How prospect crazy have we become?

It’s enough to make you laugh, in retrospect, but only so you don’t cry. Though Hughes continued posting good numbers in the minor leagues, it has yet to translate to the major league level. To be sure, that’s not all his fault. He was probably brought up too quickly in 2007, got hurt in 2008, and then was shifted to the bullpen when he struggled in the big league rotation in 2009. Though he was a valuable piece to that World Series winning team, his repertoire has suffered, with his secondary pitches being virtually non-existent. His changeup never developed, his once impressive slider vanished entirely, and his curveball has been sporadic. The only secondary pitch Hughes seems comfortable with these days is a cutter that frankly hasn’t been all that impressive outside of the first month or so he was throwing it. In addition, the relief role limited his workload in 2009, but Hughes was still a full time starter the next season and made three playoff starts thanks to a deep run into the ALCS. All told Hughes threw over 80 innings more  in 2010 than he did in 2009, a fact that almost certainly had more than a little to do with the inflamed shoulder that Hughes lost his 2011 season to.

Come back to the present day, and the Yankees again have a couple of much ballyhooed pitching prospects in Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances. To hear some tell it, you’d think it was only a matter of counting down the days until they become the second-coming of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling circa 2001. And yet, they both have plenty of warts, particularly Betances who has a serious arm injury in his history and has walked the world at every level of the minors save for a reasonably 3.6 BB/9 in the 115.1 innings he pitched in High-A. In Banuelos’ case, he’s merely 20 years old with a lot of growing to do, and his peripherals have worsened as he’s been exposed to better competition in the high minors. That’s not to say he’s a lost cause by any means, he’s only 20 after all, but he’s certainly going to have to improve from the 1.76 K/BB mark he posted between Double-A and Triple-A last season before meriting serious consideration for a spot in the big leagues.

And you know what? Neither Banuelos nor Betances have been nearly as acclaimed as Phil Hughes was as a 21 year old, which should paint a rather stark picture of how quickly the luster can come off of a future stud pitcher.

Now not all prospects are created equally, of course, and some seem to be much better bets to succeed than others. Jesus Montero, for example, hit very well at every level of the minor leagues despite being one of the youngest players at each level as he progressed, and when he did struggle early in 2011 his minor league coaches defended him by essentially saying he was simply too good to be playing there anymore. Sure enough Montero didn’t miss a step when he was finally called up in September (though you don’t want to draw too many conclusions from a September call up, you can’t fake the level of comfort and professionalism Montero showed in his big league at bats), and he figures to slot into the Opening Day lineup this year as a designated hitter that just about everyone agrees has tremendous upside with the bat. It’s hard to fault the Yankees for being reluctant to move Montero for anyone short of an elite talent like Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay.

But short of that, the Yankees really don’t have any high ceiling, big league ready prospects. Their high ceiling talents are all probably a year or more away from being ready for the majors, and the Austin Romines and Adam Warrens in the system project as being relatively low ceiling big leaguers. Is there anyone short of Montero who should be considered remotely untouchable? Absolutely not, and that includes Banuelos.

That’s not to say I think Banuelos should be traded for anyone, but if a deal could be swung for a highly talented young big leaguer with multiple cost controlled years remaining and Banuelos was the main piece the Yankees were sending back to the other club, there would be a pretty high likelihood of the Yankees getting the better end of that deal. One thing we’ve seen this winter is that teams put a high value on guys like Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez, as they should. Brian Cashman can bemoan the high prices of pitching on the market, but there’s nothing particularly strange about this. Mat Latos is a 24 year old pitcher (he’s actually only a few months older than Betances) who’s shown he can put up top of the rotation numbers at the big league level and is four years away from even being eligible for free agency. Manny Banuelos is a lottery ticket. Maybe he’s the second coming of Tom Glavine, or maybe the walk rate never comes down. Maybe his 21 year old shoulder blows out and he never throws a pitch in the big leagues. You tell me which asset you’d honestly rather have on your ledger.

