Volpe among stars poised to earn pinstripes
Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club. Depth of prospect talent is evident in Minor League success, and the Yankees
Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.
Depth of prospect talent is evident in Minor League success, and the Yankees provided proof of that in 2021.
The Bronx Bombers’ seven affiliates amassed a .594 overall win percentage as each posted a winning record. Tampa finished first in the Low-A Southeast before being swept in their championship by Bradenton. Double-A Somerset had the lowest team ERA (3.38) among all full-season affiliates in the Minors. And the Yanks’ Rookie-level Florida Complex League affiliate finished second on their circuit.
Since the Bombers’ four-year gap without a playoff victory from 2013-2016, they’ve aggressively built a perennial contender through trades and free agency. And that sometimes comes at the cost of prospect depth.
This past deadline, the club traded 11 prospects in five different trades. Just one of those players ranked among the Yankees’ own Top 10 at the time, but nine in that group are ranked in their new organization’s Top 30.
There’s plenty of star power left as the Yankees have four prospects in the MLB Pipeline Top 100. The club struggled to capitalize on homegrown talent -- especially through the Draft -- in recent years, but in 2021 the depth of talent made it seem like that issue won’t persist much longer.
Yankees Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Austin Wells, Tampa (65 games), High-A Hudson Valley (38 games): The Yankees’ sixth-ranked prospect only got better as his first professional season progressed. He saw a 16-point jump in his average after a promotion to the Renegades, then finished the year very strong in the Arizona Fall League. He finished among the top nine AFL hitters in average (.344), RBIs (18), on-base percentage (.456), slugging percentage (.578), OPS (1.034) and triples (two). But his work in the regular season also warrants a spot on this list.
“The presence in the box is the first thing that's stuck out,” Hudson Valley manager Dan Fiorito said. “He has great feel for the barrel. He's a true professional hitter. Controls the zone really well. … He started hitting the ball with power to all fields.”
Across the two levels, he batted .264/.390/.476 with 16 homers, 23 doubles, five triples, 76 RBIs, 82 runs scored and 71 walks. Wells, who is very athletic for a catcher, also stole 16 bases this year.
The 22-year-old has been bat over glove since he was an amateur prospect, and he should find a little more power as he rises through the Minors. Wells has some competition behind the plate in the system, namely two backstops the Yankees drafted with their first two picks in 2018.
Wells got the bump to Hudson Valley after No. 18 prospect Josh Breaux was promoted to Double-A. Anthony Seigler, New York’s first-rounder that year, was limited by injuries to 41 games with the Renegades.
First baseman -- Dermis Garcia, Double-A Somerset (109 games): The 23-year-old Garcia leaned into his power during his sixth professional season.
Garcia led the Yankees’ system with 31 homers and had more than half of his 81 total hits go for extra bases as he batted .210 with a .793 OPS in 385 at-bats. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound slugger never hit more than 17 homers in any prior season.
Garcia struck out 168 times – nearly 38 percent of his plate appearances – while driving in 67 runs and scoring 58 runs.
The Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, native was the top-ranked player in the 2014 international signing class. The Yankees signed 10 of the 30 ranked prospects that year for more than $14 million in total. So far, the only players the team signed in that class who have played above Double-A are Hoy Park and Diego Castillo, both of whom were traded to the Pirates for reliever Clay Holmes at the deadline this year.
Garcia, who inked the largest bonus at the time at $3 million, elected free agency in November. But he clearly has the raw power that can help him progress to the next level.
Second baseman: Oswaldo Cabrera, Somerset (109 games), Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (nine games): Cabrera and top prospect Anthony Volpe were only two members of the 20-20 club in the Yankees’ system. The 22-year-old Cabrera was second in the system with 29 long balls and ranked fourth with 21 stolen bases.
The Yankees No. 18 prospect had one of the better overall seasons in the system. He ranked among the top six with a .533 slugging percentage, 89 RBIs, 127 hits, 65 singles, 31 doubles and 72 runs. He led all Yankees’ Minor Leaguers in RBIs while batting .272 with a .330 OBP and an .863 OPS.
Cabrera added some strength after the pandemic year and eclipsed his long ball total from four previous seasons. His strikeout rate climbed about three percent from 2019, but he also drew walks at a higher rate while hitting for a lot more power.
The Guarenas, Venezuela native put his best foot forward in a short stint with the RailRiders. He went 15-for-30 (.500) with five homers and a 1.717 OPS at the Minors’ highest level. Garcia, a switch hitter, is considerably better from the left side, batting .290 against righties this season as opposed to .227 against southpaws.
Third baseman -- Andres Chaparro, Tampa (65 games), Hudson Valley (36 games): The 22-year-old nearly posted a .400 OBP in his first full Minor League season, and his manager at High-A took note of his impressive exit velocities. Combine those two things and Chaparro could be a very special hitter.
