Yankees minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson has left the organization to take the same job with the Cubs.
In an email, Yankees vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman confirmed that Rowson has left the organization and said there is “no replacement as of yet.”
Rowson’s name might not be instantly familiar, but he was the team’s hitting coordinator the past four seasons. He made regular stops at each of the minor league affiliates during the season and worked with the big leaguers early in spring training. It’s hard to exactly determine the impact of a hitting coordinator, but Rowson was a friendly guy, and players seemed to really like him. I never heard complaints about him.
Before becoming the Yankees hitting coordinator, Rowson spent two seasons — 2006 and 07 — as the team’s hitting coach for High-A Tampa. He coached guys like Brett Gardner, Ramiro Pena, Eduardo Nunez, Kevin Russo, Juan Miranda, Jose Tabata and Francisco Cervelli in Tampa, and he was there when Austin Jackson showed up for his breakout half season at that level.
This year’s Baseball America list of Top 10 Yankees prospects has been revealed. The top of the list looks pretty familiar. Here’s a look back at Baseball America’s Top 10 Yankees prospects from last season.
1. Jesus Montero This year: No. 1 One of the top young hitters in baseball is back at the top of this year’s Yankees list after a strong second-half in Triple-A led to a big league call-up and an impressive debut.
2. Gary Sanchez This year: No. 4 Slight drop for Sanchez, but nothing too significant. In his first full season, Sanchez showed some immaturity and inconsistency, but he still hit for power and remains a highly touted young catcher. Some of his drop can be attributed to strong seasons from the next two players on last season’s list.
3. Dellin Betances This year: No. 3 I’d honestly forgotten that Baseball America had Betances ranked ahead of Manny Banuelos at this time last year. He had a strong showing in Double-A. The walks were a little high, but Betances proved capable of overpowering and overwhelming hitters at that level. Big picture: Not much has changed about his overall prospect status.
4. Manny Banuelos This year: No. 2 Beginning with a terrific first impression in big league camp, Banuelos very quickly established himself as the Yankees top pitching prospect. Not that Betances was bad, Banuelos simply jumped to the top by showing tremendous potential as a three-pitch starter with command. Like Betances, his walk totals were a little high, but he’s shown flashes of potential dominance.
5. Andrew Brackman This year: Not in the organization After a breakout 2010 during which everything seemed to finally come together, Brackman took a giant step backward in 2011. Control issues returned and he went from being one of the Killer Bs to dumped into bullpen duty for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. When it came time to pickup an option for 2012, the Yankees instead let their former first-round pick become a free agent. Hard to have a bigger fall than that.
6. Austin Romine This year: No. 8 Repeating Double-A didn’t do much to help or hurt Romine’s stock. He’s still seen as the Yankees best defensive catching prospect, and he’s proven to be a solid but not particularly powerful hitter. He still could develop into the Yankees starter, or he could develop into defense-first backup. Either way, he’s still one of the better young catchers in baseball, just doesn’t carry the same superstar label as Montero or Sanchez.
7. Hector Noesi This year: Graduated to the big leagues Noesi really emerged as a prospect after a strong and fully healthy 2010 season. He was one of many upper level pitching prospects at the start of the season, but he set himself apart after an unexpected opening in the bullpen gave him a chance to prove himself against big league hitters. Noesi will get a chance to work again as a stater this season, and his prospect stock has probably gone up in the past year.
8. Eduardo Nunez This year: Graduated to the big leagues Unlike Noesi, Nunez was given a big league job out of spring training. Seen as a more dynamic player than Ramiro Pena, Nunez won the utility job and showed — at times — why he’s considered a potential everyday shortstop in some circles. His defense was erratic, but he showed plenty of tools and remains the best young shortstop in the system.
9. Slade Heathcott This year: No. 10 A second shoulder surgery cost Heathcott most of the 2011 season, and now the Yankees have to hope for a full recovery and a fast return onto the prospect track. Still incredibly fast and athletic, Heathcott could be a dynamic center fielder, but Mason Williams and Ravel Santana are rising quickly from the lower levels and surpassed Heathcott on this year’s list.
10. Brandon Laird This year: Out of the Top 10 Laird will almost surely rank somewhere in the Yankees top 30 prospects when the Prospect Handbook is released, but a so-so Triple-A season — coupled with some standout seasons by players behind him in the system — left Laird out of the Top 10 this time around. A .260/.288/.422 Triple-A slash line was pretty far below the norm for Laird, though he did get his feet wet in New York and could still play a role as a corner utility man.
