The 2019 version of Miguel Andujar isn’t the player the New York Yankees remember.
At 16-10, the Trenton Thunder are currently in tied for first place in the Eastern League’s Eastern Division, a familiar theme for fans of the New York Yankees’ Double-A affiliate. The Thunder have been prominently featured at or near the top of the standings since the organization decided to put more focus on their farm system than ever before back in 2016.
But unlike recent memory, this team is missing an abundance of high-end talent, both due to graduations (Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Miguel Andujar, amongst others) and transactions (Justus Sheffield, Billy McKinney, Dillon Tate, et al.)
One scout who I have been in contact with over the last five years spent time in New Jersey recently, and one thing immediately jumped out in his mind: “Unlike years past, this current Thunder team hardly features any players who will make a difference at the big league level.”
That’s to be expected when the Yankees have found success in all areas of scouting: whether be it through the draft, international free agency or trades.
“It’s not a fault of their own; it’s actually the contrary,” said the talent evaluator. “They’ve had a great deal of players either move up in the system or get traded for players to help at the major league level. Plus, there are puppies getting ready to make the jump in Tampa and Charleston. But as this roster stands today, there isn’t much to be excited about.”
There seems to be consensus with that thinking. Only six of the MLB Pipeline’s top 30 prospects are currently suiting up in Trenton (that’s not including Estevan Florial – widely considered the franchise’s best overall prospect – who started 2019 on the injured list).
But there are players to be excited about with the Thunder, even factoring in the current dearth of high-end talent.
For this scout, it starts with Albert Abreu.
Abreu, the right-hander currently ranked as the Yankees’ third-best prospect, was acquired along with Jorge Guzman in a trade with the Houston Astros for Brian McCann in November 2016. The Dominican native has flashed top of the rotation potential throughout his career in New York’s farm system but injuries have derailed his path to pinstripes.
Abreu’s command can be largely contributed to his slow start to the 2019 season. Through four starts before his game against New Hampshire, the 23-year-old posted an array of bloated numbers, including a 7.31 ERA and .415 BAbip, in just 16 innings. Abreu did turn things around in his final start of the month, scattering three hits and three walks while garnering four strikeouts in a season-high six frames.
“I’m still on his bandwagon,” said the scout. “He is healthy and has top of the rotation stuff with pitchability. He was struggling with fastball command. When pitching the power game, he needs to throttle down. His plus power curveball can be a devastating out pitch. He also has an excellent feel for his changeup. Once he puts everything together, I can easily see him as a high-end three or four starter in a playoff rotation.”
Abreu will need more time to work on his craft in Trenton. But if he continues to stay healthy and starts to put the pieces in place, there’s no denying a spot in the Scranton/Wlikes-Barre RailRiders rotation will open up; after all, the team’s combined ERA in starts this year currently sits at an even 5.00.
While Abreu remains the one of the most highly-touted prospects on the roster, it was Deivi Garcia who stole all the headlines. The Yankees’ number four prospect made his Double-A debut against the Fisher Cats on May 1.
Garcia’s promotion was expected during the 2019 season, but not many foresaw it happening so quickly. The 19-year-old pitched in 17.2 innings with the Tampa Tarpons and struck out an impressive 33 batters while holding opposing hitters to a .215 batting average.
The good and bad were on display for Garcia’s debut with the Thunder. The good: 11 strikeouts in just four innings while largely overpowering the upgrade in competition. The bad: four earned runs on three hits and five walks while fighting fastball command.
“Garcia is a diminutive puppy; he physically reminds me of Pedro Martinez and Sixto Sanchez. He’s very athletic and boasts a solid three pitch mix, with his curve ball and change-up both grading out as above average pitches. He does struggle with fastball command and the pitch lacks life, which means he must spot it. He’s aggressive and is a competitor but I’m not sure he’s the top of the rotation pitcher that the Yankees are portraying him to be. I see him as a back-end starter with the potential to be a high-powered weapon out of the bullpen.”
