Monday, February 07, 2011

2011 New York Yankees Top 50 Prospects

The New York Yankees farm system had a big year in 2010 as many top prospects had breakout seasons and none of their highest ceiling players stumbled. The Yankees greatest strength remains catching and right-handed pitching, but left-handed pitcher Manny Banuelos is one of the best players in the system. They have also drafted a couple high ceiling position players in recent years and will look for them to have breakout seasons this year.

Last year's Yankees prospect list received quite a bit of feedback and I'm hoping this year's will generate an equal amount of buzz. As usual these rankings are a snapshot in time that take into account both a player's ceiling and their probability of making an impact in the major leagues. The best way to look at it is from a standpoint of trade value. In a vacuum, who would you rather have? At the moment, this is how I rank the Yankee prospects.

1. Jesus Montero - C/DH (Last year: 1)

An easy choice for the top spot, Montero got off to a slow start last season but quickly reminded everyone why he is regarded as one of the best hitters in the minor leagues. His defense remains below average but he could probably survive in the majors, at least in the short term. Regardless of where he plays, Montero should be a middle-of-the-order hitter for years to come. His ceiling is a high average hitter with the ability to compete for home run titles, and his floor appears to be something along the lines Paul Konerko. He should spend a good portion of 2011 in the majors, the only question is whether it will be with the Yankees or another team because he is a very attractive trade target.

2. Manny Banuelos - LHP (Last year: 2)

Appendicitis was the only thing that stopped Banuelos in 2010, and he pitched well beyond his years after recovering. He was also one of the most impressive pitchers in the Arizona Fall League, making up for some of the innings he lost during the regular season. Banuelos stuff is far more imposing than his stature as he stands about 5'10, prompting some scouts to worry about how much leverage he can generate on his pitches. His fastball comes in comfortably in the low-90s and his command of it is the best in the system. Both his curve and changeup are impressive and his repertoire is so advanced that it is easy to forget he will not be 20-years-old until March. He should spend most of 2011 in AA but if he continues to dominate hitters the Yankees may not be able to resist pushing him even more aggressively.

3. Dellin Betances - RHP (Last year: 25)

No Yankee prospect made more progress than Betances last season. Injuries and control had derailed him leading up to 2010 but after getting a late start to the season he was lights out for most of the year. He features the best pure stuff of any Yankees pitcher, routinely throwing in the mid-90s and showing an occasionally devastating curve. He stands 6'8 and his height allows him to generate an angle on both pitches that batters have trouble picking up. His command is still very inconsistent and is the biggest thing standing between him and the majors. His changeup also needs work but with how potent his first two offerings are, a third pitch is less important than it is for most prospects. 2011 will be about building on the flashes of brilliance Betances has shown, he will start the year back at AA with a chance of making his major league debut later in the season, similar to how Ivan Nova did last year.

4. Gary Sanchez - C (Last year: 6)

As a player who just turned 18 and has never played in a full-season league, evaluating Sanchez is incredibly difficult. We know that he has the tools to be a superstar and other than a few too many strikeouts, his debut went about as well as anyone could have hoped. A latin catcher who received a high bonus, Sanchez is inevitably compared to Montero but his bat is not quite as advanced. However, Sanchez has a much better chance at sticking behind the plate because he is more athletic. The Yankees are loaded with catching prospects but none offers nearly the combination of offensive and defensive upside that Sanchez does. He will get his first taste low-A this season where he will be one of the youngest regulars in the South Atlantic League.

5. Andrew Brackman - RHP (Last year: 7)

Brackman was drafted in 2007 but played like a legit prospect for the first time in 2010. Already 25-years-old, his career was stalled by injuries and wildness but things started to click for him last year. A similar type of pitcher to Betances, his fastball lacks the explosiveness he flashed in college but can still get to the mid-90s on occasion and his curveball once again looked like a plus pitch. He has toyed with a slider and changeup but neither has stuck as a third pitch yet, and if neither develops he may end up in the bullpen where his stuff may play up even more. He needs to work on throwing more quality strikes but as long as he stays healthy he should make it to the Bronx in some role this year.