Although Brackman's and Betances' status in the Yankees' organization has diverged dramatically since this time last year, the two pitchers still share one thing in common: abnormal height. At 6'10" and 6'8", respectively, both right handers rank among the tallest players in major league history. Perhaps not coincidentally, both pitchers have also shared a relative lack of command, which begs the question about whether height is a developmental impediment?
Tallest Pitchers in Yankees' History Note: For an in depth look into the curious life of Slim Love, click here. Source: Baseball-reference.com
For whatever reason, the Yankees quickly decided Brackman would not live up to his potential, but the organization's hopes for Betances are still very high. And some might argue that because of his unique size, it behooves the Yankees to be extra patient. After all, 6' 10" Randy Johnson didn't find his true form until he was 26, so maybe it just takes tall pitchers longer to develop? That line of reasoning seems to make sense, but, unfortunately, the Big Unit is more an exception than the rule.
Stand and Deliver: The Best Tall Pitchers of the Modern Era
Note: Based on pitchers since 1901 listed at 6'7" or taller and with at least 500 career innings. Source: Baseball-reference.com
Since 1901, only 110 pitchers have been listed at 6' 7" or taller (an inch was shaved off Betances' height to increase the sample and account for some of the discrepancies in historical records), and of that total, only 35 pitched more than 500 innings. What's more, only eight from the group averaged more than 3 WAR per 200 innings and a mere six compiled a career WAR greater than 20. In other words, it's hard enough for a particularly tall pitcher just to make it to the big leagues, not to mention stick around for a long and successful career.
So, should the Yankees send Betances packing in a deal before his extraordinary height catches up with him? Well, not quite. Although it is true that taller pitchers are a rarity, their rate of success is impossible to determine with knowing how many have tried and failed to make the majors. Who knows, if not for the NBA, baseball could be overflowing with pitchers who cast a shadow all the way to the batter's box? Regardless, what we can determine is the comparative rate of success between pitchers who are at least 6'7" and those who are shorter.
Comparative Success Rates of Pitchers Based on Height Note: Includes all pitchers since 1901 with at least 500 career innings. Source: Baseball-reference.com
Although taller pitchers reach the 500 innings plateau at a slighter lesser rate than their shorter counterparts, once they reach that lofty level, bigger does mean better. Over 45% of taller pitchers averaged at least 2 WAR per 200 innings and over 22% averaged at least 3 WAR per 200 innings, compared to 35% and 12%, respectively, for hurlers who measure less than 6'7". So, if Betances doesn't have a long and successful career, it probably won't be because he's too tall.
Before concluding, it's interesting to note that while tall pitchers are rare, position players who measure at least 6'7" are practically unheard of. In the modern era, almost 7,500 major leaguers have played at least five games at a position other than pitcher, and of that total only nine have been 6'7" or taller (all played at least some first base). Luckily, Betances decided to take up pitching when he was a kid.
Position Players Listed at 6'7" or Taller Note: Richie Sexson is widely listed as being 6' 8", but B-R.com lists him at 6' 6". Source: Baseball-reference.com
The New York Yankees organization has been known to skip players a level when their performance or pedigree warrants it. But after leading the Staten Island Yankees to a 45-28 record and a New York-Penn League championship, it was a coach who’d earned a chance to jump a few rungs of the proverbial ladder at a time.
Tom Slater, who joined the Yankees organization after stints in college baseball with Auburn and VMI was named the Trenton Thunder’s new hitting coach this week, replacing the disgraced and departing Julius Matos, who is no longer believed to be with the organization after a dust-up with manager Tony Franklin during the 2011 season that saw him unceremoniously relieved of his duties.
Slater’s old position has since been filled by former Staten Island coach and Trenton closer Justin Pope, who will also be featured in an upcoming story.
Thunder Thoughts was fortunate enough to catch up with Slater again — I spoke to him last season in Brooklyn on several occasions — and he spoke on a variety of topics.
On how he found out he was getting the job…
“I was talking to Six (Pat Roessler) while I was over in the Arizona Fall League, and he told me that this is what I was going to be doing. I said, ‘I appreciate it, I’m looking forward to it.’ I have a lot of respect for Tony and Tommy, both. I’m just looking forward to getting up there in Trenton, it should be a lot of fun.”
