Yankees are seeing these 3 under-the-radar prospects take off

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Every season some prospects pop off in the Yankees’ organization, coming out of nowhere to end up universally ranked in their top 30. Last year, Ben Rice was one of the most unexpected stories in the system, going from an older left-handed bat in High-A to one of the best hitters in their farm system. The Yankees have done a great job of maximizing the potential of various players, and we’re starting to see more and more prospects make their way to the Major League roster.

It’s still early, but these three prospects have made massive skill progressions under the hood that have fueled their breakouts, and they need to be on the radar of any Yankee fan who cares about the farm system.

Benjamin Cowles Has Been the Best Bat in the Yankees’ Farm

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The Yankees selected Benjamin Cowles in the 10th Round of the 2021 MLB Draft, and issues with his strikeout rates had held him back from translating his game at the higher levels of Minor League Baseball. In his age-24 season, Cowles would make his Double-A debut with the Somerset Patriots, and he’s become one of the best hitters in the Eastern League, putting up a 200 wRC+. It’s not some fake production either, the underlying metrics that we have publicly available to us are stellar as well.

One of the biggest changes he’s made is improving his strikeout rate, as he’s gone from striking out 28% of the time to 17.4% in Double-A. With fewer strikeouts, Cowles is giving himself more chances to get a ball in play and pick up hits, but typically hitters improve their quantity of contact by decreasing their quality of contact, and while we don’t have exit velocity data, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Cowles is running a 42.1% flyball rate with a 45.8% pull rate, right in line with his 2023 batted ball data, but he’s got a .288 ISO and .644 SLG% versus a .136 ISO and .389 SLG%.

In terms of patience at the plate, he does a great job of getting on base, sporting a 12.8% walk rate, although this isn’t a new skill in his repertoire. The way that he’s ascended through Double-A has been incredible, and if he can continue the upward trajectory we could be looking at an extra-base-hit machine who provides an instant punch to any infield he’s part of.

With the way he’s destroying the Double-A level, two roads have opened up for Cowles that I could see the Yankees taking this season. First, they could have him in Triple-A by the end of the season, potentially situating him for an MLB debut in 2025, especially since he’s Rule-5 eligible. I do not doubt that if Cowles remains healthy, he will be on a 40-man roster by December of this year, but that also makes him a candidate to be traded.

There is a long track record of R5-eligible players whom the Yankees have dealt at the deadline to get impact players, as even at last year’s deadline they traded right-hander Juan Carela to the White Sox due to his Rule-5 eligibility. Moving away from trade conversations, Ben Cowles has experience playing 2B, 3B, and SS, so he could also serve as some much-needed infield depth in the higher levels for the Yankees as well.

Hudson Valley Has a New Ace in Cam Schlittler

Syndication: Poughkeepsie Journal
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Every year the Hudson Valley Renegades happen to take an arm with interesting stuff in the organization and maximize their value completely. Cam Schlittler, who is in his second year of professional baseball, has been one of the best pitchers in the South Atlantic League through his first four starts. Sporting a 1.29 ERA and 32.1% strikeout rate, Schlittler excels at striking batters out and keeping the ball on the ground, making him the exact kind of pitcher the Yankees adore.

He’s got a nasty sweeping slider that can generate plenty of strikeouts, and when looking at his fastball profile, there are some unique characteristics here. His “four-seamer” is more of a cutter, throwing it 55% of the time in Single-A last year with a 26% Whiff Rate and .314 wOBA allowed, as the pitch can be a versatile weapon against right-handed and left-handed batters. Schlittler naturally gets around the baseball, and he’s taken that Corbin Burnes route of just throwing a cutter instead of a mediocre fastball.

The cutter and slider are above-average pitches while the curveball is elite, and he can throw in a few changeups here and there to help him get different looks in. When you have excellent stuff, good strikeout rates, an ability to keep the ball on the ground, and a 6’6 frame, then you’re someone to absolutely watch out for. The Yankees have done a great job over the years of identifying and developing pitching talent, as Schlittler was a 7th Round Pick made in the 2022 MLB Draft.

It’s looking like one of their better drafts in recent years, as they selected three top-100 prospects with Spencer Jones (R1), Drew Thorpe (R2), and Chase Hampton (R6). We’ll talk about another name from that draft later on, but Schlittler is on track to get to Double-A soon. This isn’t a velocity-heavy profile but it’s one that doesn’t feature a straight fastball, something that might allow him to excel in the modern game since fastball usage has dropped off hard over the last decade.

Cam Schlittler is a modern pitcher for a modern game, and if he can continue to add some velocity, we could be looking at one of the organization’s top right-handed arms. He generates about 6.5 feet of extension, so even at 91-92, he can be effective because of how close to the plate he releases the ball relative to other arms. He’s someone to keep an eye on for a potential promotion at the end of May if he continues shoving.

Somerset Finds a Gem in Trystan Vrieling

Syndication: Statesman Journal

If not for Tommy John Surgery last season, I’m not entirely sure that Trystan Vrieling would have qualified for an article discussing under-the-radar prospects. He was a third-round pick in the 2022 MLB Draft, so this is someone the Yankees have clearly had a lot of faith in. The Yankees also showed that by having him begin his professional career at Double-A where batters are finding out about Vrieling the hard way. He’s struck out 27.8% of batters faced across four starts with a 1.88 ERA, flashing great command and damage suppression.

The 0.38 HR/9 and 46.6% GB% are enticing, and the Yankees are looking at an arm with truly excellent control of the outside part of the plate. Watch any of his four starts this season and you can see the dominance he has on that part of the plate, painting four-seamers for called strikes and then mixing in a sharp slider to get batters to chase for weak contact or a strikeout. His changeup and sinker provide much-needed movement into righties and away from lefties as well.

With a cutter that blends everything in the arsenal together, we’re talking about a starter with the pitch quality and depth to become a high-level starter. He has a smooth delivery as well to pair with the solid movement and velocity, and given the success he’s had in Somerset early on, it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to end up in Scranton by the end of the year.

Unlike Cam Schlittler, who pitched in Single-A where there’s trackman data, all we have for Vrieling is one outing in Spring Training, which can be tough to use because Stuff+ would need a little more time to stabilize. What we do know is that the secondaries are very good, and the fastball command allows the pitch to play up despite being more of an average offering.

This is an arm that has the stuff to overwhelm hitters at higher levels of professional play, but the command takes it to another level, and the Yankees could be looking at a future rotation piece.

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