April 2013 Prospect Profile: Outfielders
Those were, in Spring Training, the words of outfielder Slade Heathcott, discussing the relationship between himself and three of his former Tampa Yankees teammates: current Trenton Thunder mates Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores and still T-Yank Mason Williams.
Three of those four are ranked in the Top 5 of every outside list of Top Yankees Prospects, and according to MLB.com, Flores is No. 11, right behind Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre outfielder Zoilo Almonte.
If anything proves the depth of the outfield in the Yankees system, it’s that fact that there are five outfielders in the Top 11 prospects. However, with the organization fielding two Gulf Coast League teams in 2013 there are now nine officially sponsored sets of future Yankees – meaning that at some point this summer, there will be 27 starting outfielders and another 18 or more filling bench and/or DH roles in Scranton, Trenton, Tampa, Charleston, Staten Island, the GCL or the Dominican Summer League.
So then, how does one go about standing out above the crowd?
Neil Medchill is in perhaps the unenviable position of being the “fourth” outfielder in that Trenton gold mine, spending most days as the designated hitter while filling in for any of the Austin/Flores/Heathcott triumvirate on their DH or off days.
Medchill’s career has been besieged by injury, the latest a stress fracture in his lower leg that occurred last July – just 17 games after he finally was promoted to Trenton after two-plus years in Tampa – and forced him to miss the second half of 2012.
He’s healthy now and in better physical condition, having dropped about 15 pounds while rehabbing, and he seems to have found the best way to fight for his face time: get off to a hot start. Through the first two weeks of the Minor League season, Medchill hit .347 – 100 points higher than both Austin and Heathcott and nearly 50 better than Flores – with three home runs and 11 RBI, and he plans to just keep on keeping on while continuing a healthy competition with the better-known prospects.
“I’m more of an older guy now (Medchill will be 26 in June) and I know my role; maybe our top three prospects are here in the outfield, so whatever I can do to get in the lineup, I will,” he said. “I’m not too old, but I just want to leave it all out on the field.”
One level below Medchill, playing with Williams in Tampa, is Ben Gamel, who Minor League Monthly chose as Charleston’s 2012 MVP after he posted a .306-2-61 line with 19 steals in 110 games. Gamel has a Major League pedigree, as his brother Mat has played with the Brewers for the last few seasons, but outside of being alongside Williams for most of the last couple seasons, not much is known by many about his talents.
Like Medchill, though, Gamel has gotten off to a torrid start, hitting .357 with seven RBI and four steals and besting Williams (who himself hit .300) in every category, and while it seems like it would take a lot for him to see Double-A in 2013, he knows he can only control so much.
“I just try and get better every day and things like that,” Gamel told Bronx Baseball Daily’s Greg Corcoran earlier in April. “I can only play hard and try to be a good teammate.”
As mentioned earlier, even just beyond those two success stories, there are more than a dozen guys who will spend the summer fighting for face; Eduardo Sosa (.308, seven RBI in the first two weeks) is currently playing alongside Williams and Gamel in Tampa, 2012 draftees Danny Oh and Taylor Dugas (.306 in 59 games for Staten island last year) join a pair of tenured international signees in Charleston’s outfield, and at some point, highly-touted teen phenoms Ravel Santana and Nathan Mikolas will join several others – including anyone the Yankees may draft – in fighting for spots in Staten Island or the GCL.
The best advice any of the known can give to the unknown? Take it from Mason Williams:
“We’re all out here together trying to get better, but it all comes down to how you perform I, personally, don’t try to control things I can’t control; I just try to be me and handle me and play hard every day.”
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