On if it will be difficult for him to jump from a level where he was getting players fresh out of high school and college to dealing with more experienced players…
“I’m looking forward to that. I know a lot of these guys, having seen them come through. And I know some of the guys that will be there next year as well. I’m just looking forward to re-connecting with some of those guys from years past.”
On if adjusting from managing to being a hitting coach will be difficult…
“You know, I had a good time being a hitting coach out in the Fall League. I was out there in Phoenix with a few of our guys; Corban, Seggy (Rob Segedin) and Mustelier, and I certainly enjoyed my time out there. I’m looking forward to it for sure.”
On if managing is still a goal for him…
“I think that all of us that work in the minor leagues, we’d all love to be in the big leagues. For me, personally, to coach in the big leagues would be a dream come true. To me, whether you’re managing or coaching, it doesn’t matter. Just like the players, I’d love to get there one day. All of us coaches would.”
On his take on what his approach as a hitting coach will be…
“Well, I think everybody’s different. Everybody’s a different type of hitter. But at the same time, there’s some core beliefs obviously that the Yankees have, and our hitting coaches — guys at the upper levels like Butch Wynegar in Triple-A and Kevin Long in the big leagues — there’s some basic things that those guys want for the guys to accomplish. That’s what we’ll try to do, get the hitters in Double-A to the point where, when they move on, they’ll be at a point where Butch and Kevin are happy with where they’re at.”
On who he thinks would be the first player from his 2011 Staten Island team to reach Trenton…
“The college guys, guys like Branden Pinder, Matt Tracy, Montgomery; who started the year with us, they’re older, so I would expect them to advance quicker just because of their age. I think when you look at the college arms in our system, the bulk of the guys on that Triple-A staff last year; Phelps, Mitchell, Warren, those guys were all pitching in Staten Island three years ago. So you see how quick those college arms go through the system. You talk about the college arms we had there, Mark Montgomery started the year with us and went to Charleston before the year ended, Branden Pinder was with us the whole year. Matt Tracy. Those are some college arms that you would expect to get through the system quickly. That’s not taking anything away from Mason Williams, who was the Player of the Year up there and a tremendous, tremendous player. You and I talked back in August about him, and I think he’ll move quickly as well, but he’s just a year out of high school. He’s a 2010 draft pick, so he just played his first year really in 2011, so I wouldn’t expect him to progress through the system as quickly as some of those college arms, but he’s certainly a guy that I would expect to see moving quickly.”
On his own move from the college ranks to pro baseball several years ago…
“I really enjoy coaching professional baseball, it’s all baseball. We’re working with the guys every day and we’re out starting in January and they’re out early in Tampa and then spring training and during the season. It’s just such a joy to be at the baseball field every day. Here, you really get to coach and you get to spend time with them. That’s really been exciting for me these last three years.”
If the Yankees feature a second lefty in the 2012 bullpen, they’ll do so on the cheap. Earlier in the off-season they signed Mike O’Connor and selected Cesar Cabral in the Rule 5 Draft, and now they’ve added Hideki Okajima to the list of non-roster spring training invitees (via David Waldstein). Okajima pitched well for the Red Sox in 2007 and 2008 before declining steadily. He missed some time in 2010 with a lower back injury, which might explain his horrible performance. Last season went a bit better, though it was mostly spent in AAA. The chance of Okajima making the Opening Day roster is slim, but he’s as good a bet on a minor league deal as any.
The Yankees may be widely criticized as a high-spending operation, but when it comes to player development and Draft results, the club has been one of the more successful organizations in cultivating homegrown talent.
Don't believe that? Many fans point to the likes of CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira -- free agent signees who led the Yanks to the 2009 World Series -- as an argument. But in 2011, much of the team's lineup and roster came up through the system or were acquired via trade. Home Run Derby king Robinson Cano worked his way up over six seasons from Class A Staten Island to the Majors, emerging as arguably the team's best hitter last summer.
Mark Newman, the Yankees' senior vice president of baseball operations, has had a hand in helping build the Yankees' next core of young talent. He hopes infielders like Dante Bichette Jr. and Jose Rosario will follow similar paths to the Bronx.
"Bichette has tools, he has a feel for how to use those tools and he works every day to get better," said Newman, who oversees the organization's player development office. "He's a special player and person."
