There's buzz beyond Volpe, Dominguez in Yankees camp

March 7th, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. -- Much of the early buzz in Yankees camp, both understandably and deservedly, has centered around the top two prospects in the system, shortstop Anthony Volpe and outfielder Jasson Dominguez. That dynamic duo might be the faces of the next generation, but as important as they are to the future of the franchise, the development of some of the big arms in Tampa right now is just as important for the long-term health of the farm system.

“I think that we always look for those top picks that show up and look like top picks,” Yankees farm director Kevin Reese said. “But I think probably more so on the pitching side, we've had a lot of guys that were low level Draft picks or lower money signs internationally that have been able to make some big jumps and had some success.”

Two who have really stood out, both in terms of how they performed in 2021 and the strides they are already showing this spring, are lefty Ken Waldichuk and right-hander Hayden Wesneski. Both were college arms taken later on Day 2 of the 2019 Draft, Waldichuk going in the fifth round out of Saint Mary’s, Wesneski a Sam Houston State product taken a round later. Both have huge arms with mid-90s fastballs and missed a ton of bats in their first full seasons. Waldichuk went from High-A to Double-A and Wesneski jumped twice to finish the year in Triple-A. Both showed up this spring ready to take another step forward.

“I think most people that saw Waldichuk last year would say, ‘Hey, he's got a big fastball, the breaking ball is decent, he may need to develop a third pitch in order to be a starter,’” Reese said. “He showed one of the best changeups out here competing against our own hitters. But that was, for me, a wow moment. That's what he needs to make that next step and he's working on it and it looked like a really good pitch and a pitch that can help him attack right-handed hitters in the future.

“Wesneski is a really good competitor whose velocity continues to trend up. He's got like a five-pitch mix and I think that's going to bode well.”

And it’s not just the pitching class of 2019 standing out. The Yankees’ scouting department may have done it again in 2021 when they took Will Warren as a senior out of Southeast Louisiana. He’s yet to throw an official professional pitch, but he’s turned heads in early work.

“Will Warren had some velo in college, but it continues to trend up, and he’s working on some secondary stuff,” Reese said. “We get the opportunity in these situations to talk to the hitters, ‘Hey, who's the toughest guy you’ve faced so far?’ And that's a name that continues to jump out.”

Down in the Dominican
The Yankees have been running a very similar operation, in terms of early gearing up for Spring Training and the 2022 season, in the Dominican Republic, with a lot of younger international signees who are just getting started. That mini-camp was wrapping up and Reese and staff were preparing to welcome those players to Florida.

Most of the talk there was about Roderick Arias, ranked No. 1 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 50 international prospects list at the start of the signing period that began this past January. The Yankees used much of their international bonus pool money to sign the talented shortstop for $4 million and the early returns have been that this could be a very sound investment, showing off all the tools that made him such a coveted target in this class of international talent.

“I think some guys come in at 16 and you're like, ‘Oh, that's a kid,’” Reese said. “Some guys come in at 16 like a Jasson [Dominguez] and you’re like ‘That's a man's body.’ Arias looks like a physical guy that can do a little bit everything on the field.

“Defensively, he’s a guy with big range and a huge arm. That's probably one of the things that really jumps out about them. Offensively, he’s showing he can use the whole field and drive the ball for power.”

Prospect we’ll be talking about in 2023: Antonio Gomez
Catching prospect Antonio Gomez has impressed evaluators, particularly with his arm, since he was an amateur, one who got $600,000 to sign back in July 2018. But he’s had a little trouble staying on the field to show it off and work on sharpening his other tools.

Gomez played in just 15 games during his summer debut in 2019, missing two months with a triceps injury. The issue hampered him again in 2020, keeping him out of the Yankees’ Dominican instructional league. As a result, the Yankees moved cautiously with him in 2021, keeping him in extended spring training before sending him to the Florida Complex League. He earned a promotion up to Low-A after hitting .305/.416/.474 in the FCL and he’s carried his confidence over into the early days of camp here. Reese thinks the 20-year old could work his way into conversations about some of the better catching prospects in baseball in time.

“I watched Gary Sánchez come through here and this guy throws as well as Gary,” Reese said. “Offensively, it’s high-end exit velo, quality at-bats versus both left and right. He’s always working on making better swing decisions, always working on making more contact, but there’s huge impact and I think he hasn't really filled into his man body yet.”

Something to prove: Matt Sauer
The Yankees were very excited to get Matt Sauer in the second round of the 2017 Draft. The California prep right-hander was ranked No. 28 on the Draft Top 200 that year, meaning the industry thought of him as a late first-round talent. The Yankees clearly agreed, going way over slot to sign him for $2.5 million. But an elbow injury two starts into his full-season debut in 2019 put things on hold and he obviously didn’t get to pitch in 2020.

He did have a full season in 2021, compiling 111 1/3 innings between Low- and High-A. The numbers were mixed as he shook off the competitive rust, striking out 10.3 per nine, but also finishing with a 4.69 ERA. The Yankees did not add him to the 40-man roster this offseason, believing he was too far away for anyone to serious consider taking him in the Rule 5 Draft. In 2022, it’s time to take his still-solid stuff and turn it into a more consistent performance.

“He came back last year and showed the big stuff, but didn't necessarily put it all together,” Reese said. “He's made some strides early on and he’s working on a secondary pitch to go with the big velo that he's got. His slider looks like it's improved quite a bit. So that's a guy that I wouldn't be surprised if, depending on where he starts, he moves up a level or two as we go because it's all in there.”