When it comes to sports, my three greatest passions, in order, are: baseball, minor league baseball/prospects and the New York Yankees. This is the culmination of those three in a form that is short enough to be readable. I am in the process of putting together a minor-league wide-prospect ranking but as a bit of a preview, here are the top 50 prospects in the New York Yankees system.
But before I get into the actual list I am just going to briefly mention the methods I used to come up with this particular order. I try and use every single resource at my disposal to learn as much as I can about prospects. I devour every credible scouting report I can find, search out actual video footage whenever I can and ponder every relevant statistic that is recorded. Talk to anyone that knows me well and they can confirm the lengths I go to in order to form an accurate picture of these players that I have never actually seen in person. I don't think it is a stretch to say I may know more about baseball prospects than nearly anybody who is not paid to follow them.
While I do follow every minor league system in baseball closely, it is the Yankees I pay the most attention to. I certainly could not write profiles for 50 players off the top of my head for other teams, but will talk at least briefly about everyone worth knowing in my big prospect article (I should be finished around February 1st with that.) Anyway, back to the Yankees...
The system is not very strong this year to put it simply. Jesus Montero is the lone blue-chipper and should be considered in the top 10 prospects in all of baseball. However beyond him there is not a single player I would give higher than a C+ at this point (if I was using a standard grading system). Beyond Montero, every high-ceiling player in the system is a long way from the majors. I believe the biggest reason for this is the Yankees wasting their first three picks in 2008 on two players who did not sign and one who is not very good, but at least the system has solid depth. The team has plenty of guys that should contribute in the majors in some capacity, particularly on the mound. Here is how they stack up.
1. Jesus Montero - C
Jesus Montero is arguably the best pure hitter in the minor leagues and if he could actually play catcher at a passable level he could be the top prospect in baseball. If I was nitpicking (and I have to) I would say that Montero could be a little less aggressive, but he makes contact so easily it has not hurt him yet. In this way he reminds me a bit of Howie Kendrick who destroyed the minor leagues but has not adjusted quite as quickly as expected to the majors where pitchers can exploit his aggressiveness. However, Montero got to AA two years quicker than Kendrick and has much more power potential.
Comps on Montero run a wide range but the player he actually reminds me most of is Carlos Lee. Montero's future is obviously not at catcher and I can picture him lumbering around in left field the way Lee does. Again though, Montero's ceiling is much higher than Lee, who is a pretty darn good hitter. He will probably begin 2010 back in AA with a great chance of seeing time in AAA before the year is over and I would not even be shocked if he made his big league debut this year.
2. Manny Banuelos - LHP
Banuelos dominated low-A last year while playing the entire season at 18-years-old. He is exceptionally polished for a pitcher his age and already shows a solid fastball and breaking pitch. His changeup has the potential to develop into an above average offering as well. The downside to Banuelos is that he is only 5'10 and does not have a blazing fastball. Undersized pitchers without blow-you-away stuff often struggle as they move up the ladder, but Banuelos' rare combination of command and pitching savvy give him an edge over most prospects. He should begin the year in high-A and if all goes smoothly, he should spend the second half of the year in Trenton.
3. Zach McAllister - RHP
McAllister is a tall right-handed starter who pounds the bottom of the strike-zone with three average pitches. Because of his height he gets plenty of ground balls even though his fastball does not feature a great deal of sink. Because he can command all three of his pitches, McAllister has found little trouble dealing with minor league batters, but without a plus offering his transition to the majors may be much harder. I actually think he may find a tough time sticking in New York, probably the least favorable pitching environment imaginable, but in a vacuum he is an excellent prospect. McAllister will only be 22 in 2010 would probably benefit from a full season at AAA.
4. Slade Heathcott - OF
The Yankees' first round pick in 2010, Heathcott boasts the strongest across the board tools package of any farm hand. There were concerns over his maturity before the draft but the Yankees do not anticipate it to be an issue. If they are right, he could end up being a steal. Heathcott has exceptional strength and speed for such a young player but is extremely raw and will probably need a lot of time in the minors. It is difficult to tell exactly what the Yankees have in Heathcott but he gets rated 5th based purely on potential. He is worth keeping a close eye on in 2010.
