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Yankees Top 40 Prospects for 2012

Could Mason Williams be #1 on this list next year?

Based on their recent actions and remarks, it seems the Yankees are serious about sticking to a smaller payroll now and at least through the 2014 season in an attempt to get under the $189 Million Luxury Tax threshold.  In order to do so, the club will need to look  to fill important positions from within and develop both impact and role players.

The Yankees system became known in recent years as being deep in Pitchers and Catchers but lacking in strong position prospects.  This was definitely a weakness identified by Mark Newman & Damon Oppenheimer and they addressed it by adding several solid up the middle athletes and corner players who can rake in the last 2 years.  Now, the system is more well-rounded although there is definitely a lack of upper-echelon hitters in the higher levels of the organization.

The system is still strong in upper level pitching. Even with Nova & Noesi graduating to NY, they still have 5 potential MLB starters in AAA (Banuelos, Betances, Warren, Phelps, DJ Mitchell).  The next level of pitching is led by Brett Marshall and several guys that need to take a step forward in 2012.  Oppenheimer has a history of drafting good college relievers and there are many strong-armed righties in the pipeline who could advance quickly.

Today, I will list the Top 40 with a quick blurb, then will follow-up with more in-depth on the Top 20 or so players in the coming weeks.  Each player has their position, Opening Day 2012 Age & expected level to start season.

1) Jesus Montero – C/DH, 22 – MLB

Has an elite bat that will make him a middle of the order MLB hitter for the next decade+. Rare blend of natural power to all fields with ability to make adjustments and take what pitcher gives him.   Only question is whether he will be anything more than a DH but a .300 hitter with 30 HR power will always find a spot even if he’s eventually a full-time DH.

2) Manny Banuelos– LHSP, 21 – AAA

Manny Banuelos

Had control issues in AA/AAA but most believe it’s just a matter of trying to be too fine as he has solid mechanics and repeats his delivery well.  Threw a career-high 130 innings so will be in line for 150-160 this year and could be ready to pitch for NY in 2nd half.

3) Gary Sanchez – C, 19 – HiA

Has big-time raw power and still growing into his 6’2″ frame.  His defense has been poor but I think he has the athleticism to convert to corner OF or 1B down the line and his bat is definitely strong enough to support such a switch.

4) Dellin Betances – RHSP, 24 – AAA

This is a big year for Betances. At 24, he needs to have a good year in AAA to prove he can pitch in a MLB rotation. Has plus, swing-and-miss stuff but most improve his control to cut down his pitch counts.

5) Mason Williams – CF, 20 – LoA

Dynamic player with plus-plus MLB speed and defense already. He put on a show in rookie ball and if he shows his offensive skills are for real this year in full-season ball, he may vault to #1 on this list next year.

6)  Dante Bichette, Jr. – 3B, 19 – LoA

Drafted for his plus power, he’s shown better defense than was thought. He’s really impressed the organization with his intangibles & makeup – namely his work ethic, advanced approach, knowledge of the game & leadership. Baseball America named him top prospect in Gulf Coast League and VP of baseball operations Mark Newman calls him “a special player and person.”

7) Austin Romine– C, 23 – AAA

His defense behind the plate is MLB-ready now.  His bat isn’t special but will be good enough for him to have a long career as a starting catcher in the bigs.

Phelps is a winner.

8) David Phelps – RHSP, 25 – AAA

Phelps is a winner who knows how to pitch. He’s 38-15 with a 2.61 ERA in his 4 years in the organization. He’s maintained the same solid numbers at every level including a 7.4 K/9 & 2.0 BB/9. Reminds me a little of Ian Kennedy. Missed time with shoulder issue but came back strong in August and was solid in AFL also.

9) Ravel Santana – OF, 19 – LoA

Tremendous physical skill set with power & speed. BA rated the wiry 6’2″ 160 pounder  right behind Bichette as best in the Gulf Coast League after he put up a .425 wOBA. Will have to overcome the broken ankle & torn ligaments he suffered last season so will likely start in extended ST this year.

10) Tyler Austin– 3B, 20 – LoA

Tyler Austin can hit for average and power.

I seem to be in the minority but I  really like this guy. He made his debut in the Gulf Coast and smashed to a .517 wOBA in 20 games, then followed up with .448 wOBA  in Staten Island. Has power to all fields and an advanced approach that helps him drive off-speed pitches. How many 20-year olds can you say that about? BA ranked him 8th best prospect in NY Penn League. Only question mark is his defense at 3B but he’s athletic enough to play the OF if need be. He even stole 18 of 18 bases in just 47 games which tells me he has good instincts and a feel for the game.

