Here are some lower-level prospects who have either yet to make their official minor league debuts or haven't come States-side full-time yet who down the road could become one of the better speedsters in the Yankee farm system.
OF, Ricardo Ferreira: This Dominican spark-plug has speed to burn, a true plus-plus runner. He stole a ridiculous 35 bases in the short-season Dominican Summer League last year and quite frankly he should have had more considering how fast he is and how often he got on base last year [a .513 on-base percentage]. Unlike Florial below, however, Ferreira's long-term projection isn't nearly a slam-dunk. He can hit and shows good plate discipline but he has very little power and at 21 years old he is older for his levels. He'd be a Top Ten guy for sure just based on his speed but there are other factors that might not allow him to slide into that category immediately from this 'coming soon' designation right from the States-side jump.
OF, Estevan Florial: A burgeoning top prospect, this Haiti native has a lot more speed than his somewhat modest 15 stolen bases total in his debut season last year would suggest. He can flat out fly but his "problem" is he hits for power too and doesn't wind up on first base enough [he hits a lot of doubles, triples, and home runs] to maximize his stolen base total. In all seriousness, he has the natural speed to be a Top Five guy in this category down the road and will find permanent residence in the Top Ten for sure once he completes a States-side season.
Best Bounce-Back Candidates
Here are some prospects who have shown a real proclivity for stealing bases in the past but have struggled recently and/or haven't been able to stay healthy, but could one day find their way into the Top Ten.
SS, Yancarlos Baez: Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Baez has a bit more speed than his career 27 stolen bases [in 122 games] suggests. He missed his first season with a couple of injuries and the resulting slower developing bat has limited his running opportunities on the base paths. Just a career .236 thus far, the switch-hitter is still looking to be more consistent at the plate. Gaining confidence in the batter's box would lead to more running opportunities to maximize his top-shelf athleticism; he can't steal first so he has to learn how to get there more consistently.
2B, Gosuke Katoh: This oft-maligned former second round pick falls into the Baez category as a nimble and quick middle infielder who has some serious potential on the base paths but hasn't been able to maximize that tool just yet because of a slower developing bat. Katoh, whose speed ranges from above average to fringy plus, stole 17 bases last year and absolutely has the wheels to be a 30-plus stolen base threat but his .239 career average to date has him sputtering at times. A bit more consistency like he showed in Pulaski last year [.287 average] could give him the green light more.
Here are a few hitting prospects who have impact base stealing abilities but their inconsistent bats or limited power cloud their long-term starting potential and thus could limit their speed impact as well.Kyle Holder, Leonardo Molina, Gosuke Katoh, Angel Aguilar, Aaron Judge?, Rob Refsnyder Luis Torrens, Tyler Austin, Ben Gamel, Yancarlos Baez, Danienger Perez, Jeff Hendrix, Mark Payton,
OF, Tyler Austin: This former 13th round pick back in 2010 isn't just a good base runner but a superb one. Grading out as just average, however, in natural running speed, he has an innate feel for running the bases and is one of the more intelligent runners. The offensive woes of late have been well documented but it has nothing to do with 89 percent success rate swiping bags. A little more consistency with the bat could get him back to being an impact runner again..
OF, Jeff Hendrix: There are a number of legitimate question marks surrounding last year's forth round pick's long-term potential, especially with his inconsistent bat [he hit just .229 with 65 strikeouts in 65 games for Staten Island] and very little power potential. However, there's no doubting his above average to plus running abilities. He can run with the best of them but while he has the wheels of a leadoff hitter the rest of his game profiles much lower in an eventual batting lineup. He'll need to become a more consistent hitter to be the impact base runner he was born to be, plain and simple.
