Comparisons have been a part of baseball since long before the internet showed up and made everyone an expert. Players are routinely compared to one another, and this happens with prospects more than anyone else. Fans like to see comps because they want to know how good their favorite minor leaguers will be in the future, but comps often distort the truth more than anything. I used to think Austin Jackson had some Mike Cameron in him, but holy crap was I wrong with that one. Cameron hit 28 homers in Double-A one year, which is two fewer than Jackson hit in his entire minor league career. Comps need to go more than position and skin deep, if you catch my drift.
The most common comps you’ll see are the lazy ones, like my Jackson-Cameron laugher. Lefties from New England get dubbed a Tom Glavine type, soft-tossing righties are the next Greg Maddux, short-ish players that lack tools but play hard are a David Eckstein clone, so on and so forth. Some comps are forced, meaning the two players have one or two things in common — one of them is almost always appearance — but nothing else. I gave up on comps a while ago because ultimately it’s a disservice to both fans and the players, as we end up disappointed when Jesus Montero turns into a really good player but not the historically great Miguel Cabrera.
That said, comps are unavoidable and we see them every day. The Yankees top three prospects have each had a comp tag applied in recent years that’s stuck around, but none of the three are all that accurate. The players may look the same, but that’s not enough to make a comparison valid in my opinion. Let’s dig in…
Jesus Montero Comp: Carlos Lee Why It Fits: Handedness and body type Why It Doesn’t: The big thing here is that Lee is a dead pull hitter, with just 16.0% of his career balls in play going to right field. Here’s his spray chart from the last three seasons (via Texas Leaguers), which really drives home the point. Montero, as you know, is more of an opposite field hitter. Lee also walked (5.3%) and struck out (11.0%) less in the minors that Montero has (7.8 BB% and 16.5 K%). It would be a success if Montero winds up having a career as long (13 seasons) and productive (.355 wOBA and 114 wRC+) as Lee has, but they’d go about it in very different ways.
Manny Banuelos Comp: Johan Santana Why It Fits: Smallish lefties, best pitch is changeup Why It Doesn’t: Banuelos is primarily a fastball-changeup guy like Johan was once upon a time, but his third pitch is a curveball while Santana’s was a slider. Sliders are more effective against same side hitters while curves are a bit more universal, typically used against both righties and lefties regardless of the pitcher’s handedness. Secondly, Banuelos’ changeup isn’t as good as Johan’s. It just isn’t. Santana’s changeup is one of the best ever, and it’s a stretch to use that as a basis of comparison for anyone.
Dellin Betances Comp: Daniel Cabrera Why It Fits: Super-tall hard throwers with big stuff and walk problems Why It Doesn’t: This comp is the most accurate of the three in this post, but again we’re talking about a slider pitcher (Cabrera) versus a curveball pitcher (Betances). Unlike Banuelos and Johan, that is their second pitch, not third. Cabrera was also injury-free in the minors, which Dellin most certainly hasn’t been. There’s also the makeup issue, as Cabrera was a notorious hot-head that had run-ins with coaches and teammates and intentionally threw at batters when things didn’t go his way. Betances has never had that problem, not that we know of anyway.
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Maybe I’m just being nitpicky, but I feel comps should go a little deeper than typically do. In case you haven’t noticed, no one has ever become the next anyone. Every player is unique and they should be treated as such.
EJ’s post yesterday on John Sickels’ Top 20 Yankee prospects list got me thinking about how the Yankee farm system has changed over the last few seasons. After producing key contributors to the dynasty of 1996-2000 (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada), the farm stagnated for a number of years, producing little in the way of impact players. Then, in the mid-2000′s, that began to change. The Yankees seemed to rededicate themselves to producing amateur talent, and the farm became much stronger as a result.
The re-dedication to amateur talent acquisition appeared to focus on pitching first. The revival of the farm began in 2004 with the drafting of Phil Hughes in the 1st round, who eventually reached the level of a top 10 prospect in all of the minors (top 5 in some places). Pitching was clearly an emphasis in the draft in that period, as the Yankees took pitchers in the 1st round in 2004 (Hughes) 2006 (Kennedy and Joba), 2007 (Andrew Brackman), and 2008 (Gerrit Cole). Toolsy bust CJ Henry was the only position player taken in the 1st round from 2004-2008. For the most part, the pitching selections were successful.
Hughes became part of the fabled “Generation Trey” along with Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain, soaring through the minors and up prospect lists. Even though 2 of the 3 have not lived up to the minor league hype, they were the types of pitching prospects that the Yankees had not produced in years. The selection of Brackman in the 1st round, signing Dellin Betances to an overslot bonus in the 8th round, and discovering Manny Banuelos in Mexico led to another generation of hyped pitching prospects, the “Killer B’s.”