“I've been around him since 2017, and he's been able to improve every single year,” Fiorito said, noting that Chaparro was up to 117 mph in exit velocity during the AFL this year. “He controls the zone really well, and then lays off breaking balls, high fastballs … with the plus power that he has, he doesn't swing and miss a lot. And that's something that checks a lot of boxes offensively, and he's just a true professional hitter.”
The El Vigia, Venezuela native batted .267/.381/.468 with 15 homers and 73 RBIs across both levels. He kept his strikeout rate below 22 percent during the season and collected 21 doubles and three triples while scoring 71 runs throughout the year.
Chaparro signed in 2015 but had been kept in short-season ball until this season. He’s been making up for all that lost time since the Minor League season ended. He batted .275 with three homers and 15 RBIs in the AFL and is currently playing with Aguilas de Zulia in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Shortstop -- Anthony Volpe, Hudson Valley (55 games), Tampa (54 games): Volpe, 20, had the type of season that really makes a club ponder its own future.
The No. 15 overall prospect batted .294/.423/.604 with 27 homers, 33 stolen bases, 86 RBIs, 35 doubles, 113 runs scored and a 170 wRC+. He was the only player in the Minors with at least 25 homers, 30 doubles and 30 stolen bases, and he was nominated for the Top Offensive Player MiLBY Award.
“I think the biggest thing for me was to see how he impacted the game every single night in every way,” Fiorito said. “With the bat -- his consistency, his sense of timing, his feel for the barrel, his ability to drive the baseball to all fields was the first thing that stood out, and the power numbers this year were certainly there.”
Few Yankees drafted in the first or supplemental round over the last decade-plus have really been a success in New York. When general manager Brian Cashman acknowledged this sort of institutional frustration at the Winter Meetings, he did so while complimenting the 2019 first-rounder Volpe and his downright dominant season.
"He certainly caught the attention of the entire industry," Cashman told reporters in December. ‘It really reinforces and justifies everything we heard from our amateur department when we drafted him, and so we're excited about his future."
The Yankees were not among the big spenders before the lockout. And even though Volpe showed that he’s likely to be the homegrown prospect that breaks that slump, it’s unlikely that his presence within the system will make the Yankees hold off on chasing one of the many excellent shortstops left available in free agency.
But the New Jersey native has every tool needed to potentially join that upper echelon of shortstops in the coming years. He committed 11 errors in more than 700 innings at shortstop this season.
Honorable mention -- Oswald Peraza: The 21-year-old would have been an All-Star in most other organizations after leading the system with 38 stolen bases and 138 hits while batting .297/.356/.477 with 18 homers, 58 RBIs, 76 runs scored and 26 doubles across three levels. Peraza remained at shortstop all season and made 10 errors in 101 games.
Now it's time for some defense at the Fall Stars Game!— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) November 14, 2021
First, @Yankees prospect Elijah Dunham makes this diving catch in left... pic.twitter.com/zywBkSw8sU
Elijah Dunham, Hudson Valley (64 games), Tampa (29 games): Dunham probably clinched this spot in the regular season, but his AFL performance only confirmed it.
The 23-year-old was named Breakout Player of the Year in the AFL after batting .357 with a 1.037 OPS and 11 stolen bases in 23 games for Surprise. That performance came on the heels of an excellent professional debut.
Dunham batted .263/.362/.463 with 28 stolen bases, 13 homers, 57 RBIs, 47 walks and 72 runs scored. He finished 10th in the system in total hits, sixth in stolen bases and was seventh among Yankees outfielders with an .853 OPS.
It’s been an interesting road for the 23-year-old from Evansville, Indiana.
He opted to go back to the University of Indiana after being selected as a Draft-eligible sophomore by the Pirates in the 40th round in 2019. He was likely to get picked in the early rounds the following year but went undrafted in the shortened five-round Draft of 2020.
Dunham signed with the Yankees as a free agent last June and finished the season as the club’s No. 24 prospect.
Everson Pereira, Rookie-level Gulf Coast League (three games), Tampa (19 games), Hudson Valley (27 games): The Yankees’ played it safe and kept their No. 13 prospect in extended Spring Training. After he made his season debut in late June, Pereira took off like a rocket.
The 20-year-old went deep 20 times in 188 at-bats, 14 of which came at Hudson Valley. He was the only player in the Minors to hit at least 20 homers in fewer than 220 at-bats.
“He was certainly a special talent,” Fiorito said. “With his bat speed, he's able to also stay in the zone for a really long time. The homers that he was hitting from right field to left field, dead center, through the wind were remarkable. And at the end of the day, he was also able to play a premier position in center field. He can run and go get the ball. Plus arm. He's a special talent.”
