The Yankees have one of the best systems in all of baseball. In this installment of our series, we will focus on the shortstops.
Derek Jeter was taken in the first round of the 1993 June amateur draft. He quickly ascended the organizational ladder. Once he made it to the majors, he spent the next two decades as the team’s shortstop. He was the catalyst to a dynasty that won five World Series championships during his tenure. The future Hall of Famer is still referred to as “The Captain,” an honor the team bestowed upon him.
Upon Jeter’s retirement following the 2014 season, the Yankees had a very big hole to fill. As part of a three-team trade involving the Detroit Tigers and the Arizona Diamondbacks, general manager Brian Cashman sent pitcher Shane Greene to the Tigers and received Didi Gregorius from Arizona. After a slow start in Pinstripes, Gregorius played admirably. He accomplished the unenviable task of replacing a legend.
Last year, the 27-year-old Gregorius produced a career-high 20 home runs and drove in 70. He has become a key component for manager Joe Girardi. He provides solid defense up the middle, and has proven adept at putting the ball into the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium.
Gregorius played practically every day in 2016, sitting only nine times. His primary backup is Ronald Torreyes. The diminutive utility man also filled in at second, third, and the outfield. The 23-year-old defensive stalwart has a sure glove wherever he plays, and had a hot streak last year with the bat which made it difficult for Girardi to take him out of the lineup.
During the offseason, the Yankees signed Ruben Tejada as a minor-league free agent. He is competing with Torreyes and Rob Refsnyder for a utility role. Tejada grew up in the Mets organization as their shortstop until he suffered a broken leg in a play at second base involving the Dodgers’ Chase Utley in the 2015 postseason. Still only 27, Tejada is looking to rebound from a down year spent with the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants.
Pete Kozma is a former first-round pick by the Cardinals. Last season, he was the primary shortstop for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. The veteran infielder would be among the first options for the Yankees in case of injury. The soon-to-be 29-year-old will likely return to Scranton for the upcoming season.
Another Scranton option is 24-year-old Cito Culver, the Yankees’ first-round pick from 2010, He re-signed this winter as a minor-league free agent. Last year, he spent time in Trenton and Scranton, playing all over the infield. He needs to have a consistent season if he wants to continue to stay a Yankees farmhand.
Gleyber Torres is going to be the Yankees’ shortstop of the future. The 20-year old native of Caracas, Venezuela, was the main target of Brian Cashman at last year’s trade-deadline deal that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs.
Since his arrival, Torres has become the youngest-ever Arizona Fall League MVP, and has placed among the top prospects on all the industry’s lists, including Pinstriped Prospects, as the Yankees’ top prospect. He will start the year in Trenton, but could move up quickly, as scouts state his maturity and baseball knowledge is elite.
Last year at this point, Jorge Mateo was the top prospect in the organization. However, he had a disappointing season. The consensus is that he needs to mature both on and off the field. Still only 21, he is a Top 100 prospect (No. 47) on MILB’s list and Pinstriped Prospect’s No. 4 Yankees prospect.
He has been playing second base in deference to Torres. With his extraordinary speed, a full-time move to centerfield may be in his future. Trenton will likely be where Mateo starts the season.
Tyler Wade is the Yankees 11th best prospect, per Pinstriped Prospects. Last year, he played in Trenton, primarily at short, with some time at second. He went to the AFL to get some playing time in the outfield. The 22-year-old will start 2017 in Scranton, probably in a rile of super utility man to increase his versatility, improving his value once he is promoted to the big leagues.
Hoy Jun Park was part of the 2014 international free agent class, out of Korea. He will turn 21 at the start of Tampa’s season, where he should be the starting shortstop. Pinstriped Prospects has him ranked at No. 21 on its list of Top 50 Yankees Prospects.
Kyle Holder was the Yankees first-round pick in 2015. He was named to MLB Pipeline’s All-Defense Team. Ranked by Pinstriped Prospects as the organization’s No. 26 prospect, Holder spent last year in Charleston. This year he should join Park in Tampa.
Wilkerman Garcia was another international free agent from 2014. The soon-to-be 19-year old Dominican had a rough time in Pulaski last season. He should join Charleston this season ,and the Yankees hope that he develops into the player that warrants being ranked as the team’s 17th best prospect by Pinstriped Prospects.
Oswaldo Cabrera is an 18-year-old native of Venezuela. He progressed quickly last year, tearing up the Dominican Summer League and the Gulf Coast League before settling in at Pulaski. He also spent some time at second base. Expect the Yankees’ 40th prospect, according to Pinstriped Prospects, to advance to Staten Island this summer.
A couple of younger shortstops to keep an eye on this season are 19-year-old Diego Castillo, 18-year-old Jesus Bastidas, soon- be 18-year old Eduardo Torrealba, and 17-year-old Brayan Jimenez. These teenagers will probably spend time in the DSL and GCL.
The Yankees organization, top to bottom, has a ton of talent at shortstop. So much that several of their top prospects needed to learn other positions to continue to get adequate playing time.
Not all these players will be able to remain under Yankees control, as the numbers game just won’t allow it. To maximize value, some will likely be traded at some point. It’s a good problem to have at a value position.