Yankees 2023 MiLB Season In-Review: Single-A

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Robert Magobet / USA TODAY NETWORK

Our next stop in our Yankees‘ MiLB Season In-Review series doesn’t require us to go anywhere, as we’ll be staying in Tampa and highlighting the Tampa Tarpons. One of just two MiLB affiliates in this series who failed to qualify for the postseason, it was still a season full of interesting debuts under Single-A’s Statcast systems, which will allow us to get a better look at various names in the system.

This will help especially when it comes to various pitching prospects who either made their pro debut or came over from Complex League Baseball, as the organization is well-known for its pitching development. If you missed my review of the Florida Complex League squad, you can check that out here, and without further ado, let’s head back to George M. Steinbrenner Field as we get ready to look at their Single-A affiliate Tarpons.

One of the Florida League’s Top Offenses

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Oklahoma State utility Roc Riggio (7) hits in the first inning during a game in the NCAA Stillwater Regional between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles at O’Brate Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., on Friday, June 2, 2023. Credit: NATHAN J. FISH/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Tampa Tarpons finished 4th out of 10 teams in OPS (.727) while leading all of the Florida State League, and they did so on the backs of some under-the-radar names. Jared Serna had an excellent showing with Tampa, posting a 123 wRC+ with a .283/.350/.483 slashline, showing off a great combination of both speed and power. Serna excelled at making contact, with a 16.9% K% and 11.4% Swinging Strike%, although his high groundball rates do present a concern that he’ll struggle with game power in upper levels of Minor League Baseball.

The 21-year-old infielder was able to run into 19 HRs in 95 games, swinging 19 bases as well and displaying excellent in-zone aggression. His 34% O-Swing% creates some questions regarding his swing decisions, but with a 73.1% Z-Swing%, he’s able to hang due to the fact that when it comes to pitches in the strike zone, he usually makes the right call on when to swing. With a 107.4 Max Exit Velocity, the raw power is admittedly not great, but given his ability to pull the ball in the air, he’s been able to get baseballs over the fence reliably.

His experience at 2B, SS, and 3B could make him a valued utilityman down the road for the Yankees, and after posting a 105 wRC+ in High-A after being promoted, he’ll look to make the leap to Double-A and get more eyes on him in his age-22 season. Other notable prospects who got promoted from Single-A include Anthony Hall, the left-handed corner outfielder from Oregon who made his first full-season debut in the organization and swatted eight HRs in 60 games, walking 14.7% of the time for a 127 wRC+ and .382 OBP.

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FALMOUTH 07/27/21 Falmouth left fielder Anthony Hall makes a diving catch on a drive by Zane Harris of Hyannis. Cape League Falmouth Hyannis Cape League

In his age-22 season, Hall graded out extremely well in terms of swing decisions and is a name that the Yankees will watch out for. He had a 78.5% Z-Swing% with a 27% O-Swing%, showing an incredible ability to recognize pitches, and with a 38.3% Sweet Spot% and 110.3 Max Exit Velocity, he could really pop in 2024. He’ll need to generate more game power, as a .181 ISO can certainly be improved upon, and while he struggled in High-A (63 wRC+), he fits the Yankees’ mold of excellent process at the plate, with the hope being that the organization can get better power out of him.

While an older name than most at his level, left-hander Christopher Familia absolutely destroyed Single-A, posting a 255 wRC+ and hitting 11 HRs in just 21 games, with a 112.9 Max Exit Velocity, 19.7% Barrel%, 80.1% Z-Swing%, and 29.1% )-Swing%. He immediately was promoted to High-A Hudson Valley, where he put up a 117 wRC+ and posted a .948 OPS with a 16.5% K% in his final 33 games with the Renegades. He’s already Rule-5 eligible, although I believe teams will stay away from him as he’s yet to get to Double-A, but if the Yankees start him out in Somerset next season, he could become a real name to watch as well.

