What Went Right (And Wrong): Farm System


(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Major League portion of our season review is just about complete, and now it’s time to dig into the minor league system. As is the case every year, some things went right and some things went wrong in the farm system. There were breakout performances, injuries, disappointments, surprises, same kind of stuff we see every season.

What Went Right

First and foremost, it was health on the pitching side. Aside from David Phelps‘ sore shoulder (six weeks on the shelf) and Graham Stoneburner’s neck sprain (two months), all of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects remained on the mound in 2011. Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, and Brett Marshall combined to throw 454 IP and at least 140 IP each. Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances each eclipsed the 120 IP plateau, right in line with what they were expected to do before the season. Even relief prospects Chase Whitley, Dan Burawa, George Kontos, and Tommy Kahnle were able to log 80+ IP each this summer.

Secondly, the Yankees enjoyed some nice early returns from their 2010 and 2011 draft classes. Mason Williams (.404 wOBA) and Tyler Austin (.478 wOBA) broke out in big ways in the lower minors, while Dante Bichette Jr. (.438 wOBA) and Matt Duran (.395 wOBA) made strong first impressions after being drafted in June. The team’s Latin America program also enjoyed some success with Isaias Tejeda (.443 wOBA), Claudio Custodio (.439 wOBA), and Ravel Santana (.423 wOBA). These guys represent the next wave of prospects behind the crop at Double and Triple-A.

Thirdly, there were the breakouts and surprise performances. Williams was definitely the biggest breakout, but you had under-the-radar players like lefty Jose Quintana (2.96 FIP in 102 IP) force their way into the prospect picture. Ramon Flores (.350 wOBA) led the farm system in walks (61) a 19-year-old. The Almontes – Zoilo (.365 wOBA) and Abe (.331 wOBA) – stayed healthy and put together strong campaigns. The former did so as a switch-hitting outfielder and reached Double-A, putting him on the big league radar. It was the second and third-tier prospects that really stepped up this year, not necessarily the headliners.

What Went Wrong

(Photo Credit: Alan Hawes, The Post and Courier)

Obviously, Andrew Brackman‘s return to 2009 form headlines the disappointments. He completely flopped in 13 starts, walking 54 batters and striking out just 41 in 59.1 IP for Triple-A Scranton before shifting to the bullpen and finding himself a bit. After whiffing 34 and walking 21 in 36.2 IP out of the bullpen to finish the minor league season, the Yankees gave him his second straight September call-up and actually used him this time. He walked three and struck out none in 2.1 IP with the big league team. Brackman will be 26 in December, and rather than give him another chance, the Yankees declined his 2012 option and released their 2007 first rounder yesterday.

While the pitchers stayed healthy for the most part, many position players did not. Austin Romine was limited to just 89 games in Double-A due to a concussion and back trouble this summer, though he returned and was able to make his big league debut in September. Slade Heathcott injured his left shoulder again, his third shoulder injury since 2008. J.R. Murphy and Nik Turley were having fine seasons before a pair of fluke injuries ended them prematurely; Murphy fouled a ball of his leg and Turley took a line drive to his pitching hand. David Adams has played in just 29 games since fracturing his ankle last May, as in 2010.

Some players, like Melky Mesa and Jose Ramirez, did not take step forwards in their development. Mesa was unable to build on his standout 2010 season that earned him a 40-man roster spot, reverting back to his hacktastic ways that exposed a weakness against non-fastballs. Gary Sanchez started slow, had to be disciplined for attitude problems, then broke a finger while in the middle of a monster second half. Banuelos and Betances didn’t have the dominant years we expected, but I think it’s hars, h to consider them disappointments this season.

* * *

Overall, the farm system has a pretty average year, but it felt like a down year compared to the massive success of 2010, when seemingly everything went right. The Yankees still boast some star power at the upper levels in Banuelos and Betances, but Jesus Montero will graduate to the big league team next season, and their next real impact position player prospects are Sanchez and Williams in the low minors. Romine, Zoilo, and Corban Joseph are solid players that definitely serve a purpose, but they aren’t stars. The Yankees system definitely took a hit this season, but it’s still in the top half of all the farm systems in baseball.

