Back when the Yankees dealt left-handed reliever Lucas Luetge to the Atlanta Braves, they did so to complete a transaction that started with a DFA. This meant that the Yankees were fine with losing Luetge for nothing, and when making the trade with Atlanta, they had little to no leverage in terms of what their return would even look like. Indigo Diaz and Caleb Durbin were the two players the Yankees’ received in return, with both coming with hard-to-ignore limitations in their game that severely capped their ceiling as Major League players.
Diaz underwent Tommy John Surgery after posting a 4.36 ERA and striking out 29.9% of batters faced, although a 14.6% BB% limits his ceiling, and it’s not as if he’s a starter that can convert into a reliever, as he’s already coming out of the bullpen. As for Durbin, he lacked any raw or game power tools, and yet after a strong 2023 season, he’s on an absolute tear in the Arizona Fall League, displaying tools and a skill set that could come back to haunt the Atlanta Braves.
Could the Yankees See Caleb Durbin in 2024?
Given the Yankees’ increasing reliance on their farm system, Caleb Durbin’s success in the Arizona Fall League could earn him a promotion to Triple-A entering 2024. He played well after being promoted to Somerset, although he battled through two separate IL stints that limited him to just 47 games with the Patriots. Durbin slashed .291/.361/.440 in Double-A, and the big key here was the spike in SLG%. After slugging a career-best .397 with the Hudson Valley Renegades in High-A, he increased it to .440 and had his best ISO (.149) as well.
Durbin swatted 4 HRs in 47 games with 12 doubles, and he didn’t skip a beat in terms of elite contact rates and swing decisions. He stays aggressive in-zone, with a 70.6% Z-Swing% (84th Percentile), but doesn’t let that cause him to chase either. With an 18.5% O-Swing%, he’s in the 99th Percentile for Double-A, and he ranks in the 100th Percentile in Whiff% (8.9%), rounding out quite possibly the best combination of contact and swing decisions in the Yankees’ farm system.
Caleb Durbin is an outlier among his peers when it comes to contact and swing decisions at the Double-A level, but it’s the sudden increase in power that’s suddenly shifted him from a limited hitter to somebody who could legitimately make a significant MLB impact at some point down the line. A shift in batted ball profile has done him wonders, generating a 41.5% flyball rate, a career-high that allowed him to hit for more power, and while that could seem like the Yankees forcing their hit-strikes-hard mantra on hitters, this has only improved the sustainability of Durbin’s profile.
Now in the Arizona Fall League getting extra work, the 23-year-old has been one of the best hitters in the circuit, slashing .366/.509/.683 with two HRs and five doubles and also showing off his speed with seven steals in eight attempts. It’s something that, when combined with his success in the Eastern League, shows a significant sample size of data that would suggest that his power gains are something that could stick.
With a much more well-rounded approach in these games, Durbin could end up being a nice hitter at the Major League level, but his value goes beyond his contributions at the plate. Between the AFL and MiLB, Durbin attempted 52 steals, converting 44 of them (84.6%), and that’s in just 81 games. That’s an 88 SB pace per 162 games, and while that doesn’t mean Durbin is going to steal 80 bags in a season, he could be in the 30-40 range with high efficiency, and that’s super valuable.
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The Yankees are one of the worst base running teams in the sport, ranking dead-last in Sprint Speed and near the bottom of the league in both FanGraphs and Statcast’s base running value metrics. If the Yankees want an easy way to round out their offensive attack, getting some more speed will be paramount, and that’s something their affiliates, such as Somerset Patriots, emphasized.
Leading the Eastern League in steals, it’s clear that there’s a shared identity among their younger players that they want to push the envelope, and Durbin was a huge part of that. Defensively, Durbin shines as well, playing 2B/SS/3B, making some slick plays, and overall just being a reliable glove. He’s made just three errors in both MiLB and AFL play across the three positions, and while he profiles more for second base due to his smaller frame, but his versatility and athleticism should allow him to rover around the Yankee infield.
It’s been an exciting AFL run for Caleb Durbin, playing alongside Ben Cowles, who has a 1.015 OPS, and fellow Yankee Nelson Medina (.422 OPS) in the Solar Sox lineup. On the pitching side, Matt Sauer has a 3.18 ERA and 34.6% K% in the AFL, with Baron Stuart (3.60 ERA) and Trystan Vrieling, who has 2.2 scoreless frames as well, and its overall been a productive AFL for the Yankees’ system.
Durbin was the #30 prospect on Fireside Yankees’ top 30 prospects.