Yankees Minors report: Who broke out in '21?

October 20th, 2021

NEW YORK -- Though their 92-win campaign guaranteed only a trip to roll the dice in the American League Wild Card Game, nearly no organization enjoyed more success top to bottom than the Yankees this season, thanks to a robust system that has evaluators excited about what the future could bring.

The Yanks’ seven Minor League clubs combined to post a 327-207 record, a .612 winning percentage that ranked only behind the Rays (354-188, .653) across baseball. Low-A Tampa owned the best winning percentage in the organization (73-43, .629), boasting an on-field product that featured contributions from top prospects Anthony Volpe, Jasson Dominguez, Austin Wells and others.

Volpe seems to be on the fast track toward The Bronx, earning selection as MLB Pipeline’s Hitter of the Year after his standout performance for Low-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley. Like many of his generation, Volpe grew up idolizing Derek Jeter and picturing playing shortstop for the Yankees -- and he just might get the opportunity to do it.

“It’s every kid’s dream to one day be a Yankee and wear the pinstripes,” Volpe said. “It’s not something I take lightly to have the opportunity to one day do. That’s the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s the big picture.”

Four players who forced their way onto the radar this year

Volpe was already firmly on the Yankees’ watchlist, but he’s now one of the darlings of the national scene, too. The Yanks’ first-round pick in 2019 out of Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J., Volpe packed on 15 pounds of muscle during last year’s shutdown. That translated into his offense as he hit .294/.423/.604, Volpe had a 1.027 OPS and 170 wRC+, both tops among all qualified full-season Minor Leaguers. His 68 extra-base hits were second among all Minor Leaguers. Volpe showed power, speed and contact-hitting ability -- all indicators that his breakout was legitimate.

Right-hander Luis Gil saw a considerable jump in his prospect stock this past year, ending 2021 as the Yankees’ No. 4 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. The 23-year-old Gil was 5-1 with a 3.97 ERA in 20 games (17 starts) for Double-A Somerset and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, enjoying a historic opening act to his big league career with 15 2/3 scoreless innings across his first three starts -- the longest by a Yankee in the Expansion Era (since 1961).

Left-hander Ken Waldichuk opened the season with 30 2/3 scoreless innings at High-A Hudson Valley before earning a promotion to Double-A Somerset. A fifth-round selection by New York in the 2019 MLB Draft, Waldichuk continued to miss bats at the higher level, tallying 163 strikeouts to rank fourth among all Minor League hurlers. Overall, Waldichuk was 6-3 with a 3.03 ERA in 23 games (21 starts), posting 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

Second baseman Oswaldo Cabrera was named the Double-A Northeast MVP by Minor League Baseball. The switch-hitting Cabrera led the league in hits (112), RBIs (78), extra-base hits (54) and total bases (215). The Venezuela native was also the only player in the league to hit at least 20 home runs and steal at least 20 bases.

Two possible breakout players to watch in 2022

Shortstop Oswald Peraza took a giant leap forward in ’21, with his offense catching up to his excellent glove, and he appears primed for even greater success next season. In 115 games at three levels, Peraza hit .297/.356/.477 with 26 doubles, 18 homers and 58 RBIs. He and Volpe give the Yankees two legitimate options to dream on in their future infield -- or to dangle as enticing trade chips, should they desire.

Right-hander Hayden Wesneski rose quickly through the Yankees’ system this past season, compiling an 11-6 record with a 3.25 ERA in 25 games (24 starts) for High-A Hudson Valley, Double-A Somerset and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. A sixth-round pick by the Yanks in 2019, Wesneski projects as a mid-rotation starter or a fastball-heavy reliever in the Majors.

One big question for next season

What is the progression plan for Dominguez? The Yankees pumped the brakes on his hype train this past spring, shying away from outside comparisons to the likes of Bo Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout, then delaying Dominguez’s pro debut until late June.

Nicknamed “The Martian,” the 18-year-old switch-hitter batted .252/.353/.379 with nine doubles, a triple, five homers and 19 RBIs in 56 games -- 49 for Low-A Tampa. Dominguez showed both flashes of brilliance and rough edges. As arguably the most hyped and tooled international prospect in recent memory, the Yanks will soon need to take their Lamborghini on the open road to see what he can do.