The top storylines for the Yankees 2021 minor league season

Dan Kelly

The Yankees minor league affiliates returned to action for the first time since September 2019 on Tuesday evening. After a long wait that included the cancellation of the 2020 season and restructuring of the minor league system the pipeline to the major leagues is back in action. Let’s take a look at the significant storylines that will provide the backdrop for the Yankees minor league system this season.

Extraterrestrial talent

Yankees fans began hearing about a young prospect nicknamed “The Martian” early in 2019. Jasson Dominguez earned his moniker from coaches and scouts who said that his physical tools and talent are “out of this world” the Yankees paid him the largest signing bonus they have every given a 16-year-old international free agent. The summer of 2020 should have been his coming out party, as the switch-hitting centerfielder would likely have followed the path of other elite international prospects to begin his professional career in the Rookie-Advanced Appalachian League. Those plans were wiped away by the pandemic, and the Rookie-Advanced level was eliminated following the season as Major League Baseball reconfigured the minor leagues.

When minor league rosters were announced late last week Dominguez was not among the names assigned to either High-A Hudson Valley or Low-A Tampa surprising some fans who have been hearing of Dominguez’s potential and batting practice exploits for over two years. The Yankees assigned their 18-year-old top prospect to extended spring training. The Yankees senior director of player development, Kevin Reese recently said that “he hasn’t played in a ton of games,” when explaining the decision to start Dominguez’s season out of the limelight. In extended spring training he will see live pitching and game action while giving the Yankees the chance to focus on specific aspects of his game if needed.

Several talented prospects have come out of extended spring training to make their debut in either late-May or early June in recent years including highly regarded prospects such as Oswald Peraza and pitcher Deivi García. When Dominguez is ready his first stop will almost certainly be Class-A Tampa where he will join a lineup that features the Yankees two most recent first round draft picks, in shortstop Anthony Volpe and catcher Austin Wells. Reese is not concerned about his future saying that “I’m sure he’s going to be a steamroller though the minor leagues.”

Surprising Arms

When the games were cancelled in 2020 many players were left stranded in very different training environments. As COVID restrictions began to relax many of the pitchers began finding their way into pitching labs that have become nearly essential for the modern pitcher. Geared up with the latest systems from TrackMan, Rapsodo, and other pitch tracking devices these facilities just need a mound, a plate and someone familiar with how to translate the information into results. The Yankees showed off their new pitching lab, named “The Gas Station” this spring.

The Yankees pitching coordinator Sam Briend is just the man to understand that technology as he came to the organization from Driveline baseball which is at the forefront of the pitching lab revolution. Surrounding himself with pitching coaches experienced in using the videos and data to get results, those coaches have worked with many young pitchers through zoom this past year. Now the results will exit the lab and hit the field.

It is very possible that more than a few pitchers are going to show up to the season with at least one new pitch, a refined approach and more velocity. Yankees prospect Daniel Bies discussed in a pre-season interview how he had increased his velocity by 3 mph of a previous high. Other pitchers like Hayden Wesneski and Ken Waldichuk have also experienced similar gains. How will these pitchers bring their results from the lab to the field? Can an under the radar arm breakout? Only the grind of a full season will tell for sure.

Social Distancing

One of the most surprising decision of last fall was the Yankees decision to forgo their traditional instructional camp. The Yankees were one of two teams to pass on the opportunity to bring in their best prospects for a month of scrimmages, work with coaches and games against other teams.

After being forced to quarantine many of their minor leaguers for several weeks at the end of spring training due to positive COVID cases within the organization the Yankees stated that they did not want to put their players in that position again. Several of the teams around baseball had COVID outbreaks during their camps, perhaps justifying that decision in the eyes of the Yankees front office.

Still, the decision to pass on in-person instruction has been criticized by some baseball media, including Baseball America who wrote that “the Yankees’ minor leaguers had it worse than most” in reference to the stunting of player development in 2020.

What will be the story of 2021 for Yankees prospects? Did the Yankees’ virtual coaching and independent work in the gyms, home town fields and pitching labs provide the same advantages that other teams gained during the month of October. Will there be a noticeable difference as the season goes on?

After a long wait the Yankees’ minor league system is back in regular season action. There are hundreds of prospects to follow and exciting players that will continue their climb towards the major leagues. Have the Yankees made the right calls during the pandemic and can the potentially generational talent live up to the hype?

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Providing coverage of the Yankees organization from the major leagues, to the Scranton Shuttle and down through the entire minor league system. Analysis, previews and interview with members of the Yankees organization all in one place building a comprehensive picture of all things New York Yankees.

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