Prospect Predictions For The 2015 Season

With minor league Spring Training underway, we take a stab at predicting which Yankees prospects will win which statistical categories in the 2015 season. Who will lead the farm system in home runs? Which pitcher will strike out the most batters? Which player will break into the Top Ten Yankees prospects by the end of the season? Find out all this and much, much more.

For Starters:

Most Wins: Brady Lail - It would not be surprising to see a few of the same names from last year's top winning pitchers on the same leader board in 2015. Somebody like Jaron Long, who led the farm system with 12 wins last year, could absolutely wind up leading this category again this coming season given his advanced feel for pitching and proclivity for pitching deep into games. However, Lail finished one just win behind Long last season and we're expecting not only more growth from him in 2015 but a higher innings limit too. He also has an ability to pitch deep into games and the defenses behind him are only getting better, and that could help increase his consistency even more given his rapidly developing two-seamer/changeup combination.

Most Strikeouts: Caleb Smith - The cop out prediction here would be Luis Severino who, should he stay in the minor leagues for the entire 2015 season, could easily once again lead the farm system in strikeouts [he led the farm system last year with 127 punch outs]. And while we're expecting a breakout season from left-hander Ian Clarkin this coming season so it stands to reason he should be among the strikeout leaders given his ability to strike out a batter per inning pitched, he might not get the needed innings to rack up that kind of strikeout total. We'll go with Smith and his ever-improving slider to take home the honors in 2015. A little more consistency and a few less 'clunker' starts as well as the predictable 40 or so innings increase could propel him to the top. Keep in mind he finished tied for third in strikeouts last season with 116 in his first full season.

Best Walks Per Nine Innings: Brady Lail - Jaron Long took home this honor last season with relative ease, issuing a ridiculously low 1.37 walks per nine innings and he could absolutely take home this title once again in 2015 should he pitch the entire season in the minor leagues. However, given the dearth of starting pitching depth at the upper levels and the realistic chance the big league team could wind up needing some innings should injuries befall the starting rotation, chances are Long could find his way to the big league level. While somebody like Daniel Camarena could be in the mix, the next closest thing to Long from a control standpoint is Lail who walked just 1.74 batters per nine innings last season.

Lowest ERA: Ian Clarkin - Jaron Long almost took home the minor league pitching Triple Crown last year [he was five strikeouts short], nearly leading the farm system in wins, strikeouts and ERA [his 2.18 ERA was nearly a half run better than anyone else]. And he could once again take home the honor in 2015 if he doesn't get promoted to the big leagues. However, Clarkin, one of New York's first round picks in 2013, acquitted himself quite nicely last season, posting a 3.12 ERA in his first full season which ranked third overall in the farm system among starting pitchers. We're expecting a lot more growth in every aspect of his game, especially his confidence. He's a strong bet to lead the farm system in ERA this coming.

For Relievers:

Most Saves: Jacob Lindgren - This is always one of the toughest categories to predict simply because the Yankees usually slate their higher-ceiling relievers for multiple innings. For example, Cesar Vargas led the farm system with 14 saves last year. However, given the Yankee depth of left-handed relievers at the big league level now it stands to reason that somebody like Lindgren should be given a full year at the minor league level and it's going to be awfully tough for a manager to not call his name to close out games. He's just too good.

Lowest ERA: James Pazos - The Yankees have no shortage of potential candidates in this category given the sheer depth of quality bullpen arms at the minor league level. It would not be surprising to see any of Danny Burawa [1.59 ERA in Trenton last year], Branden Pinder [0.56 ERA in Trenton last year], Nick Rumelow [2.62 ERA over four levels], or even Lindgren [2.16 ERA over three levels] to take home this honor. However, we're simply going with the hot hand here and Pazos has looked like a man on a mission since his promotion from high-A last season. He posted a 1.50 ERA for Trenton last year in 28 appearances, including a 22-game stretch where allowed one earned run combined.

Most Strikeouts Per Nine Innings: Jacob Lindgren - We're not going to out-think ourselves on this one. While somebody like Rumbelow {12.5 strikeouts per nine innings] or Tyler Webb [12.3 strikeouts per nine innings] could be in the mix here, it's tough to bet against Lindgren with his nasty three-plus-pitch mix and 17.2 strikeouts per nine innings pitched last season.