Bichette was the Yankees' top pick in the 2011 Draft, although he wasn't a true first-round selection -- New York lost that pick when it signed reliever Rafael Soriano last winter but gained the No. 51 spot when Javier Vazquez left for the Marlins. Either way, Bichette emerged as a promising slugger at the organization's lowest levels and enters 2011 as a 19-year-old with power. He hit .335 with four homers and 48 RBIs in 54 regular season games, helping both the Gulf Coast Yankees and Staten Island to league championships.
AOL News ranked the Yankees as having the No. 4 best system in the Minors entering 2011 and Baseball America rated New York at No. 5 this past spring. The team's top prospect, catcher Jesus Montero, helped bolster those positions.
Montero's future in the Majors is still to be decided, with some seeing him as more of a designated hitter rather than splitting time with Russell Martin behind the plate. Newman is still optimistic, though, after Montero posted a .997 fielding percentage and made just two errors at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2011. He threw out about 25 percent of would-be base-stealers while batting .288 with 18 homers and 67 RBIs.
"Montero showed substantial growth defensively," said Newman. "Enhanced defense due in part to his improved quickness and flexibility."
Newman also likes a pair of infielders in Rosario, who split time between second and shortstop, and Walter Ibarra, who hit .297 with six homers, 52 RBIs and 10 steals in 100 games.
Rosario, who turned 20 in November, reached Class A Charleston in his third season with the organization after signing as a non-drafted free agent in 2009 out of the Dominican Republic. He hit .331 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, with 57 hits and 11 steals in 43 games.
"He can run and throw," said Newman. "He hit six home runs, so he has some ability to impact the ball. By diligence, he's turning himself into a quality prospect."
Ibarra is a switch-hitter the Yankees signed out of Mexico in 2005. He's 24 now but showed decent pop and speed at Class A Advanced Tampa in 2011.
"He's emerging as a prospect," Newman said. "He's a steady performer."
Other notable infielders include catchers Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine, the team's 2009 first-round pick Slade Heathcott and another shortstop in Cito Culver, a New Yorker who was drafted in the first round in 2010.
One name that swirled through the Winter Meetings briefly was Mason Williams, an outfielder who the Yankees (and other scouts) are especially high on. A story in the New York Post claimed the Yankees now view Williams as the organization's top prospect (considering Montero reached the Majors in September) and anticipate the 2010 fourth-round pick will progress quickly.
"He's really a quality offensive player," said Newman. "A spectacular defensive player -- he impacts the game in many ways."
Williams has yet to play full-season ball but showed serious talent in the New York-Penn League in 2011, when he hit .349 with 31 RBIs and 28 steals in 68 games at Staten Island. He was an NYPL All-Star and was recognized by Topps/Minor League Baseball and Baseball America as a Short-Season All-Star.
Zoilo Almonte, who hit .275 with 15 homers, 18 steals and 77 RBIs at two levels, is another outfielder the Yankees have taken notice of.
"He's a good hitter with developing power," Newman said. "A good outfielder. [Being a] switch-hitter is a nice attribute."
Much of the attention on the Yankees system remains in its pitching after the organization produced talents such as Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Ivan Nova, Hector Noesi, David Robertson and Dellin Betances. David Phelps, a right-hander, and Manny Banuelos, a lefty, are both expected to reach the Majors sometime in 2012.
"He's solid, he knows how to pitch," Newman said of Phelps, who went 7-7 with an organization-best 2.99 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 114 1/3 innings at Triple-A last season. "He could help New York this year."
Banuelos' name has surfaced whenever the Yankees have needed a spot starter or bullpen help, although general manager Brian Cashman held to his promise of letting the southpaw iron out his command in the Minors in 2011. A strong Spring Training camp could put him in consideration for a bullpen job next year.
"He has good stuff, young, great potential," said Newman, "but he has to keep working."
On Wednesday, I talked about how we've come to value prospects much too highly, especially the Yankees big three of Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances, and Manny Banuelos (you can re-read the debate here). My point was that most prospects fail to meet expectations, so while it makes sense to try graduating some of them to the big leagues, refusing to trade anyof them for established, cost-controlled young players is foolish.