During this time period position players were not emphasized as much in the draft, particularly with early selections. That said, Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson look like they will have long major league careers, so there have been some successes. International free agency produced Jose Tabata and Jesus Montero, a bona fide major league starter (for the Pirates) and a possible future star.
As the Sickels list illustrates, however, the next wave of talent in the Yankee farm is primarily made up of position players (many of them at lower levels). Of the top 20 prospects on the list, only 6 are pitchers (Banuelos, Betances, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Nik Turley, and Brett Marshall), and 4 of the 6 have already reached AAA. When they graduate, the list will likely be even heavier on position players, since bonus babies like Jake Cave and Greg Bird did not make Sickels’ list.
The Yankees have continued to produce talented position players through international free agency, as guys such as Gary Sanchez and Ravel Santana look to be fixtures in the organizational top 10 for years to come. However, the rise in position player talent in the Yankee farm, while primarily at the lower levels, seems to be the result of a changed emphasis in the draft. After the Cole selection in 2008, the last 3 drafts have seen the Yankees take high school position players with their first selection (Slade Heathcott, Cito Culver, and Dante Bichette), and also shell out big bonuses to high school hitters in later rounds (JR Murphy, Mason Williams, and Greg Bird, to name a few).
It definitely seems like a strategic shift on the part of the Yankees’ draft team, but was it also a philosophical shift? Perhaps they feel good about their upper-level pitching depth, and wanted to focus more on developing bats. Or maybe they have simply found the high school hitting talent to be the best value in recent years, and haven’t liked the pitchers available to them in the 1st. In any case, it has been interesting to watch the Yankees make a complete 180 from focusing heavily on producing pitching a few years ago, to now having a farm stocked with hitting talent.
Given plethora of young arms in the system – Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, and Adam Warren - ostensibly close to their shot with the big league club, it’s worth noting how little success the organization has had developing starting pitchers during Brian Cashman’s tenure as general manager. In fact, since Cashman took over before the 1998 season, his system has succeeded in developing exactly one front of the rotation starter.
As with most informed Yankees fans, I have a healthy respect for the job Cashman has done over the past fourteen seasons. Thirteen playoff births, six American League pennants, and four World Series wins make for an impressive resume. Yet one has to wonder how much more this franchise could have accomplished since the turn of the century, and how much better a position it would be in, had the farm system produced the same kind of pitching talent as it drafted. Oh, the hitters are there. Robbie Cano and Brett Gardner are already All-Star caliber talents and Jesus Montero showed last fall how quickly he could reach that level. In fact the bullpen has also been kept afloat in recent years by a healthy influx of young talent. Yet all the current rotation has to show for a decade of high draft picks and bonus babies in Latin America is a mid-rotation starter and a guy who can’t stay healthy – or pitch up to expectations when he is.
The question one must ask then is simple. Why? Why is it that an organization with such a large payroll advantage over the rest of the league, an organization that has focused heavily on the draft over the past half-decade and has developed a plethora of offensive pieces and pitching prospects, failed to develop any of those arms into front of the rotation stalwarts? Is it a question of poor resource allocation? Poor draft picks and signings? Has the organization mismanaged talent? Or is it as simple as bad luck? Let’s take a trip back to the good old days of the 90′s dynasty and try to find out.
Brian Cashman was named general manager of the New York Yankees in February of 1998 and at the Major League level he inherited quite the team. The first – and, so far, only – GM in baseball history to win the World Series in his first three seasons, Cashman inherited a home grown core of Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada, a core that not only led him to great success in the late 90s, but in the later part of the next decade with a World Series victory in 2009.
The farm system Cashman inherited, however, was fairly weak. The Yankees best prospect was Ricky Ledee, a 24-year-old outfield with some pop who hit .309 with just ten home runs the year before. No other Yankee minor leaguer made Baseball America’s top-50 prospects list. The system had it’s share of offensive talent. Within a couple of years, Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera would be top prospects, on their way to productive Major League careers. Mike Lowell as well, though he left the organization earlier. Jackson Melian was just getting starter, an 18-year-old at the backend of BA’s list. Pitching? Nowhere to be seen.
Cashman’s Minor League strategy early in his career was similar to his Major League strategy: win now. Instead of spending heavily on talent at the lowest levels, the Yankees front office focused on high-profile international players. Early in 1998 Orlando Hernandez signed with the Yankees. He shot through the system, and by June was winning games in the Bronx. Alfonso Soriano also signed out of Japan. He would make his big league debut within a year. El Duquecito, Adrian Hernandez, signed two years later and by April of 2001 he was pitching in pinstripes.
