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).

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Arizona Fall League: Pitcher Reports on Those Who Could Make an Impact in 2011

November 30, 2010

About two weeks ago, I wrote a piece on the position players I viewed as making an impact in the major leagues, many as soon as the 2011 season.

This report is about the many pitchers I saw in the Arizona Fall League, which I attended for the first time in early November. I highly recommend talking in a week or so in the future out there watching great baseball played by rising stars in perfect weather.

That might be the trifecta.

Most of the time out in the AFL, the pitchers are sent to increase their innings, work on certain pitches or see what they can do against better competition. Some organizations use the AFL to assess whether certain pitchers are worthy of Rule 5 protection by adding them to the 40-man roster.

As a rule, the AFL teams carry about 18-20 pitchers, but only seven are active on any one day. That is the one reason why the Phoenix Desert Dogs and manager Don Mattingly had to stop their game early in late October. Also, the starters rarely go longer than four innings, so relievers dominate the rosters.

There were very few impressive starting pitchers in the AFL this season. I only had an opportunity to see Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Mike Montgomery once (in the Rising Stars) game, getting him on a bad effort. I did not see Danny Duffy or Casey Kelly at all.

STARTING PITCHERS

1) Manuel Banuelos—You already know how I feel about ManBan. Good fastball touching 95, plus change-up, a pretty good curve, which he can throw to both sides of the plate and outstanding mound demeanor. He can be a top of the rotation guy and is still only 19 years old.

2) Mike Montgomery—As I mentioned earlier, I only saw Montgomery once and that was in the Rising Stars game. He started the game (opposite Banuelos) and was a little nervous, showing very little command of his fastball (which hit 96) or change up (81-82), bouncing a few but not with any swings and misses. He also hung a few curves, which weren’t tight. He has a smooth delivery and a good frame, standing a lanky 6’5″. Like Banuelos, he isn’t afraid to throw back-to-back change-ups or start hitters off with off-speed pitches.

He had some elbow issues this year but his dominating performance in the Pan Am games and his high velocity AFL appearances have lessened any injury worries. Montgomery obviously is much better than he showed in the Rising Stars game, but I would like to see better consistency in his off speed pitches.

I also feel his stride could be lengthened to develop even more velocity but would not affect his overall delivery.

3) Alex Cobb—The Rays are taking their usual one level at a time approach with Cobb (like they did with Jeremy Hellickson), and he was out in the AFL to boost his innings. I saw him versus the Phoenix Desert Dogs (PDD), and he did well but against an inferior Desert Dogs lineup, clearly the worst in the AFL. He was behind the count on many occasions but then overpowered the weak lineup.

Cobb was hitting low-to-mid 90s repeatedly with a good change-up, but all over the place with his fastball. His walk rates in his career are OK, but his command needs to be there in order for him to succeed. Will start in Triple A Durham but has no shot at the majors in 2011, based primarily on organizational philosophy.

4) Josh Collmenter—Accurately nicknamed “Iron Mike” because of his straight over-the-top delivery. I saw him pitch this game, also against the PDD, and he was dominant.

His fastball was never above 90, but generated lots of swings and misses, mostly on high fastballs. He has that deceiving delivery in which he hides the ball well, then before a hitter realizes, the ball is on top of him.

Collmenter literally tilts his upper body and throws straight over the top. Many of his swinging strikes were on high fastballs out of the zone, but appear to be strikes coming out of his delivery. He had a curve ball with good downward break, and he was able to throw it for consistent strikes. He was also not afraid to throw it behind in the count or as a first pitch offering.

Collmenter utilizes what I call “reverse sequencing” pitching. That is getting ahead with soft stuff and, when the hitter has two strikes and looking for junk, gets a moderate fastball blown by him. This method is better utilized by pitchers who do not throw hard.

While he will not be a top guy in any rotation, Collmenter will get his shot sometime this season in Arizona. After his AFL performance, he was placed upon the team’s 40-man roster.

5) Eric Hurley—After missing all of 2009 and 2010 with shoulder (labrum) surgery, this former major leaguer threw his first meaningful pitch in two seasons out in the AFL. He much sharper later in the AFL, showing good arm strength and said he had no fears about going all out.

If the Rangers do not re-sign Cliff Lee, Hurley has an opportunity to make the Rangers staff this season.

