Wednesday, January 20, 2010

TEAM #13 – New York Yankees

Montero looks certain to hit wherever he plays

No organization in baseball has paid bigger dividends with their Latin American program than have the Yankees. Whether it’s Montero at the top, or any of the six Latin American products that rank in the top ten, the fruits of this program are evident everywhere. The downside of this is that the Yankees recent performance in the Amateur draft, has been rather pedestrian--save a solid draft in 2006. While the organization checks in at #13, there is a rather large gap between Montero at the top and Romine at #2. Additionally, there isn’t a tremendous amount of top tier pitching talent here (even less after the Vasquez trade), with only three pitchers earning a grade of ‘B’ or better. One place where the organization is deep though is at catcher, with backstops occupying five (sort of) of the first eleven positions on this list. The other place that the organization is strong is in its depth, as 68 players have earned a grade of ‘C’ or better, which places them 5th overall in that area.

Grade A

1) Jesus Montero, C? (2009 Performance Scores – Power 79; First Base Rate 61; Discipline 73; Speed 31)

There are few certainties in the prospect game, but Montero has two things that are about as certain as they come: 1) He won’t be a full-time catcher at the Major League level and 2) Whatever position that he ends up at, Montero will rake with the best of them. Perhaps no prospect in the Minors has as complete/well-rounded of a hitting package as does Montero. He has plus power potential, above average contact skills, and plus strike zone management skills. His ability with the bat is as advanced as any 20yo that has come through in a long-time. While his league performance scores in the ESL and the FSL ranked #3 and #4 in all of the Minors, his cumulative score was the best hitter score of the 2009 season. The downside with Montero has to do with his defense, as he is slow and stiff, and has little chance at staying behind the plate. As he continues to mature, he will likely end up with base-clogging speed, and defensively be limited to first base or DH. With Texiera already in place, he is somewhat blocked for the foreseeable future. Look for him to spend most of 2010 at AAA. While his bat is likely to be Major League ready before the season is out, unless a trade takes place, don’t expect him in New York before September.

Grade A-

2) Manny Banuelos, LHP (2009 – Dominance 60; Stamina 60; HRrate 49; Control 61)

While there is a relatively large gap between #1 and #2 in the Yankee system, one that was made larger with the trade of Vizcaino, don’t underestimate the diminutive left-hander from Mexico. Signed as a 17yo, shortly before the 2008 season, Banuelos posted a Top 20 performance score in his GCL debut. As one of the youngest players in the SAL in 2009, he finished at #6. Banuelos is extremely advanced for his age. He possesses a low-90s fastball with plus command. Additionally, his change has plus potential and he has a decent curve. While scouts ding him for his size, and therefore his lack of projection, his floor is significantly high, as he looks like a solid bet to become either a mid-rotation starter, or, in worst case, a solid back of the bullpen guy. Look for him to spend 2010 in Hi-A, taking things one level per year.

3) Austin Romine, C (2009 – Power 72; First Base Rate 39; Discipline 63; Speed 59)

We aren’t as high on Romine as are some, because we just don’t see a very high ceiling here. While he possesses above average power skills, and a solid overall defensive package, Romine remains an aggressive free swinger that lacks significant on-base skills. The total package, to us, appears to have the ceiling of an average Major League backstop, with the likelihood ending up as something less. But as currently the top backstop prospect in the system and Posada getting up there in age, he is likely to get a shot. Romine will likely spend most of 2010 in AA, at least until Montero stops playing at catcher.

4) Zach McAllister, RHP (2009 – Dominance 53; Stamina 70; HRrate 49; Control 68)

McAllister is a very polished pitcher with a solid four-pitch arsenal that he commands extremely well. The downside is that his best pitch is likely his 90mph fastball and he lacks a dominant out-pitch. This gives him the extreme upside of a mid-rotation starter, but he is likely to end up as a back of the rotation guy. The good news is that his certainty for that appears to be quite high, as he looks to begin 2010 in AAA, seeing New York sometime during the second-half of the season.

Grade B+

5) Gary Sanchez, C -

While many had Sanchez as the #2 position player prospect that was signed out of Latin America in 2009, we are a bit more cautious, as his prodigious batting practice displays haven’t, as of yet, transferred well to game situations. The Yankees courted him seemingly forever, eventually signing him for a $3mm bonus. While they seem comfortable, for now, in his ability to stay at catcher, that too is not a given, as he has a lumbering approach and very raw defensive backstop skills. With the potential for both plus power and plus contact skills, his ceiling is extremely high, and we should get our first real look at him in the GCL in 2010.

6) Kelvin De Leon, OF (2009 – Power 79; First Base Rate 43; Discipline 32; Speed 58)

De Leon was the Yankees’ top International signee in 2007, making his debut in 2008 in the DSL where he finished with the #6 Performance Score. The Yankees sent him to the GCL this past season, where he finished with the #9 score. De Leon earns this lofty ranking, more for his projection and complete package than he does for his performance thus far, as he possesses not only plus power potential, but a strong arm and solid RF defensive skills. While he has the ceiling of an everyday power hitting right fielder, he will have to improve his tremendously over-aggressive, free-swinging, approach at the plate, that has led to horrid plate discipline results. De Leon will get his first taste of full-season A-ball in 2010, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a breakout performance.

