Next up in the Pinch Hitters series is Mike Axisa, who took a look at the Yankees minor league system after aggressive trades cost the team’s most highly touted pitching prospect and it’s top major-league-ready position player.
Mike is the minor league guru at River Ave. Blues and was the first blogger I spoke to via email when I began covering the Yankees three years ago in Scranton. The Yankees blog community is a remarkable collection of perspectives and ideas. When I was covering the Phillies, I remember one fan site that I checked occasionally. With the Yankees, there are at least a dozen worth visiting every day. Along with Joseph Pawlikowski and Benjamin Kabak, Mike has established River Ave. Blues as one of the go-to sites for Yankees commentary and analysis.
Click the About tab on RAB’s main page, and the site offers a concise mission statement: We write about the Yankees.
The Yankees have historically eschewed the farm system in favor of big leaguers capable of winning them a World Championship, but the team rededicated itself to building from within once Brian Cashman assumed full control of the baseball operations. Surprisingly, Cashman reversed course this offseason, trading several young prospects for established big leaguers, something he was hesitant to do in the past.
Arodys Vizcaino was arguably the team’s best pitching prospect, Austin Jackson was inarguably their best outfield prospect, and Mike Dunn was one of their closest relief prospects. Ian Kennedy struggled in his first 60 or so big league innings (who hasn’t?), though he was always just a phone call away if an injury arose. Phil Coke was cheap and reasonably effective, ditto Melky Cabrera.
Where do these moves leave the Yanks’ system? Surely you’ve heard of Jesus Montero, so I’m not going to waste any more of my limited words on him. Beyond Montero, the system noticeably lacks star power. Austin Romine is a solid all-around catching prospect, but he’s far from flawless. Zach McAllister hasn’t developed an out pitch and Ivan Nova doesn’t miss many bats, limiting their ceilings. Manny Banuelos has as much talent as anyone, but he’s just a teenager in A-ball.
This could all change soon, as the Yanks kept all of their draft picks and have several prospects poised to break out. 20-year-old righty Jose Ramirez ran his fastball up to 96 and held opponents to a .156 AVG last year, while switch hitter deluxe Bradley Suttle will be returning from a pair of shoulder surgeries that cost him all of 2009. The Yankees knew they’d have to be patient with Andrew Brackman when they drafted him, and he still has at least two and possibly three more option years left to figure things out in the minors. The amateur draft gets all of the attention, but the Yankees are a powerhouse in Latin America, and that market has long been the backbone of their farm system.
The recent moves have certainly thinned out the system, however it’s far from barren. Kevin Russo (.397 OBP in ’09), Romulo Sanchez (ask Chad about his fastball), and Reegie Corona (.917 OPS, 19-28 K/BB ratio in winter ball) are all guys we should see at some point in 2010. There’s plenty of useful pieces on the way, though it’s fair to describe the current situation as “Montero and everyone else.”