2008 Preseason Top 30 ProspectsBy
No fancy intro today, I gave you the schpeel yesterday. The Yanks have a pretty obvious top 4 prospects, and an even more obvious #1. After that though, opinions vary because everybody has their own preferences, and that’s perfectly fine. I’m hear to tell you what mine are. One thing we can all agree on is that it’s a great time to be fan of the farm system, because the system hasn’t been this stacked since the law firm of Johnson, Soriano & Henson roamed the upper levels.
Yesterday I gave you the guys who just missed the cut, today you get the rest of the list. I find the last 8 guys on the list (plus the 5 just misses) to be very interchangeable, which is a good thing because they’re all #23 caliber prospects, not #30 types. Lemme know what you think in the comments. The good stuff is comes after the jump.
30. Edwar Ramirez, RHP, 27
We all caught a glimpse of Good Edwar and Bad Edwar last year. Good Edwar is the one that struck out two big leaguers and Lew Ford in his MLB debut. Bad Edwar is the one that threw 2 strikes in a span of 19 pitches in his third career outing, one of which ended up a grand slam by Dioner Navarro, who was hitting a ML worst .179 at the time. Which one is the real Edwar? The guy in between. At his age he’s unlikely to all of a sudden fill out and add some giddy-up to his fastball, but that changeup is too good for him not to pick up some outs in the middle innings. Cheap relievers that can pile up the K’s deserve respect in my book.
29. Shelley Duncan, RF/1B, 28
Wanna hear a completely useless piece of info? Shelley Duncan has hit more homers (105) since 2004 than Barry Bonds (104). How’s that for research? Shelley forearm smashed his way into our hearts, but his ready-for-the-bigs bat and willingness to take a walk got him onto my prospect list. He’s the kind of guy that won’t embarrass himself in a full-time role, but his greatest value comes as the righthanded half of a platoon. The energy he brings to an otherwise aging team should not be undersold.
28. Mitch Hilligoss, IF, 22
One of the very best pure hitters in the system, Hilligoss racks up base hits like nobody’s bidness. In fact, since his freshman year at Purdue, he’s piled up 470 hits in only 358 games, good for a .337 batting average. Derek Jeter has 485 hits in his last 358 games, to put that into perspective. Unfortunately Hilligoss doesn’t hit for much power, launching only 18 homers and 111 total extra base hits in that time frame. Regardless, combine his bat and his ability to play just about all of the infield spots and you’ve got an uber-utility infielder prospect. The Yanks brought in a good amount of infield talent in last year’s draft, so it’s not completely out of the question that they may jump Hit Streak Hilligoss to Double-A Trenton in 2008.
27. Mike Dunn, LHP, 22
The only lefthander worth anything not just on my list, but in the whole damn system, Dunn was originally drafted as an infielder with the 999th overall pick in 2004. After hitting a combined .160-.269-.225 with 57 strikeouts in 66 games during his first two years in the organization, the Yanks put him back on the mound (he pitched in both high school and junior college) and he flourished in 2007. He still has a lot to learn when it comes to pitching, none more important than gaining confidence in something other than his slider. His fastball velocity (89-91) and control are good enough that he should at least be a serviceable lefty specialist. The entire history of the New York Yankees is built around dominant lefthanded pitchers, so it is a bit of a concern to me that Dunn is the best they have to offer in that department.
26. Frankie Cervelli, C, 22
Cervelli came out of the gate like a madman in 2007, hitting .328-.412-.440 during the season’s first two months. He cooled off big time after that, hitting just .238-.317-.364 the rest of the way. His season ended prematurely after he got hurt in a collision at a plate, but all that really did was end the suffering. Cervelli is a very good defensive catcher, which means at worst he’ll be a good defense first backup, but he’s got a lot of work to do if he wants to be more than that though. Here’s my question: Other than age and say, 15 walks a year, what’s the difference between Cervelli and Jose Molina?
25. Ryan Pope, RHP, 21
The “who the hell is this guy” from the 2007 draft class, Pope went from surprise pick to surprisingly good prospect in the amount of time it took to Google his name. He’s not flashy and he’s not going to light up the radar gun, but he’s a solid pitcher with a good delivery and a good feel for pitching. He’s never going to wow us like Joba or make us dream like Phil, but The Pope of Pitching won’t ever have us dreading his turn in the rotation.
24. Dave Robertson, RHP, 22
Robertson had one of the most dominant seasons a Yankees’ relief prospect has had in recent memory, allowing only 77 baserunners against 113 strikeouts in 84.1 IP last year. He tired a bit down the stretch, which is understandable because he’s a small guy (5’11″, 180 lbs) who has some effort in his delivery, but he vaulted himself into position to make a run at a big league bullpen spot at some point this year. The Yanks do have some guys with higher ceilings than Robertson, which is why it’s hard for me to put him any higher up on the list.
