Before this summer, the last time the Yankees acted as midseason sellers was in 1989, when they provided the final piece of a World Series championship club for the Athletics in the form of Rickey Henderson. When New York found itself in that unusual position again this July, it made the most of the situation.
By trading Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs, Andrew Miller to the Indians and Carlos Beltrán to the Rangers, the Yankees picked up 10 prospects, including three on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list (outfielder Clint Frazier, shortstop Gleyber Torres, left-hander Justus Sheffield) plus two others who previously had made the list (right-hander Dillon Tate, outfielder Billy McKinney). New York already had a strong farm system, and the deals made it one of baseball's best and arguably its deepest.
• Yankees Top 30 Prospects list
That depth is on display in the Yankees' instructional league camp, which opened Sept. 18 and runs through Friday in Tampa, Fla.
"I've been coming to instructional league here for a long time, and this is the best group of players we've had in New York Yankees instructional league," farm director Gary Denbo said. "We have a very exciting group of young athletes."
Yankees Top 30 Prospects at instructs
Trade acquisitions Frazier, Sheffield and McKinney are all in Tampa, while Torres and Tate are playing with the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. The Yankees' top-ranked prospect, Frazier had been promoted to Triple-A right before he changed organizations and batted just .228/.278/.396 with three homers in 25 games at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Those small-sample-size numbers don't do justice to the 22-year-old's upside, which is considerable thanks to his huge raw power and solid speed and arm strength.
"He's working on his overall game," Denbo said. "He admittedly put pressure on himself to perform to justify the deal. He started to perform better later on in the season and he has looked outstanding down here. He has been one of our hardest workers and he has used the time to develop relationships with his teammates and our hitting and defensive coaches."
Sheffield, who came to New York with Frazier as part of the Miller trade, is the top pitching prospect in the system. The 20-year-old fared better after changing addresses, going 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 30 innings, mostly in high Class A. His stuff has been good as advertised, starting with a lively 92-96 mph fastball.
"His outings here have been very good," Denbo said. "He's showing above-average fastball command. His slider is getting a lot of swings and misses, to both right-handers and left-handers. In his last outing, he showed some outstanding changeups. He's showing the ability to throw three plus pitches. He's an advanced left-handed starter who's refining his tools."
McKinney, 22, was regarded as one of the best pure hitters in the Minors when the Cubs acquired him from the Athletics in the July 2014 Jeff Samardzija trade, but he slumped after fouling a ball off his right knee and fracturing his kneecap a year later. He batted just .246/.342/.338 with four homers in 123 Double-A games this season, but the Yankees believe he'll regain his previous form now that he's healthy again.
"He had issues with his knee and didn't have all his balance and stability in his lower half, which makes it difficult to be a consistent hitter," Denbo said. "He's just now getting healthy. He's working very hard to improve his timing and lower-half stability, and also to let his raw power play in games. He started to do that late in the season and he has been one of our best performers down here."
Rutherford Recovering From Hamstring
The trade acquisitions aren't the only relative newcomers turning heads in instructional league. Several members of New York's 2016 Draft class are doing the same. The club's first five picks are in Tampa: outfielders Blake Rutherford (first round) and Dom Thompson-Williams (fifth), second baseman Nick Solak (second) and right-handers Nolan Martinez (third) and Nick Nelson (fourth).
The Yankees may have gotten a steal in the 19-year-old Rutherford, who has all-around tools and was one of the best high school position players available, yet fell to the 18th pick amid signability concerns. After signing for $3,282,000, a franchise record for a hitter, he batted .351/.415/.570 with three homers in 33 Rookie-ball games before straining a hamstring in August. New York is having him focus on the rehab process and not worrying about getting him game action in instructional league.
"He's swinging a bat but hasn't played in any games yet," Denbo said with a week remaining in instructs. "He will be 100 percent for Spring Training. He's an exceptional young athlete with a chance to hit for average and hit for power."
Solak, 21, also offers interesting offensive potential. He hit .455 in the first month of the college season at Louisville before a pitch hit him on the right hand, and he batted .321/.412/.421 with three homers and eight steals in 64 games at short-season Staten Island. He has solid speed and sure hands, though there are questions about whether he has the actions to stay in the infield versus moving to center field.
Denbo said Solak has made nice progress with his defense during instructional league.
"He's working with infield coordinator Carlos Mendoza on his footwork and his approach to groundballs," Denbo said. "We've seen definite improvement. His rhythm is much better and he's making plays now he wasn't before."
2015 Draftees Return To Diamond
The Yankees' 2015 Draft has a chance to be one of the team's better recent efforts, though several of its more intriguing players battled injuries during their first full pro seasons. Right-hander James Kaprielian, their top pick at No. 16 overall in the first round, made just three starts before going down with a strained flexor muscle in his forearm. Though he wasn't on the official instructional league roster, he tuned up in Tampa and looked good before heading to the AFL.
New York looked forward to converting eighth-rounder Donny Sands from third baseman to catcher in 2016, but he played in just 30 games (20 behind the plate) because of shoulder soreness and a concussion. The 20-year-old Sands has the tools to make it as a catcher -- and also to hit for average with 15-or-more homers per season.
"We love his hands and like the fact that he's a good athlete with a good throwing arm," Denbo said. "And we love the offensive potential of Donny Sands. This has been a good opportunity for him to come down here and work with catching coordinator Josh Paul and learn from some of our best coaches."
Outfielder Trey Amburgey, a 13th-rounder, excited the Yankees when he batted .346/.393/.523 with 22 extra-base hits and 21 steals in his 58-game pro debut. He has a big league body at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, well above-average speed and more raw power than most speedsters. But he played in just 60 games this year while dealing with recurring hamstring problems.
"Trey has turned a lot of heads and he certainly has done so in instructional league," Yankees player development analyst Dan Greenlee said. "He has a really good approach at the plate and he's a strong kid. He got banged up this year but everybody still feels good about him. We have a lot of good athletes in the outfield here in instructs, and he fits right in with them."