6. Hector Noesi - RHP (Last year: 28)

Noesi gradually went from a virtual unknown in 2008 to a legitimate starting pitching prospect on the back of his fastball. His velocity is average or just above depending on the day, but he commands the pitch like a veteran and it has surprising life. He also features a decent changeup but has failed to develop a passable breaking ball, limiting his ceiling to a mid-rotation starter. Noesi is one of the most advanced pitchers in the system and if the various veteran options brought in by New York this year fail to hold a rotation slot, Noesi will be one of the first prospects to get a chance. He ended 2010 in AAA and will return there to start 2011.

7. Adam Warren - RHP (Last year: 12)

When the Yankees drafted Warren in the fourth round of 2009 I was very happy they found a player who had a track record of success at a major college program and also had enough stuff to succeed in the majors. Warren was pitching strongly in high-A to start 2010, generating a ton of ground balls but performed even better after a promotion to AA. He maintained his high GB/FB ratio but drastically increased his strikeouts. He throws four pitches but works primarily of a low-90s fastball. His cutter does a good job of keeping left and right-handed hitters in check and he will mix in a curve and change on occasion. With no true plus pitch Warren does not fit the profile New York typically looks for and he may end up excelling after a trade, similar to Ian Kennedy.

8. Austin Romine - C (Last year: 5)

Rombine continued his steady ascent through the minors in 2010, showing average tools across the board at AA. Offensively Romine does not have either the plat discipline or power to be an above average hitter, but he should make enough contact and knock enough doubles to be adequate for a catcher. Defensively most scouts seem to like his tools but he has never put up impressive caught stealing numbers and occasionally struggles with his receiving. Only 22-years-old, Romine has racked up 338 games in the minors and has consistently kept his head above water. He has no star potential but should have a solid major league career, most likely beginning at some point in 2012.

9. Ivan Nova - RHP (Last year: 39)

Nova had a dream 2010 season, beginning the year as an afterthought and ending it pitching important innings down the stretch in New York. His velocity jumped up a couple miles-per-hour and allowed him to miss more bats than ever while maintaining his always excellent ground-ball rate. Nova's bread-and-butter is his 91-95 fastball which also has solid movement. His big-breaking curve is inconsistent both in its shape and location but can be devastating when on. He rarely uses his decent changeup and should probably completely scrap his poor slider. In a perfect world the Yankees would like to use Nova out of the bullpen so he could focus solely on his fastball and curve, however he figures to spend most of 2011 in their rotation due to the retirement of Andy Pettitte and failure to sign Cliff Lee.

10. Brandon Laird - CIF/COF (Last year: 36)

The 2010 Eastern League MVP, Laird seems to earn more believers every season and for the first time entering a season I think he will have a big-league career. Laird is an aggressive hitter with solid pop and adequate defensive skills for any of the four corner positions. He has played primarily third base and has the hands to remain there. Even after his big 2010 it is difficult to see Laird as more than a second division regular due to his lack of patience or true plus power. He had a good chance to end up with a Ty Wigginton type of career, which is a lot more than I thought he was capable of at this time last year.

11. Slade Heathcott - CF (Last year: 4)

Heathcott remains extremely raw, even for a 20-year-old. He still has excellent tools across the board except for power and will return to low-A after striking out in over 1/3 of his at-bats there last season.

12. Graham Stoneburner - RHP (Last year: 13)

A sinker-slider pitcher with a decent chance to start who should be at least a good setup man if moved to the pen. His fastball can sit 89-92 as a starter with excellent movement and gets tons of grounders.

13. Brett Marshall - RHP (sLast year: 34)

He will play all of 2011 as a 21-year-old who has already survived Tommy John surgery. He got stronger as 2010 wore on and was touching 94 MPH late in the season with plus sink. Already with a high ceiling, Marshall would have ace potential if his stuff improves anymore, a possibility as he moves farther from surgery.

14. Jose Ramirez - RHP (Last year: 11)

Ramirez did not have the breakout 2010 I was expecting but he could still add velocity and his advanced changeup gives him a chance to develop into an above average starter if he can ever find an effective breaking ball.

15. David Phelps - RHP (Last year: 18)

Phelps has a fastball that can be plus at times but is not a top prospect because all three of his secondary pitches are below average. He dominated AA and was impressive at AAA in 2010 as a starter but may have to settle for being a reliever in the majors unless one of his breaking balls or changeup emerges.

16. Bryan Mitchell - RHP (Last year: 24)

A raw 2009 draft pick with a potentially plus fastball and curve, Mitchell needs a lot of work but could start rocketing up this list if he starts putting things together.

