In 2015, we saw many of the promising young faces that we had heard immense hype about for years finally make their debuts in the Bronx. Guys like Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Rob Refsnyder and Greg Bird all dawned the big-boy pinstripes for the first time. Bullpen arms like Jacob Lindgren, Nick Goody, Nick Rumbelow and James Pazos all showed us glimpses of promise.
With an aging roster and a starting rotation that features a cast of injury plagued question marks, there is sure to be a need for reinforcements from the minor leagues along the way in 2016. Here is a look at a few of the prospects who I believe could find their way to the big leagues before the dust has settled on this season.
Brady Lail – SP – The 22-year old right-handed Lail came in at #14 in our organizational prospect countdown last month. Lail is regarded as the most polished and major league ready starting pitching prospect in the system. Lail is coming off an impressive 2015 campaign that saw him fly through three levels of the system.
In 27 starts between High-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, the former 18th round draft selection in 2012 went 10-6 with a 2.91 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in 148 innings of work. Aside from Bryan Mitchell, who may be used by Manager Joe Girardi to fill the swing-role left vacated by the departed Adam Warren, Lail stands as the most obvious candidate to be summoned to the big leagues should a need arise.
Aaron Judge– OF – We have heard all there is to hear about the Yankees 23-year old top-prospect. Judge is imposing at 6’7″, 275 pounds and has drawn comparisons based on his tools and frame to Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. There is no question that the former first-round pick has all of the makings to be a cornerstone player for the franchise in the not too distant future.
In 2015, Judge debut at Double-A Trenton and hit a walk-off homer on opening night and never seemed to look back from there. A few months later, the slugger was quickly promoted to Triple-A and struggled immensely for the remainder of the season. In 61 games for the RailRiders, Judge hit just .224 and was challenged by veteran pitchers with a steady diet of off-speed offerings that he was not able to wait on; in total he struck out 144 times and walked on just 53 occasions in 124 games in 2015.
If Judge is able to cut down on the swing-and-misses and adjust to the advanced pitching in the upper levels, he could see a late summer call-up to assist the bombers in a pennant race. Though he likely would not be the first choice for a promotion should a need arise, he certainly has the most promise of all the other outfield prospects in the system.
Ben Gamel – OF – Not many players in the sport play the game with as much passion and all-out hustle as 23-year old outfielder Ben Gamel. The former tenth-round pick does not have one above-average tool but he does many things very well which is why the Yankees opted to add him to the 40-man roster this past December.
Gamel is coming off the best year of his career for Triple-A Scranton; he hit over .300 with a career-high mark in homers (10), triples (14) and RBI (64); he also added 28 doubles. While fellow RailRider outfielders Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams figure to get the first opportunity in the Bronx, performance will likely dictate if and when Gamel finds his way to the Bronx.
Luis Cessa – P – Cessa was acquired by the Yankees on December 9 along with Chad Greene from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Justin Wilson. The 23-year old Cessa is a product of the cross-town rival Mets system; they dealt Cessa along with Michael Fulmer to Detroit at the trade deadline last summer for slugger Yoenis Cespedes.
The right-hander has been used primarily as a starter in his minor league career but his overpowering fastball that has reached 97 MPH, and lack of effective secondary pitches makes him an interesting candidate as a situational pitcher in the bullpen.
We saw the Yankees use the shuttle between Scranton and the Bronx on an everyday basis to provide their bullpen with fresh arms last season and I would expect much of the same in 2016. Cessa is a prime candidate to occupy one of those seats on the shuttle.
Tyler Austin – 1B – Just when it seemed as though Tyler Austin had lost his place in the organization, the season-ending injury to Greg Bird has suddenly elevated his importance in 2016. Once a unanimous top-five prospect in the system, injury and inconsistency have caused his stock to plummet to the point that he was actually designated for assignment last September.
After a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League and a clean bill of health, Austin will enter camp this spring with renewed confidence knowing that he needs to come up with a big year to make a strong showing to the franchise. The loss of Bird means that Austin will likely be the everyday first baseman in Triple-A and because the Yankees have little to no depth at the position and no true back-up projected in the big leagues, Austin could find himself in the Bronx if Mark Teixeira goes down with another significant injury.