BACKGROUND: Laird won the Double-A Eastern League MVP in 2010 and seemed on the verge of reaching the major leagues in 2011. The Yankees signed Eric Chavez though so it seemed like Laird would have to spend at least half a season in the minors before he got his chance at reaching the majors and sticking.
2011 STRUGGLES: Laird actually saw some playing time in the Bronx, but if he doesn’t improve on his 2011 season he won’t have many more chances. The biggest problem keeping Laird from reaching the majors is his over aggressiveness at the plate. He hit 16 home runs, but walked just 17 times, resulting in a .288 OBP.
That is a big step back from his career OBP of .326, which was never really impressive to begin with. The bulk of his problems comes against right handed pitching where he saw a OPS of just .672 against them. However, he still hit well against lefties putting up a .810 OPS against them.
DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT: One of the things Laird has done to improve his stock was to make himself a more consistent defender. Baseball America had this to say about his defense, “He isn’t flashy, but he’s dependable and makes the routine plays, and he’s also more than capable at first base.” They added that his below average speed hurts him in the outfield though
2012 OUTLOOK: Chavez is once again in the mix in the Bronx so for now Laird is once again blocked. They also have Bill Hall and if he doesn’t opt-out of his deal, he would also be blocking Laird. So if anything he is farther away from the majors than he was a year ago.
The best thing he can do to increase his stock is to improve his patience at the plate, especially against righties. If the guy has a .288 OBP in Triple-A, there is no chance he’s going to be successful in the majors. It could be that Laird finishes the year as the Yankees backup to Alex Rodriguez, but if he doesn’t improve his hitting he could make himself insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
We often enter Spring Training looking for the prospect that surprises us all with an outstanding performance and earns a spot on the Major League team. Of course, it is just as important to watch these prospects with an eye to the future and which spots the Yankees will be looking to fill. Zoilo Almonte has used the first few games of spring to make his case as a possible replacement for Nick Swisher, whose contract runs out after this season, going 3-4 with a double and three RBIs.
Zoilo Almonte Ht: 6-0 Wt: 190 Position: Outfield Bats/Throws: S/R Date of Birth: June 10, 1989 Birthplace: Santo Domingo, DR
Background: Almonte signed with the Yankees as a 16-year old on July 2, 2005. He was one of the Yankees’ top International Free Agents when he signed, being viewed as a high-ceiling prospect. He has steadily worked his way through the farm system and at 22 he now has six seasons of professional experience.
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As he has moved up the ladder, Almonte has often taken some time to adjust to the next level, but he continually shows flashes of his potential. In 2010, the outfielder began the season with the Charleston RiverDogs where he hit .274/.355/.440 in 58 games. His performance earned him SAL Mid-Season All-Star honors and a promotion to the Yankees’ High-A affiliate in Tampa, where he put up decent numbers but seemed to be missing some of his power.
Almonte started 2011 back in Tampa, where he seemed to make the adjustment and hit .293/.368/.514 in seventy games. Not only did his power numbers return, but Almonte showed good patience at the plate, working 31 walks and driving in a career best 54 RBIs before heading up to Trenton. Once again, Almonte’s numbers dipped when he arrived in Trenton, but if his trend continues he should bounce back when the season starts.
Scouting: While the young outfielder shows great potential on both sides of the field, he is prone to inconsistencies, often taking some time to adjust to each new level as he works his way through the Minors. Almonte has above average power to all fields and hits particularly hard to the pull side when hitting lefty. He has great plate discipline, but this is one of the spots where he can be particularly inconsistent. Interestingly, Almonte tends to focus well in high-pressure situations; his inconsistencies show through earlier in games or when the bases are empty. Prone to mistakes on the basepaths in the past, Almonte seems to have learned a few things, stealing 18 bases this past season. Should he continue to become a smarter runner he could turn into a huge offensive threat when he reaches the majors.
