February 27, 2012 is a day that will surely live in infamy in the annals of TYA History. On that day, a scant two months ago, we published our top-prospects lists, yet it seems like only yesterday we were all happily discussing a stout farm system, eager to see the future of the franchise tearing it up in the Minors – naivety at its finest. The perils of youth…
Kidding aside, the end of the first month of the season seems apropos to revisit said prospects – to go back to the future, I suppose. While it represents a somewhat arbitrary endpoint, it does give a somewhat reasonable sample size to work with, as hitters and pitchers alike should have seen a few different looks at this juncture (e.g. different parks, different competition). It also coincides with the time in which promotions tend to kick-off (albeit sluggishly), so it provides for some interesting speculation.
For the purposes of this report, I will focus solely on the prospects that made our combined top-twenty list. If you would like to see different prospects next time around, let me know in the comments or shoot me a message on Twitter. And be advised – much of this is quite reactionary.
01. Manny Banuelos – Empire State Yankees, Triple-A
5.1 IP, 14 H, 7 BB, 2 K, 10.13 ERA, 8.83 FIP
There really isn’t anything pleasant to say about Banuelos’ abbreviated month of April, nor is there any semblance of a silver lining. It appears that durability is going to be a ubiquitous concern with Banuelos, as he has been on the disable list since April 13th with a lat strain (which was supposed to keep him out for one start) – and while he hasn’t had any grievous issues with his arm or shoulder, he has missed time every year with minor, nagging injuries, and his size does not lend confidence in this regard.
I remain excited about Banuelos’ talent and impressive ceiling, particularly as he refines his cutter, but there is some cause for concern here.
02. Gary Sanchez – Charleston RiverDogs, Low-A
.346/.407/.462, 0 HR, 6 SB, 148 wRC+ (86 PA)
Sanchez’s performance thus far is all but diametrically opposed to Banuelos’. With the exception of his power numbers (which are the least of anyone’s worries), Sanchez has been strong across the board this season … and that includes his defense behind the plate. Keith Law wrote a bit about the Charleston RiverDogs after taking in a game, and he found that “[h]is defense was a pleasant surprise, as he’s substantially improved over where he was last year in both receiving and throwing.” The general sentiment with Sanchez’s defense seems to be that he will have to work his ass off to stick at catcher, but the potential is there – and that’s more than most were saying about the dearly departed Jesus Montero at a similar age.
03. Mason Williams – Charleston RiverDogs, Low-A
.315/.343/.457, 1 HR, 8 SB, 124 wRC+ (100 PA)
Williams has drawn rave reviews for his performance thus far, and with good reason. His plate approach has been very aggressive thus far, as his paltry 4.0% walk rate attests, but his strikeout rate is equally infinitesimal … and his .315 BABIP is on the low side, given his speed and batted ball profile. His defense remains top-notch in center, as well, and his build and general athleticism indicate a player that can stick at the position for the foreseeable future. In short, Williams’ performance leaves little to be desired.
04. Dellin Betances – Empire State Yankees, Triple-A
22.1 IP, 22 H, 21 BB, 19 K, 7.25 ERA, 6.20 FIP
It is difficult to be anything but pessimistic with Betances, given his up and down professional career, injury history, and general scouting consensus (which finds him in the bullpen). The lumbering right-hander looked stellar in his first outing – 5.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K – and has not found the strikezone since. His mechanics are out of whack, and he’s been overcompensating for his lack of command by leaving pitches out over the plate, increasing his hittability tenfold. I don’t think it’s quite time to panic, as the ace-like stuff is still there, but the bad has outpaced the good since Betances reached Triple-A.
05. Jose Campos – Charleston RiverDogs, Low-A
24.2 IP, 20 H, 8 BB, 26 K, 4.01 ERA, 3.24 FIP
I jokingly refer to the second Javier Vazuez deal as the Boone Logan deal, as a means to assuage my negative feelings towards Cashman et al. Given the past two months, it looks like the joke may re-surface in the form of ‘the Jose Campos deal.’ The 19-year-old Venezuelan has performed quite well this season, demonstrating plus command of his plus fastball, and flashing an improved breaking ball and change-up (somewhat inconsistently … but he’s 19). He is certainly very far away, but he has the build and command of a top of the rotation starter – and the early returns couldn’t be much better.