Jose Colmenares made his return to professional baseball after missing the entire 2022 season, and in his Single-A debut, he had a 160 wRC+, 20% BB%, and .564 SLG% in his 21 games of work. While not a physically imposing figure, he’s gotten the most out of his frame, averaging a 93.3 MPH Exit Velocity, consistently generating sweet spots (41.5%), and combining a 91st Percentile O-Swing% with a respectable 68.8% Z-Swing%. The key for the Yankees as an organization boils down to swing decisions and power, and Single-A is loaded with bats who check off a myriad of those boxes.

Some more underrated names include Jesus Rodriguez, who took aggressive swings in-zone and parlayed that into a 121 wRC+ as a catcher, third basemen, first basemen, and left fielder before getting a promotion to High-A and posting a .998 OPS with the playoff-bound Renegades in 25 games. The biggest name who took a jump this year at Tampa was Agustin Ramirez, who went from a rather unknown bat to the Somerset Patriots’ starting catcher in the postseason following a 117 wRC+ and ridiculous raw and game power. If he can adjust to Double-A, he’ll become a potential t-100 prospect.

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Aug 28, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, US; East infielder George Lombard (21) during the Perfect Game All-American Classic high school baseball game at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A recurring name from the FCL piece, the Yankees’ most recent first-rounder, George Lombard Jr., took his talents to Single-A, posting a 114 wRC+ with a .415 OBP in his extremely small 41 PA sample size. There were smatterings of rehabs (Ben Rice, Austin Wells, Ben Rortvedt, Greg Allen) alongside some bats from the 2023 Draft Class that made their marks in Single-A as well, and the but for their best offensive player, Lombard Jr. is probably the best offensive prospect in this group, and while it remains to be seen if he’ll be in Single-A or High-A to begin his 2024 season, its clear that the talent is there for him to become a t-100 prospect.

Lacking Results, Exceeding in Process On the Mound

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Mississippi State Bulldogs Jackson Fristoe pitches against the Ole Miss Rebels Oxford-University Stadium on Thursday, April 21, 2022. Ole 12

The Tampa Tarpons didn’t get much going in terms of run prevention, something that stands out in an organization with great pitching development, and it ultimately cost them any chance at the postseason. They posted the third-worst ERA in the Florida State League (4.85), but they did so with the second-most strikeouts, so there were some positive signs. Names like Sean Hermann, Hayden Merda, Justin Lange, Leondardo Pestana, and Brock Selvidge were their most prominent starters, and arguably the nastiest was Justin Lange.

The 21-year-old right-hander was acquired in exchange for Luke Voit prior to the 2022 season, and while he had a 4.58 ERA, he struck out 115 batters in 72.2 IP, but the issue came with his 55 walks. Lange posted a 106 Stuff+, spraying 95 MPH fastballs with ease, although the issue stems from his dead zone shape. His vertical approach angle of -4.6 is flat enough to allow this pitch to be viable, but it’ll never work as a true sinker until he can consistently get it to more of a four-seam shape or more of a sinker shape, but with nearly equal vertical and horizontal break, it’s easy to read.

His best pitches are his cutter and slider, as the cutter had a 57.1% Whiff% and the slider a 63.5%, and this is one of the nastiest combinations you’ll find in all of Minor League Baseball.

This shouldn’t be physically possible

Lange probably should throw closer to 40-45% fastballs with just how good his cutter and sweeper are, and with his bad fastball shape, it’s for the best anyway. It’ll be a clear reliever projection for Lange, who struggles mightily to keep the ball in the strike zone, but he’ll be an extremely nasty reliever at that. That being said, the team leader in Stuff+ was Leondardo Pestana, who might be a name people need to watch out for. He wasn’t very good in Tampa, but he posted a 14.7% Swinging Strike% and 111 Stuff+, and for good reason.

His four-seam fastball generates 18.2″ of induced vertical break, and his gyro slider gets enough drop off of the fastball to make it play well off of the heater with a 38.7% Whiff% in Tampa. With a 94-95 MPH fastball and wipeout slider, you’d think his issue came with a lack of secondaries, but a nasty cutter with a 37.2% Whiff% and 62.5% GB% and curveball with excellent results as well really round out his arsenal. It wasn’t until a promotion to High-A that he made more strides, with a much more manageable 4.15 ERA and 23.5% K-BB%.

