Short-season A-ball can sometimes be exciting to follow, but oftentimes it gets a little mundane. The league’s bread and butter includes players who just graduated college, were drafted by MLB teams, and are setting out to start their careers as professional baseball players. The problem is that top prospects these days often sign pretty late into the summer, removing them from the bulk of the team’s games. Although teams often find talented players in the late rounds to fill out their short-season rosters, this often results in fairly boring teams.
However, every once in awhile teams will hold back talented high school and international players from the full season leagues for a softer debut in short-season. We’ve seen the Yankees follow this path with guys like Dellin Betances, Zach McAllister and Aroldis Vizcaino in recent years, but those players have only trickled in. This season, we’re going to see a very talented Staten Island squad from the get-go, in part due to the talented and expensive Yankee high school haul from last year. Here are some players that I think we could end up seeing:
- Cito Culver – Most players who signed early, performed well in rookie ball, earned overall positive reviews for defense and makeup, and managed to spend a solid two weeks in short-season ball immediately after being selected in the first round of the draft would probably end up in Low-A full-season ball the following season. Culver, on the other hand, had a few things going against him: he was both one of the youngest players in the draft and one of the least polished. The Yankees have no doubt been working Culver hard on his defense, strength training, and approach to the plate in extended spring training over the past three months. I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised at Culver’s abilities once the Yankees trot out their newly-polished 1st round pick.
- Mason Williams – Williams has been labeled the best player the Yankees selected in the 2010 draft, even if he was selected over a hundred picks after Cito Culver. His $1.4 million signing bonus prevented him from signing early and gaining the kind of experience that Cito Culver got. He’s older and more polished, and would probably be in Charleston right now with a few more professional at-bats in 2010, although the Low-A glut of outfielders might have prevented that. I’m going to be paying close attention to his approach at the plate when I go to Staten Island this summer. Williams possesses enormous athleticism and speed, but we don’t really know what kind of hitter the Yankees are going to try and get him to be. If they choose to look at him as a tiny-power slap hitter, he’s more of an expensive Brett Gardner type prospect, while he could have some very strong potential if they tool him up for more power like they tried with Austin Jackson.
- Angelo Gumbs – I get the sense that Yankee fans have completely forgotten about Angelo Gumbs. The team selected him in the 2nd round last season, and was one of the few players they’ve selected that was neither considered a reach nor an above-slot signing. Gumbs is a raw prospect (listed as a shortstop, but he could end up anywhere on the diamond) with all the tools you could want. He could conceivably hit for power and average, run fast, and do all other things that star players do. But we don’t know too much about his own style, or the Yankees’ intentions for him. He is more likely than either Culver or Williams to end up in the Gulf Coast League, but I think the Yankees might push him to Staten Island along with the rest of the young guys, to keep the young 2010 class together. This would necessitate a move away from shortstop, which Culver should have locked up pretty solidly. Mason Williams will probably be the incumbent in center field too. He might spend some time bouncing around outfield spots, or the Yankees might get creative and settle him at 3rd or 2nd. We’ll see.
- Gary Sanchez – We don’t really know where Sanchez is going to end up, but I’d bet that he opens the season with Staten Island. As I predicted, the Yankees demoted Sanchez to EST to work on any number of flaws that became apparent in Charleston. He could land back there, especially once the Yankees finally pull the trigger and promote J.R. Murphy – or he could wind up back in Staten Island, although either move may not be immediate. The Yankees had makeup concerns about Sanchez, and may choose to kick his ass down in their minor league complex in Tampa for a little bit longer.
- Ben Gamel – I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know a ton about Gamel. His older brother is a MLB ballplayer. He is supposed to have a sweet swing. The Yankees paid him $500,000 to sign with them out of the 10th round. We’ll know more about him by September. He could theoretically go to the GCL, but I think we’ll see him in Staten Island.
- Bryan Mitchell – I really expected Mitchell to start the season with Charleston. He has some of the best stuff in the lower parts of the Yankee system, resembling Brett Marshall in many ways. He has a 93-95 mph fastball with plenty of movement, plus a hammer curve. He had a solid season for the GCL Yankees last year, even if his control evaded him. Mitchell was a 2009 draftee, so we should really be expecting some progress from him soon. Most successful players would be in full-season ball by this point after being drafted in high school.
I do not expect Evan Rutckyj to spend much time in Staten Island this year. He’s the rawest of raw left-handed pitchers, and the Yankees will take things very slowly with him. I’ll bet on 10 GCL starts. Rafael DePaula could also find his way to Staten Island, but I’ll bet on the GCL for him too.
Combined with whatever additions from the 2011 draft that we may see, this could easily be the most exciting Staten Island roster in a very long time. Even if only 2 or 3 of the players from this list end up in the roster, the team will be worth following. Their proximity to Yankee fans in New York and New Jersey doesn’t hurt, either. I’ll have plenty of pictures posted, and maybe even some interviews, when I make my way there. Hopefully, I’ll get a game in soon after the season starts in the middle of this month, but it may have to wait for August.