7) Slade Heathcott, OF -

After spending most of the season rehabbing from knee surgery and a shoulder injury, and playing mostly DH, Heathcott lit it up for a few games in the Texas state playoffs that pushed up his stock considerably. So much so that they Yankees grabbed him at #29—though we had him as a likely mid- to late- second round talent. Heathcott is one of those highly athletic, toolsy, projection guys that we tend to not like as much as others do. A standout pitcher in high school, Heathcott, is speedy and has a solid arm. Offensively he is a power guy. Some of our biggest concerns center around both his injury history, and academic problems, both of which caused him to miss time in 2009. The Yankees are likely to keep Heathcott in extended spring training to start 2010, before deciding on his eventual assignment.

8) Jairo Heredia, RHP (2009 – Dominance 61; Stamina 65; HRrate 49; Control 78)

Limited by injuries to only 38 innings in 2009, once healthy, the Yankees top International signee from 2006 continued to show the tremendous command that is his trademark. While Heredia doesn’t have a significantly high ceiling, his secondary offerings do show plus potential. The downside is that his fastball is currently only a high-80s offering, and he has had extreme difficulty staying healthy. Heredia will pitch the 2010 season as a 20yo, and should return to Hi-A to open things up.

Grade B

9) J.R. Murphy, C -

We had Murphy as a late second round pick, and that is where the Yankees drafted him before giving him first round money to keep him away from his commitment to Miami. Murphy possesses an advanced bat, with above average power and solid contact skills. He is an athletic player with enough raw skills for him to develop into an average big league catcher. The downside is that Murphy is not very big, and doesn’t have a lot of additional projection. His catching skills remain extremely raw at this point. Nonetheless, we expect his advanced hitting approach to allow him to begin 2010 in full-season A-ball.

10) Eduardo Nunez, SS (2009 – Power 47; First Base Rate 65; Discipline 74; Speed 77)

It’s tough being a SS prospect in an organization with Derek Jeter as the face of your franchise. That is the plight faced by Nunez, who, after a breakout 2005 had established himself as one of the Yankees most exciting prospects, but posted three straight disappointing seasons, practically falling off of the prospect map, before rebounding in a big way (#8 Performance score in the ESL) in 2009. Nunez possesses above average speed and strike zone management skills, and solid on-base skills. While he will never hit for much power and has only average defensive skills at SS, there is enough of a skill set to see him having a lengthy utility infielder type career at the Major League level. While the ceiling isn’t tremendously high, his being the likely starting SS at AAA in 2010, gives a fairly strong degree of certainty.

Grade B-

11) Kyle Higashioka, C (2009 – Power 46; First Base Rate 68; Discipline 74; Speed 29)

Higashioka is a solid defensive catcher with advanced plate discipline skills and above average contact skills. While he is unlikely to ever be an offensive superstar, his combination of the offensive and defensive package may rate as the highest in an organization loaded with catching prospects. The downside is that his slap hitting approach is unlikely to ever generate much power. Once again, this is a player with a limited ceiling that has become a trend throughout the organization. Higashioka will get his first taste of full season A-ball in 2010.

12) Mark Melancon, RP (2009 – Dominance 75; Stamina 27; HRrate 49; Control 72)

Melancon is a pure bullpen candidate that possesses a mid-90s fastball, complemented by an above average curve. Up until his brief stint in the Majors last season, Melancon had demonstrated plus command that has been his trademark since his return from Tommy John surgery after the 2006 season. Melancon has a closer mindset, and looks to be the organization’s best bet to replace Rivera when he hangs up his spikes. While there is not a lot of additional projection that we are likely to see, his floor is that of a quality Major League set-up guy. He has a strong chance of opening the 2010 season in New York.

13) Jeremy Bleich, LHP (2009 – Dominance 45; Stamina 70; HRrate 49; Control 44)

The Yankees’ supplemental first round pick in 2008, had what has to be considered a disappointing 2009 debut. Already a polished college lefty with little remaining projection, Bleich plodded through stints in the FSL and ESL—looking very pedestrian. While he has the upside of a back of the rotation starter, the lack of a dominant out pitch and only average control, raise questions as to how close he will come to reaching it. The good news is that he is likely to begin 2010 with a return to AA in 2010 before moving to AAA by mid-season. At only 22yo, he has a strong certainty of seeing a big league opportunity.

14) D.J. Mitchell, RHP (2009 – Dominance 61; Stamina 74; HRrate 50; Control 60)

Keeping up the pattern of low ceiling players, Mitchell possesses one of the Minor League’s best sinkers, but his secondary offerings only hope to be average pitches. His upside is that of a back of the rotation starter, but more likely he is going to end up in a bull pen somewhere. 2010 is a critical year for him, as he moves up to AA—as a 23yo. If he is to remain a rotation consideration we will have to see evolution of his secondary offerings this year.

