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Random Minor League Notes: 2012 Edition
6 years ago  ::  Mar 19, 2012 - 9:31PM #131
Posts: 65,296

Yankees prospect Mason Williams opens eyes

Monday March 19, 2012, 12:48 PM

SARASOTA, Fla. — Mason Williams has his nearly 2,000 followers on Twitter, a number that will keep multiplying as his status climbs.

Baseball America magazine pegged him as last year’s top prospect in the Class A New York-Penn League and the fastest runner in the Yankees’ organization. His potential as a five-tool center fielder has filled volumes of glowing scouting reports.

"If you watch him three games you get a ‘wow’ sometime in those three games," said Mark Newman, the Yankees’ senior vice president of baseball operations.

Williams, 20, hears about how he’s moved beyond the shadows and replaced Jesus Montero as the most-talked-about Yankee prospect.

"I’m absolutely fine with everything that’s going on," Williams said.

Connecting with friends, family and fans on Twitter is about Williams’ limit on the Internet.

If he learns about how high he’s ranked on this list or that, "it’ll be one of my friends telling me or one of the coaches," Williams said. "I just try to come in and get my work done every day."

On Sunday night, Williams went to work in a big-league uniform for the first time – leaving the sun-baked fields of the Yankees’ minor league complex for the team bus to Ed Smith Stadium.

Added to the Yankees’ travel list against the Orioles, Williams singled in his only at-bat and was caught stealing second in Baltimore’s 6-3 victory.

"He showed me he doesn’t fear, and he has plan," manager Joe Girardi said of the Yanks’ fourth-round pick in 2010, who was signed to a $1.45 million bonus. "I’ve heard just wonderful things about him, defensively and offensively.

"After what he did last year, you kind of want to throw the kid a bone [and let him play]."

Playing at Class A Staten Island, the lefty-hitting Williams batted .349 in his first full professional season with 11 doubles, six triples and three homers in 269 at-bats.

"He’s been more than we anticipated," Newman said. "He runs like [Brett Gardner]. And he plays with a kind of relaxed intensity that’s really huge.

"He’s special."

Williams mentions the achievement of a team goal – winning the NY-PL championship – and his pledge to become a smarter all-around player in 2012.

"At some times, I did surprise myself," Williams said of his 2011 season. "But there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it behind the scenes."

One of those scenes occurred at the training table.

The lean, 6-foot-1 Williams is 26 pounds heavier than the 155 pounds he reported at last year due to a concentrated nutrition and strength program developed by minor-league trainer Mike Wickland.

"The ball gets off the bat differently," Newman said. "The sound is different."

He might hit 20 homers a year or better as a big-league regular, though Williams isn’t moved by projections or major-league timetables.

"Right now I’m in spring training trying to take this as slow as I can and learn," said Williams, whose father had the opportunity to pursue a chance with the Cincinnati Reds as a center fielder.

Instead, Derwin Williams chose football.

A seventh-round draft pick by New England, the 50-year-old Williams played three seasons as a Patriots wide receiver – which included their 1985 Super Bowl season. Derwin Williams proudly wears his AFC Championship ring.

"My dad is big on the mental game," Williams said of his father’s counsel.

Both his father and mother, Colleen, caught some of their son’s games last season – especially those near Rhode Island, where he grew up.

And they were on hand Sunday night. Only, now there’s a larger community following Williams.

"It’s a hurdle the good ones have to deal with and grow with. Especially here," said general manager Brian Cashman. "That’s just part of the journey."

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
6 years ago  ::  Mar 19, 2012 - 9:41PM #132
Posts: 65,296

Minor League Preview: Empire State Yankees

The Empire State Yankees will try to turn the page on a rather lackluster 2011 season, as New York’s Triple-A affiliate  ended last year eight games behind Pawtucket in the North Division of the International League.  The Yankees’ 73-69 record kept them out of the playoffs as they showed inconsistencies on both sides of the field.  While Scranton boasted some heavy hitters in 2011, namely Jesus Montero and Jorge Vazquez, they had one of the International League’s lowest on base percentages and had the least amount of walks.  Despite some solid pitching prospects, the Yankees had their fill of mound troubles as well, with Andrew Brackman inexplicably struggling from the beginning of the season.  Brackman and Montero are no longer destined for pinstripes, as the Yankees chose to release the once highly touted Brackman, who then signed with his hometown Cincinnati Reds, and Montero was traded to Seattle for Michael Pineda.  In many ways the roster for Empire State will look very similar to the team they fielded last year, however, that does not mean they are headed for the same mediocre results.

