Yankees MiLB Report (4/29): Aces gone wild, Somerset’s Murderer’s Row, and shortstop phenom surges

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox
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A successful week at the Major League level has fans buzzing as the Yankees will kick off a four-game set against the Orioles tonight in their first clash of the year. At the Minor League level, it was also a great week for the organization, as various top prospects performed at a high level, continuing their ascents through professional baseball. Not all of these players will become everyday Major Leaguers, but the depth the Yankees have in the organization certainly gives them a lot of chances at finding a bat or arm they like for their squad.

From Single-A to Triple-A, we have plenty of performances to highlight for the week as we delve into the Yankees’ top performers at the MiLB level.

Roderick Arias Shines As Tampa Tarpons Continue Skid

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers
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Unfortunately, the Tampa Tarpons haven’t necessarily gotten off to a strong start this season. Granted, this was the Yankees’ worst-performing affiliate last year, and names like Henry Lalane or Carlos Lagrange have yet to arrive in Tampa as they continue extended Spring Training. George Lombard Jr. being placed on the 7-Day IL doesn’t help them much either, but Roderick Arias has certainly begun to swing the bat better.

The switch-hitting shortstop has struggled early on with strikeouts, but we’ve seen him steadily improve and this past week was arguably his most impressive. He slashed .292/.414/.417 with a home run and seven total hits, walking over 17% of the time while seeing the strikeout rate sit at a more manageable 27.5%. Over his last eight games, he’s hitting .303 with a .910 OPS and 22.5% strikeout rate, a sign that he’s getting adjusted to a new level in Tampa.

On the pitching side of things, their top performer was Cade Smith, who delivered his best start of the season by firing six innings of two-run baseball. He struck out seven batters with just one walk, and his stuff is extremely enticing given the high strikeout profile. The four-seamer sits at 93 MPH with 18.1 inches of Induced Vertical Break from a low release height. He has a low Vertical Approach Angle on the fastball, but his best pitch is a tight slider with a 47.6% Whiff Rate.

Some other top performers at Single-A included Dylan Jasso (.814 OPS), Benny Escanio (.846 OPS), and Gabriel Barbosa (6 IP, 1 ER, 8 SO). There just aren’t many things going the Tarpons’ way, as they’re an ugly 5-16 on the season. We’ll see how they perform as guys like Lalane and Lagrange show up, but most of the Yankees’ top talent resides in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues.

Next Series: Tampa Tarpons (5-16) @ Dunedin Blue Jays (9-12)

Hudson Valley Gets Some Dominant Starts In Series Split

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The Hudson Valley Renegades are a pitching factory, and that trend continued this past week as they split a series against the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The most dominant performance was Sebastian Keane’s as he fired six innings of one-run baseball with 10 strikeouts, and there are some interesting characteristics to his arsenal. He throws from a slightly lower release height than most with decent vertical movement on his fastball and a good slider.

Velocity isn’t overwhelming (91-92 MPH) but the secondaries are good enough to help him generate swings and misses with ease. He’s had a weird year thus far, with two terrible starts and two flat-out dominant ones, but the key thing here is that Keane has yet to allow a home run in High-A. Hopefully, he finds some form of consistency because it’s fun to watch him spin the baseball, especially with his changeup looking like a refined weapon in the last start.

Fellow Northeastern alumni Cam Schlittler shoved as well, firing six innings of two-run baseball with seven strikeouts and zero walks. He has a 1.29 ERA with a 32.1% strikeout rate to an 11.1% walk rate, and his ability to keep the ball on the ground has stood out as well. Schlittler is in his age-23 season and stands at 6’6, and I personally believe his sweeping slider is the best pitch in his repertoire.

He’s kind of got a weird mix because in Single-A at least, he was throwing a lot of four-seamers that had the shape of a cutter, so it’s hard to get a read on the fastball profile. Still, the early success has been super encouraging, especially with a chance to reach Somerset sometime this season and climb in the organization’s rankings.

READ MORE: Yankees’ struggling infielder puts on a show in slump-breaking performance

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

On the offensive side of the ball, Jesus Rodriguez led the team in hits this week (8) and has gotten off to a nice start, running low strikeout rates with a good hit tool to pair with it. The game power hasn’t been great early on, but he’s going to be in the running to be promoted to Double-A as he succeeded in Hudson Valley after being promoted last year. He’s also Rule-5 eligible, so I wonder if he’s a trade candidate for the Yankees down the road.