It’s hard to predict Garcia’s future. The Yankees will have all the patience in the world to see if he can stick as a starter. But if the organization believes he can be of value at a higher level in a reliever role — and if all goes right — it’s not a stretch to say the teen could be wearing pinstripes as early as this season.
Even though there are two top tier prospects in Double-A by Yankees standards, the team remains littered with talent that can help the team in a multitude of ways.
Domingo Acevedo, a one-time top-10 prospect in his own right, seems to have found himself a home in the bullpen. “It just wasn’t working out [as a starter],” the scout stated. “But if he stays healthy – and that’s a massive if – the bullpen can be his mealticket.”
Then there’s a pair of righties in Trevor Stephan (“Physically, he’s everything you want in a pitcher”) and Nick Nelson (“He needs to figure out his command and delivery issues to make the jump”), who along with powerful first baseman Chris Gittens (“He’s putting everything together at the right time”) and slick-fielding shortstop Kyle Holder (“His glove has been Major League ready but I’m not sure his bat ever catches up”) represent the best trade assets in Trenton. While the Yankees have been able to navigate through their early season injury epidemic by finding incredible production out of their backups, it’s not a foregone conclusion it will last. If and when some of the “other guys” come back down to reality, names like Stephan, Nelson, Gittens and Holder can be used to acquire reinforcements for the home stretch of the regular season.
While proclaiming each player is on the right path to Major League Baseball, the road may not take them to the Bronx.
“Are they talented players? Yes. But they can help the Yankees in a different way – and that’s as trade bait.”
For fans and evaluators alike, Trenton may not be a hot bed for future major league contributors like it once was. But with a combination of prospects with high-upside and quality youngsters used for the trade market, the Yankees will still be getting bang for their buck, one way or another.
Dan Federico is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.
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Heading into the Trade Deadline, the New York Yankees boasted the second-best record in all of baseball. When you’re more than halfway through the season, that usually proves upgrades are few and far between.
General Manager Brian Cashman realized this. But he also realized that those few and far between upgrades had to be addressed to turn this strong year into postseason success – and beyond.
The first move came a full week before the deadline, when Cashman decided to make a strength even stronger by acquiring Zach Britton in an inter-divisional trade with the Baltimore Orioles for three prospects – Dillon Tate, Cody Carroll and Josh Rogers. Already boasting one of, if not the best bullpen in all of baseball, the Yankees front office decided to take a chance on Britton with the hopes that he could put his injury issues aside and regain form similar to what he showed in 2016. It was then when he was not only healthy but posted a 0.54 ERA and 47 saves.
Cashman then turned to the team’s most pressing need by making another trade within the division by getting Toronto Blue Jays’ hurler J.A. Happ for Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney. Despite being linked to high-profile names like Jacob deGrom, Madison Bumgarner and Blake Snell, none ended up being available. Enter Happ, who not only was arguably the best starter available, but his success against teams like the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros makes him a surefire upgrade over pitchers like Luis Cessa and Domingo German.
There were a flurry of moves after the Happ trade and before the deadline, starting with relievers Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos to the St. Louis Cardinals for minor league first baseman Luke Voit and $1 million international bonus pool money. Cashman then flipped minor league reliever Caleb Frare to the Chicago White Sox for an additional $1.5 million of international bonus cash.
And on deadline day itself, the front office stayed busy. Pool money was still at the forefront, as the Yankees acquired an additional $1.25 million from the Seattle Mariners.
But that’s when some questionable roster reshuffling came into the forefront.
In exchange, Cashman sent unheralded reliever Adam Warren out west. Warren, who had spent all but 29 games of his career with the Yankees since 2012, sported an impressive 2.70 ERA and 54:15 strikeout-to-walk ratio while helping out in middle relief.
Many expected bigger news on the horizon.
Many were disappointed.
In the final move before trading came to an end, the front office shipped Tyler Austin and prospect Luis Rijo to the Minnesota Twins for the underwhelming Lance Lynn. Lynn, who was one of the more sought-after free agent starters this past offseason, has walked 5.5 batters per nine innings thus far while sporting a bloated 1.63 WHIP.
