Those of us who love baseball enjoy following our favorite team’s Minor League prospects. Every year, various entities rank individual prospects as well as organizations’ farm systems, and by the looks of things, the Pirates have one of the better systems in all of Major League Baseball.
But as we all know, a sizable percentage of prospects never reach their full potential. Some might consider them “disappointments,” but maybe that’s too harsh. After all, baseball might be the most unpredictable of all sports when it comes to guessing which prospects are going to hit it big.
The whole prospect prediction thought came to mind this week when I came across the name of Eddy Yean. Hopefully you haven’t forgotten about Yean; he was the high-upside portion of the return the Pirates received from the Washington Nationals in the Josh Bell trade last Christmas.
Baseball folks were singing Yean’s praises after the trade; even Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo’s voice could be heard in that choir, telling The Washington Post: “Big arm. Big upside. He’s a couple of years away. And if he’s healthy, he’ll impact the Major League roster. He’s years away with big upside.”
Yean, who wouldn’t turn 20 until late June, immediately vaulted into the top end of the Pirates’ prospect list; MLB Pipeline had him ranked 12th as late as midseason while Baseball America had him at No. 19 and FanGraphs at No. 25.
Yean had only two seasons of professional ball under his belt, but there was reason for optimism. After scuffling in the Nationals’ Dominican Summer League team as a 17-year-old, he bounced back to pitch better in 2019, which he split between the then Gulf Coast League and the short-season New York Penn League. He made a combined 10 appearances and finished with a 3.50 ERA, striking out 43 in 46 1/3 innings and posting a 3.3 walks-per-nine-innings rate.
But Yean’s 2021 season didn’t go as planned. Assigned to Bradenton in the Low-A Southeast League, the 6-foot, 180-pound right-hander appeared in 22 games – eight as a starter – and did not set the world on fire. He worked 66 2/3 innings and while he yielded a respectable 56 hits, he also walked 39 – an average of a little more than five per nine innings — and hit five batters to go along with 69 strikeouts. Eight of his hits allowed left the yard. He finished with a 5-2 record and a 5.27 ERA.
It wasn’t all bad, of course; Yean had stretches where he pitched well. In one three-game span that included two starts and covered 9 2/3 innings in late August, Yean allowed just one earned run and six hits while striking out 12. But even then he was hurt by subpar control, as he walked seven and hit a batter.
In his last three outings of the regular season, Yean worked a combined 7 2/3 innings, giving up 11 hits, five earned runs, four walks and seven strikeouts. However, he did bounce back in the postseason, hurling 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in the final game of Bradenton’s three-game sweep of Tampa on Sept. 24.
So, what do we make of Yean’s 2021 season and his status moving forward? Given the way young pitchers were used this year, the numbers might not tell the whole story. After all, organizations were cognizant of the fact that most minor league pitchers were coming off a season of competitive inactivity, and they were careful with innings and usage. Yean, for example, only went more than four innings twice in his 22 outings.
One can only speculate how Ben Cherington, Steve Sanders, John Baker and the rest of the Pirates brain trust feel about Yean’s future. MLB Pipeline, which had him ranked the highest, now has Yean as the Pirates’ No. 30 prospect. Granted, the system has more talent now than it did shortly after the club acquired Yean and Wil Crowe from the Nationals. But that’s still a fairly steep drop in one season’s time. Baseball America has Yean ranked No. 22 – five spots lower than his midseason ranking — while FanGraphs has him at No. 29. Going into the season, FanGraphs had a future value of 40+ on Yean and noted that an improved slider would vault him into the category of future No. 4 or 5 starter in the big leagues.
But Yean has a ways to go before he sees the clubhouse at 115 Federal Street. Will he rebound in 2022 and show more of the promise that made him the centerpiece of the Josh Bell trade? Will he tread water? Or will he began decline that eventually sends him packing? That’s one of the attractions of baseball – seeing what ultimately happens to the Eddy Yeans of the world.