Mar
02

Minor League Q & A

By

I enlisted two of my fellow Yankee prospect bloggers to help me out on this one, and I’m sure you’re familiar with both of them: Fabian of RLYW fame, and EJ from Pinstripe Potentials, who will eventually take over that other blog I was at. I wanted to do something interesting and different, but keep it simple, so I just asked them some questions about the Yanks farm system, they answered, and I posted. Done and done.

I’ve been sitting on this for nearly a month now, but between the move to RAB and the heavy work load at the ol’ 9-to-5, there just wasn’t time to put this together. Both EJ’s and Fabian’s responses are nearly a month old, which is entirely my fault, so if something sounds outdated to you, blame it on me. Enjoy.

1) We all know Phil Hughes is a stud, the best Yankee prospect since…blah blah blah. What do you realistically expect from the kid in 2007? How do you think the media will react if he struggles in his first couple big league outings, just like he has every other time he’s moved up a level?

EJ: Realistically, I expect Hughes to have a season similar to what we saw in Justin Verlander this year. I expect Hughes to slip a little in terms of strikeouts, but his plus-plus control should mean an easy transition to the major leagues. If he does struggle, I think that the media will react depending upon how well the Yankees as a whole are doing. If we’re three games behind the Red Sox, Hughes will take a lot of abuse. Otherwise, they will recognize growing pains.

I do think that if Hughes is going to be called up, it can’t be for a spot start. You make a point that Hughes takes a few starts to adjust to new hitters. I don’t want to see called up, pitching one start, and being sent down with a 5.00 ERA. We all saw what a a disastrous affect low confidence had on Sean Henn. I’d like to see Hughes called up to fill in for a DLed starter for at least five starts in a row.

Fabian: I want to say the media will understand that it’s a part of growing up at the big league level…but, I think there are going to be some questions raised because Cashman didn’t actively pursue any big name free agents. If Phil Hughes struggles and…Barry Zito, for instance, is doing well then Mike Lupica is going to write a column about how the Yankees should show appreciation for their fans by spending on big name free agents like Zito rather than relying on unproven talent.

Mike: Realistically, I expect good things, really good things. He’ll probably start the year off limited to 4-5 inning stints in the AAA rotation because it’s so damn cold in Scranton. He’ll settle in around mid-April, obliterate the competition and force his way into the Bronx by late-May. Talent forced Francisco Liriano in the Twins rotation, and talent forced Huston Street into the A’s bullpen, and there’s nothing to suspect something similar won’t happen to Hughes.

He has struggled everytime he’s moved up a level, and it’s something he’ll have to deal with. The media will be harsh as always (I can see the “Aw-Phil” headlines now), but he’s a smart kid. He’ll settle in like he always does, and he’ll probably be the Yanks best pitcher the second half.  He’ll put up some stinkers, but there will be times he’ll have everyone watching in awe. It wouldn’t be a shock to me if he starts Game 2 of the ALDS.

2) His potential seems limitless, but a nagging hand injury has done quite a job limiting Jose Tabata since mid-July. How concerned are you that this will turn into a chronic problem? What kind of output do you expect from him in ’07? Look at the kid; does he look 18 to you?

EJ: I would be concerned about the hand injury if he comes up again in 2007. For now, I’m willing to dismiss it as a one-time thing. Tabata definately has the ability to become a sans pareil prospect, but I’m not sure if he is there yet. I’d like to see some more power out of Tabata in 2007. He is still a great prospect, but if he doesn’t show some taters soon, his ceiling starts to come down. I think that he has the potential to put up Bernie Williams numbers, but I’m not ready to call him a Miguel Cabrera or Manny Ramirez until I see more power.
He does look a little old, doesn’t he? I never thought of that before. I’m sure that the Yankees did their homework though.

Fabian: He looks 18 to me, and quite frankly, I think the questioning of these players’ ages without any reasonable proof, especially given the post 9/11 restrictions, is ridiculous and offensive. As for the hand injuries, I am a bit concerned as those tend to be nagging, but every indication from both his agent and the Yankees is that they are treating him with kid gloves. We will see.