Pereira batted .303/.398/.686 across the three levels while driving in 57 runs and scoring 47 times.
The headliner in another Yankees’ international spending binge in 2017, he batted .236 over his first two Minor League seasons, including a .171 mark in 19 games for Staten Island in 2019.
The extra time before the start of the season clearly gave him a chance to figure out what might have been going wrong in those first two seasons. And he was rewarded with a spot on the 40-man roster.
Michael Beltre, Somerset (109 games): The 26-year-old is hardly new to the Minors, but he seemed to have perfected a new trick in 2021.
Beltre stole a career-high 37 bases and was only caught five times while batting .256/.344/.470 with 16 homers, 54 RBIs and 72 runs scored for the Patriots. The stolen bases were second to Peraza in the Yankees’ system and he outshined his personal best 22 steals from 2018. That 2018 season with Dayton and Daytona was also where he set his previous high for homers at five.
Beltre, who landed with the Yankees in November 2020 after seven years in the Reds’ system, was one of only six New York farmhands with at least 100 total hits.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound outfielder saw time at all three spots on the grass, with most of his action coming in center field.
Honorable mention – Jake Sanford: The 24-year-old with plus power was in the running for a spot on the list. The Yanks’ No. 23 prospect hit 16 long balls and drove in 61 runs while batting .285 with an .823 OPS.
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Hayden Wesneski, Hudson Valley (seven starts), Somerset (15 starts), Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (three games, two starts): The Yankees’ No. 15 overall prospect had one of the most impressive breakout seasons among pitchers in the Minors.
Wesneski dominated at Hudson Valley with a 1.49 ERA before finishing with a 3.25 overall ERA and 151 strikeouts in 130 1/3 total innings.
“The first thing that stands out is just his focus on the mound and what a great competitor he was… and he's got the stuff to back it all up,” Fiorito said. “I mean, up to 98 [mph] with a great two-seam fastball with plus run and then a slider that generated a lot of swing and miss at Hudson Valley. With that velo and his ability to throw fastball, two-seam, cutter, slider, changeup, he's able to keep hitters off-balance and he's a really smart pitcher and is able to induce weak contact and get a ton of strikeouts.”
Wesneski was second in the system in total strikeouts while his 10.43 K/9 ranked seventh among the 11 Yankees’ Minor Leaguers to pitch at least 100 innings this season. The 24-year-old set a career high with 14 strikeouts in a one-hit, seven-inning effort against Hartford on Sept. 11 and made seven scoreless starts in which he completed at least five innings.
He’d only pitched 28 1/3 innings of relief in Rookie ball coming into the season, but he came out of the gate strong for the Renegades with just two earned runs and 23 strikeouts over 19 1/3 innings (0.93 ERA) in his first four starts.
Wesneski has a wide array of pitches that got a real boost after he was able to add some velocity to his four-seamer during the pandemic year. The 2019 sixth-rounder out of Sam Houston State earned some attention with his sinking two-seamer, but his deeper arsenal should keep him out of the bullpen and in contention for a rotation spot moving forward.
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Ken Waldichuk, Hudson Valley, (seven starts), Somerset (16 games, 14 starts): The 23-year-old was one of the best strikeout artists in the Minors this season.
Waldichuck ranked fourth league-wide with 163 total punchouts and third with a 13.34 K/9 and 36 percent strikeout rate, obviously leading the qualified pitchers in the system in all three categories. The ninth-ranked Yankees prospect made six starts in which he reached double-digit strikeouts, including a career-best 11 punchouts on July 13 against Richmond. He struck out fewer than six batters in only six of his 23 total appearances.
“Waldichuk is a workhorse. He's just a great competitor on the mound and when he gets out there, he attacks hitters. He's a bulldog,” Fiorito said. “His fastball is mid-90s, but it's got run and ride on it. Slider, curveball also gets a ton of swing and miss, and he keeps hitters off-balance and he challenges guys. And fortunately, guys don't see the ball well off of him, and he gets so many strikeouts.”
Waldichuk compiled a 3.03 ERA with 51 walks in 110 innings across the three levels. The 2019 fifth-rounder made 11 appearances in which he allowed fewer than two runs, eight of which were scoreless.
Relief pitcher -- Ron Marinaccio, Somerset (22 games), Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (18 games): The local boy from Toms River, New Jersey earned a spot on the Yankees’ 40-man with a dominant fourth season in the Minors.
Marinaccio, who had yet to pitch above Class A prior to the season, posted a 2.04 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings over 40 appearances at the two highest levels of the Minors. His 14.25 K/9 and 39.9 percent strikeout rate were the highest among the system’s pitchers who completed at least 60 innings this year. The right-hander out of the University of Delaware also had the third-lowest ERA in that group.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.