The big league club only appears to have one open roster space, which means Empire State will have largely the same group of prospects that are still in the system.  The main difference will be the new crop of veterans who signed minor league contracts in the hopes of finding their way back to the big leagues.  Sometimes these guys can be a nice asset to Triple-A team (Mike Lamb hit a solid .296/.348/.468 in 53 games in Scranton last year) and other times they seem to flame out magnificently (see Kevin Millwood).  Empire State should be in a good position to build on their 2011 season, as the prospects starting the season already have some solid Triple-A experience under their belts, with a few of them arguably ready for the majors.

(click “view full post” to read more)

Even before Andy Pettitte decided to return we were hearing about the Yankees’ wealth of pitching.  Empire State benefits most from this, as their starting rotation will look much as it did at the end of last season.  Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps all have a full season of Triple-A service, while the remaining Killer B’s, Dellin Betances and Manuel Banuelos have part of a season.  With Kevin Whelan and Eric Wordekemper in the bullpen, the Yankees will be hard on International League batters.  The Yankees offense may be its biggest question mark as the season begins.  They lost their biggest bat, but Justin Maxwell and Jorge Vazquez showed they could provide some good power for them last season.

Of course, the Yankees may already be working at a big disadvantage this season.  While PNC Field undergoes renovations, they are virtually homeless this year, playing their “home” games in various parks of other Triple-A teams.  We will have to wait and see whether a nomadic season will affect their success, but there is good news for the Yankees.  In 2011, they actually had a losing record in Scranton (34-38) while they did well on the road (39-31).  Hopefully, they can keep that trend going as they trek across the northeast this year.

Who to Watch with the Bronx in Mind:
The Starting Rotation: Banuelos, Betances, Warren, Phelps and Mitchell is a pretty formidable Triple-A rotation.  Phelps and Mitchell have both made some noise in Spring Training and look like they are more or less ready for a shot in New York.  Banuelos has also left a good impression with the Yankees, though both he and Betances will be well served by more time in Triple-A.  Neither one of them looked particularly strong when they were called up to Scranton last year, and both have been criticized for not lasting particularly deep into games.  Betances averaged about five innings a start between Trenton and Scranton last season, while Banuelos averaged just under five innings.  Regardless, anyone of these starting pitchers could see time in New York this season, but until then they should give Empire State something fun to watch.

Austin Romine: With Montero in Seattle, Romine is now the catching prospect closest to New York.  He made a handful of appearances in Scranton last season, before a surprise call-up to New York in September and his major league debut.  He will be the main backstop for Empire State this season and it will be exciting to see how he continues to progress now that he has one less obstacle in his way.

Brandon Laird/Kevin Russo: Both infielders struggled at the plate in 2011, before each turned things around and ended the season with some very respectable numbers.  This feels like it could be a make or break year for these guys, but if they can start the 2012 season like they played the latter half of last season both they and Empire State will be in good shape.  A strong start could give either one of them a chance over Ramiro Pena if the Yankees need a backup infielder.

Others to Watch:
Jorge Vazquez: Here is the thing – the Yankees have clearly shown that they have little to no interest in giving the power-hitting first baseman a shot in the Bronx.  For one thing, first base is occupied by Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez can always fill in when Teix needs a breather.  Vazquez has put up some great offensive numbers in Scranton and in in winter ball in Mexico, but he does not provide the flexibility the Yankees would be looking for if they need to call up a bat.   Still, he should lead Empire State’s offense this season and with Montero gone will be the teams biggest slugger.

