By Rusty Westerholm
The Yankees are in the midst of a wildly successful youth movement at the major league level, which should have left the farm system depleted. That is not the case. Far from it, according to ESPN baseball prospect guru Keith Law.
In an Insider piece published Thursday morning, he listed the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate, among the most “stacked” minor league teams in all of Major League Baseball.
Even though Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, Tyler Wade, Tyler Austin and Miguel Andujar are all in the majors at the time Law published his piece, there’s still more exciting Baby Bombers waiting in the wings. Most of whom will be starting the year for the Thunder.
If the Yankees make an honest World Series push, as they’re expected to do, it’s unlikely any of these guys will contribute at the major league level this year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have an impact. Here’s the outlook for some of the Yankees’ most exciting Thunder players.
Justus Sheffield, LHP
He’s the most promising pitcher in the Yankees’ system because his fastball tops out in the mid-90s and has movement, and it looks like he can develop an above average breaking ball and changeup. He’s been improving ever since the Yankees acquired him in the Andrew Miller trade, and if he can get his command up to par, Cashman won’t be able to keep him in the minors.
Sheffield is one of the best pitching prospects in the majors and would certainly fetch a big return if he was included in a trade. But at the rate he’s been improving over the last two seasons, Sheffield might just accelerate his MLB eta to 2018, or early in 2019. I see him coming up in August to eat up some of the veteran starters’ innings and get major league experience in meaningful games.
Dillon Tate, RHP
Cashman got Tate, a former fourth overall pick in the draft, from the Rangers in exchange for Carlos Beltran. This could be a big year for Tate, who the Rangers gave up on when he was struggling in Single-A at 22 years old.
Law reported in September last year that the Yankees encouraged Tate to use his unorthodox delivery from college, which the Rangers tried to change. Since, his fastball has had more life and his breaking ball and changeup have been progressing nicely. At 23 years old, this is a big year for Tate. If the rotation holds up and Sheffield keeps making strides, this seems to me like a player Cashman could flip for another hitter to help out in the playoff run.
Domingo Acevedo, RHP
Acevedo made a cameo in Triple-A last season, but it looks like he’ll start the year in Double-A as a starter. Unlike Sheffield and Tate, Acevedo doesn’t seem like he’ll remain a starter much longer. He’s also 24, so the window for him to correct those issues is closing.
However, his stuff would likely translate to the bullpen perfectly, as he can hit 100 with his fastball and has a good changeup. Yes, the Yankees bullpen is the most loaded in the majors, but Acevedo could be the next guy called up if Jonathan Holder can’t stick around, or if someone gets hurt. The Yankees should commit to bringing Acevedo along as a reliever and give him a shot in the majors at the first opportunity.
Bonus! The prospect you’re going to start hearing a lot more about…
Estevan Florial, OF
Law speculated that Florial could be in Trenton to start the season, having finished last year in High-A Tampa and turning heads in spring training this year. Even if he does start in Tampa, he could be in Trenton early on.
At 20 years old, Florial made the most of his limited spring training appearance, sending fans into a frenzy any time he did anything remotely noteworthy. No one expects him to make the majors this year, but he could play his way to Triple-A by the end of the season, if we’re being optimistic.
Despite injuries to Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier and Billy McKinney, the Yankees project to have a deep outfield for years to come. However, Florial is a left-handed hitter who shows five-tool potential, and that’s the kind of player the Yankees might want to wait and see what they have.