Mike: I’m mildly concerned that this could turn into a reoccuring issue; hand injuries can just be so problematic and nagging. I don’t know how he’s swinging in camp, but he did go 1-for-2 yesterday, so it can’t be that much of an issue right now. He’ll spend the year with High-A Tampa in a pitcher friendly league in a pitcher friendly park, so his numbers may not be that gaudy. A .290-.350-.420-.770 line is still within reach, and for an 18 year old in the FSL, that’s great.

He does look very mature for an 18-yr old, but then again there were kids in my school that had mustaches at 12…

3) JB Cox. Kevin Whelan. Mark Melancon. TJ Beam. Anthony Claggett. Heck, even Humberto Sanchez. They’ve all got the potential to be very good-to-great relievers. Who do you think will get stuck with the worst job in sports, i.e. having to follow Mariano Rivera as Yanks closer?

EJ: I’m not sure if any of them are of the caliber to be a true championship closer. Of course, neither were Bobby Jenks or Adam Wainwright. I think that Cox will be the best of the group. The knock against Cox is his relatively low strikeout rate, but he just get so many ground balls. I think he has Scot Shields potential.

Kevin Whelan and T.J. Beam may have the potential to be better than Cox, but they are higher risks too. Whelan is still a very raw pitcher who has some control problems. Still, his splitter is nasty and he can bring the heat. I think that of all the names, Whelan has the best potential to be best of the group I think. Still, I think that when Mariano eventually retires (which may not be for awhile), we’ll be looking toward K-Rod, Joe Nathan or future draft pick for our next closer.

If Humberto Sanchez is converted to the bullpen, a lot of this may change. However, I’d like to see how his velocity and control respond to a relief role, so I’m not ready to predict him to be better than Cox or Whelan. In regards to Melancon, I don’t buy in to the line “Well it’s only Tommy John surgery. Lots of prospects come back even better”. This is a major threat to his career. If he manages to come back and pitch, he’s got potential similar to Whelan.

Fabian: None of them. A free agent will be brought in to fill that role and if he fails, then one of those guys will get a shot.

Mike: Stuff-wise, Mark Melancon is at the front of the class, but his injury clouds the future for him, at least the immediate future anyway.  I’m a huge JB Cox fan - I’ll never forget him coming into the 8th inning of Game 1 of the 2005 CWS up by 2 with 2 runners on and none out, then striking out the next 6 batters he faced to end the game – and he’s got all the intangibles you could possibly need, but he may be most suited for a 2-inning set-up role, a la Mo in 1996. I hate to say it, but I think Whelan is an injury waiting to happen. His pro numbers are unbelievable (78.1 IP, 39 H, 110 K), but he still throws like a catcher (he converted in college), and one day his shoulder/elbow is just going to give. If he gets into a more pitched suited motion, his numbers could be even better, and that should scare the shit out of the other 29 teams.

One guy that could end up pitching at the end game for the Yanks is Joba Chamberlain. If his weight becomes a major problem and the forearm/shoulder injury manifest themselves a bit more, he could be the Yanks version of Bobby Jenks. I think we’d all prefer to see him get 650 outs a year as opposed to 250.

With that all said, I agree with Fabian and think the Yanks will go out-of-house to replace Mo. A guy like Joe Nathan when he becomes to expensive for the Twins, or Huston Street when he prices himself out of Freemont are the early obvious candidates.

4) Eric Duncan isn’t one of those guys that could fall out of bed and hit; he’s had to work hard at everything he’s achieved in baseball. Do you think he’s got a chance to recapture some of the magic that made the Yanks top prospect a few years back? Will he ever contribute to the Yanks big league team, or will end up as trade bait? Back problems don’t tend to just go away.

EJ: The back problems really worry me too. I’m a little bit encouraged by the lack of need for surgery, but regardless I am not optimistic about Duncan. If he’s healthy, there is no doubt in my mind that Duncan can rake. I think that he has 25 HR, 40 2b potential. He still is only 22 years old, so he has plenty of time. He really solved his strikeout problem when he returned to AA in 2006, which is very good news. I think that Duncan will eventually contribute to the major league team, but it could take him a long time to overcome his back troubles. It’s too bad, because we could really use him right now.

Fabian: I think Duncan can hit and hit well at any level, as long as his back is healthy. Back problems are incredibly scary though, so I can’t say much one way or the other. A lot of these injury questions are tough to comment on because we aren’t the Yankees and we don’t have access to these players’ medical records.

