Monday, July 5, 2010

Our Midseason Top 10 Yankee Prospects

Written by Frank Barra and Domenic L. (Stats as of 7/4/10)

Domenic and Frank here, we at Sliding into Home are trying something new by providing a regular list (probably monthly) of what we feel are the top 10 most promising prospects in the Yankee system. We will try to offer an equal balance of selections between all levels of the system, with evaluations based on overall season performance as well as some weighting towards those who have been playing well recently.

Not included will be those prospects that are already in the rotation between the minors and the majors, such as Mark Melancon, Jonathan Albaladejo, Juan Miranda, Colin Curtis and Kevin Russo. We will primarily focus on our top 10, but we will also provide any other prospects that just missed the cut for one reason or another, as well as some that are on the rise.

As you will see, our selections point out the strengths in the Yankee farm system – the list is heavy on pitching and catching but not much else. We should be hearing more and more about these prospects as they come closer to Major League ready, or possibly included in trade deadline deals, but let's hope the Yankees don't lose focus on the future if and when they go shopping in July. Feel free to give us your opinions on these prospects and whether or not they belong, and if you have others you feel should be given consideration let us know.

1. Jesus Montero: C/DH; Age 20

On this initial list and at the top mainly because he came into the year as the organization's number one prospect, and has been rated the number four prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America – in short, he is quite young and has boatloads of potential. Signed as a non-drafted free agent from Venezuela, Montero has been known mainly for his offense. He has become progressively better in each of his first three seasons as a productive hitter with power. For most of this year, though, that has not been the case in Triple-A. Recently, however, it appears that Montero may have turned the corner offensively. Over his last 10 games he is 13 for 40 (.325) with 4 2B, 2 HR, and 8 RBI. I witnessed his home run last Saturday night, which was a moon shot over the left center field wall. Hopefully his power is back for good. In addition to his offense, his defensive improvement behind the plate is worth noting, as many feel that his best position is the batter’s box. If he can become more than just a DH, it would give the Yankees a large amount of flexibility. Many have projected him to hit the majors in 2011, but you never know what may happen if he remains hot. Additional information on Montero can be found here.

2. Hector Noesi: SP; Age: 23

This undrafted free agent pitcher from the Dominican Republic was signed back in 2004 when he was 17 years old. He was added to New York’s 40-man roster this off-season, and was rated the 24th best prospect in the organization by Baseball America. Noesi came back from elbow surgery in 2009 and was poised to impress in 2010 – and he has not disappointed. Noesi began the year posting a 5-2 record and 2.72 ERA, with a ridiculous 53:6 K/BB ratio in 43 IP with High-A Tampa. His stock has been rising ever since, and he was promoted to Double-A Trenton on May 16. After a shaky first start (the worst of the year at either level), he has been very impressive. The righty is now 6-1 with a 1.83 ERA in 9 starts, and has struck out 51 batters in 59 innings of work. The control specialist has a good fastball and sinker, and is working on improving his curveball and slider, which should make him even better. Besides earning a selection to the FSL all-star team with Tampa, he has also recently been named an all star for this year’s Futures Game. Frank’s recent post on Noesi’s successes at Tampa can be found here.

3. Austin Romine: C; Age: 21

The catcher was ranked the number two prospect in the Yankee system at the beginning of the year. Having moved steadily through the system since being drafted in the second round by the Yankees in 2007, Romine is considered by many to be the Yankees’ catcher of the future. The quality of his defensive skills gives him the edge right now at a well-stocked position in the Yankee system. Additionally, he has also been solid offensively in his first two seasons. Romine started this season with Double-A Trenton batting over .300, displaying a good eye and some pop – he has not been quite as hot as most of the others on this list as of late, but he has been steady all year. He is now hitting .285 with 6 HR and 44 RBI through 68 games. He joins Hector Noesi as the two Yankee representatives for this year’s Futures game to be played during the all-star break.

4. Andrew Brackman: SP; Age: 24

The 6-foot 10 standout out of North Carolina State was the 30th selection in 2007 Draft and made his pro debut in 2009 after under going Tommy John surgery. He struggled with his control most of 2009 walking 76 in 107 innings for Low-A Charleston. With High-A Tampa this year his struggles continued until recently. Over his last 8 starts at Tampa he was 5-1 with a 2.81 ERA, striking out 46. In addition, according to Kevin Levine-Flandrup, Brackman's fastball is now sitting around 93 MPH (reaching as high as 96). However, the most meaningful stat, which indicates that he may be turning his career around, is that he has only walked 13 in 70 innings this year. Improving his control was the key to his recent advancement to Double-A Trenton, with Brackman striking out just over six batters for every walk issued while at Tampa. For more on Brackman, check out Domenic’s post.

