As right-hander Luis Severino and Greg Bird proved in 2015 and Gary Sanchez [he was in this very article last year] this year -- prospects who seemed to be somewhat longshots to even make it to the big leagues before those seasons began -- not every burgeoning big league prospect has to make it to the big leagues right at the start of the season to impact the team in positive fashion.
Even though the likes of Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin are still rookies too, we're going to stick with current minor leaguers as potential impact rookies for the Yankees in 2017.
RHP, Chance Adams: A lot still has to play out this offseason in regards to construction of the big league roster for the Yankees, especially in terms of their pitching staff and even more succinctly to their starting rotation. And it's not like last year's fifth round pick is flush with professional experience either [he has just 162.2 innings under his belt]. However, it's going to be hard for the Yankees to keep this fire-baller from knocking on the big league door at some point next season if he keeps this up.
The recently turned 22-year old has dominated the minor league level in nearly every way thus far, posting a ridiculous 16-2 record with a a career 2.21 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP ratio, allowing just 100 hits, and oh yeah, striking out 189 batters. There are two things working against his potential big league impact next season, however, including what will most likely be a 170 or so innings limit and the fact he has yet to earn his stripes at the Triple-A level.
Still, in terms of potential "impact" rookies, the Yankees may not have the luxury of looking past him. With mid-to-high-90s heat and three big league secondary offerings to boot, Adams has the chance to be special right from the start of his big league promotion, whenever that may be. He's somebody who can fill a need and do so in a huge way. In fact, he could be the pitching version of Gary Sanchez for the Yankees in 2017, he has that kind of upside.
LHP, Jordan Montgomery: While Adams has the chance to have the biggest impact given his enormous ceiling, this former South Carolina University standout has the chance to maybe have the first impact. Arguably the 2016 Yankees Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Montgomery has a bit more professional experience than Adams at this point [292.2 innings] and even has some Triple-A experience under his belt too [six starts].
His left-handedness can't be overlooked and that fact that he's now beginning to be better against lefties than righties thanks to an improved breaking pitch arsenal also aids his cause too. Throw in the fact he seems to get better the higher he climbs [his 0.97 Triple-A ERA was better than his 2.55 Double-A ERA, which was better than his 3.08 high-A ERA], his stock inside the organization is soaring at this point.
Just as is the case with Adams, Montgomery's big league chances will most likely be affected by the eventual roster construction this offseason, but as history has proven the chances are better than average that the Yankees will in fact need to call upon another starting pitcher sooner rather than later and this 6-foot-4 southpaw appears ready to contribute in more than solid fashion.
OF, Clint Frazier: Acquired from the Cleveland Indians this past season in the Andrew Miller trade, this five-tool burgeoning star has nearly everything in place to be a potential impact player for the Yankees in 2017, everything except perhaps an immediate opportunity. With both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner under contract, and Aaron Judge seemingly currently ahead on the corner outfield depth chart, Frazier might not be afforded a big league shot just yet.
With just 30 Triple-A games under his belt and the fact that he's still just 22 years old that might not be a bad thing either. Still, considering his average or better speed, above average or better power, and plus-plus makeup, talent-wise he has the ability to contribute at the big league level right now and the high-ceiling talent to be a difference-making player on both sides of the ball when his opportunity comes.
He's the prospect closest to having a Gary Sanchez-like offensive rookie impact for the Yankees in 2017 and not a whole lot has to shake his way to get his shot either. And like Sanchez he'll most likely being the season next year in the minors before making his impact at the big league level in the second half sometime, but when that impact does come it could be special.
C, Kyle Higashioka: Nobody needs a bit more roster management to go his way than this former seventh round pick back in 2008, especially in light of Gary Sanchez's late-season big league surge. Like Sanchez, 'Higgy' had a monster offensive season this year, hitting .276 with 24 doubles and 21 home runs, and doing all of his damage in the bigger minor league ballparks.
Like Sanchez too, 'Higgy' isn't just a hitter either, he's a special defensive player behind the plate. Tommy John surgery now nearly three years ago zapped him of some of his power in his arm but his release and accuracy are still second to none, and few are better at working with pitchers. There isn't a dropoff defensively at all between the two and as Higashioka proved at the highest minor league levels there might not be a huge disparity in offensive potential either.
With Sanchez firmly entrenched in the long-term plans of the Yankees and with current catcher Brian McCann still under contract, it does create a pretty big dilemma for the Yankees; what to do with Higashioka? They can't let the minor league free agent walk away with nothing in return and to have him back would pretty much guarantee him big league playing time. Should he be back with the Yankees next season it stands to reason that his impact could be palpable on both sides of the ball.
3B, Miguel Andujar: If Higashioka needs some things to go his way roster-wise to have an impact with the Yankees in 2017, so does this Dominican native. Unlike Higashioka, 'Miggy' has zero Triple-A experience under his belt and just middling Double-A success to date [.266, two home runs in 282 at-bats], the kind of combination that make his immediate potential somewhat of a longshot. However, he brings the kind of high-ceiling offensive talent, requisite defensive abilities, and plays a position of long-term need for the Yankees that make his potential impact with the club next season not totally outlandish either.
As Sanchez proved in 2016, not having standout minor league numbers [.282, ten home runs] doesn't mean you can't have real impact big league potential right out of the gate either. And like Sanchez, Andujar has long be lauded for his hitting potential and power upside. Considering his plausible now-defensive abilities, a team like the Yankees could be able to afford him some time to figure it out at the plate.
The Yankees still have Chase Headley under contract for another two years though so something would have to give way in that regard whether it would be a trade or injury, but should an opportunity arise for Andujar, the Yankees, devoid of many other third base options, could give him a Sanchez-like shot at some point next season and a Sanchez-like potential impact isn't out of the question either under those circumstances.
RHP, Brady Lail: When [and if] this former 18th round pick gets his big league shot he most likely isn't going to have page-turning success or the kind of sexy numbers that will grab headlines either. However, impact comes in many forms and Lail has the kind of game that can positively impact an entire pitching staff in the form of quality innings.
He doesn't have the ceiling of Chance Adams nor the safeness in projection like Jordan Montgomery but he can provide some valuable stability to the back-end of a big league rotation and provide some reliability innings-wise that can save a bullpen's workload too. They're called innings-eaters and Lail certainly has the potential to be just that for the Yankees, even as a rookie hurler.
His sinker-changeup combination could even play a bigger role at the big league level too so don't believe his career 4.62 Triple-A ERA necessarily means it will translate into equal big league results either....there's potential for even better success. He has always been regarded as a 'sleeper' prospect and that still rings true today.
Other Potential Rookie Impact Players For 2017: Johnny Barbato and Mason Williams.