The low levels of the farm system were not entirely barren. D’Angelo Jimenez, and John-Ford Griffin, and Willy Mo Pena, and even Drew Henson made many a top prospect list preceding some careers of varying success in other organizations. Still… where was the pitching? Perhaps the one top prospects to come out of the Yankees drafts and signing classes early in the past decade, Brandon Claussen, struck out 220 in 2001 before undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Was this simply a case of bad luck? Of course not. With such little organizational depth on the mound, one injury was crippling. Claussen never returned to form and the system suffered.
In the early years of Cashman’s tenure in New York, the reason for the organizations failure to develop young pitching was quite simply a failure to draft and sign talented young pitching. It was a failure of scouting and of resource allocation. The big league payroll was escalating. The front office was entirely focused on the near term. Finding internal solutions to rotation problems was never a priority. This strategy came to a head in 2003 with the signing of Hideki Matsui and Jose Contreras.
By the middle of the decade, though, depth was on the rise. Though most of the mid-decade Yankees system, from Julio DePaula, Ramon Ramirez, Sean Henn, and Christian Garcia, and Steven White went nowhere, Cashman and co. through just enough darts. After signing for an unprecedented for the region 1.9 million dollars out of Taiwan in 2000, Chien-Ming Wang slowly and surely ascended the Yankees system, landing in New York in 2005 at 25 years old with a hard sinker and good command. The rest, of course, is history as Wang won 46 games over the next three seasons and nearly captured a Cy Young award in his second year. Though few Yankees fans would see the middle of the decade systems as a source of pride, quantity had won out in a single instance. The Yankees teams of ’05 and ’06 and ’07 had been saved by their system. Perhaps for this reasons, but perhaps because of a power struggled that occurred just around then, more was on the horizon. The resource allocation and scouting problems were about to be solved.
Enter Phil Hughes. 6’5″ and 240 pounds. A mid-90s fastball and a knee-breaking curveball. Exceptional command. The 18-year-old from Southern California was the Yankees first round pick in 2004. Hughes signaled the beginning of a new era in Yankee-land. A picture perfect prospect, he shot through the system, dominating at every level before making his big league debut in 2007 as maybe the best pitching prospect in the league. Then came the 2006 draft. Ian Kennedy, a polished righty from USC with second starter potential. Joba Chamberlain, a righty from Nebraska with a big fastball and slider and big injury concerns. And Zach McAllister, and George Kontos, and Betances, and Mark Melancon, and Daniel McCutchen, and David Robertson. And then, before the 2007 season, the Yankees traded Gary Sheffield for Humberto Sanchez, the Tigers top pitching prospect and a guy with a poor health record. Though Sanchez’s impact was minimal in the long run, the fact that Sheffield, an MVP candidate just a year or two earlier, could be moved for a prospect was astonishing. The pitching onslaught had begun.
Depth was still no guarantee of success, of course. Kontos, and Alan Horne, and Sanchez, and a number of other pitchers suffered a series of injuries that derailed their minor league careers. McCutchen and McAllister and Ross Oldendorph – acquired for Randy Johnson after 2006 – were traded eventually and Betances proved a much longer development than initially expected. But the resources were there. And so, finally, was the elite talent. Hughes and Chamberlain and Kennedy came up through the system, not exactly together but not too far apart either. They were to lead the rotation of the future.
And then they didn’t.
Hughes was pitching a no-hitter in Texas and he got hurt. Chamberlain was having a tremendous debut as a starting pitcher and he got hurt. Kennedy was trying to find his groove at the big league level and he got hurt. Chamberlain was never the same. Kennedy was traded. Hughes made a comeback before recent injuries and ineffectiveness put his future in question. And so, the questions began. Is this just an issue of poor resource allocation? Bad luck? Or is there something wrong with the way the Yankees are developing their pitching talent.
With Hughes, it’s hard to say anyone saw this coming or that the management of his development was poor. He was about as close to a perfect prospect as one can be. He had no history of injuries, clean mechanics, and quite the combination of stuff and results. The Yankees brought him up conventionally. They didn’t rush him but they didn’t delay his progress when it was clear his time had come. They handled his injuries as one would expect. They eased him back into the big leagues at the end of 2009 and let him pitch a reasonable number of innings in 2010.