23. Damon Sublett, 2B, 22
Of all the 2007 draftees, I think Sublett is closest to the bigs … assuming he can play the other infield positions. His bat is well above average for a middle infielder, and is passable at the corners. His only real weakness is that he’s injury prone and not a great athlete. Otherwise he’s a fundamental solid player who just looks weird when plays. Sublett has a chance to rocket through the system and assume a utility role with the Yanks sooner rather than later, possibly even by 2009.
22. Jairo Heredia, RHP, 18
The new Latin American darling of the system, the thing that separates Jairo from the Maximo Nelsons and Manny Acostas of recent Yankee lore is that he actually has a clue how to pitch. The Yanks haven’t signed and developed an impact pitcher from Latin America since Mo Rivera and Ramiro Mendoza in the mid-90s (El Duque doesn’t count). They’re due.
21. Chris Garcia, RHP, 22
Garcia’s only managed to throw 203 innings during his four years in the system, none of which came above Low-A ball. Despite his long injury history and his reported lackadaisical attitude, Garcia still gets a mid-range spot on the list because he has the best pure stuff in the system. His fastball registers in the mid-90s and his curveball is a true sledgehammer, a swing-and-miss pitch even when he leaves it up and over the plate. Garcia just needs to stay healthy; hopefully he’ll start on that path this year.
20. Austin Romine, C, 19
I tend to fall in love with one prospect from each draft class, and this year it’s Romine. The best all-around catching prospect the Yanks have had since Dioner Navarro, Romine is not only advanced for a high school catcher, but there’s also little doubt that he’ll be able to stick behind the plate. I’m a sucker for bloodlines, so coming from a baseball family like Romine does is always a plus, unless the surname is Sardinha (that was uncalled for, huh?). The Yanks suddenly have an abundance of catching prospects in the lower levels, which could push Romine to start 2008 in full season ball.
19. Brett Gardner, CF, 24
Once one of the more exciting prospects in the system, Gardner’s fall from grace centers around his inability to drive the ball. Even so, he’s still a game changer at the top of the lineup because he gets on base and
reeks wreaks havoc once he’s there. Gardner’s capable of filling in this year if someone goes down with an injury, and the Yanks have the depth to hide him in the 9-hole for a prolonged period of time. Part of me wonders why the Yanks don’t offer him up to a team like St. Louis or Florida, who could use a cheap stop-gap centerfielder while their premier prospects put the finishing touches on their game in the minors.
18. Zach McAllister, RHP, 20
Part of what makes the Yanks system so intriguing is the presence of guys like McAllister – pitchers with above-average stuff and relatively high ceilings tucked away amongst the bigger, higher profile names. A big strong kid that grew up around the game, McAllister could really open some eyes this year and become one of the top pitching prospects in the system. The Yanks have no reason not to let him develop at his own pace.
17. Kevin Whelan, RHP, 24
Whelan’s got sick stuff; he’s one of the hardest pitchers in all of baseball to hit (career 4.75 Hper9), and he piles up the strikeouts in relief (11.59 Kper9). All that’s holding back is his crappy control (5.14 BBper9), which stems from a stabbing delivery and an arm action that still has residue from his catching days. Whelan’s got gobs of potential, and despite all the walks he still does a decent job of limiting the damage because he’s so tough to hit. Even though he was ML Spring Training snub, odds are he’ll made his debut at some point in 2008.
16. Juan Miranda, 1B, ?
Depending who you ask, Miranda is anywhere from 24 (like he claims to be) to 30 years old (like his physique suggests he is). I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, and ranking him assuming he is in fact 24. The closest thing the Yanks have to an impact hitter at the upper levels, Miranda has demonstrated one hell of a platoon split. There’s really not much to say about him; he’s almost all bat and is pretty stiff at the plate, plus he’s going to have to ride the pine against tough lefties. He’s going to start 2008 with Triple-A Scranton, and should be amongst the first called up if the Yanks lose a significant offensive piece to injury. I’m dying to see what a Shelley-Miranda platoon at first would do. Does .250-30-90 seem unreasonable?
15. Dan McCutchen, RHP, 25
McCutchen’s a unique case – he was drafted in four consecutive years (twice by the Yanks), yet didn’t really separate himself as a prospect until his fifth year of college. Older than your typical prospect, McCutchen is an absolute horse that has worked in a variety of roles, which will serve him well if he does eventually shift to the pen. I used to think that a switch to relief was inevitable, but I’m starting to think that McCutchen has enough to get by as a 200 inning back-of-the-rotation arm. If nothing else, the Yanks will keep him in the rotation until he proves he can’t cut it. He started the final game of Trenton’s Championship season last year, and he’s likely to start their first of this year.
