Most Intriguing Yankee Prospects for 2012

January 22, 2012

This is not a “Top 20″ or even a Top 10 list of New York Yankee prospects, as most of those lists include players who might never play in a major league game, let alone one for the Yankees. I even saw a lsit one time of T0p 50 Yankee prospects. Fifty? I believe that was three years ago, where one guy listed at #48 was a 27-year-old still in High A!  

However, the Yankees are notorious for not giving many of their prospects an opportunity.

One area that the Yankees do use their young guys is in the bullpen. But it takes them awhile to have trust in guys.

This is a piece on guys who could make their mark on the Yankee landscape in a big way this 2012 season.

One of the first things Brian Cashman changed when he gained control of the entire New York Yankees baseball organization in 2005 was to improve the draft and development program. While the first draft provided nothing, the second year in 2006 likely is the best draft of any team in recent memory.

No fewer than 10 players from that Yankees draft have reached the majors, and the one I thought would have one of the greatest impacts, Tim Norton, would also have reached the majors but has been beset by various injuries.

Norton was a college starter who the Yankees converted to short reliever, who began to dominate even up to his latest injury last season.

As mentioned earlier, the Yankees have been very good in developing relief pitchers during Cashman’s regime. They have produced Joba Chamberlain (insert argument here) and David Robertson, both college pitchers who progressed very quickly through the Yankee system.

With the known uncertainty with relief pitchers year to year, it is imperative for organizations to produce their own homegrown relief talent before the major league team spends $35 million on a reliever the team really does not need.

That is why two of my five most intriguing Yankee prospects for 2012 are current relievers in their system.

With Chamberlain and Phil Hughes (I am not fully convinced Hughes can be a full time starting pitcher) becoming free agents after 2013, it is imperative the Yankees develop a few more major league quality middle relievers to both replace Joba and Phil, who both will leave to become starters elsewhere, and to help keep a lower payroll to add flexibility when the team needs to add salary.

The Yankees also need to find if their recent surge in starting pitching prospects will turn beneficial for the franchise. The Tampa Bay Rays have continuously developed starting pitching which have kept their payroll low and their potential for winning the AL East high.

Here are my five most intriguing Yankees prospects for 2012:

1) Mark Montgomery – RHP

This guy possesses the same type of repertoire as David Robertson, with a big fastball and dynamic breaking ball, although M&Ms out pitch is a wicked slider. With only four appearances, Montgomery blew through the NY-Penn League last year and dominated an overmatched Sally League upon his quick promotion. In both leagues, Montgomery has double digit strikeout rates per 9 innings.

Similar to Robertson in 2007, who pitched at three levels his first full year in the system, look for Montgomery to start 2012 in High A Tampa, but don’t be surprised if he ends up in Triple-A  or higher.

The Yankees need more strikeout reliever types in the higher levels.

2) Manny Banuelos – LHP

Over the last three seasons, the Yankees system has begun to produce high level starting pitching talent, with the 20-year old Banuelos the cream of the crop. With a very easy mid-90s fastball and plus changeup, Banuelos reminds me of a young Johan Santana. However, Banuelos has a much better delivery than Santana, which should keep his arm healthy in the future.

Manny dominated the lower levels, but even though he still was only 20 and in his first full year at the higher levels, he struggled with his control a little during his brief time in Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. While seeing Banuelos in person many times, he tends to nibble, but his stuff is good enough to throw the ball over the plate and get away with minimal contact.

Now that he has a few innings at the higher levels, this season is important for Banuelos and the Yankees, who thus far have resisted the need the trade their prized left handed prospect for a mediocre veteran starting pitcher.  He needs to improve his control and confidence in his pitches, and show the Yankees their patience will be rewarded.

