Minors : : General
Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Top Prospects: New York Yankees

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Bill Cook Trenton Thunder

General Manager: Brian Cashman
Minor League Director: Mark Newman
Scouting Director: Damon Oppenheimer

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (International League) 73-69
AA: Trenton Thunder (Eastern League League) 68-73
Hi A: Tampa Yankees (Florida State League) 74-64
Low A: Charleston RiverDogs (South Atlantic League) 55-85
Rookie Adv.: Staten Island Yankees (New York-Penn League) 45-28
Rookie: GCL Yankees (Gulf Coast League) 37-23
Dominican: DSL Yankees1 (Dominican Summer League) 32-38
Dominican: DSL Yankees2 (Dominican Summer League) 28-42

System Overview

No General Manager and team are scrutinized as much as Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees, although that comes with playing in the largest market in the United States. For as much criticism as they receive for having the largest payroll in all of baseball, Cashman consistently makes sound decisions, even if the Yankees have more margin for error given the financial resources they have at their disposal, and have made the playoffs every year but one (2008) since the strike-shortened season in 1994, claiming six World Series Championships during that time.

The team doesn't have the same homegrown feel it did in the late 90s when their starting lineup was led by Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams, with Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera serving as long-time mainstays for the pitching staff.

Jorge Posada has retired from the game this offseason, leaving Jeter and Rivera as the only remaining players from the Yankees' dynasty that closed out the millennium, and both are nearing the end of their careers as well. Rivera, arguably the greatest closer ever to play the game, has indicated that the 2012 season may be his last, while Jeter, amidst ever growing concern about his ability to play shortstop defensively, keeps producing at the plate serving as the Yankees' Captain.

When the Yankees are intent to be active on the free agent market, it's hard for any other team to compete with them. That was evident during the 2009-10 offseason, when they signed the top three free agents available in Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

Burnett was recently traded to the Pirates, but Teixeira and Sabathia remain. As does Alex Rodriguez, and the team is starting to graduate more talent to the big leagues from within.

Most notably is Robinson Cano, who has established himself as arguably the best second baseman in the game. Fellow Dominican Ivan Nova seemingly came out of nowhere last year to enjoy a breakthrough campaign during his first, full season in the big leagues.

While their division rivals Boston Red Sox are one of the most aggressive teams when it comes to improving their talent base through the draft, the Yankees take a relatively conservative approach. They are one of the bigger players on the international free agent market, and in particular have made the Dominican Republic a priority as evidenced by Cano, Nova and their two Dominican Summer League teams.

Three of the players listed among the top 10 prospects as shown below, Manny Banuelos (Mexico), Gary Sanchez (Dominican Republic) and Ravel Santana (Dominican Republic) are products of their international efforts. Venezuelan Jesus Montero, who was signed in 2006 for $2 million, was used to pry Dominican right-hander Michael Pineda and Venezuelan right-hander Jose Vicente Campos away from the Seattle Mariners to improve the biggest weakness on their big-league team, the starting staff.

Both the Yankees and the Mariners deserve credit for pulling the trigger on the Montero-for-Pineda deal, as rarely do you see teams move their top prospects, even in exchange for another. The Yankees of course had a glaring need in their starting staff, and the Mariners have had difficulty scoring runs in recent years with a severe lack of impact bats in their own system.

Although he's still several years away from contributing at the MLB level, Gary Sanchez has exciting offensive potential behind the plate with a slightly better chance of staying there defensively than Montero had. Overall the system has a handful of promising catchers they could turn to in the years to come, and they gave themselves time to be patient with those developments when they signed Russell Martin during the 2010-11 offseason.

More pitching is on the way, and while the perennial expectation to win at the highest level means the Yankees can't afford to be as patient at the big-league level, they have several in-house options to turn to in 2012 including Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and David Phelps. Phil Hughes, the team's first round pick from 2004, has already assumed one of those starting roles, although didn't enjoy the success that Nova did last year.

They also signed free agent
Hiroki Kuroda away from the Dodgers this offseason, giving them a projected rotation of Sabathia, Pineda, Nova, Kuroda and Hughes. That means they can continue to be patient with the development of Banuelos and Betances while having enviable depth at the position.

