If there’s one thing that Boston Red Sox fans know, it is that their team has one of the better minor league systems in the sport.
The talent, age and potential of four prospects, Yoan Moncada, Rafeal Devers, Andrew Benintendi, and Anderson Espinoza have elevated the ranking of the entire Red Sox minor league system to consensus top 10 status.
Saturday afternoon, the Red Sox faced their arch-rivals, the New York Yankees. This wasn’t a heavily hyped regular season or postseason match-up. Just a routine afternoon exhibition game which will have little or no impact on the upcoming 2016 regular season.
That’s why the Red Sox losing 6-4 wasn’t that big a deal. No one ever wants to lose, but a spring training loss is about as meaningless a loss as any professional baseball player can experience.
There was one very noteworthy aspect the Bronx Bombers 6-4 victory. Two home runs accounted for four of the Yankees six runs. Those home runs were hit by Aaron Judge and Jorge Mateo. Judge and Mateo have never had official major league at-bats.
That’s because Judge and Mateo are the two brightest young prospects in a Yankees minor league system that might not be as strong as the Red Sox, but most assuredly has some very real major league talent within it.
Start with Judge, a 23-year-old, right-handed, right fielder. Judge is a massive physical specimen. He’s 6’7″ 275 pounds and just in case you had any doubts, he’s projected to be a big-time major league power hitter. MLB.com has Judge ranked as the No. 31 prospect in the majors. Keith Law of ESPN.com has Judge at No. 36, Baseball Prospectus places him at No. 18 and Baseball America places Judge at No. 76.
Judge looked pretty major league ready on Saturday. His first home run of the spring was a three-run blast off of major league reliever Anthony Varvaro.
The book on Judge is that he’s got prolific power, but he may struggle to consistently hit major league pitching. He only made one plate appearance on Saturday, but he got maximum production out of it.
Veteran Carlos Beltran is under contract for one more season, and Aaron Hicks is a very capable fourth outfielder. There might not be an open roster spot for Judge until 2017. All three projected Yankees starting outfielders, Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have a tendency to get injured.
That means that there’s a decent chance for Judge to reach the majors this season, and once he’s in the big leagues his big bat could make it difficult for the Yankees to demote him.
As bright a prospect as Judge is, he’s not quite as bright a prospect as Jorge Mateo.
Mateo is a 20-year-old, right handed hitting shortstop prospect. He’s ranked No. 30 by MLB.com, No. 26 by Baseball America, No.65 by Baseball Prospectus and No. 55 by ESPN.com.
He’s only advanced as far as High-A ball, so his major league arrival is not nearly as imminent as Judge’s but he has the potential to be a better all around major league baseball player.
Mateo is a shortstop. Saturday he displayed his power by hitting a solo home run off of a fairly experienced major league pitcher in Steven Wright. Power is not Mateo’s calling-card. It is his speed that will most likely set him apart from his peers when and if he reaches the majors.
Mateo played in 117 minor league games last season. He stole a total of 82 bases. That’s prolific speed, the type of speed that could lead to a 100 stolen base season in the majors. Of course in order to steal all those bases a player has to get on base. To that end Mateo is good, but needs to improve.
He’s got plenty of time though. The Yankees have a very capable and fairly young shortstop named Didi Gregorius. Mateo is unlikely to even attempt to push his way onto the major league roster until either late 2017 or the start of the 2018 season.
New York’s minor league system does not rank as highly as the Red Sox system does. The Red Sox system is routinely placed among the top 10, while the Yankees seem to fall into the next tier (11-20) of rankings. A ranking in that range in no way excludes the Yankees from possessing some very legitimate future major league talent.
Saturday Red Sox fans got a glimpse of the future of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry and there’s good reason to be both excited and concerned. Sure the Red Sox have a great crop of likely future major leaguers, but the Yankees have got some pretty good talent in their system as well.