Yankees Prospect Report: Pitcher dominating in debut season, left-handed slugger outgrowing Double-A

oswald peraza, yankees
Mar 9, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Oswald Peraza (91) doubles against the Boston Red Sox during the fourth inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees are getting phenomenal outcomes from their prospects as they wrapped up a huge series win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in California.

As the season goes on, the Yankees are going to have to make tough decisions at the trade deadline, but they also have to start promoting some of these top performers. It’s shaping out to be another wildly successful week for the Yankees as an organization, and there were again plenty of interesting tidbits of data to evaluate alongside standout performances.

From top-100 prospects continuing to dominate to newly drafted players leaving their mark on the organization early, the Yankees are continuing an exciting trend of strong player development.

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Is Chase Hampton the Yankees’ Best Pitching Prospect?

Chase Hampton isn’t just of the best pitchers not just in the Yankees’ farm system, but one of the best pitchers in all of MiLB.

When we look at what Hampton’s accomplished this season, he’s one of four qualified starters in all of the minor leagues to post a K% above 40% and has been downright unhittable since the month of May. He has a stellar 3.05 ERA and 2.80 xFIP on the season, but in his five starts since the beginning of May, he’s completed at least five innings pitched and has just one start with a K-BB% below 30%, which came on May 21st when he posted a still-excellent 20.8% K-BB%

In his most recent masterclass, Hampton struck out 10 batters over a career-high 7 IP against the Orioles’ High-A affiliate, again showing off an incredible fastball-slider combination.

Hampton’s fastball is remarkable, generating strong backspin and sitting in the mid-90s in velocity. Fastballs like his play extremely well up in the strike zone, and with the direction the league is taking in terms of shift limitations, the strikeout becomes even more valuable.

New York Yankees, Yankees, Brian Cashman
Oct 19, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman looks on during batting practice before game one of the ALCS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Cashman and whoever the Yankees had scouting Hampton in college should get incredible praise for finding a potential top-10 pitching prospect in the sport in the later rounds.

Certain people will chalk it up to luck, say it doesn’t matter until said pitcher debuts, or will just give credit to people that Cashman hired, but this is just an excellent pick, and the Yankees are improving their draft philosophy dramatically. That being said, the Yankees need to start modernizing how they handle prospect call-ups. There is no reason that on a league-wide off day, Hampton isn’t currently on his way to join the Patriots in Hartford right now.

Hampton has an opportunity to fly through the Minor Leagues, and the Yankees should award him the opportunity to do so. The Yankees know significantly more than I do about prospect development, but it’s hard to imagine there’s much for Hampton to learn in High-A. Hampton is pretty HR-prone (1.09 HR/9), but it’s more of a product of being a flyball pitcher. Again, with how his profile works, it’s best for him to work north-south, primarily working in the upper quadrants of the strike zone.

18.8% of pitches thrown by Chase Hampton have resulted in a swing and miss thus far, and while he’ll have some rocky starts here and there, he’s clearly mastered the High-A level.

Hampton is quickly becoming my favorite prospect in the system, and as a college pick, if the Yankees promote him aggressively instead of being passive, he could be in Major League Baseball by 2024. He’ll be in Double-A soon enough, hopefully, and if he continues to shove, he’ll force the Yankees’ hand to let him start in Triple-A next year.

That being said, he might get there too late to become teammates with their best hitter in the system.

The Yankees Need to Get Austin Wells Out of Double-A

So I hold the opinion that Chase Hampton should be in Double-A, but I’m not completely opposed to giving him one more start in High-A first. Double-A is regarded as the largest jump in the MiLB circuit, but apparently, Austin Wells didn’t get this memo.

In the case of Wells, it makes genuinely no sense that he’s currently in Double-A. After a week where he walked as much as he struck out and clubbed his 20th career HR with the Somerset Patriots, his wRC+ now sits at an incredible 145.

With a 134 wRC+ and 20 HRs in 362 Plate Appearances in Double-A dating back to last season, Wells is just unstoppable. He was a college draftee in 2020, meaning he has more development and is already 23, he’s going to enter his physical prime soon if he hasn’t already. There’s nothing more to learn about Wells in Double-A offensively, cutting his strikeout rate on the season below 20% and still maintaining an elite walk rate. His power is excellent, his plate discipline is superb, and his Swinging Strike Rate is also lower than it was last year despite generating more loft on his batted balls.