14. Humberto Sanchez, RHP, 24
It’s funny, when the Sheff deal was made, the Yankees had zero power pitching prospects at Triple-A, and Humberto was supposed to fill that role in 2007. What a difference a year makes. Still working his way back from Tommy John surgery, Sanchez should be ready for game action in May, and could make his ML debut later in the year. Before he does that though, he’s got to prove that he’s committed to being a conditioned professional athlete. The early signs are good, as reports indicate that he was working on his throwing program while on his honeymoon last fall. Let’s see how he rebounds from surgery before anointing him a bullpen savior.
13. Mark Melancon, RHP, 23
Just about all the way back from Tommy John surgery, Melancon is basically ready to go for his first full season in the pros. With only 17.1 pro innings under his belt (counting his time in Hawaii and the NY-Penn League playoffs), Melancon has a lot of work to do before he’s a candidate for a big league bullpen job. I understand he’s a college reliever (and a damn good one at that) so naturally there’s a desire to move him quickly, but the Yanks shouldn’t rush him and risk getting stuck with the next Craig Hansen.
12. JB Cox, RHP, 23
A dogged competitor who wants the ball in his hand with the game on the line, JB’s been there-done that in huge spots already. Everything he throws breaks on two planes, and in 2006 he improved his changeup to the point that it allows him to effectively neutralize lefties despite a borderline sidearm delivery. It’s not unheard of for guys to throw harder post-Tommy John surgery, and a little bit more velocity is all JB needs to start getting the respect he deserves. He’s the bulldog groundball reliever the Yanks are lacking in the bullpen.
11. Carmen Angelini, SS, 19
I’ve gone on the record confessing my love for Angelini several times in the past, and this will be no exception. I love what the kid brings to the table (very good defense and strong offense) at a premium position, and his polish is just icing on the cake. He’s exactly the kind of prospect the Yanks should be loading up on – a kid with top two rounds talent who just needed a little extra financial incentive to turn pro. Angelini’s a legitimate shortstop and the second best middle infield prospect the Yanks have had since Derek Jeter. It’s not impossible for him to pass Cano on that list in the future.
10. Dellin Betances, RHP, 20
Take a look at that picture, then take a quick gander at this video. He must be what, twelve feet away the batter when he releases the ball? Goodness, glad I don’t have to face him. Anywho, Betances’ big coming out party in 2007 hit a snag when he went down with elbow trouble after only 6 starts and 25 IP. The general sense around the netweb is that Tommy John surgery is inevitable, but I think (hope) that’s just the aftertaste of last year’s TJ debacle. Betances is the biggest project in the organization, which is fine because he’s not the centerpiece of the system, nor was he a high draft pick (yes he got a million bucks, but he was only an 8th round pick). The Yanks can afford to wait as long as necessary to make sure Betances reaches his potential. Almost all of the other Yankee prospect lists have him outside of the top 10, but I just can’t ignore the ceiling.
9. Jeff Marquez, RHP, 23
To be completely honest, I was never much of a Marquez fan. We heard all about his live arm and his heavy fastball, but it never seemed to translate into the kind of performance you’d expect. He was simply solid, racking up quality starts with the occasional brilliant outing/stinker thrown in. It’s time for me to give Marquez his due, because he’s knocking on the door of the bigs and has gobs of value as a young and cheap starter that can eat innings at the back of a big league rotation within a year. Marquez isn’t a guy that has to work on a lot of things, he’s got a gorgeous delivery (my number one, uh, thing for pitching prospects) and really needs to just keep doing what he’s been doing to be successful. Outside of the Big Three, he’s the Yanks’ best trade chip.
8. Ross Ohlendorf, RHP, 25
I dunno what in the world it is, but people across message boards and in the comment sections of various blogs seem to have little faith in Rock ‘n Rohlendorf. Is it the Ivy League nerdiness? The dorky last name? The bitter aftertaste of his ALDS showing? Whatever it is, I really don’t get it. Close your eyes and picture this: 6’5″, 240 lb frame, 95-97 mph fastball with life, sharp downer breaking ball, working on a splitter, ability to work multiple innings at a time out of the ‘pen. That’s a legit Major League pitcher, the kind of guy every manager would take guy on his staff any day of the week. Ohlendorf officially transitioned to the bullpen in early July (the 9th to be exact), and walked FIVE batters the rest of the season. I mean, hello, this is a quality pitcher. A big league job is his for the taking, and I betcha takes over as the primary setup man when the Yanks return Joba to the rotation.
