For over a decade, the New York Yankees have been synonymous with luxury taxes and aging rosters. They’ve earned a familiar, yet tiring, reputation as a team of overpriced veterans with declining production. However, times are changing, and it appears that the organization has finally bought into a more promising strategy: building from within.
They are doing just that. According to nearly every preseason ranking, the Yankees currently boast a top-three farm system. Numerous sources, such as Bleacher Report, rank the Yankees as the most promising farm system in baseball.
If it seems like this transformation has happened in a flash, that’s because it has. Last year, the Yankees were considered to have a slightly-above-average prospect class. Two years ago, their farm system didn’t even crack the top half of scouting rankings.
So what happened? Well, in one respect, the Yankees stayed true to form: they traded with other organizations. The difference is that they passed on offers for veteran stars that they may have accepted a couple years back. They refused to trade away valuable draft picks and prospects, a frequently-used deal-closer in the recent past.
Instead, Brian Cashman and Co. turned their attention to upcoming talent, and in typical Cashman fashion, they went all out.
The Yankees acquired shortstop Gleyber Torres from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade. They received outfielder Clint Frazier in return for Andrew Miller. They drafted outfielder Blake Rutherford in the first round of the MLB draft.
Just like that, the Yankees boasted three names in the top-30 of non-pitcher prospect rankings. While rankings are never guarantees that the players will ultimately pan out, these players are special.
Torres is generally considered a top-five prospect in baseball. After joining the Yankees’ organization, he hit .403/.513/.645 with 3 home runs and 11 RBI in 18 games, earning MVP honors of the Arizona Fall League in the process. His defense improves with each year, showcasing above-average range and arm strength for a shortstop. Could he be the next Derek Jeter? It’s too early to tell (he’s 20 years old), but he sure looks like a superstar in the making.
Frazier and Rutherford are both likely destined for outfield corner spots, but their approaches to the plate are quite different. Frazier is a bona fide slugger with immense raw power, while Rutherford hits for average, batting .351 last year in the minors.
The Yankees’ farm system still has room for improvement in the pitching department. Top pitcher prospects are likely still years removed from major-league debuts, and while the position has great depth, there are no names that generate the same excitement as Torres or Frazier. The Atlanta Braves, on the other hand, are widely considered to have the most talented farm system heading into this season almost entirely because of their pitching. Six of their top-ten prospects are pitchers, and all of them have number one starter potential.
The good news is that if the Yankees’ farm system is known for anything, it is their ability to develop young arms. And in terms of position-player prospects, no team can rival the Yankees.
Let’s also not forget about the wealth of young talent who have already made their major-league debuts. First baseman Greg Bird, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, is only 24 years old. Pitcher Luis Severino, who had an up-and-down rookie season but has shown ace-worthy potential, is 23. Highly-touted slugger Aaron Judge is 24. Catcher Gary Sanchez, who needs no introduction, is 24.
Brian Cashman, love him or hate him, has managed to do something quite impressive. The Yankees have completely rebuilt from the ground up, and without the years-long rebuilding process usually required. Most importantly, they have altered their entire mindset, shedding the reputation as a team of misfit veterans, and instead, as a hub of rising stars.
This is not to say that Cashman and the Yankees have lost their aggression. They are still a spend-happy franchise at heart, signing free agents Chris Carter and Matt Holliday to one-year deals and inking closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal, the most ever for a free agent reliever, over the offseason. The heart of this Yankees team, however, will come from its young stars.
Patience is key to success in baseball. For years, the Yankees have relied on quick fixes for their needs, and are often left worse off than they started. You can only fill a pothole or patch up a leaky tire so many times. Renting veteran players on short-term contracts only creates a cycle of constant roster turnover, where chemistry and consistency are nearly impossible. While the effects haven’t been disastrous, the Yankees haven’t made it past the Wild Card round since 2012, and in the Bronx, that’s not cutting it.
As noted ESPN baseball columnist Keith Law humorously put it, “I’m so glad something is finally going right for Yankee fans, who have been suffering for, like, seven whole years now, but this system is absolutely loaded.” The tides are changing.
Cashman and the Yankees seem at last determined to patiently wait for their young talent to develop. While it may not happen this year, or next year, this long-term investment in prospects will pay off before long—and when it does, the Yankees will be one of the most feared teams in baseball.