In the year Curtis Granderson emerged as an MVP candidate, two of the Yankees lowest-level center fielders emerged as elite prospects. It’s now a position of strength both at the big league level and in the minor league system.
In the big leagues
In his first several months with the Yankees, Granderson hit like an overhyped platoon player. He couldn’t hit lefties, his production plummeted, and hitting coach Kevin Long stepped in for a Texas intervention. The difference has been staggering. Suddenly a complete hitter against lefties and righties, Granderson has become both a top-of-the-order run scorer and a middle-of-the-order run producer. He led the American League in runs and RBI last season, and at 30 years old finished fourth in MVP voting. Signed through this season with a club option for 2013, Granderson is locked into the center field position for the near future, and an extension beyond the next two years doesn’t seem out of the question. Granderson is becoming a best-case scenario, the best the Yankees could have hoped for when they traded three young players to acquire him two years ago.
On the verge
The Yankees immediate center field depth doesn’t necessarily come from the minor leagues. Big league left fielder Brett Gardner is second on the depth chart in center, and out-of-options fifth outfielder candidates Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell have each handled the position at the major league level. Down in Triple-A, the Yankees should have Colin Curtis, Cole Garner and veteran Dewayne Wise capable of playing center, and the Double-A roster should have Melky Mesa and Abe Almonte as wild card prospects with plenty of tools but inconsistent results. The bulk of the Yankees young center field talent is lower in the minor league system, but the upper levels provide considerable depth at the position. There isn’t another Granderson in the group, but then again, there aren’t many Granderson types in baseball.
Deep in the system
Take your pick. Mason Williams, Ravel Santana and Slade Heathcott are each toolsy, athletic center fielders with a chance to becoming legitimate everyday options at the big league level. Heathcott is the most familiar name, a 2009 first-round pick with elite speed but also a series of shoulder surgeries that have delayed his development. He got off to a terrific start in Charleston last season, but shoulder problems ended his season just one game — and three hits — into a promotion to Tampa. Heathcotts injuries have opened the door for Williams and Santana to stake their claims as the system’s top center field prospects. Williams was an all-around force in Staten Island last season, and Baseball America tabbed him as the New York-Penn League’s best prospect. He should be ready for full-season ball this year. Santana was similarly impressive in the Gulf Coast League — more power, less speed — and missed the top spot on Baseball America’s GCL prospects list only because teammate Dante Bichette Jr. ranked No. 1.
Organizational depth chart
My rough guess. It’s too early for the Yankees to decide who will be where next season.
New York: Curtis Granderson
Scranton/WB: Dewayne Wise
Trenton: Melky Mesa
Tampa: Slade Heathcott
Charleston: Mason Williams
Triple-A should be a fairly steady rotation in center field, and Double-A should have both Mesa and Abe Almonte getting time in center (hard to say which one should get the bulk of the time there). If Heathcott isn’t ready to open the season, Eduardo Sosa could step into the Tampa job. The Yankees system has not shortage of players capable of handling center field (Austin Krum, Dan Brewer, Damon Sublett) and it’s become a position of both quantity and quality in the organization.
Associated Press photo of Granderson, headshots of Granderson, Dickerson and Williams