Statistical Approach: 2017 Yankees MiLB Sleeper Prospects – Pinstriped Prospects
Statistical Approach

Statistical Approach: 2017 Yankees MiLB Sleeper Prospects

Dustin Fowler with the Surprise Saguaros in the AFL ( Ryan "Moose" Morris - Freelance Photographer)

Depending on who you ask, the Yankees have seven or eight Top 00 prospects, and one of the best systems in baseball.

With all the recognition. the Yankees farm system receives you wouldn’t expect there to be many under-the-radar prospects. But the team has quite a few, and that’s a testament to how deep their system is now.
The first sleeper we will discuss is Dustin Fowler.

Dustin Fowler

Fowler might not seem like a traditional sleeper pick; he is after all already considered a decent prospect, but I feel that he’s a bit under-known and he could become even better in the next couple of seasons. After all, Fowler has held his own against competition that was at least two years older than he was, so once Fowler further adjusts to this age difference, he’ll look even better.

Yankees minor league outfielder Dustin Fowler (Photo by Martin Griff)

Yankees minor league outfielder Dustin Fowler (Photo by Martin Griff)

Which is remarkable, because he looks good right now and he’s playing against pitchers three years older. Fowler posted the following numbers as a 21-year-old in AA last season: .281 AVG, .311 OBP, .458 SLG, .341 wOBA, 109 wRC+, .177 ISO. He also had a strikeout rate of 15 percent and a walk rate of 3.8%.

Overall, those are all excellent numbers, though it does show us that Fowler has one weakness, which is that he is too aggressive at the plate. This weakness has shown itself in his extremely low walk rate, which has been verified by scouting reports.

If he could improve his patience, he really would be an all-around great prospect. He already has shown the ability to potentially hit 20 homers, and steal over 20 bases, so if he gets on-base more, he will look like the Yankees center fielder of the future.

Evan Rutckyj

A year ago, Rutckyj was a Rule 5 pick with the Braves and was battling for a spot in the Atlanta bullpen. And while he ultimately failed to secure a roster spot there, his journey did show, which he has value as a prospect.

Unfortunately, his 2016 season was wasted due to an elbow injury, but that shouldn’t mean that fans should write him off, he had a great 2015 season, and if had the opportunity to build off that season, he might already have been added to the Yankees roster.

Evan Rutckyj earned the win in his first rehab appearance for the Staten Island Yankees. (Robert M. Pimpsner)

Evan Rutckyj during his rehab with the Staten Island Yankees. (Robert M. Pimpsner)

Rutckyj posted the following numbers in 2015: 2.63 ERA, 1.265 WHIP, 2.59 FIP, 31.5% K rate, 8.1% BB rate. He posted these stats in 61.2 innings between A+ and AA. 2015 was truly his breakout season, and if he could prove that year was no fluke, he should have a decent chance at making the majors.

Considering Brian Cashman has expressed his desire for another lefty reliever, it’s possible that a strong start at AAA could eventually lead to a major-league gig for Rutckyj, especially if Chasen Shreve continues to struggle.

Thairo Estrada

Thairo Estrada, like Fowler, isn’t real a sleeper in the truest sense of the word; he’s well known and has made some Yankees top-30 lists. But like Fowler, I feel that Thairo is relatively underrated as a Yankee prospect, and could be ranked much higher in the future.

Thairo Estrada with the Charleston RiverDogs (Photo by Martin Griff)

Thairo Estrada with the Charleston RiverDogs (Photo by Martin Griff)

I feel that he has been overshadowed by other Yankees infield prospects, and that he should be rated much higher than he is on most lists. My reasoning for this is that he is a very well-rounded player and he has done well against competition that is much older than he is. For instance, he had a strong year in 2016 despite having just 22 plate appearances versus pitchers that were younger than he was.

Overall, he posted solid numbers in Charleston and Tampa, and despite being just 21-years-old, it looks like he is ready to play in AA. Estrada played 83 games in Tampa last year and posted a slash line of .292/.355/.375. Other notable stats include a: wRC+ of 117, wOBA of .345, a K rate of 13.1%, a BB rate of 8.3%. Estrada was 2.7 years younger than the average FSL pitcher, which makes the above stats even more impressive.

