Archive for December, 2011
This year’s Baseball America list of Top 10 Yankees prospects has been revealed. The top of the list looks pretty familiar. Here’s a look back at Baseball America’s Top 10 Yankees prospects from last season.
1. Jesus Montero
This year: No. 1
One of the top young hitters in baseball is back at the top of this year’s Yankees list after a strong second-half in Triple-A led to a big league call-up and an impressive debut.
2. Gary Sanchez
This year: No. 4
Slight drop for Sanchez, but nothing too significant. In his first full season, Sanchez showed some immaturity and inconsistency, but he still hit for power and remains a highly touted young catcher. Some of his drop can be attributed to strong seasons from the next two players on last season’s list.
3. Dellin Betances
This year: No. 3
I’d honestly forgotten that Baseball America had Betances ranked ahead of Manny Banuelos at this time last year. He had a strong showing in Double-A. The walks were a little high, but Betances proved capable of overpowering and overwhelming hitters at that level. Big picture: Not much has changed about his overall prospect status.
4. Manny Banuelos
This year: No. 2
Beginning with a terrific first impression in big league camp, Banuelos very quickly established himself as the Yankees top pitching prospect. Not that Betances was bad, Banuelos simply jumped to the top by showing tremendous potential as a three-pitch starter with command. Like Betances, his walk totals were a little high, but he’s shown flashes of potential dominance.
5. Andrew Brackman
This year: Not in the organization
After a breakout 2010 during which everything seemed to finally come together, Brackman took a giant step backward in 2011. Control issues returned and he went from being one of the Killer Bs to dumped into bullpen duty for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. When it came time to pickup an option for 2012, the Yankees instead let their former first-round pick become a free agent. Hard to have a bigger fall than that.
6. Austin Romine
This year: No. 8
Repeating Double-A didn’t do much to help or hurt Romine’s stock. He’s still seen as the Yankees best defensive catching prospect, and he’s proven to be a solid but not particularly powerful hitter. He still could develop into the Yankees starter, or he could develop into defense-first backup. Either way, he’s still one of the better young catchers in baseball, just doesn’t carry the same superstar label as Montero or Sanchez.
7. Hector Noesi
This year: Graduated to the big leagues
Noesi really emerged as a prospect after a strong and fully healthy 2010 season. He was one of many upper level pitching prospects at the start of the season, but he set himself apart after an unexpected opening in the bullpen gave him a chance to prove himself against big league hitters. Noesi will get a chance to work again as a stater this season, and his prospect stock has probably gone up in the past year.
8. Eduardo Nunez
This year: Graduated to the big leagues
Unlike Noesi, Nunez was given a big league job out of spring training. Seen as a more dynamic player than Ramiro Pena, Nunez won the utility job and showed — at times — why he’s considered a potential everyday shortstop in some circles. His defense was erratic, but he showed plenty of tools and remains the best young shortstop in the system.
9. Slade Heathcott
This year: No. 10
A second shoulder surgery cost Heathcott most of the 2011 season, and now the Yankees have to hope for a full recovery and a fast return onto the prospect track. Still incredibly fast and athletic, Heathcott could be a dynamic center fielder, but Mason Williams and Ravel Santana are rising quickly from the lower levels and surpassed Heathcott on this year’s list.
10. Brandon Laird
This year: Out of the Top 10
Laird will almost surely rank somewhere in the Yankees top 30 prospects when the Prospect Handbook is released, but a so-so Triple-A season — coupled with some standout seasons by players behind him in the system — left Laird out of the Top 10 this time around. A .260/.288/.422 Triple-A slash line was pretty far below the norm for Laird, though he did get his feet wet in New York and could still play a role as a corner utility man.
Associated Press photo
Another young starting pitcher is on the move, and another boatload of prospects is the cost.
Today the Nationals traded for A’s lefty Gio Gonzalez. In return, Washington sent a package of four young players to Oakland: Right-handers A.J. Cole and Brad Peacock, left-hander Tom Milone and catcher Derek Norris.
