Putting too much stock into the Gulf Coast League is even more dangerous than putting too much stock into the New York-Penn League. That said, for the Yankees, the GCL is all about early player development. For the rest of us, it’s all about first impressions, and quite a few young Yankees made impressive first impressions this year.
The Yankees rookie league team hit .298/.378/.466 as a group. They were tops in the GCL in all three slash categories — by at least 20 points in each category — and no other team slugged higher than .397. To go with all that offense, the GCL Yankees pitching staff tied for the team lead in strikeouts but also finished second in walks and landed in the bottom half in team ERA. On the whole, there was more good than bad coming out of the Yankees lowest American affiliate.
Hitter of the Year:3B Dante Bichette Jr. An easy call. The Yankees top pick in this year’s draft led the Gulf Coast League with 67 hits, 47 RBI and 17 doubles. Putting to rest some question about whether he deserved to be taken so high, Bichette actually got off to a slow start before becoming the best player in the GCL and earning a late promotion to Staten Island. Bichette earned plenty of praise and established himself as a legitimate hitter. The Yankees have moved slowly with most of their top high school picks recently, so Bichette could open next season in extended spring before going back to short-season Staten Island.
Pitcher of the Year:RHP Taylor Morton Sixteen different pitchers started games for the Gulf Coast League Yankees this season, and only one of them started more than six times. Things are different at this level, and in a lot of cases it’s easier to think of this as a single pitching staff rather than a rotation and a bullpen. Morton is clearly being groomed as a starter, and he had the strongest season of the bunch. Through 12 appearances — half starts, half lengthy relief outings — Morton had a 1.98 ERA to go with 35 strikeouts and eight walks. Half of his outings were scoreless and he had a 1.14 WHIP. A high school kid drafted in the ninth round last year, Morton was making his professional debut.
Breakout performance:CF Ravel Santana The Yankees young center field depth extends beyond Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams. After two years in the Dominican Summer League, Santana’s first season in the States was a massive success, leading Baseball America to name him the second-best prospect in the Gulf Coast League (behind Bichette Jr.). Santana hit .296/.361/.568 with 10 stolen bases and a team-high nine home runs. Santana put up similar numbers last year in the Domincan, so this doesn’t look like a fluke season. The guy can play.
Disappointing numbers:2B David Adams Truth be told, the Yankees didn’t have any big names who had especially disappointing seasons in the Gulf Coast League this season. Instead, the bigger disappointment was the fact that Adams played more games at this level than at any other (and he played only 17 games here). A promising infield prospect, Adams was in Double-A last year and had the year cut short by injury. He was expected back this season, but he played in only 29 total games. He hit well in those games — .370/.421/.509 between the GCL and Florida State League — but obviously the Yankees wanted to see him on the field more than that.
Top prospect watch: SS Claudio Custodio Bichette and Santana were the top prospects on this roster, but Custodio is another guy who could easily have been the Breakout Performer of the year. He landed on Baseball America’s list of top GCL prospects after hitting .325/.433/.414 with a team-high 26 stolen bases (he was caught stealing only twice). Originally signed by the Royals, Custadio wound up with the Yankees after it was discovered he had signed with Kansas City under a fake name. He led the Gulf Coast League in runs and put himself on the prospect map in his first season in the States.
Notable: Catching prospect just keep showing up in this organization. Find room on the list for C Isaias Tejada who hit .331/.404/.568 in his first action outside of the Dominican Republic. The bad news is that he threw out a league-worst 13.7 percent of base stealers… In addition to Custodio, the Yankees had INF Jose Rosario getting time at second, third and short, and he hit .331/.372/.529… 1B/3B Tyler Austin was a 13th-round pick last year and he raked in the GCL, hitting .390/.438/.622 to earn a promotion after just 20 games. He kept hitting in Staten Island, going .323/.402/.542 after the promotion… Another 1B/3B, Matt Duran, hit .301/.365/.506 in 23 games after being taken in the fourth round this year. He’s from New Rochelle… Two RHP who worked strictly in relief, Edwin Rodriguez and Mariel Checo, had 41 strikeouts apiece. Rodriguez reached that number in 39.1 innings. Checo did it in just 27 innings. Rodriguez had a 1.12 WHIP, Checo allowed a .184 opponents batting average.
At the start of this, I planned to list five brand new free agent pitchers that would potentially make sense for the Yankees to pursue. In the end, I've only listed four.
The Yankees don't exactly need to target a free agent pitcher in order to make a bold statement between now and spring training. Something that would be wise to do is resign Freddy Garcia and have him as a fifth starter or an option for a long reliever out of the bullpen. However, I'm certainly not writing up a story simply about Garcia. We've all seen what he brings to the table.
