For many players, spring training is as much a last chance as it is an opportunity.
This is the case more often than not for veterans seeking one last shot (looking at you, Jay Bruce). Or for players on the 40-man roster bubble and out of minor league options. But sometimes the double-edged sword applies to prospects/
Yankees play-by-play man Michael Kay says it often: Prospects are suspect. Young baseball talent can be highly touted one day and yesterday’s news the next. Monday’s surefire homegrown Hall of Fame talent is Tuesday’s low-value trade chip.
The Yankees don’t have many of these players. But they do have some, and their names are well-known. The first installment of our series spotlighting the Yankees key prospects entering spring training focuses on the guys who will be fighting for their future in Tampa:
RHP Matt Sauer (age 23). A lot more has gone wrong than right for Sauer, who was barely out of high school when the Yankees made him a second-round pick in 2017. At the time, there was hope he could refine and master his mechanics and develop breaking pitches alongside his plus fastball. The wheels fell off instead.
Sauer made just two starts in 2019 before Tommy John surgery. Then, the pandemic canceled the 2020 minor league season and cost him a year of development. Since then, Sauer has struggled with both command and mechanics. He split 2022 between High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset, posting a 4.54 ERA in 22 starts. On Aug. 25, he set a new team record with 17 strikeouts in a game.
Despite this one historical game, Sauer’s inconsistency is enough that maybe he needs to switch to the bullpen. Perhaps utilizing the fastball and slowly incorporating his best second pitch can let him start the year at Somerset and gradually work his way up the ranks. Either way, Sauer turns 24 on Saturday, his path to the Yankees is growing narrower, and he needs to make some noise fast.
OF Estevan Florial (25). It sure didn’t take long for Florial to go from former five-tool prospect to major question mark. He’s struggled with both staying healthy and keeping his strikeouts down. He’s posted a .793 OPS in seven minor league seasons, but also has a strikeout rate (K%) of almost 29%. Who needs another Joey Gallo, but without as much power?
Florial owns a .267 career batting average in the minors, but is in danger of becoming just another Triple-A All-Star. He’s batting an awful .185 in 29 MLB games scattered over three years and hit an even worse .044 in the Dominican Winter League in 2022. That’s certainly not a good omen for someone who could be competing for a spot in the Opening Day Lineup.
That’s right. Florial could be competing for that very job with Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Cabrera come spring training. Such is the Yankees’ reality unless Brian Cashman trades for an outfielder. To quote Eminem, this year’s spring training could Florial’s one shot, one opportunity to try and stick with the Yankees.
RHP Deivi Garcia (23). Here, we have a textbook example of why sample size matters. Garcia, the Yankees’ No. 24-ranked prospect according to MLB.com, joined a banged up Yankees pitching staff in 2020 after tearing up the minors through three levels the year before. He had a quality start in three of his first four outings, and only struggles with the longball saw his ERA balloon to 4.98. Despite that, Garcia showed spot-on control and issued just 1.6 walks per nine innings (BB/9).
Fast forward to today, and Garcia has not been the electrifying arm the Yankees hoped he was. We quickly forget despite his rocketing through the minors in 2019, he struggled to 4.4 BB/9. Those troubles followed him to the majors in 2021 and he posted 4.3 BB/9 in just two MLB starts. He fared no better at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, posting 6.8 BB/9 and 4.5 last season.
Whether it’s nerves or Spider Tack, Garcia is almost out of chances with the Yankees. It’s pretty clear now he’s better suited as a reliever than a starter, so maybe he opens spring training competing for a bullpen role. He has a career strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) of 11.8 in the minors, meaning Garcia has at least something in the tank.
And if Garcia doesn’t make the Opening Day roster out of camp? Well, maybe he’ll at least have pitched well enough to upgrade himself from a last gasp into a viable trade chip, but more on that tomorrow.
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