Bold Predictions: Prospects Edition

Opening day isn’t quite over yet. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday scattered openers across the Majors, and today marks the beginning of the Minor League season. Like we wrote about Tuesday, we’ll offer our bold predictions for Yankees’ Minor Leaguers after the jump. It’s in the same format — three guesses for the two of us.

Chris:

Gary Sanchez will hit over .300 in double-A Trenton.

Although he emerged as the Yankees’ unanimous top prospect, Sanchez had something of a down year in 2013 between Hi-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. After posting a wRC+ north of 120 each of the previous three seasons, Sanchez’ offensive output ticked down to 109 last year. The performance dip was driven by his blasé .253 batting average, a ways off from his .286 mark from prior years.

Sanchez actually put a good amount of balls in play last year, hacking 7% off of his career strikeout rate, but his BABIP was a meager .284 — a far cry from his .348 career mark. Sanchez had a few unlucky bounces last year, so as long as he keeps his strikeouts in check, I’d expect his batting average to bounce back in a big way. Couple that with 20+ homers and plus defense behind the plate and the Yankees might just have a budding star on their hands.

Mason Williams will hit at least 15 homeruns this year.

After tearing it up the low minors, Williams faced his first bit of adversity in high-A Tampa last season. He hit a punchless .261/.327/.350 and performed even worse in a late season cameo with Double-A Trenton. Overall, he hit just four home runs across 537 plate appearances. These numbers were all sorts of disappointing, but it’s worth noting that Williams spent the previous offseason recovering from shoulder labrum surgery. Labrums can be tricky, and as we’ve seen with Michael Pineda, it often takes months or even years for a player to return to full strength. Now that he’s 16 months post-op, I say there’s a good chance Williams finds his swing again, and we see a bump in his power output.

Gosuke Katoh will crack at least one top 100 prospect list next winter

Last year’s second round draft pick hit the ground running in his first taste of professional ball. The high school second baseman hit an impressive .310/.402/.510 in 50 games of rookie ball. Short-season stats don’t always mean much, but the Yankees saw enough to like to push him to Class-A Charleston this year. At 19 years-old, Katoh will be one of the youngest players in the Sally League, so even a .260/.350/.400 batting line would get people talking, especially since his defense is supposed to be his carrying tool.

Derek

Aaron Judge will hit 25 home runs

Last year’s 32nd overall selection is huge, listed 6-7, 230 lbs. Some equate his potential to Giancarlo Stanton, mostly due to both players’ large frames. Judge will debut in the hitter-haven SAL with Charleston, a place that a college bat should be able to manage out of the shoot.

I could see Judge’s season unfolding superbly given the level he is starting at. It’s a safe place to start him after not playing following last season’s draft because of health issues. A home run barrage isn’t out of the question with the raw power he possesses, and such a display would certainly earn him a promotion to Hi-A Tampa quickly.

Cito Culver will be worth keeping tabs on

Culver BABIP’d (.447) his way to a .355/.394/.484 triple-slash in 66 plate appearances with Tampa following a promotion last season. The Yankees certainly don’t have that type of hitter on their hands, as the sample size is too small and just random variation. Nonetheless, he doesn’t have to be anything special as a hitter to be a Major-League shortstop.

Offensively, the average Major-League shortstop is getting worse. The position’s league wRC+ has been on the decline the past three seasons, down from 88 in 2011 to 85 in 2013. Considering Culver’s defense is well-regarded, I believe he can establish himself as a worthwhile prospect if he can show some signs of life with the bat.

Greg Bird‘s bubble will burst

Bird annihilated the ball with Charleston in 2013, posting a gaudy 170 wRC+ with 20 dingers in 573 trips to the plate. Yet, I’m still on the fence with Bird. His high strikeout rate concerns me, and him being a first baseman puts a big dent in his value.

The year is already off to an inauspicious start for Bird, who is being held back at extended Spring Training with a back issue. Perhaps that’s a built in excuse if he struggles this year, but I believe that Bird would have taken a step back in the FSL injury or not. He still should be an above average hitter, but will probably curb much of the post-2013 enthusiasm.

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