Five prospects that are better than you think

The King would like to return
Elias releases 2007 player rankings

Filling the winter months as a minor league blogger can be difficult; there’s no Hot Stove, and winter ball is either over by December (which leads to me to wonder why they call it winter ball in the first place) or tough to follow on the intra-net. Once in a while there’s a trade to talk about (the Sheff & Unit deals were godsends last year), but otherwise the winter months consist of reading updated scouting reports, compiling lists, and looking around to see who blew out their knee playing pickup basketball.

I’m going to do a two-parter over the next few days, first taking a look at some prospects who don’t get the respect they deserve, then looking at some guys who get a bit too much love. The players are in no particular order, unless you count alphabetical.

christian.bmpJustin Christian, OF
Paving the way for guys like Edwar Ramirez, Scott Patterson, Chris Farley and Stephen Artz, Christian was the original independent ball refugee, trailblazing a path to a new talent resource. Undrafted after an uneventful career at Auburn and Southeast Missouri State, Christian tore up the Frontier League over the next 2 years for the River City Rascals, hitting a combined .374-.442-.547 with 35 steals in 68 games. The Yanks signed him in 2004, and he’s gradually climbed the organizational ladder ever since.

So what is there to like about Christian? Well for one he’s fast, like crazy fast. Maybe not Brett Gardner fast, but it’s closer than you probably realize. In fact, his combination of speed and baserunning instincts make him a bit more dangerous on the basepaths than Gardner. He’s also pretty versatile, having played the middle infield and all 3 outfield spots with the Yanks after playing just about everywhere in college and indy ball.

He doesn’t have much over-the-fence power in his bat, but that’s not really Christian’s game. He puts the ball in play (only 273 K in the last 4 years), maintains a solid batting average (.271 or better every year since signing) and on-base percentage (.370 or better in all but one year since signing), and of course, he steals plenty of bags (212 steals since signing, including a Double-A Trenton record 63 SB in 2005). Christian’s fully capable of coming up as an injury replacement in 2008 and having a Melky-like impact. You heard it here first.

Chris Malec, 1B
A 16th round pick out of UC Santa Barbara in 2005, Malec is a cancer survivor and bat control freak (in case you’re wondering, the photo is from his time with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League in 2003). He walked 69 times against just 48 strikeouts in 137 games last year, and owns an 85-114 K/BB ratio as a pro. He also has a knack for getting hit by pitches (good for the team, unfortunate for him), leading to outstanding OBPs.

Primarly a singles hitter with a penchant for RBIs as a middle infielder in college and in his first year with the Yanks, Malec remade himself last offseason and showed up as gap hitting first baseman in 2007. He continued to get on base at ridiculous pace this year (.410 OBP), but he blossomed into a middle-of-the-order run producer, finishing with the third most RBI in the Yanks’ system (behind Juan Miranda and Seth Fortenberry). If he retains some of his versatility on the infield, he could become a cheap and effective bench option for the Yanks before you know it, possibly even more.

mccutchen.bmpDan McCutchen, RHP
You know about the negatives: he was suspended for steroid use just weeks after being drafted in the 13th round by the Yanks last year, and he’s kinda old (turned 25 a few weeks ago) after enjoying a 5-year college career (hey, finishing college in 4 years is like leaving a party at 9 pm). Now those are pretty considerable negatives, even if the steroid issue stemmed from the prescription drug ephedra, which he took while at Oklahoma, but the fact remains that McCutchen is a very good pitcher.

He pitches to contact, using a pair of low-90’s fastballs (a pretty straight four-seamer and a two-seamer than bores in on righties), a power curveball and a reliable but unspectacular changeup. He’s an absolute horse, logging 178.2 total innings between college and the pros in 2006, and following that with 153 innings (including playoffs) this year (woulda been more if he didn’t have to finish serving the steriod suspension in April). He doesn’t strike a ton of guys out (6.96 Kper9 since signing), but he doesn’t walk anyone (2.04 BBper9) and keeps the ball in the park (only 33 HR allowed in his last 461.2 IP, dating back to 2004).

He picked up a ton of relief experience in college, which helps because he’s probably destined for the bullpen. It’s a role he’d be well-suited for, as it’ll allow him to scrap his four-seamer and changeup and stick with his two best pitches. Given his ability to dine on innings, he could be another Scott Proctor as soon as next year, without all those annoying walks.