5. Austin Romine - C
Romine rates higher on most boards because he has excellent tools for a catcher. I am still a little bit skeptical because his performance has not quite lived up to expectations thus far. He has the agility and arm strength to be a top notch defender, but still makes a lot of errors and does not catch as many base-stealers as he should. He has a quick bat and a decent eye but only managed 13 home runs and 29 walks with well over 450 plate appearances. I like Romine and he probably is the Yankees catcher of the future, but I think he is probably a little farther away and in need of more seasoning than most people realize.
6. Gary Sanchez - C
Sanchez just turned 17-years-old and we really do not know much about him at this point. He was the Yankees most high-profile international signing since Montero. Unlike Montero, Sanchez does appear to have the athleticism to be a catcher, but he also does not seem to be as advanced at the plate. It will probably be another couple years before the Yankees know exactly what they have in Sanchez who probably will not see full season ball until 2011.
7. Andrew Brackman - RHP
In my opinion, the hardest prospect in all of baseball to rank. On the plus side, he is 6'10 and very athletics, has a fastball with plus velocity, plus movement and plus deception when it is on, and he has a wipeout curveball that is all but unhittable on his good days. On the downside he is 24, hasn't had a productive season since 2007, has a long injury history and rarely knows where the ball is going. Nonetheless I have decided to rank Brackman 7th even though I think he has less than a 50% chance of ever pitching in the majors. There is just too much potential to ignore here. The Yankees moved Brackman to the pen at the end of last year and he started to show glimpses of why they gave him such a big contract after the draft. 2010 is an extremely important year for Brackman who needs to start putting it together soon. An optimist will say that it always takes taller pitchers longer to develop and 2010 will be the first year that he will pitch while completely healthy in a long time. I am anxiously awaiting to see if he steps up this year.
8. Mark Melancon - RHP
Melancon is the most major league ready prospect on the farm and used to be thought of as a potential successor to Mariano Rivera. While talk of that upside has cooled a bit, Melancon still looks like he can be an excellent setup man. He generally sits at 92-95 with a fastball that is fairly straight although he does hide it well. His best pitch is a swing and miss power curveball that features sharp downward bite and low-80s velocity. Melancon didn't trust his stuff enough last year in his brief stints with the Yankees and walked too many batters. He has enough stuff to succeed in the majors and will thrive once he gets over the mental hurdle.
9. David Adams - 2B
Adams has always taken professional at-bats since his freshman year at Virginia but it wasn't until a mid-season promotion to Tampa Bay last year that he started to drive the ball. He netted 30 extra base hits in 230 at-bats. It is an admittedly small sample size, but if that production is for real, Adams could turn into an impressive prospect because he can handle second base. Adams has always had the size and swing to hit for power so there are plenty of reasons for optimism. The Yankees may push him a bit since he will be 23 in May and send him directly to AA to start the season. How he handles the pitcher friendly Trenton park will determine just how excited the Yankees should be about him.
10. John Murphy - C
Murphy was drafted in the second round last year mostly because of his advanced bat. The Yankees believe he has the tools to handle catching but it is unlikely he will ever be any better than average defensively. The Yankees believe that even if he can't cut it behind the plate his bat will play elsewhere on the diamond. 10 is definitely a conservative ranking on Murphy and if he hits at full season ball next year he will rocket up this board.
11. Jose Ramirez - RHP
Sort of a poor man's Arodys Vizcaino in some ways. He has an electric arm and dominated the Gulf Coast League last season in his first taste of professional ball in the states. He doesn't have the secondary pitches Vizcaino does yet and his command is not quite as developed, but he has nearly the same potential. He also tends to pitch up in the zone too much at this point but he has plenty of time to fix that and it should not hurt him until he is higher up the ladder. Ramirez will get his first real taste of full season ball this season at 20. If his debut is anywhere near as impressive and Banuelos was last year he will climb several spots on this list.
