The 2012 minor league season was pretty close to a nightmare for the Yankees. It didn’t get all the way there, but it was close. Their top pitching prospects either suffered series elbow injuries or just stopped throwing strikes, and a few of their top hitting prospects dealt with injuries or played so poorly we have to go back and question how good they were in the first place.
That said, the Yankees still have a pretty strong farm system with four no-doubt top 100 prospects in my opinion. The drop-off after those four is drastic, but there’s a solid group of upside guys coming off injury and probability guys knocking on the door. The Yankees have more high-end position player prospects right now than at any point since the law firm of Johnson, Soriano & Henson were calling the farm system shots in the early-2000s.
As I say every year, ranking prospects is all about your personal balance between potential and probability. Some prefer upside over probability while others tends to value the safer guys a little more. Talent always reigns supreme to me, but I’ve definitely come to value closeness to the big leagues as well in recent years. For the most part, there won’t be much difference between two prospects ranked consecutively. There usually is a difference between guys who are five or six or ten spots apart, however.
I use the standard rookie eligibility rules — 130 at-bats or 50 innings at the MLB level — to determine who is and who isn’t a prospect without regards to service time limit. That stuff is a pain. We need a cut-off point and rookie eligibility seems like a convenient enough place to draw the line. The only prospect to graduate from last year’s preseason list was RHSP David Phelps. That’s a function of the distribution of talent in the farm system at the moment — most of the best prospects are in the lower minors and still a good year or two away from seeing the show.
All of my previous top 30 lists — including the pre-draft and post-draft lists — dating back to the start of RAB in 2007 can be found right here. All of the ages listed below are as of April 1st, or approximately Opening Day. Enjoy.
That video is from the 2011 season, but I’ll allow it because I’m itching for baseball. The Yankees appear only five times, four because they were getting robbed by a great defensive play. Frankie Cervelli took a foul ball to the cup the other time. I’m going to have to GIF that at some point.
Anyway, here if your open thread for the night. All three hockey locals are in action, but talk about whatever you want. Enjoy.
Via Erik Boland: Pitching coach Larry Rothschild confirmed Michael Pineda is progressing well during his rehab from shoulder surgery. There’s a chance he will be able to throw off a full mound as soon as next week.
Pineda, 24, has been throwing off a half-mound for a little more than a week now after spending several months on flat ground. Getting back up on a full mound is a big milestone in his rehab, but don’t confuse it for a sign that he is close to returning. Pineda is still weeks away from facing hitters behind an L-screen in batting practice, nevermind pitching in any kind of game situation. Still, I’m sure he and the team will take all the good news they can. · (25) ·
Felix Hernandez is close to signing a mammoth seven-year, $175M contract with the Mariners according to Bob Nightengale. The deal rips up the final two years of his previous contract and takes effect immediately, so it’s basically a five-year extension that will keep him in Seattle through 2019. The Yankees and pretty much every other team have tried to trade for Felix at some point recently, but GM Jack Zduriencik steadfastly refused to discuss him. Don’t worry, I’m sure the Yankees will pay through the nose for whatever is left of his career in seven years. · (44) ·
For the first time in several years, the Yankees do not have an obvious top prospect. Manny Banuelos was the easy (but not necessarily slam dunk) choice last season and Jesus Montero indisputably sat atop the team’s prospect list for years, but right now there is no real consensus. They do have four legitimate top prospect candidates though, so it’s not like they’re hurting for talent.
By now you know those four players: catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielders Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Slade Heathcott. Baseball America ranked Williams number one earlier this winter while Keith Law and John Sickels each had Sanchez in the top spot. If you spend some time scouring the interwebs, you’ll sure find other lists with Heathcott and Austin sitting at number one. I think we can all agree there wouldn’t be much argument with any of this guys being called New York’s best minor leaguer.
My personal top 30 prospects list comes out tomorrow, but you’ll have to wait until then to see I have at number one. For now I just want to poll the audience to see who you folks think is the team’s top prospect. Here’s a quick review of each guys credential’s (listed alphabetically)…
OF Tyler Austin
Austin, 21, was the best player in the farm system last season, hitting .322/.400/.559 with 17 homers and 23 stolen bases while playing at four different levels. The Yankees have moved him around the field a bit, but last year he settled into right field. Regardless, he’s a bat-first prospect.
