The Top-Five Yankees Prospects by Projected WAR

Earlier today, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the New York Yankees. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not New York’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Yankees system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Yankees system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

5. Ramon Flores, OF (Profile)

550 .238 .305 .369 89 0.9

McDaniel notes with regard to Flores that, despite entering just his age-23 season, that he’s nearly a finished product. It’s not surprising, then, to see Flores’ name appear here among the Yankees’ top rookie-eligible players. What it also means is that, unlike with other prospects at the same point on the age curve, it’s probably not correct to assume that Flores will improve considerably over the next three or so years. Defensively, Flores receives a projection of about -3 runs — that is, roughly half way between a league-average center fielder and corner outfielder. This, too, supports McDaniel’s assertion that Flores is capable of playing (if not necessarily excelling at) all three outfield spots.

4. Greg Bird, 1B (Profile)

550 .236 .314 .408 102 1.1

Bird is a 22-year-old hitter with fewer than 30 games’ worth of experience above High-A who’s also projected to produce something slightly better than a league-average batting line. There are few other prospects about which it’s possible to make such a comment. Steamer tends to produce very conservative BABIP forecasts for players with little experience in the high minors. Indeed, even Bird’s .286 BABIP projection is a about a standard deviation below major-league average. Bird still appears to offer enough in the way of discipline and power, however, to compensate for the penalties inherent within projections for players of his limited experience.

t2. JR Murphy, C (Profile)

415 .230 .283 .366 80 1.4

It isn’t entirely clear what, precisely, but there’s probably something to be learned from how Murphy and Gary Sanchez (below) receive nearly identical projections from Steamer for 2015 despite very different trajectories. Separated by just a year, the latter was signed out of the Dominican as a 16-year-old, exhibits above-average raw power, and has appeared among Baseball America’s top-100 prospects each of the past four years. Murphy is and does none of that, really. Rather, he’s a person from the United States who attended, despite indications to the contrary, definitely didn’t attend Princeton and whose value is tied more closely to his contact abilities. In either case, barring an injury to Brian McCann, neither Murphy nor Sanchez is likely to find much in the way of playing time this year at the major-league level — unless, that is, it’s with a different club altogether.

t2. Gary Sanchez, C (Profile)

415 .227 .282 .375 82 1.4

If JR Murphy (above) and Sanchez receive similar projections from Steamer, said projections are likely accompanied by different-sized error bars. Sanchez’s offensive game is based more on power, but he’s also traditionally made less contact than Murphy. In the event that Sanchez were to improve his contact rate, the results would be more substantial than for a player who offers less power on contact. Of note, also, with regard to Sanchez: per McDaniel, there are doubts in the industry about his desire/willingness to catch, despite what appear to be the tools to do so. A move away from the position would probably benefit his offensive, but it would also ask a lot more of his bat, given the difference in the positional runs adjustment between catcher and every other position.

1. Rob Refsnyder, 2B (Profile)

550 .255 .320 .385 98 2.1

Unlike Sanchez, who might possibly suffer from a position change, Refsnyder’s future value appears to have increased markedly due to his own transition. Selected by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 2012 draft out of Arizona State, Refsnyder had played right field in college. New York moved him to second base before the following season, however, and he’s remained there ever since. Refsnyder possesses a combination of plate discipline, power, and defensive ability that could render him merely a useful utility player. On the other hand, his profile features distinct similarities to the prospect version of Kyle Seager, as well, who’s proceeded to produce 13 wins over the last three seasons.

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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Robert Refsnyder is from Arizona, not Arizona State. #Beardown