Most Wins: Will Carter - The Yankees are blessed with a plethora of high-end starting pitching prospects to choose from in this category and of course having the kind of offense & defense to back you up doesn't hurt either. Going with a first full year pitcher is never a good idea given their pitch and inning limits, not to mention their supporting cast are still trying to find their own respective grooves. And even at the higher levels the Yankees have so many qualified candidates to choose from. While we might not be wrong going with a Chance Adams, Jordan Montgomery [who we chose last year], or Dietrich Enns type here, they might become legitimate candidates to help out at the big league level later in the season. We're expecting a breakout season for Carter whose plus stuff is dramatically underrated and whose sinking fastball might be optimized by the likes of Gleyber Torres, Thairo Estrada, Miguel Andjuar, and others playing behind him. He could pile up a ton of wins [and innings] playing in Trenton this year.
Most Strikeouts: Justus Sheffield - Again, the Yankees have a wide talent pool to choose from here. The heart says to pick James Kaprielian given his knockout stuff but he could be on a somewhat strict innings limit in 2017 or potentially even move up to the big leagues [or both] later in the year. Choosing somebody like Domingo Acevedo or Freicer Perez could make a lot of sense at the lower levels but both could be watched closely innings-wise too, and then there are the likes of Montgomery, Adams, and Enns again but they could all see big league action as well. A darkhorse candidate could be right-hander Taylor Widener. We're going to go with Sheffield, however, given his three plus pitches and extreme youth. There's a good chance the still 20-year old steps up his game in 2017 and bests his one strikeout per inning pitched ratio from a year ago.
Best Walks Per Nine Innings: Nestor Cortes - We're not going to out-think ourselves on this one either; take the guy who fills the zone with the best of them. He may not have the greatest velocity in the world but he has pinpoint command. He barely walked two batters per nine innings in his breakout season last year [which is elite] and we think there's room for even better control going forward. A guy like Chance Adams, Taylor Widener, or James Kaprielian might not be bad choices either.
Lowest ERA: Taylor Widener - Again, there's no shortage of qualified candidates to take home the ERA title in 2017. We picked Jordan Montgomery last year for this category too [boldly predicting that Montgomery takes home the farm system pitching Triple Crown] and he came close, finishing third. We could go with Montgomery again and feel safe doing so or we could go with Chance Adams, and it seems this is the one category where James Kaprielian's [most likely] innings restrictions can't hold him back and for two straight Spring Training camps he has looked like one of the best pitchers on the planet but it's tough to pick somebody with a recent injury history. We're going to go with Widener here because all signs point towards him having a Chance Adams-like breakout season in 2017 given his combination of top-shelf stuff, advanced pitch-ability, and college experience.
Most Saves: Jordan Foley - This is always one of the toughest categories to predict simply because the Yankees usually slate their higher-ceiling relievers for multiple innings. Still, Foley has the high-ceiling talent but just falls way down on the prospect depth chart because of just how many arms the Yankees have. He proved last year that he has closer type stuff and the ability to shut down opposing teams on a daily basis. He could collect quite a few saves this year.
Lowest ERA: Caleb Frare - We picked a lefty here a year ago [James Pazos] and we're going to do the same this year, going with this former starting pitching prospect. He has seen his stuff balloon since moving to the bullpen, now sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball and developing his slider into a wipeout pitch. He posted a sub-1.00 ERA last year and is very much equipped to potentially do the same once again in 2017. He's legit!
Most Strikeouts Per Nine Innings: J.P. Feyereisen - Jonathan Holder actually took home this honor last after one of the more dominating seasons in recent memory. And we'd like to pick Giovanny Gallegos too given his dominating ways last year but, now a member of the 40-man roster, he might not be in the minors long enough. While another starter-turned-reliever could do the same in 2017 we'll go with Feyereisen, last year's deadline deal acquisition from the Cleveland Indians. He has wicked stuff, a proven track history, and the kind of bulldog mentality to put it all together.
