Archive for Prospect Profiles
David Phelps | RHP
Raised in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, Phelps attended Hazelwood West High School and starred both on the baseball field and on the basketball court. He was named to the All-Conference Team as both an outfielder and pitcher as a sophomore, and was then named All-Conference, All-Metro Performer, and team captain as a junior and senior. His career with the Wildcats featured a 2.96 ERA with 172 strikeouts in 109.2 innings pitched, and he also set a school record with a 30 inning scoreless streak as a senior. He was also a member of the National Honor Society.
Committed to Notre Dame, Phelps was ranked as the sixth best prospect in Missouri prior to the 2005 draft, though he went undrafted due to the strong college commitment. His older brother Mike was drafted out of Central Missouri State in the 11th round that year by the Cubs. Phelps was a sparsely used reliever in his first season with the Irish (though he did make three mid-week starts), striking out 23 and walking ten in just 26.2 innings (7.09 ERA). After the season he joined the Mat-Su Miners of the Alaska League, striking out 36 with 23 walks in 47.3 innings.
Phelps slid into Notre Dame’s rotation as a sophomore and establishing himself as the staff ace with one of the best pitching seasons in school history. He made 15 starts and threw five complete games, striking out 102 batters and walking just 30 in 110 innings (1.88 ERA). He became just the second pitcher in school history to record 100+ strikeouts with a sub-2.00 ERA in a single season, joining Aaron Heilman. As a reward, Phelps was named to the All-Conference First Team and received Academic All-District and Academic All-American honors. He joined the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod League after the season, but shut himself down to rest his arm after making just a pair of starts.
Expected to anchor the rotation again as a junior, Phelps was unable to match the success he had a sophomore, striking out 75 and walking 28 in 93 innings (4.65 ERA). Baseball America ranked him the fifth best prospect in the state of Indiana before the 2008 draft, expecting him to be drafted within the first eight rounds. The Yankees were able to select him in the 14th round with the 440th overall pick, later signing him for a $150,000 bonus, the maximum allowed after the fifth round without MLB’s approval.
Assigned to the Short Season Staten Island Yankees shortly after signing, Phelps made 15 starts for the Baby Bombers, making the All Star team after walking 18 batters and striking out 52 in 72.2 innings (3.27 FIP, 2.72 ERA). The Yanks were a tad conservative with Phelps in 2009, sending him to Low-A Charleston to start the season. After he pitched to a 3.41 FIP (2.80 ERA, 90 K, 25 BB) in 112.2 innings with the River Dogs he was promoted to High-A Tampa, where he struck out 32 batters and walked just six in 38.1 innings (2.34 FIP, 1.17 ERA). Phelps led all Yankee farmhands with 151 IP in 2009.
After just seven starts with Tampa to finish off the ’09 season, the Yankees sent Phelps to Double-A Trenton to begin 2010 and he just kept on pitching well. In 88.1 innings with the Thunder, he struck out 84 and walked just 23, good for a 2.44 FIP (2.04 ERA). He was promoted to Triple-A Scranton at midseason and again performed well, striking out 57 and walking 13 in 70.1 innings (2.92 FIP, 3.07 ERA). Phelps finished second in system with 158.2 innings this time around. His minor league career features a 7.4 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, and a 2.96 FIP (2.50 ERA) in 382.1 innings.
Phelps has come a long way since high school. Once a scrawny kid that would sit in the low-90′s on a good day, Phelps has filled out his 6-foot-3 frame (190 lbs.) and now throws his fastball at 93-95 mph consistently. Minor league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras made some minor adjustments soon after Phelps signed, leading to the improved velocity. He also throws a two-seam fastball right around 90 mph, a good curveball, and both a below average slider and changeup. The curve is the closest thing Phelps has to a strikeout pitch, but it still needs some more improvement. At the moment he’s a ground ball pitcher, but that can change if one of the offspeed pitches takes that step forward.
Although his secondary stuff is good but not great, it all plays up because Phelps has very strong control and pounds the bottom of the zone. His delivery is very simply and easily repeated, which bodes well for future command and health. He’s already demonstrated the ability to be a workhorse, logging no fewer than 151 innings in each of the last three seasons. Here’s a brief clip of Phelp’ delivery courtesy of Mike Ashmore, and you can see a few more on his YouTube channel.