11) J.R. Murphy – C/3B, 20 – HiA

Improved his game offensively & defensively before ending season early with leg injury. Rips line drives to all fields and scouts now believe he has the ability to remain as a catcher while also showing the athleticism to play 3B and OF. Could become a very versatile asset in the Majors.

12) Slade Heathcott – CF, 21 – HiA

He’s Gardner-like in the OF right now and has more offensive potential. However, I’m a little concerned with his constant injuries and questionable makeup. To have his speed and get thrown out stealing 17 times in 38 attempts is baffling. But, if he matures and stays healthy, he could be special.

13) Brett Marshall– RHSP, 22 – AA

Brett Marshall

Now fully recovered from his 2009 Tommy John Surgery, he threw career high 140 IP with 3.24 FIP. Has good low 90s sinker and makings of a plus slider. Has flashed mid 90s velocity at times and will be interesting how he does in AA this year.

14) Adam Warren– RHSP,  24 – AAA

Warren is next in a succession of Yankee right handers, behind Nova and Noesi, ready to advance to the majors. He threw 152 IP in AAA with a 3.60 ERA and on a lesser team without depth, he’d have a great chance to make the rotation.

15) Corban Joseph – 2B, 23 – AAA

Has patient approach and nice lefty stroke that generates hard line drives but there are concerns about his defense at 2B and 3B. He had .346 wOBA in Trenton with 38 doubles and 8 triples but doesn’t get the lift and backspin to hit HRs.

16) Zoilo Almonte – OF, 22 – AA

Solid all-around skills. Good defense, speed and power that has improved the last 2 years. Yanks added the switch-hitter to their 40-man to protect him from Rule 5 draft and he could be a candidate to make the team in 2013.

17) Graham Stoneburner – RHSP, 24 – AA

Season was marred by a neck injury that kept him out 2 months and he was never quite effective as excellent debut in 2010. But he still has a great sinking fastball that gets tons of grounders.

18) David Adams – 2B, 24 – AA

The ankle injury he suffered in 2010 lingered all season and the Yankees were very careful with Adams. He played sparingly in only 29 games.  If he’s finally healthy this season he could progress quickly as he has an excellent bat that rips line drives to all fields.

19) Angelo Gumbs– 2B, 19 – LoA

Great up the middle athlete shows lightning quick bat speed and raw power to go with strong arm and nice speed. BA rated him 14th best prospect in NY Penn League where he had .341 wOBA, 4 triples & 11 SB in 220 PAs.

Nik Turley has that Andy Pettitte look down pat.

20) Nik Turley – LHSP. 22 – HiA

6’7″ lefty reminds me a litle of Andy Pettitte.  Took a step forward with 2.51 ERA and 8.9 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 82 IP in Charleston til a broken hand ended his season after being promoted to Tampa.

21) DJ Mitchell – RHSP, 24 – AAA

Similar to David Phelps, Mitchell is someone who just keeps pitching well and winning. Sinker/slider pitcher with solid change-up could be another back end starter/long-relief candidate.

22) Mark Montgomery – RHRP, 21 – HiA

Overwhelmed hitters with low-mid 90s Fastball and an unhittable slider leading to a 16.4 K/9 and 1.91 ERA as closer in Charleston.  His slider is just unfair to young hitters and he needs to be tested against more advanced hitters to see how quick he can advance.

23) Brandon Laird – 3B, 24 – AAA

Strong defensive 3B with good power but he doesn’t take many walks or hit for much average.  Has also played some 1B & LF so could be a backup candidate in NY.

24) Cito Culver– SS, 19 – LoA

Showed strong arm with smoothness in the field and compact swing from both sides of the plate. BA rated him 6th best prospect in NYPenn League where he hit .250/.323/.337.  He’s a project that will take time to develop his offensive game.

25) Ramon Flores – OF, 20 – HiA

Sweet lefty stroke and patient approach at plate, had .350 wOBA in Charleston. Good OF with strong arm and solid all-around tools. Only 5’10” 160 so should get stronger and develop some pop.

26) George Kontos – RHRP, 26 – MLB

Standard FB/Slider reliever, held RH hitters to a .182 BAA in AAA.  Averages about a strikeout per inning but is a fly-ball pitcher who is prone to HRs.

27) Claudio Custodio – 2B, 21 – LoA

Talented 2B/SS with very good speed.  Hit ball well in GCL and  showed willingness to take a walk.  Hit .325 with .433 OBP and 26 SB in 28 attempts.

28) Tommy Kahnle – RHRP, 22 – HiA

Power reliever had 2.45 FIP in 81 IP with 12.4 K/9 but also 5.4 BB/9. Sits around 93-95 and can dial it up to 96-97 with a developing slider.  Needs to improve his command and secondary pitches.

