There have been quite a few stellar performances from Yankees minor league prospects this past week, including an inside the park home run from shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo down in High-A Tampa and a power surge from catcher Gary Sanchez who slugged three home runs over a four-game span. Ben Gamel, profiled in last week’s update, has been called up to the big club earlier than expected.
But this week’s Yankees minor league update is dedicated to current Yankees third baseman Chase Headley. Despite slugging 31 home runs in a borderline MVP campaign for the Padres in 2012, 2016 has not been so kind to him, as even after a 2-4 performance at the plate on Saturday, his average still sits at .169 entering Monday. Headley is currently being out-homered by Bartolo Colon and at least one of my BP colleagues has called on him to head to the bench. So perhaps as a little motivation to the struggling Chase, here are four prospects, all of whom have some experience at third base, who may be breathing down his neck sooner or later if he cannot turn it around.
Robert Refsnyder- 2B/3B- Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (AAA)- Ref may have come up as a second baseman, but he has been taking more reps at third base lately and has played more games at the hot corner than at the keystone thus far this season. He still has not hit a home run this season, but is batting .274 with a .328 on-base percentage and also has five steals and a twelve-game hitting streak. He’s also walked nearly as often as he has struck out, impressive when you also consider that he has cut down on his strikeout rate. With one of the lowest batting averages on balls in play of his minor league career, his numbers may continue to improve. If that’s the case, and if Headley can’t get his head on right soon, expect Refsnyder (along with Ronald Torreyes, already on the major league club) to get a call up and start eating into his playing time.
Tyler Austin– 1B- Trenton (AA)- All right, this is a bit of a stretch, as Austin has played in only 32 games at third base over his seven minor league seasons, but he has moved back into the infield after playing in the outfield in 2015. This may have been the change that the former top prospect needed, as he has been on a 10-25 stretch with two home runs and seven RBI over a eight-game span through Sunday. Austin’s average for the season is up to .278 and he’s really seeing the ball well, drawing a walk in around 15% of his plate appearances this season. 23 strikeouts in 90 at-bats is fairly alarming, but at this point, cutting down on the K’s may be the last thing Austin needs to do to merit a call-up to AAA.
Miguel Andujar– 3B- Tampa (High-A)- Andujar’s .272 batting average and .324 on base percentage may seem fairly pedestrian, but the 20 year-old is arguably the top full-time third base prospect in the organization. After hitting ten and eight home runs in his previous two full seasons in the minors, Andujar has found his power stroke, putting up five home runs in his first 103 at-bats. Despite just one stolen base this season, he does have the potential to steal bases, as evidenced by his 12 swipes last season. The big issue for him previously has been his fielding, as he put up 26 errors in each of the past two seasons. He has only three after one month this season and has his highest career fielding percentage. Developing his fielding will be key as he progresses through the system.
Thairo Estrada– IF- Charleston (A)- Estrada has mostly split between second base and shortstop, but has already appeared in six games at third base this season and has consistently proven himself to be a solid defender at whatever position he plays. He’s a career .271 hitter in the minor leagues and has been pretty consistent, as his average has never been below .267 and never been above .278 at any previous stop in the minors. He’s cooled off as of late, riding an 0-18 slump over his last four games that has dragged his average down to .255, but has found success on the base paths converting eight out of ten stolen base attempts this season. Estrada, just 20 years old, is still very far from the major leagues but has a lot of time to develop. At a time like this, it’s way too early to provide a solid prediction on whether or not he’ll make it, but he’s a decent prospect with a fair amount of potential.