One factor I didn't consider, however, is the opportunity cost associated with trading them now, and that may weigh more heavily in the decision-making process in the minds of fans at least. Let's Talk About Tex hit the nail on the head:
The value of a prospect isn’t limited to what he produces on the field. So in addition to weighing the cost of acquiring a player vs. the projected success of the prospect(s) you’re giving up, you also have to weigh the available player against other players who might become available in the not-too-distant future
This is kind of like buying your wife's Christmas gift in July, only to see it for half the price on Black Friday. Nobody wants that kind of buyer's remorse, especially since you can't make returns in baseball, so you wait until the best deal presents itself. You can't wait forever, though, because eventually Christmas will come and you'll need something to give her, just like the Yankees will eventually start playing real games again, preferably with another living, breathing quality pitcher on their roster.
I see two problems here (there are actually three, but we already talked about how we're overvaluing prospects). The first is improperly valuing the pitchers the Yankees have already decided not to trade for, and the second is the slim likelihood that anybody better is going to be both available and attainable any time soon.
Between Dan Haren, Zach Greinke, Trever Cahill, Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez, who I forgot about on Wednesday, I think the consensus is that only Haren is a true #2 starter; therefore, none of the others were worth parting with Montero, Betances, or Banuelos (edit: maybe Zach Greinke is a #2, but he "can't pitch in New York"). But really, what is a #2 starter? Does this pitcher actually exist?
I would suggest that he only exists relative to the other pitchers currently on the team. We know that A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes all bring significant question marks with them into 2012, which is to say nothing of 2013 and beyond, so none of them are #2s right now. Logically, if the Yankees could acquire someone who hasn't posted an ERA over 5.00 the past two seasons, isn't coming off of an unexpected rookie season, hasn't struggled with injuries for most of his young career, and isn't named Freddy Garcia, one would reason that this new pitcher would become their de facto #2, and if he's under contract for a few seasons, even better.
Is there an actual major leaguer who fits this description, somebody that is better than Haren and the rest of the bunch, and more importantly, might be available for trade sometime soon? In a word, no. I doubt the Yankees will have much luck prying Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay from the Phillies, Justin Verlander from the Tigers, Clayton Kershaw from the Dodgers, Jered Weaver from the Angels, Jon Lester from the Red Sox, or Chris Carpenter from the Cardinals.
That leaves them a handful of options for improving the rotation - praying that the Mariners or Giants try to trade Felix Hernandez or Tim Lincecum, ponying up the dough to sign a premier free agent in 2012 or 2013, continuing to play the scrap heap lottery, and hoping that the young arms pan out. However, this approach leaves us with more questions than answers.
Are the Yankees willing to give up Montero, either Banuelos or Betances, and a B prospect or two just to pay Lincecum $35 million over the next two seasons? How should they respond if King Felix tries to leverage his partial no-trade clause to negotiate a contract extension through 2022? Can they beat out the Phillies when Cole Hamels hits free agency next year, or would they prefer pay Matt Cain $20 million a season?
To complicate matters, any of these deals would require them to break their self-imposed $189 million salary cap in 2014, and if they're unwilling to do that, their options narrow even further to searching the scrap heap each and every offseason to find pitchers who can defy expectations and give them 200-300 average innings, or hoping that they can turn a couple of their low-ceiling AAA prospects and higher-ceiling AA prospects into productive major league starting pitchers by 2013/14, all while hoping CC Sabathia doesn't get hurt and some pitcher they already have can consistently give them 200 league-average innings.
Compared to these options, parting with some prospects to have Dan Haren, Gio Gonzalez, Ubaldo Jimenez, Trever Cahill, Zach Greinke, or Mat Latos around for a few seasons at reasonable salaries sounds like the easiest decision I've ever made in my life.
I tell myself that I'm missing something, that Brian Cashman and the Yankees' front office have information that I don't, because absent that, none of this makes any sense. The Yankees do still want to win, and with the failures of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy in pinstripes still fresh in everyone's memory, I wouldn't expect the front office to allow a trio of prospects to make or break them over the next five years. Nevertheless, the logic behind taking a pass on six, talented, cost-controlled pitchers in the past 18 months still seems fuzzy at best and ****ic at worst. Let's hope the Yankees brass knows something we don't.
All grades are EXTREMELY PRELIMINARYand subject to change. Grade C+/C guys are pretty interchangeable depending on what you want to emphasize.
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine of course. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.
A major point to remember is that grades for pitchers do NOT correspond directly to grades for hitters. Many Grade A pitching prospects fail to develop, often due to injuries. Some Grade C pitching prospects turn out much better than expected.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise coming from me, and some C+ prospects turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Jesus Montero, C-DH, Grade A: What he did in the majors last year was not a fluke. It was at the high end of expectation, yes, and I wouldn't expect him to hit like that over 500 plate appearances at age 22. He may need some adjustment time, but his bat is truly outstanding and he wasn't just getting lucky. His glove isn't very good and while he's not a complete player in terms of contributing speed or defense, his hitting is so strong he still gets a Grade A from me.
