Continuing The Times-Tribune’s annual countdown of the top 15 Yankees prospects. 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. Since they’re so new to pro baseball, 2018 draftees are not included on the list.
Coming off a season lost to injuries, Thairo Estrada looks like he’s returning to form.
Position: Shortstop, second base, third base
Acquired: Signed as a nondrafted free agent out of Venezuela on August 2, 2012.
SWB ETA: 2019
Estrada was the victim of a robbery during the 2017-18 offseason, during which he was shot and needed surgery. After missing spring training, he didn’t make his season debut until April 18 with High-A Tampa, and he went on to spend 10 games with the Tarpons. There, he slashed .222/.234/.267 in 45 at-bats. He moved up to the RailRiders on April 30, but would last just eight games with SWB, slashing .192/.210./.231 in 33 at-bats. He hit the disabled list May 8 and was done for the rest of the season. He had a second surgery to completely remove the bullet and returned in time to play in the Arizona Fall League, but even in 19 games there he hit only .238/.282/.263 in 80 at-bats.
Here are some videos of Estrada:
Quite a catch by Thairo Estrada.
(He’ll come into frame eventually). pic.twitter.com/uYspIm7iVO
— Conor Foley (@RailRidersTT) May 2, 2018
Thairo Estrada with the hit. Tyler Wade with the speed. pic.twitter.com/CFKzXnB3tb
— Conor Foley (@RailRidersTT) May 5, 2018
Below, Donnie and I discuss why Estrada lands at No. 8 on the list, what’s good about him and what might need work.
CF: This is a guy who I was really looking forward to seeing last year. He really impressed me in spring training 2017 and he was super young back then (he’s still young; he’ll play all of 2019 as a 23-year-old). Then the offseason incident led to a couple surgeries and likely trying to compensate for that injury led to some other injuries. It was a totally lost year for him, and that’s really too bad. I had kind of wondered if he’d ever get back to the old Thairo. Enter the 2019 spring training model of Thairo. He’s looked really good. When I was down there, he was making solid contact, line drives that easily found gaps. His speed is back. He’s making tough plays in the infield. The Yankees have Tyler Wade as the top utility option in the minors right now — and boy is that demotion a bit of a surprise — but Estrada could really be in a position to make up for lost time.
DC: It’s very easy to kind of look at player development as a linear progression. One year your in Low A, next you start in High A. Then Double-A, and so on. And if something gets in the way, a bad season at the plate, an injury — you sort of get forgotten about prospect-wise. I think Thairo got forgotten about after last year. I’m willing to overlook 2018 for him. Not his fault. The kid got shot. Terrible thing happened to him. He’s lucky he only missed most of a baseball season. But he had the surgery, did the rehab, and by all accounts he’s back to being the player he was. I saw him first a few years back. He was a teenager, and he he’s one of the guys the player development folks told me to watch for in the future. The shame of it all is, he’s probably be a big leaguer right now if it didn’t happen. Maybe the Yanks don’t need to go sign Tulo. But to me, Estrada hasn’t lost any prospect luster from last year. I just think he can be the same kind of player we thought he’d be then.
CF: Aaron Boone said when he got the job, he started watching video of players in the Yankees system. Thairo was one of the guys who he said really stood out, and this spring, Boone said he’s seeing that player he saw on tape back then. Bobby Mitchell raved about him. Jay Bell raved about him. I don’t think he lost much standing within the organization. You just kind of hold your breath when those initial post surgery results — the surgery where they left part of the bullet in him — made it look like he lost a step. I’m excited to see a new Thairo this year.
DC: There’s a lot of reason to love what he brings. He legitimately can play shortstop, but he would fit in around the diamond. He can run. He’s athletic. He makes consistent contact. And he has been durable. The Yankees love him. He was playing with older players consistently on the way up through the system. My guess is that he has a monster year with the RailRiders.
CF: I don’t know how high a ceiling he has on offense, but I know he hits line drives. I don’t know how great he’s going to be in the field, but I know I’ve seen him make some really, really good plays already this spring. I just feel like he’s going to be a solid player. And how bout this for a throwback: the most times he’s ever struck out in a season is 67, which came over 118 games in 2016 between Charleston and Tampa. In 2017, he struck out 56 times in 122 games at Double-A. The Put the Ball in Play Crowd will love this guy. In fact, over his minor league career (394 games) he’s only struck out 211 times and has still managed to post a .340 career OBP.
DC: That’s a pretty good summary of what he is. He always gets the job done.
15: Phillip Diehl
14: Stephen Tarpley
13: Garrett Whitlock
12: Nick Nelson
11: Albert Abreu
10: Luis Medina
9: Roansy Contreras
8: Thairo Estrada
1: March 30
Photo: Associated Press