17. Eduardo Nunez - MIF (Last year: 31)

Nunez got 50 at-bats in the Bronx last year and held his own thanks to his solid pitch recognition skills and ability to make contact. He has above average defensive tools at shortstop but lacks the power or patience to be an asset with the bat. Because his glove is only solid and not plus he appears to be either a second division regular or utility infielder in the long-term.

18. Melky Mesa - COF (Last year: 20)

If Mesa could make consistent contact he would rank much, much higher on this list. With plus power, speed and arm strength, Mesa has tantalizing potential. An optimist could see him developing into a Drew Stubbs type of hitter who makes up for high strikeouts with power and base-running, but Mesa's bust potential is also extremely high.

19. Mason Williams - CF (Last year: NE)

The best player from New York's underwhelming 2010 draft, Williams is very similar to Heathcott as an athletic, raw center fielder with questionable hitting ability. We will have a better idea of who he is at this time next year.

20. J.R. Murphy - TBD (Last year: 10)

Murphy had a very disappointing 2010, as his bat was more raw than New York had hoped and his defense was so poor it is difficult to find anyone who believes he can catch. Considering he will have to move from behind the plate (most likely to third) his bat will have to carry him and that seems less likely to happen than it did at this time last year.

21. David Adams - 2b/3b (Last year: 9)

I was probably the high man on Adams last year and he was on his way to justifying my belief in him before breaking his ankle. Adams can hit but the injury clouds his defensive ability and therefore his value. How he bounces back will be a key thing to watch in 2011.

22. Corban Joseph - 2b/3b (Last year: 15)

Most evaluators seem to prefer Joseph to Adams but I believe in Adams' bat more and Joseph's defense is not appreciably better either. He needs to prove he can hit more advanced pitching after going homerless in 111 AA at-bats last year.

23. Tommy Kahnle - RHP (Last year: NE)

One of the few draft picks New York made last year that I liked, Kahnle is a pure reliever with a power repertoire. He can touch the upper-90s and has an average slider. If he can throw strikes Kahnle should move very quickly up the minor league ladder.

24. Jairo Heredia - RHP (Last year: 29)

Heredia has had trouble staying healthy and has never shown plus velocity, but his combination of polish and age makes him an at least intriguing prospect when all is right.

25. Angelo Gumbs - TBD (Last year: NE)

An incredibly raw athlete with minimal baseball skills, Gumbs probably will not see full-season ball until at least 2012 but has the bat-speed to make scouts believe that he could hit with authority down the road. He is a major project, but one to keep an eye on.

26. Cito Culver - SS (Last year: NE)

I made no secret of my distaste for Culver's selection last year and little has changed. Culver can probably play shortstop but looks like a hitter who will struggle both to make contact and drive the ball, a profile that rarely leads to success.

27. D.J. Mitchell - RHP (Last year: 14)

Mitchell is adept at inducing grounders but has not missed nearly enough bats to profile as an impact pitcher. His stuff is also average to fringy across the board and it looks like he will have to move into the pen to ever make it all the way to New York.

28. Chase Whitley - RHP (Last year: NE)

A two-way player in college with a plus changeup and a chance to start. Whitley was a sleeper in the 2011 draft and the Yankees potentially may have found a steal. He is raw for a college player but will be worth keeping an eye on in 2011.

29. Pat Venditte - RHP/LHP (Last year: 50)

Venditte posted another impressive season in 2010, this time at high-A. The Yankees will keep moving him up the ladder till he fails, but it is difficult to see someone (even a switch-pitcher) have success at the higher levels with such a below average repertoire.

30. Brad Suttle - CIF (Last year: 32)

I believed in Suttle before an injury cost him 2009. He played a full schedule last year at high-A as a 24-year-old and was O.K. but will have to improve drastically this season if he is going to be considered a legitimate prospect again.

31. Ben Gamel - COF (Last year: NE)

An advanced hitter for a player being drafted out of high school, Gamel offers little else and has fringy tools across the board. He has an excellent, smooth, swing but will need a productive season in 2011 to put himself on the prospect map.

32. Kelvin DeLeon - COF (Last year: 17)

DeLeon's poor showing in the New York-Penn League last year was a major disappointment after he showed a potentially impact bat in 2009. He is not a great athlete and will have to make way more contact and take more walks to move up the ladder.