Categories : Minors


  1. viridiana says:

    Having a hard time understanding Brackman’s release. Has consistently pitched well out of pen, in cluding 1.56 ERA in August last year: 10 hits, 3 walks and 17K in 17 IP. As best I understand, Yanks only on hook for at worst $1 million this year if Brackman makes ML team. Don’t weant to over-react but this seems to be anothwr example, like Aceves perhaps Melancon, of Yanks under-valuing their own prospects.

    I’d like to think Yanks believe Kontos and others in system offer more reliable pen options. But not sure that’s the case. Did Brackman lose his heater? That’s the only thing that would justify this move IMO

    • Jumpin' Jack Swisher (formerly Jorge) says:

      I think you’re looking at 50% of the story. 2011 Brackman does not merit 2007 Brackman’s contract. Therefore, the team may be trying to bring him back on terms that better reflect who he is.

    • Jumpin' Jack Swisher says:

      Also, the Yankees did not “undervalue” Melancon or Aceves. Just because they are no longer on the team it does not mean they were overvalued.

      Did the Yankees potentially misread Aceves’s back injury? Yes, although I’d still love to see what he looks like in 2012.

      Mark Melancon could have been given an extra opportunity of two in the majors, but he looked lost even after being sent down to AAA and wound up being lost in the shuffle. He was then traded for a guy who helped the team out pretty well.

      They prospect-hug…..except for when they undervalue their prospects. When do we ever admit that they get it just right? :)

    • Ted Nelson says:

      I think we have to see whether they bring him back on a more reasonable deal or lose him/let him walk before concluding what their intentions are here. After the year he had the chances of him getting as favorable a deal as the one he had on the open market are next to zero, so perhaps they took the risk fully intending to re-sign him.

      I think Aceves could be a fair comparison if Brackman isn’t brought back. Melancon is not. The Yankees used Melancon to get Lance Berkman. Berkman didn’t do much for the Yankees, but he is a very talented player so had the chance to help in a big way.

      • Mike Axisa says:

        I don’t think Aceves and Brackman are comparable at all. Aceves actually had some sustained big league success. Brackman doesn’t even have sustained Triple-A success.

        Brackman could end up being the next Aceves, but that would be a huge surprise.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          Yeah, didn’t mean to say that their careers were comparable but rather the situations around them leaving and potentially leaving the org, respectively.

          In both cases the ball was in the Yankees’ court to bring the player back if they wanted to, and in both cases they didn’t want to. Aceves walked and Brackman might do the same.

          As far as the players… I wouldn’t be too surprised if Brackman became a strong relief pitcher. He’s only one year removed from 2010. Certainly possible that he regains that form.

          • Ted Nelson says:

            And in both cases they got nothing but a roster spot (if Brackman leaves) and some minor financial relief, whereas they got Berkman for Melancon. I was saying Brackman’s situation is more comparable to Aceves’ than Melancon’s to me.

            • UncleArgyle says:

              Regarding Aceves, I think something else was going on. To paraphrase GOP Canidate Hermain Cain, now I don’t have facts to back this up, but I think Cashman had issues with Aceves in the work ethic/honesty department. There has to be a reason why Cash was so dead set against giving Ace a guaranteed contract.

    • pat says:

      Melancon was traded for a guy who went on to hit .301/.412/.547 with 31 HR this season. Don’t think that Yanks could have anticipated that type of bounce back, but they obviously though Berk had enough left in the tank to put them over the top last year (2010. That’s wotrh a MRP if you ask me.

  2. Bronx Byte says:

    Brackman looked like 2010 was his step forward year then he got derailed for most of 2011.
    He needs to find consistency before the Yankees can determine if he’s worth keeping.

  3. Soriano Is A Liar says:

    The Brackman thing seems like one of those cases where the team knows something we don’t, maybe they felt there was something in the scouting report that made him not worth keeping around? Then again, we said this about Aceves so who knows.

