Today begins The Times-Tribune’s annual countdown of the top 15 Yankees prospects. A little refresher for how we do things: I rank 20 prospects, Donnie Collins ranks 20 prospects, and then we average them together. The list takes into account ETA for the big leagues. You’re going to find some guys who might not have ceilings as high as others, but who instead could be in a position to help the Yankees sooner. The first guy on this list, Phillip Diehlis a good example of that …

The basics

Position: Relief pitcher
Throws: Left
Age: 24
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 180
40-man? No
Draft: By the Yankees, 2016 27th round out of Louisiana Tech University (Ruston, La.). He attended Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati.
SWB ETA: 2019

2018 season

Diehl had a 2.51 ERA between High-A and Double-A last season, with 108 strikeouts and 23 walks in 75.1 innings. With Trenton, he held opponents to a .196 average and struck out a whopping 14.6 batters per nine innings. You might also remember Diehl as the guy Aaron Judge faced in a sim game last year when he was trying to come back from an injury late in the season. Diehl wrapped up the season by appearing in two playoff games with the RailRiders, tossing 1.2 scoreless innings with one walk and two strikeouts.

Here’s some videos of Diehl, a fastball-slider type reliever, in action:

Why 15?

Below, Donnie and I discuss why Diehl lands at No. 15 on the list, what’s good about him and what might need work. 

CF: If you’re ready to Diehl, so am I. (See what I did there?).  … To start, I think we should first mention that this was not an easy list to put together. There were a lot of I guys I voted for and you didn’t, and guys you voted for that I didn’t. It’s not that this isn’t a talented organization. It is. It’s just that the deck has been reshuffled. Last year seemed easy. Gleyber. Andujar. Sheffield. Florial. They were the headliners. The Yankees’ Greatest Hits album of prospects. This year, the major prospect publications have a consensus top two, but it’s a guessing game after that. Our rankings were especially difficult because we put an emphasis on proximity to the big leagues. There’s a lot of talent in the lower levels. The Yankees have been among the best at tapping the international free agent market. All of those guys are years away. The upper levels … there’s still talent, but I feel like everyone is in a “OK, he did that last year; can he do it again this year?” kind of state. I’d even say this is a big Prove It season for the organization as a whole.

DC: All that said, I think Diehl is a guy who got on the list because he’s close. And there’s a lot to like about him. He had great numbers in High A and Double-A last year. Was really good the year before. Strikes out a ton of guys. Throws left-handed. Doesn’t walk a ton of guys. Looks like a good reliever to me, and honestly, five years ago, he’s a guy who makes my top 10 easily. But here’s my question to you: As good as he is against righties right now, at the big league level, is he going to be one of those lefty specialists who is really being phased out of the game the last few years?

CF: No way. He’s a Today’s Game reliever. In fact, it’s probably fair to wonder if, like, 10 years ago, his growth gets stunted. He’s not a big dude — Aaron Boone called him “diminutive” Saturday, but he’s 6-foot-2, so that’s not a totally fair statement, but I know what he means — and he doesn’t throw in the upper 90s. Is a little lefty with a 90-94 fastball even going to get a chance to get out righties 10 years ago? In the videos I’ve seen, he can really back foot that slider against righties.

DC: I saw him a few times last year, and he throws a changeup that I think makes it all work. I mean, really, he has a starter’s repertoire. But he’s not a starter. And I get that he has gotten righties out, all the way back to his college days. I just want to see that at the highest levels of the minors before I start to think the kind of success he has had — and righties hit below .200 against him with terrible peripherals last year — can be sustained. I actually really like his fastball. It’s 92-93 with late life. He seems like a spin rate guy. But I just wonder where he fits in the big leagues with a team that has two dominant lefties and a million hard-throwing righties.

CF: The fastball is definitely a high-spin-rate one. The Yankees told him he should start throwing it more up in the zone last year, so he did and, looking at the numbers, his strikeouts climbed even more. He thinks it makes his slider that much better, too. It’s fair to wonder where he fits in — there’s a third lefty (Tarpley) ahead of him on the depth chart, too — but, at least in the near future, New York is going to be tough to crack for a lot of these prospects. There are young guys at a bunch of positions that won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. I think something else that I’ve liked about Diehl is his confidence. Boone talked about it, too. He’s got this presence about him. Some might call it cocky, but there’s pure confidence behind it. He could give up back-to-back-to-back homers and still believe he’d come back to strike out the next three guys on nine pitches. He has to have that kind of confidence to pitch the way he does. Oh, and the analytics crowd will be happy to know that he messed around with spin rates and grips over the offseason, so we’ll see how that plays out.

DC: Yeah he was a really good college pitcher at LA Tech. A really confident kid who took the ball in a lot of pressure situations. I don’t think anything will faze him. And that’s a good point. He does work up in the zone with the heat and down with the offspeed stuff. When you’re doing that and throwing strikes, it’s messing with an opponent’s eye level and he really does that well. He’s not a lefty trying to trick you with slider after slider or a funky delivery. He just has good stuff and a feel for the art of pitching. He’s very solid.

CF: Fun fact, he went to the same high school as Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin and former passenger of my ‘99 Honda Accord (and former Yankees farmhand), Andrew Brackman.