Chamberlain is quite obviously a different story. His big league debut in the bullpen was so impressive that he began the 2008 season in the same role and while he was able to prove dominant in the starting rotation to close out that season the questions continued to dog him heading into 2009. A solid start begot a terrible finished and by the following season he was back in the bullpen. The injuries were also something that could have been forseen. The Yankees would not have grabbed him in the sandwich round had he been healthy. Yet, while his failures remain his own, one has to wonder how he could have develop on another team, given a more consistent and longer shot at rotation success.
Perhaps the most telling of developments from these few draft classes came in the person of Ian Patrick Kennedy. After a dominant minor league stint he did practically nothing at the big league level in New York. The organization gave up on him and he was moved, essentially an afterthought in a trade for Curtis Granderson. He went on to a 21-4 season with a 2.88 ERA and a 5+ WAR for the Diamondbacks last season. The Yankees had the resources and the desire to go out and get one of the top college pitchers in the 2006 draft and yet question remain as to whether Kennedy could have developed as well in this organization. The rest of those classes were either moved or fizzled out or are just now reaching the big leagues.
And so we arrive again in 2011 and now 2012. The system is again stocked with minor league pitchers about to reach the big league level, about to try and break the noted trend. The good news is that organization, despite past failure, has continued to invest in pitching. Banuelos, Betances, and a number of other arms at the low and high minor league levels attest to that success in the draft and in international signing. One might also hope that they have learned from these past failures. That they were not ready, and inexperienced, when they were given Hughes and Chamberlain. That they took too many risks and mismanaged these talents and that they will be more careful, or more aggressive, or whatever it is they need to be to make sure these pitchers have every chance to reach their full potential.
The bad news is that, as we have detailed, it is not so simply as drafting and signing top talent. Even the best pitching prospects can fail. Even the best organizations can mismanage talent. Perhaps of more importance, the signs are there. Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are not perfect prospects. Banuelos is undersized and Betances has an injury history. Both struggled with command last season – though Banuelos has a much better track-record. There are questions about durability, and about whether these two will remain starters. Noesi, Warren, and Phelps provide depth though they also remind one too much of the go-nowhere prospects of the last decade. There is still hope for Hughes and for Ivan Nova, who had a tremendous rookie season, though Hughes’ star has dimmed and Nova’s was never all that incredibly bright.
As Eric Schultz detailed yesterday, the history of the Yankees farm system in the Cashman era has been that of reactionary paradigm shifts. The farm-focused early-90s Yankees built a winner but they became greedy, too focused on short term payoff, and unable to build depth in the minor league system. Cashman responded by going heavy on depth and while this depth produced a success story in Chien Ming Wang, it failed to produce top of the rotation talent. Then came Hughes, and Chamberlain, and Kennedy, and the Killer B’s. Finally, with the failures of the big three and the success of Robinson Cano, the front office has shifted it’s attention to building offensive depth within the system to replace and aging positional core. Despite the relatively successful drafting and signing policies of the organization, a balance has not been reached, and each new strategy has been a response to the failures of a previous strategy. Perhaps tellingly, a corresponding bet on young big league pitching talent, proven big league pitching talent, has not been made. An expensive proposition? Sure. But one that could be pulled off, perhaps, with Matt Garza on the market, and Zack Greinke on the market a year ago, and Cole Hamels and Matt Cain potentially on the market within the next year.
So at the end of the day I think fans ought to be thankful of the resources and the scouting prowess that has been poured in to this system, at least over the past five or six seasons, but also wary of the failure of the system to take it’s players over the top and develop front of the rotation talent. We should hope this was the product of inexperience and luck but prepare for the possibility that these failures have been the product of some inherent mismanagement, a mismanagement that has been vaguely clear to even the untrained eye. We should hope Brian Cashman, and Damon Openheimer, and the rest of the front office continue to work to fix this problem, but do not become so arrogant, so sure of this (wonderful) Minor League strategy as to ignore the glaring rotational needs at the big league level and to bet the farm on the farm.
As reported by Baseball America's Matt Eddy, who's really good at this sort of stuff, the Yankees have signed RHP Adam Miller and OFers Cole Garner and DeWayne Wise.
Miller finally got back on the mound in 2011, after missing the entirety of the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He spent most of his year with Double-A Akron, where he went 1-4 with a 6.27 ERA over 23 games and 33 innings. He allowed 43 hits (but no longballs) and had a ghastly WHIP of 1.79.
Garner, 27, made his major league debut this year, playing in four games with the Rockies. He got his first of two big league hits on July 8, a single off of John Lannan. He added a second hit six days later, an infield single off of former Yankees reliever LaTroy Hawkins.
Wise, besides saving Mark Buehrle's perfect game, has cobbled together a .219/.256/.373 line over 445 career major league games. Of his 22 career longballs, seven have come against past and present Yankees, including Carl Pavano (twice), CC Sabathia, Kerry Wood, Alfredo Aceves, Kyle Farnsworth and Jeff Weaver.
