Jim Callis of Baseball America Talks Yankees Prospects

CB:  After being listed as Baseball America ’s 108th best prospect prior to the 2011 amateur draft, the Yankees selected Dante Bichette, Jr. with the 51st pick.  He signed quickly and promptly set the Gulf Coast League afire hitting .342/.446/.505 and winning league MVP honors.  Looking back, do you think your initial evaluation was accurate?  If not, what has changed?

JC:  Our initial evaluation was based in part about suspicions that he’ll eventually wind up in the outfield. If he can stay at third base, and the Yankees think he can, then he’ll have more value. Bichette has boosted his stock since the draft with his strong debut and his initial play at third base.

CB:  Can you tell us a little bit about Cito Culver?  How does he project going forward?  Will he stick at SS?

JC:  He’s a defensive-minded shortstop and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to stick there. The question with Culver is whether he’ll hit enough to be a big league regular, though his defense may be enough to carry him.

CB:  Since being selected in the first round with the 29th pick in 2009, Slade Heathcott’s stock has taken a bit of a tumble.  What does he need to do to turn around his performance, and reach his potential?

JC:  Staying healthy is Heathcott’s biggest need. He has had two shoulder surgeries and has played in just 132 games in three pro seasons. His physical ability remains as impressive as always, and he made some strides at the plate last year, but he just hasn’t been on the field enough.

CB:  Gary Sanchez has been often been compared to Jesus Montero.  He has a great bat and has displayed impressive power for an 18 year old playing A-ball.  Like Montero, the scouting reports on his defense behind the plate have been spotty at best.  Given Sanchez’s age, he has plenty of time to develop, but what specifically does he need to work on defensively for him to be good enough to play the position in the majors.

JC:  His receiving. Sanchez has a strong arm and throws out his share of basestealers, but he doesn’t handle the ball well behind the plate and committed 26 passed balls in 60 games last year. He has so much trouble with breaking balls that he doesn’t like to call for them. The Yankees are willing to sacrifice defense for offense in their catchers, but he has a lot of work to do.

CB:  Mason Williams had a tremendous season for the Staten Island Yankees producing a .349/.395/.468 line with great speed and above-average range in centerfield.  At only 20 years old, he looks an incredibly exciting prospect.  What can we expect out of him going forward?

JC:  More of the same. His hitting, basestealing and center-field skills are all exciting. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s regarded as one of the game’s best prospects by the end of the 2012 season.

CB:  Austin Romine has long been one of the Yankees top prospects.  He has a good defensive reputation, but seems to have a mediocre bat; especially in the power department.  What’s his true ceiling?  Is he a prospect Yankee fans should be excited about, or is his stock largely created by the position scarcity of the position.

JC:  I think Romine is more of a second-division regular than a guy who’s going to play on a regular basis for the Yankees. They like offense from their catchers, and I’m not sure he’s more than a .250-.260 with 10 homers a year at his best. He’s the best defender among Yankees catching prospects, but not a Gold Glover. I bet he either winds up as a backup or trade bait.

CB:  We already talked about Bichette a little bit, but what are your thoughts on the Yankees 2011 draft class?  Do you see any high impact prospects?

JC:  It was a typical Yankees draft, in that they exceeded MLB’s slot recommendations on a few guys but weren’t as aggressive as their financial might would allow them to be. I thought Sam Stafford was an overdraft in the second round, and they wound up not signing him after he failed his physical. They did get some solid guys in rounds 3-6 in Jordan Cote, Matt Duran, Greg Bird and Jake Cave, and righthanders Mark Montgomery (11th) and Brandon Pinder (16th) could be steals. All in all, a solid draft.

CB:  Which prospects do you see making positive contributions to the Yankees in 2012 and 2013?  Could either Adam Warren or David Phelps be one of those guys?

JC:  With the trade of Jesus Montero, most of the system contributions the next couple of years will be complementary players like Romine, Warren and Phelps. Banuelos has the chance to make the most impact, but it now looks like he won’t be a full-time starter for the Yankees until 2013. As mentioned earlier, I see Betances in more of a bullpen role.

