With a 5-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night, the Yankees became the last team in the major to reach double-digit losses at 21-10. Through the early goings of the regular season, New York is one of the best teams in baseball and the youth movement is only going to continue as the Bronx Bombers boast the second best farm system in baseball, according to MLB.com.
General manager Brian Cashman has done a tremendous job rebuilding on the fly and restocking the team’s minor league system. But the one problem that comes with this is keeping enough room on the 40-man roster for everyone, and trying to avoid losing guys via the Rule 5 draft. The clogged roster led to two small trades that Cashman made a few months back, which seemed trivial at the time and were perhaps the cost of having too much talent in the farm system.
Last August, the Yankees traded outfielder Ben Gamel to the Mariners for right-handed pitchers Jio Orozco and Juan De Paula. In November, the two teams agreed on a second low-key transaction. In this deal reliever James Pazos, who was once deemed untouchable by Hal Steinbrenner, was shipped off in exchange for minor league right-hander Zack Littell, an 11th round pick in 2013 who will not be Rule 5 eligible until after this season. After looking at the 40-man crunch the Yankees were faced with last fall, it’s easy to see why they dealt Gamel and Pazos away.
What wasn’t easy to see was the duo becoming important contributors for Seattle during the first few weeks of 2017. This spring, the two youngsters were fighting for big league jobs. Pazos made the team and Gamel was beat out by Guillermo Heredia for the forth outfield spot. But the long-haired Gamel was called up two weeks ago from Triple-A Tacoma to take fellow rookie Mitch Haniger’s place.
Last night in Philadelphia, Gamel went 4-for-5 with a homer and threw out a potential go-ahead run at home in the eighth inning. The 24-year old outfielder, who hit .200 in 40-at bats for Seattle last September, is slashing .362/.455/.596 with a 200 wRC+. In that same game, Pazos pitched a scoreless 7th inning and lowered his ERA to 2.40. The 26-year old southpaw is second on the team among relievers in innings pitched and he’s regularly hitting 99 mph with his fastball. He has whiffed 20 batters in 15 innings and he’s becoming a fairly reliable option for manager Scott Servais
At the time of his trade to Seattle, Pazos had logged just 8 1/3 big league innings, making a few cameos in pinstripes over the last two seasons. The big lefty, who was drafted by New York in the 13th round in 2012 out of the University of San Diego, mostly dominated in the minors, but was ineffective in the majors. He cobbled together a 1.79 ERA with 78 punchouts in 60 1/3 innings during his time at the Triple-A level with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. But he also battled command issues, posting an unsightly 6.26 BB/9 last season while with Scranton.
Meanwhile, the 24-year old Gamel, who is the younger brother of former Brewers top prospect Mat Gamel, was drafted by the Yankees in the 10th round of the 2010 draft and made his big league debut with the team last May. He appeared in just six games, but was quite productive during his time at the with Scranton. In 533 plate appearances, the sweet-swinging lefty hit .308/.365/.420 with six homers and 19 stolen bases while appearing at all three outfield spots.
At worst, Gamel figured to profile as a fourth outfield candidate and he was rated 24th among Yankees prospects according to MLB.com prior to being dealt. He won’t dazzle anyone with displays of power, but both his hit tool and speed were rated as above-average, drawing comparisons to Brett Gardner. Working against Gamel was the fact that the Yankees possess a talented core of young outfielders coming through the system as well. Most notably Clint Frazier and Blake Rutherford. And to a lesser extent, Dustin Fowler.
The Yankees 40 man roster crunch was subject of much debate during the fall. Gamel and Pazos were two casualties of that problem. The two former Yankees prospects current success is simply a testament to how loaded the Yankees farm system has become. Having the best or second best minor league system in baseball is great, but the truth is that not all the prospects will succeed and some will succeed elsewhere.