Kevin Whelan: Whelan was a solid closer for the Yankees last season.  He was 2-3 with 23 saves and a 2.75 ERA over 45 appearances.  Whelan held opposing hitters to a .202 average and allowed just fourteen walks while striking out 54.  He had a brief appearance in New York when he walked five batters over 1.2 innings in two games.  He may have a chance to pitch in New York again, but otherwise Empire State should be happy to have him closing games for them.

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
6 years ago  ::  Mar 20, 2012 - 9:21PM #133
Posts: 26,016

Some Yankees minor league notes


Yesterday was an off-day in the Yankees big league camp so Chad Jennings of the Journal News headed over to the minor league complex yesterday and gave us a solid update. Here are some of the highlights.

  • Tyler Austin will play right field, not 1st or 3rd base like last year, for Staten Island this year.
  • Mason Williams and Gary Sanchez are practicing with Tampa and J.R. Murphy with Trenton. However it is likely that Murphy starts in Tampa while the other two start in Charleston.
  • Dante Bichette will probably skip Staten Island and head to Charleston to start the season.
  • Rob Segedin is being transitioned from third base to right field. He’ll probably start in Tampa.
  • Ravel Santana has “came back unbelievably fast” from a bad ankle injury and is expected to start in Staten Island.
  • Former 1st round pick Slade Heathcott is out with a shoulder injury and isn’t expected back until June at the earliest.
  • Greg Bird will open the season in extended spring training. For now the Yankees are sticking with him as a catcher.
  • Jeremy Bleich is still recovering from shoulder surgery. He’s throwing bullpens after missing most of the past two seasons.
6 years ago  ::  Mar 20, 2012 - 9:24PM #134
Posts: 65,296

Minor League Preview: Trenton Thunder

After falling to the Altoona Curve in the 2010 Eastern League Championship, the Thunder had a very disappointing 2011 season.  They ended the year in fourth place in the Eastern Division of the EL, with a 68-73 record.  They struggled on both sides of the field, as Trenton’s hitters led the league in strikeouts and their pitching was mediocre despite two of the Yankees most prized pitching prospects, Manuel Banuelos and Dellin Betances, spending most of the season with the Double-A affiliate.

Unfortunately, Trenton is likely to see some more of the same this year.  The Yankees’ best prospects at this point seem to be primarily in Scranton or the lower levels of the minors and this is evident in the likely Thunder roster.  Pitching may be the hardest hit aspect of the Thunder’s roster, as star prospects Betances and Banuelos and relievers Tim Norton and Ryan Pope will all likely be with Empire State.

Since there is going to be a good deal of overlap between the 2011 and 2012 rosters, the Thunder should see some improvement as some of the younger players continue to develop.  The return of Zoilo Almonte and of David Adams, who suffered a nasty ankle injury, should provide some strong bats for the Thunder lineup.  Outfielder Raymond Kruml will also be a threat at the plate if he returns to Trenton.

(click “view full post” to read more)

Who to Watch with the Bronx in Mind:
Zoilo Almonte: Almonte made quite a splash in Spring Training, before being assigned to Trenton.  He had a strong stint with Tampa to start 2011, but struggled to find his stroke when he was promoted.  Almonte has become notorious for needing some time to adjust when he moves up a level, but that should be behind him when he starts this season.   If so, he should provide a big spark for the Thunder offense, especially with his reputation as someone who can come through in clutch situations.

Graham Stoneburner: Stoneburner had steadily moved up the ladder but experienced his first major hurdle last season.  He injured his neck in April and found himself on the DL for a good portion of the season.  When he came back he did not have his best stuff, but he seems to be past the injury and should return to form, which will give the Thunder a strong arm in their rotation.

David Adams: Adams will also give Trenton a big lift as he returns from his 2010 ankle injury.  He was owning Trenton in 2010, hitting .309/.393/.507 and showing some strong defense at second base.  His ticket to Triple-A looked like it was on its way but instead an injury ended his season and he spent most of 2011 rehabbing and working his way back.  Adams ankle is not yet 100%, but he has made progress and should return to Trenton as he tries to get his career back on track.  A highly regarded prospect before the injury, this year could tell us a lot about whether he will return to form.