SS, Kyle Holder: Last year's first round pick falls into the Jeff Hendrix category as an elite defensive player who has the natural running ability to be an impact player but also needs a more consistent bat to develop to make optimal use of his running game, and that's where the projection gets cloudy. Holder certainly is a lot quicker than his modest six stolen base total in his debut season last year suggests but it's also emblematic of his .273 on-base percentage too. If he could bump that up to a more respectable .330 realm he could potentially chip in with some surprising stolen base totals; he has limited offensive upside but it has nothing to do with his speed.
OF, Michael O'Neill: This former third round pick in 2013 went from 42 stolen bases in 2014 to just 14 swipes last season. We mentioned a year ago that until the bat can be a bit more consistent and until he can cut down on the swing and miss ratios that his long-term projection is limited to more of a potential big league reserve outfielder and that could hamper his true running impact down the road, and it actually began last season as he hit a career-low .213 and started seeing his playing time sliced. If he hits he'll run but he has to do it in the batter's box first.
SS, Angel Aguilar: This Venezuelan native has a disastrous 2015 campaign last year, hitting a career-low .229 while dealing with some nagging back pain all season and he still stole a career-high 14 bases. Not a burner by any means, Aguilar shows a high level of baseball intelligence and he is very athletic. If the consistency comes around withe bat like many believe it will he could have some solid running seasons ahead of him....if he stays healthy. He won't be elite on the bases but he could have a very solid impact.
OF, Jake Cave: This former sixth round pick falls more into the Estrada [see below] camp as an above average run guy whose overall very aggressive game has yet to translate swiping bases. He's not yet the high walks guy many scouts believe he can be so it's quite possible that as his on-base abilities begin to be more consistent that his running opportunities will rise as well. He has 30-plus stolen base potential, he just needs to go out there and do it, and not be overly concerned with getting caught.
2B/SS, Thairo Estrada: There's an above average runner disguised in this Venezuelan native. He has the kind of consistent bat and on-base abilities to help maximize his running impact too, the kind of bat many well-equipped runners would give their eye-tooth for [see Jeff Hendrix for example], but yet this ultra-hustler hasn't given himself the green light yet. He has stolen a mere 25 bases through his first 140 games and quite frankly he has the speed to have doubled that total. He needs to be less gun-shy on first base and bring his overall aggressive baseball game to running the bases as well; he's too good to not have a much greater running impact.
2B/SS, Danienger Perez: This Venezuelan is so young [he just turned 19 this past offseason] that he really should be included in the 'coming soon' category but yet even though he just completed his debut season last year he did it while ascending all the way to the New York Penn League. He isn't the fastest runner. In fact, putting him and somebody like Florial or Ferreira in the same sentence speed-wise would be a sin. Still, he's actually a lot quicker than his six stolen base total last year suggests and his brimming confidence could help step up his aggressiveness too. He's Thairo Estrada-like in nearly every way, even speed-wise, but perhaps a little less gun-shy.
Top Ten Speed Prospects
10) OF, Carlos Vidal: This Colombian native is very quick and athletic, as evidenced by his 29 stolen bases in his first 116 professional games. Aiding his running game is what has been a quickly developing bat [he sports a career .437 on-base percentage] so he has the kind of consistent on-base abilities to maximize his above average speed. Still, he is pretty raw reading pitchers' moves and gets by mostly on his athleticism but the positive way of looking at that is he still has a lot of untapped upside too. He just needs to keep getting his opportunities to play everyday because as he's shown he can be an impact player, especially on the base paths.
9) SS/2B, Hoy Jun Park: There are some similarities between Vidal and this Korean native, most notably the raw nature of reading pitchers' moves and getting by mostly with his top-shelf athleticism right now. He stole a very respectable 12 bases in short-season Pulaski in his debuts season last year but the scary part is he's not only still very raw in the running game but also quite gun-shy too. As he gets more comfortable playing in a foreign country the green light should go up a bit more frequently and as is the case with Vidal, Park, a high-walks guy in his own right, should have plenty of running opportunities too. He has 40-plus stolen base potential; it just may take some time to tap that kind of running potential as he gets better acclimated to his surroundings.