Mike: I admire Duncan, he’s a hard worker and has had a really tough career between the injuries, the struggles at the plate, and the constant cloud of trade rumors. This is a monumental year for Duncan; he’ll have to be added to the 40-man roster after the year or be exposed to the Rule V Draft next offseason, where he wouldn’t make it past the 10th pick. With Hughes, Tabata and all the new arms serving as the focus of the Yanks farm system, I think Duncan could slide off in 2007 and have a nice under-the-radar type season. Back troubles seem to last forever (ask Boomer Wells), so that’s a major obstacle for him. He just needs some time to catch his breath, and I think it would be best for him to do so at Double-A to start the year. Color me cautiously optimistic.

5) With all of Cashman’s dealing this offseason, it seems like once a trade was culminated, another rumor cropped up and we never got the time to look at some of the prospects he acquired. What’s your take on Ross Ohlendorf, Alberto Gonzalez and Steven Jackson? Could Cash have gotten a better return for RJ?

EJ: I am unsure. I would have prefered Micah Owings, who is one of my pet prospects. I don’t think much of Steve Jackson, but I do think that Ross Ohlendorf the potential to be a solid major league starter. I don’t think that he will take well to the bullpen though.

The more I read about Alberto Gonzalez, the more content I am with the Randy Johnson trade. All systems and scouts seem to agree that he is one of the best defensive shortstops in the minors. Looking at his hitting statistics, he actually might be able to be an acceptable starting shortstop in the majors. I could see him hitting .290/.340/.400. He knows how to put the ball in play but isn’t just a slapper.

It’s also easy to overlook the inclusion of Vizcaino in the trade. He may be only under our control for a year, but he’s a pretty good reliever. Hopefully he won’t be the next Felix Rodriguez.

Fabian: I’m not a fan of RJ. That said, I think this trade was solid value. Alberto Gonzalez, who I completely overlooked in my initial review of the trade at RLYW, should at least be a utility infielder. Given his rapidly developing offensive skills, the Southern League is a terrible place to hit and he was skipping a level, he might even be able to be a regular SS somewhere, which makes him good trade bait. Ross Ohlendorf and Steve Jackson could both be interesting in a new Ramiro Mendoza sort of way. If you believe Johnson’s xFIP and things of that nature, then you might think that that’s not enough of a haul.

Mike: I really like Alberto Gonzalez. I mean I really like the kid. The problem is the Yanks have no where to play him at the big league level. He could be spun off in another deal, but when my Preseason Top 30 Prospects list comes out, you’ll be shocked to see how high I rated him. Ohlendorf seems like a nice pickup, a solid arm that will do his job and never refuse the ball. Steven Jackson is a nice sleeper, he remade himself last year, but he’ll get squeezed into the bullpen once the season starts. All things considered, Cash got 4 serviceable players for Johnson, and I think that’s about as good a return as he could have asked for.

6) I’ve said countless times over the last year that I’m not the biggest Tyler Clippard fan in the world and that I think he’ll get lit up like a Christmas tree when he hits the bigs. Why am I wrong?

EJ: I think that a lot of the criticism of Clippard was valid a year ago, when he hadn’t thrown a pitch in AA ball yet. We weren’t sure if his stuff would translate to more advanced hitters. His fastball is weak, but it’s not like he throws 86. Clippard still has enough heat to keep hitters from teeing off. His changeup and curveball are very strong, and his control is great. I see him as being a Dan Haren type in the bigs.
If you strike out people and don’t walk many, you are going to succeed in the major leagues. Even if you are very hittable, you will still eat innings and post a decent little ERA. Clippard has led the minors in strikeouts since he started playing full time, and has a 2.21 career BB/9. He is ahead of almost all of his fellow 2003 HS RHP, pitching at every level younger than his competition.

I am think that health is a major factor here. Clippard doesn’t have the slightest health issue to worry about. He hasn’t missed a start in the minors, and has a ton of innings under his belt. He has passed the “arm injury danger zone” for young pitchers.

Fabian: From a statistical perspective it is because your typical 3-5 starter in the big leagues gives you an ERA around 5. Tyler Clippard’s numbers last year translated to the big leagues gives him a performance around that level. From a scouting perspective it’s because he’s got one ok pitch, fastball, and can give you 1 or 2 plus pitches depending on who you ask, curveball and changeup, with terrific control and solid command. If you look in your Baseball America handbook, that’s the definition of a 3-5 starter.