Others to Watch:
Pat Venditte: Ever since he was drafted, it has been clear that the Yankees’ switch-pitcher was not regarded as much of a prospect.  He has, however, continued to surprise everyone, putting together strong season after strong season.  2011 was the first time Venditte had an ERA over 2.21, though a 3.40 ERA is nothing to scoff at.  He led the Thunder in appearances with 51 and shows no signs of giving up.  I do not particularly think Venditte will ever stick in the majors, but I would like to see the Yankees give him a shot at it.  He has worked hard and consistently delivers, but he seems to be nothing more than an afterthought.  He is going to have to make it impossible for the Yankees to ignore him if they are going to give him a chance.

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
6 years ago  ::  Mar 21, 2012 - 11:56AM #135
Posts: 65,296

2012 Draft: Senior Signs

By in Draft. Tags: · Comments (2) ·

(Jay Janner/Associated Press)

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement has taken a bite out of the draft, but a few weeks ago I outlined two ways to sort of massage the system and maximize spending ability. One way is to embrace college seniors, taking some of these relatively cheap players towards the back end of the top ten rounds and reallocating the draft pool money elsewhere. The lack of leverage hurts the player but benefits the team, though the two sides could work together so everyone wins.

One of the most intriguing senior prospects in this year’s draft is a guy the Yankees drafted last year but did not sign: Texas left-hander Sam Stafford. They didn’t like something they found in medicals and passed on signing him as their second round pick, and sure enough Stafford is now out for a while due to shoulder surgery. The Yankees did get a compensation draft pick this year (#89 overall) as a result. The college senior talent pool took a bit of a hit with Stafford’s injury, but there are still plenty of interesting guys out there that would make fine draft-pool-saving picks in the eighth, ninth, or tenth rounds.

Taylor Dugas, OF, Georgetown
An eighth round pick of the Cubs last summer, Dugas is leadoff type in center fielder. He’s very patient at the plate and regularly puts the ball in play (53 strikeouts and 113 walks in 150 games since the start of 2010), but he has little power (just ten homers during that time) and not enough speed (31-for-46 in stolen base attempts, 67.4%) to be a real offensive weapon. Dugas figures to be able to play center in the long-term, though his arm isn’t anything great.

(Michael Gethers/DailyCal.org)

Matt Flemer, RHP, Cal (video)
The Royals were unable to sign Flemer as a 19th round pick last year, and now the 6-foot-2, 215 lb. right-hander has moved into the Bears rotation after pitching out of the bullpen his first three years on campus. He’s an extreme strike-thrower, walking just 31 batters in 158 career innings (1.77 BB/9) and only 16 batters in 107 IP (1.35 BB/9) since the start of 2010. Flemer is just a two-pitch pitcher at the moment (low-90′s heat with a slider), so he profiles best as a reliever in pro ball. He’s aggressive and misses bats out of the bullpen, making him a prime candidate to fit right into the Yankees’ relief pipeline.

R.J. Hively, RHP, Mississippi
The Yankees drafted but did not sign Hively back in 2010, when they grabbed him in the 26th round out of Santa Ana Junior College. The right-hander transferred to Ole Miss, worked primarily out of the bullpen last year, and now holds down a weekend rotation spot for the Rebels. He’s extremely athletic with a very loose arm, throwing strikes with a high-80′s fastball that should tick up a notch once some pro instructors get a hold of him. Hively is another guy that profiles best as a reliever long-term. The Yankees have a bit of a history with him, so if nothing else, they’ve already seen something they like.

Matt Reckling, RHP, Rice (video)
It’s not often that a Rice pitcher comes out of school with relatively few miles on his arm, but Reckling did not start pitching until his senior year of high school and has only thrown 165 IP during his four years with the Owls. A big (6-foot-4, 215 lbs.) right-hander with power stuff, he sits in the low-90s with a power curve as a starter but figures to offer a bit more in relief. Command is an issue because he has limited pitching experience (and because of a funky arm action), but there is still some untapped potential here. The Indians rolled the dice on Reckling in the 22nd round last year but came up empty.