Austin Wells, New York Yankees
Feb 21, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees catcher Austin Wells (62) at Yankees player development complex. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Austin Wells could have a starting spot in an MLB lineup right now if not for the fact that his defensive fit is still a question mark, but the progress behind the dish from 2021 to 2022 was extremely encouraging.

Furthermore, the Yankees just don’t have many top prospects who are left-handed, and Wells presents a prime opportunity to have a young, homegrown, cost-effective slugger from the left-handed side who brings a balanced approach and has excellent HR power.

More than ever, teams are promoting their college hitters more aggressively, and these teams are often teams we identify as some of the most analytically inclined in the sport. When we look at last year’s Rookie of the Year winners, Julio Rodriguez and Michael Harris II combined for 86 total games at Double-A; Wells is at 80. The case of Julio Rodriguez should be conceded since Wells is not close to the generational prospect Rodriguez was, but Harris is more than a fair offensive comparison considering Wells might flat-out be the better offensive prospect.

Harris posted a 130 wRC+ in under 200 PAs in Double-A before being called up and immediately taking the baseball world by storm.

Injuries and inconsistency have severely hampered his 2023 season, but Wells is older than Harris and also performed better at Double-A than Harris over a larger sample size. This could be painted as anecdotal evidence, but Randy Arozerana is the only position player with over 80 games played at Double-A since 2021 to post a rookie season with an fWAR above 3.0. He even played 103 games, which isn’t that far off Wells’ total (80).

This doesn’t mean that players with a lot of time in Double-A are bad, but rather that MiLB experience isn’t as valuable as it used to be. Wells has an opportunity to become a special offensive player for the Yankees, especially considering that his pulled flyball approach works extremely well for Yankee Stadium as a left-handed hitter. It’s foolish that Wells isn’t in Scranton, and if the Yankees want to delay bringing up a prospect that has the potential to absolutely crush baseballs for the middle of their order, that’s on them.

What Do the Yankees Do with Oswald Peraza?

Oswald Peraza entered the week with a 138 wRC+ and 6 HRs in 20 games at Triple-A, so there was already plenty of buzz and excitement surrounding the Yankees’ top-100 prospect. So how exactly did Peraza follow up on an outstanding start to his season?

By hitting four HRs in six games and posting a 192 wRC+ to raise his season total to 152. The Yankees want to know what they have in Josh Donaldson, and that’s more than fair. There have been flashes from JD of being able to absolutely clobber the baseball, but if he doesn’t improve upon his 2022 season enough, Peraza should take his spot in the infield.

Unfortunately, the Yankees (who knew they had both Volpe and Peraza), for some reason, taught 3B to the better defensive SS. Peraza made highlight play after highlight play.

Over the week, continuing to be one of the most talented defenders at the professional level at his position. His elite athleticism coupled with incredible arm strength makes his physical tools at the position exquisite, and on a fundamental level, he makes glovework look effortless. He’s posted +1.3 Defensive Runs Prevented according to Baseball Prospectus in just 21 games there putting him on pace for +9.3 over a 150-game sample size.

oswald peraza, yankees
Apr 22, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Oswald Peraza (91) at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

For context, only two shortstops in 2022 had greater than 9.3 DRP at the MLB level, which leaves me wondering how the Yankees have him playing any other position. Anthony Volpe is being piled on by the media and fans who are upset with his play, and this isn’t me criticizing him heavily as a player, just stating the undeniable fact that Peraza is a better defensive SS than he is.

Before anyone mentions that Peraza is the better fit at 3B because of his arm, it should be noted that the Yankees are top three in all of baseball in DRS, UZR, and OAA at the 3B position despite LeMahieu and Donaldson both having extremely poor arm strength according to Statcast.

The Yankees can’t prop up Oswald Peraza as a defensive guru and then rob us of the opportunity to have him play the position he’s so good at defensively. A gold-glove caliber SS with the bat Peraza has shown would be an immediate 4-5 WAR player, an easy top 10 SS in the entire sport. Peraza’s launched an assault on the International League, as in his last 71 games, he’s put together videogame-like numbers:

  • .310 AVG
  • .381 OBP
  • .582 SLG
  • 147 wRC+
  • 19.6% K%
  • 22 HRs (46 HR/150)
  • 24 SBs (50 SB/150)

These aren’t just good numbers, they’re absolutely dominant. Peraza is one of the best hitters at the Triple-A level, and he’s only going to be 23 on June 15th. If you have to earn your way onto an MLB roster, does anyone know what Peraza has to do to earn his MLB roster spot? An excellent baserunner and defender, Peraza is an extremely well-rounded player whose game should translate well to the game’s biggest stage, even if he’s just a 105-110 wRC+ hitter instead of the MVP-like offense he’s had in Triple-A this season.