    • viridiana says:

      Thanks, Soriano. Your reply makes sense.

      • Ted Nelson says:

        Like I say above, they haven’t lost Brackman yet. Unless I’ve missed the news that he signed elsewhere, he’s a free agent.

        • Soriano Is A Liar says:

          This is true too. I’d be very surprised to see another team go out and give Brackman a major league deal after he’s basically proved nothing. At least with Aceves he had a good ML track record, injuries were the concern. Wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Yankees bring him back on a minor league deal. Plus, it would prevent them from burning that last option, so if they do decide to keep him around, he’s not out of options after 2012. In that light, this move might make even more sense.

  4. Gonzo says:

    Slade is now 21. What are your thoughts on his development?

    Looks like Mason has surpassed him in a lot of minds.

    • Jumpin' Jack Swisher says:

      That’s a ton of shoulder surgeries. I know an 18 year-old who just had similar labrum surgery right before his first year of college. The guy is just crushed and has really started to question his own ability to play the outfield.

      My assumption is that his arm would suffer most but, after THREE injuries, you would probably have even more questions as to his durability moving forward.

    • S says:

      He’d probably be in AA by now if it weren’t for all the injuries. Him and Mason are probably similar high upside (slade moreso because he has more power potential) but until Slade can stay healthy he not going to reach the Show.

  5. pat says:

    Ramirez was supposedly killin it at Instructs as a power reliever. He might not be a total loss.

    • viridiana says:

      Really an incredible performance by Yankee kids in Gulf Coast and NY Penn. Eight of the top 40 (9 of top 42 prospects) in these leagues according to BA. And that includes the best prospect in each league, along with #2 in Gulf. I realize these are starter leagues and many top 2011 prospects signed late this year still those leagues were stocked with 2010 first rounders and top international signs. Very encouraging.

    • Dennis says:

      he touched 100 mph as a reliever at Instructs.

  6. Jumpin' Jack Swisher says:

    One of the things that’s always forgotten in this age of knowing much more about a team’s farm system is that behind the sexier blue-chip names comes a wave of solid guys who could just as easily become major contributors. You see it with Nova now. You could easily see it with Noesi, Warren, or Phelps in the future. Pitchers like these have every bit of a chance of becoming solid rotation contributors than the guys we’re all starry-eyed about.

    Would love to see some of the lower minor league bats continue to strut their stuff as they move up the ladder.

    • pat says:

      Agreed. Those guys have the benefit of being promoted at their own pace, instead of being fast tracked like some of the bigger names. Usually that means they’ve had the luxury of taking their lumps in front of milb crowds instead of being booed off the mound in Yankee Stadium.

      • Jumpin' Jack Swisher says:

        The Yankees could potentially put a rotation out there with both Nova and Noesi in it in 2012 and contend. A lot of folks would have (hell, some still would)scoffed at that previously. It ain’t all about the B’s….all, um, two of them.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          Noesi especially but also Nova were always good prospects. I don’t think people who really follow the farm system would have scoffed at the idea. I think a lot of more casual fans would have, but they’d scoff at a lot of things. (I might go so far as to say that I don’t think people who have a working understanding of baseball would have scoffed too much at the idea, since the Yankees offense allows them to contend even if their pitching is mediocre… they contend with AJ Burnett, Javy Vazquez, Phil Hughes, Chad Gaudin.)

    • Ted Nelson says:

      It’s a matter of degree. The better prospects (if evaluated correctly) have better odds of success. That doesn’t mean they’ll all work out and the lesser prospects will all fail. It means they’ll work out more often. And the issue is further complicated because sometimes the better prospects actually have lower odds of success, but such high ceilings if they do hit that small chance that the overall projection is higher than a prospect who has a high floor but a low ceiling.

      • Ted Nelson says:

        Basically, you’re evaluating prospects along two major lines: odds of making it, and how good they’ll be if they do make it.

