3B, Miguel Andujar: Some critics have been and remain disappointed in the rather pedestrian numbers posted by this Dominican native over the years. The Yankees' top International free agent signed back in 2011, the fact is he has always played against much older competition. Not only did he skip the Dominican Summer League level entirely in his debut season in 2012 but even most recently played in the high-A Florida State League as a 20-year old last season. To put that into perspective he would still be under the median age even in the short-season New York Penn League.
Defensively he is quite good already and offensively, while the consistency hasn't been there just yet, he has shown flashes of being a premium hitter. Plagued by slow starts each of his first two years in the long-season leagues, Andujar is still very much a kid in many respects. Physically he continues to grow -- he put on another ten pounds this past offseason -- and mentally he has steadily learned what it means to be a professional. He just turned 21 years old last month and he already has 1,279 States-side at-bats under his belt. While it could take a little bit more time for the in-game power to show up, everything else is seemingly in place for a major step up in the consistency department. He could use a breakout season in 2016 and also seems poised to have one too.
SS, Abiatal Avelino: We had this Dominican native pegged for a breakout last season despite hitting just .232 with eleven stolen bases in 53 games for the low-A Charleston RiverDogs the season prior and he responded quite well, hitting a combined .260 with 54 stolen bases between Charleston and high-A Tampa last year. While it was certainly a sizeable boost in production and a mini-breakout of sorts it wasn't quite what we were expecting; he has a lot more in the tank.
He turned 21 years old in February and everything seems to be going in the right direction. Not only is his confidence growing but he's also maturing physically. The fact that he finally showed some home run power and did so in the pitcher friendly Florida State League last year [all four of his home runs came with the Tampa Yankees] is obviously a good sign, and quite frankly it's just scratching the surface of his power potential. He puts a ton of balls in play, he doesn't strike out much, and his on-base abilities continue to steadily improve as a result too. Getting up to Double-A where he's likely to see more strikes and where the confines are a bit friendlier to hitters could have his production poised for a continued breakout. There's a lot more ceiling left here and it would not be surprising for Avelino to take that next step his development.
RHP, Kyle Haynes: Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates back in December of 2013 in the Chris Stewart trade, this former reliever turned starter has slowly begun making a name for himself inside the Yankee organization. Not exactly a household name yet in prospect circles, however, stuff-wise a strong argument could be made that he very much should be. He sustains elite velocity deep into his starts, he has both a quality big league slider and changeup, and he has a rapidly developing curveball that quickly shows above average or better long-term potential.
The fact is though that despite the across the board above average or better stuff he hasn't been able to translate that into eye-popping stats just yet, especially from a strikeout standpoint, He doesn't strike out a batter per inning and he does walk a few too many guys [48 in 116.1 innings last season], but his still growing confidence has never been higher and combining that with ever-increasing stuff and there's a very good chance that he will be able to make throwing more strikes a bigger priority. His stock has steadily rose in each of the past two seasons and he now he seems poised to make some noise pretty soon. His game is peaking at the right time and all signs point towards him breaking out even more in 2016.
RHP, James Kaprielian: While this list has been tabulated alphabetically, perhaps nobody seems better equipped to break out more so than last year's first round pick. Accumulating just a handful of short-season league games to date thus far, ironically it's Kaprielian that could make the biggest splash at the upper levels for the Yankees in 2016. He entered the organization with a solid four-pitch big league repertoire with just the slider grading out as a plus pitch but his fastball velocity has quickly and continually crept up since signing his professional contract. Once averaging 91-93 mph initially, it ticked up to 93-95 mph during Instructional League earlier in the offseason and it's continued it's ballooning trend in Spring Training where he's averaged 95-97 mph at times.
That kind of power increase and already solid big league arsenal is very reminiscent of Matt Harvey when he first got drafted by the New York Mets. Possessing similar makeup, work ethic, and confidence too, Kaprielian hasn't even looked like a minor leaguer in his brief professional experience; he looks like a seasoned big league veteran pitcher, one with an enormous upside. He not only seems poised to skip over the low-A level entirely this year but he should find himself with significant Double-A experience [at minimum] by season's end. He's not just a breakout candidate but arguably the breakout candidate for the Yankees in 2016.
LHP, Jordan Montgomery: There perhaps isn't a more under the radar prospect who has made the most significant strides in relatively quick fashion than this 2014 fourth round pick. Known as more of a "crafty lefty" when he first signed out of the University of South Carolina, one who could throw a ton of strikes with an average big league fastball and only possessing one plus big league pitch [a changeup that is actually a plus-plus pitch], stuff-wise this big southpaw continues to get better and better.
He saw his average 88-92 mph velocity power up to the 91-94 mph range in the last two months of the season last year and his curveball, grading out as average at best in his debut season in 2014, has become a consistent above average big league offering with room to improve too. Combining all of that with his advanced pitch-ability in innate ability to throw a ton of strikes and limit walks and the Yankees have a big-time 'sleeper' on their hands. He has had consistent production in his corner to date and now he has upward trending stuff too. If both the curveball and the better fastball velocity keep up at their current pace he seems poised for a huge breakout season in 2016, one that might only be rivaled by that of Kaprielian at the upper levels.
Others On The Breakout Watch
Chance Adams, Gabe Encinas, Dietrich Enns, Giovanny Gallegos, and Conor Mullee.