Now that the calendar has flipped over to January, teams will start to load up on players via minor league contracts. Most of the big free agents are off the board and most of the big trades have already taken place, so depth becomes the focus. The Yankees have signed a number of players to minor league pacts already, including former big leaguers Dewayne Wise, Hideki Okajima, Matt Daley, and Jayson Nix, but the most intriguing addition came yesterday: 27-year-old right-hander Adam Miller.
Miller, the 31st overall pick in the 2003 draft, is a classic Texas fireballer standing 6-foot-4, 200 lbs., and he’s ridden the career roller coaster over the last eight years. He dominated in 2004 — 10.2 K/9 (28.0 K%) and 2.7 BB/9 (7.4 BB%) in 134.1 IP split between the two Single-A levels — and was ranked as the fourth best pitching prospect in the game by Baseball America after the season. That’s when the injuries started to set in. Miller missed the first half of 2005 with an elbow strain, then dominated again in 2006 — 9.2 K/9 (24.5 K%) and 2.6 BB/9 (7.1 BB%) in 158.1 IP at mostly Double-A — before elbow and finger problems hampered him in 2007.
Click to embiggen. (Photo via TheClevelandFan.com)
Those finger problems almost ended Miller’s career. Damage to the pulley system and ligaments in his right middle finger required four surgeries and limited him to just 94 innings from 2007-2010, zero from 2009-2010. Replacement ligaments from his calf and wrist now hold together a finger with a tip that is bent at a 45-degree angle and slightly to the right (see right). The digit conveniently wraps right around a baseball now.
Miller returned to the mound this past April, pitching exclusively in relief and rarely more than two innings at a time. He did strike out 39 in 44 IP (8.0 K/9 and 19.5 K%), but he also walked 21 (4.3 BB/9 and 10.5 BB%) and plunked six batters. Rust probably accounts for some of the control problems, but he also had trouble taming his once lethal slider with the rebuilt finger. His fastball was still pushing 95-96 after sitting 95-97 with some 100′s back in the day, encouraging but not super surprising since he hasn’t had any shoulder problems. He also has a solid changeup, but the high-octane fastball and knockout slider were what gave him that top of the rotation potential.
The injuries have basically ended any chance Miller had of remaining a starter, but obviously the Yankees feel he still might have something to offer in relief, where he can go to town with his two best pitches. He has a lower arm slot than most (here’s video of him from camp last year), which when combined with his fastball-slider combo leads me to believe he might wind up having a platoon split. Sure enough, he handled righties better than lefties both last year and throughout his career. That doesn’t mean he’s destined to become a righty specialist, lots of great relievers have platoon splits. It’s just something to be aware of.
Chances are Miller won’t ever help the Yankees just because that’s usually how these minor league contract fliers on former top prospects tend to go. We know the Yankees have emphasized strong makeup in recent years, and I think Miller’s prolonged battle with his health shows that he’s a tough, resilient guy. I don’t think spending a few months in Triple-A and traveling all over the place will discourage him all that much. Think of him as this season’s Mark Prior, just younger and with a sound shoulder. If he stays healthy in the first half and shows some effectiveness, he’s got a chance to help the big league team at some point during the season.
While writing about Johns Sickels yesterday, my mind immediately wandered to Cito Culver. He’s about as unexciting, while still a solid prospect, as a #1 pick can be. When Dante Bichette Jr. was picked, he was criticized as being a pick in Culver’s vein – unexciting and low-ceiling. Unlike Culver, Bichette pretty much quashed those fears right out of the gate.
I think that Cito Culver is a better prospect than people realize. To quote Sickels, and impartial observer:
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.
Unlike most prospects, those good defensive reports are the most important thing we can hear right now. In a world where the average MLB shortstop hits .263/.317/.380, a player who can barely play shortstop with little hitting talent like Eduardo Nunez becomes an important asset. From pretty much his first few days as a Yankee, we’ve heard that Cito Culver has actually been quite good at the position. He’s no Ramiro Pena out there, but signs point to Culver evolving into an above-average defensive shortstop, if not better.
This all comes at a very young age and at a low level of experience. Culver was pretty close to the youngest possible draftee in the 2010 draft class. He turned 18 on August 26, 2010, and just turned 19 this past August. In contrast, his fellow 2010 draftee Mason Williams turned 20 years old in the same month. That’s a big year for a young, growing athlete. On top of that, Culver is from upstate New York. Unlike your typical American prospect out of Southern California or the old confederacy, Culver was not able to play year-round baseball in high school. He wasn’t able to compete in as many top-shelf showcases against the best players in the country. He didn’t play every day in his high school league against a group of future top college stars and the occasional future MLB pitcher. And finally, he didn’t play with the quality of coaching that most young first round picks can expect these days.