RELIEF PITCHERS

1) Brad Brach—I am very partial to this kid because he is a local Jersey Shore product. He has exceptional numbers during his career, including a great 2010 campaign in the heavy hitting High-A California League where he recorded 41 saves to go along with a stellar 2.47 ERA. He continued his dominance in the AFL with a 2.87 ERA and .873 WHIP.

He only allowed a base runner in five of his 11 AFL appearances, and although he did not strike out many, he showed pitches which moved and commanded well. During the Rising Stars game, he allowed a runner to reach third base on a two base error and a wild pitch.

Brach proceeded to get two strikeouts sandwiched around a weak ground ball to short and got out of the inning.

Brach throws a sinking 91-92 MPH fastball with good movement and located the ball well on both edges of the plate, often coming inside to lefties. His slider is a true out pitch and is rarely hit hard. He throws strikes with a career SO/BB ratio of 7.00. But he does throw across his body some which could lead to arm issues down the line.

Although Brach is more of a fly ball pitcher, it has yet to haunt him (career 7 HRs allowed, 6 in the Cal League) and should play well in spacious Petco Park.

I can see him (who will be 25 next season) starting in Double A but getting some time in San Diego late this season if he continues performing.

2) Jeremy Jeffress—Everybody was buzzing about Jeffress hitting 101 on the gun in the Rising Stars game, but he also threw 21 pitches that inning, only 10 for strikes. Although this sounds bad, his command in the AFL was much better than when I saw Jeffress back in July in the Florida State League.

There he showed the power FB (up to 97), but as I wrote back then in my notes, “can’t locate to save his life.” Reminded me of Daniel Cabrera without the height.

In the AFL however, Jeffress dropped in some hearty breaking balls for strikes, and if he can continue to throw the curve for strikes with upper 90s heat, he may have a shot to stay in the majors. Personally, I never want guys who can’t locate pitches, but with an arm like that and an effortless delivery, Jeffress will always be given tons of opportunities.

However, give me a guy with less “stuff” but with command and ability to pitch any day.

3) Chris Carpenter—Showed great velocity and command of his fastball (hit 99-100 MPH) in rising Stars game, but overall walked almost a batter per inning out here. He has a career walk rate of 4.0 per 9 IP.

While working as a starter most of his pro career, Carpenter was relieving in the AFL. His change-up was not good, but his slider was devastating on several occasions and weak on others. However, like Jeffress, if he can not locate his fastball and get ahead in counts, the plus pitches do not matter much.

The Cubs say this guy will stay as a starter but with a hard fastball and two other average pitches, his future role is definitely as a reliever who can be given time in Chicago this season.

4) Craig Heyer—I wrote about Heyer in the AFL here. For an unknown reason, Heyer was left unprotected by the Yankees for the Rule 5 draft, and I anticipate him being selected by another organization. With the way Kevin Towers likes to build solid bullpens, I can’t see Heyer passing by Arizona. Heyer’s ground ball tendencies will play well in cozy Bank One Ballpark.

5) Ramon Delgado—This is my sleeper guy. Delgado is a complete strike throwing machine. Saw him in my first game out in the AFL, and he was first pitch strike all the time. He can throw any of his three pitches (FB, sinker, slider) for strikes and will throw them in any count.

But mainly Delgado is first pitch fastball at the knees come right at you type of guy. The first time I saw him pitch, he got through the inning in six pitches. Delgado is a quick worker (funny how that happens when you throw strikes) who throws from a low 3/4 slot and gets good ball movement. The movement is tough to “square up” for hitters.

Very similar to Heyer in that he also was left unprotected, but Delgado did get some work this season at Double A, where he posted a 1.10 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 16 IP.

This is a guy who is quietly efficient. He throws strikes with great career walk and strikeout rates while keeping the ball in the park. Who couldn’t use a pitcher like that in their bullpen?

I would also grab this guy in the Rule 5 next week. Look for the Texas Rangers (his AFL pitching coach Brad Holman loved him) to grab him if he lasts that long.

There were other pitchers who I saw and liked including starter Daniel Merklinger (Milwaukee)—good curve and change, also saw him in July in the FSL and was placed on the Brewers 40 man roster this month; Josh Zeid (Philadelphia)—nice fastball, slider combo, throws strikes; Josh Fields (Seattle) – throws heat but lacks command; Josh Lueke (Seattle)—good fastball and biting slider. However, teams with teeth (and big rocks) would need to overcome his background.