33. Robert Fish - LHP (Last year: NE)

Taken in the Rule V Draft, Fish is left-handed and can throw in the mid-90s so he will be given a chance to stick in the bullpen. He has poor command and no second pitch of note so he will have have to get by on just arm strength if New York decides to keep him.

34. Connor Mullee - RHP (Last year: NE)

Mullee rarely pitched in college but can hit the mid-90s and is an intriguing sleeper if the Yankees can teach him how to throw anything other than a fastball.

35. Daniel Brewer - OF (Last year: NR)

Brewer went from total non-prospect to potentially interesting after posting a .270/.346/.407 line in AA as a 22-23-year-old. He seems like a bit of a tweener to me with not quite enough range for center and not enough bat for a corner spot but he could prove me wrong.

36. Colin Curtis - OF (Last year: NR)

I have often referred to Curtis as a homeless-man's Mark Kotsay but he had his most productive season in AAA last year, earning an unimpressive cameo in New York. Curtis has a chance to stick on a Major League bench as a versatile reserve outfielder.

37. Abraham Almonte - COF (Last year: NR)

Almonte still has never had the breakout season some scouts predicted, but he had a respectable season in low-A last year, making consistent contact and taking advantage of his plus speed.

38. Rob Segedin - CIF (Last year: NE)

Segedin does not wow scouts but he showed a discerning eye and some pop at Tulane before being drafted in the 3rd round last year. It will be interesting to see how he fairs against more advanced competition in 2011.

39. Evan Rutckyj - LHP (Last year: NE)

A tall, projectable lefty with some upside. The Yankees will take it slow with Rutckyj who should open 2011 in extended spring training and not see full-season ball until 2012.

40. Jeremy Bleich - LHP (Last year: 27)

Another draft pick I hated at the time and grow even less fond of as we go forward. He missed most of 2010 after surgery in May but should be ready for spring training and will attempt to restart his career this year.

41. Ryan Pope - RHP (Last year: 49)

Pope finally moved to the bullpen at AA last season but his stuff did not quite tick up enough to project him to have much of an impact in the majors. He will probably move into the AAA bullpen this year and is polished enough that he could be one of the earlier people in line for a call up.

42. Caleb Cotham - RHP (Last year: 16)

Cotham was a very similar pitcher to Graham Stoneburner but he has rarely been able to take the mound since being drafted in 2009 due to injuries. 2011 will be an important year to see if he has recovered and can return to the prospect landscape.

43. Sean Black - RHP (Last year: 19)

The Yankees have attempted to develop Black as a starter but his command is fringy and his stuff is very inconsistent. He also has some rough mechanics and all of that screams reliever to me. As a reliever he has a chance to see his velocity approach the mid-90s, drastically helping his profile.

44. Romulo Sanchez - RHP (Last year: 41)

Sanchez throws hard but rarely has any idea where the ball is going. He mixes in a changeup and slider, both of which are passable for a power arm but he will never be more than a middle reliever unless he starts to show some command.

45. Kyle Higashioka - C (Last year: 48)

Higashioka made his full season debut last year and continued to show just enough tools to be considered a potential backup catcher some day. He has some on-base skills and defensive aptitude but not standout trait that would project him as a starter.

46. Greg Golson - OF (Last year: NR)

Golson is what he is at this point, a speeder outfielder with nice tools and no ability to really use them. Although he has a little pop Golson will strictly be a pinch runner/defensive replacement with the Yankees.

47. Nik Turley - LHP (Last year: NR)

A super-deep sleeper with some projection, Turley has not shown much development yet and will probably be a reliever before long, but has a pitcher's frame and may develop the stuff to match down the road.

48. Dan Turpen - RHP (Last year: NE)

A Rule V pick from the Red Sox, Turpen has almost no chance of sticking in the New York bullpen, particularly because he is nowhere near as interesting a pitcher as Robert Fish.

49. Kyle Roller - 1b (Last year: NE)

Roller has more raw power than any other Yankees 2010 draftee and that alone makes him at least worth paying attention to this year. He will be 23-years-old in March an has no defensive value so he will have to hit the ground running or be quickly forgotten.

50. Josh Romanski - LHP (Last year: NE)

A former two-way player in college, Romanski has three pitches ranging from fringy to average. He had a nice season in 2010 though he was very old for his leagues. He should get more of a challenge this season and that will give us a better indication how seriously we should take him as a prospect.

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