8) SS, Wilkerman Garcia: Armed with the best of both worlds, this former top International free agent out of Venezuela brings Park-like speed with the bat consistency of a Carlos Vidal. That means he has the on-base abilities to maximize his running chances and the kind of above average wheels to be very successful when taking those chances. He is, however, still just a baby in terms of experience and like Vidal and Park he has a lot to learn reading pitchers' moves. Still, it's hard to be excited about where his running game can go down the road.
7) OF, Mason Williams: This former fourth round pick back in 2010 is the poster child of why running impact can not be judged on speed and talent alone. In terms of actually running speed Williams should rank a lot higher but five seasons into his professional career and he has yet to transfer his overall aggressive game into running the bases. He has never stolen 30 bases in a season. A big part of that has been his inconsistent health but a bigger part of that has been his reluctance to take too many chances since getting on base hasn't exactly been the norm. He has the wheels to steal 50-plus, he just needs a more consistent bat, better health, and a more aggressive running game.
6) OF, Slade Heathcott: All of the same things can be said of this former first round pick too. In fact, how Heathcott, still a plus-plus runner even after multiple knee surgeries, doesn't rank among the top two is more an indictment on his game than anything; he hasn't eclipsed 20 stolen bases in a season and that in itself is one of the bigger baseball mysteries around. The now 25-year old should be right behind Mateo [see below] in the base running department because that's where he ranks speed-wise but he can't because he hasn't come close to matching his actual potential yet.
5) OF, Dustin Fowler: If this former 18th round pick [in 2013] had Heathcott's natural speed he would rank first on this list. He has solid above average speed overall but has the heart of a 'Rudy' Ruettiger, one who isn't afraid to take chances and plays everything out 100 percent of the time. He ranks this high because of his intensity, high baseball intellect, and overall aggressive style even though his actual speed would be hard-pressed to crack the Top Ten in the organization. He stole a career-high 30 bases a year ago on sheer will alone and he'll probably top that in 2016 on heart and desire again too.
4) SS, Tyler Wade: There's some Fowler-esque qualities in this former 2013 fourth round pick too. Grading out as more above average than plus speed-wise, Wade maximizes his running impact by being aggressive and 'heady' at the same time. He won't wow anyone with his speed but he's also the kind of solid runner who will chip in with 30-40 stolen bases each year with relative ease. There's a fluidity to his game that often gets overlooked and underappreciated.
3) OF, Trey Amburgey: While not quite there natural speed-wise, last year's 13th round pick is exactly what Heathcott should have been in the running game. He stole 21 bases last year in the short-season leagues on the strength of borderline plus speed and one of the more polished blends of aggressive running styles yet heady in nature. He simply knows when to take the right chances, puts his head down, and goes, and more often than not he's successful. Given his high energy style of play and ultra-competitive fire it seems quite reasonable to expect 40-plus stolen base seasons from him in his younger years.
2) 2B/SS, Abiatal Avelino: Like Amburgey, this Dominican native, while quite fast, has a far greater impact running the bases than his actual running speed should allow him to be. More above average than plus speed-wise, Avelino ranked second in the organization last year in stolen bases [only behind Mateo] and he certainly isn't the second fastest player in the farm system. He is about as aggressive as they come running the bases and he's as exceptional as it gets at the minor league level reading pitchers' moves. He still has some rough edges to smooth out in that regard, however, but it also gives him some more upside too. Pitchers better not ignore him because he believes every next base is his base.
1) SS, Jorge Mateo: Mateo is exactly what you want in a true plus-plus runner; elite speed and a very aggressive running style. He led all of professional baseball in stolen bases last year with 82 and he did so while just barely scratching the surface of his actual hitting ability. Should he become more Thairo Estrada-like from a consistency standpoint and there's no telling how special his stolen base totals could get. He's going to hit 100 stolen bases in a season, it's just a matter of time.