CB:  Do the Yankees have any under the radar prospects we should keep our eyes on?

JC:  Ravel Santana is a five-tool center fielder who suffered a horrific ankle injury in the Gulf Coast League last summer, but word is he’ll be fine in 2011. He has been underhyped relative to his ceiling. I keep waiting for righthander Brett Marshall to really break through. Corner infielder Tyler Austin has an interesting bat. Cave has what it takes to be a prototype right fielder.

CB:  What grade would you give the Yankees farm system (A, B, C, D, or F)?

JC:  When we were ranking on farm system rankings for the Prospect Handbook, I had the Yankees at No. 9, while other editors ranked them from No. 2 to No. 6. They take a little bit of a hit with the Montero trade, though I really like Jose Campos, whom they got back in the deal. I’d give them a solid B.

For the latest prospect news and insights you can follow Jim on Twitter at @JimCallisBA.  Also, be sure to pre-order the Baseball America 2012 Prospect book that will be released on February 14, 2012.  It’s required reading for every baseball fan.

7 thoughts on “Jim Callis of Baseball America Talks Yankees Prospects

  1. I'm curious as to why Callis' rating is so far from the rest of his editors — and wonder how much of that is based on his valuation of Banuelos and Betances (whether some of his other guys see Betances as a starter, or either of them as higher in the pecking order than #3).

  2. I'm not buying Betances as a reliever.

    His problem when he's not right has been more about CONTROL than command. When he has control, his command is good enough to produce very convincing results. He seems to get enough movement and downward plane on his pitches that precision of location isn't all that relevant. What's more, his pitches seem to flirt with the strike zone long enough so that hitters offer at them, but they invariably dance away (cutter), disappear (curve, change, 2-seamer) or explode above the letters (96 mph heater). This is responsible for what are excellent K/9, H/9, GB/FB rates, which bode well for a career as a ML starter. IMO, you are either unfamiliar with his body of work or are hand waving the very attributes that make him a highly ranked prospect in the first place.

    Add to this that the pitcher has already incorporated a very good change to an ultra plus curve and fastball, so he avoids the whole "3rd pitch" dilemma that has stalled many a projectable young starter with good stuff from being complete enough to get through lineups consistently and/or provide a weapon to get out other-handed batters. Betances, it's worth nothing, has very good numbers against LHB, primarily because he can set them up for that dying curve on the outside corner to freeze the hitter.

    To the 3 outstanding offerings Betances adds a very effective cutter and two-seam fastball to give him him a lethal arsenal. In 2010, we saw what that repertoire does when he controls/commands it.

    2011 was a step back, and he'll probably always have to be alert about his release point due to his size, but from what I've observed, that just means he may fall short of being a horse as a starter (think U-Jim), not that he'll plummet all the way to being a reliever. The stuff, the pitch variety, even the pitch-ability and the stretches where he has worked with consistent control and enough command to produce excellent results are a good hedge against the bleak future for him you paint here.

    • Betances has a career BB/9 of 4.3. There were all of 5 qualified pitchers in all of baseball with a walk rate over 4 walks/9 innings in 2011, and only one of them (Gio Gonzalez), and a better than average FIP-.

      • It was my impression, based on what Keith Law has said and from other random scouting blurbs, that BB/9 in the minors carries much less significance in translating performance in MLB than K/9 does. It's also been said to look at pure percentage of pitches in the zone, rather than BB/ 9 as an indication of control. Though I might imagine this is more to weed out false positives with prospects having misleadingly low walk rates from poor pitch recognition in the minors.

        • That’s probably about right, but Betances’ high walk rates have been pretty consistent throughout his entire career, so I think it’s reasonably safe to say he has trouble throwing strikes consistently.

  3. Great stuff, Chip, thanks a lot.

    Here's to hoping that the depth and variety of talent at the lower levels makes its way up in due order. Though I suppose almost every team could boast of depth and variety of talent in the lower levels.