In a strong Washington system, Peacock and Cole ranked third and fourth on Baseball America’s list of Nationals prospects, while Norris ranked ninth. Milone ranked outside of their Top 10, but he was credited with the system’s best changeup and best control, and he’s coming off a strong season split between Triple-A and the big leagues.
It’s another significant package of young players, the kind Brian Cashman has not been willing to deal in his own search for starting pitching this winter.
Buster Olney is reporting that the Oakland A’s are making progress on a trade involving Gio Gonzalez.
Brian Cashman has been saying for weeks that asking prices on the trade market have been well beyond what he’s willing to pay, and the recent Mat Latos deal seemed to support the idea that young starting pitchers are generating massive prospect packages in return.
Yankees minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson has left the organization to take the same job with the Cubs.
In an email, Yankees vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman confirmed that Rowson has left the organization and said there is “no replacement as of yet.”
Rowson’s name might not be instantly familiar, but he was the team’s hitting coordinator the past four seasons. He made regular stops at each of the minor league affiliates during the season and worked with the big leaguers early in spring training. It’s hard to exactly determine the impact of a hitting coordinator, but Rowson was a friendly guy, and players seemed to really like him. I never heard complaints about him.
Before becoming the Yankees hitting coordinator, Rowson spent two seasons — 2006 and 07 — as the team’s hitting coach for High-A Tampa. He coached guys like Brett Gardner, Ramiro Pena, Eduardo Nunez, Kevin Russo, Juan Miranda, Jose Tabata and Francisco Cervelli in Tampa, and he was there when Austin Jackson showed up for his breakout half season at that level.
The give and take of young pitching • 12.22.11
Last night, the White Sox stopped shopping John Danks and locked him into a five-year contract. Four days before that, the Reds gave up a truck load of young talent to acquire Mat Latos. One day before that, the Rays signed Matt Moore to an eight-year deal just three regular-season games into his big league career. A week before that, the Diamondbacks gave up a successful first-round draft pick in a trade for Trevor Cahill.
If nothing else, it seems this winter has shown the value of young starters. It’s shown that teams are willing to give them big contracts to stick around, and it’s shown that teams are willing to give up massive amounts of talent to acquire them. Two years ago, the Giants won the World Series on the strength of young, home grown pitching, and it seems the baseball world was paying attention.
So how would you have the Yankees approach this market?
Brian Cashman believes that pitching is the “key to the kingdom,” but he’s seen big money wasted on long-term deals with aging starters. He’s also seen big money wasted on unproven international talent. And although the Yankees have the prospects to trade for an elite young pitcher, Cashman seems worried about losing one or two of his own elite young pitchers in the process.
It’s an awkward balance between proven and unproven, between potential and uncertainty. In Manny Banuelos, the Yankees might have their own Gio Gonzalez. In Dellin Betances, they might have their own Mat Latos.
They might also have another Brien Taylor and another Andrew Brackman.
So if you were Cashman, which path would you prefer? Would you shoot for the stars and try to develop your own, or would you give up future potential for immediate, more proven gains?
Just a quick reminder, I’m hosting a chat today at noon. Stop by if you can.
Tonight he reportedly agreed to a five-year, $65-million extension with the White Sox. Part of the motivation to deal Danks was the possibility of him becoming a free agent after next season. Now, with the extension, it seems the White Sox are planning to keep him in their rotation long term.
Meanwhile, one persistent rumor today has involved another popular trade candidate: Oakland lefty Gio Gonzalez. Multiple reports indicate that the Nationals are making a serious push for Gonzalez, and that they might be willing to give up the huge prospect package Oakland is said to be seeking.
Baseball America’s list of Top 10 Yankees prospects won’t be online until January 4, but the list is already available in the magazine’s print edition. It continues few surprises, but it does include one name that might not be instantly familiar to everyone.
Here’s the list with my own brief commentary. Get the full Baseball America scouting reports in the magazine or online in a few weeks.
