Most Wins: Jordan Montgomery - One thing is almost always certain when attempting to predict this category -- choosing a first [full] year pitcher is almost never a good idea due to the innings limit nearly all of them face and the same rings true with pitchers coming back from injury too. It just so happens that the Yankees, who do have a good deal of pitching depth, have a lot of their mound talent falling into those two categories. With James Kaprielian and Domingo Acevedo clearly two of the higher-ceiling arms destined for their first taste of the long-season leagues and with Ian Clarkin coming back from missing all of the 2014 season picking any of them would be unwise. We're going to go with this blossoming southpaw here, especially since he finished last year just one win behind the farm system leader. A year stronger with vastly improved stuff and potentially able to approach the 170-inning mark in 2016, he seems like the best candidate to take home this category this season.
Most Strikeouts: Jordan Montgomery - Montgomery, despite being a first [full] year pitcher a year ago, led the farm system in strikeouts with 132 [in 134.1 innings]. As noted above, barring injury he should be in line for a sizable innings increase in 2016 and will do so with his stuff peaking at the right time. Not only his fastball comfortably sitting a solid 3-6 miles per hour higher than it was in his debut season in 2014 but the breaking ball package has vastly improved over that time too, so much so in fact that it's a big reason why he was able to lead the farm in strikeouts last season. We're not going to overthink ourselves here; we'll take the hot hand as the eventual strikeout leader for 2016.
Best Walks Per Nine Innings: Brady Lail - Again, we're not going to out-think ourselves on this one either; take the guy who not only throws a ton of strikes but despises giving up the free pass. It's true that the return of Daniel Camarena this year could absolutely give Lail a run for his money but it's tough to go against this right-hander and his 2.6 walks per nine innings....an area of his game that could still improve some too. Go with the strike-thrower!
Lowest ERA: Jordan Montgomery - There's no shortage of qualified candidates to take home the ERA title. From last year's winner Joey Maher to newcomer James Kaprielian to even the somewhat season veteran presences of Jonathan Holder or even Nestor Cortes [or even somebody like Domingo Acevedo], the Yankees have a number of guys who can be stingy giving up runs. However, we're going to be bold here and predict that Montgomery takes home the farm system pitching Triple Crown; the high level pitch-ability combined with the growing stuff is just too hard to pass up.
Most Saves: Nick Rumbelow - This is always one of the toughest categories to predict simply because the Yankees usually slate their higher-ceiling relievers for multiple innings. With that in mind the eventual saves leader most likely will wind up being somebody like Giovanny Gallegos, Matt Wotherspoon, or somebody of that ilk [a non-Top 25 prospect], but among the better prospects Rumbelow seems like a strong candidate for a number of reasons; stuff, pitch-ability, reliability, experience, and the fact that the big league bullpen has so much depth that he may not be needed in the Bronx until very late in the season after he's had a chance to notch a number of saves.
Lowest ERA: James Pazos - We picked Pazos in this exact same spot and that selection served us well as he posted a combined 1.27 ERA between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton before eleven shutout appearances with the big league club. Perhaps we're 'cheating' by picking Pazos again but it's hard to go against the hottest relief pitcher in the organization even if he's clearly big league ready but still pitching in the minor leagues.
Most Strikeouts Per Nine Innings: Jacob Lindgren - Rumbelow, Nick Goody, even Tyler Webb are all solid choices to take home this category in 2016, and there may even be a surprise or two at the A-ball levels as well, but it's tough to go against Lindgren and his nasty three-pitch mix. He may walk a few too many but he's sure to strike out a bunch more too. He'll be our strikeout choice until he's no longer an eligible candidate.
For Position Players:
Highest Average: Ben Gamel - If Rob Refsnyder is in the minor leagues for the entire 2016 campaign the smart money says he'll be the farm system batting leader once again but it seems more than likely that he won't' finish the season in Scranton somehow [either in the Bronx or traded]. With that in mind we'll take Gamel here who led the farm system in long-season league hitting last season [.300] and appears buried on the Yankee outfield depth chart by a number of current 40-man roster players. Like Refsnyder, it's a shame he probably won't get the opportunity to test his mettle at the big league level. If you're looking for somebody at a level a little lower somebody like Dustin Fowler or Thairo Estrada are solid candidates, and the returning Jake Cave shouldn't be overlooked either.
Most Home Runs: Aaron Judge - Just as was the case with Lindgren in the saves category, we're not going to go against Judge in the home run department until he reaches [and stays] in the big leagues. His power is just too enormous to choose anyone else at this point. If somehow Judge were to get ample big league playing time in 2016 for some reason the next best bet is Gary Sanchez. Beyond those two, however, it's a real guessing game. We'd like to go with Chris Gitten here as a darkhorse candidate [for batting average too] but playing half of his home games in Charleston could prove problematic power-wise.
Highest On-Base Percentage: Thairo Estrada - The Yankees have a number of guys who can fit in here, far too many to list all potential candidates. The prime candidates are Rob Refsnyder, Ben Gamel, Aaron Judge, Mark Payton, and even the likes of Bo Thompson and Carlos Vidal should they find their way into the longs-season leagues. However, we're going to go out on a limb and say Thairo Estrada jumps up and has a breakout season in the on-base department; his eye at the plate is just too discerning and his bat control too good not to make a serious run in this category.
Most Stolen Bases: Jorge Mateo - Just as we noted a year ago, this one is over before the season even begins. The only way Mateo and his 80-running ability doesn't lead the farm system in stolen bases again in 2016 is if he sustains a pretty serious injury that keeps him out for an extended period of time, otherwise nobody is going to come even remotely close to approaching his stolen base total, period!