06. Dante Bichette, Jr. – Charleston RiverDogs, Low-A
.247/.341/.286, 0 HR, 1 SB, 80 wRC+ (88 PA)
The good – his defense at third has been solid, his walk rate is well above-average, and his strikeout rate is just about average (or better, for a hitter of his pedigree).
The bad – two extra base hits in 77 at-bat.
The ugly – Bichette is 4-for-30 in his last eight games, with zero extra-base hits and five walks.
07. Austin Romine
On the heels of a somewhat stagnant 2011, Romine has yet to make his 2012 debut as he recovers from a nagging back injury. Here’s hoping he can get back into the swing of things soon, as the team looks to be facing a conundrum with Russell Martin over the next few months.
XX. J.R. Murphy – Tampa Yankees, High-A
.263/.322/.363, 1 HR, 0 SB, 100 wRC+ (87 PA)
Murphy’s performance with the bat has been generally underwhelming – he shows good contact ability, an all-fields approach, and above-average bat speed, but the results have been inconsistent at best. However, his work behind the plate has improved dramatically from year to year, and he may now be the best all-around catching prospect in the system. I have had the pleasure of watching several games started by Murphy this season, and, to my (lying) eyes, he may be on-par with Austin Romine in terms of defensive mechanics and athleticism.
08. David Phelps – New York Yankees, MLB
17.2 IP, 12 H, 7 BB, 14 K, 3.57 ERA, 5.67 FIP
It is quite welcome to see the Yankees pitching staff functioning as meritocracy, as Phelps has more than earned a shot at the starting rotation. Phelps’ stuff suggests a back of the rotation type arm, but his pitchability and command help play-up his three average to slightly-above offerings. I’m very intrigued to see how he performs in his first Major League start. As an aside, it is very nice to see a qualified long-man in the Yankees bullpen, as watching blowouts pieced together by four or five relievers is a maddening sight.
09. Adam Warren – Empire State Yankees, Triple-A
20.2 IP, 27 H, 9 BB, 13 K, 6.10 ERA, 5.91 FIP
Much like Banuelos and Betances, it is difficult to say much about Warren without invoking decidedly sour thoughts. Warren’s walks are up for the third consecutive year, he’s striking out under six batters per nine, and his groundball rate has tumbled from borderline-elite to merely above-average. Yes – it’s only four starts … but at the same time, Warren is a potential four or five that hasn’t looked all that good at Triple-A.
10. Brett Marshall – Trenton Thunder, Double-A
28.1 IP, 23 H, 9 BB, 18 K, 3.81 ERA, 4.93 FIP
Marshall is a personal favorite, featuring a low-90s two-seamer, above-average command, and a compact, repeatable delivery. At this juncture, he misses a true swing-and-miss pitch, but his ability to command his change and breaking ball to both sides of the plate is quite promising in this regard. His most recent start portends the sort of promise Marshall has – 7.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K, 13 GB, 2 FB. With the exceptions of Banuelos, Betances, and Campos, he may be the most interesting arm in the Yankees system … which might not be saying all that much.
11. Slade Heathcott
Heathcott’s all-out style of play has resulted in two shoulder surgeries in two years, and it remains to be seen how he will perform following the second operation on his left (throwing) shoulder. In his first two professional seasons, Heathcott flashed five tools, and an inability to stay on the field – lest we forget he was suspended for initiating a bench-clearing brawl last season.
12. Ravel Santana
The devastating ankle injury suffered by Santana last year could be a game changer, so his return bears close scrutiny. There have been positive reviews from Extended Spring Training, and we should see him in Short-Season Ball with Staten Island come June.
13. Tyler Austin – Charleston RiverDogs, Low-A
.357/.389/.857, 9 HR, 2 SB, 219 wRC+ (90 PA)
And we reach the mover and shaker of the group. Austin has been fantastic this year, driving the ball to all fields (and over all fences) at an astonishing rate. As of May 1st, Austin’s nine home runs were four more than anyone else in the league, and he has averaged nearly an extra-base hit per game. It’s also worth noting that his defense in right field has garnered a fair bit of praise, as well, which is welcome news in a system with questionable outfield depth.
