It’s never a bad time for prospect hype, so here’s the latest such bit for the Yankees’ organization: MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo has ranked Gary Sanchez as the third best catching prospect in the game, behind the Mets’ Travis d’Arnaud and Seattle’s Mike Zunino. Those are a couple of stud prospects and the consensus top two prospects at the position, so in effect, Mayo is calling Sanchez the leader of the rest of the pack in the minor leagues, which is really something. That said, though I’m fairly bullish on Sanchez myself, I think Mayo might be a little bit overly optimistic in his evaluation of Sanchez, especially his defense. Sanchez has made gains there, but most of the people who give him better than average reviews for his defense still see him as an adequate at best backstop, while Mayo seems to be saying that he could be an asset behind the plate as well as in the batter’s box.
Sanchez topped my own prospect rankings last season, and should get an invitation to big league camp from the Yankees. With Francisco Cervelli slated to play in the World Baseball Classic, there’s even a decent chance we’ll get to see him play a good bit over the Grapefruit League schedule.
I’m not sure if this already broke and I just missed it, but via this interview with MILB.com, the Yankees have invited Tyler Austin to big league camp in Tampa. Austin, of course, had a breakout season last year and even got the direct attention of Brian Cashman, so the invitation is well deserved. He only topped out with a cup of coffee at Double-A, however, so don’t mistake this as him getting a serious chance to make the major league roster by any means (though there are worse way to address the current DH hole, amirite?), but more as a chance for the major league coaches to get a good look at him, and for Austin to learn from the big league coaches and players, and maybe even as a bit of an acknowledgement of the tremendous year he had in 2012. Most of all, it means there’s a good chance we’ll get to see Austin take at least a few at bats in the early schedule games, which I’m legitimately excited about.
I would imagine that a full list of non-roster invites should be released soon, and I expect several familiar prospects to make the cut, including Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Mark Montgomery. Off hand, I do know that the Yankees have extended an invitation to fireballing righty Corey Black, as Black announced as much on Twitter recently.
Former Yankee Marcus Thames is retiring from MLB to become the hitting coach for the Tampa Yankees, the club’s High-A affiliate. The team announced the move on their Twitter page. Thames was mostly known for his ability to hit left-handed pitching, and finishes his major league career with 115 home runs and a .246/.309/.485 slash line. He spent one season with the Yankees, 2010, a year in which he hit .288/.350/.491 with 12 home runs and served as a key part of the team’s bench as they advanced to the ALCS before losing to Texas. He also hit a memorable walk off home run against the Red Sox in May of that year for his defining moment in pinstripes. Congratulations to Thames on a very nice big league career, and good luck in his new job.
It doesn’t get the same amount of attention that the lists put out by Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus do, but John Sickels’ annual prospect rankings may well be the most unique of all of the prospect rankings that come out annually. That’s because, in addition to his own unique perspective and preferences on prospects, Sickels assigns a traditional letter grade to prospects, adding an additional level of depth and context above a simple stacked list of players. He put his list of the Yankees’ top twenty prospects out back before Christmas and, as always, it’s worth a once-over if you’re into the prospecting thing. The top of his list is fairly un-controversial, but there’s some interesting selections in the 8-15 range.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot: Sickels will be joining Stacey and I on On the Money tonight to talk about his rankings, as will our own minor league editor Tamar Chalker. The show goes liver at 9:00 P.M. EST, and can be listened to here. As usual, I’m sure a good time will be had by all.
With Russell Martin on his way to Bradenton instead of Tampa this February and no major league reinforcements on the way, Austin Romine has emerged as both the catcher of the future and the designated object of hope for fans desperate for an alternative to Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. Unfortunately for those people, Romine has lost a lot of development time to injury in the past year, and as such it appears as though he may be ticketed for Triple-A, at least to begin the year. Anthony McCarron reports that general manager Brian Cashman “believes” that’s exactly what will happen in April. “I expect Romine to go to Triple-A,” Cashman said. “I don’t expect him to be our everyday catcher out of the gate. He always has the possibility of taking it, but realistically, if I were in prediction mode, I’d say Triple-A. But he has a chance to alter that.”
