Here are a few lower-level prospects who have either yet to make their official minor league debuts or haven't come States-side full-time yet who down the road could become one of the better speedsters in the Yankee farm system.
SS, Yancarlos Baez: Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Baez missed his first season with a couple of injuries and didn't make his debut until last season. Not an elite burner, grading out as more above average and rangy than plus, he stole 19 bases in his first 65 games and was just caught one time. His speed impact will depend on a lot on the further development of his bat but once he becomes more consistent in the batter's box he could be a real threat once he gets on base
SS, Hoy Jun Park: The Korean native was signed as one of the top International free agents last summer not for his power but [among other reasons] for his plus speed. Unlike Baez he already swings a pretty consistent bat and shows an ability to get on base at a high clip, and that could lead to a lot of base stealing opportunities right out of the gate. He should be one of the better base stealers once he makes his way State-side and find permanent residence in the Top Ten relatively soon.
OF, Carlos Vidal: The Colombian native is very quick and athletic. Very much Baez-like in that regard, like Baez he is still raw reading pitchers' moves and getting consistent first bursts, and gets by mostly on his athleticism right now. He does swing a much more consistent bat, however, and has shown a real ability to draw walks which means he'll get plenty of opportunities to work on his base stealing abilities and have an impact in the running game.
Best Bounce-Back Candidates
Here are some prospects who have shown a real proclivity for stealing bases 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.
UT, Anderson Feliz: This Dominican native has boasted some of the best pure speed ever since he signed back in 2008 but was very raw stealing bases even before a slew of injuries limited his running opportunities. He has to get healthy and learn to get on base more consistently if he ever fully returns, and if he could do that he could have some special running seasons in him. There's a lot of "ifs" at this point, however.
OF, Frank Frias: An older and under the radar signing at the time, this Dominican native was well on his way towards becoming one of the better 'sleeper' prospects and his above average, borderline plus speed was one of the reasons why. He had stolen 37 bases in his first 96 games until a gruesome ankle injury last season. It remains to be seen if he will be the same runner once he returns [former top prospect Ravel Santana, who suffered a similar injury, was not] from the broken ankle but it should be noted that he has that potential in him, enough to bear watching.
2B, Angelo Gumbs: Like Feliz, this former second round pick back in 2010 is about as athletic as they come. He's not quite the plus runner that Feliz once was but certainly grades out as above average. But like Feliz the inconsistent bat did lead to limited base stealing opportunities. He has 20-plus stolen base potential if and when he ever stays healthy [another Feliz similarity], and for now he has to prove he can remain on the field for any extended period of time.
Here are a few hitting prospects who have impact base stealing abilities but their inconsistent bats or limited power cloud their long-term starting potential and thus could limit their speed impact as well.
UT, Claudio Custodio: The Dominican native is a plus-plus runner and one of the elite base stealers too. In fact, he boasts a better than 90 percent success rate stealing bases in his career thus far. However, injuries, subsequent inconsistent playing time, and position changes among other things have slowed down the development of his bat to the point where he is more of a reserve player. If he could ever find a starting role in the organization again and stay healthy he could reclaim his place as one of Top Ten speed guys in the farm system.
OF, Ben Gamel: Extremely athletic and more above average running-wise than plus, the higher this former tenth round pick back in 2010 climbs the more it looks like he fits better in a long-term reserve role than a starting one and it's because of his limited power potential. His game is predicated on speed, defense, and giving good at-bats, but if he can't secure a starting role down the road his running impact will be quite limited.
OF, Michael O'Neill: He's been healthy, productive, and he's been a starting player for the most part since his 2013 third round selection out of the University of Michigan. More above average than a true plus runner, he actually led the farm system in stolen bases last season with 42 swipes. However, until the bat can be a bit more consistent and until he can cut down on the swing and miss ratios, his long-term projection is limited to more of a potential big league reserve outfielder and that could hamper his true running impact down the road.
2B, Junior Valera: Unlike Custodio and O'Neill, this Dominican native actually swings a pretty consistent bat now after spending his first three professional seasons learning how to switch-hit in the Dominican Summer League and he has developed excellent patience at the plate, and that combination could give him plenty of opportunities to best utilize his plus speed. However, the power potential is somewhat limited and like Custodio and O'Neill his long-term projection right now is more geared towards an eventual reserve role. If the power develops some more though and his projection begins to slide closer to a potential starting role down the road his natural speed would easily rank in the Top Ten.
SS, Angel Aguilar: This Venezuelan native is not a burner by any means but he is very athletic, shows a high level of baseball intelligence, and has the kind of burgeoning consistency with the bat that could give him ample running opportunities as he continues to mature. He stole eight bases a year ago in the short-season Gulf Coast League and could approach the 20-stolen base mark over the course of a full season. He won't be elite on the bases but he could have a very solid impact.