    • JobaWockeeZ says:

      Whata re you talking about? That Nova, and Noesi weren’t given enough prospect shine? That couldn’t be further from the truth. Like at all.

  7. Frankeee1 says:

    Is there an update on Adam’s condition, I was following him in GCL and saw him go back up but then nothing. Is it the ankle again? Is he done?
    Brackman was the victim of a bad contract. Cashman had the confidence of admitting his mistake with the new contract security. I can see him prospering in a different environment like Pit, Sea or Arizona without the pressure or baggage

  8. Johnny O says:

    Nice recap, reminds me how much I miss DoTF.

    Looking forward to following Isaias Tejeda, Claudio Custodio, Ravel Santana and Ramon Flores next year.

  9. Dennis says:

    Santana and Williams had the most impressive seasons for me and with a similar full season performance can become elite prospects. Develop guys with high averages not OBP, more Cano’s less Swisher’s.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      There is no AVG/OBP trade-off… you can do both.

      • Dennis says:

        But the more valuable trait is hitting .300 rather than 370 OBP.
        Cano hit 302 with a 350′ish OBP. Swisher Hit 270 with a 370 OBP. Who would you rather have?

        • Ted Nelson says:

          It’s not the average that makes Cano valuable. He has insane power. He has a .533 SLG in 2011 vs. Swisher’s .449. Almost 100 points.

          OBP and AVG aren’t the only stats in the world. Is a .302/.350 or .270/.370 more valuable? That’s not the whole story. What about power? What about position? What about baserunning? What about defense (and the many components that make up defense)?

          There are stats that compile all offensive data to come up with a single “grade.” wOBA and RC+ are examples. You can critique their exact methodology, but they attempt to weight OBP/AVG/SLG. Both found Cano to be the superior hitter this season. Again, the guy is a beast. He’s not some slap-hitter who gets to a .300 average.

        • Dan says:

          Your comparison is not the same outside of the two players that you used. You could have a .300 hitter who is more of a singles hitter and a .270 hitter with more power, if they both have the same OBP, I would take the .270 hitter.

          • Dennis says:

            So you are telling me a team of nine Ichiro’s(old version) is worse than a team of nine swishers. I would win 99 out 100 games against the same pitchers who is a #1 or #2 in a playoff rotation. And if you don’t think so then you don’t watch baseball.

            • Mike Axisa says:

              Spare me. Try using a fact to back up one of your arguments at some point.

            • Ted Nelson says:

              Ichiro is a career .326 hitter and Swisher a .254 hitter, so that doesn’t come close to fitting the .270 vs. .300 criteria.

            • Evan3457 says:

              Old version Ichiro was a far faster and much better baserunner than Swisher. Old version Ichiro was the top rightfielder in baseball, defensively speaking. But mainly because old version Ichiro had a lifetime BAVG of .333, and not .300, his OBA before this season was .370. Swisher’s OBA in his 3 years with the Yanks? .368.

              Other than those small items, your opinion is sound.

        • Mike Axisa says:

          You’d rather have the guy that makes fewer outs, period. Make fewer outs and you will score more runs. It really is that simple.

          • Ted Nelson says:

            What about power? What about baserunning?

            • Ted Nelson says:

              Basically: no it is not that simple.

              Two teams record one hit and three outs in four PAs. One team scores and the other doesn’t. One team got a HR and the other got a single.

              Two teams get two hits and three outs in five PAs. One team scores and the other doesn’t. Could be a double or single/SB for the first team, while the second team gets two singles.

  10. Andy In Sunny Daytona says:

    Melky Mesa had a very nice second half for Trenton. Roughly, .278/.338/.420

  11. viridiana says:

    After many years of being undervalu4ed, OBP is probably now overvalued. Hits are still better than w

  12. viridiana says:

    Equipment malfunction—

    After many years of being undervalued, OBP is probably now overvalued. Hits are still better than walks in many situations. And good pitching can adjust to guys who are overly focused on walks by making good first-ptch strikes. Not to say, high OBP isn’t a good thing.. but as often happens, pendulum has swung too far.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      It’s not an either or thing… you can gets hits in some plate appearances and walks in others. There are metrics to properly value both, rather than simply looking at one or the other.

