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).


Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game: Starting Lineups

November 6, 2010

Here at the Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game and the East team is finishing up with batting practice.

The game is being broadcast live in the MLB network (9:00 PM EST start), so if you are staying in, have a look. If you are heading out, then record it and watch later. Many of these kids will be in the majors within two years, some as soon as 2011.

Last year, Buster Posey, Stephen Strasburg, Ike Davis (NYM), Mike Leake (CIN), Drew Storen (WAS)and Mike Minor (ATL) played in this event, and then made it to the majors leagues this past season.

Both teams look pretty stacked, but that is the way it is with all All-Star games.

The starting lineups include three New York Yankee players, the most of any organization.

Here are the lineups:

EAST DIVISION 

1) Trayvon Robinson (LAD)  CF;  

2) Charlie Culberson (SF)  2B;

3) Brandon Belt (SF)  1B;

4) Brandon Laird (NYY)  LF;

5) Austin Romine (NYY)  C; 

6) Marc Krauss (ARI)  RF;

7) A.J. Pollock (ARI)  DH;

8) Ryan Adams (BAL)  3B;

9) Tyler Pastornicky (ATL)  SS;

and Manuel Banuelos (NYY)  is Pitching.

WEST DIVISION

1) Ben Revere (MIN) CF;

2) Caleb Gindl (MIL)  LF;

3) Dustin Ackley (SEA)  2B;

4) Eric Hosmer (KC)  1B;

5) Ryan Lavarnway (BOS)  C;

6) Leslie Anderson (TB)  RF;

7) Eric Thames (TOR)  DH;

8) Zach Cox (STL)  3B;

9) Jose Iglesias (BOS)  SS and

and Mike Montgomery (KC) is Pitching.

I could have updates throughout the night, but will not do an in-game blog.

However, there will be a complete piece on the game by Monday morning.

It is a virtual Who’s Who here at Surprise Stadium, spring training home of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. Tons of Player Development execs and a few General Managers.

Players so far, I have seen which have impressed include 1B Brandon Belt of the San Francisco Giants, who could move into the starting first base job by 2012, and Dustin Ackley, who is a line-drive machine with good patience at the plate.

Jeremy Jeffress of the Milwaukee Brewers hit 101 on the radar gun here the other day. He is pitching for the West Squad. I saw Jeffress in July down in the Florida State League, and he could barely find the strike zone but has improved his command during the end of the 2010 season and here.

A local product from New Jersey, Brad Brach (SD), is here as well, pitching for the West Squad. A graduate of Freehold HS and Monmouth University, Brach has great size (6’6″ 210lbs) with good arm action and a really nice breaking pitch, which he can throw for strikes or bury it low. He had 41 saves this past season in the High A California League, a notorious hitters haven.

And he leads the AFL this season in WHIP and is second in Batting Average Allowed.

So enjoy the game, and if you cannot watch it live, record it and enjoy later.

UPDATES:

Brandon Laird (NYY) has an RBI FC and Austin Romine (NYY) has a two-out RBI single in the third. The pitch to Romine was a fastball over outer half, and he knocked it up the middle.

However, this appears the only type of fastball that Romine can handle.

He was jammed his first time up, hitting a weak humpback liner to short. Also allowed another passed ball to allow and unearned run in third inning. It was his second PB in two days and at least his fifth this AFL.

Manny Banuelos (NYY) had two impressive innings to start the game.

He hit 95 several times and was able to work it in to left-handed hitters with ease. Struck out Dustin Ackley (SEA) looking at a 95 MPH heater to end the first inning.

Banuelos then chucked back-to-back change ups to Jose Iglesias (BOS) to strike him out to end the second. These 83 MPH change ups had significant downward tailing action. He was anywhere from 79 to 83 on the change up.

Jeffress was his usual self, all over the place with lack of fastball command, but an easy delivery with the ball exploding out of his hand. He hit 100, then 101 in the same at bat to Laird, who struck out without taking the bat off his shoulder.