12. Adam Warren - RHP
Warren is a polished college pitcher who was a prominent member of the North Carolina pitching staff for four years. He doesn't have any plus pitches but knows what he is doing on the mound so it seems like he should find his way to the majors in some capacity. Like McAllister he profiles better in a more favorable pitching environment but I wouldn't be surprised if he climbed the ladder quickly and filled a similar role to the one Alfredo Aceves is filling.
13. Graham Stoneburner - RHP
I am probably the high man when it comes to ranking Stoneburner but I see a lot of potential in him as a reliever. The Yankees took him in the 14th round last year as a draft-eligible sophomore and managed to sign him for a well-above slot deal. At Clemson he spent time in the rotation and in the bullpen. Out of the pen he flashed mid-90s velocity with plus movement from a low 3/4 arm-slot. He also through slider that moves like a cutter and sits in the upper 80s. He has good control of both pitches but needs to refine his command before he will be capable of getting MLB hitters out. As a reliever with plus velocity Stoneburner should move quickly and I wouldn't be surprised to see him reach AA by the end of 2010.
14. D.J. Mitchell - RHP
Mitchell was one of several above-slot signings the Yankees committed to in the 2008 draft and he had one of the strongest debuts. Mitchell has solid stuff across the board with his changeup a bit behind his fastball and breaking pitch. He blew away low-A batters early in the season and was effective after a promotion to high-A. He already is adept at working the bottom of the strikezone and induces a good deal of groundballs for a player on the shorter side. Mitchell should start next year at AA and it will be interesting to see if he can continue to be effective against more advanced hitters.
15. Corban Joseph - SS
The Yankees have really struggled to develop shortstop prospects as Carmen Angelini, Addison Maruszak, Ramiro Pena and Eduardo Nunez have all disappointed (although Nunez bounced back a bit last year, you'll see him later). Joseph took up the mantle last year as the best in house option for shortstop of the future by batting .300/.381/.418. He has always had advanced plate discipline but will need to develop more power to succeed as he moves up the ladder. He will spend all of next season at 21-years-old so he still has time. I expect him to spend most, if not the whole season at high-A and ultimately his power development will determine his ceiling.
16. Caleb Cotham - RHP
Cotham has a better arm than you would expect from a college pitcher drafted in the 5th round and for somebody with his sinker/slider combination you would expect him to put up better numbers in college. Because of this he is a bit of an enigma. His sinker sits in the low 90s and can touch the mid 90s with plus movement. However he tends to leave the pitch up far too often, hurting its effectiveness. His slider also has plus potential and sits in the mid 80s. The pitch is more exceptional for its speed than its movement which is minimal. Cotham really does not have a legitimate third pitch and because of that he appears destined for the bullpen longterm. It will be tough to figure out exactly what the Yankees have in Cotham until they can get a look at him in full season ball. Expect him to start his career in the rotation until he proves he cannot handle it.
17, Kelvin De Leon - OF
When it comes to all around tools, De Leon is one of the only hitters in the system in the same league as Heathcott. After a big season in his native Dominican Republic as a 17-year-old in '08 the Yankees brought him stateside and he spent the whole season in the GCL. De Leon showed some serious raw power and speed but struck out in roughly 1/3 of his at-bats and generally looked hopeless on any decent breaking pitch. A typical boom or bust prospect, De Leon would probably benefit from another season in short-season ball because his approach is not nearly advanced enough to handle low-A.
18. David Phelps - RHP
Phelps came out of nowhere to put himself on the prospect map in 2008. His stuff is average at best, but his command is near the top of the Yankees system and made hitters looked over matched at two levels of A-ball last year. His on-the-low side strikeout totals are a red flag and he did give up a couple more homers than you would prefer to see. It is always difficult to figure out how pitchers like Phelps will fair as they move up the ladder. Most struggle but a few end up surprising scouts and next year should help determine which group Phelps will end up in.
19. Sean Black - RHP
Black was heavily recruited out of high school but never developed the way most scouts anticipated at Seton Hall. He was solid if not spectacular as a three-year starter and the Yankees decided to take a flier on him in the 7th round. They went well over slot to sign him and he racked up 50 innings at Staten Island. He didn't miss as many bats as you would expect from a college pitcher but did post a 1.62 ERA. Black will projects as a reliever where his solid fastball/curveball combo should play up. His motion is a little rough but he has a pretty clean injury history and it adds some deception so the Yankees will probably let him stick with it.