On defense, Almonte has some good natural defensive abilities in the outfield. He is the type of player, however, who can make the tough plays look easy and the easy plays look tough. His strong arm and his range make him an above average defensive corner outfielder and someone who can fill in at centerfield when needed.
Projection: At this point, Almonte’s floor seems to be as a Major League reserve outfielder. If he can work on his consistency he will likely find himself as an everyday corner outfielder, perhaps even with some All-Star potential. His switch-hitting, power and natural defensive ability give Almonte a bright future. He will likely start 2012 in Trenton and – assuming he shows the ability to adjust – Almonte will end the season in Scranton (or wherever it is the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate plays this year). This should set him up for a shot at taking over for Swisher in 2013.
Spring Training is a great way to see prospects in action if you don't closely follow the minors during the regular season. There are always the names you know, like Manny Banuelos and Gary Sanchez, but there are also the unknowns who have not been hyped up on top prospects lists who you wait for an announcer to identify, or you have to look up their number on the Yankees' roster online.
Those guys are interesting to me, especially when they succeed, because there are absolutely no defined expectations for them. No one starts to panic if they are bad the way they would with ManBan or Dellin Betances. Every once in a while, one of them comes out of basically nowhere to surprise you, though, and for the most part this Spring Training, that prospect has been Zoilo Almonte.
No one would really blame you if you didn't know his name before this. He doesn't make the Top 10 Prospects list, he had to repeat Rookie Ball, and his name is not Slade Heathcott or Mason Williams. Despite all that, he was added to the Yankees' 40 man roster this offseason to protect him from being taken in the Rule V draft, and has gotten people to notice him by starting Spring Training on a hot streak.
Knowing as you do that the Yankees are notoriously thin at upper level outfield prospects, and with the goal of a $189 million dollar payroll by 2014 hanging overhead, could Zoilo Almonte be someone that could fill an outfield spot inexpensively? I beat the dead horse on the impending outfield situation and discuss Zoilo's minor league numbers after the jump.
Before delving into my constantly evolving (and therefore somewhat arbitrary) rankings, I felt it would be prudent to provide a few token honorable mentions:
Zoilo Almonte has all the makings of a league-average corner outfielder. He's a switch hitter with five average or so tools (and increasing productivity against southpaws), and he could probably fake center field in a pinch without embarrassing himself terribly. The shockingly still only 22-year-old Jairo Heredia is perpetually a healthy year away from rocketing up the list, featuring above-average command and control on three potentially average offerings and fairly sound mechanics. Graham Stoneburner was featured prominently on this list last year, but injuries and slipping effectiveness revealed some nicks in the bedrock in what most would consider a low-risk, low-reward type prospect. David Adams, despite his injuries, continues to impress me with a fine approach at the plate, plus bat speed, and surprisingly strong defense at the keystone. At nearly 25, however, it is difficult to be ambitious with a player that has lost nearly a year of development ... with all of 173 PA above High-A. I really wanted to put Isaias Tejeda on the list, but he is simply too much of an unknown commodity for me to feel comfortable doing so. He is incredibly raw in all facets of the game, but he has above-average contact skills and athleticism, and that in and of itself is a sound foundation to build upon. And finally, Brandon Laird has made himself into a fine defender at third (and a passable defender in the other corners), which sounds appealing when taken in conjunction with his above-average power. His contact issues and lack of discipline, however, may limit him to a platoon role going forward.
Without further ado, I present the first installment of my top-20 prospects.
- 20 -
Greg Bird, C, 19 Acquired: 2011 Draft, 5th Round This selection is entirely predicated upon scouting reports and amateur competition, as Bird's professional debut was limited to thirteen plate appearances in rookie ball. While that should be an important consideration, I cannot help but feel that I may not have been ambitious enough with the powerful left-handed hitter. Bird, the recipient of a $1.1 MM bonus this past summer, has smooth swing mechanics, raw power to all fields, and demonstrably solid in-game power to right-field. He generates above-average bat speed and a fair bit of backspin on the ball, and Yankee Stadium is always the ideal environment for such a hitter. The non-obvious caveat here is that Bird, like Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez before him, does not appear likely to stick behind the dish. However, I would argue that his issue is not a lack of athleticism, but rather size (in general) and rawness. That being said, I do believe that he is athletic enough to handle a corner outfield spot, where the demands on his bat (which I do not anticipate to be an issue) would be slightly less than those at first base.
