Every season since RAB debuted a dozen years ago, we’ve hosted the annual Prospect Watch in our sidebar. We simply pick a prospect and track his statistical progress throughout the season. Nothing too exciting but hey, it adds a fun little element to prospect tracking. It’s almost like a fantasy team where you’re rooting for the guy to succeed so the Prospect Watch looks pretty.
The so-called Prospect Watch Curse reared its ugly head when Estevan Florial, last year’s Prospect Watch prospect and a prime candidate for this year’s Prospect Watch, broke his wrist (in two places!) crashing into the wall two weeks ago. Florial also missed time with a wrist injury last year. The year before Gleyber Torres went down with Tommy John surgery. But hey, Aaron Judge was in the Prospect Watch one year and he’s pretty awesome. Also, I don’t believe in curses, so the Prospect Watch lives on.
Back in the day I picked the Prospect Watch prospect myself and that was that. A few years ago I decided to open it up to a reader vote because you folks should have a say. I am, however, making the executive decision to remove Florial from this year’s eligible prospect pool. Why? Because Florial’s already hurt and will miss a few weeks, and it’s always boring when the Prospect Watch sits dormant for a few weeks. We’ve been through it enough times over the years.
Although the farm system is not as strong as it was the last few years, the Yankees have a really good prospect base, with several prospects worthy of the Prospect Watch. Some years the Prospect Watch prospect is pretty obvious, like two years ago with Gleyber. This year? Not so much. This might be our most wide open voting yet. Here are this year’s Prospect Watch candidates, listed alphabetically, with my top 30 ranking.
RHP Albert Abreu (Preseason No. 8 prospect)
The case for Abreu: In terms of ceiling and stuff, Abreu is on the short list of the best prospects in the farm system. He’s mid-to-upper-90s with his fastball and has the deepest arsenal of secondary pitches among the Yankees’ best pitching prospects. Abreu has a knockout curveball as well as a quality changeup and slider. The potential is there for lots of strikeouts and a quick move up to Double-A, which is always fun.
The case against Abreu: Injuries. Abreu has been hurt a lot the last two years. Lat and multiple elbow issues have limited him to 173.2 innings the last two years. As talented as he is and as high as his ceiling appears to be, the chances that Abreu will get hurt and leave the Prospect Watch silent for weeks on end are uncomfortably high.
OF Antonio Cabello (Preseason No. 5 prospect)
The case for Cabello: Few players in the system were as dominant as Cabello last season, statistically. He hit .308/.427/.522 (168 wRC+) with five homers in 46 rookie ball games, and, after the season, Baseball America (subs. req’d) compared him to Juan Soto and Vlad Guerrero Jr. at the same age for his innate hitting ability. Cabello has exciting potential and a high ceiling, and he’s already produced in games, which is a plus for Prospect Watch purposes.
The case against Cabello: Cabello dislocated his shoulder diving for a ball at the end of last season and needed offseason surgery. He is healthy now and playing in minor league Spring Training games, though there’s always some concern about an injury like that hindering a player’s performance in the short-term. Also, Cabello is still only 18. An 18-year-old kid coming back from shoulder surgery is a prime candidate to spend a few weeks in Extended Spring Training, which means no stats to track. The Prospect Watch could be quiet for a while.
RHP Roansy Contreras (Preseason No. 7 prospect)
The case for Contreras: Contreras is my favorite pitching prospect in the system right now. He’s an advanced 19-year-old who so thoroughly dominated college-aged kids with Short Season Staten Island last year that the Yankees had to move him up to Low-A Charleston to give him a challenge. The end result was a 2.42 ERA (3.70 FIP) with 24.0% strikeouts in 63.1 innings in the low minors. Contreras has a quality three-pitch mix and very good pitching know-how. Even as a teenager, he has the potential to carve up hitters in the low minors.
The case against Contreras: As with every pitching prospect, the potential for injury exists. That’s just the way it is. Contreras has been healthy to date, but you never really know with pitchers. Also, Contreras was good but not great after the promotion to Low-A Charleston last season (3.38 ERA and 4.48 FIP), so perhaps we should pump the brakes on him being ready to manhandle lower minors hitters even with his stuff and pitching acumen.
RHP Deivi Garcia (Preseason No. 6 prospect)
The case for Garcia: Garcia was one of the most dominant pitchers in the minors last season. He reached Double-A as a 19-year-old and finished with a 2.55 ERA (2.60 FIP) and a 35.5% strikeout rate. Last year 907 pitchers threw at least 70 innings in the minors and Garcia had the fifth highest strikeout rate and the fourth highest K-BB% (28.7%). The fastball is very good, the curveball is excellent, and the changeup is a quality pitch too. Garcia has the stuff and, as of last year, the control to put up similar numbers going forward.
