2011 Season Preview: The Farm System

2011 Draft: A historical look at the Yanks' picks
What would it take to bring back Jorge?

Forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but pretty much everything went right for the Yankees’ farm system last year, which is why they jumped from 22nd to fifth in Baseball America’s organization rankings. For the most part, the key prospects stayed healthy and performed well while others came back from injury to reclaim to past prospect glory. It was a boost the Yankees needed, because now the team has a solid mix of near-MLB ready talent at the upper levels combined with upside guys a little further down the chain.

Is everything going to break right again? Almost certainly not, but each of the full season affiliates will offer plenty of reasons to follow along this summer.

Triple-A Scranton

Just like every other year, the Yankees are going to rely heavily on the reinforcements they have stashed away in Triple-A this season. In fact, they’ll probably rely on these guys even more than usual given the current situation of the back of the big league rotation. Assuming Ivan Nova starts the year in the Bronx, the Scranton staff will be led by three guys who finished last season there: Hector Noesi, David Phelps, and D.J. Mitchell. Andrew Brackman and Adam Warren will jump up from Double-A to round out the rotation, and it seems like a foregone conclusion that two or three of those guys will make their big league debut this summer.

The lineup was going to be anchored by Jesus Montero, but Frankie Cervelli‘s fractured foot makes him Russell Martin‘s likely backup to at least start the season. Manager Dave Miley will instead have to rely on 2010 Eastern League MVP Brandon Laird to make the offense go, and he’ll have help from Justin Maxwell, Jordan Parraz, Dan Brewer, and big ol’ Jorge Vazquez. Mark Prior highlights the bullpen corps, which will also feature big lefty Andy Sisco and a pair or righty prospects in Ryan Pope and George Kontos. Many of these guys will see big league time this year, but the Yankees have enough upper level depth that a sixth consecutive division title is a very possible for Scranton.

Double-A Trenton

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

This is where the action will be this year. Brian Cashman has said (repeatedly) that both Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances will start the season with Trenton, the same place they finished last season. Graham Stoneburner, the best pitching prospect in the system that no one ever seems to talk about, will play the role of third wheel. All three feature power, strikeout stuff but do it in different ways: Banuelos is fastball-changeup, Betances fastball-curveball, and Stoneburner with primarily a sinker. It would be surprising if all three spent the entire year in Double-A.

The offense will be led by the returning David Adams and likely Austin Romine despite his place in the backup catcher’s competition. Florida State League MVP Melky Mesa will join the fray, and Corban Joseph will stick after spending most of last season in Single-A. A case can be made that those two are the best five-tool prospect and pure hitter in the system, respectively. Craig Heyer will bring his beastly strike zone skills (95/15 K/BB in Single-A over the last two years) to the pitching staff in some capacity, and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte will give the fans something to enjoy and opposing batters something to dread out of the bullpen. Trenton has won the division in four of the last five years, and with that pitching staff, they’ll certainly make a run at another.

High-A Tampa

Luis Sojo’s squad figures to be a little short on position player talent this year, with college vets Luke Murton, Neil Medchill, and Rob Lyerly doing most of the heavy lifting. Sojo will have two of the very best arms in the system working out of his rotation in Jose Ramirez and Brett Marshall, and sleeper Scottie Allen (acquired from the D’Backs for Juan Miranda) will get a look as well. Flamethrowers Tommy Kahnle, Dan Burawa, and Conor Mullee will likely join the sneaky good Chase Whitley in a lock-down bullpen. A third straight Florida State League championship will be tough to pull off, but not impossible.

Low-A Charleston

Want to see two first picks play for the same team? Head to Charleston, where Slade Heathcott (2009) will roam center field and Cito Culver (2010) will probably man shortstop. Second rounder J.R. Murphy (2009) figures to give it another go behind the plate, where he’ll likely do the DH-catcher thing with Gary Sanchez, arguably the best non-Montero prospect in the system. Eduardo Sosa, Ramon Flores, and Kelvin DeLeon will round out one of the most tooled up outfields in all of minor league baseball, though Flores will likely see time at first.

The rotation is a little more uncertain, but there’s no shortage of talent. Mikey O’Brien, Nick Turley, Evan DeLuca, Bryan Mitchell, Gabe Encinas, Taylor Morton, Evan Rutckyj, Matt Richardson, Brett Gerritse … all of those guys are solid candidates for the River Dogs’ rotation, and in no way is that be lame.

Short Season Leagues

The vast majority of the short season Staten Island and rookie level Gulf Coast League rosters will be supplied by the 2011 draft, but 2010 picks Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and Angelo Gumbs are likely to be pop up here. If the Yankees decide to take it slow with Culver, he’ll fit in here as well. Whatever pitchers do not make the Low-A roster will play in SI or the GCL, and the stateside debuts of Yeicok Calderon and (especially) Ravel Santana should be highly anticipated.

* * *

My top 30 prospects list will give you some more detailed information about most of the players in this post, but the upper level arms clearly highly the crop with Montero presumably in the big leagues. Whether they help the big league club on the mound or in a trade remains to be seen, but it’s pretty much a forgone conclusion that they’ll have some kind of impact in 2011.

2011 Draft: A historical look at the Yanks' picks
What would it take to bring back Jorge?
  • Mike Myers

    I think you should use Igawa as your minor league player watch this year. Just for entertainment purposes.

  • http://bloodfarm.tumblr.com mattdamonwayans

    I’ve seen a lot of talk about Rutckyj starting in Low-A, however, everything I have read about him during last summer was that he was an incredibly raw long term project. I am as excited about this kid as the next guy but aren’t those some lofty expectations for his first pro season?