Entering his age-25 season next year, he’ll need to start shooting through the Yankees’ system in order to make a name for himself due to his older age, but the stuff is certainly there. Harrison Cohen made his pro debut this past season and the 24-year-old right-hander made it all the way up to Double-A as a reliever, making just two appearances with Tampa but showing off a mid-90s fastball and solid slider, but nothing substantial enough to make conclusions about his pitch shapes from. He finished with a 3.61 ERA between A/A+/AA with 67 strikeouts in 52.1 IP.

Mat Keating also featured in the Tampa bullpen, tossing 64.1 IP with a 3.64 ERA, posting a 104.4 Stuff+ and 31.6% K%, although he walked 12.4% of batters faced as well. Keating possesses a wicked slider that he used more than any other pitch, with a 44.4% Whiff% this past season, and with a four-seamer that gets a decent amount of ride, he certainly can make it as a reliever, but he’ll need to add some more velocity before he can factor in the upper Minors and potentially the Majors down the road, but the most intriguing name to come from these first-year names was Jackson Fristoe.

Jackson Fristoe threw just 72 four-seam fastballs, but they had insane pitch shapes, coming in at 96 MPH with 18.5″ of ride and a cutter that got most of the usage with a 35.3% Whiff%. He’ll have to work on his secondaries to truly take that next step, but if you’re a pitcher looking to add something like a sweeper, the Yankees are the right place.

I’m not sure if this is a shot in the dark, but I think Fristoe will be one of their five best pitching prospects next season. Not because of a power vacuum in talent, as Drew Thorpe, Chase Hampton, Will Warren, and Richard Fitts are still in the Yankees’ organization, but because that’s how good his stuff can be.

The most established prospect in Single-A comes with one of their youngest, and that would be the young southpaw Brock Selvidge, who dominated Single-A and High-A. Selvidge didn’t turn 21 until August 28th, meaning all of his work in Single-A came as a 20-year-old with no experience above the Florida Complex League. He’s somebody everybody should genuinely be excited about, as his pitch mix, while simple, is highly effective. He had an extremely even diet of sliders and four-seamers, with the slider serving as his best whiff pitch.

It generates 6.5″ of sweep at 84.8 MPH at an extremely steep angle, getting a 30.8% Whiff% on the pitch and a 52% GB%, and his four-seam fastball was the perfect compliment for it. He was able to sit closer to 93-94 on his four-seamer as the season carried on, and it played like a cut-ride heater, with hitters struggling to do damage contact against the pitch. With an 86.1 MPH Exit Velocity and 52% GB% on the pitch, it was something he could throw for called strikes or soft contact, and while he mixed in some sinkers and changeups, he rode those two primary offerings to a 3.38 ERA in A-Ball.

With a final line of 134.1 IP, a 3.42 ERA, and 144 strikeouts to 36 walks between his regular and postseason work, Selvidge runs away as the best prospect on the pitching side of the ball to feature on this Tarpons squad. He could be a 21-year-old left-hander in Double-A next season, and if he keeps on rolling, the sky’s the limit for this southpaw. The Yankees might have gotten excellent value out of the 2021 third-round selection out of Hamilton High School, but 2024 will be the real test as he begins facing some of the most experienced and talented names in the Minor League circuit.

For their final tally, the Tampa Tarpons scored 684 runs, allowed 703, and finished with a 61-69 record, last in the Western Division. Hope isn’t all lost however, because arguably the best Florida Complex League team in the last decade on a talent basis is headed on a collision course to Single-A, where they’ll hope to bring the Tarpons back to the Florida League Finals after back-to-back below-.500 seasons in 2022 and 2023.

Rachel Balkovec continues to make history with Tampa as the first woman to manage at the professional level, and it’ll be interesting to see how her background as the Astros’ Latin American strength and conditioning coach in the Gulf Coast League and work in the Florida Complex League for the Yankees in 2021 helps her connect with an incoming star-studded group of mostly Latin-born talent. The 2024 season will be a fun one in Tampa, and I expect to have a more action-packed report for this affiliate this time next year.

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