With the Yankees having a brutal month of August that has sunk their chances to make the postseason, the Yankees made the call to promote both Everson Pereira and Oswald Peraza. Figuring out what you have in the organization is important as you navigate through an offseason that doesn’t have a stacked free agent class outside of Shohei Ohtani, who doesn’t seem likely to land in the Bronx. The Yankees have had massive success at the Minor League level over the past couple of seasons, and their key contributors at those levels are finally reaching and dominating the upper levels of Minor League Baseball.
Austin Wells is the next assumed prospect to debut, but why stop there? Anthony Rizzo being hurt leaves a hole at first, and the struggles of Luis Severino alongside Clarke Schmidt nearing a potential innings limit could cause the Yankees to dip into their farm system again, but which names are we overlooking who could break through?
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The Most Underrated Bat in the Yankees’ System
If the Yankees had a left-handed bat who was tearing up Double-A, it would be a huge story, and yet for Ben Rice, it hasn’t been. The 24-year-old catcher and first baseman is demolishing the baseball with the Somerset Patriots, who continue to pulverize the Eastern League as the reigning champions. Rice is just another cog in their dominant machine to some, but to those paying attention, he’s one of the most impressive bats in their system. With a great combination of contact and power, Rice has put up video game numbers in his first 27 games at the level.
After last night’s dramatic walk-off grand slam with two outs, Rice is up to 10 HRs and 33 RBIs, slashing .324/.393/.676 with a mere 18.0% K%. Rice has a 27.9% Line Drive Rate and 40.7% Flyball Rate, meaning he’s consistently elevating his batted balls, and when paired with a 55.2% Pull Rate, it should play extremely well for generating damage contact, especially in Yankee Stadium. It’s resulted in the power surge he’s had with Somerset, and while he’s a bit old for the level, his ridiculous slash line suggests that he could be a legitimate MLB bat.
- 78.2% Z-Contact% (69th Percentile)
- 29.9% O-Swing% (77th Percentile)
- 23.0% Whiff% (79th Percentile)
- ,446 wOBA (100th Percentile)
Rice continues to impress despite not having much buzz around him, but that trend is starting to change for the better. Steamer views him as a 98 wRC+ hitter already, and while that isn’t initially impressive (it’s, in fact, 2% worse than the average hitter), a median outcome of league-average production based on just 27 games in Double-A is a positive sign. Defensively, Rice can slide in at catcher and first base, as with Somerset, he’s split catching duties with 21-year-old breakout prospect Agustin Ramirez.
There are inherent concerns regarding any catching prospect and their viability behind the plate, but the Dartmouth product has been pretty pedestrian behind the plate this year. In 2022, he was an excellent defender with 5.2 Framing Runs, but this year has been reduced to an even 0, and at first, he has 0.1 Defensive Runs Prevented. By being an okay defensive catcher and first baseman, he could help the Yankees out with versatility and remaining creative in their lineup.
Regardless of the glove, the bat is legit, and the industry is moving more toward a data-driven scouting system rather than just going to watch games and making evaluations solely based on the eye test. The Yankees could take the leap of faith and trust what the data tells them, and if they do, this could be a massive win for their Research and Development team at the Minor League level.
Do the Yankees Call Up Their Best Pitching Prospect?
Luis Severino has struggled mightily this season, and while it might make more sense to just use Randy Vasquez in his place, the Yankees have a couple of other issues they have to pay attention to. Clarke Schmidt has pitched a lot better in his last 16 starts, with a 3.90 ERA and 4.24 FIP, finding the trust in his cutter he didn’t have in starts previous to that one. That being said, the 27-year-old righty has never crossed the 100-inning threshold until this season.
He’s already above 120 innings this year, and if he gets closer to the 150-160 range, the Yankees might have to consider skipping a start or two. The Yankees are out of the playoff picture, so preserving his health in mid-September matters way more than winning a game that will likely only serve to hurt your draft lottery odds and still keep you out of the October dance. What does this mean for the Yankees? Well, they might have to call up another pitcher, and I believe it should be their 2022 2nd-round Pick and breakout prospect Drew Thorpe.
The Cal Poly product has been flat-out dominant in his High-A and Double-A starts, and with a league-wide trend of prospects being fast-tracked to the Majors, Thorpe represents the Yankees’ best candidate for a swift trip through Minor League Baseball. Without being too hyperbolic, the 22-year-old right-hander is having one of the best seasons any pitching prospect has ever had since we’ve recorded in-depth numbers at the Minor League level.
- 2.62 ERA (6th)
- 3.11 xFIP (2nd)
- 123.2 IP (5th)
- 159 SO (1st)
- 26.2% K-BB% (1st)
In those rankings, I excluded all Dominican Summer League and Complex League pitching since they have a much smaller sample size of innings pitched. He’s arguably the best pitcher in Minor League Baseball, and he’s been on a tear as of late. Thorpe doesn’t just excel in terms of getting strikeouts, he’s also extremely efficient and pitches deep into games, going three times through the order.
Over his past 12 starts, he’s combined ridiculous swing-and-miss stuff, great command, and length to put together a 1.91 ERA and 30.7% K-BB% while averaging 6.2 innings a start. Typically, prospects struggle with either command, their pitch quality, or with pitching deep into games, but Thorpe is yet to have a start where he doesn’t face at least 20 batters, a testament to his potential as a workhorse who can rack up strikeouts and put hitters on their backfoot in counts, and the projections are even more favorable for Thorpe.
Steamer projects him for a 4.32 ERA, which is right at the Major League average (4.33) and well below the 4.45 league-average ERA for starters this season. Triple-A is just not a place to develop starters with an average OPS above .800, and if these strides Thorpe has made this season can carry into the higher levels of Minor League Baseball, he’s already built up over 120 innings in a season under his belt, he’s their best pitching prospect since a young Luis Severino came through the system.
Drew Thorpe doesn’t have the high-end velocity that Severino did, but he does have a strong changeup and improving breaking ball that he utilizes to stay uber-efficient and rack up strikeouts. Sitting between 92-94 MPH, his velocity is easily the most lacking aspect of his game, although the shape of his changeup being as weird as it makes him an interesting case study as to how vertical and horizontal separation affect different pitches.
In Spring Training, what was classified as a “sinker” was actually his changeup, a pitch that averaged 14.9″ of Induced Vertical Break and 13.4″ of Horizontal Break. For context, the most IVBs on a changeup thrown at least 150 times this season is Tanner Bibee of the Cleveland Guardians, who has a 3.01 ERA in his rookie season and has a 40.1% Whiff% on his changeup. Thorpe has the most unique changeup in baseball, arguably, and it’s odd movement profile coupled with incredible horizontal action.
Typically more vertical separation off of a fastball allows a changeup to play better, but having a unicorn pitch is a lot more enticing. As we get more data on the changeup, we’ll be able to better understand it, but for reference, Tanner Bibee has a 103 Stuff+ on his changeup when the average changeup has a Stuff+ of 87.2. Could Thorpe have one of the best changeups in baseball? Possibly, and as he continues to develop his sweeper and build velocity on the fastball, he could become a serious weapon for the Yankees’ rotation.
The question now becomes if Drew Thorpe can make these strides in the Bronx instead of Somerset, although that remains to be seen. Both of these names are long shots to be promoted, but the Yankees could get a lot of value out of them if they did, continuing to build the foundation of what looks to be a new core in New York.