Phelps will start the season back with Triple-A Scranton and should be among the first call-ups when the Yankees inevitably need a pitcher. He’s at a slight disadvantage because he’s not on the 40-man after the moment, though he’ll have to be added after the 2011 season to avoid exposure to the Rule 5 Draft. If the Yankees don’t sign a pitcher and both Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova have unimpressive Spring Trainings, Phelps has an outside chance at opening the season with the big league team. Very unlikely though.
Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has proven to be very skilled at finding undervalued pitchers in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft, and Phelps is just another example of that. He was an absolute steal both in terms of draft round and bonus money, and climbing the ladder that quickly with so many other quality arms around him is pretty impressive. Phelps has already exceeded all possible expectations, and although I remain nothing more than cautiously optimistic because of his lack of a knockout offspeed pitch, he’s a quality pitching prospect that could contribute to the big league club either on the mound or as a piece of trade bait very, very soon.
Evan Rutckyj | LHP
Born and raised in Windsor, Ontario, Rutckyj (pronounced Root-ski) did what most Canadians do as a kid and played hockey, getting drafted by the Barrie Colts (a junior team) in the 11th round of the 2008 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection (i.e draft). He also boxed during the summers. Rutckyj gave up hockey in high school and focused on baseball, transitioning from the outfield to the mound as a sophomore. He worked with the Canadian junior national team as well as a private pitching coach leading up the draft.
Baseball America ranked Rutckyj as the second best Canadian prospect and 193rd best prospect overall for the 2010 draft this spring, though rumors of a first round bonus demand scored teams away. Rutckyj slipped to the 16th round of the draft, when the Yankees happily grabbed him 505th overall. After two months of negotiations with Rutckyj and advisor Dan Lawson, the two sides agreed to a contract that included a $500,000 signing bonus and a $155,000 education package.
The Yankees assigned Rutckyj to their rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate after signing, where he appeared in just one game. He retired all three batters he faced, recording a grounder and two fly balls.
Big and tall at 6-foot-5 and 213 lbs., the 18-year-old Rutckyj is a power-armed left-hander. His fastball sat 88-91 in the spring and touched 93, though he projects to add some more oomph once he fills out and getting his mechanics cleaned up. Rutckyj’s out pitch is a sweepy slider in the low-80′s, but he has a long way to go to gain consistency with it. His changeup is borderline non-existent, so there’s a lot of work to be done there.
Because he’s so big and relatively new to pitching, Rutckyj’s delivery can get out of whack rather easily. Professional instruction will go a long way towards helping him develop a consistent motion, which will in turn help his command. Rutckyj is perhaps too in shape; his tightly wound frame doesn’t allow for much flexibility. As cliche as it is, he takes a hockey mentality out to the mound with him, so there’s no fear.
Rutckyj is very raw and inexperienced, so the Yankees will hold in back in Extended Spring Training before assigning him to a short season league when the seasons start in June. I fully expect him to return to the GCL, though Short Season Staten Island isn’t completely out of the question.
I’m a fan. Anytime you grab a big power arm, especially left-handed, that late in the draft, it’s a coup. Rutckyj certainly has a lot of work to do and a very long way to go, but the tools are there for success. The ceiling is considerable, but so is the risk. For $500,000, a touch more than Ramiro Pena will earn next season, there’s not much more you can ask of the Yankees with their late picks.
Manny Banuelos | LHP
Born in Durango, Mexico, Banuelos signed with Sultanes de Monterrey of the Mexican Baseball League at a very young age (I can’t figure out when, exactly) and as far as I can tell he never pitched for them. Lee Sigman, the Yankee scout that covers Mexico, signed a then 17-year-old Banuelos away from Monterrey along with three other players in early 2008 for a total of $450,000. Al Aceves also came over in the same transaction.
The Yankees held Banuelos back in Extended Spring Training after signing, and he made his professional debut later that summer with the team’s rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate. He made three starts and nine relief appearances with the GCL Yanks, pitching to a 3.72 FIP in 42 innings. Banuelos was assigned to Low-A Charleston as an 18-year-old the next year and he was nothing short of brilliant. He logged an impressive 108 innings with the River Dogs, striking out 8.67 and walking just 2.33 men per nine innings, good for a 2.76 FIP. Although he was selected to the Futures Game, Banuelos did not pitch in the game because of a weather delay. The Yankees rewarded him with a late season promotion to High-A Tampa, and he tossed a perfect inning of relief (two strikeouts) in his only appearance with the team.