Put that all together, and I think you have to give Culver a pass on hitting .251/.323/.334 in his first 125 professional games. Conversely, I think you also have to given him credit for having a true knack for defense despite relative inexperience. Cito Culver doesn’t exhibit the tools to go out there and be Troy Tulowitzki, but guys like David Eckstein, John McDonald, Adam Everett and even Omar Vizquel have long and productive MLB careers. There’s not a huge difference between a journeyman like Ramiro Pena and a guy like Eckstein.
Were the Yankees wrong to pick Culver with the 32nd overall pick of the 2010 draft? I think they are probably pretty happy with what they got at this point. It’s easy to point to someone drafted soon after Culver and use hindsight to say the Yankees should have selected that other prospect. But Culver has turned out pretty much as expected: an interesting project who just might turn into a MLB shortstop. Culver signed quickly and cheaply, allowing the Yankees to negotiate with and eventually sign Mason Williams and Angelo Gumbs.
Bottom line: don’t dismiss Cito Culver. I think he could surprise us quite a bit in his first bout in full-season ball.
Doug Bernier’s name might not light up the headlines, but he’s spent two of the past three seasons in the Yankees organization, and he’s coming back in 2012.
Baseball America’s latest minor league transactions include the already reported signings of Adam Miller, Dewayne Wise and Cole Garner, but they add Bernier’s re-signing. The utility infielder has an excellent glove and had a very brief big league stint with the Rockies a few years ago. He’ll add some infield depth in Triple-A.
Baseball America also has a fairly long list of players released from the Yankees organization:
RHP Jim Blueberg, RHP Francisco Cruceta, RHP Nathan Forer, RHP Mike Gipson, RHP Dustin Hobbs, RHP Corey Maines, RHP Mike Recchia, RHP Michael Solbach, LHP Trevor Johnson, C Jon Hurst, 2B Emerson Landoni, OF Mike Ferraro, OF Taylor Grote, OF Bobby Rinard
Only about half of these names are familiar to me. I remember seeing Landoni play in minor league spring training a few years ago, and Solbach put up some solid Class A numbers. The only name that mildly surprised me was Grote, only because he always seemed to be labeled as a kind of sleeper prospect in the system, but he’s coming off a dreadful season in Tampa.
Also worth noting, Baseball America had this to say about Garner: “Cole Garner could become the Yankees’ new Greg Golson, as an athletic righty bat who can cover any outfield post and hit for some power.” I never knew much about him, so there’s a little bit of a scouting report.
A little while ago I had a post considering the merits of using outfield prospect Mason Williams as a trade chip, because his value was very high coming off a stellar season in Staten Island, and there were rumors that some GM’s saw him as the second-best prospect in the Yankee system. My thought was that the perceived value didn’t match the actual value, and that Williams’ prospect status could take a hit this season for a variety of reasons. At present, Williams likely falls into the back end of most top 100 prospect lists. As of now, the Yankees haven’t made a trade for a #2-#3 starter, and with many of those guys going off the market, it seems that Williams will likely remain in the Yankee organization.
Williams has consistently been considered the #5 prospect in the Yankee system, an impressive ranking considering he has yet to play full season ball. He tore up the New York-Penn League by hitting .349/.395/.468 with 3 homers and 28 stolen bases, and was a dynamic and exciting player to watch. His speed, defense, and hit tool all received high marks from scouts. He didn’t show much in the way of home run power (not surprising given his skinny frame), but he has some room for projection and had his fair share of extra base hits.
It will be interesting to see how the Yankees handle Williams next season. He is the best hitting prospect to play for Staten Island in quite some time, so I am curious how aggressive the Yankees will be in promoting him. My guess is that he will begin the season in low-A Charleston, which is mostly a lateral move as far as strength of competition goes (maybe a little higher). However, if he gets off to a good start to the season, hitting like he did in Staten Island, I imagine the Yankees will be willing to give him a promotion to Tampa by the beginning of the summer.
There is a slight possibility that the Yankees could have Williams skip Charleston entirely and go straight to high-A Tampa, but I doubt this will happen. The Yankees are typically not this aggressive with their prospects, though as I mentioned before Williams could be an exception. Plus Slade Heathcott will likely be the centerfielder in Tampa next season, and my guess is that the Yankees would like to give both guys the opportunity to play center full time.