OF, Tyler Austin: He's certainly not the quickest. In fact, he might not even rank in the top twenty or thirty of naturally fast guys in the farm system. However, there might not be a smarter and better base runner in the farm system. He has struggled with an ailing wrist injury over the past two years and it has led to an inconsistent bat, and subsequently limited his running opportunities [he has just seven stolen bases combined over the past two seasons]. He did, however swipe 23 the year before the injury and 18 the year prior in the short-season leagues without getting caught. A return to health and and more confidence could lead him back to the 20-stolen base benchmark if things break right.
|HIT FIRST: Molina needs a more consistent bat first before the speed can follow. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
OF, Leonardo Molina: Unlike the aforementioned names in this grouping, this 17-year old Dominican native has the kind of natural above average running speed to one day be a real threat on the bases. He swiped just six bags in his debut season last year, although that lower number was more a byproduct of an inconsistent bat than anything. And that's why he gets just 'honorable mention' at this point; he has to prove the bat can be consistent and subsequently increase his running opportunities. If and when that happens he could easily slide into the Top Ten.
Top Ten Speed Prospects
10) 2B, Rob Refsnyder: This former College World Series MVP isn't very fast, grading out as more average [perhaps a hair above average] than anything, but he is already a consistent high-average hitter, one who can walk a bunch, and he is about as intelligent as they come on the diamond. He ironically saw his stolen base production dip down to the single digits [just nine bases] last season while hitting a career-high .318 after swiping 23 and 16 the two years prior respectively. He should get back to the 20-stolen base plateau relatively soon and his impact running station to station is palpable.
9) SS, Thairo Estrada: Reviews on this Venezuelan's speed vary depending on the scout you talk to but the bottom line is he grades out as above average, borderline plus right now. That should tick down a level to the merely average, borderline above average realm as he continues to fill out but like Refsnyder he has the look of a high on-base hitter with real baseball smarts and an overall aggressive style of play that should play out well on the base paths. He has 15 stolen bases in his first 73 games [roughly 30 over the course of a full season], and that's including time nursing a pulled hamstring. He easily projects to be a perennial 20-plus stolen base threat.
|UNTAPPED POTENTIAL: Cave can steal a lot more bases. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
7) OF, Jake Cave: This former sixth round pick has just 30 stolen bases combined over the past two seasons but just like the other aspects of his game he is still trending upwards. An above average runner overall, he is still learning the nuances of reading pitchers' moves better and his natural aggressive approach at the plate hasn't lent itself similarly on the base paths yet. He simply hasn't found his running confidence yet but it appears to be coming as his overall confidence in his entire game continues to grow. Don't be surprised if he chips with 20-plus stolen bases seasons and perhaps a bit more in the very near future. There's still a lot of untapped potential here.
6) 2B, Gosuke Katoh: This 2013 second round pick made it his mission to employ his plus speed better in his first full season last year and the results were tangibly better, swiping 20 bases with the RiverDogs last year after netting just four the year prior. Like Cave though he is still learning the nuances of reading pitchers' moves better and how to be more aggressive in the running game, and there is still a bunch of untapped running potential here. He has spent the offseasong getting stronger and faster, and a little more maturation combined with the physical improvements could spell some further impact stealing bases down the road.
|UBER-AGGRESSIVE: Avelino will run at will. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
4) SS, Tyler Wade: A fourth round pick in 2013 out of high school, the now 20-year old actually tied for third most in stolen bases in the farm system last year with 22 bags. Like Katoh and Cave though he is actually still a little raw reading pitchers' moves, not surprising given his youth and lack of experience. What he has though is an aggressive running style to go along with his above average, borderline plus speed and it should remain a big part of his game going forward. A little more refinement running-wise and a little more consistency with the bat should help him develop into one of the premier stolen base threats for the Yankees.
3) OF, Mason Williams: Statistically it was his worst season last year, hitting a career-low .223, and yet he still managed to swipe 21 bases. It's a credit to his plus speed, overall athleticism, and aggressive running style. And he did it while playing at his highest weight since signing with the Yankees too. He has spent the offseason toning down the body and looking to get back to his small-ball style of play. That could mean some special running days ahead and he finally has the look of the guy who was once destined to be a 40-plus stolen base threat someday. Don't write him off just yet!
2) OF, Slade Heathcott: Forever he's been compared to a more powerful version of Brett Gardner but five surgeries over the years have derailed his on the field progress. However, three knee surgeries later have not appeared to slow him down one iota. He still needs to further refine his overall hitting ability and get on base at a more consistent rate if/when he ever remains healthy to do so in order to further maximize his elite speed. How he hasn't eclipsed the 20-stolen base plateau yet in a particular season is one of the biggest crimes given his special speed. If he can remain healthy he should be able to double that mark with relative ease.
1) Jorge Mateo: As fast as Heathcott is -- and he's extremely fast -- he would lose any footrace with this Dominican native, and there's a chance it wouldn't be close. Mateo is a plus-plus runner in every sense of the term, arguably the fastest in all of baseball. What makes him so special though is he combines that elite speed with Avelino-like headiness and aggressive running style. He has 64 stolen bases in his first 93 games. Extrapolate that to a full big league season and that equates to roughly 110 stolen bases -- that's the kind of running ceiling he possesses!