Jeffress received a loud ovation in both instances, and a few ooh’s and aah’s from the scouting crowd.

Then Chris Carpenter (CHI CUBS) also hit 100, and the triple digit room got more crowded.


Arizona Fall League: Analysis of New York Yankees Prospect Austin Romine

November 4, 2010

As I mentioned in my Brandon Laird piece from yesterday, I saw the Trenton Thunder about 30 times this season. The first reason is that the Double A level is now the first real step to prospect status, and this level gives a great indication for how a player will project at higher levels.

Second, Trenton is only 45 minutes away and is readily accessible. Third, I like talking baseball with long-time Thunder manager Tony Franklin.

Finally, the Yankees ran about eight solid arms through that team, names like David Phelps, Hector Noesi, D.J. Mitchell*, Adam Warren, Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Lance Pendleton and Manuel Banuelos. It was great watching all that pitching talent.

*It was interesting to hear Romine say that of all the minor league starting pitchers in the Yankees system, he believes Mitchell is the toughest to hit. According to Romine, Mitchell throws a sinker which moves “about a foot” and really bears in on a right handed batter. Having seen Mitchell pitch about a half dozen times, I can attest that he is tough to hit. The only issue with Mitchell is control because he does walk quite a few guys and goes to lots of deep counts. If Mitchell can harness his sinker and curve ball (which tends to hang), he could become a pretty good starting pitcher, but probably not for the Yankees.

And the main man trusted to work with those pitchers was catcher Austin Romine, widely considered the top catcher in a Yankees system full of catching prospects. I saw Romine catch about two dozen times this season, but was not as impressed as most other amateur evaluators.

You can read that earlier piece here.

I saw Romine having difficult times receiving the ball, with the ball often going off his glove. Often, this occurred when runners were not on base, so no passed ball was charged.

I remember just before the first Andy Pettitte game in the Eastern League playoffs, I told a scout who was seeing Romine for the first time that he will have at least two or three pitches go off his glove that game. My reasoning was that his first time catching Pettitte would provide some difficulties.

Who do you feel will be the Yankees catcher of the future?

Francisco Cervelli Jesus Montero Austin Romine J.R. Murphy Gary Sanchez Submit Vote vote to see results
Who do you feel will be the Yankees catcher of the future?

  • Francisco Cervelli

    1.7%

  • Jesus Montero

    64.7%

  • Austin Romine

    21.0%

  • J.R. Murphy

    1.7%

  • Gary Sanchez

    10.9%

Total votes: 119

The first pitch of the game went off Romine’s glove all the way to the backstop. Said scout looked back at me and smiled.

Romine’s hitting was not all that great, either. Romine did not follow up his 2009 Florida State League MVP with an equally impressive campaign at Double A. He looked weak against hard throwers and would only put the ball in play with authority off good fastballs if they were on the outer third, allowing him to go with the ball.

Nothing wrong with that, but Romine was overmatched against good fastballs inside, and then would flail against good breaking pitches off the same pitchers.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Romine hit for the first time here in Arizona.

His entire stance is different.

When I saw him in Trenton, he was slightly open with his hands just off the back shoulder. Here, his stance is even and hands are held higher. He still has that high leg kick, similar to the one Alex Rodriguez employs.

I confirmed this with Romine himself during a 15 minute conversation with him, as well as with the Yankees Director of Player Development, Pat Roessler, who is located in the stands during the AFL games.

And that change in approach is good to see. It also is a great reason why statistics in the AFL are virtually meaningless. Guys here are constantly working on new pitches, stances and approaches to the game.

When asked if anybody in the Yankees system asked him to make a switch, Romine says he alone is responsible for the change in his stance. Romine said, “What I was doing in Trenton wasn’t working for me. Out here, I am working to keep my hands higher to get a more downward path to the ball and get more backspin on fly balls.” He showed me with his hands what he trying to accomplish.

Translation: Romine wants to hit more home runs and become a bigger run producer.