Duran's case is somewhat similar to that of Bird, in that there is a great deal of projection involved. Both have the makings of pure power hitters, neither seems destined to remain at their drafted position, and the terms 'hard worker' and 'gym rat' have been applied to both. The key difference, assuming that the gap between numbers nineteen and twenty is really a difference, is that Duran is a bit more polished at the plate, with a bit more contact and power ability. Duran has shown in-game power to all fields, as well. He raked in 96 rookie ball plate appearance, slashing .301/.365/.506 with 6 2B and 3 HR - a small sample size, to be sure, but impressive nonetheless. Unlike Cave, Duran does not appear to have much of a chance to contribute on defense, with few having faith that he is not a certain first baseman. His work ethic, however, should give him a fighting chance to be a non-butcher at the hot corner ... at least for a few years.
Turley may have the least impressive stuff of any of the pitchers on this list, but a far argument could be made that he may well have the lowest beta of the bunch. The physically imposing southpaw is listed at 6'6" and 230 lb, yet he deals mainly in deception and command, working off of a two-seamer topping out around 91 or 92 on his best days. A high-70s, low-80s change and a big, loopy curveball (his best offering) round out his arsenal, which he wields with remarkable command and control. Unlike most other veritable giants lumbering about the mound, Turley has the ability to maintain his mechanics and stay on top of the ball, allowing him to repeat his delivery and garner plenty of groundballs. His ceiling is likely limited to that of a third starter, but he seems a safe bet to be a contributor in a big league rotation (although safe is a relative term in prospecting).
17 - Ramon Flores, OF, 20 Acquired: 2008 International Free Agent Any analysis of Flores requires a fair bit of consternation on his ability to rise above the tweener label. While the formerly diminutive corner outfielder has grown quite a bit over the past few seasons (from roughly 5'10" and 150 pounds to 6'1" and closer to 200), his tools have remained relatively stable - above-average contact skills, strikezone judgment, and plate discipline, average-ish power, speed, and defense. He may well be the least exciting prospect on this list, yet it is not difficult to foresee him having the longest career of any Yankees farmhand. I believe comps can be misleading (and lazy) ... but I think a glance at the career of David DeJesus is a reasonable comparison for the type of player Flores can become.
Culver strikes me as the prototypical under-the-radar prospect that is ultimately far more impressive than most anyone realizes. As the second-youngest regular in New York-Penn League, Culver improved his walk and strikeout rates, showcased smoother actions and a surer arm in the field, and showed a smarter, more aggressive approach on the bases in comparison to his short-season debut. He is unlikely to offer much in the way of power, nor will he threaten for a batting title or steal more than fifteen to twenty bases - a decidedly unsexy offensive package, in short. However, he seems all but a lock to stick at shortstop, where he projects to provide above-average defense with slightly above-average offense for the position.
For all the puffery regarding placement on this list that will be found elsewhere, it is Ravel Santana that tossed the largest monkey wrench into my machinations. Santana is a true five-tool prospect, with above-average speed, range, and arm strength, potentially above-average power, and average contact skills. He has showcased fine plate discipline and strikezone judgment since his professional debut in 2009, and he has obliterated the competition in both the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League over the past two years. The caveat here is that Santana suffered a gruesome injury late last summer, breaking his ankle in two places and tearing multiple ligaments. Such an injury could have any number of long-term ramifications, both at the plate and in the field, and it is difficult to know if Santana will ever truly return to one-hundred percent. For all of this, he makes the cut ... and has the largest beta of any prospect mentioned herein.