2011 Draft

The Yankees were willing to part with their first round pick when they signed set-up man Rafael Soriano last offseason, who prior to signing with the Yankees was drawing minimal interest on the free agent market.

They gained a first round (supplemental) pick back due to the free agent departure of Javier Vazquez, and used that pick to take the son of former big league slugger Dante Bichette, Dante Jr.

Bichette is basically a clone of his father, both in appearance and prospective status. He has exciting bat speed and power potential that profiles to hit in the middle of an order, and will begin his career being groomed as a third baseman, a position his father also played at in the minor leagues.

Their second round pick, left-handed pitcher Sam Stafford out of Texas, opted not to sign, which may turn out to be a good thing for the Yankees since Stafford was shut down this season with a shoulder injury. The team will receive the 89th
 overall pick in the 2012 draft due to them not signing him prior to last August's deadline.

The team's focus remained on high school bats among their early selections, taking third baseman Matt Duran (fourth), catcher Greg Bird (fifth), outfielder Jake Cave (sixth) and first baseman Austin Jones (seventh). The Yankees had to use bonuses well above slot value for Bird ($1.1 million) and Cave ($800,000) to lure them away from Arkansas and LSU respectively, and all four hitters could be groomed as a unit in the lower levels of the system.

Their focus also remained on the high school class for the pitchers they targeted, the first of which being projectable right-handed pitcher Jordan Cote who was taken in the third round. Cote currently throws in the upper-80s to low-90s, but his 6-foot-5 frame suggests there is more to come.

Bonuses well above slot value were also used to ink a handful of prep arms taken well after the top 10 rounds. Right-handed pitchers Rookie Davis ($550,000, 14th
 round), Hayden Sharp ($200,000, 18th), and Joey Mahar ($300,000 38th), as well as left-handers Daniel Camarena ($335,000, 20th) and Chaz Hebert ($148,000, 27th) point to the Yankees being creative and doing their homework to add impact pitching into the system. These five pitchers collectively signed for just over $1.5 million.

Of course the new draft rules of the collective bargaining agreement means the Yankees can no longer sign players past the 10th
 round for more than $100,000, at least without exceeding the assigned draft cap of the top 10 rounds to avoid penalty.

On paper the Yankees 2011 draft doesn't stand out among the best in Major League Baseball, but they did a good job adding a promising collection of high ceiling hitters and pitchers to their system.

Top 10 Prospects

1. RHP Manny Banuelos
Baseball-reference player profile

Banuelos has advanced quickly since he signed with the Yankees in 2008 out of Mexico, making his professional debut later that year. Three years later, he finished his third full season at the AAA level poised to make his impact in the big leagues. He turns 21-years old next week, and likely will return to the AAA level to begin the 2012 season, but as noted above, both he and Dellin Betances give the Yankees two intriguing options to turn to.

While some concerns arose after last season when he walked 71 batters over a career high 130 innings, but previously has showed good control and had a reputation for commanding his three pitch repertoire very well.

That arsenal includes a sinking upper-80s to low-90s fastball that has the ability to creep into the mid-90s. Both his hard breaking curveball and nice fading changeup are also above average pitches, with the advanced knowledge of how to change speeds to complement one another very well. Overall he does a good job keeping the ball down, and in the park, allowing only nine home runs last season.

As noted, Banuelos turns 21 next week, and many believe young pitchers should only increase their innings pitched total from one year to the next by only 25-40, meaning the Yankees can afford to, and probably should remain patient with his development. Listed at 5-foot-11, 155-pounds, he doesn't have the ideal size of a starter expected to consistently throw 200 innings over the course of the season, adding more reason to be careful with his development.

2. C Gary Sanchez
Baseball-reference player profile

Sanchez' profile is very similar to that of the team's previous No. 1 prospect, Jesus Montero, as a catcher with incredible upside offensively but with plenty of questions about his ability to stick behind the plate. Sanchez also signed for big money out of Latin America, as the Yankees inked him for $3 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2009.

It didn't take long for Sanchez to show what he's capable of at the plate, hitting eight home runs across two levels during his debut season in 2010, and adding 17 more during his first full professional season last year in the South Atlantic League. He has very good bat speed and extension in his swing, and a disciplined eye.