For Position Players:

Highest Average: Aaron Judge - We mentioned last season that we were not going to out-think ourselves in this category and predicted Refsnyder would lead the farm system in batting average last season after doing it the year before and he did exactly that, leading all hitters with a .318 average in 2014. And if Refsnyder is in the minor leagues for the entire 2015 campaign the smart money says he'll be the farm system batting leader once again. However, we'll go on the premise that he sees some big league action this year just to take somebody different. There are some mid to lower level dark horse candidates who could take home the title, highlighted by the likes of Miguel Andujar, Alexander Palma, Jorge Mateo, and even Ty McFarland, and some upper level hitters who will certainly be in the mix like Taylor Dugas, Greg Bird, Jake Cave, and Ramon Flores, but we'll go with Judge and his super strike zone discipline here. Besides, he finished second in batting last season among long-season league hitters with a .308 average.

Most Home Runs: Aaron Judge - Peter O'Brien finished first in home runs last year even though he was traded mid-season and Kyle Roller finished second with 26 bombs. Roller could once again find himself near the top of these rankings in 2015 should he get another full minor league season and Bird has the kind of power to propel himself near the top here, but we'll go with Judge as it appears his plus power is just now starting to materialize in games. He has the chance to be a special power hitter and it could start as soon as this season.

Highest On-Base Percentage: Aaron Judge - There will be guys like Taylor Dugas and Mark Payton who get into the mix here simply because of their excellent strike zone discipline and ability to draw walks, and there are some lower level dark horse candidates like Thairo Estrada who could find their way into the conversation if they break into the long-season leagues, but realistically this should be a three-person race between Judge, Bird, and Refsnyder once again. It's going to be tough to bet against Judge considering he amassed a ridiculous .419 on-base percentage last year and that was before pitchers knew just how good a hitter he truly is. It stands to reason they'll pitch around him even more in 2015.

Most Stolen Bases: Jorge Mateo - This one is over before the season even begins. The only way Mateo and his 80-running ability doesn't lead the farm system in stolen bases in 2015 is if he sustains a pretty serious injury that keeps him out for an extended period of time, otherwise nobody is going to come remotely close to approaching his stolen base total. Keep in mind he led the farm system in stolen bases two seasons ago and he did it while playing in the short-season Dominican Summer League!

The Superlatives:

First Player To Be Called Up To The Major Leagues: Nick Rumbelow - We're going to take players like Jose Pirela, Jose Ramirez, and Bryan Mitchell out of the equation since they've already seen big league time. In fact, we're going to pick among only the non-40-man roster players. And while Rob Refsnyder should be the first position player called up from the minor leagues the smart money says that Rumbelow is the first overall player promoted to the big leagues despite the great Yankee bullpen depth. The bullpen has left-handed depth in spades right now but if there is an achilles heal there [and there really isn't] it's among their right-handed relievers, especially in middle relief. Somebody like Rumbelow could fill that void rather seamlessly if the needs arises.

Best Comeback From Injury: Slade Heathcott - There's no shortage of candidates in this category given amount of injuries to high-ceiling prospects last season. Players like Abiatal Avelino, Ramon Flores, Jose Campos and Angelo Gumbs have the kind of talent to bounce back from their injuries in a big way as does somebody like Kendall Coleman at the lower minor league levels. Somebody like Anderson Feliz can't be completely written off yet either. And it stands to reason that pitchers like Nick Goody, Gabe Encinas, and Ty Hensley all make significant steps forward in their continued progression back from injury but they all pitched some in 2014. Heathcott, however, who missed essentially the entire 2014 season, seems primed to finally have that breakout season everyone has been waiting on.