Mike: I’m wrong because I’m an idiot. One thing I’ve completely overlooked with Clippard is his durablilty. The kid hasn’t missed a start in ages it seems, and that’s worth alot, especially considering where he is in his development. There’s about a million guys with similar stuff, and some make it, but most don’t. He’s going to get chances and he’s going to have to be ready for them, because there are a bunch of guys with a whole lot more talent right behind.

7) Who’s your top sleeper prospect? What about super-sleeper? Who’s the prospect most undeserving of the hype he’s received so far?

EJ: It’s hard to call George Kontos or Marcos Vechionacci sleepers, but they are big breakout candidates. My sleeper is Cody Ehlers. His power numbers were repressed by the ballpark and league that he played in. In another enviroment, his numbers would be top-flight. My super-sleeper is Wilkins De-La-Rosa. He’s a lefty who reportedly throws 95+.

I think that Gardner is a bit overhyped. Yeah, he’s fast and actually knows how to take a walk, but his power is up in the air. I think that he’s a pretty good bet to become a solid major league 4th outfielder, but I don’t understand people who believe him to be an above average or better starting centerfielder.

Fabian: My top sleeper prospect is Jeff Marquez. I think he’s going to make the majors in a year or two and surprise a lot of people that aren’t taking into consideration the struggles that seem to follow extreme ground ball pitchers in the minor leagues. My super sleeper is Jose Gil. I got to watch him play at SI this summer and fell in love with his whole offensive game. Get him on a good weight program and I think he might take off. The prospect most undeserving of the hype would be Humberto Sanchez, I just have a bad feeling about him and it doesn’t help that he has a medical history that could make Carl Pavano blush.

Mike: My sleeper pick is Eric Wordekemper. He was a 47th round pick, but he just keeps getting people out. He may not be more than a middle man, but he’ll be a really good middle man. I’m bullish about Jon Hovis, he’s done nothing but get people out for 4 years now, and the college guys are saying UNC will miss him most of any pitcher this year, not Andrew Miller or Dan Bard. He’s not going to replace Mo, but he could be a solid arm out of the pen down the road. He’s my super sleeper pick.

As far as overrated guys, when I was writing up his Prospect Profile after the trade, I was pretty shocked to find out that a guy with as much hype as Humberto Sanchez had such a long injury history. Brett Gardner needs to hit for at least below-average power before I dub him centerfielder-of-the-future, and Josue Calzado may have quite the toolshed, but he’s nearly my age and needed 3 years in the DSL before he could hit .250 in the GCL.

8 ) We all love the draft. What kind of player/who would you like to see the Yanks target this year? What do you think of their 2 previous drafts under Damon Oppenheimer? If you could somehow go back in time, would you have taken CJ Henry and Ian Kennedy in the first round?

EJ: I think that Oppenheimer has proven to be one of the best drafters in the majors, but I still have my concerns. First, the C.J. Henry pick was terrible. I’m not sure if Oppenheimer was the one who made that decision, because it’s out of line with most of his other picks. I don’t know why major league teams keep swinging after each “High School Athletic Shortstop” whiff. He was no Justin Upton and it showed. I like the Ian Kennedy pick though. Kennedy is seriously underrated by the prospect community. He pitches like he is paid by the strikeout. Hell, the guy struck out 45 in 30 innings in Hawaii. He’ll move quickly.

I do have concerns about Oppenheimer though. He hasn’t drafted a single power prospect yet. In fact, he’s pretty weak when he drafts position players. Cooper, Anson, Henry, Muich, Perez, and Malec are all busted from the 2005 draft. Only Gardner and Jackson are on track. In 2006, Curtis and Hilligoss project as bench players, and Fortenberry and Hollingsworth were pretty useless. Still, it’s hard to argue with his pitching success.

Fabian: I would like to see the Yankees take the best player available, even if it’s another big right-handed pitcher. It’s way too early to evaluate the previous 2 drafts (even though I evaluated both of them around the time they occurred). If I could go back in time I would still take Henry and Kennedy. Henry has struggled tremendously thus far, but any time you have a chance to get a player with that much physical talent, I think you have to go for it. Ian Kennedy was also a conservative pick in a risky draft, so it makes perfect sense to me. We’ll see how it all plays out.

