The title of this post is pretty self-explanatory. Here are the guys that we think are flying under the radar a bit:
E.J. Fagan: Sleeper: Jairo Heredia:
I’m digging very deep here, but I think there’s some latent potential in RHP Jairo Heredia. He was the right-handed Manuel Banuelos before there was Manuel Banuelos. Heredia has the tools to be an effective major league starting pitcher: good control, strong secondary pitches, and a delivery that often earns praise from scouts. He had his prospect status stripped from him due to a series of injuries, include two nasty ones to his shoulder. He’s only 21 years old, and was quite effective in limited duty last season, with a 9.1 K/9 against a 2.1 BB/9. If Jairo can stay healthy for an entire season, he’ll shoot up rankings real quick.
Eric Schultz: My sleeper prospect: Ben Gamel
At this point in his life, Ben Gamel must be used to being overshadowed. Ben’s older brother Mat was a 4th-round pick out of high school by the Brewers and a 2-time BA top 100 prospect who slugged his way through the minors and made his major league debut at 22. Ben was not as highly touted as his brother coming out of high school, and ended up going to the Yankees in the 10th round, signing
for an above-slot bonus of $500,000.
Gamel was drafted mostly for his hitting ability. While his small frame (5’10” 156) didn’t seem to leave room for much power projection, Gamel’s greatest assets were his sweet left-handed swing and his excellent approach at the plate, quite possibly related to having an older brother as a major leaguer. He projects as a left-fielder in the pros, so he will need to hit to become a legitimate prospect.
After a short, uneventful professional debut in the Gulf Coast League after signing in 2010, Gamel was assigned to Staten Island in 2011. There he was once again overshadowed by the likes of Mason Williams and Cito Culver. Despite this, Gamel put together a very solid .289/.373/.432 line, showing an advanced approach at the plate, solid plate discipline, and developing power. He’ll get a new challenge in Charleston this year, and I will be very interested to see how he does.
Michael Eder: My submission for sleeper. Mark Montgomery.
There are so many sleepers in the Yankee farm system, but Mark Montgomery stands out to me. Upon being drafted in 2011, he was probably the most major league ready pitcher selected by the team. While his low-90’s fastball could use some maturing, his hard mid-80’s slider is one of the best in the minors. After posting 48k in his 30.1 IP as a junior in college, he went on to pitch just four innings for the Staten Island Yankees and struck out 10, including striking out the side in three consecutive innings. He immediately received a promotion to Charleston, and in his debut he struck out five hitters in one inning, FIVE! He continued dominating low level pitching last year, after 24.1 IP in A ball the 20 year old had 41 strikeouts, good for a 15.2 K/9.
Montgomery’s biggest flaw last year was his command; he averaged 4.1 BB/9. Those numbers were much better in college though, 3.09 BB/9. If he can drop that extra walk per nine, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as the top reliever prospect in the Yankees’ system. He should start in high-A in 2012, but Montgomery’s talent may bring him up to AA very quickly. In a perfect storm where the Yankees decide to be aggressive with Montgomery and he improves his command, we could see his slider in the major leagues by the end of 2012 or sometime in the 2013 season.
Domenic Lanza: Due to the high-risk, high-reward nature of the Yankees farm system, it’s sort of difficult to find a true ‘sleeper’ prospect. There is a dramatic variance of opinion among most everyone in ranking prospect six through twenty (and beyond), and a fair bit of fluctuation within the top-five … perhaps more so than in any other organization. For this, many of the prospects that I would consider a sleeper find themselves within the top dozen or so in other lists – including lists of my fellow TYA staff members. In the interest of adding something new to the equation, then, I dug a bit deeper than I normally would to find a hidden gem in shortstop Claudio Custodio.
In addition to having a wonderfully alliterative name (an 80-grade name alongside Slade Heathcott and Graham Stoneburner), Custodio has a much lower beta than many prospects that have yet to make their full-season debut. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, Custodio has above-average speed and range to both his left and right, solid bat speed and contact skills, and a strong (albeit erratic) arm. What he lacks for in raw power he makes up for, at least to a degree, in his willingness to work the count, go the opposite way with the ball, and take the extra base. Team officials have raved about his make-up, as well, believing that he plays well-above the sum of his parts – impressive, considering that he may be the best athlete in the system this side of Mason Williams and Angelo Gumbs.
To me, Custodio has the tools to stick at shortstop and hit at the top of the batting order. While he does not profile as an All-Star, he could well put up numbers like Jamey Carroll has over these past two years … with a great deal more speed and extra-base hits. That may not be the most thrilling of ‘best-case scenarios,’ but I also see his ‘worst-case scenario’ as something like what we’ve seen from Eduardo Nunez. Which, again, isn’t terribly thrilling – but he remains a fine piece to have in the system, and a potentially valuable utility player down the line.
With a bit more consistency with the glove, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him ranked alongside Cito Culver, if not ahead of the only other sure-ish thing at shortstop in the system.
Brad Vietrogoski: In a farm system flush with high-ceiling talent at all levels right now, it’s easy for someone like Nik Turley to get lost in the shuffle. Drafted in 2008 in the 50th round, Turley spent his 2009 and 2010 campaigns in the short-season leagues before finally making his full-season debut in 2011 for Low-A Charleston. In 82.1 innings pitched over 15 starts for Charleston, Turley posted a 2.51 ERA/3.53 FIP slash with 8.96 K/9 and 2.30 BB/9, earning himself a promotion to High-A Tampa. He made just two starts there before suffering a season-ending broken pitching hand, but Turley did enough to get himself noticed after two years of up-and-down performances in the SS leagues and will be looking to build off of that momentum when he opens 2012 back in Tampa. As a lefty in a very righty-heavy farm system right now, Turley has a chance to make a big jump up everybody’s prospect lists for next season.
The interesting thing about Turley, and the thing that excites me the most about him, is the fact that he’s almost the exact opposite of most other big-time pitching prospects. Where most come in with an above-average or better fastball and offspeed stuff that needs work, Turley’s fastball is actually his weakest pitch, sitting in the high 80s most of the time. He makes up for that by having very good command of the pitch and by having a very good curveball and an effective changeup. Turley is a huge dude at 6’6″, and he can create a lot of problems for hitters with his size and arm angle, especially if he can tighten up his mechanics and consistently sit low-90s with the heater. An improved fastball combined with a curveball and change that he’ll continue to refine would make Turley a left hander with three above-average pitches and plus command, and that combination can wreak havoc on hitters at the lower levels. He’s flown a little under the radar so far, but I expect the pitching coaches at Tampa to make Turley a pet project of theirs this season and for him to force himself into the discussion for next year’s top 15-20 with another good year this year.
Matt Imbrogno My pick for sleeper is Graham Stoneburner. He looked to be a fast mover, but a neck injury slowed him down last year. His size, and age, may not scream future starter, but as a polished college pitcher, he should be able to resume his movement up the ladder. His strikeout numbers have dropped, but he’s still got good control and he’s gotten at least a 50% ground ball rate in each stop in the minors, save for his 11 inning stint in the GCL in 2011. Good control and good ground ball rates should mean a solid floor, even if his ceiling may not be so high.