Still just 19-year-old, Banuelos was scheduled to start the 2010 season with Tampa before an appendectomy got in the way. He had surgery in Spring Training but was out until late-June, then he made two quick rehab starts (5 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K) before moving up to Tampa. Banuelos was once again brilliant, making ten starts in High-A this summer. He struck out 62 and walked just 14 in 44.1 innings, a stout 1.71 FIP. Not wanting to waste that kind of performance in the low minors, the Yankees bumped Banuelos up to Double-A Trenton at the end of the season. He made three starts with the Thunder, striking out 17 and walking eight in 15.1 innings (4.24 FIP).
Although Monterrey retained Banuelos’ winter ball rights, but the Yanks worked out an arrangement with them that allowed the lefty to participate in the Arizona Fall League this year. He made seven starts with the Phoenix Desert Dogs, striking out 16 and walking ten in the notoriously hitter friendly league. All told, Banuelos has thrown 240.2 innings as a pro, during which time he’s struck out 244 batters and walked just 72. He’s also allowed just ten homers.
The scouting report on Banuelos has changed quite a bit since he signed. He joined the Yankees as a short little left-hander that offered an 88-90 fastball with inconsistent offspeed pitches, but he’s added velocity and developed more consistency in his three years with the organization. Still short and left-handed, Banuelos is listed at 5-foot-10 and 155 lbs., but there’s no way that weight in current. He’s probably closer to 175-180 or so, maybe even more. His fastball now routinely sits 90-94 and he ran it up as high as 96 during the summer, backing it up with a changeup that fades down-and-away from righties. That’s his second best pitch. Although his curveball is improving, it’s still inconsistent with some development left.
Banuelos earns praise for three things. First is his simple and deceptive delivery and the way the ball explodes out of his hand. His fastball jumps on hitters and often leads to ugly swings, allowing him to pitch upstairs consistently. Second is his control and command, which is already major league average and continuously improving. Third is the tremendous poise and mound presence he exhibits, which is what caught the Yankees’ attention in the first place. It’s worth mentioning that there’s no projection left in Banuelos’ frame; unless he has an early-20′s growth spurt, what you see is what you’re going to get. Regardless, it’s a front-of-the-rotation package thanks to progress he’s made during the last three seasons.
After finishing up this season with three starts at Double-A Trenton, Banuelos will return there to start the 2011 campaign. He’s still extremely young (doesn’t turn 20 until March), so there’s no rush. Expect the Yankees to keep him there for the majority of the season, and if any promotion does occur, it likely won’t come until August or so. A lot would have to go right for Banuelos while a lot goes wrong at the big league level for him to make his major league debut in 2011. A 2012 debut is far more likely, and even then he’ll still just be 21 years old.
While you can certainly make a case for Dellin Betances or Andrew Brackman, Banuelos is the best pitching prospect in the organization in my book. I love the combination of age, stuff, command, and poise, plus he’s got a much better health record than those guys. I honestly can’t remember the last time the Yanks had a left-handed starter with this kind of potential in Double-A, we probably have to go all the way back to Brandon Claussen or Eric Milton. My only real concern is long-term durability given his size, but that’s more anecdotal than anything else. The Yankees have something special in Banuelos, but the real test begins now that he’s in Double-A.
Mason Williams | CF
Born and raised in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Williams grew up a Red Sox fan and later moved to Winter Haven, Florida with his family when he was 13. His father Derwin was drafted by the Reds out of college, but he instead pursued football, playing 42 games at wide receiver for the New England Patriots from 1985 to 1987. Mason starred both on the mound and in the outfield for West Orange High School, leading the Warriors to district championships as a sophomore, junior, and senior. During the summers he played for the Midland Redskins, a competitive travel team based out of Cincinnati, who helped to a pair of Connie Mack championships.
Committed to South Carolina, Baseball America ranked Williams the 145th best prospect in the draft this spring. The Yankees selected him with their fourth round pick, which sure enough was #145 overall. In a beautiful little slice of baseball symmetry, Williams signed right on the August 16th deadline for (you guess it), $1.45M. It was the largest bonus given to a draftee by the Yankees this year by half-a-million dollars.