2) Gary Sanchez, C, Grade B+: Excellent power production in full-season ball at age 18; that is rare. His glove needs work and he needs to take his career more seriously, but he has time to outgrow emotional immaturity.
3) Manny Banuelos, LHP, Grade B: Borderline B+. He got a B last year and I can't bump his grade up a notch given the command difficulties he had in Double-A. He's still a fine prospect, however, projecting as a number three starter if all goes well.
4) Dellin Betances, RHP, Grade B: Borderline B+. He's got plenty of stuff but command wobbles prevent the B+ at this time. Ceiling is a tad higher than Banuelos, but I'm less confident that he'll reach it. Depending on what happens with his command, he could develop into anything from a number two starter to a disappointing mop-up man.
5) Mason Williams, OF, Grade B: We need to see him higher than the New York-Penn League, but he showed progress with both the bat and the glove. Main question is how much power he'll develop. Grade may be a bit aggressive.
6) Dante Bichette, Jr, 3B, Grade B: Way ahead of where his father was at the same stage. Controls the strike zone well, doesn't strike out much for a young power hitter, and third base defense proved to be much better than expected.
7) David Phelps, RHP, Grade B-: I like him more than most people do. Has developed the secondary pitches needed to off-set the fastball, and was one of the few pitchers who didn't get killed in the Arizona Fall League. Could be a fourth starter if given a chance.
8) Ravel Santana, OF, Grade B-: Borderline C+. This grade assumes that the gruesome ankle injury doesn't permanently hurt his career. Very high ceiling with potent power/speed combo. High risk as most young tools players are. Yankees sources indicate that Santana's injury recovery is going well. He may start the season late, but is expected to retain 100% functionality.
9) Tyler Austin, 3B, Grade B-: Borderline C+. I don't know why this guy doesn't get more attention. Polished bat for a 19-year-old, defense needs work, has stolen 18 bases without getting caught in his career so far.
10) Adam Warren, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline B-: Often paired with Phelps. I like Phelps a little better even though Warren gets more press. For many teams Warren's ability to eat innings with decent stuff would get him a full rotation audition in 2012.
11) Austin Romine, C, Grade C+: I don't like Romine as much as a lot of other people do. His bat is stagnating and his performance doesn't match his reputation behind the plate, at least in terms of throwing out runners. Still, he should have a long career and at age 23 he can improve much further.
12) J.R. Murphy, C, Grade C+: Defense reports improving, but bat is erratic and he had adaptation issues in High-A before getting hurt. Still very young, 2012 would be his draft year if he had gone to college.
13) Cito Culver, SS, Grade C+: Good defensive reports, still very raw with the bat but was younger than most of his competition. Grade will rise when/if he makes offensive progress.
14) Brett Marshall, RHP, Grade C+: Fully recovered from Tommy John and had solid year in High-A. Good sinker, has cleaned up delivery, possible mid-rotation starter.
15) Slade Heathcott, OF, Grade C+: Has tools to rank as high as seven, but persistent shoulder problems are slowing his development. Power has been disappointing.
16) Angelo Gumbs, 2B, Grade C+: Makes a nice double play combo with Culver and they should move up together. Needs polish on both sides of the ball, but tools are here. 17) Nik Turley, LHP, Grade C+ Breakthrough candidate for 2012. Season ended early due to broken hand and as a result he doesn't get much attention. That will change if he brings the stuff and command he showed in Low-A forward to High-A. Mid-rotation upside.
18) Daniel Lopez, OF, Grade C+: Showed speed and some power potential in Gulf Coast League.
19) David Adams, 2B, Grade C: Has lost most of two seasons to injury. Average tools but should hit if his body lets him.
20) Ramon Flores, OF, Grade C; Draws walks, contributes touches of power and speed, but could end up stuck as a tweener.
