On Sunday, the Yankees announced that top prospects, including outfielder Aaron Judge, shortstop Jorge Mateo, right-hander James Kaprielian and relief pitcher Jacob Lindgren, were sent to minor-league camp. None of those highly regarded players were expected to make the Opening Day roster, but it is somewhat surprising that the Yankees decided to send them to minor-league spring training this early.
Judge had only one hit in his 14 at-bats in spring training before being sent down, Mateo had only three hits in 15 at-bats (with a homer and a steal) before being demoted, Kaprielian had a 4.91 ERA after allowing two earned runs and four hits in his 3.2 innings pitched and Lindgren had a sky high 15.43 ERA after allowing four earned runs on four walks and a hit in 2.1 innings pitched. None of these four prospects performed like they are capable of in this small sample size and proved that they need more seasoning in the minors. However, it might have made sense for them to learn from and be mentored by the established major leaguers on the Yankees roster for about one more week.
All of these players will likely make some kind of an impact in the Bronx this season or next season, but the player who is most likely to make a major impact in August or September is Judge. His size (6-7, 275 lbs) can be compared to former Yankee Dave Winfield and current Marlin Giancarlo Stanton and he hit a homer during batting practice in February that cleared the massive left field scoreboard at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
“Did you see the balls he hit today? [I’ve] never had that,” Brian McCann said. “It’s super impressive. Then you meet the guy, and he’s actually, he’s top of the line.”
Judge (23 years old), who is from Linden, California and was drafted with the 32nd pick in the 1st round out of California State University Fresno in 2013, performed well at Double-A Trenton last season but struggled when he was called up to Triple-A Scranton. In 63 games with the Trenton Thunder last season (250 at bats), Judge had a solid .284 average with 12 homers, 44 RBIs, 16 doubles, 36 runs scored and a .516 slugging percentage.
However, Judge’s productivity decreased once he was promoted to the Scranton RailRiders, who face many pitchers who have previously pitched in the majors and have better command and off-speed pitches. In 61 games with the RailRiders last season (228 at bats), Judge had a sub-par .224 average with eight homers, 28 RBIs, six steals, 10 doubles and a .373 slugging percentage. He hit a similar amount of homers at Double-A and Triple-A, but he needs to improve in every other category to prove he is ready.
According to Meredith Marakovits, Judge reported early to spring training and the biggest thing that he worked on during the offseason was his approach and patience at the plate. Another positive sign is that Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson believes that Judge’s issues at Triple-A were mental and not physical. Marcus Thames, who was the RailRiders hitting coach and is now the Yankees’ assistant hitting coach said that Judge was having trouble with the advanced breaking pitches that the Triple-A pitchers were throwing to him.
Judge said that he spent part of the offseason working on pitch recognition and hitting the breaking ball. He has the work ethic to improve on hitting that pitch and if he can do that his stats should greatly improve in April, May and June. He has the most upside of any Yankees outfield prospect, and if Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner gets injured or if Beltran underperforms in August then Judge could make a similar impact this season as the one that Greg Bird made last season.
Bird made his major league debut on August 13 and went 0-5, but in the fourth game that Bird started after replacing the injured Mark Teixeira, Bird hit two homers and drove in four runs. He finished the season with a .261 average with 11 homers, 31 RBIs and an impressive .529 slugging percentage. The Yankees might not have made it to the wild card playoff game without him.
Judge said that he has to better adjust to the Triple-A pitchers and he realizes that he has to improve on the little things.
“It’s a learning process, and just making adjustments,” Judge said. “I really didn’t make enough adjustments that I needed to. Pitchers made adjustments. That’s what the game of baseball is, just little adjustments to fine tune your swing, your approach, and I’m still trying to get ready for the 2016 season.”
The mammoth outfielder can cover a lot ground in right field and has a strong arm will now get to improve on his weakness in minor league camp, which has less pressure. He is capable of doing well against Triple-A pitchers because from June 25 through July 2 he had 15 hits in 27 at-bats (.625 average) with one homer, three RBIs and six runs scored. However, he needs to be more consistent because from July 29 through August 6, Judge only had two hits in 30 at-bats. Further proving his inconsistency was that he ended the season with no hits in 11 at-bats over two games, but previously had three multi-hit games in his previous five games.
Lindgren could get called up at some point in the middle of the season and have a minor impact in the bullpen after the big three, Mateo could get called up in September for his speed and be able to win the Yankees a game or two with his speed on the base-paths. However, it is most important for Judge to improve mentally and prove that he can hit above .280 for three or four months at Triple-A so that he can be called up as a replacement if an outfielder gets injured.
