Five System Game-Changers

The outside perception of the Yankee farm system was not too great over the past couple of years and yet we maintained that the system was better than the public perception. We even listed five things that could realistically happen that would quickly turn around that perception in a big way in 2015. And yet while some of those did not happen, others did to help turn around the farm system aura.

Whether the public perception of the Yankee farm system ranking in the bottom-half of the league the past couple of years was fair or not was up for serious debate among those "in the know". Team insiders believed those rankings were a little off-base and the 2015 Yankee minor league season was proof of that.

We listed Five System Game-Changers before the season began, things that could help turn around that public perception. Some of them happened and others did not, but the ones that didn't happen were supplanted by other rising performances to help change how the Yankee farm system is now viewed.

1. Luis Severino and Greg Bird having big league success -- We didn't list this prior to the start of the season because it seemed highly unlikely that either [let alone both] would have the opportunity to make some noise at the big league level in 2015. But make some noise they did. Despite having played in just 46 games, Bird finished ninth on the team in home runs. In fact, his eleven home runs tied him with Chase Headley despite playing in 110 less games. Throw in the fact that Bird's .871 OPS ranked second on the team among players with at least 100 at-bats in 2015 [second behind Mark Teixeira] and that his defense was better than reputed by some pundits prior to his big league arrival, Bird showed in quick fashion that he has the ability to be a difference-making player long-term for the Yankees.

Severino also made his presence known in relatively quick fashion too. Forget for a moment that he finished first on the team in ERA among starting pitchers who made at least seven starts for the Yankees in 2015 [Adam Warren finished second with a 3.29 ERA], it is Severino's overall consistency for a rookie starter that really stood out. He allowed two earned runs or less in eight of his eleven big league starts, leading to his impressive 2.89 ERA for the Yankees this season.

Neither Bird nor Severino are still rookie eligible and therefore are no longer considered prospects going forward so they won't do much for immediate rankings of the Yankee farm system. However, having two rookie players come up with significant big league contributions immediately have helped squash the 'Yankee hype' mystique the public perceived of the system; they weren't just the product of hype, they actually produced at a very high level, and it could lead the general public to correctly believe that other future Yankee rookies can help contribute in similar fashion in the future.

2. Jorge Mateo producing in the long-season leagues -- We listed this as the number one game-changer in the offseason for two reasons; one, it seemed the most likely. And two, on the heels of Derek Jeter retiring and the Yankees losing out on signing Yoan Moncada [who eventually signed with rival Boston], it was important that the Yankees have a high-profile shortstop prospect make some noise in the long-season leagues to help boost the overall perception of the Yankee farm system.

Mateo certainly made some noise too, leading all of baseball with 82 stolen bases in his first taste of the long-season leagues and chipping in with a solid .278 batting average over two A-ball levels. While there is a lot more left in the tank, especially hitting-wise and even in the power department, the fact that he had a full healthy season and had as much success as he had helped boost the perception of the Yankee farm system. Of course it doesn't hurt that he was also the subject of many trade rumors mid-season too, including one that he had him potentially being shipped for the game's best closer.

3. A reclamation project emerges -- Before the season began we listed a trio of players who, should they chip in with on the field production in 2015, could theoretically turn around the perception of the then underrated Yankee farm system; Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Jose Campos. While Campos didn't exactly acquit himself upon his return [he posted a 7.05 ERA in eleven starts in his return from Tommy John surgery], the former two did wonders in that regard prior to both going down with injuries [Heathcott hit .400 in 17 games and Williams hit .286 in his first eight big league games before did a whole lot better at the minor league level in 2015].

However, it wasn't just the Heathcott-Williams show in the reclamation department either. Collectively the Yankees had a virtual throng of borderline burgeoning big league prospects make significant jumps in their on-the-field production down on the farm; Chaz Hebert [2.55 ERA over three minor league levels], Joey Maher [2.20 ERA in low-A while holding batters to a .200 average], Rookie Davis [3.86 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning pitched over two minor league levels], Cale Coshow [2.45 ERA over three minor league levels and holding batters to a .208 average], and Dietrich Enns [0.61 ERA in 13 games over two minor league levels after returning from Tommy John surgery], just to name a few.

The totality of several then perceived organizational players emerging into potential viable big league long-term options has the stock of the Yankee farm system soaring higher than it has in some time, especially considering many of the breakout seasons came on the mound in an organization whose best assets down on the farm entering the season were on the offensive side of the ball.

4. An impact prospect emerges -- Before the season began it was widely thought that either third baseman Miguel Andujar and/or outfielder Jake Cave were on the precipice of breaking out in 2015, and that one of those breakout seasons could help boost the value of the Yankee farm system. Neither broke out like they could, however, but the Yankees still had an impact prospect emerge in 2015; right-handed pitcher Domingo Acevedo.

He didn't make that much noise in the long-season leagues, succumbing to some minor injuries earlier in the Charleston season that relegated him to the short-season leagues later in the year, but he turned many a head in his time in Staten Island. He wound up earning New York Penn League Pitcher of the Year honors on the strength of his 3-0, 1.69 ERA performance with the Staten Island Yankees, but it was in the way he put up those numbers that has many baseball insiders believing the Yankees could have Luis Severino Part Two working his way up through the minor leagues now. He was topping out over 100 mph routinely with his fastball and his slider started becoming a consistent big league offering. Considering he already had one of the better changeups around entering the season, stuff-wise and command-wise the 6-foot-7 behemoth appears to be a taller version of Severino right now, and as noted above Severino's big league success in 2015 only aids the perceived value of Acevedo as a prospect.

5. The next wave -- The emergence of Bird and Severino at the big league level, and soon to be arrivals of Rob Refsnyder, Aaron Judge, Jacob Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow, and others at Major League level will have the overall value of the Yankee farm system taking an immediate hit. However, the Yankees have some lower level prospects already starting to emerge as potential industry impact players to help offset some of those upper-level losses and help maintain the stock of the Yankee farm system.

Of course adding a first round arm like James Kaprielian this year only helps boost the farm system but it's the further emerging of the likes of shortstops Wilkerman Garcia [.281, more walks than strikeouts in the GCL] and Diego Castillo [.331, 19 extra-base hits in 56 games], and the success of third baseman Nelson Gomez [11 home runs in his first 256 at-bats], three high profile International signings a year ago, that only help create some unprecedented lower-level depth of the Yankee farm system and helps show the Yankees have impact prospects up and down their system. Depth across all minor league levels only increases organizational value and the perception of the system in general.

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