5. Dellin Betances: SP; Age: 22

While the perils of small sample sizes are obvious, it’s difficult to not be high on Betances’ performance thus far. The 6’8” righty was selected out of Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. in the eighth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. After a solid 2008 he was ranked as the 5th best prospect in the Yankees' organization by Baseball America. However, he struggled in 2009 and was eventually shut down for elbow surgery (a ligament reinforcement procedure – not Tommy John Surgery, as many had erroneously reported). In his latest start with High-A Tampa since coming back, he was outstanding: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, and 6 SO. In 28 innings this season, Betances is 3-0 and has struck out 33 while walking only 5. That's a 0.54 WHIP and includes a microscopic 0.64 ERA. Adding to the optimism surrounding Betances are reports that he was throwing at 95 MPH and topped at 97 MPH since returning. Besides a dominant fastball, he mixes in a knee buckling 84-85 MPH curveball to totally frustrate batters – a few scouts have described his stuff as ace-like. Here's more on Betances in Frank’s post.

6. Slade Heathcott: CF; Age: 19

Last year's first round draft choice out of Texas High School where he earned numerous honors, including WSSSA World Series MVP and two First-Team All District appearances. Heathcott started the season as the 4th best prospect in the Yankee system according to Baseball America. While he has the rawest talent of any prospect, he also has a ton of upside as the Yankees hope he can become a solid 5-tool player. The lefty hitter plays the game hard and will probably be a “top of the order” type player, though some project he could hit 20 home runs a year. A plus defender (likely to stick in CF), the speedster skipped short season Staten Island and moved directly to Low-A Charleston. So far he is hitting .257 with 6 stolen bases in 27 games and just yesterday hit his first career home, an inside-the-parker against Asheville. He is probably the best all around talent in the farm system.

7. David Phelps: SP; Age: 23

Tagged as a breakout candidate by John Sickels, the 2008 14th Round choice out of Notre Dame has made the prospect guru look like a genius. Featuring a low-90s fastball with cutter-like movement and an average slider and change, the right-handed Phelps has been dominant thus far in Trenton, posting a 2.04 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 1.43 G/F, and 8.56 K/9 in 88.1 IP. While his ceiling may not be that of Brackman or Betances, Phelps’ make-up and progress at each level of the system leads many to believe that he’s a surefire mid-rotation starter. Phelps was recently promoted to Scranton, where he took a loss in his debut, but it's his first Triple-A start so we're not too concerned.

8. Adam Warren: SP; Age: 22

Last year’s fourth-round choice has done nothing but impress thus far, dominating short-season Staten Island in 2009 (1.43 ERA, 5.00 K/BB, 1.04 WHIP) and performing nearly as well with Tampa in 2010 (2.61 ERA, 3.40 K/BB, 1.13 WHIP). Warren features a 92-plus MPH two-seamer that generates a ton of groundballs (3.22 G/F), a change-up, a slider, and a curveball. While the off-speed stuff remains a work in progress, it’s worth noting that Warren has solid command of each pitch, ably throwing each for strikes. In terms of potential, Warren’s fastball topped-out in the mid-90s with North Carolina, so we may see an increase in velocity as he acclimates to the rigors of professional baseball.

9. Graham Stoneburner: SP; Age: 22

A 14th round selection in the 2009 draft out of Clemson, Stoneburner was rated the No. 21 prospect in the Yankee farm system by Baseball America. Stoneburner was leading the SAL in strikeouts and earned pitcher of the week honors before being promoted to High-A Tampa on May 12, where he’s been just as impressive. Pitching with very little luck, he only has a 4-3 record, but he has an outstanding 1.93 ERA. In addition, Stoneburner did not allow an earned run for the entirety of June, generating a ton of strikeouts (nearly 9 K/9) and grounders (2.04 G/F) without allowing many walks (2.3 BB/9). See Domenic's post for more on Stoneburner's most recent performance.

Gary Sanchez: C; Age: 17

The 17-year-old Dominican prospect was signed by the Yankees last year as an international free agent. He signed for a $3 million bonus, the fourth-largest in franchise history. He's got good power, can already recognize a breaking ball, has a plus arm, and is very athletic. There's a lot to like about this kid. He's not the greatest receiver behind the plate, but at just 17 he's got plenty of time to clean up that area of his game. People have already compared him to Jesus Montero, though they say Sanchez is better defensively. So far he's hitting .459/.545/.784 with 3 HR, 3 doubles, and driven in 12 RBI over his first 10 Gulf Coast League games.