I am far less bullish on Warren than I was at this time last season, on the heels of his regressing across the board while spending the entirety of 2011 in Triple-A. Warren lost nearly 2 K/9 (22.3% to 17.1% K), his groundball rate plummeted from an above-average 54% to a below-average 39%., and he added nearly a walk per inning. All told, his numbers were far from poor, but they remained wholly uninspiring. The silver lining with Warren is that his slider improved dramatically, with many scouts believing it to be a true swing-and-miss offering. The aforementioned strikeout rates do not match such a narrative, but Warren is relatively new to the world of the slider, and he is not terribly far removed from some fantastic numbers. His command and control remain positives, and I still view him as a potential three or four in a strong rotation.
It may be a bit misleading to say that Heathcott has played below his tools thus far, but his lack of consistency and results is at best bewildering. Heathcott and Ravel Santana are essentially two peas in a pod tools-wise (though Santana has more present power), with both facing disconcerting paths through the minors. The 2009 first-rounder lost yet another large chunk of development to left-shoulder surgery, which may well affect his ability to tap into his power potential in addition to the obvious issues with arm strength and accuracy. Moreover, the attitude issues that were discussed ad nauseum at the time Heathcott was drafted came to the surface a bit in 2011, when the Yankees prospect sparked a bench-clearing brawl. This ranking may appear a bit bearish, considering his jaw-dropping tools, but I consider it rather bullish when taken hand-in-hand with his injuries and merely solid production in a second tour through Charleston. I remain a believer, and I feel that this may be the most important year in Heathcott's development.
I cannot think of a prospect with respect to whom I have been more fickle than Romine. I have alternatively praised and doubted his bat and glove, and my view on him has ranged from back-up to solid regular to borderline All-Star. Much of the blame for this lay at the feet of the scouting reports raving about his physical tools, particularly behind the plate, but I would be remiss to suggest that my own lying eyes haven't played a role. Romine simply does not have the look (at face value) of a first division regular at this juncture, failing to put his admittedly strong tools on display with any semblance of consistency. Prospecting is an incredibly subjective balancing test, and I am finding it more and more difficult to rectify Romine's tools with his middling production. Romine did improve his walk and strikeout rates in his second go-round in Double-A, and he was probably hindered by being stuck in Double-A for almost the entirety of 2011 due to the team's stubbornness in promoting Montero to the show ... but I want and need to say more to view him as more than a potentially average-ish backstop.
Shoulder tendinitis likely robbed Phelps of the opportunity to make it to the Bronx this past season, and may have sealed his fate as future trade fodder for the Yankees. Pessimism aside, Phelps had a fine 2011 season, showcasing above-average command and control of four roughly average offerings, including a fastball that sits around 92 MPH - e.g. the fringe third/solid fourth starter starter kit. The shoulder ailment is somewhat disconcerting, particularly when discussing a prospect that will be 26 when the postseason kicks off, but Phelps returned to Scranton without really missing a beat, then turned in a strong month in the Arizona Fall League. Should calamity strike the rotation, Phelps will be the first reinforcement from the farm - and I think he could perform quite well as soon as April. And if you squint really hard, you can still see seventy-five percent of Mike Mussina.
My weekly series of highlighting a prospect continues with pitcher Nik Turley.
Drafted by the Yankees in the 50th round of 2008 Draft.
* Our very own fishjam ranked him number 20 in his top 40 Yankee prospects. Here is what he had to say about him, “6’7″ lefty reminds me a little 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.
* Seedlings 2 Stars recently said this about Turley who didn’t rank on the top 100 prospects for them. “I should emphasize something here–just because I considered a guy for the top 100 doesn’t mean he necessarily would rank above everyone I didn’t consider. Just because Turley is one of four Yankees I considered for the top 100 but snubbed doesn’t mean I’d call him a top-eight prospect in the system. In any case, though, the idea of a 6’7″ lefty with plus command and a solid three-pitch mix made me consider him for a few seconds. He put up a 2.51 ERA while striking out a batter per inning in Low-A as a 21-year-old, and I’ve always loved him as a sleeper, but he still has more to prove”.
