Jorge Mateo: There simply isn't anything this Dominican native can't do. Forget for a moment that he has elite plus running speed, arguably one of the fastest [if not the fastest] in all of baseball, it's his plus-plus bat speed that also really turns heads. He's not the biggest guy around but not the smallest either, but he can put an absolute charge into the baseball and has average or better power potential. That kind of power-speed combination makes him downright electric offensively.
If that weren't enough he boasts plus arm strength, displays soft hands and possesses plus range in the field, giving him Gold Glove caliber defensive abilities too. The swing is short and compact, and he has a solid foundation of patience and pitch recognition too, giving him the potential to be a high average hitter. The patience and strike zone discipline are both advanced for his age but both also could use some more fine-tuning. If those areas of his game come together he could realistically become a true five-tool talent at a premium position for the Yankees. His ceiling is so vast that it's a real disservice putting any other Yankee shortstop prospect in the 'highest ceiling' category despite the fact that a few others have really high ceilings of their own.
Closest to the Majors
Ali Castillo: Always a bit of a deep 'REM sleeper' for the Yankees given his plus-plus defensive abilities at shortstop, the big question mark surrounding Castillo was whether or not the bat would develop into an even useful part of his game. That major question still remains somewhat but the offensive progress has been slow and steady to the point where it's at least feasible pondering putting him in a big league lineup. He has little to no power, not even all that much of the gap variety either, but he's become a bit of a tough out over the years. He may have just enough strike zone discipline and average speed to allow him the chance to flash his special defensive game at the big league level someday, and now Double-A tested he provides some emergency defensive depth if the need arises.
Angel Aguilar: This 19-year old has the look of having an Anthony Rendon-like offensive ceiling and when you pair that with his above average defensive abilities there could be something special brewing here. Fair or not, however, the fact is his ceiling is below that of Mateo. If not for the presence of Mateo this Venezuelan native would most assuredly slot into the 'highest ceiling' category given his combination of above average defense, average or better power potential, and solid hitting abilities. It's a good news-bad news situation for Aguilar; he might not get the press Mateo will surely get but it will allow him to fly under the radar as he climbs the minor league ladder.
Abiatal Avelino: Like Aguilar, this Dominican native has almost immediately fallen into 'sleeper' status given the presence of Mateo despite having a pretty significant ceiling of his own. His arm strength is right up there neck and neck with Mateo's and while the natural running speed isn't all that close, Avelino's high baseball intellect and aggressive running style allows him to have a subjectively somewhat comparable impact running the bases. Like Mateo he is as smooth as silk defensively and he's proven to be a very capable hitter. In other organizations he too would slot into the 'highest ceiling' category but will be afforded the opportunity to have a little less pressure on him with Mateo around.
Thairo Estrada: This Venezuelan native rounds out the 'next big three' after Mateo in terms of high-ceiling talent that will most likely fly under the radar in the shadow of Mateo. He too shows average or better power potential, he has above average or better speed, above average or better hitting ability, and above average defensive abilities at shortstop. Like Aguilar, there's an offensive ceiling comparable to Anthony Rendon, perhaps even more so given his plus plate discipline and willingness to draw walks. He might have the highest ceiling among the shortstop prospects States-side in the farm system not named Mateo.
Tyler Wade: There's a somewhat significant drop-off from the 'next big three' to this 2013 fourth round pick and it's mostly due to his rather modest power potential. He has the above average speed, above average defensive game, and average or better hitting abilities to be a real impact player long-term, but the power ceiling is merely average at best so even though he can impact the game in a lot of other ways, including great leadership skills, he'll fly very much under the radar given the depth of high-ceiling talent. It makes him 'the sleeper' of sleepers among the shortstop prospects for the Yankees.
Need to Make Their Move
Vince Conde: Call it bad timing but it's rather unfortunate that last year's ninth round pick enters the farm system with arguably its best shortstop prospect depth in decades. Conde is a steady and reliable defender who shows a solid idea at the plate but has merely average at best physical tools. The power is actually below average and more of the doubles variety. He won't have all that long a leash and will need to be productive right out of the gate to garner playing time over any of the aforementioned names.
Cito Culver: Boy times have changed. It wasn't all that long ago when Culver wasn't just the long-term potential shortstop successor for the Yankees but in some capacity the only real viable option, so much so that we avoided doing this "Sizing Up the Shortstop Prospects" article for a couple of years. The plus defensive game is a given; he's Gold Glove caliber. Offensively, however, the progress has been slow [and not really all that steady] to the point of nearly being stagnant. He simply needs an offensive breakout season this year if he's to have any chance of fending off the high-ceiling talent that's surely to catch up to him level-wise in the not so distant future.
Claudio Custodio: To their credit the Yankees saw the improved shortstop depth at the lower levels coming and decided to move this Dominican native to the outfield last year in an effort to increase his versatility and perhaps keep him healthier. The latter part of the plan didn't work, however, as Custodio once again battled a slew of nagging injuries. He still has top-notch speed that's only rivaled by Mateo and Slade Heathcott, and defensively he's more than capable at shortstop, but he better get healthy and stay healthy if he's going to have any shot of getting any reps at shortstop going forward given the onslaught of depth at the position.
Anderson Feliz: An even higher-ceiling version of Custodio who gets hurt a lot more often. You simply roll the dice and hope he somehow figures out a way to avoid the training room, otherwise he'll be another tragic tale of wasted high-ceiling talent.
Tyler Palmer: On the subject of wasted talent, Palmer, signed last summer as an undrafted free agent signing, was well on his way towards making a name for himself this coming season with his great tools but was suspended by Major League Baseball for 50 games [starting once the Gulf Coast League season opens up] for reported amphetamine violations. Essentially lost for the 2015 season, his potential road to the big leagues has taken a massive detour.
The Jury is Still Out
Yancarlos Baez: Signed back in 2012, this Dominican native missed the entire 2013 season with a couple of different injuries and didn't debut until last season. He's an above average defender with above average speed, and there's some significant projection in his 6-foot-3 frame. However, he's still learning to switch-hit and there's a little too much swing and miss in his game. There's some high ceiling talent here but the jury is still out as to whether or not the bat will be consistent enough for the tools to play at a high level.
Diego Castillo: Just signed last summer out of Venezuela, already this teenager shows the kind of advanced hitting and defensive skills to one day be of the bigger 'sleeper' prospects. There are some questions regarding his somewhat limited power potential and how it will play at the professional level. For now that's a wait and see proposition.
Wilkerman Garcia: Another top International free agent signing last summer, this Venezuelan native has the kind of game to change it from the 'next big three' to the 'next big four' after Mateo. The early word is he's a bit of an Avelino-Estrada hybrid who can switch-hit. That is high praise indeed and once he comes States-side he will most likely fit in the upper-echelon of high ceiling shortstop prospects, but for now he just needs to get his feet wet at the professional level.
Hoy Jun Park: All the signs are there for this Korean native turning into perhaps a speedier and slightly more powerful version of Tyler Wade, and as such would certainly fall into the 'sleeper' category relatively quickly as a result. There are virtually no weakness in his game outside of modest power potential but for now, like Garcia, he has to prove it some at the minor league level first.
Yonauris Rodriguez: A little Ali Castillo-like when he was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 as a defensive-first shortstop, Rodriguez managed to be a bit of a surprise at the plate, hitting .315 before going down with an injury. The power, however, grades out below average and doesn't project to be much better given his rather slender build. More so than most he has prove that the bat can progress and that he can stay healthy.
Sizing Up The Shortstop Prospects
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