The case against Garcia: Other than the inherent injury risk, the only real question with Garcia is whether he can maintain last year’s walk rate. He had a 12.0% walk rate from 2016-17 before cutting it to 6.8% in 2018. A pitcher filling up the Prospect Watch with walks is no fun. Garcia will be on some sort of innings limit this summer after throwing 74 innings last year, so I suppose that means he could be shut down at some point to manage his workload, which would put a damper on the Prospect Watch. I don’t think that’s a big concern though.
RHP Jonathan Loaisiga (Preseason No. 2 prospect)
The case for Loaisiga: The top pitching prospect in the organization, Loaisiga’s combination of pure stuff and control is the best in the system. He’s mid-90s with his fastball, occasionally higher, and both his breaking ball and changeup are putaway pitches on their best days. Since returning from Tommy John surgery two years ago, his minor league performance has never been anything short of excellent. Loaisiga is probably the safest bet in the system to have a strong statistical season in the minors, at least among pitchers.
The case against Loaisiga: Injuries. Gosh, the injuries. Loaisiga has thrown 184.1 innings in six pro seasons and last year’s 80.2 innings were a career high. He has a history of shoulder and elbow trouble — Loaisiga missed about a month with a shoulder issue last year after being sent down — and that’s always scary. The other thing is Loaisiga will probably shuttle between Triple-A and MLB this year, which could lead to sporadic playing time and thus infrequent Prospect Watch updates. That’s no fun.
OF Everson Pereira (Preseason No. 4 prospect)
The case for Pereira: There’s a decent chance Pereira will be the No. 1 prospect in the farm system at this time next year. The soon-to-be 18-year-old is loaded with tools and instincts, and, thanks to a growth spurt soon after signing, he now has pretty good power potential. Power always looks good in the Prospect Watch. Pereira has high-end offensive tools with a chance to really fill up the stat sheet. Hit for average, hit for power, get on base, the works.
The case against Pereira: Despite those tools, Pereira had an underwhelming statistical season in the rookie ball last year, hitting .263/.322/.389 (88 wRC+) with three homers and a 32.8% strikeout rate. The athleticism and innate hitting ability have not yet translated to on-field production in his brief pro career. And, similar to Cabello, there’s a chance Pereira will begin the season back in Extended Spring Training only because he’s so young (17!). Extended Spring Training means no stats to track for a few weeks, and that’s lame.
RHP Clarke Schmidt (Preseason No. 12 prospect)
The case for Schmidt: Schmidt, a first round pick two years ago, completed his Tommy John surgery rehab and pitched well during his pro debut last year, posting a 3.09 ERA (2.61 FIP) with 33.0% strikeouts in an admittedly tiny sample in the lower levels. Most importantly, Schmidt’s stuff reportedly rebounded nicely post-surgery, putting him in position to have a breakout season in 2018. He’s healthy and the Yankees are set to turn him loose in 2019.
The case against Schmidt: Tommy John surgery is not Schmidt’s only injury as a pro. His season ended prematurely last year due to an oblique issue, so we don’t know whether he can make it through a full season healthy. Unlike most 23-year-old pitching prospects, we have no idea what sorta numbers Schmidt might put up when healthy. For all intents and purposes, he is a complete unknown. Consider him a blind roll of the dice with the Prospect Watch.
C Anthony Seigler (Preseason No. 3 prospect)
The case for Seigler: Last year’s first round pick had a strong pro debut, hitting .266/.379/.342 (108 wRC+) with more walks (14.7%) than strikeouts (12.6%) in 24 rookie ball games. He’s a switch-hitter with very good hitting ability from both sides of the plate, and while he probably won’t wow us with huge power numbers, Seigler has the potential to post a strong batting average and on-base percentage, with few strikeouts. Few prospects in the system are as well-rounded.
The case against Seigler: A few things. One, Seigler is not a big power hitter and that could leave the Prospect Watch lacking that “wow” factor. Two, much of what makes Seigler such a strong prospect isn’t available in a box score. He’s a very advanced catcher for his age and is regarded as a strong leader, two things that won’t show up in the Prospect Watch. And three, he’s hurt! Seigler will miss the start of the regular season with a quad injury. It’s said to be a minor injury, though it is going to keep him out a bit. And, because he’s only 19, an assignment to Extended Spring Training is possible. As good as he is, Seigler is not really a “made for the Prospect Watch” prospect, at least not right now.
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Mike King (preseason No. 9 prospect) would’ve been a prime Prospect Watch candidate had he not suffered a stress reaction in his elbow early in Spring Training. He’s not expected to return to game action until May. Luis Medina (No. 10) is way too control-challenged for the Prospect Watch. Others like Trevor Stephan (No. 13) and Nick Nelson (No. 15) lag behind younger arms with more upside like Garcia and Contreras.
The Yankees open the regular season this Thursday, but the minor league regular season does not begin until next Thursday. The Prospect Watch voting is open now (duh) and I’ll close it sometime this Friday morning, then announce the winner soon thereafter. Given the Prospect Watch Curse, can we even call whoever it is the winner? Maybe Aaron Judge was just powerful for the Prospect Watch Curse. Anyway, time for the poll.