Sometimes when a hitter uses an open stance (as Romine did this season), they might close themselves off by striding too far to the plate instead of directly to the pitcher. This limits the ability to hit the inside fastball and can limit power by restricting the hips ability to turn.

And still with the high leg kick, a tough hitting trait to use with consistency? “I am trying to tighten that up.”

So far this AFL, Romine has not hit for more power. His production is currently .286 BA/.314 OBP/.347 SLG with three doubles and seven RBI. He still waves at a good breaking pitch, but did line a single to left on a hanging slider.

The lack of power here is not because of his being tired after catching his first full season. “I thought I was going to be tired, but I am really feeling good. The days off between games help out here after a long season. I think I caught something like 105 games or so in Trenton. I was actually more tired last year at the end in Tampa.”  The days off are explained by the fact that Romine has been basically alternating catching games with Florida Marlins prospect Kyle Skipworth.

After Jesus Montero was promoted to Trenton midway through the 2009 season, Romine became the full time catcher in the second half in Tampa. 

Romine’s receiving was better in his games behind the dish here which I have seen, but he still had a couple of passed balls prior to my arrival in the warm weather. And in the first game I saw, he allowed three stolen bases, two with bounced throws off line.

The third stolen base did not warrant an attempt as the ball kicked off his glove.

As I saw earlier this season, Romine’s best asset behind the plate still remains his ability to call a game. Many Yankee pitchers raved about his calling skills, as do several of the arms on the Phoenix staff.

Romine has a tendency to keep going to the pitcher’s best offering that day and not just his best pitch overall. Recognizing what is working for a pitcher during a specific game is a great trait for a catcher to have.

Despite the thoughts by a few in the business on his catching abilities, Romine says he does not listen to the negativity. “I don’t worry about what people outside the Yankee organization say. I know the Yankees have confidence in me and my abilities. I am constantly working hard to improve my game.”

And Romine really wants to be the next Yankee catcher. “I want nothing more than to be the next New York Yankees catcher. The Yankees are the only organization I know and they have been very good to me. The Yankees have a strong history of catching talent and I want to be part of that tradition.”

As with all catchers, Romine gets nicked up frequently. He had a sore wrist the last month or so in the Eastern League season, and was sat down for a week in the middle of the summer with a dead arm.

“I was throwing all the time: infield practice, bullpen sessions, other drills and my arm needed time to rest.”

Any long term effects of that tired arm? “No, not at all. My arm feels good now. I just needed a few days off at that time.”

Austin Romine really wants to be the Yankee catcher. He knows the Yankees have a ton of catching talent in their system, and from what he has seen over his last three minor league seasons, he feels the Yankees have the best overall pitching talent in baseball.

He believes the killer B’s (Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances and especially Manuel Banuelos) have the right stuff and makeup to be top flight major league pitchers.

And he wants to be their catcher.

But is Romine capable of improving his game to the point where he can play 135-140 games behind the plate? Can he play good defense (including throwing out runners and calling good games) and hit well enough to keep a job in the major leagues?

He still needs to improve on his footwork behind the plate, which is usually the cause of errant throws to second base. He also needs to limit the passed balls and other bouts of lapses in concentration.

With his hitting, one thing with the leg kick is that while it helps keep the hitter’s weight back, Romine needs to get the front foot down in time to allow the hips and hands to work. And no matter where he starts his hands in his new stance, he needs to get them into the right area at the right time to attack the ball.  

He still has a lot to work on, and where he starts the 2011 season depends on what the parent club does with Jesus Montero, who is ahead of Romine primarily because of his bat. With the new batting stance and swing it might not be a bad idea to start Romine back in Trenton for 2011.

Can Romine improve his overall game to continue up the Yankees’ catching ranks before other young catchers like J.R. Murphy and Gary Sanchez make their move?

Right now I don’t think it can happen, and believe there is a good chance Romine could be traded as part of a numbers game.

But Romine likely doesn’t worry about what I think.


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