Beyond the numbers, Estrada is known as a prospect with a couple of plus tools (arm, and speed), and no significant weaknesses. The biggest knock on him is that he might not have enough range for short. But he could play both second and third-base, as his bat should be strong enough for either position.

Diego Castillo

Castillo was one of the Yankees many acquisitions un the 2014 international spending spree. At the time of the signing, he was considered one of the most fundamentally sound players in the class. And that’s perhaps the reason he has transitioned to pro ball at such a steady pace. Most of the Yankees other big name signings have struggled at one point since signing, but Castillo has been a consistently performed above-averagely.

New York Yankees minor league prospect Diego Castillo at the plate in an extended spring training game at the Yankees Himes Complex (Bryan Green)

New York Yankees minor league prospect Diego Castillo at the plate in an extended spring training game at the Yankees Himes Complex (Bryan Green)

He has not shown the type of tools that would make him a top prospect, but he has done enough to earn him some recognition by Baseball America (BA). BA ranked Castillo as the 18th-best prospect in the Gulf Coast League in 2016. He earned that ranking by posting the following stats: .267 AVG, .332 OBP, .327 SLG, .321 wOBA, 102 wRC+, 7.6 BB%, 11.4 K%.

Both his numbers and his scouting report will tell you that Castillo has little home-run power, but he is a good contact hitter and is considered a sure bet to stick at short, so his lack of pop shouldn’t stop him from becoming a legitimate prospect. While Castillo wasn’t ranked as a Top 50 prospect by our site this year, I feel that’s unlikely to miss being ranked next year, or for the rest of Castillo’s career.

Zack Littell

Like Castillo, Littell was too new to the Yankees farm system to be included in our top 50 Yankees prospects ranking but is ranked as the Yankees 23rd best prospect by MLB.com, and as the 24th best prospect by Baseball America. With that said, I feel that he’s still a sleeper prospect to most of the team’s fans, and certainly will get more recognition after spending a year with the Yankees.

Zack Littell warming up during Minor League Spring Training 2017 at the New York Yankees complex in Tampa. (©Mark LoMoglio/Yankees)

Zack Littell warming up during Minor League Spring Training 2017 at the New York Yankees complex in Tampa. (©Mark LoMoglio/Yankees)

Littell’s Yankee career will probably begin in Tampa, where he will get the opportunity to continue to prove his worth as a potential major-league starter. So far into his career, Littell has put up very impressive numbers but has yet to show the velocity or the consistent secondary pitches needed to be considered a top-prospect.

As of now, he’s mostly seen as a finesse pitcher, and like most finesse pitchers he’s going to have to perform well at each level to prove he’s not a fluke. So far Littell has had little trouble pitching well and seems to post better numbers versus advanced competition. As a member of the Mariners farm system, he lowered his ERA after each of his five minor-league promotions.

By the end of his Mariner career, he was pitching in A+ and put up the following numbers: 2.51 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 1.13 WHIP, 1.72 BB/9, and an SO/9 of 8.07. Both his ERA and WHIP were the lowest of his career.

Beyond the stats, Littell is known for both his approach on the mound and his overall strong control and command.

His approach on the mound is strong because he puts a lot of effort into scouting and watching opposing batters before facing them. His strong control and command is evidenced based off his stats.

Overall, I feel that it could be argued that Littell is one of the best finesse prospects in baseball. And I feel that comment is supported by the work of Matt Eddy from Baseball America. Eddy put together a list of pitching prospects who were best at steering clear of bad innings, by limiting both homers and walks. His list ignored strikeouts and focused on eligible minor league pitchers who could essentially finesse their way into pitching well, out of all eligible pitchers Littell ranked third.

Littell’s “finesse” repertoire features a low-90’s fastball that plays up due to its spin rate. And two solid secondary pitches (curveball, and changeup. His curveball is his better secondary pitch, and it occasionally looks like a plus pitch. His change is still considered an inconsistent offering, but MLB.com projects it as an average major-league pitch.

It’s also worth noting that scouts feel that Littell has room to grow into more velocity, and the Yankees do seem like a team that could help him facilitate a spike in velocity. But for now, he has shown that he doesn’t need to throw mid-90’s to be successful. Either way, Littell will be an exciting player to watch in 2017.

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