7. Jesus Montero, C, 18
The big money international signing from 2006 proved to be as good as advertised when he came stateside in ’07, proving himself to be the top power prospect in a system almost completely devoid of them. He did just about everything the Yanks could have asked him to do as a 17 yr old; hitting for pull power, hitting for a good average, drawing walks, keeping his strikeouts low, and destroying pitchers of the opposite hand. Questions about his ability to stay behind plate are abound, but his bat is good enough that he’ll fit anywhere on the field. He’s similar to Adam Dunn in that he’ll still mash 30 bombs even if he hits just .230 (Note: In no way, shape, or form did I just say Montero was the next Dunn). The power is that huge. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Montero is next year’s number one prospect.
6. Andrew Brackman, RHP, 22
I can’t figure out a good way to incorporate this into his write-up, so I’m just going to say it: The Yankees love Andrew Brackman. I really mean love; they think he’s going to be a no nonsense, shutdown, top-flight, bring-it-on ace, just like Randy Johnson and Pedro were back in the day. I’ve already written about his stuff and his contract at length, so I’m not going to regurgitate the same info over again. Of course Tommy John surgery sucks, and yes it also completely sucks having to wait over a year to see your first rounder pitch, but trust me, it’s far better than suffering through the David Parrishes or David Wallings of the world. Guys with the talent of Andrew Brackman aren’t supposed to be available for teams like the Yanks in the draft. I’m glad to see the majority of Yankee fans have come around on him since the initial backlash of his selection. There should be no prospect more fun to follow over the never four years.
5. Alan Horne, RHP, 25
Horne improved in just about every facet of the game last year, but most importantly his control showed significant signs of improvement, dropping from 4.44 BBper9 in ’06 to 3.35 in ’07. Horne’s stuff and overall pitching package is solid bordering on outstanding, and I can’t help but wonder how many teams he would be the #1 pitching prospect for (I count no fewer than 12). The biggest knock on him is that he has a long arm action (the best clip of it I can find is at 1:00 here), which is very difficult flaw to correct. It limits his ceiling because he’ll always be prone to spotty control, and there’s also an injury risk. I still like Horne better in that “come in and blow’em away for two innings” relief role long term, but there’s no reason for the Yanks to take him out of the rotation now. We should get a glimpse of him in the Bronx sometime during the second half.
4. Austin Jackson, CF, 21
Jackson had a nice little breakout after his mid-season promotion to High-A Tampa, but naysayers are quick to call it a fluke, citing his .396 BABIP. That’s all fine and dandy, but if you look closer you’ll see that his strikeout rate dropped every month (27.1%-22.9-15.4-15.0-14.8-20.3) except for August, when he suffered through a prolonged slump. It’s not rocket science: He struck out less, which increased his offensive output because he was putting more balls into play. Now, it remains to be seen whether or not he can continue to improve his contact ability, but his performance in Hawaii Winter Baseball (.271-.368-.489 in 39 games) is a darn good sign. I want to see more than a half-season of greatness out of Ajax before I’m ready to bump him further up the list.
3. Jose Tabata, RF, 19
Yes, Jose Tabata is still only 19 years old. Despite that fact, he’s already the father of twins (God bless his poor soul), and is headed to Double-A Trenton in 2008. He’s been battling hand/wrist injuries for the last two years, but surgery to remove his hamate bone will have him at full strength to begin the year. Even with the injury troubles Tabata hit .307-.371-.392 in the pitcher friendly Florida State League. Power is traditionally the last tool to come, and I think all the concerns about his lack of pop are way overblown at this point. The only thing I don’t like about Tabata are the reports that he doesn’t always give it his all, and will occasionally coast on his talent. Hopefully some time with fellow Venezuelan Bobby Abreu in Spring Training will set him straight.
2. Ian Patrick Kennedy, RHP, 23
It’s hard to believe a guy who went 13-3, 165.1 IP, 104 H, 37 R, 35 ER (1.91 ERA), 59 BB, 178 K in his first full pro season is only the second best prospect to come out of his draft class, but that’s exactly what IPK is. He came out of USC with a reputation for being a strikeout artist, a winner, and as close to a sure thing as you can get, but Kennedy’s somehow done all that and more. He’s already made his mark in the bigs, and has a full-time Major League gig staring him right in the face. It’s up to him to take advantage of that opportunity, and the track record that many people insisted on ignoring on Draft Day ’06 suggests that he’s up for the challenge.
1. Joba Chamberlain, RHP, 22
You know the deal, so I’m not going to drag this out. When your father never has to pay for another drink in the Bronx, you know you’re good.