OF Slade Heathcott
The 22-year-old Heathcott missed the first half with his second shoulder surgery in as many offseasons, but he returned to hit .302/.380/.461 with five homers and 19 steals in 65 total games. He tore the cover off the ball — .388/.494/.612 in 18 games — in the Arizona Fall League after the season. If that’s not good enough, his defense\ive skills in center and damn near elite.
C Gary Sanchez
No minor league catcher hit more homers than the 20-year-old Sanchez in 2012, who went deep 18 times while hitting .290/.344/.485 across two levels. Thanks to his greatly improved defense, he’s likely to remain behind the plate long-term. Sanchez might be the most gifted hitter in the system, and he does it at the most premium position.
OF Mason Williams
Williams, 21, hit .298/.346/.474 with 11 homers and 20 steals in 91 games between two levels last season, though a shoulder injury — suffered while diving for a ball in the outfield — ended his season in late-August. Williams offers high-end center field defense like Heathcott, but he doesn’t have the same ugly injury history.
* * *
With all due respect to the other players in the system, these four clearly stand out from the pack. They’re all not only extremely talented, but they all produced in a big way this past season. Which one is the best? I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
Via Anthony McCarron & Erik Boland: Top prospect Mason Williams is close to 100% following shoulder surgery in August. He should back to “full practice” mode in two weeks and is expected to begin the season with High-A Tampa.
Williams, 21, injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder diving for a ball in the outfield last season. He was cleared to resume working out in October and started swinging a bat in December. Williams hit .298/.346/.474 with 11 homers, 20 steals, and only 47 strikeouts in 397 plate appearances between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa before the injury. · (20) ·
Prospect season is in full swing now that pitchers and catchers are due to report next week, so it’s time for my annual look at the Yankees’ top 30 prospects. Before we do that though, we have to look at some players who are on the outside looking in. New York has a fairly deep system, especially when it comes to power arms, so there are always a few players I want to highlight even though I don’t consider them one of the organization’s 30 best prospective big leaguers.
Just one of last year’s Not Top 30 Prospects jumped into the Top 30 this year, but three others were among the very last cuts and could have easily snuck in. The fifth player missed the entire season due to injury and wasn’t a serious consideration for the list. As a reminder, these are not prospects 31-35. They’re five prospects who I believe have a chance to jump into next year’s Top 30 with a healthy and strong season in 2013. That’s all. The players are listed alphabetically — ages are as of April 1st — so don’t bother to read anything into the order.
RHSP Gabe Encinas, 21
Given a $300k signing bonus as the team’s sixth round pick in 2010, Encinas put together a generally underwhelming campaign — 4.97 ERA (5.31 FIP) with 14.8 K% and 12.0 BB% in 70.2 innings — with Short Season Staten Island last year. Despite that, he’s a guy worth following because his raw stuff has improved considerably since his days of hugging 90 mph with his fastball back in high schooler. Encinas, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 lbs., now lives in the 93-95 mph range with that fastball, which bores in on righties. He even hit 98 a few times last summer. His curveball and changeup lag though, as does his overall command. Encinas is still learning to harness is newfound power stuff and will need quite some time to climb the ladder, likely spending a year at each level. He is ticketed for the Low-A Charleston starting rotation when the season begins.
RHSP Gio Gallegos, 21
Depending on who you ask, Gallegos was coming off either Tommy John surgery or knee surgery when the Yankees signed him for $100k in 2011. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 175 lbs., the Mexican-born Gallegos was healthy enough to post a 1.67 ERA (2.50 FIP) with 22 strikeouts and just two walks in 27 innings for the club’s Rookie Level Gulf Coast League affiliate last year. He’s primarily a two-pitch pitcher who throws easy low-90s gas with a hard, low-80s curveball that can be a true put-away pitch at times. A nascent changeup rounds out his repertoire. Gallegos has good command and excellent control, though he might be the type of guy who throws too many strikes and gets hit more than his stuff says he should. There’s a good chance the Yankees will have him join Encinas in the Low-A Charleston rotation this year.