29) Isias Tejada – C, 20 – LoA

Next in line of promising Yankee catcher prospects, Tejada showed his ability to make good, hard contact with a .971 OPS in the GCL with only a 12% strike out rate.

30) Brandon Pinder – RHRP, 23 – LoA

Dominated mostly younger hitters as closer in Staten Island with 11.0 K/9, 1.4 BB/9 and 1.16 ERA.  Has great command of 94-95 mph Fastball but has no quality secondary pitch yet.

31) Bryan MitchellRHSP, 20 – LoA

Plus stuff but still very raw. Put things together by end of year and shows strikeout (8.6 K/9) and ground-ball stuff (2.19 GO/AO rate)

32) Jose Rosario– SS/2B, 20 – LoA

Hit just as well as teammate Bichette with .331 average and .529 SLG%.  He’s a hacker with a 3.2% Walk rate but he’s caught the attention of the organization and earned a late season promotion to Charleston. Mark Newman stated, “He can run (11 SB in 43 games) and throw. He hit 6 HRs, so he has some ability to impact the ball.  By diligence, he’s turning himself into a quality prospect.”

33) Taylor Morton – RHSP, 20 – LoA

Made impressive debut in GCL. The 6’3″ righty should get stronger and he already possesses a plus change, low 90’s FB and good command.

34) Rob Segedin – 3B, 23 – HiA

Big 3B/OF with strong hitting skills. Earned promotion with .395wOBA at Charleston but struggled some in Tampa. Yanks put him in AFL this Fall where he went .250/.367/.407.

35) Daniel Lopez – CF, 20 – LoA

Another emerging all-around athlete with good speed. Showed power potential this year hitting .327/.413/.490 with 27 SB in 61 games across 3 levels.

36) Jose Ramirez – RHSP, 22 – HiA

Promising arm took a step back this year but still notched strong K rates so stuff is still there.

37) Evan Rutckyj– LHSP, 20 – LoA

Big strong 6’5″ lefty got stronger as the season progressed and generates a lot of ground-balls.

38) Cesar Cabral – LHRP, 23 – MLB

Rule 5 pick from Red Sox system, he’ll have chance to make team in ST as second lefty in pen. Gets a lot of Ks with good Fastball and plus Changeup.

39) Pat Venditte SWRP, 26 – AAA

Doesn’t have dominating stuff but continues to post good overall numbers and solid K rates at every level.  Biggest drawback is he’s a heavy flyball pitcher.

40) Abe Almonte – OF, 22 – AA

Plus defender and baserunner but wildly inconsistent at the plate. Switch-hitter had huge 2nd half, riding a 30-game hitting streak and showing off good extra base hit power.  Needs to prove 2nd half surge was real at AA this year.

Other NotablesWalter Ibarra, Kyle Roller, Zach Nuding, Dan Burawa, Chase Whitley, Ronnie Mustlier, Yeicock Calderon, Robert Lyerly, Melky Mesa, Dan Brewer, Brad Suttle, Jorge Vazquez, Ben Gamel, Gabe  Encinas, Matt Tracy, Zach Wilson, Evan DeLuca, Mikey O’Brien

New Additions to Watch in 2012: Greg Bird, Jake Cave, Matt Duran, Jordan Cote, Justin James, Dan Camarena, Hayden Sharp, Rookie Davis, Miquel Andujar

Minor League Season Review: Gulf Coast Yankees

The GCL Yankees went 37-23 and won the league title

Almost all of the Yankees minor league affiliates have finished their 2011 season.   It’s time to take a look at how each team fared and, more importantly, which individual players stood out by showing skills that could make them move up the ladder successfully. First up, we’ll look at the Rookie level Gulf Coast Yankees.

The GCL Yanks won the Gulf Coast League title and finished 37-23.  This team was a blend of young foreign-born players making their debuts in the U.S. and players drafted out of high school in 2010 & 2011.  Their lineup was stacked with 6 of the league’s top 14 hitters in batting average and smashed their way to the title. As a team they had a .298/.378/.466/.843 line which was by far the best in the 15 team league in all 4 categories.  They also led with 116 stolen bases & 6.5 Runs per game to give their pitchers a lot of support.

The staff had a 4.31 ERA which was 10th in the league.  When you consider how dominant the offense was, the team’s ERA may be skewed a bit since they pitched with so many leads. 

