The 2017 Version of Gary Sanchez
So many people are now lining up in 'I told you so' fashion after Sanchez set historical records with his rookie big league showing this year [.299, 20 home runs in just 53 games] but the fact of the matter is Sanchez's prospect luster had grown stale not just with national pundits but even among the Yankee fan base prior to the start of the 2016 minor league season. The general consensus among the majority was he seemingly had become a top prospect who simply wasn't going to tap his ceiling and those feelings were theoretically reinforced with his [.282, 10 home runs] performance in Triple-A this year.
However, Sanchez's big league heroics quickly became legendary tales, the throngs of doubters morphed into a chorus of 'I believed all along', and the rest is history. How soon most forget though that Sanchez wasn't even a big league consideration entering the 2016 campaign either so picking a 2017 version can be tricky at best. However, third baseman Miguel Andujar seems not only to be in similar circumstances to Sanchez's situation a year ago but eerily has the similar top-shelf talent to pull it off too.
Like Sanchez, Andujar, has long been recognized as an advanced hitter. In fact, like Sanchez he too had skipped the Dominican Summer League level entirely in his professional debut season and went right into the Gulf Coast League. And like Sanchez, Andujar has had solid but unspectacular success numbers-wise coming up through the minor league ranks and yet annually gets mentioned among the top prospects. The fact that the production hasn't quite met the levels of expectations has also had Andujar, like Sanchez, become the victim of prospect fatigue among the fans and media.
Still, like Sanchez, there's no doubting that Andujar has burgeoning big league above average or better power and the kind of center to right field approach that gives him the natural ability to be a high-average hitter too. Should an opportunity arise to get Andujar playing time, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he could follow Sanchez's lead, rise to a similar challenge, and benefit from the better big league surroundings [better lights, smaller ball parks, etc] to have quite the impact too. And like Sanchez, Andujar, on paper, isn't really in immediate big league discussions but could have a similar late-season surge should he have some continued minor league success at the start of the season next year. It could happen.
The 2017 Version of Chad Green
Chad Green was up and down for the Yankees all season long between Scranton and the Bronx. Not in the forefront of the Yankees' rotation plans before the season began either, Green, acquired from the Detroit Tigers in the Justin Wilson trade last December, pitched his way into big league discussions with a 1.52 ERA for Triple-A Scranton this year. Not exactly a top prospect before the year began, he let his production do all of his talking.
It is very early but left-hander Dietrich Enns could prove to be the 2017 version of Green as a potential emergency starter should the need arise and somebody who could also pitch out of the bullpen in the same kind of Green-like versatile role. Despite going 14-4 with a 1.73 ERA between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton this year, Enns, much like Green was entering the 2016 season, is a bit buried on the prospect depth charts. Both Chance Adams and Jordan Montgomery appear to be higher depth chart options for the Yankees long-term but yet Enns also has the Green-like combination of quality big league stuff and minor league track record that can't be ignored either.
Enns, who boasts four average or better big league pitches, has found a ton of minor league success at the lower levels coming out of the bullpen but like Green has the ability to give consistent quality starts too. He gives the Yankees a lot of options heading in 2017 even though he might not be considered one of the top overall prospects just yet. He's too good though to not have a potential Green-like impact in the Bronx next season.
The 2017 Version of Tyler Austin
To say this former 13th round pick and former top prospect had fallen out of favor with both the fans and media alike entering the 2016 season would be a huge understatement of mammoth proportions. Yet the Yankees continued to believe in him and kept trotting him out there, and Austin responded not only with a huge bounce-back minor league season [,294, 34 doubles, 17 home runs] but with tangible big league contributions in 2016 as well.
Always admired for his plus makeup-top shelf tools combination but unable to stay healthy long enough in recent years to put it all together, Austin finally put his wrist injuries behind and the production followed. And outfielder Mason Williams falls into a similar category as a former top prospect who has been besieged by injuries in recent and still has the talent to be a difference-making player.
Like Austin, Williams, still technically a rookie, has become the forgotten man among the fans and media. Unlike Austin though, Williams has already had a taste of the big league life and shown admirable success in his brief looks. Still buried on the current Yankee outfield depth chart though behind the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, two players with distinctively similar skill sets, Williams appears to be a man without much of a big league opportunity right now with the Yankees. Should he get that opportunity, however, Williams, like Austin, has the former top prospect history and overall top shelf skill set to once again force himself into long-term big league discussions. He still has some big league life in him.
The 2017 Version of Aaron Judge
This comparison is about as much of a proverbial slam dunk as there is. Judge, long considered a top prospect, didn't have quite the same Triple-A success [.224, 8 home runs] a year ago that he had at the lower levels in seasons prior and it was quite obvious that he could benefit from another year of Triple-A seasoning. Fast forward to 2016 and he responded well, hitting .270 with 19 home runs and seeing his strikeout rate reduce before getting his big league call-up.
The situation with somewhat newly acquired Clint Frazier is eerily similar. Like Judge, Frazier has dominated the lower minor league levels and long been considered one of the better prospects in the game. And like Judge, Frazier struggled a bit in his first taste of Triple-A ball this year, hitting just .228 with three home runs in 25 games for Triple-A Scranton. And finally, like Judge, it's obvious Frazier could use some more experience at Triple-A next season. Don't be surprised if Frazier has a big bounce-back season in Scranton next year before finding his way to the Bronx later in the season.
The 2017 Version of Rob Refsnyder
This one gets listed last because outside of the obvious comparison in eventual utility role there really isn't another comparison situation-wise. Refsnyder, a second baseman long lauded for his advanced bat, began being used as a big league utility guy this year when he got his big league chances going back and forth between Triple-A Scranton and the Bronx and he responded quite well, hitting .250 with nine doubles and 18 walks in limited at-bats during his 58-game trial.
With Starlin Castro in place in last year's offseason trade with the Cubs and Refsnyder not known for his defensive prowess anyway, 'Ref' was used as a utility man in almost shoe-horn fashion; they were simply trying to get him at-bats. And for the most part it worked out and he contributed with some solid at-bats during his stay.
Refsnyder's defensive contributions though from a utility standpoint are limited right now to corner outfield, first base, and second base; not ideal utility spots. The Yankees would like to have a utility guy who can help contribute ideally at both middle infield spots and currently don't have an obvious big league candidate yet. They are, however, grooming a number of such qualified candidates at the minor league level, highlighted by the likes of Tyler Wade, Abiatal Avelino, Jorge Mateo, etc.
However, the first such candidate who could be big league ready is former first round pick Cito Culver, a gifted defensive player. While the actual comparison is not apt, the fact is the Yankees would like to get Culver defensive reps [as opposed to Refsnyder's at-bats] and he's been hitting better as of late too. He hit a combined .254 with 20 doubles and four home runs this year between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton so it's not like he's a black hole offensively either.
He may just be a place holder until Wade [he appears the most ready of the next group so don't be surprised if he has a late-season utility impact] is ready but don't discount Culver having a Refsnyder rookie-like utility role with the team next year. He appears poised to get some important playing time in 2017.