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2011 Preseason Top 30 Prospects

(Mark LoMoglio/MiLB.com)

The 2010 season was a banner year for the Yankees’ farm system, featuring many breakouts and steps forward and very few major injuries, regressions and the like. It really was the best case scenario, and it leaves them with a system generally regarded as one of the deeper ones in the game. They boast high-ceiling talent both on the mound and at the plate, and plenty of depth in the form of back-end starters and average everyday players or bench pieces, which come in handy on the trade market and for filling holes at the Major League level.

The Triple-A Scranton Yankees continued their reign atop the International League’s North Division, winning their fifth consecutive division title. Double-A Trenton won their second straight division title and fourth in five years, but High-A Tampa outdid them both, winning their second consecutive division title and repeating as Florida State League champions. Yankee farmhands took home MVP honors at both the Double-A and High-A levels. With an overall record of 371-318, the six domestic affiliates finished with the third best combined winning percentage (.538) in the minors, trailing only the Cardinals (.569) and Cubs (.542).

As I say every year, ranking prospects is all about trying to find a balance between performance, projection, and probability. Talent and great stats are wonderful, but context is important: how old is the player, what level was he in, what’s the home park like, etc. There are certainly times that the player’s upside is so great that you can’t ignore it, no matter how far down the ladder they are. Remember, a lot of  these guys are very interchangeable. I don’t think there’s much of a difference between this year’s #2 and #5 prospects, or the #8 and #16 prospects. When guys are that close, it comes down to personal preference.

Here are my lists from 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. Happy fifth anniversary, I can’t believe it’s been this long already.  The listed ages are as of Opening Day, give or take a day or two. Fun starts after the jump.

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Mailbag: Ohlendorf, Org. Players, Wild Card

This week we’ve got questions about a former Yankee reliever turned starter, plus stuff on organizational players, the 2011 AL Wild Card, and what everyone really wants to know: when do all the aces hit free agency? Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions.

Rock 'n Rohlendorf (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Joe asks: Looking over Ohlendorf’s career numbers and numbers last year, does he pass the Mitre test? (if the Yankees still had him of course)

You know, I was a real big Ross Ohlendorf fan back in the day, when he was throwing that 97 mph two-seamer and sharp slider in relief … though he was never able to miss a bat. That’s held true since the trade. He’s struck out just 5.9 batters per nine innings with the Buccos, and his ground ball rate (38.5%) isn’t nearly good enough to compensate. Ohlendorf also gives up quite a few homers (1.2 HR/9), and left-handers just crush him (.371 wOBA).

Ohlie used that Princeton education to beat the Pirates in arbitration this month, earning himself a $2.025MM salary in 2010. He’s essentially Mitre without all the ground balls and at more than twice the cost, so no, he doesn’t pass the test.

Brad asks: You did a nice article the importance of organization players, but it would be interesting to see if you have any recent examples (e.g, within the last 5 years) of players labeled as organizational players that emerged to be something more in the majors.  Do you have any thoughts?

I don’t know of too many examples, but the best is Ian Kinsler. He spent his freshman season at a JuCo, transferred to Arizona State and hit .230/.246/.262 in 66 plate appearances as a bench player, then transferred to Mizzou for his junior year and hit .335/.416/.536 against weak competition. Baseball America ranked him the 17th best prospect in Missouri for the 2003 Draft, hardly a state known for baseball. The Rangers took him in the 17th round, and it wasn’t until a monster half season in Single-A (.402/.465/.692 in 225 PA) that Kinsler put himself on the map. Considered a defense-first shortstop out of college, the rest is pretty much history.

A bunch of relievers qualify would here, those guys tend to come out of nowhere. Former Yankee Phil Coke and former Yankees farmhand John Axford certainly fit the bill. I know Freddy Sanchez was dangerously close to flaming out at some point before the Red Sox traded him to the Pirates. That’s really all I got, this would be pretty tough to research.