RHSP Brady Lail, 19
The Yankees only signed three players to above-slot bonuses last season, and one of those three was Lail. New York paid him $225k as their 18th round pick, then watched him allow two runs with ten strikeouts and two walks in 12.2 innings for the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League team after signing. Lail is big and projectable at a listed 6-foot-2 and 175 lbs., and the Yankees are hopeful he will add some velocity to his mid-to-high-80s fastball as he fills out. His big-breaking curveball is already an above-average swing-and-miss pitch, and his changeup is advanced for a high schooler. All of his pitches play up because of a deceptive delivery. If Lail adds a few ticks to his fastball, he could rocket up prospect lists as a kid with three average or better pitches. The Yankees figure to hold him back in Extended Spring Training before sending him to Short Season Staten Island in 2013.
RHSP Zach Nuding, 23
Nuding signed for $265k as the team’s 30th round pick in 2010. He missed time with a sore shoulder in 2012, but otherwise pitched to a 3.89 ERA (3.20 FIP) with 18.0 K% and 7.1 BB% in 85.2 innings for High-A Tampa last year before a stint in the Arizona Fall League. Nuding is an intimidating presence on the mound at a listed 6-foot-4 and 250 lbs., and his fastball cashes the check his frame writes by sitting in the 93-96 range with a few 98s. He throws downhill well and hitters have a hard time hitting the pitch in the air. A low-80s slider and low-80s changeup are his two secondary offerings, and both lag behind his fastball. His delivery is a little violent but he’s not wild. The Yankees have had Nuding start throughout his career just to accumulate innings, but it’ll soon be time to take off the reigns and let him cut it loose in the bullpen. A ticket to Double-A Trenton is in the cards for this season. Don’t be surprised if he’s in the big league bullpen mix at this time next year if they shift him to relief at some point this summer.
2B/OF Rob Refnsyder, 22
Refsnyder was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player after leading Arizona to the national championship last summer, then he signed for a little more than $205k as the Yankees fifth round pick. He hit just .247/.324/.370 (95 RC+) with four homers and eleven steals in his 182-plate appearances cameo with Low-A Charleston at the end of the season. Refsnyder, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 205 lbs., has a level right-handed swing that is gearing for contact and capable of slashing line drives all over the field. He isn’t expected to hit for much power and has just decent speed, but his instincts and aggressiveness make him a stolen base threat. There was talk of the Yankees shifting Refsnyder back to second base — he played the position in high school but moved to the outfield in college — but he played right field exclusively for the River Dogs late in the season even though Angelo Gumbs had been on the DL at that point. To get into my Top 30, Refsnyder will have to shift to the infield because he just doesn’t hit enough or defend well enough to hold down an outfield corner. He’s expected to join High-A Tampa along with Gumbs this summer, so a move back to second seems unlikely at the moment.
…as a guest instructor according to Dan Barbarisi. Matsui, who retired in December, declined the invitation because Mrs. Godzilla is due to give birth to Baby Godzilla in the not too distant future. I’m guessing we won’t have to wait very long to see Hideki back with the team though, there’s Spring Training and an Old Timers’ Day every year. · (29) ·
This week has felt exceedingly long for some reason. I don’t think it’s because pitchers and catchers are due to report next week or anything like that, the clock just seems to be moving extra slow these last few days. I’m pretty much ready for the weekend right now.
Anyway, here is your open thread for the evening. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing tonight, but feel free to talk about whatever you want. You know how these things work. Enjoy.
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Earlier this offseason we heard that new third baseman Kevin Youkilis was hard at work with hitting coach Kevin Long in an effort to improve his declining offensive production. His overall output dropped down to a 102 wRC+ last season, basically league average, after sitting at 126 wRC+ in 2011 and 159 wRC+ in 2010. Considering he’s going to turn 34 next month, Youkilis was wise to get together with Long and make some adjustments before the season.
Youkilis met up with Jack Curry recently and discussed the changes he’s been working on, specifically setting up with a wider base and lowering his hands. Both are pretty common “old player” adjustments that try to eliminate wasted movement and get the hitter into a hitting position sooner. Youkilis is a dead-pull hitter and as he gets older and his bat slows down, he’ll need to shorten his swing up somewhere to avoid popping up the other way or getting jammed inside. I’m not terribly optimistic, but I’m glad they’re making an effort to improve now rather than midseason.