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Yankees hopeful top prospects will take next step

Sanchez tops solid group of position players; club looking to build pitching depth

Yankees hopeful top prospects will take next step

There's no question why the Yankees selected five straight pitchers to start their 2014 First-Year Player Draft. Just two of their top 10 prospects are pitchers, and those two are just beginning their careers in Class A Charleston.

But with aging players all over the field on the current big league roster, the Yankees are hoping to rely on several top prospects to advance successfully through their system in the next few years.

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The Yankees' top overall prospect is catcher Gary Sanchez, 21, who was signed as an international free agent for $2.5 million in late June 2009. He was the fifth catcher the Yanks reeled in that year, including, most notably, John Ryan Murphy, who is currently backing up Brian McCann.

So far this season for Trenton, the Yankees' Double-A affiliate, Sanchez is hitting .251/.328/.414 through 53 games, which is concerning considering his numbers have slowly but steadily dropped since progressing through the Class A affiliates. Potentially more concerning is that the backstop was held out of Trenton's lineup this past week for a few games due to disciplinary reasons.

But if the Yanks are still considering Sanchez a viable option for the future, or at least a major trade candidate, the bright side is that he's still very young. When he joined Trenton last year, he was almost 4 1/2 years younger than the average Double-A player. Sanchez remains a reliable defensive threat whose strong throwing arm is a marketable skill.

Another player making news recently is outfielder Aaron Judge, last year's 32nd overall pick from Fresno State who is already performing well at Class A Charleston. In 65 games for the RiverDogs, Judge has smashed nine home runs and 45 RBIs with a .333 batting average, good enough to make the league's All-Star Game that will take place Tuesday.

"I can see similarities between Giancarlo [Stanton] and Aaron," RiverDogs manager Luis Dorante, who was working in the Marlins' organization when Stanton was coming up through their farm system, told The Post and Courier. "They are about the same size and both have tremendous power and very good hands. I think Aaron has that kind of potential."

Third baseman Eric Jagielo out of Notre Dame was drafted just a few spots ahead of Judge last year. The Yankees hadn't drafted a college position player in the first round since 2001, but they were impressed with Jagielo's power, suited for Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch.

Jagielo finished second in the Cape Cod League with 13 homers in the summer of 2012, and this year for Class A Advanced Tampa, he's continuing the trend, slugging 10 homers and 31 RBIs in just 42 games. Currently the fourth overall prospect in the Yanks' system, his polished bat could land him in Trenton before the end of the year.

Outfield prospects Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott are ranked second and third, respectively, in the Yankees' organization, but each has his pitfalls. Williams is very athletic and looks to be a plus defender, but his bat has been the issue. After a slow start in 2014, Williams is picking it up a bit. He's hitting .226 with two homers and 16 RBIs.

Heathcott was selected 29th overall in 2009, but he has struggled with the injury bug, not being able to put together a full season in the Minors. After hitting .261 for Trenton last year, Heathcott has only played in nine games in '14 -- after working back from offseason knee surgery -- and has six hits in 33 at-bats entering Monday. Now that Jacoby Ellsbury has center field on lockdown for at least a few years, Heathcott might project as a powerful corner outfielder.

Pitching-wise, the Yanks are happy with their first overall selection Jacob Lindgren, especially when, during MLB Network's coverage of the Draft, it was mentioned that Lindgren could be the first member of this class to make it to the Majors.

But a few other pitchers in the Top 20 are making some waves in the organization, too. Before the season in March, general manger Brian Cashman announced that righty Jose Ramirez would be moved to the bullpen full time.

"Ramirez is a power right-hander that's been a starter throughout his Minor League career, but because of injuries, we're going to stick him in the bullpen," Cashman said. "He has a chance to move very fast."

And indeed he has. Ramirez went 2-0 with a 0.84 ERA for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before he was promoted to the big leagues on June 4. Since his callup, he's appeared in three games, and after allowing two runs and a homer against the A's in his first relief outing, he has provided 2 1/3 scoreless innings since.

As for a promising starter, lefty Ian Clarkin is ranked seventh in the Yankees' organization after being drafted last year as the No. 33 overall pick. He's 2-3 with a 3.67 ERA in just over 41 2/3 innings this season at Class A Charleston.

Jake Kring-Schreifels is an associate reporter for MLB.com.‬‬‬ This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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