Now to be fair to Cashman, I don’t necessarily think “sources” are being fully forthright when they talk about the way the Yankees’ front office views these prospects, and I think that if Cashman could have had Latos for, say, Banuelos, Betances, Mason Williams, and Adam Warren he would have made that move in a heartbeat. Rather I suspect that other teams simply aren’t interested in trading that type of asset to the Yankees without getting Montero in exchange (not Latos specifically per se), a fact that understandably makes the trade much less attractive from the Yankees’ standpoint.

This is why I think fans who are hoping Cashman has some super-secret awesome trade in the works to shore up the rotation or will make the blockbuster deal that never came in 2011. While the Yankees have a good farm system on their own terms, that farm system lacks obviously attractive trade candidates once you get past Montero, and the Yankees are very reluctant to give away a rookie with that kind of offensive potential when they have a place in the lineup available for him. Other teams see the warts on the Yankees’ prospects. You always see the other guys’ warts.

Just like the backup quarterback.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

14 thoughts on “How prospect crazy have we become?

  1. Beware of Yankee prospects- the more ballyhooed they are, the greater the chance that they are traded to some unsuspecting team where they fizzle back to reality. Banuelos and Betances are the latest, and neither has posted minor league numbers to support their high acclaim. Betances is starting his fifth year on the farm and still has no clear path to the Bronx, yet his name still floats to the top of prospect discussions. If a team as desparate for back-end starters as the Yankees has no clear plan to integrate these budding stars, could it be that perhaps Brian Cashman is just waiting for some trade partner to snatch the bait and give up an expensive starting pitcher in return for them?

    Remember this about Yankee prospects: other than Derek Jeter, the ones who actually made it to the Bronx and stuck were the ones you heard the least about as minor leaguers. Rivera, Pettitte, Posada, Cano and Robertson quietly entered the Yankee clubhouse while others were dealt frequently. And even Joba and Hughes have shown that for all of their heralded talent, their greatest value might have been as trade bait in earlier deals.

    • Though your point is well taken, I'm not so sure about your last sentence, if only because I don't think you can really set aside the questionable decisions the Yankees made with regards to Joba and Hughes from 2007-10.

    • Well, IIRC, Betances is 4 years older than Baneulos so it's not quite fair to put them in the same basket. Both were making their AAA debuts last year so they can be cut a little slack, especially Banueols who is young for the level. Both are highly regarded, not only by the Yankees but by other organizations and other organizations. Why do you think they're both demanded in most trade discussions the Yankees are involved in?

      I also don't agree with your assertion that "neither has posted minor league numbers to support their high acclaim". Betances has put up a K/9 ratio of > 10 at each level he's pitched at in the minors. That's good in case you're wondering. Yes, command has been an issue but that's what player development is all about – very few guys are finished products all the way through. I don't have Baneulos' numbers in front of me but I can't imagine that (excepting his AAA stint) that they're way out of line with his prospect status.

      I'm not opposed to dealing either one of those guys in the right trade. But most teams are asking for at least one of them PLUS Montero which is a bit excessive for what would come back. Matt Latos was the only guy I would consider going that high for but I doubt even that package could have topped the Reds' offer given that Montero would probably have to go back to AAA to learn how to play 1B while Alonso can step right in and Grandal is a top catching and hitting prospect.

      Your position is not so different than saying that it made no sense to bid high on Yu Darvish because Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu didn't work out. There were reasons not to bid high on Darvish but that wasn't one of them. You have to consider each player individually.

  2. Mike, you do point out something of a trend, but i would be wary that it means much. Jeter was a very high selection in the first round, Pettitte was a well regarded prospect, but the landscape of our availability of prospect information has changed dramatically.

    We may not have known about "the killer B's" a few years back, and they certainly wouldn't have been given a nick name. The only time we would have read about them is when they were in big league camp in the spring. I know I'm going to come off like a Cashman apologist, but it looks to me that the system just isn't in a place where we can make those trades right now. Banuelos and Betances are far from "can't miss" status, and prospect pitchers are simply more combustible than hitters.