* The Yankee Analysts all picked sleeper candidates for this year and writer Brad Vietrogoski had Turley as his sleeper here is what he said, “In a farm system flush with high-ceiling talent at all levels right now, it’s easy for someone like Nik Turley to get lost in the shuffle. Drafted in 2008 in the 50th round, Turley spent his 2009 and 2010 campaigns in the short-season leagues before finally making his full-season debut in 2011 for Low-A Charleston. In 82.1 innings pitched over 15 starts for Charleston, Turley posted a 2.51 ERA/3.53 FIP slash with 8.96 K/9 and 2.30 BB/9, earning himself a promotion to High-A Tampa. He made just two starts there before suffering a season-ending broken pitching hand, but Turley did enough to get himself noticed after two years of up-and-down performances in the SS leagues and will be looking to build off of that momentum when he opens 2012 back in Tampa. As a lefty in a very righty-heavy farm system right now, Turley has a chance to make a big jump up everybody’s prospect lists for next season.
The interesting thing about Turley, and the thing that excites me the most about him, is the fact that he’s almost the exact opposite of most other big-time pitching prospects. Where most come in with an above-average or better fastball and offspeed stuff that needs work, Turley’s fastball is actually his weakest pitch, sitting in the high 80s most of the time. He makes up for that by having very good command of the pitch and by having a very good curveball and an effective changeup. Turley is a huge dude at 6’6″, and he can create a lot of problems for hitters with his size and arm angle, especially if he can tighten up his mechanics and consistently sit low-90s with the heater. An improved fastball combined with a curveball and change that he’ll continue to refine would make Turley a left hander with three above-average pitches and plus command, and that combination can wreak havoc on hitters at the lower levels. He’s flown a little under the radar so far, but I expect the pitching coaches at Tampa to make Turley a pet project of theirs this season and for him to force himself into the discussion for next year’s top 15-20 with another good year this year.”
* Mike Axisa from River Ave Blues ranked Turley at 22nd on his top 30 prospects for 2012. Here is what he had to say about him, “The 1,502nd of 1,504 players drafted in 2008, Turley finally escaped the short season leagues in 2011 and was in the middle of a breakout season when a line drive broke his pitching hand in early-July. His strikeout (8.73 K/9 and 23.1 K%) and walk (2.2 BB/9 and 5.8 BB%) rates made significant progress in 17 starts for Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, though his fastball is his worst pitch. Turley — who is listed at 6-foot-6 and 230 lbs. — will sit in the high-80s and touch 92 on occasion, instead relying on downward plane and his the ability to dot the corners. His big breaking curveball is his best offering, and his fastball plays up because his changeup is so effective. He could add some velocity if he tightens up his delivery, which tends to fall out of whack from time to time. Turley will return to Tampa to open the season and could be in line for a midseason promotion. He will be Rule 5 Draft eligible next winter, so a big season will force the Yankees to think long and hard about adding him to the 40-man roster.”
The New York Yankees selected Hayden Sharp out of high school with their 18th round draft pick in 2011. He hails from Oklahoma and was a three sport athlete in high school.
Now you will all get to meet him through the wonderful social network known as Twitter. Just to clarify, a Twitterview is an interview on Twitter. Not sure if that term has been coined already, but if not, I now own the copyright.
This particular Twitterview was done through direct messages, and both sides were limited by how much space is allowed in each message. Regardless, I got a chance to get in quite a few questions and get a feel for where Hayden is headed, and what kind of person he is. In this interview, he wasn’t a man of many words, but was able to succinctly get his point across within the limitations of twitter. He was really cooperative and helpful, and even put a picture up on twitter specifically for the article!
BBD: Hayden, I’m getting started with Bronx Baseball Daily and I was hoping to get an interview with you. You’d just have to answer a few questions.
Sharp: Ask away
BBD: Awesome. People are gonna love this. What was your initial reaction when you got the phone call that said you were drafted by the Yankees?
BBD: What made you decide to sign with the Yankees?
