Poughkeepsie Journal

We’ve discussed Yankees prospects whose future in pinstripes depends on their spring training. Now we pivot to a different type of prospect: Minor league trade chips.

This could mean having more young pitchers than a team needs in the next few years, and including them in a bigger trade. It could also be a simple case of having a talented player nearly MLB-ready, but no clear path to the majors.

The Yankees’ minor league system isn’t as deep as it once was. But a small group of prospects stand out as potential trade pieces. Remember, New York still needs an upgrade in left field. Any trade between now or the trade deadline will include minor leaguers on the cusp of MLB promotion.

Keep in mind, no moves are imminent. This is purely speculative. Thus, as we continue our look at prospects headed into spring training, here are four who seem most likely to be included in any future trades.

RHP Jhony Brito (age 24). Brito is the Yankees’ No. 22 prospect according to MLB.com and at something of a crossroads. He turns 25 the day after pitchers and catchers report, on Feb. 17, and had his best season in the minors in 2022. Brito made 23 starts across Double and Triple-A and posted a 2.96 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP.

Unfortunately for Brito, all five spots in the 2023 rotation are covered. Even with Frankie Montas missing a month, the No. 5 spot will likely be covered by Clarke Schmidt. That is, unless Brito is lights-out all spring training. Yet, even then, odds are he starts the season in Triple-A anyway.

But it’s like we’ve mentioned. Brito is coming off of his best season in the Yankees system and that alone could interest some teams. He won’t strike out a ton of hitters, but he allowed less than a hit per inning in 2023. On another team, he could definitely have a path to the majors (and maybe even a starting rotation) as a soft contact specialist.

RHP Yoendrys Gomez (23). The Yankees’ No. 12 prospect, Gomez’s biggest issue has been health. He had shoulder and elbow injuries in 2021 and has never pitched more than 56.1 innings in a season. Gomez also has plus strikeout potential and doesn’t walk too many hitters. His career walks per nine innings (BB/9) in the minors is just 3.7. There’s still room for improvement.

The issue is that given his lack of innings as a starter and lengthy injury history, Gomez’s path to the Yankees is via the bullpen. He only has 16.1 innings at Double-A, so that won’t happen this season. His clearest path to the majors, if any, is probably through a trade.

He has a plus fastball that touches 95 and looks faster thanks to spin rate. Gomez also throws a changeup and a slider that’s slowly becoming his best secondary pitch. The upside exists despite the injuries, so it’s just a matter of finding teams willing to take the gamble.

OF Everson Pereira (21). Not even a high-upside bat keeps Pereira from being a trade chip. The Yankees’ No.5 prospect can play all three outfield positions, but is primarily a center fielder and there’s a clog there. Harrison Bader has an elite glove in center and might re-sign in free agency next offseason. Additionally, Jasson Dominguez is likely a year away from debuting and almost destined for center field himself.

So where does that leave Pereira? He hit .277 with an .819 OPS across High-A and Double-A last year, and hit .303 with 20 home runs across the lower levels in 2021. He could always move to a corner outfield spot, but still needs another year in the minors as it is. Either way, there’s no clear path to the Bronx for the young Venezuelan.

It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that if the Yankees do eventually trade for an outfielder, Pereira is included in the deal. A strong spring training for the Yankees or any team could mean starting the season in Triple-A, and maybe even making his MLB debut at some point.

C Austin Wells (23). The Yankees have to be excited by Wells’ bat. He posted an .897 OPS with 20 home runs and 65 RBI across three levels last year, and in just 92 games. The issue at hand is he isn’t seen as a long-term catcher. In fact, 2023 could be when he finally shifts to the outfield. In which case, given New York’s outfielder abundance, Wells becomes expendable.

And even if Wells improves his defense and arm behind the plate, his path to the Yankees isn’t clear. Jose Trevino enjoyed his first full season as a starter and not only won a Gold Glove, but was an All-Star. There’s also Ben Rortvedt, the catching prospect acquired from Minnesota in the Josh Donaldson trade. He was injured most of last year, but word is the front office really likes him for both his glove and strong arm.

So where does that leave Wells? Probably with the Yankees for the foreseeable future, if we’re being realistic. He’ll be with the big league club to start spring training and even play in a few games. Then, it’s off to Double-A Somerset to see how quickly the defense catches up with his blossoming bat.

It’s easy to think of Wells’ lefty swing and how great it’d be in Yankee Stadium. The reality is that unless he shows he can do more than just hit, his path to the Bronx is narrow. Unlike his fellow prospects who we’ll discuss tomorrow, Wells is far from untouchable.

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Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.