    Every Yankee fan is annoyed at this point, but we had the best team in the east last year, and the playoff loss really does nothing to tell me differently. We all want a better team, but at this point I'm not blaming Cashman for wanting some of the players who are knocking on the door to have a good year so we can try to "trade high". More trade targets will become available, and personally I'm happy to see a little patience even if it means going into the season with a below average rotation with above average flexibility.

    • Heh, i try to be conscious of never using "we" in my comments referring to the team like they call me up and ask for advice. Apologies for my overzealous fandom.

  3. The Ivan Nova factor?

    I think fans aren't as infatuated with Gio and Latos as you are. Gio has a 4.32 career road ERA, and Latos had an almost league-average ERA+ last season. You know who doesn't have the question marks? Kuroda.

  4. "Age isn't an issue for Kuroda"

    Not on a one year deal. Or at least not relative to other factors. I'd say that even accounting for Kuroda's age he's less of a question mark than Nova, Hughes, Garcia, or Burnett (actually Burnett's not really a question mark, he just isn't very good).

    "as well as moving to the al east?"

    Ugh, talk about a meme that got out of control.

      • You're going to reference a pitcher who tossed 50 combined innings over his age 22-24 seasons (with 49 of them coming at 22-23) and a flukey injury tossed into the mix as proof that the A.L. East is somehow an entirely different plane of difficulty compared to the entire rest of Major League Baseball? Well…okay.

        To be sure, the East is the deepest division in baseball, but people drastically overstate the impact of that relative to the rest of the league. Especially when it comes to pitchers coming to the Yankees, since those players get the benefit of not facing the Yankees' lineup, and though Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Toronto were all about the MLB median last year for offense, Yankees and Red Sox are really the standout offenses in the division. It's those three lesser teams who need to account for the fact that their pitching staff will face Boston and New York 36 times a year.

  5. The argument that the Yankees don't have any high-upside trade chips is just false. Just because Montero is the only one who played at a high level in 2011 doesn't mean he's the only one with upside.

    Gary Sanchez has a ton of power and it looks like he's going to stick behind the plate. Mason Williams is loaded with tools and the hit tool is his best. Prior to 2011, people were all over Melky Mesa's power/speed combination. Dante Bichette certainly has some upside with his bat (even though he can't be traded yet). Mark Montgomery could move quickly through any system and certainly has value as a guy with closer potential.

    I think the Yankees have tons of high upside guys and would rather wait to see if they pan out than take a gamble on pitchers who only make them marginally better.

    • Sanchez, Williams, and Bichette are too young/far away from the majors to be considered major trade chips. And Mesa, well, isn't very good.

  6. Brien, I'm totally with you on the handling of Joba and Hughes by the Yankees. Torre's shortcoming was how he handled Hughes more than he did Joba. The Yankees were well armed (wink) with Joba as he was being groomed as the pre-Rivera guy much in the way that Mariano served in that role under Wetteland. The Yankees allowed a kid to manage himself when Chamberlain wanted to start. I'm dating myself slightly but I remember when Yogi Berra put Dave Righetti in the bullpen. I wasn't happy about that and I'm not sure that Righetti was either and he had a no-no under his belt. Did he whine? No. He went to the pen.

    Where I differ slightly is whether prospects are overvalued. The old adage about hindsight is certainly overused and I'm not sure that anyone projected accurately the contributions of players like Mike Lowell, Willie McGee or Fred McGriff but it sure hurts in retrospect. The same goes for Eric Milton.

    While I was raised on the knee-jerk mentality of George S. I also appreciate that the Yankees haven't overindulged in free agents or traded all their chips for anyone in recent history. I'm still moaning about the Granderson deal despite his great 2011 campaign. Sometimes it is more satisfying to raise your own and build your own future. Seeing guys like Sabathia and A-Rod with their "walk" clauses still makes me wince. If they want to be elsewhere let them go, right? Then again, its about the money stupid… I keep reminding myself of that.