For Position Players:
Highest Average: Thairo Estrada - Just like the pitching side of things, the Yankees have a virtual plethora of high-average hitters who could take home this award by the end of the year. Blake Rutherford and his advanced bat control is a prime candidate and of course everyone knows Gleyber Torres can flat-out hit too. Both Dustin Fowler and Miguel Andujar have bats that are still very much developing, and both Kyle Higashioka and Mike have the type of innate hitting ability to among the organizational leaders too, and Trey Amburgey is a darkhorse candidate here. However, Estrada, who batted .290 last year, just turned 21 years old in February and is only now starting to begin hitting his stride with the bat and his plate discipline is second to none. He has a .300-plus season in him sometime soon.
Most Home Runs: Clint Frazier - The promotions of both Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez to the big league level make this category a little less than obvious than it has been for a numbers of year now. While some power growth from Dustin Fowler, Miguel Andujar, and Gleyber Torres are all expected, the fact is few [if any] possess the special bat speed Frazier has and he's coming off of a career-high 16 home run season last year. And even though the talent is special enough that he could theoretically work his way up to the big league level at some point this year, the smarter money says he should be in Scranton all year considering he doesn't have a spot on the coveted 40-man roster yet. A twenty-plus home run season isn't out of the question.
Highest On-Base Percentage: Nick Solak - The Yankees have a number of guys who can fit in here, far too many to list all potential candidates. Thairo Estrada and Gleyber Torres both have the requisite hitting skills and plate discipline to finish quite high here but neither are big walks guys yet. Mark Payton, Bo Thompson and Tyler Wade are all big walks guys but none are nearly the accomplished hitters the first two are. Solak, however, last year's second round pick, brings the best of both worlds. He is an advanced hitter with advanced plate discipline and shows a real willingness to take his walks when he can get them.
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 2017 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! And that won't change until he has moved on to the big leagues.
First Player To Be Called Up To The Major Leagues: Dietrich Enns - Somebody like Kyle Higashioka might be one of the quicker ones called up too considering he's just one catcher injury away from the call-up and especially considering he's already on the 40-man roster. We're not going to bank on an injury, however, and say that realistically a pitcher will be needed first. With the bullpen set up to potentially be dominant the real need may come in the form of some potential starts and among the 40-man roster candidates without some extended big league time [Cessa and Green], Enns is really the only one with a fair amount of Triple-A experience and success. It might not be long before he makes his big league debut.
Best Comeback From Injury: James Kaprielian - This one appeared to be an absolute no-doubter halfway through Spring Training but Kaprielian's elbow is still barking as of press time. Still, the talent is just too high and the ability too advanced to not go with Kaprielian here even if he has to start the 2017 back on the disabled list. His potential impact is far too great to go with anyone else here short of a season-ending injury. Should that happen though a solid backup candidate is either Jeff Degano or Chaz Hebert, both of whom missed significant time due to injury last year.
Best Bounce-Back Season: Jorge Mateo - For one to have a 'bounce-back' season one has to have a less than stellar season the year before and in some ways Mateo fits here even though he didn't have a bad season necessarily. Perhaps the better term for his year last season was a 'humbled season' as the ultra-talented speedster received a two-week suspension for reportedly questioning his own minor league advancement. Still, while a .254, career-high eight home run season with 36 stolen bases is nothing to sneeze at, it is barely scratching the surface of his near limitless potential. He is so much better than his numbers proved last season and he spent his offseason rededicating himself to being the best he can be. He put on nearly ten pounds of muscle in the offseason, worked on his hitting, and is set to add centerfield to his defensive resume. He appears in-line for a huge bounce-back season just as long as he stays healthy. Another primed bounce-back candidate is shortstop Wilkerman Garcai, another youngster who spent his offseason working on his body.