20. Melky Mesa - OF
For people who have followed the Yankees system over the last decade, Mesa may remind you of Wily Mo Pena. Mesa is an outstanding athlete with a ton of raw power and little idea about how to use it. He spent last year in low-A at 22 and while he did rack up 51 extra base hits, he also struck out 168 times. As those numbers indicate, Mesa sells out contact for Power and takes really long swings at any pitch near the strike zone. This type of player almost never pans out but you can dream on him becoming Alfonso Soriano. I'd say Mesa has less than a 25% chance of having any kind of career in the majors but he warrants the 20 spot because of his massive potential.
21. Neil Medchill - OF
Medchill, a 2009 11th round pick, has just enough power and athleticism to be an exciting prospect, After signing he slugged an impressive .551 at Staten Island but also struck out 66 times in 216 at bats. This makes him a lot like Mesa, a player that sells out for power, but has enough other tools that you have to give him a chance until he fails. Medchill is raw for a college prospect and will probably start 2010 at low-A. Even without tightening up his strike zone much he should be able to find some success there but will struggle as he moves up the ladder unless he learns to make some adjustments.
22. Jamie Hoffman - OF
The first pick of the recently completed rule V draft, Hoffman cost the Yankees Brian Bruney and should play a role on the 2010 team. He is athletic and has a good idea of what he is doing at the plate but has never displayed the power most expected from him. He can handle centerfield in a pinch but is more comfortable on a corner where his bat doesn't have enough juice to project him as developing into a starter. Considering he has experience all over the outfield, can run, and has shown some hitting ability, Hoffman seems lie he should be a solid backup for the Yankees.
23. Juan Miranda - 1B
Miranda is probably 28 and not the 26 he is listed at considering how many conflicting reports there are out of Cuba, but he has quietly turned himself into a solid player. He spent all of last year at AAA and hit a very respectable .290/.369/.498. He has also continued to work on his defense and is now an average first baseman. Right now, Juan Miranda appears to be at worst a platoon player at the big league level, something that the Yankees really have no use for, but other teams may find him more interesting. I wouldn't be surprised to see him included as part of a trade sometime during the 2010 season for a team that is looking for some cheap production at first base.
24. Bryan Mitchell - RHP
Mitchell was a 16th round pick in 2009 but cost the Yankees $800,000 due to his commitment to North Carolina. New York gladly paid it because he had one of the better pure arms in his high school class. He has shown the ability to throw in the low 90s and has the potential to add more velocity as he continues to mature. Mitchell is a project because his secondary pitches are virtually non-existent at this point. Still, it was a worthwhile gamble for the Yankees to take. Expect Mitchell to start 2010 in extended spring training before being sent to a short season league.
25. Dellin Betances - RHP
One of the most frustrating players in the Yankees organization, Betances has teased the Yankees with tremendous upside since they drafted him in 2006. He missed almost all of 2009 with an injury and the lost development time will really hurt a player that desperately needs more time on the mound. Often compared to Daniel Cabrera because he is very tall, throws very hard and very wild, Betances is no longer being counted on by the Yankees to develop into a star pitcher, but he is too talented to give up on just yet. It is not known exactly when he will be able to take the mound again, but the sooner the better.
26. Wilkin De La Rossa - LHP
I have been skeptical about De La Rossa since he burst onto the scene with an impressive 2007 performance in the GCL. He followed it up with a strong full season debut in 2008, striking out 110 in 90.1 IP at low at 23-years-old. However, scouting reports said that De La Rossa threw very hard but did not have a reliable second pitch; his limited repertoire caught up with him in 2009, as he struggled in AA. De La Rossa has always seemed like a reliever to me, but because he still does not have a decent breaking pitch, it is hard to see exactly what role he would fill in the majors. De La Rossa enters 2010 with a lot to prove, hopefully last year helped him realize that his exceptional fast ball will not be enough on its own for him to succeed.