Sharp: The opportunity was something I just couldn’t pass up. I never thought I would get to be a professional baseball player.
BBD: What kinds of things did the coaches have you working on at instructs and has that helped you in the offseason and during spring training?
Sharp: Just staying balanced and working on the location of my pitches…
BBD: What player do you look up to most in the mlb and why?
Hayden: I don’t really have a single player I look up to. I just like to think that if I work as hard as they did i can be in that position one day.
BBD: What is your focus this season?
Hayden: I just want to pitch the best I can and get better on every outing I have. As long as I improve everyday I’ll be happy
BBD: What is your biggest strength as a player?
Hayden: I think my strength right now is being able to learn in a short amount of time. I feel like I’ve gotten so much better since I was drafted.
BBD: They tell you where you’ll start yet? GCL or Staten Island?
Hayden: I’ll definitely start in the GCL. I’m going to do my best to be in Staten Island by the end of the year.
BBD: Okay last one, make it good! What pitches do you throw? Which is your best, Which needs the most work?
Hayden: I throw a change slider and fastball. The slider is my best pitch and the change needs the most work. I need to work it down in the zone, and also stay consistent with my arm slot.
At 6’6 200 lbs, 19-year-old Sharp has a perfect body for pitching. Before May of 2011 Sharp didn’t even know he had a chance to be drafted. The video above is from an Under Armour Baseball Factory event in September 2010. As you can see he was throwing 85-88 in that workout. Then, all of a sudden, a scout’s radar gun clocked him about 10 mph higher in May 2011. He then possessed a 96-97 mph fastball, and all the scouts came a knockin’. Lo behold, Sharp was drafted in the 18th round of the MLB draft by the Yankees, and given a summer follow. After the summer follow, the Yankees went ahead and signed him.
Sharp is an athletic kid, as he was a three sport athlete in high school. He was planning on playing QB in college in addition to baseball before his sudden velo increase. He’s considered a relatively raw prospect, as professional baseball wasn’t on his radar until late in the game, but he’s got an extremely high ceiling.
He pitched all summer, working on his mechanics and trying to get his control where it needs to be. At instructs he was able to average low-mid 90′s while exhibiting much more control. He also worked on a slider at instructs. Now throwing three pitches, a fastball, slider, and changeup, he will test his stuff out in the GCL, and if he performs well there then he’ll end up at Staten Island. The changeup is traditionally a very difficult pitch to master, but if he can harness the fastball slider combo this year, while maintaining his mechanics and continuing to improve his control, he could be in for a big year.
Before being drafted, Sharp could not have focused on baseball, as he was busy playing football and basketball during the other sports seasons. Now that he can focus on baseball, it’s safe to say there will be a rapid improvement. The athleticism he must have from playing QB and basketball will help matters even more. At 6’6, some players will struggle with repeating their delivery. I think with time, this will not be an issue for Sharp due to his athleticism.
The velocity was down a bit this summer, but at his age, and with better mechanics, there is no reason it won’t come back up. For the record, 92-94 mph is nothing to scoff at coming from a 19 year old. The velocity should come up for a multitude of reasons. First being the fact that the new arm motion will at some point become second nature to him, and secondly because he’s athletic, and will no doubt gain strength over the years.
It is too early to make any kind of projection, but Sharp will begin his career as a starting pitcher. Depending on the development of his secondary pitches, including the slider and the changeup, he could either remain a starter or he could end up in the bullpen. If the slider is truly his best pitch as he believes it is, then he’s already got a great secondary offering to work with.
Wherever he ends up, Sharp has a ton of potential and I wouldn’t bet against him. With a big season, he could quickly make it into the Yankees top 15-20 prospects. His ceiling is that of a front end starter, although it’s important to be realistic in our expectations of such a young and raw player.
Sharp is one of six high school drafted pitchers this year, the first time in a long time the Yankees have drafted this many. Jordan Cote (3rd round), Rookie Davis (14th round), Daniel Camarena (20th round), Chaz Hebert (27th round), and Joey Maher (38th round) will all join Sharp in the lower minors this year. It will be interesting to watch them all come up together, and to see how they all develop as time goes by.
