Early prospect surprises

Tyler Austin (OF Low-A Charleston): We all knew Austin could hit after the display he put on between the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn Leagues last season, but no one could have predicted the torrid start Austin is off to in 2012. Entering play tonight, he’s hitting a downright ridiculous .450/.500/.975 (.630 wOBA) with three home runs, four doubles, and four triples. That’s 11 total extra base hits in 10 games. He’s been held hitless just once so far this year, his first game of the year, and is currently riding a nine game hitting streak. Still not impressed? He’s collected at least two hits in each of his last seven games.

Obviously it’s very early and you don’t want to take these early performances to heart too much, but if you were looking to bet on the system’s big riser this season, you could probably do worse than Austin. He’s not going to keep hitting the way he has so far forever but, at the same time, he’s hasn’t had any problems with the pitchers in the South Atlantic League yet, so if he continues to hit at a level even approaching what he’s done thus far, the Yankees are going to have to give serious thought to moving him up a level to make sure he’s actually being challenged by opposing hitters.

Jose Campos (RHP Low-A Charleston): Campos was “the other guy” in the Michael Pineda trade, but he was hardly a throw in. The third best prospect in the Northwest League last season, Baseball America rated him as the Yankees’ fifth best prospect after the trade and, so far, he’s been as good as advertised, if not better. A strike thrower with a plus fastball, Campos has made three starts so far in 2012, and he boasts a 0.56 ERA and a strikeout to walk ratio of 18:4 in 16 innings pitched. He’s allowed just five hits and one earned run (via a solo home run) in those three starts. Another Riverdog who’s going to make a mighty persuasive case for a promotion to High-A Tampa if he keeps toying with the SAL competition.

Nik Turley (LHP High-A Tampa): Turley was the system’s break out pitching prospect last year, notching just shy of a strikeout per inning in 82.1 innings in Charleston before being promoted to Tampa and having his season ended by comebacker off of his hand. This season, he’s picking up right where he left off, with 20 strikeouts to 5 walks in 18 innings over his first three starts. He’s allowed three runs in those starts, two of them earned, to give him a shiny 1.00 ERA to go with an FIP of 2.53.

Turley’s future with the organization is an open question at the moment. He’s eligible for the Rulve V draft after this season, so the Yankees could lose him to another organization if they don’t add him to their 40 man roster. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem likely that he’d be ready to stick in the major leagues at this point, so if Turley was selected by another team, there’s a good chance he’d wind up being returned to the Yankees anyway. In any case, with that decision looming, I’d figure the Yankees would be relatively easy to get him to Trenton to see what he’s capable of in the high minors. If he can hold his own at the Double-A level this year, it’d be a lot easier to give him a 40 man roster spot prior to next season. With his strikeout ability, he could easily be a useful left-handed option out of the bullpen, if nothing else.

Manny Banuelos (LHP Triple-A Empire State): Now we get into the less pleasant portion of this list. Banuelos has struggled with his control ever since being promoted to Double-A, but he couldn’t have done much worse out of the gate in 2012. Banuelos has started two games thus far, but managed to pitch just 5.1 innings. In that span, he’s allowed six runs, all earned, on 14 hits, seven walks, and a home run while striking out a total of two batters. He was placed on the disabled list after his last start with a sore back, so hopefully that explains his disastrous start and he’ll come back strong in the near future.

Dellin Betances (RHP Triple-A Empire State): With more and more people questioning Betances’ ability to repeat his delivery consistently enough to remain a starter and his walk rate showing no sign of abating in the past couple of seasons, 2012 has a decidedly make-or-break feel to it where Betances’ role is considered. If he doesn’t make strides towards becoming a more consistent starter, the Yankees may well decide to move him into a relief role to see what he can do out of the bullpen. Betances got off to a very nice start with a good first outing, but since then the old problems have come back, particularly the walks. On the plus side of things, Betances has struck out a batter per inning in his first three starts (13 strikeouts in 13 innings) but on the other hand he’s also walked 11 batters, given up 18 hits, and allowed 15 earned runs (10.38 ERA). His 6.74 FIP isn’t providing much solace either.

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.