15) Corban Joseph, 2B (2009 – Power 44; First Base Rate 78; Discipline 72; Speed 47)

Many in the Yankee organization are higher on Joseph than are we. The Yankees 4th round choice in 2008, posted a solid debut in the GCL after signing, and then eerily similar numbers again this year in the SAL , where he posted the #15 Performance Score. Joseph is a hard-nosed player with above average plate discipline skills and plus contact skills. While he has the potential for average power, he lacks speed for the middle of the diamond and possesses questionable defensive skills—enough so that it may precipitate a move off of second base, where his value would take a further hit. Joseph is likely to begin 2010 in Hi-A, where we are going to have to see more or he is likely to slide down this list next season.

16) Abraham Almonte, OF (2009 – Power 40; First Base Rate 66; Discipline 66; Speed 80)

Only 5’9”, and having never posted an OPS higher than .778 in three stateside seasons, doesn’t incite tons of excitement, but we have been intrigued by the portly outfielder ever since he posted the top Performance score in the DSL in 2006. 2009 has to be considered somewhat of a breakout year for him as he posted the #8 Score in the SAL. Only 20yo, Almonte is extremely athletic despite his proportions, and shows enough skills to potentially play at any of the three outfield positions. This past season he cut his strikeout rate from 21% in 2008 down to 17%. While he possesses solid raw speed, it is enhanced by sound base running instincts. With above average contact skills, he could develop into a solid top of the order threat—even without having much in the way of power. Look for Almonte to continue his progression at Hi-A in 2010.

17) Andrew Brackman, RP (2009 – Dominance 47; Stamina 51; HRrate 48; Control 20)

While understanding he had elbow troubles, the Yankees felt they were getting a steal when they drafted Brackman at the end of the first round in 2007. Two years later we have to begin to ask who was actually getting robbed, as the Yankees could be on the hook for as much as $13mm. Brackman has not been the same since Tommy John surgery. He made his professional debut in the, now defunct Hawaiian Winter League after the 2008 season, and made his full season debut in the SAL this year—as a 23yo, and, despite fanning nearly a batter per inning, showed almost no control. Worse yet, his once upper 90s velocity, was erratic all season, sitting between the upper 80’s and mid-90s. While the Yankees still have hopes for him as a starter, we see little hope for him to have three Major League pitches—as he has nearly completely forsaken his Change at this point. 2010 is an absolutely critical year for Brackman, as he is likely to open up the season as a 24yo in Hi-A. Command is usually the last thing to return after Tommy John surgery, so we will give him another season before writing him off, but we don’t expect the velocity to return to pre-surgery levels.

18) Jose A. Ramirez, RHP (2009 – Dominance 65; Stamina 77; HRrate 48; Control 59)

The Yankees are a considerably excited about Ramirez, who was nearly unhittable in the GCL this past year, featuring an electric low- to mid-90s fastball and a wipeout Change. A slender 6’1”, Ramirez still has plenty of projection left. The downside is that he is currently without a viable third pitch and will be relegated to a bullpen role without one. Ramirez will begin the 2010 as a 20yo in Hi-A. With as much helium as anyone in the system, he could move up this list considerably with a solid season.

19) Ivan Nova, RHP (2009 – Dominance 35; Stamina 72; HRrate 49; Control 39)

Unlike Ramirez who has an enormous ceiling, Nova is a polished pitcher with little projection left and a low-ceiling. However, Nova is a near Major League ready product who could see considerable Big League time in 2010. While likely destined for the end of the rotation or bull pen role, Nova’s raw stuff has always outdistanced his results. Nova features a heavy low-90s fastball, and compliments it with solid secondary offerings, still he only managed 5.8 strikeouts per 9IP in stints in the ESL and INT in 2009. Expect him to return to AAA to open the season, and could be the first starter called up should the Yankees need one.

Grade C+ Prospects –

20) Zolio Almonte, OF; 21) Kevin Russo, 2B; 22) David Adams, 2B; 23) Caleb Cotham, RHP; 24) Dellin Betances, RHP; 25) Yeicock Calderon, RF; 26) Hector Noesi, RP; 27) Jamie Hoffman, RF; 28) Jose Prela, SS; 29) Damian Taveras, C; 30) Neil Medchill, LF; 31) Wilkin De La Rosa, LHP; 32) Reegie Corona, 2B; 33) George Kontos, RHP.

Grade C Prospects –

Sean Black; Daniel Brewer; Gavin Brooks; Chris Cabrera; Francisco Cervelli; Evan DeLuca; Alan Horne; Brandon Laird; Ericson Leonora; Deangelo Mack; Juan Marcano; Brett Marshall; Melky Mesa; Juan Miranda; Bryan Mitchell; Deivi Mojica; Luke Murton; Rey Nunez; Jimmy Paredes; Ramiro Pena; David Phelps; Ryan Pope; Matt Richardson; Melvin Rosario; Humberto Sanchez; Romulo Sanchez; Ravel Santana; Eduardo Sosa; Damon Sublett; Graham Stoneburner; Brad Suttle; Pat Venditte; Adam Warren; Kevin Whelan; David Winfree.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions.

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