Arizona Fall League: New York Yankees Pitchers Manuel Banuelos and Craig Heyer

November 8, 2010

This past Saturday night, the Arizona Fall League (AFL) Rising Stars All-Star game was held at Surprise Stadium. Three New York Yankees prospects participated, including LF Brandon Laird, C Austin Romine and starting pitcher Manuel Banuelos.

Banuelos is only 19 years old and is the youngest pitcher out here in the AFL. He was signed by the Yankees from the Mexican League in March 2008 at the age of 17 and has pitched well at every level of the organization.

Banuelos began the season on the disabled list after undergoing an appendectomy, and then started pitching at High A Tampa. He was then promoted to Double A Trenton, where he posted a 3.52 ERA in 15 innings at that difficult level.

Tampa was where I first got a glimpse of Banuelos, and was immediately impressed with his skills and stuff. You can read those games in my prior report here.

He showed tremendous command of his fastball and changeup, and reminded me of Johan Santana, but with a smoother delivery and better curve ball.

I have seen him pitch in the AFL twice, a start this past Tuesday and the start in the Rising Stars game.

Banuelos’ performance here is still very good, but there are some differences to his game.

105982683_crop_340x234 Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Up until the Rising Stars game, Banuelos was primarily throwing fastballs and changeups here, not using his curveball much at all. He threw a handful of curves in that Tuesday start, most of them without any bite. He reversed the trend Saturday, throwing eight curves in the Rising Stars game, with only a couple changes.

He was mostly fastballs, consistently at 94 MPH, hitting 95 once.  

He threw the fastball in on the hands to the left handed hitters, busting No. 3 hitter Dustin Ackley for a called strike three in the first inning.

While allowing three second-inning hits, two were on tough fastballs inside to left handed hitters, who fought them off into right field for singles.

There are many really good hitters here in Arizona who can fight off tough pitches.

And that is one reason why Banuelos was sent here to pitch. First, he needs to get his 2010 inning count to increase, as he only had 60 innings combined in Tampa and Trenton.

Second, and more importantly, the Yankees wanted to see how Banuelos performed against many of the best minor league hitters.

In his two starts prior to my arrival, Banuelos allowed 15 hits in seven innings of work and five earned runs. I spoke with Yankee catching prospect Austin Romine about those starts.

“You have to expect him (Banuelos) to get hit a little bit here. He is only 19 and facing complete lineups of top of the order hitters.”

Great point by Romine. Many of the No. 7, 8 and 9 hitters out here were top four or five hitters during the regular seasons. AFL pitchers are facing All-Star caliber lineups every day.

I asked Romine if the Yankees wanted Banuelos to work on anything specific out here.

“No, not at all, they just want us to come out here and play our game. Manny has been throwing lots of changes here. He is a little stubborn sometimes, but that’s good. He wants to compete and has confidence in his changeup.”

When Banuelos was getting hit out here and in Tampa and Trenton was when he got his fastball over the middle of the plate. When that happens there is very little movement to the pitch. At this level, velocity will only get you so far.

He allowed two runs in three innings on Tuesday. Both runs came in the third inning on back-to-back doubles and a ground out.

The first double was on a slurvy breaking ball, and the second double was a good piece of hitting with the right handed hitter staying inside a good fastball and lining it to right center.

Overall, his changeup was really good both games, generating foul balls and swings and misses. It was very similar to when I saw him earlier in the season.

When I have seen him (Tampa, Trenton, AFL), Banuelos is never afraid to throw his changeup back to back, and even when behind in the count.

To be able to throw off-speed pitches in hitter’s counts is the sign of a very good pitcher, and for Banuelos to have that kind of repertoire, attitude and confidence bodes well for him and the Yankees in the future.

However, he needs to complement both plus pitches (fastball, changeup) with his curve. In July, Banuelos was able to throw the curve to both sides of the plate, getting swinging and called strikes. When he missed, he usually buried it in the dirt.

The curve is a funny pitch in that pitchers need to keep throwing it during a game even if it is not working early on.

When a pitcher keeps throwing that pitch, they eventually begin to get a better feel for it in the middle innings, and make the pitcher even tougher later in the game.

With Banuelos not throwing the curve ball much here, it has not had the same depth and movement as it did earlier in the season.

He needs to keep working the curve to once again make it a better pitch. It will also make his other pitches more effective.

Banuelos did nothing out here to dissuade any of the scouts about his future. The fact that the Rising Stars rosters and starting lineups derive from the cumulative votes of the various scouting directors indicates how much they think of Banuelos’ ability.

