SS/2B, Angel Aguilar: At just 20 years old it would seem this Venezuelan native has plenty of time on his side and from a strictly age standpoint he absolutely does. However, he picked a bad time to battle nagging injuries last season en route to hitting a career-low .229 in low-A Charleston. A significantly high ceiling still exists on both sides of the ball but the unprecedented middle infield depth of high-end talent starting to bubble up at the lower levels for the Yankees is quickly creating an awful lot of competition for Aguilar [in the photo above].
His current situation is eerily similar to that of Abiatal Avelino [who made this list a year ago], another high-ceiling middle infielder with some lackluster production in an injury-marred first taste of the long-season leagues who somewhat desperately needed to put together a full, healthy, and productive year. With the selection of Kyle Holder last year, the ascension of Wilkerman Garcia, the solid debut of Hoy Jun Park, the productive season turned in by Thairo Estrada last year, and others coming up behind them, all of whom will also be getting some playing time at second base too, Aguilar, whether fair or unfair, needs to avoid getting passed by some other guys on the depth chart and needs to have an Avelino-like mini-breakout campaign in his second tour of the long-season leagues.
Aguilar, despite his youth, needs to stay healthy in 2016 and immediately perform. As past prospects have proven [Anderson Feliz, Claudio Custodio, etc], it doesn't take much missed time before a top prospect can quickly become an afterthought if he's not careful.
RHP, Jose Campos: This Venezuelan native has nearly everything anyone could want in a legitimate burgeoning big league pitching prospect; size [6-foot-3, 230 pounds], power [a fastball that has ranged from 91-97 mph], two above average secondary pitches that flash plus potential, and above average command. He has even had on the field success too, posting a career 3.84 ERA with less hits allowed than innings pitched a nearly a four to one strikeout-to-walk ratio. With impeccable makeup too, the foundation is very much in place to become an impact prospect for the Yankees. He doesn't have a ton of stiff competition from a talent standpoint that he has to fend off either and at 23 years old he's still quite young too.
However, while Campos has a lot going for him the one thing working against him is time; not necessarily a race against Mother Nature but against his ticking minor league clock. Re-signed to yet another minor league free agent deal this past offseason [his second one in two years], Campos is running short on time to make his mark in the Yankee organization. Throw in the fact he has yet to see any Double-A action in his career he's in desperate need of shaking off the Tommy John rust from his surgery two years ago and have the kind of breakout season many scouts and team official alike believe he's capable of having.
He has virtually no time for any setbacks or even mild success in 2016; he needs to break out now in order to maintain his status as one of the top Yankee pitching prospects.
RHP, Gabe Encinas: Few hurlers, if any, have the kind of special stuff this former sixth round pick back in 2010 flashes. He comfortably sits in the 94-96 mph range with his fastball and both the curveball and changeup can be downright devastating pitches at times. And there are the key words....'at times'. Neither secondary pitch is consistent, especially from a command standpoint, and the same can be said control-wise about his plus heater too. Throw in a painfully slow pace on the mound, especially pitching out of the wind-up, Encinas can have long stretches where he can't get his rhythm going and walking nearly five batters per nine innings in his career to date hasn't helped much either.
The stuff is truly unique though and the kind that makes it extremely difficult to give up on but the natural pitch-ability lags way, way behind the stuff. The now 24-year old is about to enter his sixth professional season and despite his amazing stuff he has yet to log any Double-A experience. His pitches are too good and virtually unhittable for him to have the kind of struggles he's had thus far and he's now too experienced to not see significant progress soon. Time is running out for him to make those strides in a Yankee uniform; he needs a breakout season in the worst way in 2016.
RHP, Ty Henlsey: As bad as Encinas needs a breakout season, Hensley, a former first round pick in 2012, is a year and half younger than Encinas and he hasn't even made it to the long-season leagues yet [Encinas, despite missing a year with his Tommy John surgery, has logged 172.2 long-season league innings]. Like Encinas, Hensley has special stuff too, including a knockout curveball of his own and a fastball that once again hit 96 mph the last time he was healthy enough to pitch in games [back in 2014]. Hensley has even shown in his brief mound experience to have far superior pitch-ability too.
However, Hensley has run the complete gambit injury-wise since his first round selection. He's had a shoulder issue, hip surgery, got injured in an offseason altercation in 2014 and then had Tommy John surgery last year. He simply can't stay healthy, as evidenced by his 42.2 career innings, which equates to an average of ten or so innings over his four-year career; that's not going to get it done
He made this list a year ago and we even mentioned then that another injury-marred campaign could pretty much kill his already eroding prospect status. Well the death certificate hasn't been printed just yet but his Yankee career is pretty much on proverbial life support these days. He has the kind of overall game and makeup to have a Steven Matz-like return and big league ascension [Matz missed his first three professional seasons with injuries] but he has little to no wiggle room at this point as he's still rehabbing his way back from Tommy John surgery. It's do or die time for the 22-year old; he needs to break out arguably more than any other prospect in the Yankee organization, if not in all of baseball.
2B, Gosuke Katoh: Just as is the case with Aguilar, this former second round pick back in 2013 is quickly starting to get buried by the ever-impressive growing depth of middle infield talent in the Yankee farm system. And just like Aguilar, Katoh has a significant upside both offensively and defensively, and the kind of great makeup that should tie it all together. Unlike Aguilar, however, Katoh's struggles to date can't be blamed on injuries. He's enjoyed success in the short-season leagues, hitting .310 with power in his debut season in the Gulf Coast League and most recently hit .287 with power in short-season Pulaski last year.
However, he's hit a combined .207 in the long-season leagues thus far over the course of a season and a half in Charleston with little to no power. He hasn't been able to translate his short-season success into the more advanced levels yet and further complicating the matters in his case is his lack of defensive versatility. The former amateur shortstop has been relegated to second base only at the professional level where he profiles better offensively but yet the offensive production has been lagging way behind.
At 21 years old he still has time to make that next step in his development but despite his youth he is attempting to fight out a lot of talented middle infielders who are all vying for playing time. Another offensive stalling in the long-season leagues could be a death sentence for his short-term status in the Yankee organization, forgetting even his long-term status. He needs to show the same kind of short-season league success in the long-season leagues immediately.
Others Needing Breakout Seasons
Tyler Austin, Miguel Andujar, Ian Clarkin, Kendall Coleman, and Simon De La Rosa.