Jace Avina, whom the Yankees acquired from the Brewers for Jake Bauers, picked up six hits and a home run in his first full week of action. The 20-year-old outfielder is running a strikeout rate of just 19.5%, a huge decrease from where it was last season in Single-A (29.6%). We saw him increase the contact rates in the second half, and the Yankees will try and see how they can improve his hit tool while also helping him drive the baseball reliably.

The Hudson Valley Renegades are in a three-way tie in the loss column with Greensboro and Wilmington for first place in the South Atlantic League. They’ll head to Wilmington to play the Blue Rocks and perhaps create some cushion for them, as they look to punch their ticket for the postseason by finishing in first place in the first half.

Next Series: Hudson Valley Renegades (12-8) @ Wilmington Blue Rocks

Somerset’s Built a Murderer’s Row in Double-A

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles
Mar 2, 2024; Sarasota, Florida, USA; New York Yankees outfielder Spencer Jones (78) at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees’ best-performing affiliate since 2021 has been the Somerset Patriots, taking home the Eastern League title in 2022 while also being one of their most consistent squads. The pitching has hung them to dry early on, resulting in a so-so 9-12 record, but the offense has been anything worse than dominant. Benjamin Cowles has seemingly come out of nowhere for the Patriots, as he crushed three home runs this week and has continued to show off an improved hit tool.

He’s hitting .356 with a 1.086 OPS across 20 games, striking out just 17.5% of the time after running a 27.5% strikeout rate in High-A the year prior. The immediate improvements to his contact skills while increasing his game power have been staggering, and suddenly the 24-year-old infielder has been one of the most improved prospects across all of Minor League Baseball. Cowles is also Rule-5 eligible after 2024, so expect his name to come up in trade talks unless the team views him as a potential long-term solution in their infield.

Spencer Jones, who matched Cowles for the team lead in hits on the week (8), added a home run and five RBIs to his totals on the year, as he’s come out of the gates red-hot. The 6’6 outfielder has a 23.5% strikeout rate and 179 wRC+, hitting fewer groundballs and generating more game power in the process. His pull rates have increased as well, and if he can continue destroying the Eastern League we will see him in Triple-A sooner than some might believe.

READ MORE: Yankees are looking forward to upcoming series against defending AL East champion Baltimore Orioles

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts
Feb 17, 2024; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees catcher Agustin Ramirez (96) prepares to take batting practice at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Agustin Ramirez continues to tear up the Eastern League (shocker) as he smacked two home runs and drove in six runs this week. He’s another hitter with insane numbers at the Double-A level on this Somerset team as he’s striking out under 20% of the time, walking over 15% of the time, and slugging over .600. Just 22 years old, the right-handed hitting catcher has some of the best raw power in Minor League Baseball, and the Yankees should be extremely excited about his outlook. He won’t debut this year most likely, but he is on the Yankees 40-man roster.

The Somerset Patriots’ other catcher, Ben Rice, continued his surge at the plate after a slow start to the season, walking 28.6% of the time in Reading and smacking a leadoff home run yesterday. Over his last 11 games, Rice is hitting .333 with five home runs, 12 RBIs, and a 244 wRC+. He’s one of the best left-handed hitters in all of Minor League Baseball, and the quartet of Jones-Ramirez-Rice-Cowles has proved to be devastating.

A name that I want fans to look out for is Jared Wegner, who wasn’t in consideration to be placed on any top-30 lists for the Yankees entering the season. His stock is rising, and you can jump on the bandwagon right now before it’s too late, because he hit another home run at 117 MPH, bringing his wRC+ to 143 with just a 17.6% strikeout rate. He turns 25 in July, so hype around him won’t exist much for now, but the skills he’s displaying are extremely hard to ignore. Few people can hit a baseball at 117 MPH, and being able to do so while elevating the ball creates an outlier skill worth noting.

Grant Richardson also had a big week with an OPS over 1.000 in Reading, as he has a 119 wRC+ and .459 SLG% in his first 16 games of the season. Onto the pitching side of things though, we saw a couple of truly dominant pitching performances.

Brock Selvidge was absolutely dominant in his start of the week, shutting out the Reading Fightin Phils over seven innings with 11 strikeouts and no walks. He is one of the best left-handed pitchers in the prospect world, point-blank-period. He’s struck out 29.9% of batters paced with a 45.1% groundball rate, and he’s got a 1.71 ERA in his time with the Somerset Patriots. It’s his first season at Double-A, and the Bronx Bombers have potentially stumbled onto another t-100 prospect.