1. Jesus Montero
Obviously. The Yankees top prospect is still their slugging catcher who projects as the big league team’s regular designated hitter next season. Baseball America predicts that Montero will “eventually follow Robinson Cano as New York’s next home-grown all-star position player.”
2. Manny Banuelos
Another fairly obvious selection. Banuelos had a strong Double-A season, leading to seven Triple-A starts. He seems likely to return to Triple-A out of spring training next year. Baseball America notes that he’s shown three plus pitches and flashes of terrific command, the next step is putting it all together. He’s advanced enough to be considered one of the better pitching prospects in the game.
3. Dellin Betances
There seems to be a general consensus that Montero, Banuelos and Betances are the top three prospects in the Yankees system. Betances showed some command problems in Double-A this season, but Baseball America also notes that his stuff is good enough that he should be able to get by with only fringy control. The magazine compares him to… brace yourselves… A.J. Burnett.
4. Gary Sanchez
The top prospect in the lower levels of the system, Sanchez is a high-upside catcher who still hasn’t turned 20 years old. His full-season debut with Low-A Charleston was at time underwhelming, but he showed power to go with a swing that Baseball America says is more pure than Montero’s. He’s very young with a long way to go, but the potential is tremendous.
5. Mason Williams
Kind of the breakout star of the Yankees system this season, Williams was a fourth-round pick in 2010 and played for short-season Staten Island this year. His combination of speed, bat and defense made him the New York-Penn League’s top prospect, and pushed him to the front of a suddenly deep position in the Yankees system. He should be in Low-A Charleston next year, getting his first taste of full-season ball.
6. Dante Bichette Jr.
Remember when this was labeled as an over-draft by the Yankees? Bichette quickly put to rest some of the doubts about his ultimate upside by having a standout debut in the Gulf Coast League. He was the league’s MVP with a power bat and a surprisingly good glove. Baseball America suggests Bichette could play with Low-A Charleston next season, but the Yankees have generally moved slowly with their high school draftees, and I wonder if they might have Bichette stay in extended spring and then move up to Staten Island like Cito Culver and Slade Heathcott did in their first full seasons.
7. Ravel Santana
This is the name that might not be familiar, mostly because Santana has played only a partial season outside of the Dominican Republic. That said, his U.S. debut included a .296/.361/.568 slash line while playing center field and showing an arm that Baseball America says has already earned some 80 grades, and consistently rates as a 70. He’s another guy with a long way to go, but he has a terrific combination of tools, giving the Yankees another intriguing, lower-level center field prospect.
8. Austin Romine
Always seen as something of a secondary prospect in the Yankees system, Romine was singled out as the organization’s best defensive catcher and projected to be the big league starter at the position in 2015. He has a solid bat — Baseball America predicts .270 with 10 to 15 homers in the big leagues — but he stands out because of his defense, which could improve with a new challenge at Triple-A next year. The Yankees clearly like him, and Joe Girardi seemed to already trust him late last season.
9. J.R. Murphy
Intriguing mostly because of his bat, the Yankees plan to let Murphy continue getting most of his reps behind that plate. That said, they’ve toyed with him at third base and the outfield corners because Murphy should hit enough to be at least a capable utility man at those positions. Baseball America compares him to Todd Ziele, who came up as a catcher before seeing considerable big league time in the infield.
10. Slade Heathcott
Two shoulder surgeries since joining the Yankees have knocked Heathcott’s prospect status down a few notches, letting players like Murphy, Williams and Santana jump ahead of him. That said, Heathcott is still a tremendous athlete with great speed, but you have to wonder what those surgeries have done to his throwing ability. Baseball America compares him to Brett Gardner with the potential for more power, but Heathcott has moved slowly so far.
Catch Robertson tonight on YES Network • 12.21.11
Tonight’s newest episode of Yankees Access on YES focuses on reliever Dave Robertson, the breakout star of the Yankees bullpen and one of the team’s homegrown pitchers making a significant impact at the big league level.
Jack Curry went down to Tampa to spend a few days with Robertson, and during a fishing trip, the two discussed who Robertson would take with him in a fantasy fishing boat. Spoiler alert: It includes two former Yankees.