Best Bounce-Back Season: Gosuke Katoh - The Yankees have more than a few candidates in this category too. Both Tyler Austin and Eric Jagielo had respectable seasons last year so they're not really ideal "bounce-back" candidates but both could have even bigger seasons this year. The three prime candidates here are Katoh, Rookie Davis, and Mason Williams. Davis was widely considered last year's breakout candidate entering the season and simply didn't deliver, posting a disappointing 4.93 ERA in low-A Charleston. The talent is too good and the makeup is way too strong for there not to be a much better showing in 2015. And Williams, who hit just .223 in Double-A Trenton, is vastly more talented than the production has shown thus far. Katoh had a disappointing season last year too. However, there are signs that a turnaround is inevitable for him. He hit a far more respectable .251 in the second half last season, he finished second in the South Atlantic League in walks, and he reportedly put on 30 pounds of good weight this offseason. He should be much, much better this year.

Breakout Player: Miguel Andujar - Even taking out the potential bounce-back candidates either from injury or disappointing seasons last year, the Yankees still have a plethora of breakout candidates in 2015. Jake Cave seems ready for a big breakout season at the upper levels, Ian Clarkin seems very well equipped to make that next step in his development, and players like Kendall Coleman and Thairo Estrada are oh-so close to breaking out at the lower levels as well. Andujar, however, seems poised more than most towards making that next step towards becoming an elite prospect. He hit .319 in the second half last season and OPS'd 221 points higher after the break. Throw in his ever-growing defensive skills on a already solid skillset and he could be a monster prospect in the making.

DSL or 'July 2nd' Sign Import That Will Shoot Up The Rankings: Dermis Garcia - Two years ago we successfully picked Abiatal Avelino and a year ago we successfully predicted Jorge Mateo who is now Top Five Yankee prospect. The 2015 crop looks a lot deeper than last year's group too after the Yankees broke the bank in the International free agent market. While we could stick at the same shortstop position and pick Wilkerman Garcia with his surprisingly already polished game, we're going with the ultra-high ceiling of Garcia here as we think his special power potential is going to be simply too hard to keep him down in the rankings.

Current Minor Leaguer That Will Break Into The Top 10: Domingo Acevedo - Picking Miguel Andujar or Ian Clarkin here, two players barely outside of the Top Ten right now, would be cheating a little bit. While we expect both to be Top Ten prospects this year, we'll go out on a limb and pick a prospect much further down in the current rankings. Of those candidates, those outside the current Top 25, it would not be too surprising to see somebody like Thairo Estrada or Leonardo Molina make hard charge towards the Top Ten. However, Acevedo with his sheer size, strength, control, and plus changeup could really be a fast riser up the rankings if and when that slider comes to fruition. We think he has the chance to be special.

Current Non-Top 50's To Break Into The Top 50 Next Season - A year ago we went with the quartet of Dustin Fowler, Tyler Wade, Kendall Coleman, and Drew Bridges among the lower level guys poised to break into the Top 50, and listed Jose Pirela as the older 'sleeper' who might find his way into the big leagues before the season was up to still be considered a prospect for our rankings. All of it almost played out that way as Bridges was the only one unable to crack the Top 50 this offseason. He's one of the strongest bets this year, however, to find his way up there. Obviously there will be some new names come draft time but amongst the names currently in the farm system who could make their way into the Top 50 prospects by season's end there are other qualified candidates. Pitchers like Jordan Foley, Jordan Montgomery, and Juan Jimenez are all strong candidates, and catcher Alvaro Noriega highlights the younger crop with Bridges.

Top Yankee Prospect For 2015: Jorge Mateo - The cop out prediction would be to pick any of the Severino-Judge-Bird trio as the top prospect next offseason as all three have top overall prospect potential and all three could realistically spend the entire 2015 campaign in the minor leagues. However, while we would like to pick somebody different just for the sake of being different, even if those three still have great seasons and remain in the minor leagues, we would still pick Mateo as next year's top overall prospect simply because the talent is that special. Book it now, barring injury Jorge Mateo will be a household prospect name by season's end.

Players To Skip A Level To Start 2015 - We successfully picked Eric Jagielo last year but the extreme depth at the lower levels is beginning to make the jump from Staten Island to Tampa a bit more difficult. The most qualified candidate could be Jordan Montgomery among the pitchers and even he might be a stretch at this point. The same goes for Ty McFarland. His bat is clearly ready for the high-A level so the Yankees might push him a bit quicker and have him skip Charleston entirely but the glove still needs work. Those are the two best bets and they're not exactly strong ones.

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