Jacob Stallings, C, North Carolina
A 42nd round pick of the Reds last year, Stallings figures to go a bit higher this year because he can hit a little and is expected to remain behind the plate long-term. He doesn’t offer much pop (just seven homers in 140 games over the last three years) but he draws walks (84 BB in those 140 games) and makes enough contact (94 strikeouts) to be more than a zero at the dish. Stallings is fantastic defensively, with a great arm that shuts down the running game and good mobility behind the dish. He’s cut from the P.J. Pilittere cloth, though he’s more athletic and has a better chance at a career as a big league backup than the former Yankees farmhand.

(Photo via Texas A&M Athletics)

Ross Stripling, RHP, Texas A&M
Like Reckling, Stripling didn’t start pitching until his senior year of high school. He broke his leg playing football, and out of boredom he started throwing off a mound with the cast on his leg. Five years later, he’s one of the most successful pitchers in Aggies history and a legitimate pro prospect with three pitches: low-90s fastball, curveball, and changeup. Stripling is a big kid (6-foot-3, 190 lbs.) who’s thrown quite a few innings since the start of 2010 (250.1 IP), but he has control (1.94 BB/9) and can miss bats (8.63 K/9). The equipment is there to start, though he might wind up in the bullpen long-term like everyone else in this post. The Rockies took Stripling in the ninth round last year, and he could go just as high again this summer.

* * *

An important thing to remember when it comes to college seniors is that they generally stink. The best amateur players tend to sign either out of high school or as college juniors, so the senior talent pool is very diluted. Someone like Adam Warren — who is the on verge of being a back-end big league starter — is basically the best case college senior scenario. Getting a bench player or bullpen guy might not sound sexy, but when you’re talking about a minimal investment both financially and in terms of draft slot, it’s a quality return.

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
6 years ago  ::  Mar 21, 2012 - 8:12PM #136
Posts: 65,296

Slugging Yankee prospect Jorge Vazquez is growing impatient with the minor leagues and would like to try Japan or Korea if there's not a place for him in the major leagues, according to the president of the Mexican League's Tigres de Quintana Roo, where Vazquez played in 2007 and 2008. "If they don't give him an opportunity this year, he wants them to trade him, or to go to [play] baseball in the east," Cuauhtémoc "Chito" Rodríguez told Fernando Ballesteros at Puro Béisbol. "He doesn't want to continue on in Triple A anymore, not just with the Yankees, but with any other organization as well." Vazquez made a case for being MLB-ready in 2011, putting up a .262/.314/.516 line with 32 homers at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.


"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
6 years ago  ::  Mar 22, 2012 - 5:24AM #137
Posts: 65,296

Minor League Preview: Tampa Yankees


In 2009 and 2010, the Tampa Yankees pulled off consecutive Florida State League Championship titles.  They still had a successful year in 2011, but came in second in the North Division of the FSL, as their 37-32 record put them 2.5 games behind the Dunedin Blue Jays.  The Yankees had a solid offense, but it was their inconsistent pitching that kept them out of their third straight championship.

The Yankees should be in for another successful season, as Tampa will be stocked with many exciting young prospects.  On the offensive side, the Yankees will have three players ranked in IIATMS’ top 15 prospects with JR Murphy, Ramon Flores and Slade Heathcott.  They will have a core of players returning, who spent some significant time in Tampa last season.  Players like Rob Segedin, Kyle Roller and Luke Murton should help the Yankees start the season with a powerful offense.

(click “view full post” to read more)

Pitching will continue to be the main question for the Yankees.  Jose Quintana gave Tampa a strong 2011, going 10-2 over twelve starts and thirty appearances with a 2.91 ERA.  He signed with the White Sox during the offseason, however, so someone will need to step up and fill those shoes.  Solid pitching prospects Nik Turley and Mark Montgomery should provide some help on the mound for Tampa.  If they can put together some decent pitching, the Yankees could contend for another FSL Championship.