Breakout Player: Oswaldo Cabrera - The Yankees have so many potential breakout candidates that it isn't even funny. Trey Amburgey, finally healthy with his hamstrings, is near the top of the list of qualified candidates. Sinker-ball righties Brody Koerner and Will Carter also appear poised to take the next steps in their respective development, as does Taylor Widener and his Chance Adams-like combination of stuff and pitch-ability. At the lower levels the Yankees have a slew of candidates in Nolan Martinez, Nick Nelson, Rony Garcia, and a host of other high-end arms, including Alexander Vizcaino. However, while there are some tangible defensive limitations here, Oswaldo Cabrera [in the photo above] appears offensively poised to break out. He put on 15 pounds of good weight and he's a natural hitter from both sides of the plate. Should he find a defensive home where he can project to be average or better [perhaps second base, maybe even potentially catching long-term] he could fly up the rankings because the bat can be that good..
DSL or 'July 2nd' Sign Import That Will Shoot Up The Rankings: Luis Medina - This one is of the slam dunk variety given he ranked #1 in our Top 20 DSL Prospects rankings. Able to sit in the 95-100 mph range and armed with a potentially killer breaking ball, Medina really only has to have a healthy 2017 season somewhere to rank rather high in the Top 50 rankings by season's end. Saul Torres has the body, the power, and the plus catching skills to fly up the rankings too but he's not nearly the game-changing type that Medina could be if healthy.
Current Minor Leaguer That Will Break Into The Top 10: Thairo Estrada - This is a category where we've done exceptionally well in previous years. Two years ago we chose Domingo Acevedo and he became a Top 10 prospect and last year we accurately predicted a huge breakout season for Jordan Montgomery. While he didn't actually crack the Top Ten, we didn't anticipate on the Yankees acquiring so many high-end prospects at last year's trade deadline either but he finished ranking #11 so we'll call that a big win. While we could go inside the Top 20 for somebody close to being Top Ten already [somebody like Freicer Perez or Estevan Florial], we're going to dig a bit deeper. Estrada is Gleyber Torres-like in nearly every way -- same hitting potential, same defensive potential, a bit more speed, and the power, while perhaps not quite as high, has the chance to be remotely close. Another strong season like last year [.290, eight home runs] but doing it at Double-A in 2017 could propel him into Top Ten discussions. Another non-Top 20 guy who could break out and find his way into the Top Ten is right-hander Rony Garca.
Current Non-Top 50's To Break Into The Top 50 Next Season - A year ago we went with the likes of Freicer Perez, Cody Carroll, Leonardo Molina, and Dermis Garcia [among others], and they're all bonafide Top 50 material now. The Yankees' ever-increasing depth seems incessant now and there should be a host of strong candidates here as a result, highlighted by somewhat recent catching convert Donny Sands. Southpaw Jeff Degano just barely missed the Top 50 this year too and reportedly is throwing up to 98 mph already this Spring, and Chaz Hebert, another lefty, is making his return from Tommy John surgery. Both should find their way back into the Top 50. Among potential newcomers are former Top International signings Nelson Gomez and Diego Castillo, and right-hander Alexander Vizcaino, signed just last year, could propel himself into Top 50 Prospect discussions akin to Freicer Perez this year with a strong States-side performance. An upper-level candidate could be first baseman Mike Ford .
Top Yankee Prospect For 2017: Jorge Mateo - Gleyber Torres or James Kaprielian, flip and coin to see who is more professional. Either player would be a great choice to rank atop the Top 50 by season's end talent-wise and from a character makeup standpoint. However, both are arguably big league ready right now so there's at least a decent chance neither will be eligible once the 2017 season is over. Taking those two out of the equation still leaves a throng of potential #1 candidates, including, but not limited to, Clint Frazier, Blake Rutherford, Chance Adams, etc and both Estevan Florial and Freicer Perez have #1 prospect type ability if things begin to click sooner. However, we're expecting a huge bounce-back season from Jorge Mateo this coming season and he has the talent to ascend right back to the top spot. Some pressure may be taken off moving to centerfield too so don't be surprised if he's once again the talk of a talent-rich Yankee farm system.
We look into our crystal ball to see which Yankees prospects will lead the farm system in certain categories.