As you probably know, during the offseason I like to focus on the minor league system every now and then. Today I was looking through milb.com’s end-of-the-season awards, searching for nominated Yankees. There are only a handful, none of them coming from the upper levels, but this small collection might put a few unfamiliar names on your radar.
If you’re interested, you can vote on these awards through Thursday. Go here to vote for the 2011 MiLBY Awards.
Nominated: Best short-season hitter
Second in the New York-Penn League with a .349 average, Williams also led the league with 29 stolen bases and finished top 10 in hits, runs, total bases, triples and on-base percentage. Williams was a fourth-round pick in 2010, and he’s quickly emerging as one of the most interesting players in the lower levels of the Yankees system. His athleticism has never been questioned, and this season he turned that talent into baseball results. With Slade Heathcott battling injuries and Melky Mesa struggling after last year’s breakout season, Williams might be developing into the Yankees top center field prospect. Maybe you can’t rank him ahead of Heathcott just yet, but a bit year in full-season ball could really solidify his status.
Nominated: Best High-A reliever
Before a late-season promotion to Double-A, Flannery was a dominant late-inning reliever for High-A Tampa. He had 19 saves, a 1.24 ERA and only five walks through 43.2 innings. The numbers were similar to 2010, when Flannery allowed a .207 opponents batting average in Low-A Charleston. He was a 47th-round pick in 2008, so Flannery has never been an elite prospect, but he has a 0.995 career WHIP with a ton of ground balls and very few walks.
Nominated: Best short-season reliever
The past two seasons the Yankees have drafted quite a few college relievers who seem poised to move quickly through the system. This year, Pinder was a 16th-round pick out of Santa Ana, and he was overwhelming in Staten Island. Through 31 innings he allowed just 16 hits — a .152 opponents average — with five walks and a 38 strikeouts. He was second in the New York-Penn League with 14 saves. Full-season ball might be a different challenge next year, but that’s an impressive debut.
Nominated: Best High-A game
More of an event than a game, Almonte was singled out for a hitting streak that reached 30 games on August 29. That day he went 2-for-3 with a single and a double. Almonte went on to extend the hitting streak to 34 games before it ended in his next-to-last game of the season. The streak raised his batting average from .235 to .266 and he ended the season at .268 (he had three hits in the finale). The second baseman-turned-center fielder has long been touted for his potential, but he has yet to put up consistent results.
Staten Island Yankees
Nominated: Best short-season team
Made up mostly of players from the past two drafts — plus some international guys and a few players coming back from injuries — the Staten Island Yankees won the New York-Penn League. They were third in the league in runs scored, second in batting average and first in strikeouts (for the pitching staff). Williams was the star of the show, but hitters like Tyler Austin, Ben Gamel and even Cito Culver — who led the team in RBI despite batting just .250 — had nice seasons, and the pitching staff showed some depth with Pinder in the bullpen and Matthew Tracy serving multiple roles.