27. Jeremy Bleich - LHP
The Yankees took Bleich 44th overall in 2008 and I distinctly remember not liking the pick at the time. Every scouting report on Bleich I saw said he had fringe-average fastball, below average curveball and average changeup. There was also not a whole lot of evidence to suggest that there was any compelling reason why Bleich's stuff would improve a great deal. A year-and-a-half later he remains a low-ceiling starter who gets by with his secondary pitches but does not appear to have enough stuff to succeed in the majors, particularly in the AL East. Bleich should return to AA in 2010 and will have to start showing some signs that he should be taken seriously as a prospect soon or he will quickly fall off the radar.
28. Hector Noesi - RHP
Noesi was a virtual unknown coming into 2009 but put himself on the map with a very impressive performance. He mostly uses a two-pitch mix, starting with a fastball that typically sits around 90 but is straight and curveball with downward bite in the high 70s. Noesi has worked on a changeup but has made minimal progress on it thus far. With his pedestrian stuff Noesi has a very small margin for error and will find success much more difficult as he moves up the ladder. 2010 will be a big test for him, he's officially on the radar now and he won't catch as many people off guard.
29. Jairo Heredia - RHP
Heredia missed some development time with injuries in 2009 but he did not turn 20 until after the season so he is still well ahead of the curve. He is extremely polished for such a young pitcher, already showing an average fastball and curve mostly because of how well he commands them. He ranks lower than most would expect partially because his fastball generally sits at just 90 and doesn't have much life. His curve is also a little soft at times and scouts doubt if he has the hand-speed to sharpen it. A healthy 2010 would go a long way to help evaluate just how much potential Heredia has.
30. Francisco Cervelli - C
Fans got to see what Cervelli was capable of as he spent a good deal of time with the big league club last year. With Cervelli, what you see is pretty much what you get. He's a fantastic defender with surprising agility and a plus arm. At the plate though Cervelli leaves a lot to be desired. He has almost no power and hits almost everything on the ground. He also is a very aggressive batter and does not know how to work the count. In total, Cervelli profiles like a backup who is a great fill in because of his glove, but because he is not much of a hitter it is difficult to see him as a starter in the majors.
31. Eduardo Nunez - SS
Nunez is a great athlete who has a solid glove at shortstop and a quick bat. He has minimal power and is far too aggressive right now but showed some potential for the first time in 2009.
32. Bradley Suttle - 3B
Suttle missed all of 2009 with a torn labrum that needed surgery. Before going down he showed an advanced bat and approach and the range to handle third base. He had one of the best bats in the system before the injury and the Yankees are hopeful he can pickup where he left off.
33. Kevin Russo - 2B
A grinder with minimal tools who just keeps getting better, Russo had his best season in 2009 and looks like he might be able to hit a bit in the majors. He plays second base capably and has spent time at third also, possibly setting him up for a future bench role.
34. Brett Marshall - RHP
Marshall was 2008's Bryan Mitchell. He really struggled this year but still showed a great arm and the high ceiling that made the Yankees take a shot on him. He has plenty of time to figure it out and will probably return to low-A in 2010
35. Gavin Brooks - LHP
Brooks was a big armed reliever at UCLA before the Yankees took him in the 5th round of the 2009 draft. His command is poor at this point but he has flashed swing-and-miss stuff and will get plenty of opportunities to succeed.
36. Brandon Laird - 3B
Laird was just considered an organization guy by most after the 2009 season but he had a huge Arizona Fall League and is now just barely on the radar. His bat is his only plus tool and many are still skeptical that even it will play at the majors; he will need a strong 2010 before scouts become believers.
37. Rob Lyerly - 3B
A polished college bat that the Yankees took in the 6th round of 2009, he has a lot in common with Laird. All Lyerly's value is in his bat and it is questionable how well he'll hit in the upper levels.
38. DeAngelo Mack - OF
Another 2009 draftee, Mack comes from the same mold at Medchill but does not have quite as much power or speed. He has a lot names to jump over before he will be taken seriously as a prospect, but the tools are at least interesting.