The Yankees play their first game of spring training on March 2 against the Detroit Tigers in Tampa, which is in only 22 days. About three weeks before spring training officially begins, the Yankees announced on Friday that outfielder Aaron Judge, shortstop Jorge Mateo and starting pitcher James Kaprielian will be in big-league camp.
Mateo (20) and Kaprielian (21) are young highly rated prospects but still both need at least one more year in the minors, with Kaprielian needing at least two since he was drafted last season. They are worth keeping an eye on based on what Kaprielian did in college at UCLA and with the Staten Island Yankees during his few appearances with them and based on what Mateo did last season with Single-A Charleston and Single-A Advanced Tampa.
Mateo, who was ranked the team’s No. 3 prospect after the 2014 season and has been labeled untouchable by the organization, had a .278 average with two homers, 40 RBIs, 82 steals, 98 strikeouts and 43 walks in his 117 games across two levels. He also made 30 errors in his 99 starts at shortstop last season. He will be valuable if he can continue to steal bases at the rate that he is, cut down on his strikeouts and not commit errors as frequently.
Mateo is the prospect in the Yankees organization with the best ability to steal bases, which is something that either the Yankees will benefit from or another team will benefit from in a trade. It is a positive that he was able to have a .321 average in 84 at-bats with Single-A Advanced Tampa, which is the highest average he has had in his four seasons in the minors.
His defense needs improvement, but it is not unfixable, according to a report on Fangraphs. The report said that Mateo “isn’t the super-smooth Gold Glove type, so he’ll need to continue to hone his instinct and footwork, but the tools are there to be a solid defender.” Mateo will likely improve defensively with repetition, and not to compare Mateo to Derek Jeter, but when Jeter was in Single-A Greensboro he made 56 errors in 1993.
Kaprielian, who the Yankees drafted with the 16th pick of the first round in 2015, pitched in seven games in the rookie league in 2015 and then was called up towards the end of the season to pitch with the short season Single-A Staten Island Yankees. In his three starts with Staten Island he dominated the New York Penn League competition as he had a 2.00 ERA in 9 innings pitched with a 1.111 WHIP, 12 strikeouts and only two walks. The possible future No. 3 starter for the Yankees will likely begin the season with Staten Island.
The 6’4″ righty was drafted after his junior season at UCLA, and in his three seasons as a Bruin he went 16-10 with an outstanding 2.06 ERA over 66 appearances (31 starts). He was named to the All Pac-12 first team in his sophomore and junior seasons. In his stellar junior campaign, he was named a second team All-American by Collegiate Baseball, he led the Pac-12 in strikeouts (114) and wins (10), pitched seven or more innings in seven of his 15 starts and to top it off he impressively threw nine no-hit innings while striking out 10 against Arizona.
Judge is the player out of the three who is most likely to have an impact in the Bronx during the 2016 season. Judge, who at 6’7″ and 275 pounds looks like a defensive lineman and has been compared to Giancarlo Stanton, was drafted with the 32nd pick of the first round out of California State University Fresno in 2013.
The outfielder hit .255 with 20 homers, 72 RBIs, 63 runs scored and a .448 slugging percentage combined in 63 games with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. He struggled once being called up to Scranton since his stats at that level were a .224 average with eight homers, 28 RBIs and a low .373 slugging percentage. This proves that he needs more time at Triple-A to figure out the pitching that is close to major league caliber. However, he has a lot of upside and should be ready to be called up as an injury replacement or to give Carlos Beltran or Alex Rodriguez a few days off in June or July.
This is what MLB.COM said about Aaron Judge: “He scuffled (in Triple-A), but even though he profiles as a potential slugging run producer, he’s also shown an ability in the past to make adjustments. Once Judge does that, he should be ready for his New York debut,” said the write-up. “Built along the lines of Giancarlo Stanton, Judge has similar strength, leverage and huge raw power. He focused on working counts and the middle of the field during his 2014 pro debut, but he started to turn his right-handed swing loose more often last season … An excellent athlete for his size, Judge has average speed and a strong arm.”
He will need to figure out the improved off speed pitchers that the starters throw at Triple-A, and once he does that he should be ready to contribute. He has so much power from his massive frame that he should be able to help the Yankees win some games this year. Judge is currently the eighth best outfield prospect in baseball and he will get to prove that lofty ranking starting on March 2.
Judge is one of the prospects that Brian Cashman has deemed untouchable as the Yankees have valued their minor league system more recently, and the others were Mateo, Luis Severino and Greg Bird. Judge could play an important role at some point with his bat and Severino will be significant as he will be one of the starters in the pitching staff to begin the season. Judge, Mateo and Kaprielian will get valuable experience with the Yankees veterans as well as against major league competition during spring training.