He should start the season in Trenton, and with the glut of arms ahead of him, Banuelos should pitch most of the season at Double A as a 20-year-old.  

The ability is there. He just needs more innings on the mound and can be a top of the rotation type arm in the Yankees rotation.

Another thing I have noticed is that Banuelos can dominate lineups, but then has that one inning where he can get knocked around for a couple runs. It happened in Tampa when I saw him, and also in last Tuesday’s game.

Craig Heyer – RHP, New York Yankees

This is a virtual unknown pitcher in the Yankee system and is another guy who the Yankees wanted to get a few more innings in 2010 and to see how he pitches against better hitters.

So far so good for the 6’3” right hander from UNLV.

Heyer was selected by the Yankees in the 22nd round of the 2007 draft, but has had a very slow ascension up the Yankee ladder. He has spent the last two seasons at High A Tampa, but missed about a month this season after his father passed away.

I saw him pitch his first pro season in 2007 in Staten Island, then a little in 2008 in Charleston. Then once again earlier this season in early July, a few days after he returned from his team approved leave.

Every time I have seen him, Heyer has worked quickly, threw strikes and generated lots of ground balls.

With the lack of defense at the lower levels, many of these balls moved through the infield, but Heyer has begun to perform better with an improved defense behind him in Tampa.

He is a fielder’s delight, keeping his teammates in the game, and his record over three pro seasons is a stunning 24-8 with a 2.96 ERA and 1.145 WHIP. 

During one of our twice-weekly segments, I remember back in 2008 telling a local sports radio host (Kevin Williams of WOBM) that Heyer was a Yankee sleeper.

He works from the old fashioned hands-over-head windup, throwing at a three-quarters slot, and while he does not strike out tons of hitters (averaging only 5.1/9 IP), his walk rates of 1.3/9 IP are superb, keeping extra runners off base.

He started 12 games this season, all late in the year. Primarily, he needed innings in 2010 after missing the approved time off, but the Yankees also promoted Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances and Banuelos to Double-A Trenton during the season, and the Tampa team needed starting pitchers.

Heyer was the starter in Tampa’s Game Four clincher to win the Florida State League championship. He allowed five hits in six innings, with three whiffs and zero walks. It was a typical Heyer performance.

Last Tuesday, Heyer relieved Banuelos and threw three shutout innings. He continuously threw his fastball at the knees mostly on the outside corner, but was squeezed by the tight-zoned home plate umpire.

However, he continued his pattern of pounding the lower half of the zone with low 90’s pinpoint fastballs and sinkers.

He worked himself into a jam by having to come over the plate a little to stud Royals first base prospect Eric Hosmer*, who singled sharply to left field.

*Hosmer has a great balanced swing, and the left handed hitter goes well to left field with the ball.

After a seeing-eye grounder by another lefty going the other way put runners on first and second, Heyer went to work dispatching the next three hitters rather easily, including another lefty hitter, 2010 first round pick Zach Cox.

Working quickly in his next two innings, Heyer worked seven up and six down, allowing only another seeing-eye ground ball single.

He was always low in the zone, in and around the knees with his fastball, to both sides but mainly outside corner to lefties.

When he was up in the zone, it was usually the change up to lefties, as Heyer had a tendency to pull his front shoulder out on the pitch. His slider had decent downward movement but was just average, however, it was always low in the zone.

After two seasons in Tampa, Heyer should start 2011 in Double-A Trenton. Maybe the Yankees will rid themselves of the Josh Schmidts and Kevin Whelans of the organization, giving guys like Heyer a shot at the higher levels.

Even though he was an effective starter late in the season, and was a starter at UNLV during college, with the quantity of current Yankee starting pitchers, Heyer is likely destined for the bullpen.

The ability to throw multiple innings, throw consistent strikes (43 walks in 301 IP) and work quickly, should allow Heyer to become a force in the Yankees system as a reliever who can spot start.


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.


Manuel Banuelos Impressive in Most Recent Start for Tampa Yankees

July 7, 2010

Author’s Note: This was written several months before all the recently published big media reports from the Arizona Fall League of how good a pitcher Manuel Banuelos is.

I am taking a tour of Florida for a little time to watch the Florida State League High A Tampa Yankees.

The first night I saw Adam Warren and Graham Stoneburner create a show with both pitching well against the Brevard County Manatees. It was the first time seeing Warren and second time seeing Stoneburner throw, although the first time was at Low A Charleston.

