' for much longer.
|IMMENSE CEILING: Coleman has some Aaron Judge-like potential and few realize it. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
Dustin Fowler: We tabbed this former 18th round pick a 'sleeper' entering last season because of his Cave-like set of tools that grade out as average or better and he had a representative showing his first full season last year, hitting .257 with nine home runs as a 19-year old in low-A ball. He isn't quite the same hitter as Cave but has a bit more power potential too, and like Cave it might not be long before Fowler plays himself from 'sleeper' into the 'highest ceiling' category. He too could surprise some folks when it's all said and done.
Leonardo Molina: With above average power potential, above average to plus speed, plus arm strength, and one of the more advanced hitting approaches around, the Yankees' top International free agent signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 certainly has the kind of upside that could easily slide into the 'highest ceiling' category. However, despite bypassing the Dominican Summer League and beginning his career as a 17-year old in the United States, the fact remains that he hit just .193 in his debut season and already a lot of critics who weight performance more than they should are sleeping on his long-term potential. That would be a mistake.
Michael O'Neill: With above average or better speed and equally impressive defensive skills, the nephew of former Yankee great Paul O'Neill had some mild upside as a potential 'sleeper' entering the season but the jury was still out on his power potential. Well he began answering some of those questions in his first taste of the long-season leagues last year, connecting for ten home runs for the Charleston RiverDogs, some of which were absolutely titanic blasts. He still strikes out too much and his emotions can still get the best of him, and he still has some power potential related questions to answer going forward, but there is definitely some long-term 'sleeper' potential here if he can continue to refine his game.
Alexander Palma: There isn't a whole of of flash with this Venezuelan native. The defense is average, perhaps a tick above, and the same can be said of his running game. Throw in power potential that also ranges similarly, tools-wise there isn't a tremendous upside here. However, the 2012 International free agent can flat-out hit, the kind that could develop into an elite bat and allow the other tools to play a level higher. Watch his development closely because he's the kind of guy who sneaks his way up to the big leagues with very little fanfare and winds up having a productive big league career.