You’ll also see Dave and his wife Erin discussing their whirlwind relationship, and their charity work down in Tuscaloosa, and Curry goes to the mound with Robertson to discuss his knack for getting out of trouble, as well as his unnaturally long stride.
Yankees Access airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
Associated Press photo
What’s left on the pitching market? • 12.21.11
C.J. Wilson is in Anaheim, Mark Buehrle is in Miami and Yu Darvish is in Texas. But the Yankees say their offseason priority is bolstering the rotation, so who’s still available on the free agent market, and who might actually be able to play a role next season? These are a few of the options.
The biggest names
Wilson, Buehrle and Darvish are off the market
These are the biggest names available
34 years old
The former Astros ace turns 35 in August, has a bad back and hasn’t pitched more than 139 innings in either of the past two seasons. The results, though, have remained pretty good. He’s had an ERA above 4.00 only once in his career, and as recently as 2010 he led the National League in WHIP. Said to be looking for a one-year deal, but the Yankees don’t seem especially interested.
28 years old
Kind of an erratic career with a lot of ups and downs. He’s coming off a high point, having pitched well down the stretch to help the Cardinals get into the playoffs and eventually win the World Series (though his only World Series start was a seven-walk mess). His age is a plus, but it’s also an indication that he might be looking for a multi-year deal, while the Yankees seem more in the market for a short-term investment.
36 years old
He turns 37 in February, but Kuroda is coming off a season that saw him reach career-highs in wins, innings and strikeouts while pitching to a career-low 3.07 ERA. Thing is, his big league career spans just four years in the National League West. There would be some natural age concerns, as well as questions about his success translating in the AL East, but he’s had success and seems a natural fit for the kind of short-term deal the Yankees would prefer.
When the offseason started, this might have been the third tier
No sure things here, but potential for back-of-the-rotation depth
29 years old
An interesting case because the lefty had a solid 3.66 ERA with the Pirates last season, but his three-year deal came to an end, Pittsburgh chose not to pick up an expensive option year, and the former eighth overall draft pick hit the open market. He had a solid 3.66 ERA last year, and the sinkerballer does a good job of keeping the ball in the ballpark.
30 years old
Like Maholm, Francis was once one of the better young lefties in the National League. Injuries cost him some time in Colorado, and last year he had a 4.82 ERA in his first American League stint with the Royals. He’s clearly not the pitcher the Rockies were expecting a few years ago, and it’s probably foolish to expect him to suddenly become that kind of pitcher at this point in his career.
33 years old
Last year started as a kind of bounce-back season for Marquis. He had a 3.95 ERA through 20 starts with the Nationals, but he was sent to the Diamondbacks at the trade deadline and made just three starts — with a 9.53 ERA — before a broken shin sent him to the disabled list. Marquis is a New York native.
Two of these are familiar names for the Yankees
Taking this sort of risk paid off big a year ago
38 years old
Although the Yankees got more than they could have expected out of Colon last season, he still missed some time with an injury and saw his result diminish in the second half. Even with a strong season under his belt, there will be obvious concerns about Colon’s durability and ability to repeat that success at this stage of his career. Won’t be as cheap as he was a year ago.
30 years old
Always a tantalizing talent. Always a frustrating health record. In his return to Oakland last season, Harden managed 15 starts with a disappointing 5.12 ERA despite high strikeout totals. He hasn’t topped 100 innings in either of the past two years, he’s topped 100 only twice since 2005, and his recent results haven’t been pretty. But it’s hard to overlook the potential and the “what if” factor. If nothing else, he might be able to slide into an effective relief role.
29 year old
Brought to the Yankees in the 2007 Randy Johnson deal, then shipped out in the 2008 Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade, Ohlendorf had two good years in the Pirates rotation but made just nine starts — with a 9.19 ERA — last season. Rather than go to arbitration, the Pirates let him go. The Yankees are familiar with Ohlendorf, and he could worth a second look if the Yankees believe he’s healthy enough to pitch.
Associated Press photo