Warren was good, keeping everything down in the zone. He moves the ball in and out very well, pin points every pitch and was effective over seven innings in getting swings and misses on all of his pitches. This included striking out former major leaguer and former top Milwaukee Brewers catching prospect Angel Salome three times.

I will see Warren again Saturday night in Tampa.

Stoneburner was his usual self, getting a bunch of strikeouts and ground balls off his hard fastball and sharp biting slider. He only threw four innings, allowing four hits, four runs, three of which were earned. He had one bad inning, helped along by another bad Bradley Suttle fielding play.

Both guys are not afraid to come inside, and used their low-to- mid 90s fastballs to bust hitters in on the hands. Warren is very adept at breaking bats with a nice running action on his two seamer.

Due to a rain out the prior day, these games were only seven inning tilts. The Yankee organization, ever-present concerning young pitchers and innings limits, lifted Stoneburner after four. The Yankees supposedly have an innings limit of around 130-140 this year for Stoneburner (he has 85 thus far), basically his first professional season.

But the main attraction for me in traveling the 2 1/2 hours to Brevard County was to see Manuel Banuelos, a 19-year-old left-handed pitcher signed from the Mexican League.

Banuelos is listed as 5’10” but he is no bigger than me, and I am only 5″9.” However, he is thick in the legs, and appears to weight more than his listed weight of 155 lbs.

But what Man-Ban lacks in height, he makes up with repertoire, pitch command and poise. And not necessarily ranked in that order.

Watching him warm up I saw a very smooth and easy delivery. He does not swing back with a high PAS elbow, putting less stress on his elbow and shoulder. His front foot plants in the same spot every time, slightly closed but in a direct line to home plate, good signs towards a pitcher repeating his delivery pitch after pitch and having excellent control.

And Banuelos does repeat his easy delivery. He locates all three of his pitches where he wants most of the time. If he misses with a pitch, he misses down, especially with his dynamite 12-6/11-7 curve ball.

And that curve ball is just one of three out pitches Banuelos displayed Tuesday night. He threw that pitch inside and outside, getting called strikes on some, weakly hit ground balls on a few and swinging strikes on many.

Banuelos started that game by allowing three straight hard-hit singles, and his first earned run in two FSL starts. All three hits were on pitches over the plate, and two of the batters fought off some tough pitches prior to getting their knocks.

But Manny settled down, striking out the next three hitters (two looking) on a called fastball away, swinging change-up away and called inside curve to a right-handed hitter. All three hitters were set up beautifully, giving credit to veteran backstop Myron Leslie.

But Banuelos threw the pitches to the right spots when he needed to, and he dominated the Brevard County lineup after those first three hitters.

While the curve ball is really good (75-76 MPH all night), and the fastball is solid (92-93 MPH all night, touching 94 twice) with a slight tailing action to right-handed hitters, it is Banuelos’ change up which is going to get him through the system in a hurry.

The change was thrown consistently in the 80-82 MPH range with precise location. He generated lots of swing and misses all night on this pitch, painting the outside corner with it at will.

This pitch was very Johan Santana-like.

Banuelos was not afraid to throw his off-speed pitches in favorable hitters counts, and as the game moved along it was very unpredictable in what he would throw. He threw many back-to-back change ups which shows Banuelos is confident in his pitches. He was not afraid to throw to the corners, possibly put on man on via a walk, because he has the pitch action to generate strikeouts or get a quick double play ground ball.

He showed tremendous confidence in throwing strikes when behind in the count, seemingly not caring as he continued to throw his off speed stuff at anytime. And when a right-handed hitter began to lean out over the plate, he busted them inside with a curve or 93 MPH fastball.

After one swing and a miss on a pinpoint change-up, I said out loud  “that was really unfair.”

One Tampa Yankees hurler who was seated behind the back stop charting pitches said that Banuelos is “unreal” in that he has three out pitches and command of all three. This player also said, “I have not seen anything like him so far in pro ball.”

What I did not like about Banuelos was his pick off move to first base. It is predictable and easy to recognize. There were three successful stolen bases (on three attempt) off him.

But a pickoff move, especially to a lefty, is a very teachable craft.

What is not coachable is Banuelos ability to throw three out pitches with pinpoint control.

He is a keeper and one to keep an eye on for rapid advancement in the Yankee system and I can see Banuelos moving into the Bronx rotation by late 2012.