Williams reported to New York’s rookie level affiliate in the Gulf Coast League after signing, where he picked up four singles and a walk in just 19 plate appearances spread across five games. He struck out four times and stole a base, getting caught twice. Williams then participated in Dominican Instructional League after the season.
Long and lanky, Williams checks in at 6-foot-0, 150 lbs. and is an outstanding athlete. He’s a legitimate prospect at both shortstop and in centerfield because of fast-twitch quickness, closing speed, good hands, and a powerful arm that unleashed upper-80′s fastballs in high school. The Yankees had him play strictly centerfield with the GCL Yanks, and chances are he’ll remain there. Regardless, Williams has the tools to be a well-above average defender at either position.
His offensive game is built around everything but power, which isn’t surprising given his build. Williams has a sweet lefty swing geared for hard contact, and he gets himself into good hitter’s counts with an advanced approach. His speed is an asset on the bases, though he can get a little reckless at times and run himself into outs. Future power may or may not come, it depends entirely on how Williams matures physically. Still just 19, he could grow into a 15 homer hitter, but otherwise cracking double digits will be a chore. There are no concerns about his makeup, and he obviously has good athletic bloodlines.
Here’s a video of one of Williams taking some hacks for his summer league team.
Williams could probably handle the jump into a full season league next year and survive on athleticism alone, but look for the Yanks to hold him back in Extended Spring Training before assigning him to Short Season Staten Island in June. If Williams performs well early in the year, they could be aggressive and bump him up to Low-A Charleston. Either way, don’t expect him to move that quickly, he’s a one level a year kind of prospect.
Depending on who you ask, Williams is the best prospect the Yankees drafted this summer. They went for upside and athleticism, and Williams offers the most well-rounded package of both, with good baseball skills and polish. I’m always concerned about low power guys because they could be prone to having the bat knocked out of their hands by good fastballs at the upper levels, but we’re a long ways away from having that be a real problem for Williams. If he can keep the strikeouts to a minimum and use his speed, he’s got a chance to be a game-changing force atop a big league lineup.
Cito Culver | SS
Born and raised in Rochester, Culver (whose real name is Christopher) starred both on the mound and in the field at Irondequoit High School. He was named All-Monroe County all four years of high school, and was named regional Player of the Year as a senior, when he hit .561. He hit two grands slams in the same game this April, one from each side of the plate. Pretty cool.
The Yankees selected Culver with their first round pick, #32 overall, making him the first position player ever to be drafted out of the Rochester area in the first round. It was perhaps two full rounds earlier than where most pre-draft projections had him going. Culver signed as soon as he graduated high school (less than two weeks after the draft) for a $954,000 bonus, exactly slot money for that pick.
Culver’s father, Chris Sr., is currently in prison for arson (and two other charges) after burning the family house down in March 2008. He was sentenced to a maximum of nine years, and was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. You can read more about that and how it impacted Cito in this great Wayne Coffey piece.
Culver was assigned to the Yankees’ rookie level affiliate in the Gulf Coast League after signing, where he hit .269/.320/.363 with seven doubles and two homers in 179 plate appearances, stealing six bases in nine tries. He was rewarded with a late season promotion to Short Season Staten Island, where he hit just .186/.340/.209 in 54 measly plate appearances. It was a solid test for a kid that didn’t turn 18-years-old until late August, and he did well considering his lack of experience against top shelf competition in high school.
A bonafide long-term shortstop through and through, Culver flashes strong range, hands and instincts in combination with his cannon arm, one that unleashed low-90′s fastballs from the mound. His outstanding athletic ability allows him to make up for any mistakes, which should decrease in number with more experience. At 6-foot-0 and 185 lbs., there are no concerns that he will outgrow the position.
Cito’s bat lags behind his defense right now, but he’s a switch-hitter with good bat speed and enough pop to keep pitchers honest. His plate discipline is strong and improving, so he should take enough walks to post better than average on-base percentages in the future. Culver is quick enough to steal bases but needs to improve his basestealing instincts overall. His game is still rather raw unrefined at this point, which is not uncommon with high school prospects from cold weather states.
