Yankees: 3 prospects who are surging in the farm system

MLB: Spring Training-Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees haven’t gotten the best overall season from their prospects, with injuries affecting plenty of top talent. It’s almost been the inverse of last season, where injuries debilitated their MLB team, but there are still some very interesting storylines to follow. With the various affiliates playing, some players are having shocking performances (in a positive way), boosting their stock dramatically and potentially opening some eyes around the front office.

Highlighting three players who have played above and beyond what you could have reasonably expected this Minor League season, and they could become more household names in the Yankees’ farm system if they hold this up.

Tall Right-Hander Flashing Signs of Excellence in First Season as Starter

Baseball: Hartford Yard Goats vs Somerset Patriots
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It’s been a disappointing season for the Somerset Patriots, but Bailey Dees has been a pleasant surprise for this Yankees’ team. The 6’8 right-hander opened his season with a 14% walk rate and 5.70 ERA through his first five starts, but over his last six, we’ve seen his season completely turn around. One of his biggest issues was command, as the aforementioned high walk rate reflected his inconsistency in throwing strikes, and the 1.90 HR/9 rate also indicates poor command in the zone.

Dees has a 2.38 ERA and 2.76 FIP over his last six starts, allowing just two home runs with a 3% walk rate in the process. What impresses me the most about Bailey Dees is the strong three-pitch mix, as his four-seam fastball gets a decent amount of movement up in the zone while sitting 93-95 MPH, and he boasts a gyro slider and changeup to establish the lower part of the zone against both righties and lefties.

His tall frame also creates a unique look, and we’re starting to see him pitch deeper into starts, a strong sign that he’s settling into this starting role. Over his last two starts, he pitched 6.2 innings and 7.2 innings, and the stuff has held up even when going second or third time through an order. Everything in his repertoire has great synergy, and the Yankees should be excited about how well he’s responding to an increased workload.

As the command and consistency continue to improve, he could be an option to get a promotion to Triple-A, as the Yankees would love to develop more internal options to serve as rotational depth. Bailey Dees is Rule-5 eligible after the 2024 season, which also makes him a candidate to get traded, but if he isn’t I would be shocked if he doesn’t find himself on their 40-man roster (barring a serious injury or regression).

Yankees Have Another Blossoming Catcher In Hudson Valley

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Rafael Flores spent his entire season last year with the Hudson Valley Renegades where he put up a modest 100 wRC+ with a 366 SLG%. He had an excellent eye at the plate, but he couldn’t get the ball in the air reliably resulting in poor game power, but that’s turned around completely this season. His flyball rate and groundball rates are down, coming with a 6.3% increase in line drives, which is an excellent sign. Standing at 6’4, Flores has always had the frame to hit for power, and that’s finally coming to fruition for him.

Since coming back from injury on May 10th, Flores has hit two home runs with 10 doubles in 23 games, posting a 1.095 OPS and raising his season wRC+ to 158. He’s been one of the best hitters in all of High-A, and while 23 years old is a bit old for that level, we’ve seen hitters with limited experience *cough cough Ben Rice cough cough* take a bit more time to get going due to limited professional experience.

Flores had just 109 MiLB games coming into this season, and he leaped from the FCL all the way to High-A without spending a single second with the Single-A Tampa Tarpons. It’s not unreasonable for there to have been an adjustment period for him and hopefully, we can see him maintain the strides he’s made at the plate. The walk rate is up to 15.2% and the strikeout rate is down to 22.6% as well, which are encouraging signs given his near .150-point increase in SLG%.

Defensively, he’s still working on his ability to frame, but his defensive skills are strong at first base. What makes this story even cooler is that Rafael Flores was an Undrafted Free Agent for the Yankees back in 2022, and he was signed out of a Junior College (Rio Hondo College). The Yankees could have found a hidden gem here, as Flores possesses the raw power and exit velocity skills needed to excel, it’s just a matter of maintaining his improved launch angles.

Outfield Trade Acquisition Immediately Dominating At New Level

MLB: Spring Training-Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees
Feb 26, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees outfielder Jace Avina (33) hits an RBI double during the fifth inning against the Minnesota Twins at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Jace Avina was acquired in a deal that sent Jake Bauers to the Milwaukee Brewers, and in his first season at High-A with the Hudson Valley Renegades, he’s been beyond impressive. Yesterday he turned 21 years old, and he’s slashing .297/.388/.490 with a 147 wRC+ through his first 40 games with the Yankees. His strikeout rate is still high (26.2%) but it’s lower than where it was in 2023 (29.6%) and he’s still doing damage on contact with a .194 ISO compared to a .209 last season.

He’s playing centerfield primarily as well, a great reflection of his athleticism and speed, and this is a player with the upside and talent to become a legitimate prospect in this organization. Avina is younger than most hitters at his level, and the Yankees could have swiped a player who they can include in a big trade or potentially in their outfield plans down the road if he can continue to mash at this rate.

With the Yankees’ MiLB depth in the outfield, it could be hard to find a role for him in the future, but there’s no such thing as having too much talent at one position when we’re talking about lower-level players. There are still things Avina needs to work on, as his swing-and-miss rates could become a problem as he gets to higher levels, but the fact that he’s seen the strikeout rate drop each of the last three seasons is very encouraging.

Avina started his season on the IL, but since coming back he’s been one of the top performers in the organization, and the Yankees should be very excited about what they’ve gotten so far considering Jake Bauers has a 102 wRC+ and 33.8% strikeout rate for the Brewers, which is pretty pedestrian.

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