Erik asks: Is there any chance the wild card comes from this division in 2011?  The Sox are obviously stacked, Yanks can hold their own as long as starters can get thru 5-6 innings.  Both Baltimore (check out that lineup) and the Jays have improved a bunch.  You can’t count out TB either, though I think they’re the team that will suffer most this year. All that said, each of these teams play each other 17-20 times.  The beating they could all give to each other will surely hurt the overall standings, when there’s divisions like the West who have much lighter schedules.  I think you’re gonna have to win the East to make the playoffs – do you agree?

Won't have to face this guy anymore. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner)

I wouldn’t get too worried about the O’s. Yes their lineup is improved, but Mark Reynolds, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Matt Wieters all have on-base percentages at or below .330 over the last three years. That’s nearly half the lineup right there. Vlad Guerrero has one foot in the glue factory, Brian Roberts and Derrek Lee slightly less so. In fact, the only regular in their lineup that is undeniably a better hitter than their Yankee counterpart is Luke Scott in leftfield. Plus Baltimore’s pitching is awful. Nice team, definitely improved, but they’ll flirt with 90 losses unless some of their young arms really step up.

I also don’t think the Jays have improved much. They traded their best starter and second best hitter, and lost their two best relievers and replaced them with a bunch of inferior ones. Going in the right direction, yes, but they’re not there yet. The Rays will certainly be tough, and of course the Red Sox will as well, but look at the other divisions. Oakland is improved but hardly a powerhouse, and the Rangers’ pitching thins out real quick after C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis. The Twins lost a bunch of bullpen depth but are still a damn good team. The White Sox are probably the favorite to win the division after adding some offense in Adam Dunn, and the Tigers added offense (Victor Martinez) but their pitching to awfully thin once you get past the front three starters and top two relievers.

Ninety wins would have won the AL Wild Card last year, after 88 in 2009 and 90 in 2008. Let’s say the Yankees split their 72 games against the four other AL East teams and go 36-36 (18 games against each), that means they’d have to play .622 ball during the non-AL East portion of their schedule to get to 92 wins, which should be enough to secure a playoff berth. They played .633 against non-AL East teams last year and .528 within the division, so we’re not expecting miracles.  Will it be tougher to get in the postseason this year because teams in other divisions improved? Sure, but all those clubs are flawed as well. You can argue that the Yankees have the best bullpen and best lineup in the AL, which is more than enough to keep them in the hunt until they get some real starting pitching help. Winning the division is great, but I’m of the “just get in” mentality.

Dave asks: For curiosity’s sake, can you put together a list of when various aces are expected to reach free agency, and their age at that time? It would be interesting to see in one place when Felix, Lincecum, and Johnson will become available. Thanks.

After the jump is a list of the top 20 pitchers in terms of FIP over the last two years, and when they hit free agency…

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Casting a wary eye across town

I couldn’t decide whether to title this one “Meet the Mess” or something less antagonistic. See, I don’t hate the Mets per se; generally, I find it more exciting when New York has two competitive, well-run baseball teams that are both embroiled in division crown pursuits. Lately, though, I’ve just sat back and laughed at the Mets much to the chagrin of their fans.

I’ve long been amused by the relationship between the Mets and their fans and the Yankees and their fans. Simply put, Yankee fans don’t hate the Mets while Mets fans absolutely abhor the Yankees and their fans. We seem to view the Mets as the unlucky younger brother that can’t catch a break. Seven game lead with 17 left to play? They won’t hold it. Bases loaded with the NLDS winning run at 3rd? Walk it in. Great catch by Endy Chavez in Game 7 of the NLCS? Serve up a longball to Yadier Molina.

Perhaps, Yankee fans deserve the scorn we get from Mets fans. We do tend to take perverse pleasure in watching the Mets find new and exciting ways to blow games, leads, chances. It’s what Jets fans had come to expect out of their own team prior to the past few seasons, and it’s how Red Sox fans, until 2004, behaved for decades. But while Mets fans loved their lovable losers, Yankee fans smirked at the bumbling Mets.