If Josh Donaldson is a below-average hitter by July, Peraza should be in the Big Leagues playing every day with none of that part-time player malarkey we saw at the end of 2022 and in April this year. If one of Torres, Volpe, Donaldson, Rizzo, or LeMahieu goes down with an injury, Peraza should be the first guy up ready to play every day. If he does well, you keep starting him, you do not send him back down. Peraza is too talented to treat like a depth piece, especially since there’s a real shot he could go out and become the Yankees’ long-term shortstop.

Overlooked Performers To Buy Stock On

With the high-profile names in the farm system, the Yankees have plenty of names that get overlooked. One of their best storylines from the 2023 season has been Caleb Durbin, acquired by the Yankees in the Lucas Luetge trade, who happens to be one of the best in the world at avoiding strikeouts. The 23-year-old utility infielder can provide a strong glove at 2B/SS/3B while stealing plenty of bases and getting on base at a high clip.

So far, between High-A and Double-A, Durbin has a 128 wRC+, 26 stolen bases, a .414 OBP, and a minuscule 6.1% K%. Durbin only has one HR on the season, and he should be viewed as a contact-first bat with little to no game power. Durbin has picked it up as of late in Double-A, posting a 118 wRC+ in the series against Boston and continuing a 15-game on-base streak that’s resulted in a 132 wRC+ and just two strikeouts. Durbin’s contact-oriented approach at the plate does limit his ceiling since he has no power, but it certainly raises his floor as well.

Anthony Hall was drafted in 2022, and I was already on his bandwagon the second the Yankees acquired him. One of the biggest things that I love in a prospect is when they’re bat-first, as hitters who have to develop their glove more than their bat tend to fly through Minor League Baseball. His game power hasn’t fully translated, but he’s been able to reach 110.3 MPH for his Max Exit Velocity, and he has a 130 wRC+ in his debut season with the Tampa Tarpons. He’s done this with an excellent eye at the plate and great contact skills.

He’s walking 16.1% of the time and striking out just 18.2% of the time, but the issue seems to be that he’s hitting the baseball into the ground too much. At a 48.8% GB%, Hall’s going to have to get his launch angle and swing path together so that he can take advantage of his above-average raw power and left-handed stroke. I think the Yankees have a solid project with Hall, and while I have no idea if he’s going to make it at the MLB level, I do believe he’s. A great prospect to keep your eye on.

Juan Carela put together a strong 2022 campaign before getting shelled at the High-A level and presenting a new challenge for the 21-year-old RHP. In his first start in June, after a month of May where he posted a 1.80 ERA in 20 IP, he tossed seven innings of one-run baseball with 10 strikeouts and two walks. His ERA on the season is 3.09 with a 3.57 FIP, and Carela is an arm that teams might try to grab at the deadline to bolster their farm system. He’s closing in on a Double-A promotion at some point in 2023 if he can continue to piece together these strong outings.

Chase Hampton, Drew Thorpe, and Juan Carela are absolutely dominant for the Hudson Valley Renegades, and they could be getting an arm like Brock Selvidge soon, who’s walked under 5% of batters with a 25.5% K% and 50.8% GB% on the season with a 3.15 ERA with the Tampa Tarpons. Their pitching depth in the lower levels of the minors is coming to fold, and as guys like Clayton Beeter, Richard Fitts, Will Warren, and Randy Vasquez all had impressive seasons over the past two years, the Yankees have their hands full of strong pitching talent that they can use at the deadline.

randy vasquez, yankees
Mar 25, 2023; Clearwater, Florida, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Randy Vasquez (98) throws a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies in the first inning during spring training at BayCare Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

This is in spite of trading Ken Waldichuk, Luis Medina, and Hayden Wesneski last deadline, and the Yankees are also expected to get flamethrower Luis Gil at some point in the season. The farm system is starting to gel, and if you’re a prospect evaluator looking at this farm system, the pitching’s quickly turned from a point of weakness to a roaring strength.

All four affiliates will play this week, with all of them battling to compete in their respective league’s postseason, and the farm system is absolutely thriving.