Much has been made of Culver’s background with regards to his father, but the Yankees watching him plenty and got a good read on his makeup. “I don’t know how a kid recovers from what he went through,” said area scout Tim Alexander, the man in charge with keeping an eye on Culver. “The field is where he gets away. It’s almost where everything makes a lot of sense.”
“Nobody I can think of since I’ve been doing this has been through this kind of adversity, and come through it in such a positive way, with so much character and integrity,” said scouting director Damon Oppenheimer. “Minor league baseball is full of failure. You always wonder how people will handle it. Cito has dealt with bigger things than going 0-for-4 already in his life.” Obviously the Yankees are impressed by how he’s dealt with the adversity.
Culver can handle the jump into full season ball defensively, but the bat might not be there yet. The Yankees could choose to hold him back in Extended Spring Training to start the season before giving him a return ticket to Staten Island in the second half. That’s probably the best route for Culver; he might not be physically ready for the full season grind of the Low-A South Atlantic League. Remember, they held Slade Heathcott back last year, and he was more advanced both physically and baseball-wise than Cito.
I was surprised by the pick like everyone else, but that doesn’t mean it was bad. The Yankees had scouted Culver more than anyone else and certainly liked him, enough that they didn’t want to risk having him come off the board between their first and second round picks. There were definitely sexier names left on the board, but a premium up-the-middle athlete is always a good gamble to take. The Yanks clearly went for upside in this draft, and Culver offers plenty. Don’t expect a quick mover though, he’s a bit of a project and will need at least a year at each level.
Adam Warren | RHP
Warren grew up in the Inner Banks region of North Carolina, in New Bern. He attended the high school of the same name, and starred for four years both on the mound and in the infield. A three-time participant in the North Carolina State Games, Warren earned All-State and All-Conference honors as a junior, and was also named the New Bern Sun Journal Player of the Year. He repeated as an All-Conference honoree as a senior, and was selected to the East Coast Professional Showcase Team. Warren graduated fifth in his class in 2005, and it was going to take big money to buy him away from the University of North Carolina and their powerhouse baseball program.
Raised in the Nashville suburb of Mt. Juliet, Cotham attended the high school of the same name and lettered in baseball all four years. He helped the Golden Bears to the regionals as a sophomore, the district championship as a junior, and both the district championship and sectional playoffs as a senior. You don’t get recruited by a top tier college program like Vanderbilt without doing some special things in high school, so let’s recap all of Cotham’s accomplishments in bullet point form…
- Three time All-District selection
- District MVP as a junior
- All-Region and All-State selections as a junior
- 9-AAA Tournament MVP as a senior
- Named team captain twice
Graham Stoneburner | RHP
Stoneburner grew up in Richmond, Virginia, not far from the talent hotbed that produced players like Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, Justin Verlander, and The Uptons in recent years. He lettered in baseball all four years at Mills E. Godwin High School, though he didn’t explode onto the prospect scene until his junior year, when he posted a 0.21 ERA with 74 strikeouts in just 43 innings, not to mention three homers and a .313 batting average. Stoneburner was named First Team All-Metro and Second Team All-District as a junior, and was expected to garner consideration for the top two rounds of the 2006 draft with a strong senior season.
Jesus Montero | C
Montero grew up in Guacara, Venezuela, not far from the capital of Caracas. He was signed by Carlos Rios, the Yankees’ director of Latin American scouting, on the first day of July 2nd international signing period in 2006 for $2M, however the deal was later negotiated down to $1.65M. Rumors popped up that Montero lied about his age, however those were eventually shot down and the reason for the bonus cutback has never been officially disclosed. For what it’s worth, Rios was fired two years later for his role in a bonus skimming scandal, in which he forced several players to kick back some bonus money.
J.R. Murphy | C
Raised in Bradenton, Florida, John Ryan Murphy was a bit of a late bloomer. He missed his junior season of high school with a knee injury that required surgery, and didn’t make much of a name for himself until he starred in various showcase events the summer before his senior year. During his senior year at the prestigious IMG Academy, Murphy led the 31-1-0 Panthers in games played (31), batting average (.627), on-base percentage (.686), slugging percentage (1.235), runs scored (56), hits (64), doubles (17), homers (11), and runs batted in (66) while striking out only four times in 104 at-bats. The Panthers played in four tournaments throughout the season, and Murphy was named MVP of all four.