While I was waiting for my ride home at the airport in Allentown yesterday, I did a fairly brief, impromptu chat session on Twitter, and someone asked me a question I hadn’t put much thought into:
“Who are the best players you’ve seen that nobody is talking about?”
We’re in the midst of our annual Top 15 Yankees Prospects list here on the blog, but on my first day home from spring training coverage, it strikes me that maybe this is a good time to pause and talk about some of the players who get very little prospect attention, but who caught my eye over the last week. The great thing about spring training is that I see everybody, and while I sure don’t have to look at my roster to tell you who Luis Severino or Aaron Judge or Greg Bird or Mason Williams or Tyler Austin or Kyle Roller are when they come to the plate or take the mound, there are other players who did great things all week and did force me to pull out the trusty roster to see who the heck they were.
Not sure any of them will reach elite prospect status. But they all do something really well. So, take this for what you will.
I have to give a tip of the cap to my good friend Patrick Teale, publisher of PinstripesPlus.com for this one, because he told me the first time I saw him last week to give Estrada a long look, since he was in the Triple-A group. And Estrada did not disappoint. The kid makes good, solid contact consistently. He always seems to be in the proper position defensively. He does all the little things. And, he’s only 19. Last season as an 18-year-old, he hit .271 with a .348 OBP and stole eight bases in 17 games at Staten Island, competing against a large percentage of the talent base that played in college. I’m fairly convinced there are players the player development staff intentionally doesn’t talk about much, because they don’t want scouts and other teams to pay too much attention. Estrada is one of those guys. When he came to bat, coaches would kind of come over from other fields to watch.
This one is cheating a little bit, because I saw Encinas a few years ago and really liked him then. (He was a former sixth-round pick, after all.) But, he had Tommy John surgery in 2013. He wasn’t great a year after surgery at Charleston, but his arm is clearly back now. He was throwing 94-95 with the fastball and had a great breaking ball.
He has actually been in the system forever — well, not forever, but since he was 16 in 2009 — but this is the first year I can remember him really jumping off the page. He does a lot of exciting things. He can run. He can defend. He can throw. He was spraying the ball all over the field the past week, too. He made it to Tampa last season, and he hit just .203 there with two homers in 22 games. Since he’s 22 now, it might be time for him to start making his push. He has the tools to impress.
His numbers last season weren’t awe-inspiring — a 4.24 ERA in 40 games between Charleston and Tampa — but he absolutely brings it. One of the harder throwers I saw in camp all week, consistently 95, 96 mph with the fastball. The issue with him is that he doesn’t throw strikes — he somehow walked more batters last season (42) than got hits against him (37). But I saw him in the strike zone this week, and he was unhittable.
I am going to dare to say this: Acevedo was the best player I saw in minor-league camp from a pure talent perspective. Excluding nobody. He made a start early in the week and was throwing 98. And that wasn’t his best pitch. He was throwing a changeup his opponents had zero chance against. Acevedo is 6-foot-7 and he has thrown a grand total of 15.1 innings in the Gulf Coast League — and that’s his experience here in the United States. He’s quite a few steps away from Triple-A, never mind the big leagues. But he just turned 21, so with some success, he could get pushed relatively quickly. This will not be the last time you hear his name.