3) Mason Williams – OF

In only his first full (semi-full actually) season in pro ball, Williams also dominated the NY-Penn League with a .349 BA/.395 OBP/.468 SLG slash line, including 3 HRs. He used his speed to register 11 doubles and 6 triples, while swiping 28 stolen bases. With the dearth of Yankee outfield prospects in the high minors, I want the Yankees to challenge the 20-year old. I look for Williams to skip Charleston and move directly from Staten Island to High-A Tampa, close to his Florida home.

This move is not without precedent as another Yankees speedster, Brett Gardner, skipped Charleston on his run to the majors.

How Williams performs will go a long way as to whether the Yankees need to begin signing free agent outfielders to long term deals (and thus crippling their payroll) or going the year-by-year route until guys like Williams become major league ready by the 2014 season.

4) Branden Pinder – RHP

SI’s Tom Verducci wrote this piece about the Yankees’ David Robertson which indicated the diminutive reliever gets more “hop” on his fastball because of his long stride and extension to home plate. Well, Branden Pinder, closer for the Staten Island Yankees in 2011 after M&M was promoted, has that same long extension and “hop”.

Bringing the heat at 93-95 all year for the Baby Bombers, his fastball was actually registering to hitters at 96-98. Although the pitch was consistently up in the zone, he was able to get away with it at this level. His slider was sharp on occasion, but not consistent and he does throw slightly across his body.

These are very minor and correctable faults.

I don’t expect the Yankees to put both Pinder and Montgomery at High-A Tampa, so Pinder will likely start in Charleston and move up quickly as his strikeouts progress and how well Montgomery performs early on in Tampa. The Yankees normally do not work with kids much until they reach High-A Tampa, and this should provide the Yankees with a reason to move Pinder quickly through the system. Get him to Tampa and have the Tampa staff work on improving that slider and delivery.

As with Montgomery, the Yankees want to continue their development with high impact relief arms and Pinder fits that profile very well.

5) Gary Sanchez – C

I had a few others considered for this spot including J. R. Murphy and David Adams, two kids who are always hurt.

However, depending how he improves, Sanchez gives the Yankees flexibility and options. Even with the trade of Jesus Montero, the Yankees are still heavy in catching prospects, and Sanchez, with his power arm and bat is likely the brightest of the bunch.

While hitting .256/.335/.485 as an 18 year old in Low-A Charleston, Sanchez produced 17 home runs in only 343 PA, the same HR total as Jesus Montero at this level, in 220 LESS PAs! He is less refined as a hitter than Montero but has typical catcher bat qualities; that is, a solid .270-290 batting average projection with immense power.

I saw him play several times and he looked lackluster in the field and in the box, almost appearing “entitled” and “bored” at the same time. If Sanchez improves his mental approach to the game, which he should in Tampa with all the brass watching, this talented kid could push the Yankees to move Austin Romine (who I feel is overrated) out of a potential starting job.

Honorable Mentions

J.R. Murphy (great plate discipline), Chase Whitley (rapidly moving reliever), Slade Heathcott (health) and David Adams (health).


With Recent Acquisitions, Yanks Need to Rid Themselves of Burnett

January 21, 2012

Since Brian Cashman traded Jesus Montero for RHP Michael Pineda, and then signed RHP Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal for $10 million, the Yankees are flush with starting pitchers. It appears that in all the frenzied moments of last Friday, the Yankees lost track of how many major league ready starting pitchers they really had in their organization. For purposes of this article, they have eight who have pitched in the major leagues plus three others on the precipice, who I believe are ready for the major leagues.

The starting rotation appears to be some combination of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda, with Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett battling for the final spot. Dellin Betances also has a few major league innings under his belt, but should pitch most of the 2012 season at Triple-A Rochester.

The old, but relatively new, adage is you can’t have enough pitching, especially quality starting pitching. With injuries invariably occurring within most starting rotations, smart organizations will have an additional veteran or several ready youngsters to fill in starts where needed.

See also: 2011 Boston Red Sox.

But even after these two starting rotation moves, if I told you the Yankees can get another veteran starting pitcher for their rotation, who, during various seasons, led his league in games started, strikeouts, lowest hits per nine innings and fewest home runs per nine innings, would you be interested?