Personally, I like the suggestions of letting some of the Baby Bombers come up and take a stab at this whole "MLB pitching" deal. New York has a plethora of talent that has been marinating down at Scranton Wilkes-Barre for a while now. While the "Killer B's" (Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos) could use an entire year or more at Scranton Wilkes-Barre to focus on location issues, options such as Adam Warren and David Phelps could potentially make the move to the big leagues and provide a spark. If you'd like to read some scouting reports on Warren and Phelps, click here and here.
After resigning CC Sabathia, there doesn't appear to be a mad scramble for the next best pitcher available. The Yankees will be more reserved with their spending so that they don't have between 8-10 players making up 75% of the team's salary in 2013.
Let's remember that the 2011 edition of Yankees was a very strong team. Five games in the playoffs shouldn't blemish an entire season worth of work. The Yankees will continue to bolster one of the top hitting lineups in all of baseball as well as an improved, lights out bullpen with the return of Joba Chamberlain from Tommy John surgery.
Starting pitching is and will always be the main focus, but that's really the only part of this team that could benefit from some significant addition this offseason. If they opt not to make a free agent splash, please don't fear that all is lost.
Yankees prospect David Phelps has been named the Arizona Fall League Pitcher of the Week. He won each of his starts last week, steadily building solid numbers after a sloppy first few outings in Arizona.
A 14th-round pick in 2008, Phelps should be on the radar. He had a 3.19 ERA in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, but he was sent to Arizona because an injury limited him to 107.1 innings through 18 outings. He’s in that mix of pitchers — with Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, Hector Noesi, etc. — who could compete for a long-relief or back-of-the-rotation job in spring training.
In the Fall League Phelps is 2–2 with a 4.55 ERA and 22 strikeouts against nine walks. He allowed nine runs total in his first three starts, but has allowed just five runs in his four starts since.
David Phelps will be added to the 40-man roster tomorrow. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
It snuck up on me a bit this year, but tomorrow is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. The deadline is usually sometime in the afternoon, 4-5pm ET, but that’s not terribly important. Anyone left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft can be selected by another team, and if that player manages to stick on his new team’s big league roster all season in 2012, they officially become that team’s property. Not a ton of players will stick, but there’s always one or two a year.
Generally speaking, high school players drafted in 2007 (or earlier) and college players drafted in 2008 (or earlier) are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year. It’s always tough to figure out who is eligible among the international signees since we don’t really know exactly when they signed, but I believe it’s anyone that signed in 2006 (again, or earlier) this year. The Yankees got a jump on things by calling up both Austin Romine and George Kontos in September, both of whom would have been eligible had they not been added to the 40-man roster.
The Yankees currently have six open spots on their 40-man roster, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use all six to protect prospects. Some of those spots will be used for a new starting pitcher or some bench players or another reliever, players that will contribute to the Major League team in 2012. The only two players that will definitely be added to the 40-man by tomorrow are D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps, two starters with a healthy amount of Triple-A innings under their belt. Guys like that are Rule 5 Draft gold, they wouldn’t last more than the first five picks.
The rest of the crop is pretty sketchy. There’s David Adams (can’t stay healthy), Bradley Suttle (hasn’t done anything worthy of being added), and Dan Brewer (hurt last year, was the Triple-A fourth outfielder on Opening Day). I suspect all three will be left unprotected, it’s hard to see any of them sticking on a 25-man roster all year in 2012. Pat Venditte will be an interesting case, he’s got the results and the ambidextrous thing gets him noticed, but there are serious questions about how his very fringy stuff will translate to the show. If the Yankees don’t protect him, which I don’t think they will, then some team will almost assuredly grab him just to see what he’s got in Spring Training. The novelty is too great to pass up.
Among international free agent signees, I do believe that Zoilo Almonte is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter, and I do think the Yankees will add him to the 40-man. The Greg Golson/Justin Maxwell/Chris Dickerson trio is out-of-options, and there’s a non-zero chance the Yankees could lose all three before the end of Spring Training. If that happens, the outfield depth is suddenly Colin Curtis and Melky Mesa. Not good. Almonte, a switch-hitting corner outfielder, had a fine season split between High-A and Double-A this year (.276/.345/.459 with 18 steals and 15 homers).
That’s three players (Mitchell, Phelps, Almonte) I expect to be added to the 40-man roster before tomorrow’s deadline, thought there’s always the possibility of a surprise or two, like Reegie Corona a few years ago. What the hell was that about? Anyway, I don’t see any locks to be selected other than Venditte, there are no Lance Pendleton/middle relief types worth a Spring Training look.