This post is about the Yankees, but it needs to be about the Phillies first.
Heading into 2007, the Phillies minor league system was a mess. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels had graduated to the big leagues, and the rest of Philadelphia’s high-end talent was buried in the lower levels. First-round pick Greg Golson’s stock was slipping. Tim Moss was playing his way out of baseball. Scott Mathieson needed Tommy John (twice). Gavin Floyd desperately needed a change of scenery, which he got. Within a year, Michael Bourn and Mike Costanzo would also be traded, and within the next two years, seven more prospects would be traded for Joe Blanton and Cliff Lee.
Heading into 2010, just three years after their system was such a wreck, the Phillies were able to trade for Roy Halladay without losing their top prospect, Dominic Brown.
Philadelphia’s system improved quickly because the Phillies took a chance on Brown’s signability in the 20th round of the 2006 draft, because J.A. Happ basically reached his best-case scenario, because Kyle Drabek came back strong after Tommy John surgery, because some international signings added depth, and because several high school draft picks played well after turning pro.
You can see some of the same things happening in the Yankees’ system.
Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Brett Gardner have graduated to the big leagues. Recent first-round picks Eric Duncan and C.J. Henry have played themselves out of the organization. Andrew Brackman, Chris Garcia, Alan Horne, Dellin Betances, George Kontos and J.B. Cox have needed surgery. Trades for Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson have cost considerable major-league-ready talent.
But the Yankees still have one of baseball’s premier prospects in Jesus Montero. Their system as a whole is a middle-of-the-pack group with a lot of high-end talent lurking in the lower levels. It’s not an elite minor league system, but it’s deep, and it’s awfully good for a team that has traded away prospects and consistently drafted late in the first round.
The Yankees’ upper-level pitching depth has been somewhat replenished by the development of Zach McAllister and Ivan Nova. Front-line pitching talent seems to be emerging from the international signings of Manny Banuelos and Arodys Vizcaino, and possibly from the 10th round draft selection of D.J. Mitchell. The Yankees’ recent draft focus on college pitchers — a significant difference from the Phillies’ recent draft strategy — has brought some arms that could move quickly if things continue to go well.
Brackman was part of that focus on college pitchers, and the former first-round pick has a Drabek-like ceiling — possibly higher — if he can have a Drabek-like comeback from Tommy John. Mark Melancon has already come back from the surgery, and there is hope pitchers Betances, Horne, Garcia, Kontos and Jairo Heredia can have their own comebacks from injuries.
There aren’t many highly touted position prospects in the system, but the Yankees have focused on the positions where they might need help in the next few years. They have a ton of catchers who could eventually replace Jorge Posada, and they have two high-end, lower-level outfielders in international signee Kelvin DeLeon and first-round pick Slade Heathcott.
Baseball America has released its list of top 10 Yankees prospects. There’s another, considerably different list at The Hardball Times. Pinstripes Plus has its yearly can’t-miss list of the top 50 Yankees prospects. Before the Granderson trade, John Manuel at Baseball America ranked the Yankees in the top half of all minor league systems, and my guess is they’re still in that group, hovering somewhere around the middle of all 30 teams.
The Yankees have been forced to re-build the system time and again, but they’ve been aggressive on the international market, generally pretty smart in the draft, and they’ve built enough organizational depth to see an impact at the major league level while talent continues to rise from the lower levels.