As for performance, Williams set a high bar for himself last season, but has some room to improve. As he moves into some tougher hitting environments, I will definitely be looking to see how he maintains his approach and continues to hit. I do not expect him to have a .399 BABIP again, so his batting average will likely drop. The two main areas where I would want to see improvement would be in plate discipline and power, and probably in that order. Most of Williams’ OBP last year was due to his high batting average, and if his average drops somewhat due to better fielding at higher levels, I would love to see him draw a few more walks to compensate (he walked in 6.7% of PA’s last year). As for power, some of the doubles and triples he hit could become homers with a little more added strength, but I’m not sure I want him to sell out his current hitting approach to try and hit homers.
Williams’ prospect status will likely take a jump if he is able to maintain a similar level of performance to last season, even if his batting average drops somewhat. However, to truly ascend into the elite level of prospects that many people believe he can become, Williams would likely be required to show some additional power and/or plate discipline. Next year will give us a better barometer of whether Williams has the chance to be a 5-tool centerfielder, or if he will be more of a Brett Gardner type with less plate discipline and a little more power. In either scenario, Williams projects as a valuable player due to his speed, defense, and hit tool, but improvement will determine if he has star potential.
@Jaypers413 (IL): Why do you think the Yanks have been so conservative in the past couple of years when spending on the draft? Do you think the size of the Brackman contract had anything at all to do with it?
John Manuel: I've said for several years that I believe not just the Brackman contract but the entire 2007 draft has caused the Yankees to reassess their spending in the draft. They had a terrific '06 draft — Joba, Ian Kennedy, Betances, I think they've had 10 big leaguers out of that draft so far of all kinds of careers. They didn't go crazy over-slot in that draft other than Betances (Joba and Kennedy were over-slot but not outrageous whereas Betances was a record bonus for an 8th round pick). The next year they went over-slot basically for five picks in the first 10 rounds and none has worked out; Weems, Suttle, Grote and Angelini were busts in addition to Brackman. Since then I think the Yankees have decided to set a budget, to put an evaluation on players that includes an evaluation of how much they're going to pay a player, and they stick to it. They've drafted fairly conservatively since then but they still have a top 5 farm system for me. I just was going back over farm system rankings again this a.m. and I have them stuffed up in the top 5.
In the past we have done a Top 50 Prospect list for the Mets and Yankees. With the explosion of online content, everyone seems to have a “list” and ranking to the point where it all blends together. After all, what’s the difference between prospect number 38 and 45? Does it matter who #1 really is? In most cases it’s fairly obvious. Maybe the best debate is who makes the Top 10.
That’s why I am taking a new twist here at the site. Instead of a Top 10, 25 or 50, I asked my contributors to suggest the most intriguing prospects going into the year. They don’t have to include any of the top names, but the top players aren’t disqualified either.
Both Joseph Delgrippo and Chuck Johnson wanted to give their perspective since they have extensive time covering, watching, and discussing the Yankees farm system.
Joe is frequently down in Trenton watching the Eastern League, as well as watching South Atlantic League play in Lakewood, New Jersey. Chuck is a long-time scout who covers the Arizona Fall League and has connections throughout baseball.
The purpose of this exercise is to generate debate and discussion. As always, I am looking forward to your feedback.
I hope you enjoy!
- Mike Silva 1/7/2012
One of the first things Brian Cashman changed when he gained control of the entire New York Yankees baseball organization in 2005 was to improve the draft and development program. While the first draft provided nothing, the second year in 2006 likely is the best draft of any team in recent memory.
No fewer than 10 players from that Yankees draft have reached the majors, and the one I thought would have one of the greatest impacts, Tim Norton, would also have reached the majors but has been beset by various injuries.
Norton was a college starter who the Yankees converted to short reliever, then began to dominate even up to his latest injury last season.
The Yankees have been very good in developing relief pitchers during Cashman’s regime. They have produced Joba Chamberlain (insert argument here) and David Robertson, both college pitchers who progressed very quickly through the Yankee system.
With the known uncertainty with relief pitchers year to year, it is imperative for organizations to produce their own homegrown relief talent before the major league team spends $35 million on a reliever the team really does not need.
That is why two of my five most intriguing Yankee prospects for 2012 are current relievers in their system.
With Chamberlain and Phil Hughes (I am not fully convinced Hughes can be a full time starting pitcher) becoming free agents after 2013, it is imperative the Yankees develop a few more major league quality middle relievers to both replace Joba and Phil, who both will leave to become starters elsewhere, and to help keep a lower payroll to add flexibility when the team needs to add salary.