Who to Watch with the Bronx in Mind:
Slade Heathcott: All eyes will be on the Yankees’ 2009 First Round Draft pick, once he returns to action.  It is likely, the toolsy outfielder will be out until some time in June after suffering a shoulder injury last season.  Heathcotts troubles both on and off the field have been well-documented, however, he’s still young and has all kinds of talent.  How he bounces back from this injury will show us whether he will continue on his fast track towards the majors.

Ramon Flores: Picking up South Atlantic League All-Star honors in 2011, Flores looks like he is adding some power to his game.  He turns 20 in just a few days and continues to work on his fielding and running game, but he should provide a great offensive threat for Tampa.

J.R. Murphy: During the last few years we have heard a lot about the Yankees’ catching prospect trio of Jesus Montero, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez.  Apparently no one told Murphy that he was being excluded from that group because he made lots of noise in Charleston last year, hitting .293/.343/.457, before being bumped up to Tampa.  His numbers dropped a bit, but he still showed some good stuff and should adjust accordingly this season.  A strong showing at the start of this season could earn him a promotion to Trenton before 2012 is over, as the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate seems to be lacking the exciting catching prospects they have gotten used to over the years.

Mark Montgomery: Montgomery is a hard throwing pitcher who has been compared to David Robertson.  I saw at least one person state that they think he could skip Tampa and go straight to Trenton to start the season, as he pretty much baffled hitters during his time in Charleston last season.

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
6 years ago  ::  Mar 22, 2012 - 3:33PM #138
Posts: 65,296

DePaula Obtains Visa; Yankees Deal Still In Place

Rafael DePaula is finally on the verge of beginning his professional baseball career. The pitching prospect agreed to sign with the Yankees for $500K in November, 2010, but hasn’t had a visa until now, so the deal hasn’t been completed. Agent Charisse Espinosa-Dash told MLBTR today that DePaula has his visa and that the original deal is expected to go through once the Dominican right-hander passes a physical.

MLB suspended DePaula in 2009 and he later confessed to using a false identity. The 6'2" right-hander had a sharp breaking ball and a plus fastball that touched the mid-90s at the time that he signed, according to Baseball America. DePaula, who turns 21 this month, had been working out at the Yankees' Dominican academy.

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
6 years ago  ::  Mar 22, 2012 - 3:36PM #139
Posts: 65,296

JoVa growing tired of Triple-A


Life as a 30-year-old Triple-A slugger can be tough, especially when you’re with the Yankees and there’s no clear path to the big leagues. That’s the life of Jorge Vazquez, who hit .262/.314/.516 with 32 homers in Triple-A last year but has received close to zero consideration for the DH spot or even a bench job in the Bronx. Unsurprisingly, he’s getting kinda fed up and looking for a change.

“If they don’t give him an opportunity this year, he wants them to trade him, or to go to [play] baseball in the East,” said the president of JoVa’s former Mexican League team recently (via MLBTR). “He doesn’t want to continue on in Triple-A anymore, not just with the Yankees, but with any other organization as well.”

We’ve heard rumors of Vazquez pursuing opportunities in Japan before, and yet he’s in camp with the Yankees right now. The guy has serious power but he’s a total hacker, striking out 314 times (28.6%) and unintentionally walking just 47 times (4.3%) since signing with New York midway through the 2009 season. He gets himself out too much and that power won’t show up consistently against big league hurlers because of it. I understand being frustrated, but if he wants to go, the Yankees shouldn’t stand in his way.

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
6 years ago  ::  Mar 24, 2012 - 12:17PM #140
Posts: 26,016

Minor League Preview: Charleston RiverDogs

It is quite possible that the most exciting minor league affiliate in the Yankees’ system in 2012 will be Charleston.  The RiverDogs will see a lot of the Yankees’ top prospects in action this season, which should help to put a disappointing 2011 campaign behind them.  Charleston struggled from the start last season and injuries to Slade Heathcott and Gary Sanchez sealed their fate.  They were 55-85, ending the season at the bottom of the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division, showing mediocrity on both sides of the field.  Their pitching was not helped by the team’s general defense, as the RiverDogs committed 198 errors.