Mike: I think Oppenheimer has done a damn good job of drafting, he’s used the Yanks financial advantage by taking risks in the later rounds(Betances being the big pick up), and they’ve paid off so far. I’d do the Henry and Kennedy picks again; you can’t argue with taking a high ceiling, toolsy shortstop and polished college ace, plus Henry’s already served a good purpose. As far as this year, there’s two names out there I badly crave: Jack McGreary and Mitch Canham. I’ll go into more detail about McGreary when I look ahead to the high school draft class, but Canham is just a warrior behind the plate. The kid looks like he was made to wear pinstripes. With the potential talent haul stemming from the 07 draft, the Yanks should have a stacked farm system even if Hughes, Clippard, Sanchez and Cox graduate to the majors this year.

9) There’s a couple kids coming stateside next year for the first time that look like they’ve got some real potential. What’s your take on Abe Almonte, Jesus Montero, Prilys Cuello, Juan Miranda, and Francisco Gil?

EJ: I think that Almonte is going to take America by storm in 2007. He has power, speed, and discipline. His defensive skills at 2nd need work, but the kid is the most well rounded hitter that we’ve gotten out of the DSL in a long time. Jesus Montero’s power potential really impresses me, but I doubt that he will remain a catcher.

Prilys Cuello seems to be another one of our Cabrera/Cano line drive Latino monsters. I think that he is more likely to move from 2nd than Almonte. Both will be competing for playing time at the same levels next season. Cuello’s arm is strong enough to push him to the other side of the infield.

I’m not sold on Gil yet, but I don’t know a whole lot about him either. He’s got a lot of hype, but as a 17 year old pitcher, he has a lot to prove. Similarly, I don’t know a whole lot about Juan Miranda, but if the Yankees are willing to give him a four year deal worth 2 million dollars and a spot on their 40-man, he’s got to be pretty good. I’ve heard that he was a solid all around hitter in Cuba, but barely average on defense.

Fabian: Don’t know much about any of these guys other than the scouting reports (thanks Pinstripes Plus). That said, I’m most excited about Gil and Montero.

Mike: First off, Abe Almonte beat Brett Gardner and Tim Battle in a race at Instructional League last year, so that tells you how fast the kid is. He walked more than he struck out in the DSL last year, and he’s more of a slap-speed hitter, which has value. He’s going to come stateside and should have a very good debut, even if he jumps to Short Season Staten Island in deference to Cuello.

Cuello’s more of a masher, which is impressive considering his age. I’m not as sold on him as I am with Almonte, but it’ll be fun to check up on him during the year. Montero’s power is just tantilizing, he should draw lots of oh’s and ah’s this year. Ditto Miranda, but I think he’ll do his damage with doubles as opposed to the long ball. If he’s as good as advertised, High-A ball will be no trouble for him. Francisco Gil is an interesting guy, he throws hard and has a decent breaking ball, but he’s so far off it makes Dellin Betances look big league ready. 

These kids are a long ways off, but that’s what makes following minor league baseball so much fun – your imagination can just run wild.

Categories : Minors
  • http://yankeesetc.blogspot.com/ Travis G.

    good stuff.

  • http://yanksandmore.blogspot.com Eric Schultz

    Agreed. I’m looking forward to seeing how the young Latin-American signees play, especially Almonte, Montero and Cuello.

  • Johnny Gznerbashvilli

    great read

  • jgold

    good read, although i respectfully disagree with a few things said

    specifically that tabata needs to show more HR power soon or his ceiling will come down…power as many know, is the last tool to develop, he’s 18 and has played in difficult hitting leagues so far…and for comparisons sake, Miguel Cabrera never hit more than 9 HR’s in a full seaosn in the minors (2 in his first, 7 in his second, 9 in his third)

    secondly, the haren-clippard comp is way off IMO, their numbers are very similar but thats about it…haren has a much thicker body, much better velocity, a different pitch arsenal and much better overall stuff

  • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

    If Clippard became Haren…I dunno what I’d do, but I’d be ecstatic.

    Cabrera never really had a chance to hit 10 HR in the minors, he never played in AAA, and he only had about 60 games worth of AA under his belt before being called up to the Fish.

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