And the guy is only looking for a two-year deal for a little over $15 million per, just enough time for Manny Banuelos to get a little more seasoning in Triple-A before he takes a spot in the rotation. And this veteran wouldn’t cost the Yankees a draft pick or any prospects.

Wouldn’t this be a good pickup? Don’t you want him? He would really round out that new rotation, wouldn’t he?

But the Yankees currently have three veteran arms vying for that fifth spot. Garcia threw very well last season (ERA+ of 122) in the difficult-to-navigate lineups of the AL East. Hughes threw the ball much better late last season, showing glimpses of his 2010 performance. However, many people believe Burnett, because he is being paid $16.5 million this season (and next), is a lock to get that final spot.

Most Yankee fans dislike Burnett, and I had previously written that the Yankees shouldn’t even have signed him.

If you had the opportunity, would you sign Burnett again if he were a free agent? Of course not. Not even for two years at a total of $33 million, that same amount the Yankees still owe him? Nope.

Yet, that veteran pitcher I previously mentioned for a two-year deal is A.J. Burnett. He did lead his league at one time in all of those categories.

Since he is getting paid very well, some people feel AJ should get that fifth spot, and somehow will make him a better pitcher.

The current theory is that since Burnett is getting all that loot, there is no reason to “waste” that money by shipping him to the bullpen to throw maybe twice every week. I disagree. A thought is that his win total likely would look better if facing the other teams’ fifth starter most of the time.

My win total would be better facing a fifth starter more often, too.

But there are several reasons why Burnett should NOT be considered for the Yankee rotation and, in fact, should not even be on their roster come opening day.

First, Burnett is not a good pitcher. Not even close. Many people say “he has great stuff.” A.J. does NOT have great stuff. Great stuff does not get you a 34-35 record in three seasons as a Yankee, especially with this offense, and ERAs over 5.00 each of the last two seasons. Great stuff doesn’t allow you to allow the most walks (2009), most hit batters (2010), most wild pitches (2009 & 2011) in the league while also allowing 81 home runs during these three seasons.

Second, A.J. has mostly been a malcontent. When things didn’t go his way in Florida late in 2005, he lashed out against the team and was suspended for the balance of the season. During his Yankee tenure, Burnett appeared with a black eye, which no one in the organization talked about. Do you really think that if his role with the Yankees was reduced, he would abide by Joe Girardi’s decisions regarding his reduced playing time?

And forget about Burnett to the bullpen. The Yankees already have Mariano, Robertson and Soriano, with Joba coming back mid-year. They don’t need Burnett stirring up garbage down there.

Third, A.J. will not improve his performance. He is what he is, a mediocre pitcher who USED to have the best fastball in baseball. He also has a good curve ball, which he cannot control and rarely throws consistent strikes with the pitch. He has no command over either pitch, and that costs him dearly. Like 81 HRs dear over the last three seasons. As I said last off season, new pitching coach Larry Rothschild would not be able to “fix” Burnett.

Even though Burnett did stop lots of his movement during his delivery, it still did not help his command. How many times have you seen the Yankee catcher set up outside and A.J.’s pitch is delivered up and in or, even worse, down the middle, and it gets whacked pretty hard?

Too many times to count.

Fourth, A.J. is getting worse. He was terrible the second half of last season, getting bombed in most of his starts. His slash line allowed was .316/.387/.554/.942 OPS with a 6.85 ERA and 1.746 WHIP. All that with a K/9 rate of 9.3. So much for a pitchers ability to get strikeouts.

In Burnett’s 13 year career, he has had eight full seasons with minimum of 25 starts. His two worst seasons of those eight? Yep, his last two seasons, all in Yankee pinstripes. And his 2009 season wasn’t all that great, either.

What makes you think AJ will suddenly turn it around? His glowing personality? The way he glares at Kim Jones after a biting question after another bad start?

