Catcher and infield depth reviews are done (see bottom for links), so today we move on to the outfield, with a focus on right and left field. What do the Yankees’ outfield corners look like from the majors all the way down to the low minors?
Starters: Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran
No change in configuration from last season here. Gardner and Beltran are slated to start in left and right field, respectively, to open up the 2015 campaign. While Gardner should spend virtually all of his time in the field, Beltran will surely spend a lot of time as the designated hitter. Nonetheless, Carlos is the primary right fielder for the club.
Gardner will be one of the rocks of the Yankees in 2015, coming off a solid season in which he posted a 111 wRC+, 3.2 WAR, and a career-best 17 home runs. Don’t expect quite as good production at the plate in 2015, but he should still be above average. ZiPS foresees a .260/.333/.409 in 495 plate appearances (110 OPS+). Overall, the system expects 2.5 WAR and his usual good defense. I think the plate appearance projection might be a tad short, considering Gardner has hit the 600 plateau the past two years. If we prorate to a full-season’s worth 600, his WAR forecast bumps up to 3.2.
Beltran’s debut in pinstripes was a a disaster. He struggled to stay healthy, and when he was on the field, he didn’t perform. That was risk of signing a veteran outfielder to a multi-year deal spanning his age 37 – 39 seasons, and the Yankees got burned. Perhaps he’ll have a dead cat bounce in 2015, but I have my doubts. ZiPS does see a slight rebound from last season, but only because 2014 was so bad. The projection system spit out an estimate of .254/.310/.434 with 17 home runs in 464 trips to the plate in 2015. Layering in his depleted ability to navigate the outfield, ZiPS expects a poor 0.6 WAR.
Backup: Chris Young
After rewarding the Yankees for taking a flyer late last season, the team rewarded Young with a one-year deal for a $2.5M base salary for 2015. Small sample size warning, but Young’s .282/.354/.521 line with 3 homers in 79 plate appearances (146 wRC+) was impressive enough to merit a guaranteed deal despite an 81 wRC+ dating back to 2013. ZiPS doesn’t love Young, expecting a .225/.301/.408 batting line. Not terrible for a backup, but if he gets significant time because, for example, Beltran hits the disabled list, he could get exposed.
On the fringe: Ramon Flores, Tyler Austin, Ben Gamel, Taylor Dugas, Adonis Garcia
None of these guys haven’t done anything exceptionally well in the minors, but they all have had some extent of success and are pretty close to the majors. Chances are that they never earn a starting role in pinstripes, but they might serve as reserve outfielders down the road.
Flores and Austin, 15th and 19th in Chris’ top 100 Yankees prospects, are both on the 40-man. Ramon’s exceptional walk rates have carried all the way up Triple-A, garnering an impressive 7.9 WAR KATOH projection through age 28 (he’s 23 in March). Austin’s prospect status has fluctuated, at one point being one of the club’s better prospects and someone considered to be a key to the organization’s future. After a few good but not great seasons and wrist issues, he’s fallen back a bit. KATOH doesn’t love the 23 year-old Austin, forecasting 2.2 WAR through age 28. Both players should be at Triple-A to open the season, with Flores repeating the level and Austin debuting there. Lastly, Kiley McDaniel slapped 40+ future value grades on the duo, which aligns with the idea that they’re probably reserves down the road.
Gamel, Dugas, and Garcia rank 39th, 44th, and 82nd on our top 100 list. All three should join the crowded Triple-A outfield in 2015, although Garcia does have some versatility in that he has played the infield in the past. McDaniel notes that although Gamel’s struggled the past couple of seasons, he’s a plus runner that can be a fourth outfielder someday. He also notes Dugas’ ability to make contact, which is reflected in his low strikeout rate last season (14.6% in Triple-A). No mention of the Cuban import Garcia in his prospect work, probably because of his age (30 in April), but Adonis showed strong bat-to-ball ability (13.9% K-rate) and a 127 wRC+ in 86 games with Scranton last season. KATOH projects Gamel, Dugas, and Garcia for 1.5, 1.9, and 0.6 respectively through age 28. These low marks are earned because (1) Gamel struggled last season, (2) Dugas, who just turned 25 in December, was old for Triple-A, and (3) Garcia is even older than Dugas.
The future: Aaron Judge
Here’s the guy to watch in 2015. He’s our third-best Yankees prospect, only behind Luis Severino and Jacob Lindgren. Judge is an industry-consensus top-100 prospect, too, with lofty expectations of a slugging corner outfielder. Between Single-A Charleston, High-A Tampa, and the Arizona Fall League, Judge hit .303/.413/.483 in 669 times to the plate, with 21 home runs, a 15.2% walk rate, and 22.9% strikeout rate. All told, he was 54% better than his average counterpart (154 wRC+), an impressive debut in the Yankees’ system after being selected 32nd overall in 2013. McDaniel loves the offensive tools, projecting future 50 hit and 60 game-power tools. According to Kiley, Judge already possesses 70 raw power, meaning he just needs to learn to tap into it during games. It’s easy to dream on the power of a guy who is stands six-foot-seven, 230 pounds. KATOH doesn’t love Judge, mainly because he was old for his A-Ball competition last season (22). Nonetheless, he’ll have a chance to change KATOH’s mind this year, where he’ll likely spend most of his time at Double-A.
For a more detailed look at Judge, take a look at Chris’ prospect profile.
Farther away: Juan DeLeon, Jonathan Amundaray, Alexander Palma, Michael O’Neill, Christopher Breen, Dustin Fowler, Bryan Emery
This entire group is very far away from the majors, with DeLeon, Amundaray, and Emery not even stateside yet. O’Neill and Fowler topped out at Single-A Charleston last year, Breen at Short-Season Staten Island, and Palma in the GCL. The listing of the players above is chronologically matches our prospect list, with DeLeon the highest at 25 and Emery the lowest at 60. The standout KATOH projection is for Palma, who is forecast for 9.1 WAR through age 28 (he’s 18). Take it with a grain of salt though, as although his performance was pretty good last season, it was all the way down in rookie ball. Because these guys aren’t on the big league radar, at least not yet, I won’t dive any further into the specifics. Take a look at McDaniel’s write-up for some words on each player, with the exception of Fowler who didn’t make his cut.