Juan Miranda, 1B
To fully appreciate what Mr. Miranda did in his first professional season in 2007 (.265-.350-.471 with 34 doubles, 16 HR, 96 RBI), you have to take a look at what went on during the years preceeding his U.S. debut. At age 18, he became one of the youngest players in history to play for the Cuban national team, which he helped to the 2001 World Cup. He was with the national team until 2004, when he finally managed to defect to the Dominican (he had a couple of other defection attempts foiled, and actually spent time in jail because of it). He spent 2+ years in the Dominican (all of his family still lives in Cuba), doing very little baseball activity until the Yankees signed him to a 4-yr, $4M big league deal. There’s no pro league in the Dominican, and the only events he was able to participate in were short showcase events, similar to what high school prospects here do once or twice a summer. 

Long story short, Miranda played a full season in 2007 after not playing competitively in over 2 years. Yes he’s got some holes in his swing, and yes lefties give him trouble, but it takes a special kind of talent to do what Miranda did this year after such a long layoff. Plus he has an infant son, and guys with young children always seem to put in that little extra effort. BA rated Miranda as the 10th best first base prospect in the game earlier in the year, but I truly believe he’s closer to the top 4 or 5.  Now, if it turns out he’s really 30 instead of 24, things change.

Marcos Vechionacci, 3B
Vechionacci signed with the Yankees out of Venezuela on August 26, 2002, over 5 years and 2 months ago. Hard to believe it’s been that long, isn’t it? Well here’s where it gets really hard to believe: Vech is still only 21 years old. With the emergence of Jose Tabata & Austin Jackson, not to mention the presence of more quality pitchers than I care to name, Vechionacci has gotten lost in the crowd a bit. His numbers are nothing to drool over (.695 career OPS, and his 2007 batting average of .263 was the first time he hit over .255 since 2004), but his tools are.

Defensively, he’s an absolute stud at the hot corner. Quick reactions, smooth hands, strong & accurate arm, the whole nine yards; he’s got legitamite Gold Glove potential. Offensively, his tools far outweigh the results right now. He centers the ball on the bat and has a good approach at the plate. Some over-the-fence power, but it’s mostly gap-to-gap right now. Remember, this is a kid that’s been young for his league just about every step of the way.

Now there’s a bit of a situation with Vechionacci; since he’ll start next season at age 21 and has been with the organization for 5 years, he’s eligible for the Rule V draft this winter unless the Yankees put him on the 40-man roster. So do the Yanks protect him, effectively eating up a precious 40-man spot for a young kid that’s still another few years away from the majors, or leave him unprotected and hope no other club claims him? I say risk it, 40-man spots are few-and-far between these days, and it’ll be tough for a team to hide him on the 25-man ML roster for a full season. Regardless, don’t be shocked if Vech has an Austin Jackson-esque explosion in 2008.

I ran out of spots, but an Honorable Mention goes out to Steven White, another guy who’ll have to be put on the 40-man roster or be exposed to the Rule V draft (a pitcher like White wouldn’t last 3 picks).

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The King would like to return
Elias releases 2007 player rankings
  • steve (different one)

    You know about the negatives: he was suspended for steroid use just weeks after being drafted in the 13th round by the Yanks last year, and he’s kinda old

    was this ever confirmed to be steroids? i had heard it was possibly amphetamines.

  • steve (different one)

    Now those are pretty considerable negatives, even if the steroid issue stemmed from the prescription drug ephedra

    never mind. i can’t read.

  • dan

    After reading the opening, i had vechionacci as a potential name on the list of “guys who get too much love.” He is still a good prospect, but he has to hit eventually to be considered underrated (or whatever he’s being classified as)

    Also, I’m pretty sure Miranda signed a 4 year $2million contract, not $4million.

    • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

      D’oh, my bad. It was $2M.

  • D

    McCutchen was suspended for aderall…it’s a prescription drug similar to ritalin and you can’t find a high-school kid in this country who doesn’t eat it by the handful to help him study…nothing at all performance enhancing.

    • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

      Yeah, kids take it for ADD and ADHD. But if it helps you concentrate, wouldn’t that enhance your performance?

      • D

        It’s more of a study aid than anything else…you could make a case that it’s technically performance enhancing but I don’t think it really relates to anything on-field.

  • barry

    so you think mccutchen will be a new scott proctor? Maybe that will be a good thing with girardi? You think he’ll be ready for the 08 season?

    • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

      I think the results can ultimately be the same as Proctor, but the process will be a bit different. I’d be shocked if McCutchen wasn’t knocking on the door by July or August.