While the Yankees have no reason to move him from behind the plate anytime soon, a move to a corner outfield spot or even first base may be inevitable. For as much seasoning as he requires defensively, his bat may dictate the pace in which he progresses. He'll move up to the Florida State League in 2012 at the age of 19.

3. RHP Dellin Betances
Baseball-reference player profile

Betances' stuff has never been in question dating back to his time spent as a PG/Aflac All-American in 2005. With a skyscraper 6-foot-8 stature, he has added strength to his long, strong limbs since signing for $1 million as the Yankees' eighth round pick in 2008.

The soon-to-be 24-year old has been brought along slowly but surely, and during his six-year minor league career he has eclipsed the 100-inning mark three times. He has 491 strikeouts in his 426 career innings, and finished last year at the AAA level while also making a pair of brief appearances for the big league club.

Betances has also walked 205 batters during his minor league career, pointing to a need for improved command. He can be effectively wild with his low-90s heater that can push 94-96 with regularity. He uses his stature well making it look as though he throws that much harder throwing downhill, and also has a sharp curveball and a good, yet inconsistent, changeup.

4. OF Ravel Santana
Baseball-reference player profile

The 2012 season was Santana's first state-side, spending his first two professional seasons in the Dominican Summer League. He responded incredibly well, hitting .291/.361/.568 with 23 extra-base hits, including nine home runs, in 42 games.

He has five-tool potential, with a very strong arm, good, not great foot speed and exciting overall potential at the plate with the ability to hit for average and power. He generates very good bat speed thanks to his strong hands and wrists, and consistently squares the ball up hitting it consistently hard. A good overall athlete, he profiles well in the outfield, although may be a better eventual fit in right field than center.

Santana's progress to open the 2012 season could be slowed after breaking his ankle in mid-August last year. Yet another product of the Yankees aggressive Latin American scouting and spending, it remains to be seen where Santana will open this season, but extended spring training seems likely as his name may not start appearing in box scores until mid-June. When it does, and if big numbers follow, he could be moved aggressively.

5. OF Mason Williams
Baseball-reference player profile

Williams is another exciting overall athlete, as he and Santana could create an exciting outfield of the future should all of the pieces come together for both of them. However, Williams' profile isn't quite the same as Santana's, as his game is built more around his game-changing speed as a potential dynamic leadoff threat.

Listed at 6-foot, 150-pounds, the biggest key to Williams' progression is strength, with many wondering how much power he'll hit for down the road. However, that part of his game doesn't necessarily have to drastically improve given his profile. He hit .349/.395/.468 last year as a 19-year old in the New York-Penn League, stealing 28 bases in 40 attempts, but at this point in his career he relies more on his natural athleticism than he does polish. His plate discipline and defense both need to improve, but he has shown the ability to make adjustments and learn quickly, as both areas can be improved with experience.

After signing out of the fourth round in 2010 for $1.45 million, Williams will make his full-season debut this season in the South Atlantic League. He likely will be brought along one step at a time.

6. RHP Jose Vicente Campos
Baseball-reference player profile

If you felt that swapping Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda was a pretty fair trade straight-up, as a Yankees fan you probably really like the addition of Jose Campos. He's about as perfectly projectable of a pitcher that you can find, with a tall, rangy and strong 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame that continues to add strength. He also continues to improve with experience, posting a 2.32 ERA last summer in the Northwest League during his state-side debut, posting ERAs of 3.16 in 2010 and 5.73 in 2009 in the Venezuelan Summer League.

Campos uses his size very well to throw on a downhill plane, getting full extension with his long limbs making it look like he's releasing the pitch right on top of home plate. He has swing-and-miss stuff, including a fastball that sits in the low-90s with the ability to touch 95-97 and plenty of reason to believe he'll be sitting, and touching, a few ticks higher in the years to come. Both his curveball and changeup show promise, but he needs to throw them more comfortably more consistently. He has also showed very good command of his fastball for such a young pitcher.

The Yankees can be as patient as they want to be with the 19-year old hurler, as he could begin the year in extended spring training before moving onto the New York-Penn League. However, it wouldn't be surprising to see him open the year in the South Atlantic League since he's shown enough polish to go along with his considerable promise.