Today, though, it’s hard out there for a Mets fan. The team, under the auspices of Omar Minaya for the past few seasons, had tanked. That Yadier Molina home run took a lot out of the club, and in the second year of a new ballpark in New York City, they were having a tough time filling seats by the end of the 2010 season. This year will be the start of Sandy Alderson’s rebuilding process, and with some key contracts expiring soon, the Mets will have room to maneuver.

Or at least that’s what the players and their fans thought. Shortly before pitchers and catchers, the Madoff hit the fan. We had heard rumblings of some fiscal issues the Wilpons might run into in conjunction with the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, and everything exploded a few weeks ago when the Madoff Trustee filed suit for $1 billion against the Wilpons. The owners know they’re going to be on the hook for at least a few hundred million dollars, and even as Mario Cuomo enters the picture to mediate the dispute, the Wilpons are looking to sell part of the Mets.

For now, the owners want to hold onto a majority stake in the team and, more importantly, control. They want to sell perhaps 25-30 percent of the team — to raise approximately $250 million — but I can’t imagine too many people willing to shell out those dollars would be willing to take a backseat to ownership that hasn’t done much winning lately. If the Mets are sold entirely before the year is out, I wouldn’t be shocked.

The fans who just want baseball are the ones who lose out. In an ideal world, the Mets, playing in New York and with their own TV station, should have a payroll around $150-$160 million, and they should be able to dominate the NL with their financial edge. Instead, the club has to essentially bribe season ticket-holders to re-up for their plans this year. Bondholders are suffering as well.

As a Yankee by birth — Thanks, mom and dad! — I draw no joy in these stories. Too many people were ruined financially by the Madoff scandal, and the Mets, a baseball team that serves as a diversion from real life, are going to be dragged down. Still, as I’ve cast my glance across town lately, I’m glad I’m a Yankee fan. Our team’s biggest problem is the back end of the rotation, and that certainly puts things into perspective.

Open Thread: Puma

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

If you’d have told me at this time last year that Lance Berkman was going to be the Yankees starting first baseman in the ALCS, I’d have called you insane. And yet, there he was in October, manning first after Mark Teixeira blew out his hamstring in Game Four. Berkman had a full no-trade clause and didn’t have to come to New York at the trade deadline, especially since he was going to be little more than a platoon DH, but he did because he wanted to play for a contender. His tenure in pinstripes started out poorly (.091/.167/.091 in his first six games) but soon enough he started to deliver, hitting .298/.404/.417 in the final 31 games of the season and then .313/.368/.688 in the postseason. His homerun and double in Game Two of the ALDS almost single-handedly beat the Twins. Fat Elvis turns 35 years old today and I have no idea how the hell the Cardinals figure he can play the outfield everyday at this point of his career, but that’s not my problem. I appreciate his service to the Yankees cause last season no matter how brief.

Here’s the open thread for the evening. Both the Devils and Islanders are in action, so find your own entertainment. Talk about whatever, go nuts.

Talking Yankees with Keefe

I haven’t yet had a chance to make my much-anticipated — at least by this guy — debut on our own RAB Radio Show, but yesterday I had a chance to talk baseball on a different podcast. I joined WFAN’s Neil Keefe for 15 minutes of baseball chat, and the recording hit the web today. While I was standing outside in the freezing cold in Midtown, we talked about the upcoming baseball season. We ran down the starting pitcher competition, the situation at catcher and the projected lineup. Give it a listen right here, and soon I’ll join Joe and Mike on our own podcast as well.

Frankie Piliere’s Organizational Rankings

One day after posting his list of the top 100 prospects in the game, Frankie Piliere ranked each club’s farm system. The Yankees placed fourth, trailing only the Royals, Braves, and Rays, in that order. “It’s been awhile since the Yankees could legitimately claim to have one of baseball’s best farm systems,” said Piliere. “This year they are undoubtedly part of that group. Jesus Montero is the best catching prospect in the game, and their collection of young arms — headlined by Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman — stacks up with any in baseball. There is more coming from the lower levels.”

The general consensus is that the Yankees have at least a top ten farm system, though most publications have them in the top five or six. They’re going to need that young talent this year, either for help at the big league level or in trades, so it’s a good time to have a good farm system (is there ever a bad time?).