OTHERS: Zoilo Almonte, OF; Miguel Andujar, 3B; Cesar Cabral, LHP; Dan Camarena, LHP; Jake Cave, OF; Jordan Cote, RHP; Claudio Custodio, SS; Rookie Davis, RHP; Matt Duran, 3B-1B; Ben Gamel, OF; Corban Joseph, 2B; Tommy Kahnle, RHP; George Kontos, RHP; Brandon Laird, RHP; Brad Meyers, RHP; Bryan Mitchell, RHP; D.J. Mitchell, RHP; Mark Montgomery, RHP; Brandon Pinder, RHP: Graham Stoneburner, RHP; Isaias Tejeda, C: Phil Wetherell, RHP; Chase Whitley, RHP.
Some of the grades for the younger hitters in the system (Williams, Bichette, Austin, etc.) may be a touch optimistic, but I like the group and the aggressiveness the Yankees have shown the last few drafts. I also like what they have done in Latin America. Although the big bonus babies like Montero and Sanchez get most of the attention, they've also found some talented players who didn't get huge bonuses, Ravel Santana for example. Also keep an eye on Miguel Andujar. He wasn't cheap at $750,000, but his bat is supposed to be more polished than most players his age from the Dominican.
Banuelos, Betances, and Andrew Brackman were the Three Bs this time last year. Brackman washed out in Triple-A and is now in Cincinnati, while both Banuelos and Betances had command struggles in Double-A. They are both impressive prospects still, but they didn't progress as hoped and they might not be ready as soon as anticipated last spring. The Yankees also seem to have a knack for finding solid pitching from the college ranks and pitchers who can contribute from the middle and later rounds of the draft, particularly in the bullpen.
Overall, there were a few glitches last year but the farm system is in good shape. They have a mixture of tools upside and players with polish. The pitching at the lower levels could use a boost and it will be interesting to see what their draft strategy is under the new CBA.
I’ve had my disagreements with John Sickels in the past, mostly over how he judges some prospects, but I’ve always had a lot of respect for his rankings. I love that he’s a tough grader: his grades seem pretty evenly spread across a normal bell curve, where most legitimate MLB prospects are in the C- to C+ range. This allows real differentiation when you’re ranking prospects, and it’s something that I’ve tried to recreate in my own system.
Sickels ranked the top-20 Yankee prospects this weekend. Here are his top-5 prospects:
1) Jesus Montero, C-DH, Grade A: What he did in the majors last year was not a fluke. It was at the high end of expectation, yes, and I wouldn’t expect him to hit like that over 500 plate appearances at age 22. He may need some adjustment time, but his bat is truly outstanding and he wasn’t just getting lucky. His glove isn’t very good and while he’s not a complete player in terms of contributing speed or defense, his hitting is so strong he still gets a Grade A from me.
2) Gary Sanchez, C, Grade B+: Excellent power production in full-season ball at age 18; that is rare. His glove needs work and he needs to take his career more seriously, but he has time to outgrow emotional immaturity.
3) Manny Banuelos, LHP, Grade B: Borderline B+. He got a B last year and I can’t bump his grade up a notch given the command difficulties he had in Double-A. He’s still a fine prospect, however, projecting as a number three starter if all goes well.
4) Dellin Betances, RHP, Grade B: Borderline B+. He’s got plenty of stuff but command wobbles prevent the B+ at this time. Ceiling is a tad higher than Banuelos, but I’m less confident that he’ll reach it. Depending on what happens with his command, he could develop into anything from a number two starter to a disappointing mop-up man.
5) Mason Williams, OF, Grade B: We need to see him higher than the New York-Penn League, but he showed progress with both the bat and the glove. Main question is how much power he’ll develop. Grade may be a bit aggressive.
I highly recommend going here and reading his entire post. Sickels is not only a freely-readable outside source on the Yankees, but also one who has been relatively tough on the Yankees prior to last season. He’s overall very positive on the Yankee system. He notes that while doesn’t have the top-end talent of some of the top farm systems in baseball, the Yankees certainly aren’t lacking for depth. Despite Ivan Nova, Andrew Brackman, and Hector Noesi leaving the list, Sickels still lists 18 C+ or better prospects.
Better yet, you can see a shift in Sickel’s list since last season. Vaulting up the list were tons of young guys: Mason Williams (5), Dante Bichette (6), Ravel Santana (8) and Tyler Austin (9) all broke into the top-10 after not appearing last season. Sickels notes that he’s aggressive in ranking these players, which is a strong complement from him. Add on Jesus Montero, Angelo Gumbs, Cito Culver, Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores, J.R. Murphy and Daniel Murphy, and you’ll see that the majority of the list is made up of high-ceiling young position players. That’s a major shift from the last 5 years for the Yankees, whose farm system concentrated on hitters. And the list doesn’t even include 2011 bonus babies Jake Cave, Matt Duran, Rookie Davis or Miguel Andujar.
