SS/2B, Angel Aguilar: It's not as if this 21-year old had a bad season last year. He did in fact club a career-high 13 home runs and steal 14 bases for the second straight season in 2016, all while playing solid defense at three positions too. However, it was the up and down nature of his consistency [or lack thereof] that once again plagued him as he finished the year hitting just .221, a year in which saw him being demoted to short-season Staten Island after spending the entire year in 2015 in Charleston, and it's not as if he tore it up that year either [hitting only .229]. And it's a major reason why he makes this ranking for a second consecutive year.
In fairness to Aguilar he has played banged up for significant chunks of time during his career thus far but he needs to stay healthy and consistently productive in order to keep pace with the ever-increasing depth of quality impact middle infield prospects for the Yankees. He's going to be 22 years old in June too so it's now or never for him from a production standpoint because he's getting to the point where he is becoming a bit too old for his levels. A breakout season batting average-wise could get the confidence going again, get him out of low-A finally and playing against competition more his own age, and back into more prospect prominence where he was once not all that long ago.
OF, Jake Cave: Like Aguilar, it's not as if Cave hasn't been productive to date [he has] but it's the one missing ingredient to his game [power] that has stalled his prospect status at the current time. In fact, if the Yankees could somehow combine Aguilar's power with the rest of Cave's game then they could really have something on their hands. Cave hit a more than respectable .268 between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and did so while clubbing a career-high eight home runs too. However, while the numbers are more than solid none of them stand out either. In fact, the lack of a better than average production in any one facet could be a reason he didn't get a big league Spring Training camp invite this year.
He does everything in solid fashion and he has all the earmarks of a consistent ball player, and those are big-time pluses in his corner. However, his greatest strength, his ability to do everything solid, could ironically be the biggest issue in him getting his chances at the big league level with the Yankees since he doesn't have the one standout tool. There's always been intriguing power in his swing and it seems to be peaking lately, but an even further power surge to get the power production up to average level is the kind of breakout season he needs to arguably get his legitimate outfield shot with the Yankees, especially since his skill set is a bit redundant to the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, two already firmly established big leaguers.
LHP, Ian Clarkin: Like Aguilar it's not as if the numbers have been dreadful or anything. In fact, posting a 3.31 ERA last season with a better than two to one strikeout to walk ratio there are some things to like. However, given his first round draft pick status and the fact that neither the numbers nor the stuff have been eye-popping to date, and considering he turned 22 years old this past offseason and hasn't reached the upper minor league levels yet like most elite prospects would have four years into their career, there is still a lot more to be gleaned accomplishment-wise for somebody with his talent,
He did miss the entire 2015 season, however, with Tommy John surgery and it does usually take 18 months to two years for Tommy John recipients to either rediscover their game or even begin to move forward stuff-wise. Clarkin enters the 2017 season past that time frame now and given the unbelievable depth of power arms currently moving their way up the Yankees minor league system it would behoove him and his place in the organization to have the kind of breakout season many had believed he was capable of having when he was selected back in 2013. He's certainly capable of having that, he just needs to do it sooner rather than later.
OF, Leonardo Molina: It's almost laughable to include a 19-year old here given his extreme youth but the key word here is 'almost'. Like Aguilar and Clarkin, this former top International signing has been a solid minor league contributor to date given his age and level, and from that regard there really isn't any do-or-die pressure to put up amazing numbers at this point to keep his place in the organization overall. However, given the sky-high ceiling he possesses and the reputation as one of the better younger prospects in the farm system, the fact is the production to date hasn't matched the hype as of yet.
Like Aguilar the power has been impressive in the early going as he clubbed a career-high nine home runs in short-season Pulaski last year but beyond the power is a string of inconsistencies that [at least on paper] could push him closer to being a one-trick pony than the reported five-tool talent he was when he signed as a 16-year old. Again, there's plenty of time for him to resume his status as a top position prospect for the Yankees but a bit more consistency with the bat will be needed in order to do so. Hitting .226 like he did last season at any age and/or level simply isn't getting the job done or making the kind of marked progress that are key indicators of a would-be top prospect.
RHP, Dillon Tate: As is the case with Molina, it could seem a little far-fetched to include Tate in this group considering he just came over from the Texas Rangers in the Carlos Beltran trade last July and has thrown all of 17.1 official minor league innings for the Yankees to date; he hasn't had a ton of time in pinstripes yet. However, the former fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft is coming off of a somewhat disappointing first full season last year [5.12 ERA at the low-A level prior to the trade] and is about to turn 23 years old in the first week of May, which isn't exactly young for the low-A level so from a pure production and numbers standpoint he has some catching up to do.
It isn't all about the numbers yet either though. He is still seeking an identity on the mound both stuff-wise and pitching-wise, and that isn't always a great thing for somebody his age. Should another erratic season follow him in 2017 and doubt could begin to seep in mentally, and from there it could be a longer road back to tapping his true potential. A breakout season is needed on a lot of fronts -- most of them mental -- to get the developmental train back on track and headed in the right direction.
Others Needing Breakout Seasons
Kendall Coleman, Simon De La Rosa, Juan De Leon, Jeff Degano, and Brady Lail.