His fastball is a solid pitch, but his sliders and changeups are really excellent and they’re generating the majority of strikeouts for him. Brock Selvidge has seen his stock erupt since last season when he made the ascent from Single-A with the Tampa Tarpons to High-A with Hudson Valley. He was their starter for the Spring Breakout Game and dominated, and there’s a legitimate chance that he will end the season with their Triple-A affiliate if he continues to pitch well.

Blane Abeyta also dominated, firing 7.1 innings of one-run baseball (although it was an unearned run), as he struck out nine batters and walked just one. He’s struggled a lot in Double-A, but this could be a nice confidence-boosting start for him as the season goes on.

Trystan Vrieling had an ugly ERA start (6.75) but he struck out seven batters and walked none, and the overall ratios for him are so impressive. His strikeout-to-walk rate (21.1%), groundball rate (46.6%), and HR/9 rate (0.38) show off an excellent profile on the mound, and Vrieling is in his first season pitching at the professional level. The Yankees were aggressive by moving him to Double-A, and that paid off early on.

In their bullpen. Jack Neely shoved with four innings of one-run ball and struck out seven batters in the process. He could be a name we see at the Major League level this season with how excellent his swing-and-miss abilities are. It’s an arsenal that’s led by an excellent slider that has firm velocity and dropping action, and he has a 0.82 ERA across seven games in Double-A this year. Going back to last year, Neely has a 1.88 ERA and 30.4% K-BB% across 28.2 innings pitched.

He stands at 6’8 and could be in the Yankees’ bullpen sooner rather than later, but for now, Jack Neely will have to focus on their upcoming series as they travel back to Somerset.

Next Series: New Hampshire Fisher Cats @ Somerset Patriots

Scranton Is the Yankees’ Top Affiliate Right Now

mlb: spring training-new york yankees at tampa bay rays, will warren
Feb 27, 2024; Port Charlotte, Florida, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Will Warren (98) throws a pitch during the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Will Warren turned in a really strong start again, firing six innings of one-run baseball where he struck out six batters and allowed just one walk. His stuff has taken a step forward thanks to an improving four-seam fastball, as it has a low Vertical Approach Angle allowing it to play up in the zone. The swing-and-miss numbers are through the roof for him now that he has a four-seamer to play off of the sinker-sweeper combination he’s known for.

Over his last 10 outings dating back to last year, Will Warren has a 2.16 ERA and 31.3% strikeout rate, and the Yankees might have a rotation piece of the future here. There was a chance for him to make the team in Spring Training but Luis Gil was just too dominant to ignore, and the Yankees loved his profile a lot. Warren has an excellent ability to keep the ball on the ground while getting strikeouts; this is exactly what you want for a starter.

Clayton Beeter continued his strong season, with a 5-inning performance where he allowed two runs, struck out eight batters, and didn’t walk a single batter. Over his last seven starts dating back to last season with the Scranton RailRiders, the right-hander has struck out 53 batters across 33.1 innings pitched with a 2.70 ERA. I’m not sure he’s a starter long-term, but he is most certainly going to provide strikeouts for the Yankees

Edgar Barclay struck out seven batters with two runs allowed across 5.1 innings pitched, and the southpaw is having a strong season right now. He has a 3.09 ERA and 17.5% swinging strike rate, and his best pitch is very easily the changeup which has a 49.4% Whiff Rate. Barclay could be an interesting reliever option, as the lack of fastball velocity might push him out of a starter role. Changeups are taking over the Major Leagues, so maybe the Yankees give him a shot.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers
Mar 23, 2024; Lakeland, Florida, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Caleb Durbin (87) bats during the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Caleb Durbin had a strong series against the Durham Bulls, helping guide the Scranton offense to a 4-2 series win against the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate. He slashed .333/.448/.500 with a home run and five RBIs, rebounding nicely after a couple of rough weeks. He’s played second, third, shortstop, left field, and centerfield in 26 games with Scranton, and offensively he has a 139 wRC+ and .426 OBP. The pulled flyball rates are way up, and his bat is super enticing.

The best team in the International League right now, their 17-9 record and +36 Run Differential are the best marks among all teams in the Triple-A circuit. They’ll continue their trip down south hoping to create a greater separation atop the division and clinch a playoff spot by being the division winner in the first half. The Yankees have some serious talent in Scranton, as this group has a plethora of MLB hopefuls on both sides of the ball.

Next Series: Scranton RailRiders @ Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp

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