7. 3B Dante Bichette
Baseball-reference player profile

The first time I saw Bichette I had to do a double-take, as I was not only amazed by how much he looked like his father, but also by his remarkably similar stance in the batter's box and overall mannerisms. His profile as a player, and more specifically as a hitter, are also very similar, as his bat is what caused him to be drafted by the Yankees with their first pick last June in the sandwich round.

He uses his size and natural strength well to muscle the ball out of the park. He does have good bat speed with very good extension. Bichette enjoyed a very successful pro debut in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .342/.446/.505 with 30 doubles and a 30-to-41 walk to strikeout ratio in 196 at-bats, and could begin his first full pro season this year in the South Atlantic League.

While he was drafted as a third baseman, and shows the necessary tools to stick there, an outfield corner may be in his future as it was with his father, although like so many young players, that isn't a switch the Yankees have to worry about anytime soon.

8. 3B Tyler Austin
Baseball-reference player profile

Tyler Austin fell to the 13
th round of the 2010 draft after playing in the 2010 PG/Aflac All-American Classic. He was selected to that team as a catcher, and despite his rocket arm, the Yankees have already moved him from behind the plate to third base. He has also played a handful of games at first base, and there still remains question whether he'll stick at the hot corner, or anywhere on the infield for that matter. His athleticism and speed would go to waste at first base, and given his wheels as well as his arm strength, the next likely destination could be right field.

Wherever he ends up his bat is his strength. He has very good power potential with a clean, compact stroke and an advanced approach at the plate. The ball jumps off his bat with a knack for squaring the ball up consistently well. He continued to enjoy success in the New York-Penn League last summer after starting the year with the Yankees Gulf Coast League affiliate. Between those two stop he collectively hit .354/.418/.579 with 18 doubles and six home runs. His speed also has served him well on the basepaths, stealing 18 bases in as many attempts last summer.

That early success during his pro career leads many to believe that he should have no problems adjusting to full season ball next year, and could advance quickly should he continue to produce at a high level offensively.

9. C Austin Romine
Baseball-reference player profile

The Yankees have focused on quite a few catchers in the early rounds of the draft in recent years, as well as part of their Latin American focus. Romine was the team's second round pick in 2007, and has progressed steadily one level at a time since beginning his professional career.

Last year he repeated the AA level prior to getting a taste for both the AAA and big-league levels. Unlike most of the other top catching prospects in the Yankees system, and almost the exact opposite of No. 2 prospect Gary Sanchez, Romine's defense is what allows him to stand out. He has good quickness, game-calling skills and a strong, accurate arm behind the plate.

He does have some promise offensively with a quick stroke, a patient approach and gap-to-gap power. Romine likely will return to AAA to open 2012, and could reach the big leagues for good by midseason serving as Russell Martin's backup.

10. RHP David Phelps
Baseball-reference player profile

Phelps' upside isn't particularly high, but he got the nod for the final spot on the Yankees' top 10 prospect list for the success he has enjoyed in the minor leagues and his proximity to doing the same at the Major League level.

A 14
th round pick in the 2008 draft, Phelps reached the AAA level by mid-summer of his second full professional season. He is 10-8 with a 3.14 ERA in 30 appearances (29 starts) at the AAA level, where he has thrown 178 innings. Should there be any need for a spot start at the big league level, the Yankees may opt to go with Phelps over Banuelos and Betances to allow those two pitchers to gain more experience.

Phelps doesn't throw as hard as those other two do, regularly working in the upper-80s and reaching the 90-91 range frequently. He exhibits very good command of his fastball/curveball/changeup repertoire, moving the ball well around the zone and pitching to contact to maximize his workload. While he has struck out 147 batters during his 178 AAA innings, he also has given up 191 hits, evidence that he does pitch in the zone, lacking the raw stuff to blow batters away. He still has value as an eventual No. 4- or 5 starter, although he may get a better long-term opportunity with another organization.

Others in the Conversation:
LHP Daniel Camarena, OF Jake Cave, SS Cito Culver, OF Slade Heathcott, C/3B J.R. Murphy, RHP Adam Warren

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