    • Accent Shallow

      I hope he goes to Extended ST, then Instructional League, because reading his name on a regular basis is going to give me a headache.

      /half kidding.

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    I’d be surprised if Bryan Mitchell starts the season at Charleston. He’s still pretty raw, though the Yanks absolutely love him and feel he has front end starter potential. More than likely, he’ll be at Extended ST, and possibly make iot to Charleston by May if he really impresses, though I still see him starting at SI.

  • dennis

    Bryan Mitchell velocity went up, in his last outing in Minor league Spring training he was 94-95 and hit 96. I think he will break into the top 10 Yankees list this year.

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    Hopefully we’ll see a lot of early season promotions if players like Heathcott, Murphy and Abe Almonte produce.

    • Reggie C.

      So is that official? Heathcott starting 2011 back in Charleston makes sense to me. He didn’t show hacking tendencies last year, but that’s about it.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        That’s just an assumption. I have no idea where anyone is going to start.

  • Brandon W

    Graham Stoneburner, the best pitching prospect in the system that no one ever seems to talk about

    Is there any talk now that he could possibly stick in the rotation? Originally I had heard that he was ultimately bullpen-bound, but that his secondary stuff had improved a bit last year. Just wondering what his overall upside is.

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    I just hope that Rafael DePaula and Juan Paniagua(their most recent signing) can get their visas in time to pitch this Summer. Reviews on both have been outstanding

    • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

      I was just about to post on this too. I sincerely hope that both of them make it stateside, that would be huggge for the farm system.

      • Camilo Gerardo

        a couple first round equivalents never hurt a system, no

  • king of fruitless hypotheticals

    srsly…they bumped Igawa from the rotation? wt? isn’t he the WINS RECORD HOLDER?1? somebody down there is lost…

    • Rick in Boston

      Obviously, they’re going to let Igawa try and set the saves record. International League Hall of Fame, baby.

      • A.D.

        The John Smoltz of the international league

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        …you could let him close EVERY game. on off days, he could pitch in AA (they’re not all that far apart). could he get 50, 60 saves in a year?

  • JDDZip

    curtis granderson gets injured and rab doesnt even have a post about it?

  • gio

    No chance Prior makes the big-league team out of ST?

    • thumper

      I just don’t see any room for him in the pen, unless they do something absurd like carry only one bench player. If he stays healthy though (wow, broken record there), he’s probably toward the front of the line.

    • Am I the only Kevin?

      0.1% chance.

      Multiple reliever guys already on the 40 man (Pope, Sanchez, Garrison) plus Mitre and the loser of Garcia/Colon would have to go down with injuries simultaneously to make him even a dark horse candidate.

  • Am I the only Kevin?

    I live in DC and was looking forward to catching a Trenton away game against the Orioles AA affiliate in nearby Bowie, MD. Unfortunately, I looked at the schedule and the Thunder don’t come to Bowie until August. If things go as well as I hope, a good deal of the AA talent could be promoted by that point. Banuelos, Betances, Adams, and Romine in particular are all good candidates for mid-season bumps up to Scranton, no? At least AAA has a bit of a starter logjam, so that might help keep Banuelos and Betances down a little longer, but chances are that logjam will work itself out.

    Oh well.

  • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

    #5 farm system, w00t.

    Take that, Cashman haters.

    Although we probably drop to 7-10 with Montero’s graduation (and brackdizzle’s likely graduation). Unless of course the lower level guys take big steps forward (I’m looking at you Brett Marshall, Bryan Mitchell, and Jose Ramirez).

    Oh and are there any expectations for Carmen Angelini? Or is he dunzo?

    • Ted Nelson

      “Unless of course the lower level guys take big steps forward (I’m looking at you Brett Marshall, Bryan Mitchell, and Jose Ramirez).”

      + Slade, Murphy, Sanchez, Flores, Mesa, Calderon, Santana, DePaula, Mason Williams, Culver, 2011 draft picks… Certainly a lot more room to fall than rise from #5, but there are a lot of options. Even just another, longer, higher-level dominant season from Banuelos and Betances along with Sanchez and Romine succeeding could do the trick.

  • Ted Nelson

    I certainly agree that the Yankees had great luck on the farm in 2010, but there were a few notable things that went wrong:

    McAllister, Melancon, Bleich, Slade, and JR Murphy… Austin Romine to some extent. Kelvin De Leon. (Jesus’ first half, though obviously counter-acted. Adams’ injury, which again was compensated for by a ridiculously hot start. No utilityman/4th OF outside Nunez really showed anything upon being called up, though they were all fringe prospects anyway.) And of course they had just traded two top prospects in AJax and Arodys before the season, which isn’t really luck but a lot of fans for certain teams use that as an excuse for weak prospects (ahem… Boston…).

    Those guys were the #2, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 15 prospects on Mike’s preseason list. Besides the primary factor of other guys stepping up, I guess it speaks to the nature of prospects that 40% of your top 5, 50% of your top 10, and 40% of your top 15 going wrong still means freakishly good luck for the system.

    I think it also might mean that the Yankees have the minor league depth to absorb some bad luck.

  • cranky

    His ceiling may be only that of a reliever, but I like a kid named Shaeffer Hall. He doesn’t throw hard and doesn’t “wow” anyone with his stuff, but he gets guys out and has put up good numbers. Might be in the AA rotation this year.
    By mid-season, we’ll see Jeremy Bleich show up, too. I wouldn’t count him out. He’d started to show +stuff from the left side before he got hurt.

    • YankeesJunkie

      Those guys usually need longer and it is harder to prove themselves at every level because of their limited stuff every jump forces them to be more perfect.

  • Eddiedi

    Mike: Luis Sojo has been gone for a while. He is no longer a manager for Yanks.