First Player To Be Called Up To The Major Leagues: Brady Lail - This is the most difficult one to predict here just because of just how many quality current 40-man roster players the Yankees have right now; it will all come down to need at the time. If it's in the outfield where the need arises it will either be Mason Williams or Slade Heathcott [whichever is playing better at the time], and if the need is in the bullpen it could be any one of James Pazos, Nick Goody, Nick Rumbelow, etc, etc. For the purpose of this article we're going to list somebody not on the 40-man roster. Of the current non-40-man roster players Lail [among the actual prospects] seems the most likely to get the call up to the big leagues given the dearth of starting options should injuries arise.
Best Comeback From Injury: Ian Clarkin - Just like every other year the Yankees have no shortage of candidates given the rash of injuries. An exceptionally strong argument could be made to put Luis Torrens here and he should be fighting neck and neck with Clarkin, but we ultimately are going with Clarkin simply because he's healthier than Torrens heading into the new season. Both are excellent comeback candidates though. In the short-season leagues some solid candidates are Austin DeCarr and Ty Hensley, not to mention Dermis Garcia.
Best Bounce-Back Season: Jose Campos - The Yankees have more than a few candidates in this category too. Tyler Austin is a prime candidate at the upper levels and a big bounce-back from Gabe Encinas, Angel Aguilar, or Kendall Coleman would not be surprising in the least either. However, Campos' 3-8 mark with a 6.29 ERA upon his return from Tommy John surgery last year do not do his actual talent any justice. His velocity is back up in the mid-90s again, his curveball and changeup never left, and neither has his pitch-ability. They say it take a solid two years removed from Tommy John surgery to get your command back and much like Nick Goody did in year two after his Tommy John surgery [he posted a 1.59 ERA] last season, Campos seems poised for a huge bounce-back season in 2016. If you're looking for a REM-sleeper candidate here keep an eye on catcher Kyle Higashioka, especially now that he seems poised to perhaps get the most playing time he's ever had.
Breakout Player: James Kaprielian - Even taking out the potential bounce-back candidates either from injury or disappointing seasons last year, the Yankees still have a plethora of breakout candidates in 2016; Miguel Andujar, Thairo Estrada, Trey Amburgey, Leonardo Molina, Kendall Coleman, and even the recently returned Jake Cave, just to name a few. However, Kaprielian just seems to not belong in the minor leagues. With four big league above average or better pitches [two of them plus], command, pitch-ability, and an inner competitive fire, he's pitching more like a big leaguer just biding his time until he gets his call up to the Bronx. A top prospect in the system already, he seems poised to be one of the top prospects in all of baseball in 2016 and is extremely well equipped to fly through the minor leagues.
DSL or 'July 2nd' Sign Import That Will Shoot Up The Rankings: Esteven Florial [in the photo above] - This one could be 'cheating' too as Florial's tools, game, and overall polish are some of the worst kept secrets in the lowest levels of all of minor league baseball. It's not a question of 'if' he'll be a top prospect but merely 'when'. That 'when' should be in 2016 given his highly advanced game in all phases of the game. He's a given and should be a Top 10 prospect this time a year from now. The darkhorse candidate, however, is right-hander Daniel Ramos, arguably the only other one seemingly ready to make a potential leap into the Top 10 within the 2016 season time frame. With a low-to-mid-90s heater, a plus breaking ball, and innate strike-throwing ability, should he remain healthy and productive this upcoming season a strong argument could be made to include him too.
Current Minor Leaguer That Will Break Into The Top 10: Jordan Montgomery - A year ago we accurately predicted Domingo Acevedo would be a Top 10 prospect [he had previously ranked in the 30's] by the end of the 2015 season and he certainly did exactly that. While picking a Miguel Andujar or Ian Clarkin here, two players barely outside of the Top Ten right now, would be a smart move it would be cheating a little bit. Of the candidates outside the current Top 25, it would not be too surprising to see somebody like Thairo Estrada or Drew Finley make hard charge towards the Top Ten. However, Montgomery appears better equipped than most right now to make up that kind of ground. Standing 6-foot-4 with four above average or better pitches and a high level of pitch-ability, his stock is soaring at this point and outside of Kaprielian might be the biggest breakout candidate down on the farm right now. We think he in line for a huge year.
Current Non-Top 50's To Break Into The Top 50 Next Season - A year ago we went with the likes of Jordan Montgomery and Jordan Foley, and both are certainly Top 50 material now. The Yankees' ever-increasing depth has given them a bunch of strong candidates in this category too. The no-brainers include Dermis Garcia and Kendall Coleman, and even some degree both Leonardo Molina and Angel Aguilar [both former Top 50 Prospects] fit that bill too. However, outside of the 'Next Ten' group, some strong candidates include Nelson Gomez, Diego Castillo, Danienger Perez, Freicer Perez, and Cody Carroll.
Top Yankee Prospect For 2015: Jorge Mateo - We picked Mateo here a year ago and while a number of analysts have ranked him first he did get beat out in our rankings. Still, the drop-off from number one isn't far and this is a 20-year old kid with a ton of ceiling still left in his game. He's a far better hitter than he showed in Charleston last season and he's got a good bit more power than he's shown too. Throw in the opportunity to be more consistent defensively, with his unrivaled speed, he's a monster in the making on both sides of the ball. He's still our pick to click at the top prospect a year from now. If it isn't Mateo it could very well be Kaprielian if he doesn't reach the big leagues by then.
We look into our crystal ball to see which Yankees prospects will lead the farm system in certain categories