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Collins: With Stars Graduated, Yankees System Building Up Again

March 17, 2019

When you talk Everson Pereira, you have to start with the promise.

The young Yankees prospect has that in spades. He hit .263 with three homers and 26 RBIs in 41 games last season with low-Class A Pulaski. He showed terrific range in center field. He flashed plus speed.

Better yet, he did all of that after just turning 17 years old. When you’re one of the youngest players in the Appalachian League, that’s evidence enough that you’re raw. When you’re raw and putting up numbers, that opens eyes in the player development community.

Two years after the Yankees inked him to a $1.5 million signing bonus as an international free agent from Venezuela, Baseball America ranks Pereira as the organization’s No. 3 prospect heading into the 2019 season. He’s knocking on the top 10’s door in the MLB.com Yankees prospect rankings, as well.

Today, The Times-Tribune kicks off its annual countdown of our Top 15 Yankees prospects. One per day will be featured through the end of the month, and as always, an emphasis will be placed on players who are on the verge of helping the RailRiders and Yankees in the relative near term.

For that reason, you might not see a guy like Pereira rank quite as high on this list as he does on Baseball America’s list, or MLB.com’s. If he makes the top 15 at all.

Same goes for a guy like soon-to-be 19-year-old catcher Anthony Seigler, who the Yankees selected in the first round of the 2018 draft. Or, maybe even Roansy Contreras, the right-hander who pitched to a 2.42 ERA with a 1.03 WHIP in 12 starts in A-ball last year, when he was just 18.

If any of them wind up even getting a start at Double-A Trenton in 2019, their seasons would be considered a rousing success. But they’re exactly the type of prospects that make rankings like the ones we start today difficult.

Clearly, the Yankees’ farm system is in a state of transition. Over the last five years, it developed into the envy of the major leagues; but, it’s now considered to be just OK.

Is that because the Yankees are doing a worse job drafting? Is it because philosophies have changed? Is it because other teams have caught up? Those can all be debated, although the correct answer seems to be quite a bit simpler. The farm system that developed such a great reputation the last few years, essentially, has graduated its products.

Last year, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar were top-four prospects on our list. In 2017, Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier, Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Holder and Tyler Wade were all there. Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Dellin Betances and, of course, Luis Severino have all been highly rated in recent years, as well.

All are either locks to make the big league roster or right on the verge heading into 2019.

It’s not that kind of system right now. Five of the Yankees’ top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America, are at the same points in their career Pereira is: They’ll open the season as teenagers.

Bryce Harper and Juan Sosa aside, it’s the rare teenager who finds himself a call-up away from being big-league stars. The Yankees’ teenagers simply aren’t as polished as those guys were.

So count 2019 as the start of the rebuild of the Yankees’ system, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

There’s a lot to build on here. Power right-handed arms that could provide the foundation of the New York pitching staff a few years down the road. Athletic, high-upside outfielders who have a chance to be dynamic. Slick defensive infielders who can stick at shortstop. Some young catchers who look like the real deal.

The Yankees built their current farm system the way they built them in the past. By focusing on athleticism and being strong up the middle. It’s a formula that works, assuming you can mix in the Judges and Andujars every once in a while. This year, though, it happens to be a farm system that needs a bit more projecting, a touch more imagination to predict what’s going to happen a few more years down the road than we’ve had to in the recent past.

There’s plenty of promise here. But sometimes, promises break.

The 2019 set of promises are simply more tenuous than the 2018 promises, or especially the 2017 promises.

That doesn’t mean they’ll break.

It just means they need more time to come true.

DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at dcollins@timesshamrock.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.