That is in the past, however, as Charleston is about to host some of the Yankees’ strongest prospects, including a few of 2011′s breakout players.  With Gary Sanchez set to return as the back stop and Dante Bichette, Jr. skipping over Short-Season baseball after his incredible season in the Gulf Coast League, the RiverDogs will have no shortage of offense.  Add in Mason Williams, who saw his stock soar after a great year with Staten Island, Angelo Gumbs, Tyler Austin and Cito Culver and Charleston will have a lot to enjoy in 2012.

(click “view full post” to read more)

As exciting as their offense looks, the RiverDogs should have some good pitching this season as well.  Jose Campos should start the year in Charleston, after playing for Short Season Everett last season, in the Seattle Mariner’s system.  While he was not the centerpiece of the Jesus Montero trade, Campos is not a player to sleep on.  Bryan Mitchell should also see time in Charleston this season.  If he can continue to work on some consistent mechanics, he could be a huge boost for the team.

Who to Watch With the Bronx In Mind:
Gary Sanchez: It seemed a bit surprising when it was announced that Sanchez would start the year in Charleston, but it will be good for the young catcher.  He struggled early in 2011, going back to extended Spring Training, and was given a hard time for some attitude issues. He was still pretty young so I personally don’t worry too much about those maturity issues, though I do not want to see them reappear this year.  Sanchez eventually found his swing and was putting together a strong campaign in Charleston before an injury ended his season.  He is one of the most exciting players in the Yankees system and a strong start with the RiverDogs could earn him a promotion to Tampa before the 2012 season ends.  Sanchez will need to continue to improve his defense, however, as he has shown what he can do with a bat but still has a lot to learn behind the plate.

Dante Bichette, Jr.: The Yankees first draft pick of 2011 had a lot of people scratching their heads, but Bichette wasted no time in signing his contract and setting out to prove his doubters wrong.  He absolutely tore up the Gulf Coast League in his first professional season,  where he hit .346/.446/.505 and has tempered some of the early speculation that he would not stick at third base.  He was the MVP of the GCL, a Post-Season All-Star and earned MiLB Organizational All-Star honors.  Bichette has been praised for his work ethic and the Yankees seem to be showing some real belief in the kid, having him skip Staten Island and head to Charleston for his first full season of professional ball.

Mason Williams: Williams did not come out of nowhere, but his 2011 season with Staten Island sure woke up a lot of people.  He hit .349/.395/.468, showed off his speed and defense and has found himself jumping up in the prospect rankings.  Much like Bichette, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to his first full season after dominating last year.

Jose Campos: While most eyes and pressure will be on Michael Pineda to prove trading Jesus Montero was worth it, Campos will continue his march to the majors in Charleston.  He is an exciting pitcher who throws a lot of strikes.  Campos will turn 20 in July and was ranked by Baseball America as the 3rd best prospect in the Northwest League last season.  He will need to continue to work on his curveball and changeup, but will be a fun pitcher to watch for the RiverDogs.

What Else to Look For:
Honestly, I could probably spend all day coming up with things to watch on this club, but I do have a few other things I should do, so here are some more highlights.

Cito Culver: The Yankees first pick in 2010 has gotten mixed reviews from the start, but put together a good year in Staten Island in 2011.  The biggest question mark for him seems to be whether he should continue switch hitting, as hit hit .324 from the right side of the plate, but only .224 from the left.

Tyler Austin: Another highly ranked prospect, I have seen quite a few people talk about how they expect him to be one of the people to watch on this talent-laden squad.  With Bichette at third, Austin will probably spend more time at first base this season, a move that has been somewhat expected as his defense has been the weakest part of his game.

Angelo Gumbs: The young middle-infielder shows some great potential in all parts of his game, but also lacks consistency across the board.  He has a tendency to chase bad pitches, has good speed but does not always make the best decisions on the bases.  He primarily played outfield in high school and is still adjusting to second base, where he shows a strong arm and fantastic range, however, Gumbs still has some learning to do at the position.

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