The Yankees’ fall from grace of 2013 truly began a year prior, when Derek Jeter’s ankle crumbled beneath him. The team’s longstanding captain wasn’t ready for spring training, and wouldn’t debut until July.
His return, while a welcome bit of joy for a fan base all but resigned to its team’s fate, was brief. His body gave out on him twice more before the year was over, the final time a strained calf muscle that ended his season.
Besides Jeter, injuries to Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez placed a huge strain on the team’s chances at repeating as American League East champions. Moreover, the team’s bench once again proved inadequate, both due to injuries and lack of talent. The Yankees went 85-77, with a .525 winning percentage worse than any finish since their last losing season in 1992.
When New York missed the playoffs in 2008, it spent $423 million on free agents A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira in the offseason and won the 2009 World Series.
General manager Brian Cashman used the same checkbook, er, playbook this offseason, losing free agents Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson but re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and adding free agents Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran to remake the lineup. All for a bill of $294 million.
All of this highlighted the major deficiencies at the upper levels of the Yankees system, evident even though Double-A Trenton won the Eastern League title. If there were viable internal options, acquisitions such as past-prime vets Vernon Wells or Mark Reynolds wouldn’t have been necessary.
That simply wasn’t the case, however. The Yankees haven’t produced an everyday player since the 2005 draft, which yielded Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson, and the players who got a shot in 2013, such as outfielder Zoilo Almonte, third baseman David Adams and catcher Austin Romine, proved inadequate. The Yankees’ recent success with pitching prospects didn’t extend to righthander Dellin Betances, relegated to the bullpen, and lefty Manny Banuelos, whose Tommy John surgery put him on the sidelines with injured Mariners acquisition Michael Pineda.
As if that weren’t maddening enough, nearly all of the Yankees’ potential impact prospects took a step back. Outfielder Mason Williams struggled with weight gain and poor performance. Outfielder Slade Heathcott was just getting going before knee tendinitis ended his season. Outfielder Tyler Austin missed significant time at Double-A with a wrist injury.
Righthander Jose Campos, already on a strict innings limit after missing most of 2012 with a fractured elbow, plodded along at low Class A. Second baseman Angelo Gumbs was demoted from high Class A Tampa to low Class A Charleston. Righty Ty Hensley, the team’s first-rounder in 2012, missed the entire season with surgeries to both hips.
In addition to prospect injuries and stagnation, the Yankees were hit as hard as any organization with lengthy suspensions for players tied to Biogenesis. In addition to the scandal’s poster-boy Alex Rodriguez, other Yankees players received 50-game suspensions, including catcher Francisco Cervelli and Triple-A outfielder Fernando Martinez. Mariners catcher Jesus Montero, a three-time Yankees No. 1 prospect, also incurred the commissioner’s wrath.
The Yankees restocked with three first-round picks in the 2013 draft—Eric Jagielo, Ian Clarkin, Aaron Judge—but even they missed time with injuries. Still, that trio and offensive second baseman Gosuke Katoh give the system a jolt of potential impact talent, and there were other bright spots, most notably catcher Gary Sanchez reaching Double-A while improving defensively.
All in all, the bad far outweighed the good, and the front office made changes apart from just signing free agents. It also installed several procedural changes to the team’s internal scouting system, added former Cubs manager Mike Quade as a roving outfield coordinator and hired former Yankees minor league manager Trey Hillman as a special assistant for player development and pro scouting.
It’s hard to argue with any of this! That said, here is what BBA says are the Yankees top prospects (below). Not too exciting, is it?