The Yankees also need to find if their recent surge in starting pitching prospects will turn beneficial for the franchise. The Tampa Bay Rays have continuously developed starting pitching which have kept their payroll low and their potential for winning the AL East high.
Here are my five most intriguing Yankees prospects for 2012:
This guy possesses the same type of repertoire as David Robertson, with a big fastball and dynamic breaking ball, although M&Ms out pitch is a wicked slider. With only four appearances, Montgomery blew through the NY-Penn league last year and dominated an overmatched Sally League upon his quick promotion.
Similar to Robertson in 2007, who pitched at three levels his first full year in the system, look for Montgomery to start 2012 in High A Tampa, but don’t be surprised if he ends up in Triple A or higher.
The Yanks need more strikeout reliever types in the higher levels.
Over the last three seasons, the Yankees system has begun to produce high level starting pitching talent, with the 20-year old Banuelos the cream of the crop. With a very mid-90s fastball and plus changeup, Banuelos reminds me of a young Johan Santana. However, Banuelos has a better delivery which should keep his arm healthy in the future.
Manny dominated the lower levels, but even though he still was only 20 and was in his first full year at the higher levels, he struggled with his control a little during his brief time in Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. While seeing Banuelos in person several times, he tends to nibble, but his stuff is good enough to throw the ball over the plate and get away with minimal contact.
Now that he has a few innings at the higher levels, this season is important for Banuelos and the Yankees, who thus far have resisted the need the trade their prized left handed prospect for a mediocre established starting pitcher. He needs to improve his control and show the Yankees their patience can be rewarded.
In only his first full (semi-full actually) season in pro ball, Williams dominated the NY-Penn League with a .349/.395/.468 slash line, including 3 HRs. He used his speed to register 11 doubles and 6 triples, with 28 stolen bases. With the dearth of Yankee outfield prospects in the high minors, look for Williams to skip Charleston and mover directly from Staten Island to High-A Tampa, close to his Florida home.
This move is not without precedent as another Yankees speedster, Brett Gardner, skipped Charleston on his run to the majors.
How Williams performs will go a long way as to whether the Yankees need to begin signing free agent outfielders to long term deals (and thus crippling their payroll) or going the year by year route until guys like Williams become major league ready by the 2014 season.
SI’s Tom Verducci wrote this piece about the Yankees’ David Robertson which indicated the diminutive reliever gets more “hop” on his fastball because of his long stride and extension to home plate. Well, Branden Pinder, closer for the Staten Island Yankees in 2011 after M&M was promoted, has that same long extension and “hop”. Bringing the heat at 93-95 all year for the Baby Bombers, his fastball was actually registering to hitters at 96-98. Although the pitch was consistently up in the zone, he was able to get away with it at this level. His slider was sharp on occasion, but not consistent and he threw slightly across his body.
I don’t expect the Yankees to put both Pinder and Montgomery at High-A Tampa, so Pinder will likely start in Charleston and move up quickly as his strikeouts progress. The Yankees normally do not work with kids much until they reach High-A Tampa, and this should provide the Yankees with a reason to move Pinder quickly through the system.
As with Montgomery, the Yankees want to continue their development with high impact relief arms and Pinder fits that profile very well.
I had a few others considered for this spot including J. R. Murphy and David Adams, two kids who are always hurt.
However, depending how he improves, Sanchez gives the Yankees flexibility and options. The Yankees are heavy in catching prospects, and Sanchez, with his power arm and bat is likely the brightest of the bunch.
While hitting .256/.335/.485 as an 18 year old in Low-A Charleston, Sanchez produced 17 home runs in only 343 PA, the same HR total as Jesus Montero at this level, in 220 LESS PAs!
I saw him play several times and he looked lackluster in the field and in the box, almost appearing “entitled” and “bored” at the same time. If Sanchez improves his mental approach to the game, which he should in Tampa with all the brass watching, this talented kid could push the Yankees to move Austin Romine (who I feel is overrated) as part of a package for talent at another position.
Jesus Montero: Obvious reasons; once and for all we should know by Memorial Day whether he’s the next Derek Jeter or the next Drew Henson.
Slade Heathcott: Unfortunately, his shoulder injury appears chronic, but hopefully his head isn’t and the Yanks can get something out of him sooner rather than later.
Austin Romine: At age 23 and slated for full-time Triple-A duty. This is his year; either he’s the heir apparent to Russell Martin in New York or just another son of an ex-player.
The entire Scranton pitching staff: Pitching an entire season with half your games at home gives at least somewhat of a routine to the season. Pitching the entire season without a home will test each guy in ways they never imagined. Pitchers are very routine/habit oriented, and I’m especially concerned about Banuelos and especially Betances taking steps backwards.