Minor League Musings

The 2015 To-Do List

New Year’s resolution columns are generally lame, so this isn’t one. This is about four things the New York Yankees organization needs to do in 2015 to improve, and perhaps improve dramatically.

1. Establish a minor league staff of the highest caliber.
Mark Newman, Will Kuntz, Pat Roessler, Billy Hart, Trey Hillman, Mike Quade, and Gordon Blakely. Those are all of the men from the Yankees’ scouting and player development departments who are no longer with the organization. There may be more names we don’t know about yet who’ve moved on. The point is that is a lot of people in high places to replace in one off-season. Considering the number of people who have been screaming for change in the player development department, change is something now unavoidable. This represents opportunity.

An organization with the resources of the New York Yankees should prioritize making their player development system the envy of Major League Baseball. We know this is something ownership is interested in doing, and there is no question the organization spends money making the experience of its players better than it is in many places around the league, but the record of the development staff has come into question, both in player procurement and in producing impact players for the big league team.

The Dodgers just spared no expense in constructing a front office dream team. That’s what the Yankees should be doing in their scouting and development departments. Every effort should be made to acquire talent off the field as well as on it. Paying for Major League free agents is expensive and inefficient, and it’s a practice most organizations would like to avoid. To do that, the Yankees need to have a consistent pipeline of prospects who could provide impact talent, Major League depth, or useful trade chips. It’s easier said than done, but it can be done, and there is opportunity now to get closer getting it done.

2. Play in the high end of the Cuban market.
The high end of the Cuban market is expensive. It just is. But don’t think that any of the teams that signed Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, or Jorge Soler regret doing it. That appears to be money well spent. The Red Sox perhaps have to wait and see on Rusney Castillo, but that looks promising as well. If you want the top talent from Cuba, you have to pay. The Yankees have money, and now they have to have the conviction to spend it in a somewhat risky fashion.

You can’t say the Yankees haven’t invested in Cuban players before. They have, and even recently. Orlando Hernandez was a home run and Jose Contreras wasn’t a bad decision, but otherwise the Yankees have acquired all of the wrong Cuban talent. One of the more recent high-dollar investment they made was giving $4 million to Omar Luis, a left-handed pitcher with very good stuff who is now overweight and has a DUI under his belt. Now there are some more high-profile Cuban talents potentially available for the Yankees to sign before June, when the team goes on a kind of probation for spending so much on amateur talent this year already.

Yoan Moncada, a position player, is more like Jorge Soler than he is Adonis Garcia. That means he’s a likely star at the Major League level, an athlete who can run and hit while playing in the middle of the field. He is an impact player who would probably be the number one pick if he were subject to the draft. The Yankees just don’t get opportunities to acquire players like this, and now that opportunity has presented itself. It’s not a no-brainer, being that he will cost tens of millions to sign and then a 100% tax on top of that, but he could end up being the most important player the Yankees sign this winter. He would immediately leap to the top of the prospect chain in the organization. If they miss on him, they can plan on adding him to the list of Cuban players they will rue not putting in pinstripes.

3. Utilize the top of the draft.
The Yankees have taken heat for their top draft choices in the recent past, and a lot of the criticism has merit. Guys like Slade Heathcott and Andrew Brackman didn’t work out, Cito Culver and Dante Bichette were questioned at the time of their selections, and Ty Hensley has faced a number of health problems.

However, the top selections of the past two years, Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge, Ian Clarkin, and Jacob Lindgren have already seen professional success and appear in many versions of the organization’s top prospect lists. Most of the impact talent in the big leagues comes from the top of the draft, and this gives hope to the notion that the Yankees can utilize the top of the draft to greatly help the prospect base.

Right now the Yankees have the 17th and 32nd picks in the 2015 draft, and hitting on those two picks would be a huge boost to the organization. If Hensley’s return to health leads to a performance commensurate with his talent, you can envision a scenario where the Yankees have seven serious prospects from the tops of four straight drafts, and that’s pretty good for an organization consistently picking at the back end of the first round.

4. Get healthier.
Baseball players get hurt. It’s going to happen. Pitchers, in particular, are going to have arm injuries and that’s part of the deal. Freak injuries are going to happen too, like when bones break because of bad slides or stray fastballs.

But athletic training is becoming advanced enough to help players avoid injuries that could have derailed them in the past. There is a lot of cutting edge information about the body that can be tracked in ways that technology wouldn’t before allow. There may not yet be one right way to do things, but tons of information now points in certain directions. An organization with the resources of the New York Yankees should have an unrivaled training staff. Along with the medical staff, the Yankees should be at the forefront of diagnosis, rehabilitation, preparation, and nutrition. A huge part of player development is keeping the players on the field, and the Yankees need to continue to improve their performance in that regard.

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