Gosuke Katoh: The 2013 second round pick out of high school has the raw tools that make him one of the better overall second base prospects long-term; plus plate patience and discipline, plus speed, average or better power potential, excellent hand-eye coordination, and an ability to use the whole field. There's even long-term above average or better defensive potential too, giving him a significant ceiling on both sides of the ball, and the makeup is great enough that there's also a realistic chance he realizes his potential someday too.
However, there are two things that will need to be ironed out in the coming years for his potential to be realized; his swing has to be shorter and stay shorter consistently, and he needs to find the right balance between being patient at the plate and being aggressive earlier in counts when he gets the pitches he's looking to drive. If he can learn not to let good pitches get by him earlier in counts merely in the name of seeing more pitches and driving pitcher's counts up, and if he can avoid the pitfalls of muscling up and trying to do too much of the plate it could do wonders in allowing his sky-high ceiling to be more of a reality. There's a huge ceiling but a bit of bust factor too.
Closest to the Majors
Jose Pirela: Long lauded inside the organization as one of the better 'sleeper' prospects, this Venezuelan native is very much still one of the better secrets in the Yankee organization despite being Triple-A tested. Not only has he been tried at the highest minor league level but he's excelled there too, hitting a career-high .305 for Scranton last season.
A high-energy player who gives a good at-bat every time up, he has solid average power and speed potential, the ability to be a high average hitter, and defensively he's above average at second base. He's big league ready right now on both sides of the ball and at 25 years old he's ready to hit his prime years.
Rob Refsnyder: There is even more offensive potential with this former College World Series MVP. He not only has led the Yankee farm system in hitting the past two years, including a a career-high .318 average last season, and shows even more power than Pirela after clubbing a career-high 14 home runs last season, but like Pirela he brings a high-energy style of play. And like Pirela, he's Triple-A tested too and at least offensively he's passed with flying colors.
Defensively, however, he has been and remains a bit of a work in progress after making the transition from the outfield to second base a little more than two years ago. He's shown glimpses of being an average or better defender at second base but still falls victim to silly miscues [mostly on ill-advised errant throws] from time to time. He's big league ready with the bat right now and defensively, while some improvement is definitely needed, he's not as far off from being a viable big league option as some pundits believe.
Bryan Cuevas: If there's a Pirela-like clone currently playing States-side in the Yankee farm system right now it could be this Dominican native. Like Pirela, Cuevas was signed as a amateur shortstop but has shown a lot more high-level defensive abilities at second base, he can barrel the baseball with regularity, and both the power and speed [while not top-shelf] grade out as solid big league average.
There is one glaring difference between Pirela and Cuevas at similar points in their careers, however, and it's Cuevas being a bit older. He turned 21 years old this offseason and he has yet to break into the long-season leagues, and because of that a strong argument could be made to slide him into either the 'Jury Is Still Out' group or even in the 'Need To Make Their Mark' category. Ability-wise though, don't sleep on his potential. He has the look of a late-bloomer.
Griffin Garrabito: Signed last summer out of the Dominican Republic for a reported $225,000 amongst a sizable group of International free agents who seemingly all signed for seven figures, Garrabito enters the professional ranks already flying under the radar as a result. Throw in reports of a Pirela-like game in nearly every way both offensively and defensively, he already has the look of a hidden gem. He obviously has to follow it up with on the field production in the coming years but don't forget about him; he's an instant 'sleeper'.
|POTENTIAL BAT: McFarland could be an offensive weapon in the middle infield. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
It's on the defensive side where the questions are raised; can the former college third baseman make the successful transition to the middle of the diamond? Standing 6-foot-3 he's bigger than most second baseman and the defensive ceiling probably isn't much greater than that of current Mets' second baseman Daniel Murphy, but it's the chance of having a high-average hitter in the middle infield that makes him one of the more intriguing 'sleeper' prospects.
Need to Make Their Move
Claudio Custodio: Possessing plus-plus speed, plus athletic ability, and above average or better defensive abilities, there's some 'sleeper' potential with this Dominican native. He's battled injuries over the past two years, however, as well as position changes and inconsistent playing time. There's still some real ability to become at least an impact reserve player someday and perhaps even a slight chance of grabbing some starting second base time at the higher minor league levels, but now 24 years old he is running out of time to make his mark. He needs a breakout season almost immediatley
Angelo Gumbs: When it comes to pure tools and natural talent Gumbs absolutely belongs in the 'highest ceiling' category with Kaoth. He has above average speed, average or better power potential, and defensively he could be special at times. However, he just needs to prove he can stay healthy along enough to stick on the field; he's never had more than 400 at-bats in a minor league season. Still just 22 years old, his career trajectory is following a similar path to former high-ceiling infield prospect Anderson Feliz and like Feliz if Gumbs can't stay healthy and/or be productive on the field relatively soon he could fall victim to a similar fate in the not so distant future.
Jose Rosario: There are some stark differences between Custodio and this Dominican native ability-wise and yet their respective careers are at a similar crossroads. Like Custodio, Rosario can play a few different position rather well defensively so that should continue to get him some opportunities but with that versatility comes some unintended consequences, most notably an inability to get consistent playing time at any one position. He doesn't have a plus tool like Custodio though so he's going to have hit his way into more opportunities. He has the talent to do that but at 23 years old he's running out of time to do that in a Yankee uniform.
Derek Toadvine: Like Custodio, this 22nd round pick in 2013 out of Kent State University has the kind of plus-plus speed that makes him a bit of a 'sleeper' prospect of sorts and defensively he can more than hold his own too, but the bat still lags very much behind. In fact, he's been working hard behind the scenes to become a switch-hitter to make better use of his world-class speed but the progress has been more slow than steady. He needs some on the field offensive production real soon.
The Jury is Still Out
Billy Fleming: The former West Virginia University standout made a name for himself in the Cape Cod League, so much so it afforded him a minor league free agent contract with the Yankees. He hit .375 in 22 Gulf Coast League games last season and shows some intriguing hitting potential long-term. The physical tools are merely average at best, however, including in-game power that probably grades a tick below that. He'll have to hit his way up through the minor leagues and the jury is still out as to whether or not he will be able to do that.
Junior Valera: This Dominican native can flat-out fly. He's easily a plus runner and defensively he can be a real standout too, and the combination makes him arguably a bit more of a legitimate 'sleeper' candidate than some folks realize. He spent his first few professional seasons learning how to switch-hit and the results have been very encouraging, especially after hitting .316 in his first taste of playing in the United States last season. However, he has little to no power and he's already 22 years old and hasn't played in the long-season leagues yet. He'll need to continue hitting his way up through the minor leagues.