14. Angelo Gumbs – Charleston RiverDogs, Low-A
.206/.295/.309, 1 HR, 5 SB, 76 wRC+ (78 PA)
Gumbs has garnered criticism for being overly passive at the plate this year, though an optimist could argue that he has been selective. He has showcased plus bat speed intermittently, but his performance at the plate has been underwhelming otherwise. That being said, Gumbs has demonstrated improved instincts on the basepaths this seasons, and his defense has looked more than passable at the keystone. Many believe that his skill-set is best-suited for center field, myself included, but few would argue that his bat wouldn’t play at second (assuming his offensive potential is recognized).
15. Ramon Flores – Tampa Yankees, High-A
.207/.276/.230, 0 HR, 2 SB, 57 wRC+ (99 PA)
Flores has been overwhelmed at High-A so far, struggling to adapt to pitchers with a better idea of locating off-speed stuff. His walk rate has slipped from above-average (11.4%) to average (8.1%), and the omnipresent whispers about his contact skills and power are getting a bit louder. It’s always worth noting that Flores is still only 20-years-old, and his skill-set remains average-ish across the board.
16. Cito Culver – Charleston RiverDogs, Low-A
.238/.351/.313, 0 HR, 6 SB, 102 wRC+ (94 PA)
It is difficult for me to not see Jamey Carroll whenever I consider Culver’s ceiling. The 2010 first-rounder has shown a propensity for drawing walks and stealing the odd base (at a strong rate), while flashing smooth actions at short and a strong arm. The power is simply nonexistent, though, and his bat speed and build do not suggest much more is on the horizon. All told, a solid-average shortstop – perhaps a second-division regular – and not much more … but maybe, just maybe, not much less if you buy into his abilities.
17. Greg Bird – Extended Spring Training
With apologies to Mr. Bichette, Mr. Bird may have the highest offensive ceiling of any 2011 Yankees draftee. He has yet to venture outside of the protective bubble of Extended Spring Training, but he has plus raw power produced by a smooth left-handed swing and (tell me if you’ve heard this one before) may be able to stick behind the plate.
18. D.J. Mitchell – Empire State Yankees, Triple-A
23.0 IP, 13 H, 7 BB, 21 K, 3.13 ERA, 4.11 FIP
The fates have finally led the perpetual ‘future reliever’ to his destiny, as Mitchell has received his call to The Show to reinforce the Yankees already sturdy bullpen. Mitchell features a low-90s two-seamer that should play-up out of the bullpen and a couple of fringe-y offerings in his slider and change-up (though he commands both well). He performed quite well at Triple-A in three separate stints, and his fastball/slider combination has been consistently deadly against RHH (including a .130 BAA this season) – which could result in some high-leverage match-ups against powerful righties down the line … particularly when one considers Girardi’s adherence to inning-based roles for Soriano and Robertson.
19. Bryan Mitchell – Charleston RiverDogs, Low-A
19.2 IP, 10 H, 14 BB, 18 K, 3.66 ERA, 3.66 FIP
To many (or to me), Mitchell looks like a mini-Betances, with a mid-90s fastball, a potentially plus curveball, and little idea of the strikezone. Thus far, his numbers bear out such a comparison, and the scouting reports are not terribly far off … and, for what it’s worth, his game-by-game numbers are eerily similar to Betances (though less scary). There’s quite a bit of potential here, as EJ suggested in early April, but a ton of variance, as well.
20. Branden Pinder – Tampa Yankees, High-A
12.2 IP, 18 H, 5 BB, 17 K, 5.68 ERA, 2.73 FIP
Pinder’s performance thus far is certainly more promising than the numbers may suggest. His fastball-slider combination has solicited a tremendous amount of swings and misses, and his control has been better than advertised (though, not as much so as his 2011 debut). However, the greatest issue with Pinder is his inability to retire lefties, who have raked to the tune of .393/.433/.607 in 28 PA – a small sample size, yes, but reflective of the perils of many fastball/slider northpaws.