Over the next week or so, I’ll be writing about Austin Romine, Ravel Santana, Cito Culver and Manuel Banuelos individually. For now, some bullet point thoughts on the list:
Tyler Austin has definite potential, but I’m not sold yet. He’s still a probable 1st baseman only in the majors, which doesn’t leave him a lot of room to succeed without really mashing. Let’s see him in full season ball before rating him a top-10 prospect.
It’s good to see Gary Sanchez get some respect outside the Yankee blogosphere. I know he upset some expectations following his 2010 destruction of the GCL, but he’s still a plausible catcher who hit .256/.335/.485 in full season ball. That may not be a Montero-level debut, but it’s still pretty amazing.
I’m 100% OK saying, by Sickels’ definition, that Corban Joseph is a C+ prospect. He’s a solid, consistent hitter who can play 2nd, and is healthy.
David Phelps for most underrated prospect in the Yankee system? I’ll take him over Bartolo Colon in the 2012 rotation, easily, especially after holding his own in the AFL.
Earlier today, I spoke with John Manuel of Baseball America. Manuel's the man behind ranking the Yankees' top 10 prospects, which were released (in e-magazine form) late last month. During an hourlong interview, I asked him about a number of different topics relating to this year's rankings. Because the chat was so lengthy, I'm going to make a post out of each question. It's more easily digestible that way.
Question 1: It seems that Jesus Montero's future as a catcher in name only is pretty widely cemented throughout the industry. That doesn't seem to be the case for Gary Sanchez, however, the system's other offensive firebrand at backstop. In your experience so far, what have evaluators said about Sanchez's defense?
John Manuel: It's pretty universal that people think that he has better physical ability to catch than Jesus Montero. Sanchez, he's not as big, that's where it all starts. I think Jesus Montero, I'm sure he was a little bit better this year at times than he was in previous years. I hear there are things that he does better defensively than he used to, but he's just so big. The Yankees can, and have, talked about his increased flexibility and all those things, but he is who he is. He's 6-4 and he's at least 225 pounds, and Sanchez just isn't that big.
Sanchez, I think, has a good catcher's frame and has a chance to be similarly offensive and I think a little bit more of a classic offensive player than Montero, who's a bit of a front-foot hitter, not a classic pure swing, but it does sound like Sanchez's receiving is rudimentary.
The story I had was at times he would not call a breaking ball with pitchers. He would not call for a breaking ball, because he did not have the confidence that he could catch the breaking ball. One that I cited was Mark Montgomery, their 11th-round pick this year. His first outing in Charleston this year, he had five strikeouts in an inning. We've all heard of four, but I think five is really unusual. Sanchez just couldn't catch the breaking ball.
The way the Yankees put it, and what I tried to convey this year, I finally got a Yankees official to admit that catching and throwing are lower priorities for them than they are for other organizations. They look for offensive catchers. It's true in the draft, it's true internationally. They are less interested in the Francisco Cervellis than they are in the Gary Sanchezes and the Jesus Monteros.
I won't be surprised if they give Jesus Montero an extended opportunity to catch at the major league level. The baseline is Jorge Posada. Everybody has seen Posada over the years clank balls. He's not a good receiver, he's a below-average receiver. I'm not a scout, but I've talked to scouts about Posada, and at the very least, he's a below-average receiver. That's the baseline -- if you can receive as well as Jorge Posada, and if you can hit in that neighborhood, you're going to get a chance to catch for the New York Yankees.
That's what the Yankees are looking for, so if you're looking at Gary Sanchez and you're seeing his receiving foibles right now, do it in the South Atlantic League. Figure it out in the low minors. That's what the low minors are about.
I still ranked him fourth this year. Last year we were very aggressive with him. This year I just think Banuelos and Betances deserved to be ranked ahead of him, because their ceilings are also considerable, but they both require some polish as well.
Sanchez's ceiling remains extremely high, and the Yankees believe between (catching instructor) Julio Mosquera and putting a guy like Torre Tyson in charge of defense in the organization, I think it does tell you that the organization does value instruction for defense, and they're still honing what Torre and the whole organization wants to do as far as instruction on the defensive side. They're going to put in a lot of time and make every effort to make Gary Sanchez an acceptable defender.