      • viridiana says:

        The problem is when you value OBP so much that you overlook strikeouts. Guys who walk alot but strike out a lot and don’t hit for much average may be more vulnerable to the commabnd and control types on playoff teams. I would certainly agree that high walks, low strikeouts and hiogh BA is optimal. Not many who fir that bill though.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          Free swingers are also vulnerable to Ks against good pitching…

          You are stating that OBP is overvalued without stating what its value is or who is overvaluing it. Like I said, all these things have a value and it’s a matter of assigning that value to them.

          • viridiana says:

            “Like I said…” Is that your favorite phrase?

            • Ted Nelson says:

              Do you have anything to add to the conversation, or do you just want to insult people on an anonymous blog?

              • viridiana says:

                You’re the one with a long history of nastiness on this blog. You consistently jump on people, making needlessly harsh and abusive judgments. Chill out, man.

                • Ted Nelson says:

                  What? Where did I jump on you at all? You are the only one who made this a personal thing. I was discussing the issue, and rather than address my comment you decided to get snarky.

                  • viridiana says:

                    It is my perception that you tend to jump on people if you disagree with their observations. I just think people on this board should be polite and respectful in making their points. But I did jump on you in this case.

          • Soriano Is A Liar says:

            I think that sentiment has some grain of truth to it – you don’t want a guy who is so passive he just goes up there looking for walks – but that isn’t why OBP is preached, that’s just an attack used by people who want a reason to hate guys like swisher. The real reason teams preach obp is because not only do you take your walks, which is a bonus, but to become more selective to hit good pitches. The main idea isn’t to wait the pitcher out for a walk, it’s that you should wait and hit a pitch you can do damage on, and if you don’t get it, then take a walk instead of swinging at a bad pitch and popping up or grounding out. That’s the true value, but the SWISHER IS A USELESS BUM crowd don’t acknowledge that.

        • Dennis says:

          Good Post. This is why Swisher is useless to Yankees. Once you scout him teams seem to get him out easy. So not only does he suck but he ruins anyone batting in front of him.

        • thenamestsam says:

          What you have here is a testable hypothesis:
          “Teams that walk a lot do worse than teams with high batting averages in the playoffs, other things being equal”
          Your case would be a lot more interesting if you tried to support that hypothesis with evidence rather than stating it like it’s a fact.

  13. pat says:

    I’m a big Ramon Flores fan. He was basically a college freshman more than holding his own in long season A ball.

  14. JobaWockeeZ says:

    I wanna see more of Cave and Bird. Drafting high school bats could be the next new market inefficiency.

  15. Foghorn Leghorn says:

    whodafug cares…

    none of these guys will ever measure up to Casey kelly or Julio Iglesias.

  16. Mike says:

    How does releasing Brackman affect his option years? If I remember correctly he had used 2 and was on the 40-man roster. If they bring him back on a minor league deal, couldn’t he stay in the minors all year and not burn an option year? This could be very beneficial to him and the club as he is obviously not ML ready.

    • Jumpin' Jack Swisher says:

      Agreed. This is why I hope that, after the hit of realizing he’s not prepping for the big leagues at a seven-figure salary stings a bit, he gets on board with the idea that this may be better for his development.

      I also hope he’s invested that money well.

  17. Ted Nelson says:

    “their next real impact position player prospects are Sanchez and Williams in the low minors”

    I would call Slade and Murphy impact prospects. Slade’s health is a real concern and Murphy’s ceiling is not Sanchez’s, but I think they both still have a chance to be good MLB players.

    I feel like instead of totally writing Slade off due to injury, it is wiser to simply adjust expectations. He’s more of a long-shot now, but still has a shot.

  18. IB6 UB9 says:

    Bleich is taking Brackman’s killa B slot.

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