Craig Heyer made 24 starts for the Thunder last season
For a few seasons now, Craig Heyer has gone into the year wondering where his next inning would come from. Would he be starting? Would he be filling one of who knows many roles in the bullpen? But 2012 is different. At least for now.
The 26-year-old righty is beginning the year as the fourth starter for the Trenton Thunder, and although he told reporters countless times that he just wants the ball no matter what last year, he can’t be upset with finally knowing when he’s going to get it at the beginning of the year.
“I think for once, I do have a role out of the gate,” said Heyer through a smile. “I’ve been a spot guy at the start of the year for the last few years, and now they said why not do this for now. So, we’ll see. I’m excited about it. I’m throwing in the fourth game and I think it’s going to be a fun season.”
This is the Scottsdale, Ariz. native’s sixth season in the Yankees organization, and he’s made at least one start in each of the past five. He made six in his first year in High-A Tampa in 2009, 12 the following season and then 24 last year in his Double-A debut. Heyer, who reiterated that he’s happy with whatever role the organization put him in, has something else to look forward to this season as well: A cutter.
“I like it, it gets the guys off of my sinker a little bit,” said Heyer, who will throw the pitch for the first time this year.
“It keeps the lefties from diving out over the plate and I’ll try to go back in with that and give them a different look. I’d been pretty much the same pitcher for the last four or five years of my career, and I figure that I’d try to change something. The sinker-cutter is going to be my go-to, and hopefully I can get some ground balls and go through games quickly.”
The cutter has been known to put unnecessary stress on pitchers at times, but Heyer insists that there won’t be any problems.
“With my arm slot, it’s actually kind of easy,” he said. “I’m not trying to be overconfident with it, but I kind of picked it up pretty
Zoilo Almonte will be the biggest position player prospect to watch this season in Trenton
Zoilo Almonte has made a slow, but steady climb through the Yankees minor league ranks for the majority of his career. The climb should continue, but the “slow” part of it may not if he can get off to a hot start this season.
The 22-year-old Dominican-born outfielder was promoted from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton last season with minimal hype, and had a pretty non-descript 46 game stint with the Thunder to finish out the season. He hit .251 with three home runs and 23 RBI in 175 at-bats, and posted a .686 OPS that was .019 below the collective team total.
But tools don’t always translate into numbers, at least not right away, and Almonte has always had those. While he doesn’t have a standout attribute, he’s quite well-rounded, and he really got the attention of the organization with a strong spring training this season.
“The (attention) really doesn’t cross my mind. I am here to work hard and keep getting better,” said Almonte through a translator.
Almonte spent some time with Alex Rodriguez and former Trenton Thunder star Robinson Cano in spring training, and both he and the Yankees can only hope that he’s better off for it.
“Watching them I see the discipline and focus they bring to their job, how professional they are in how they go about their business,” Almonte said. “Off the field they showed how to conduct yourself off the field and how to try and be as good of a person as you can because that’s really important, too.”
In a system that Baseball America consideres the sixth-best in all of baseball, Almonte is rated as the Yankees 19th-best prospect, ahead of David Phelps and teammates David Adams and Chase Whitley. Of the six outfielders among the top 30 prospects in the system, Almonte is the furthest along in the system and was added to the Yankees 40-man roster in the off-season.
“It feels good,” said Almonte about being considered a prospect.
“Hopefully if I keep working hard I can keep progressing forward. (The) main thing I have learned is mental strength – how to get through a whole year, stay focused and improve. I’m just going to do what I have been doing – go up to the plate and have as good of an at bat as I can and try to hit the ball solid. My only goal every year is to work harder than I did the year before and not only get better but improve my approach. Last year was a good year and this year I am going to be as strong of an approach as I can. I want to get better at running the bases, but really across the board – defense, batting average – I am looking to improve in all areas.’’