If performance is the key issue, it shouldn’t take much for Romine to earn himself a shot with the big league team. Given that neither of the alternatives is a legitimate starter, the bar is already set pretty low, and Romine is the only one of the Yankees’ three catchers with the potential for any real upside right now. On the other hand, his offensive abilities don’t grade out very well, and he got very little playing time outside of the low minors last season, and underwhelmed in the Arizona Fall League as well.
McCarron does report that “going internal” was the Yankees “first choice” to replace Martin, according to Cashman, which would explain the team’s total lack of interest in A.J. Pierzynski, even as he signed a one year contract with Texas, and that the Yankees are prioritizing defense over offense in their catchers. But considering that Cervelli is an absolutely atrocious defender and Stewart is the picture of Nichols’ Law, that sounds a lot like a general manager trying to put a positive spin on his owner not giving him enough money to sign a real starting catcher this winter.
This winter, the Yankees at least considered the idea of moving Austin back to third base, but they ultimately decided to keep him in right field for the time being.
“He’s a better defender in right,” vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said. “But (putting him back at third) is something we’ve thought about. It’s a possibility.”
Austin played third base in 2011, his first full season in the Yankees’ system, but shifted to right field last year and took off on a tear that took him from Low-A Charleston on Opening Day to a cup of coffee with Double-A Trenton to end the season. He drew surprisingly positive reviews for his work in the outfield, certainly better than the scouting reports on his third base defense. He’s definitely a bat first player though, so the defense just needs to be passable so long as he keeps raking at the plate.
Of course, Austin is probably still at least a year away from the big leagues, so it really makes no sense to talk about him as a possible fill in for A-Rod. That said, if he can stick at third base he could certainly become the heir apparent to the spot, assuming Alex will be forced into a primary DH role in the not too distant future. Then again, the Yankees need an outfielder too, so if Austin is more comfortable in that position there’s no particular need to move him in order to find a place to play if and when he’s ready for the big leagues.
The Rule 5 draft just wrapped up in Nashville, and of the 42 players selected none came out of the Yankees’ organization. That’s probably not as noteworthy as it sounds though, if only because the Yankees have been super aggressive in protecting eligible players in recent years. That’s why they have guys like Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa, and Corban Jospeh on the 40 man roster even though they don’t have a ton of usefulness to the big league team at the moment. This year they even protected Nik Turley and Jose Ramirez, even though it seems highly unlikely that they’re ready to stick on a major league roster, and filling up the 40 man roster just means that you have to DFA someone anytime you need to make a move. I don’t really get it, but there you go.
On the other side of the ledger, the Yankees didn’t have an open 40 man roster spot, so they weren’t eligible to select anyone themselves. So…a lot of short-term hype for no meaningful results. Sounds exactly like the Rule 5 draft in general, I guess.
Dave Miley has been named the minor league Manager of the Year by Baseball America. Miley led the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees to a division crown and the second best record in the International League despite being forced to play the entire season on the road due to construction at their own stadium, so the award is certainly a deserved one. Miley was also named the International League Manager of the Year for the second time for his work this past season.
Miley has had one managerial stint in the majors, owning a record of 125-164 from 2003-05, with a 76-86 record in 2004, his only full season. I remember that stint pretty well from being in the area at the time, and in hindsight I think Miley was a pretty average manager all things considered. Those were just some untalented teams, and management was in a period of going through managers like socks hoping to placate a restless fanbase, as I recall. He moved on to the Yankees’ organization after that, where he’s had quite a bit of success in the Triple-A ranks. A big congratulations to him tonight on a job well done.
Baseball America has a list of the top 20 prospects from the Arizona Fall League out today, and one Yankee makes an appearance. That would be outfielder Slade Heathcott, who comes in just shy of the top five in the sixth place spot after tearing up the league to the tune of a .388/.494/.612 batting line. Heathcott, who BA just ranked as the second best prospect in the Yankees’ farm system, comes in ahead of some pretty familiar names, including Seattle’s Mike Zunino (7th), Detroit’s Nick Castellanos (8th), Cincinnati’s record setting speedster Billy Hamilton (10th), and Washington’s Anthony Rendon (11th), which is pretty awesome. Obviously this is no guarantee of future success, but Heathcott’s resurgence is certainly a welcome bright spot in a year that has included so many other setbacks for the farm system.