  • cjc

    ephedra is not a steroid it is an upper and it was known at the time he DID NOT FAIL A STEROID TEST his fail was for a performance enhancer he got caught taking greenies it so different from steroids that frankly its irresponsible to mention them in the same paragraph

    • dan

      Is it really so irresponsible? Caleb doesn’t think so…

      http://tinyurl.com/3dec2t

      In short, greenies enhance your awareness, reflexes/reaction time, etc. and essentially enhance your performance.

  • Jamal G.

    Just goes to show you the Yankees farm system has come a long while when we have to worry about protecting our players from the Rule 5 Draft.

    I would have to say put White on the 40-man because I agree whole-heartedly that no way can Marcus V last on a 25-man all season.

    • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

      The rosters don’t have to be set until November 20th, so depending on where they stick him, Vech could be eligible for the Triple-A phase of the Rule V draft. It works the same as the ML phase, except he’d have to stick on the Triple-A roster, which is still a stretch for him.

  • Ricochet

    I still have hope for Marcos Vechionacci and I think he can still pan out and be an Eric Chavez type.

    Dan McCutchen is someone I think that I think will help the Yanks out of the pen.

    As for Christian and Malec I don’t rate them at all and have no expectations for them.

    I think Juan Miranda is a decent prospect but I don’t have high hopes and I think he’s got more trade value than actually value to the club as a player.

  • Yankee Fan in Chicago

    Guys like Vech who are young for their leagues can all of a sudden “get it” and go on a tear. Mike’s right that A-Jax could be an apt comparison. I saw (and by saw I mean via my avid reading of the box scores!) signs from him last season.

    Re Malec I have 2 thoughts. One, can he play 3rd? And two, assuming he stays at first, I could see a Malec/Miranda platoon at first in 09. Any thoughts Mike?

  • Jamal G.

    I have very high hopes for Marcos V. I think once he learns the league and fully grow into his potential he should be just above the Etic Chavez numbers but I do agree with you on that comparison. This is the first big Cuban bat to come State side so lets see how he does with a couple more seasons as a pro. I do have hopes for Miranda though.

    • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

      Kendry Morales was the first big Cuban bat to come stateside, Miranda’s the second (unless I’m missing someone obvious). Morales never had a year in the minors like Miranda had in 2007, but he did hit well in the bigs this year (.294-.333-.479).

      • dan

        Miranda is good, no doubt…. but morales:

        2005: 371 AB, 22 homers, 71 rbi (.315/.355/~.535) in A+ and AA
        2006: 256 AB, 12 homers, 52 rbi (.320/.359/.516) in AAA pacific coast league at age 23 (so adjust those how you please)

      • Jamal G.

        Oh you’re right, my mistake.

        Speaking of Cuban nationals, anyone remember the 2B that played for Cuba in the 2006 WBC, Yulieski Gourriel #10? Reports were that he tried to defect to Colombia in the summer of 2006 but he denied it and returned to Cuba that August. Usually when that happens its because the person was about to and found it too risky so we could be hearing his name sooner or later. Scouts have already projected this guy as a 1st RD. pick. Talk about a solution to 3B.

  • Bill Porter

    He wasn’t suspended for steroid use. Do you know if he does or doesn’t suffer from ADD/ADHD; BTW adults are prescribed Adderall as well. Given the taint associated with “steroids” your comment is irresponsible and should be acknowledged as wrong and retracted.

  • brxbmrs

    Mike,

    I love that you guys could write an article like this, considering how you all bagged on Melky this year – who is 23, played for two years in the majors already and lead mlb in assists and was in the top 3-5 in RF and ZR.

    Melk’s two big flaws are lack of power and running out of gas at the end of the year – last year he had a down August and September, this year an awful Spetmeber kept him from hitting over .300 with a .350+ OBP.

    Lets see some of these guys prove they deserve even 200 AB’s in the bigs.

    I like some of these guys (Vech, especially, although in ST he didn’t strike me as the defensive stud you proclaim he is), but they are so far away from what Melky already is, its kind of ludicrous that you don’t see it yourselves.

    I realize its a slow news period until Joe Torre signs that deal with LA or comes up with a new foundation, but please….

    The guy I dig is Brett Gardner – no power, but I want to see what he can do on the bases and in the field.

  • Fuzzy

    If http://www.thebaseballcube.com.....acci.shtml is correct, Vech only has 4 years of minor league experience meaning he isn’t subject to the Rule V draft.

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  • barry

    I guess so, if its as much like ritalin as they say if you take a couple of them you won’t want to do much of anything, you’d almost feel so relaxed that you wouldn’t care so I couldn’t see it helping in a baseball game unless he has a problem with public performance.