The 2016 season was one of the most uncomfortable, yet exciting campaigns for the New York Yankees organization as a whole.
For the first time in the lifetime of all millennial New York Yankees fans, the Bronx Bombers drastically restocked their depleted farm system. They shipped two of the best relievers in baseball as well as veteran Carlos Beltran at the MLB Trade Deadline for some of the most highly touted prospects in all of baseball, including Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield and Dillon Tate.
They continued adding to their pipeline this winter by shipping veteran backstop Brian McCann to the Houston Astros for a pair of hard-throwing right-handed prospects, including the Astros 10th-ranked prospect Albert Abreu.
Uncomfortable, because under the watchful eye of Hal Steinbrenner, Yankees President of Baseball Operations Brian Cashman has the Yankees organization in some incredibly unfamiliar territory. Sellers at the trade deadline, closed checkbooks during free-agency and a prospect overhaul. Business tactics unheard of for any Yankees fan born in the early ’90s.
Exciting, because for the first time in a long time, the New York Yankees have one of the most electric farm systems in all of baseball, which was displayed at both the major and minor league level in 2016.
The Yankees swapped out aging veterans at the tail end of their career like Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann for the likes of Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, and instead of the team waving the white flag and folding while all the young guns piled on some major league at-bats during an extended cup of coffee, the kids actually made a run at the wild card and weren’t mathematically eliminated until the last week of the regular season.
Down in the pipeline, the Yankees minor league affiliates were just as exciting. The Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders claimed the 2016 Governors’ Cup and the Triple-A National Championship. The Double-A Trenton Thunder made it all the way to the Eastern League Finals before falling to the Akron RubberDucks. The Class A Advanced Tampa Yankees made it all the finals where they too fell just short, losing to Bradenton in the Florida State League Championship while the Class A Charleston RiverDogs and Class A Short Season Staten Island Yankees reached the playoffs as well.
While the big league Bombers missed the playoffs, the 2016 season might forever be remembered as the year in which the Yankees farm system was finally put back on the radar. Brian Cashman not only did an incredible job of re-tooling and re-stocking the pipeline with trade chips, but he also put the Yankees one-step closer to developing their next major core – one that might one day replace the illustrious core four of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte as the next Yankees dynasty.
That said, before the calendar flips to 2017, let’s take a look at the 2016 MiLB New York Yankees Organization All-Stars:
Catcher – Kyle Higashioka, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (39 games), Trenton (63 games):
A minor league catcher earning All-Star rights over Gary Sanchez?
Believe it or not, Higashioka showed more pop down in the minors than Sanchez did in 2016. In 102 games across Triple-A and Double-A, the 26-year old backstop batted .276 with 21 home runs, 81 RBIs, and an impressive .337 on-base percentage. Higashioka was also named to the Eastern League All-Star team and led the Yankees system in home runs and finished third in RBIs.
First baseman — Tyler Austin, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (57 games), Trenton (50 games):
The 25-year old Tyler Austin broke into the major leagues in grand fashion when he went back-to-back, belly-to-belly with Aaron Judge in his first major league at-bat in Yankee Stadium on August 13th.
Austin slugged his way to the minors after hitting .294 with 17 home runs and 78 RBI in 107 games across both two levels. He also played a significant role in the Yankees second-half wild card run, appearing in 31 big league games while averaging .286 in the month of September.
Interestingly enough, Tyler Austin was able to make a name for himself due to absence of Greg Bird and his season-ending shoulder injury, and now both figure to compete with one another in 2017 for the starting role at first base with Mark Teixeira out of the picture.
Second baseman —Thairo Estrada, Tampa (83 games), Charleston (35 games):
Thairo Estrada followed up his impressive 2015 season by hitting an impressive .290 with eight home runs, 49 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 118 games across Class-A and Class A-Advanced in his first full minor league season.
Third baseman – Miguel Andujar, Trenton (72 games), Tampa (58 games):
While the Florida State League All-Star Miguel Andujar ranked second among Yankees Minor Leaguers with 83 RBIs and fourth with 140 hits, he still remained under the radar in the Yankees farm system. He followed up the 2016 season with an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League, where he was named a Rising Star and later added to the New York Yankees 40-man roster so that he can be protected from other teams in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.
Though the 21-year old is still a ways away from the major leagues, I think the increased push from the Yankees front office to trade veteran third baseman, Chase Headley; this winter is a direct result of Andujar making a name for himself down in the minors.
Shortstop – Jorge Mateo, Tampa (113 games):
The 21-year old Jorge Mateo began the season as the New York Yankees’ number one overall prospect, but was later replaced at the top of the pipeline when the Yankees went out and brought in Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier at the deadline.
A good problem for anyone to have.
Following his 82-stolen bases in 2015, Mateo came back down to earth a bit, hitting .254 with eight home runs, 47 RBIs, and only 33 stolen bases.
Mateo, a 21-year-old who stole 82 bases in 2015, turned in more modest totals this season, hitting .254 with eight homers, 47 RBIs, and 33 thefts.
It’ll be interesting to see whether or not the Yankees hold onto Mateo after going out and acquiring another shortstop in Gleyber Torres, but that’s a conversation for the future.
Aaron Judge, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (93 games), New York (27 games):
The towering 24-year-old reached the Major Leagues in just his third minor league season after hitting .270 with 19 homers, 65 RBIs and a .366 OBP at Triple-A Scranton. Like Tyler Austin, Judge also homered in his first Major League at-bat with an absolute blast that hit the windows of the Mohegan Sun Lounge in dead center field, but he later slumped to a .179 average with just four home runs and 10 RBIs in 27 big league games down the stretch. Judge figures to fight for an outfield job next spring, pending the New York Yankees signing a veteran free agent this winter.
Dustin Fowler, Trenton (132 games):
The New York Yankees’ No. 12 ranked prospect led the entire Yankees system with 88 RBIs in 2016. Fowler, now 21-years-old showed both power and speed this summer, hitting .281 with 12 home runs and 25 stolen bases. Notably, he led all Yankees Minor Leaguers with 15 triples and 248 total bases in route to being named a 2016 Eastern League All-Star.
Mark Payton, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (2 games), Trenton (97 games), Tampa (24 games):
Across three levels, Payton hit .282 with ten home runs, 62 RBIs, and a .418 OBP and was even named a Florida State League All-Star.
Designated hitter – Chris Gittens, Charleston (107 games):
In 102 at-bats as a DH in 2016, the 21-year old Chris Gittens hit .251 and impressively tied Higashioka for the system lead with 21 long balls. He notched 70 RBIs, good for fifth among all Yankees Minor Leaguers, and ranked 18th with 97 hits while being named the South Atlantic League postseason All-Star.
RHP – Chance Adams, Trenton (13 games), Tampa (12 games):
Remember the name Chance Adams.
The 2015 fifth-round pick had a season for the record books, pitching to a 13-1 record with a 2.33 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 127 1/3 innings. He finished the year as the Yankees’ 14th-best prospect and was named a Florida State League All-Star.
Adams worked as a reliever in 2015, appearing in just 15 games. But his new and improved arsenal of pitches and his impressive 2016 campaign as a starter gives the future Yankees rotation a glimmer of hope if he can stay healthy and continue to develop.
LHP – Dietrich Enns, Trenton (12 games), Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (14 games):
Dietrich Enns, a 25-year-old southpaw, pitched to a rather impressive 14-4 record with a 1.73 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 135 innings. The Yankees’ No. 25 ranked-prospect was also an Eastern League All-Star and ranked fifth among Yankees pitchers in strikeouts in 2016.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Enns get an extended look in spring training this March after his impressive body of work in 2016.