39. Ivan Nova - RHP
Nova is a near major-league-ready groundball machine with limited upside. His pitching actually strongly resembles Sergio Mitre, and like Mitre he is probably destined to spend most of his career bouncing between the majors and AAA, but he could probably start for some teams as soon as this year.
40. Kevin Whelan - RHP
Whelan was acquired from Detroit in the Gary Sheffield trade a couple years ago and when he is on he can be one of the most dominant relievers in the system. A former catcher, he has a short arm action but still manages to touch the mid 90s with his fastball occasionally and he also has a plus splitter. However, Whelan's funky delivery hurts his control which is very poor. He will never make it to the majors unless he can throw more strikes.
41. Romulo Sanchez - RHP
A big, tall, underachieving right-hander acquired from the Pirates last season mostly because they grew tired of waiting for him to develop. Sanchez hits the mid-90s with some consistency out of the pen, so if he does figure it out at some point he could be a valuable bullpen arm.
42. Reegie Corona - IF
Corona is essentially a poor man's Alberto Callaspo. A hitter with some speed, essentially no power and really good plate discipline that makes him an effective leadoff man in the minors. His weak bat will most likely prevent him from ever spending much time in the majors, but he may end up a useful bench player.
43. George Kontos - RHP
Kontos had great stuff in college but could never get his ERA out of the 5.00's. Since starting his pro career his production has been solid but he no longer features the plus fastball and his secondary pitches have slid back in quality as well. The Yankees have not tried him in the bullpen yet, and a move there might be just what he needs to breathe some life into his career.
44. Christian Garcia - RHP
Garcia has had more injuries than any player I can remember except for perhaps Chris Snelling. He has had shoulder, elbow and leg issues, and they have all derailed a once promising prospect. The amazing thing about Garcia is that when he actually manages to take the field he still gets hitters out consistently and impressively. It would be ridiculous to ever actually expect him to stay healthy at this point but until his stuff deteriorates he will remain on the radar.
45. Damon Sublett - 2B
Sublett is a polished, well-disciplined college hitter who would be a very nice prospect if he had more power. As it stands he remains an interesting player because of his good eye average hitting ability. He has a strong arm for a second baseman but his range is a little below average.
46. Grant Duff - RHP
Duff is a converted position player who throws very hard and is an imposing presence on the mound at 6'6. Now 27, Duff has yet to figure out exactly where the ball is going and still relies almost completely on his fastball. Because of his size and velocity some thought Duff might be taken in the rule V draft but no one bit and he will likely return to AA to start 2010.
47. Ramiro Pena - SS
When Pena made the big league club out of spring training last year I was shocked. Pena has never really shown any ability to drive the ball or take a walk, making him an extremely limited hitter. However, he has always been a slick fielder at shortstop and that's what persuaded the Yankees to carry him on the roster. Because of his bat, if Pena does stick in the majors he is destined to spend most of his time on the bench as a utility player because of his strong defense.
48. Kyle Higashioka - C
Higashioka gets lost in the Yankees system because they have so many legitimate catching prospects, but Higashioka is still interesting enough to mention. The Yankees gave him $500,000 to sign as a seventh round pick in 2008 and started him off slowly in short season ball last season. He showed a good eye but no ability to drive the ball. Higashioka has the tools to add power and play good defense but is all projection at this point. He should get his first taste of full season ball this year.
49, Ryan Pope - RHP
Pope boasts the best mechanics and arguably best command of any pitcher in the system. Unfortunately he is very light on stuff, sitting in the high-80s with a soft breaking ball and mediocre changeup. Pope's best case scenario at this point appears to be a swingman but with his advanced feel for pitching I would be curious to see what he could do out of the bullpen. If a move there even adds 3-4 mph on his fastball he could be a very useful arm.
50. Pat Venditte - SHP
That's right, a switch pitcher. Venditte is a little bit more than a novelty act however. His numbers have been outstanding but the scouting reports do not matchup. He struggles to hit 85 from the right side and struggles to hit 80 from the left-side. Having the platoon advantage against every hitter is quite an edge but it is hard to see Venditte succeeding in the majors with so little velocity.