Other Notables:

JR Murphy: C/DH; Age: 19

Despite having an abundance of solid catching prospects in the system, the Yankees used their 2nd pick in last year’s draft to select Murphy. Similar to Montero he is best known as a hitting talent. Before the draft, he was rated by Baseball America as having the 2nd best strike-zone judgment among high school players. After spending part of last year in the GCL hitting .333 in 9 games, he also skipped short season Staten Island and moved up to Low-A Charleston. This year he is hitting .247 on the season with 1 HR and 22 RBI. Murphy’s been splitting his time between catcher (sharing duties with 20-year old Kyle Higashioka) and DH, and has struggled to throw out base runners thus far – though, it’s worth noting that few pitchers hold runners in the low minors. Additional information on Murphy can be found on Frank’s

Brandon Laird: 3B; Age: 22

Scranton fans starving for some offense are clamoring for Laird to move up soon to provide some much needed help at third. He was named EL player of the month for May and his torrid hitting has continued in June, slamming 9 HRs and 29 RBI. Laird is currently in the league’s top 10 in almost every offensive category. Based on his performance so far this year, he is arguably the most productive hitter in the system. In a game this past week against Erie he went 3-for-5 with 2 home runs, including a grand slam, and 7 RBI. He is averaging 1 home run every 15 at bats and has also hit for the cycle. His Triple Crown numbers with the Double-A Trenton Thunder so far are outstanding: .293, 19 HR, and 79 RBI. More on Laird can be found on this Sliding Into Home
blog post.

Ivan Nova: SP; Age: 23

Nova was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican and has pitched well for Triple-A Scranton most of the year. He has a 5-2 record with a 3.00 ERA and 64 strikeouts. He impressed earlier this year in a very brief stint in the majors. He showed a
lot of poise in the 2 games he pitched, not giving up a run in 3 innings. On June 21st against Pawtucket he pitched brilliantly over 6 1/3 innings allowing no runs while striking out seven and walking one. This was just one of several good outings Nova has had in June. In his last five starts his numbers are 3-0, 1.34 ERA, 34 innings, 5 ER, 23 K. A power pitcher, he throws mostly in the 91 - 93 MPH range, but he has been hitting 97 and 95 on occasion.

Eduardo Nunez: SS; Age: 23

Probably the most consistent player all around this year in Triple-A, Nunez has impressed with the bat hitting .309 so far this season. He also leads the International League with 97 hits. His defense has probably been his biggest weakness in the past. Though some scouts have raved about it. He has improved in this area and has played very well defensively this season, mostly at shortstop. His speed may be the most underrated part of his game and should help to off-set his lack of power. Another non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican we are not likely to see Nunez with the Yankees anytime soon, but his name could be bandied about around the trade deadline. See
Domenic's post for more on Nunez' most recent performance.

Jose Ramirez: SP; Age: 20

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, Ramirez may have been the most difficult cut to make. The 6’1” 155-pound righty features a 95-plus MPH fastball and a plus change-up, delivering both pitches from the same angle with the same action, providing for Johan Santana-like deception. The issue with Ramirez, however, lay in his build – many scouts fear that Ramirez’s lack of bulk does not bode well for the rigors of 200-plus IP, which is a legitimate concern. His flyball tendencies are also a bit foreboding, as well, but are more easily rectified. Should his size become an issue, his stuff should allow him to be a dominant reliever at any level.

Manny Banuelos: SP; Age: 19

Had Banuelos not missed the first two-plus months of the season with a non-baseball related injury, it is quite likely that he would have cracked the top-ten. While the 5’10” 155-pound lefty draws similar concerns as Ramirez, he has two advantages that may force the Yankees to give him a longer leash in the rotation – he’s left-handed and a groundball machine. The system is all but devoid of left-handed prospects, and Banuelos’ stuff is among the best of any lefty in the lower minors. In 2009, Banuelos posted a 2.64 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 3.8 K/BB, and generated around 2.5 G/F. Through two starts this year, Banuelos has been solid, but his lack of work in 2010 made him an easy cut from this list… though, it’s very likely that he’ll be back.

Zach McAllister: SP; Age: 22

A 2006 3rd Round selection, McAllister is viewed by many scouts as a lock to be a big-league starter – most likely in the fourth or fifth slot of the rotation. McAllister throws strikes, generates groundball outs, and has demonstrated remarkable durability during his professional career. That being said, he gives up his fair share of hits, doesn’t get many strikeouts, and has allowed more fly balls than groundballs this year (0.89 G/F). While it is difficult to find solid back of the rotation starters, McAllister’s lower ceiling and struggles in 2010 kept him out of the top-ten.

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