If A.J. was in the starting rotation, the Yankees would get a .500 or worse pitcher who loses concentration on the mound, and cracks under pressure.

Fifth, the Yankees are paying Phil Hughes $3.2 million this season. The Yankees are not paying Hughes that much money to pitch in the bullpen…at least not during the first half of the season. Hughes has been the Yankee golden child since being drafted in 2004, and the Yankees want to see how he looks as a starter this season before deciding whether he will become another bullpen arm, especially after his improved performance late last season. I just wish Hughes would stop throwing that cutter, as I feel it’s a velocity reducer.

Sixth, Freddy Garcia is a better pitcher, with better stuff than Burnett, and is currently signed for 2011. In 2010, Garcia had a better season than Burnett and appears to be a better teammate. Garcia took Nova under his wing last year and was a guiding force in Nova’s development. Don’t think for a second that Garcia will not be as equally valuable to the recently acquired Pineda. Unless Garcia gives them permission (a possibility now), the Yankee cannot trade Garcia until at least June. I hope they keep him around.

Let’s say Burnett repeats what he averaged over the last three seasons. That would be a sub .500 record, ERA of 4.79, BB/9 rate of 4.0, HR/9 rate of 1.2 with a WHIP of 1.447. Those are the numbers of a kid prospect usually puts up his rookie season. Hell, Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles had a better season than Burnett last year. Would you rather have a kid prospect putting up those numbers or A.J. Burnett? I even feel that as a fifth starter, A.J.’s attitude would worsen and his actual numbers would not even be that good.

So why not have David Phelps or Adam Warren, two pitchers who I feel are major league ready get those necessary starts? I have confidence both guys could at least replicate, or likely better, Burnett’s numbers from the last two seasons. In his most recent chat (1/19/12), ESPN’s Keith Law said he feels both Phelps and Warren are “major league ready, back end starters.”

I agree, and the Yankee would be better off with one of them in the rotation rather than AJ Burnett.

With a plethora of major league ready pitchers plus two (if not three or four) major league ready prospect starters in the minors, there is no room for Burnett on the staff, either in the rotation or the bullpen.

That means he should not even be on the roster.

But no one wants to trade for Burnett. The Yankees found that out when they shopped him over the last couple months. But those trade proposals had the Yankees paying about half of Burnett’s salary for the next two seasons. No team in its right mind would trade for Burnett and pay $16 million to him.

Well, maybe Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox would, as he did for Alex Rios and Jake Peavy. Maybe Williams would trade Gordon Beckham for Burnett.

Seriously, though, the prior trade proposals did not match what the trend is for other veteran, high-price pitchers. That is for the current team to pay MOST of the salary, like the Chicago Cubs did with Carlos Zambrano to the Miami Marlins, and Atlanta Braves did with trading Derek Lowe to the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees should be willing to pay $30 million of the current $33 million Burnett is currently owed. That would then interest a few teams.

That is money wasted, but what good is it having Burnett pitch due to his salary, if he continues to pitch very badly? That is like a stock trader throwing good money after bad money when the bad stock goes down in value. Burnett’s salary is already a sunk cost. No reason to hurt the Yankees in 2012 by pitching Burnett, especially with good team like the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and maybe the Toronto Blue Jays fighting the Yankees for the precious few playoff spots.

If the Yankees pay most of Burnett’s salary, certain teams like the San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s, and Detroit Tigers might be tempted; all teams who pitch in big parks, which Burnett might benefit. But a team like the Kansas City Royals with all their kids, they might need a veteran to allow the kids like Mike Montgomery and to develop a little more.

As told to the Kansas City Star’s Bob Dutton after Kansas City re-signed Bruce Chen, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said “We’re not done. We’re still looking to add another pitcher.”

No matter what team would want Burnett, it is imperative for the Yankees to rid themselves of a guy who really isn’t any good. If no trades can be made, I would vote for an outright release. There are much better opportunities for the Yankees rotation and bullpen now and in the future.


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