After assessing each move, the Yankees, as a whole, will be a better team for the rest of this season.
Britton will vacate his closer role but will form a dominating one-two punch with Dellin Betances before Aaron Boone puts Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning. Despite having just two outings with the Yankees – one bad (one inning, two hits, two walks, one run), one good (one inning, one strikeout, 10 pitches) – the organization believes he’s returning to his old, successful ways. In nine July appearances, Britton allowed batters to hit just .172 against him, all the while pitching to an even 1.00 ERA.
Happ will bring stabilization to the rotation, something the Yankees have been looking for ever since Jordan Montgomery left his start against the Houston Astros back in May. While some point to the southpaw’s ERA as a cause for concern, Happ’s FIP is more than respectable (3.85) while his strikeouts (10.3) and walks (2.8) per nine innings are impressive in their own right. Plus, his first start in pinstripes went just as well as one can expect (six innings, one run, one walk, three hits, two strikeouts).
Lynn, meanwhile, is a mystery at best. But in the end, the front office believes he can perform in the Adam Warren role better than Adam Warren. If a starter has a brief outing, Lynn can give Boone multiple innings of relief. If a starter is tired, Lynn can make a spot start. If a starter gets injured, he can slide in the rotation. Remember, the Yankees did have interest in Lynn over the winter and could believe some work with pitching coach Larry Rothschild could do the trick. Plus, his 50.8% groundball rate is above average and will work well in Yankee Stadium.
Yankees fans must also keep this in mind: these moves were just as much about the future as they are the present.
Bringing Britton aboard now gives the Yankees a chance to sell him on the culture, a winning organization and a chance year in and year out to compete for the Commissioner’s Trophy before he enters free agency. That would give them the ability to let someone like David Robertson walk, as his age (33) and current struggles may not fit into New York’s future plans.
More importantly, however, is the potential to readdress and restock a farm system that is still praised but has taken a hit with promotions and player movement.
By moving Tate, Carroll, Rogers, Frare and Austin, the Yankees now have additional room on their 40-man roster. Sheffield is a no-brainer to be added. Chance Adams, who is having a down year but posted a 2.45 ERA and .193 BAA in 15 starts in 2017, is a likely candidate. With names like Juan De Paula (1.73 ERA in six starts), Kyle Holder (.290 AVG, .351 OBP) and Stephen Tarpley (0.93 WHIP, .156 BAA) amongst others, also eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, it makes more sense as to why Frare was moved for cash and Austin was traded for a fringy fifth starter.
And then there’s the case of international bonus pool money, which has become a norm in trades involving the Yankees and a talking point among fans.
There aren’t many organizations that are as visible and vigorous in the international free agent market than the Yankees. 15 of their 30 top prospects, per MLB Pipeline – including top 10 youngsters Estevan Florial, Jonathan Loaisiga, Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo and Luis Medina – were signed with the same money Cashman acquired in trades. To take that positive spin even further, Gleyber Torres (Chicago Cubs), Aroldis Chapman (Cincinnati Reds), Luis Severino, Miguel Andujar and Gary Sanchez were all signed as international free agents, too.
And Cashman has been quick to use his newly-received money in a major way.
On July 29, he inked right-hander Osiel Rodriguez for $600,000. The 6’3” 16-year-old – who MLB.com lists as the 10th best international prospect – is considered a “strike-thrower” and has “a good mound presence and demeanor.” He’s also noted as someone who has an abundance of pitches and tends to throw them at all different types of arm angles.
Two days later, Cashman dished out an eye-popping $2.5 million to Alexander Vargas, who ranked eighth on the same list . A switch-hitter, the 16-year-old Cuba native is noted primarily for his speed, defense and ability on the base paths, with MLB.com noting, “he has the potential to steal 30 bases in the big leagues and sport a .270 batting average.”
For so long, the Yankees played with a win-at-all-cost” mentality, trading prospect after prospect for a chance at the present. It was a simple game of checkers for George Steinbrenner.
But these aren’t Steinbrenner’s Yankees anymore. This is Cashman’s team.
And Cashman plays chess.
Dan Federico is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.