PITCHERS

Taylor Morton led the team and was 2nd in the lg with a 1.98 ERA

Taylor Morton RHP, 19 –  

Was the team’s top pitcher finishing 2nd in the league with a 1.98 ERA.  Morton has excellent potential and is making the Yanks look good for giving him an overslot bonus of $450,000 as a 9th round pick in 2010.  He’s got a sturdy 6’3″ 200 lb frame that generates low 90’s velocity.  Morton already possesses 2 traits that are rare in a young pitcher – a plus change up and good command.   His command translated to a 35 to 8 strikeout to walk rate and he’s only allowed 1 HR in 50 ip.  The impressive 19-yr old was brought up to Staten Island to finish the season.

Gabe Encinas – RHP, 19 

Another overslot HS pitcher taken in last yrs draft. Encinas got $300,000 as a 6th rounder and went 3-0, 5.08 era. He struck out 46 and walked 18 in 51.1 ip.

Evan Rutckyj – LHP, 19

A big 6’5″ 213 lb lefty from Canada. The 19 yr old got a huge $500,000 bonus as a 16th rd pick and went 5-3, 4.76 with 37 Ks & 24 bb in 45.1 ip. Evan generated a lot of ground balls with an impressive 1.76 GO/AO ratio.  He finished the season strong going 3-0, 2.25 and will be a very interesting pitcher to follow as a big, strong lefty who gets ground balls.

HITTERS 

Dante Bichette led the team in hitting at .344

Dante Bichette – 3B, 18

Led the way offensively finishing with a .342/.446/.505/.951 line. He led the league in Hits (67), Doubles (17) and RBI (47) and was second in Average & OBP.  The things that are most impressive are his 12.5% Walk Rate ad 17.1 K rate.  This indicates a very clear understanding of the strike zone and ability to make contact. He had a solid .163 iso and he projects to have plus-plus power as he continues to develop. He’s been brought up to Staten Island and promptly homered his first game. Most scouts project him as a corner OF but he played a solid 3B with only 6 errors to lead all 3B in fielding %.  Bichette’s dominating debut has answered many who criticized the team for taking him as their top pick (51st overall) this year.

So far he’s done everything right. He quickly agreed to a $750,000 bonus and got a full pro season under his belt while most top picks were still negotiating.  When he got off to a poor start, he made some mechanical adjustments on his own to adapt to the harder throwing pitchers in pro ball. As someone who grew up around MLB, he seems to have the perfect blend of work ethic, baseball smarts and pure ability that will lead to success.  Hopefully, he will be like other sons of MLB players like Ken Griffey, Barry Bonds, Prince Fielder, etc. who have even better careers than their illustrious fathers.

Ravel Santana – OF, 19

Although Bichette gets most of the attention, Santana may be the most talented player from this team and perhaps in the whole GCL.  Unfortunately his season was cut short by a nasty broken angle and torn ligaments. He’s a 6’2″ 160 athlete with speed and power. He showed both these tools with a .273 ISO, .425 wOBA and 9 HRs and 10 sbs in just 40 games.  If he makes a full recovery and starts to add strength to his frame, he could be a special player.

Daniel Lopez – OF, 19

Lopez began the year in the Dominican Lg but was called to make his U.S. debut and didn’t disappoint. The tall, slender (6’2, 175) speedster hit .305 with 22 sbs in 47 games. He had a solid .167 ISO with 18 extra base hits. He was promoted to Charleston at the end of the season .

Juan Rosario – SS, 19

After 2 sub par seasons in the DSL, he came to the states and had a great year hitting .331/.372/.529/.901 and 11 sbs in 43 games.  He had an impressive .417 woba but needs to be more selective as he only walked 3.2% of the time. But as they say about Dominican Players, you can’t walk off the island.

Claudio Custodio – 2b, 20

Custodio was 4th in the GCL with a .433 obp and led the league with 26 sbs in 28 attempts. He was 7th in hitting with a .325 average. He didn’t hit for much power with a .089 iso but his biggest problem was he committed 17 errors in just 39 games…ouch.

Isias Tejada – C, 19

Isias Tejada - the next Yankee catcher to remember

Here’s the next name to add to the Yankees long line of quality Catching prospects.  Tejada mashed to a .331/.404/.568/.971 line. That .971 OPS was 3rd in the league and he only struck out 12% of the time showing he makes consistent and hard contact.

Yeicock Calderon – OF, 19

Calderon came to the GCL with a big reputation. The Yanks signed him for $650,000 in 2008 and he tore up the Dominican League the last 2 years.  But he struggled to make contact with a ghastly 33.1% strikeout rate and 4.9% walk rate which led to a .225/.264/.457/.721 line. He showed some of his power potential with 11 2bs, 3 3bs & 6 hrs for a .232 iso.