KLaw’s Top 100 Prospects

Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list came out today (1-25, 26-50, 51-75, 76-100), and unsurprisingly the Yankees are well represented (I believe all but the top 25 are Insider only). Jesus Montero comes in at number four, trailing only Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Domonic Brown. “[Montero’s] going to hit. And by that, I mean he’s going to hit for average, get on base and have huge power — the type of offensive profile that plays anywhere on the field and in the lineup,” said KLaw, though he adds the obvious caveat about his defense. “Montero could solve the Yankees’ DH problem for the next 10 years if they commit to it, a move they are unlikely to ever regret.”

Manny Banuelos wasn’t too far behind Montero at number 12, and according to KLaw he’s the fourth best pitching prospect in baseball behind Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller, and Zach Britton. “[He’s] a 19-year-old on the cusp of the majors with a three-pitch mix where all three pitches will at least flash above-average … he’s just a few refinements away from being able to help the big league club.” Law is probably the high man on Banuelos, I was surprised to see him ranked so far up there. Gary Sanchez is 68th (“youth and distance from the majors are the only things keeping him out of the top echelon of this list”), Dellin Betances is 73rd (“[there’s] No. 1 starter potential here, but the probability isn’t there yet”), and Andrew Brackman makes five Yankee farmhands at number 88 (“[he] may be a bullpen guy, but at least now that’s his floor”).

Austin Romine make Law’s list of ten prospects that just missed the top 100, and he notes that Romine “can throw and hit for power, but has struggled with basic receiving tasks every time I’ve seen him in the past six months.” His list of each organization’s top ten prospects came out as well, and the Yankee list is pretty standard with one exception: he’s got Graham Stoneburner all that way at number seven. Hooray for a strong farm system.

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A Torrid Love Affair

AP Images/Kathy Willens

Well, it’s done. The Yankees have signed Rafael Soriano for three years and $35 million dollars. Given that Cashman said he was not interested in giving up the first round pick, it came as a bit of a surprise. In retrospect, though, everyone should have expected this.

Two words: Scott Boras. Boras and the New York Yankees have a long history, tied together by big numbers made by superstar players. This isn’t the first time Boras (with some help from the Yankees ownership) has managed to wiggle his grubby little hands deep into pinstriped pockets. As a matter of fact, it’s happened over and over. It makes perfect sense that the team with enormous financial power spends a lot of time dealing with the agent known for record-breaking contracts. Two powerhouses with complementary results should go hand-in-hand, but most of the time, both sides can’t win in a negotiation.

Exhibit A: In 1998, Bernie Williams was coming off a .328/.408/.544 season where he banged 21 homers and 100 RBIs. The offseason started off pretty bleak, though: George Steinbrenner had made it quite clear that his highest offer for the beloved center fielder was five years and $60M and not a dime more. Boras insisted that he had seven- and eight-year offers from mystery teams. There were plenty of people who thought this was a load of bull, but Boras held his ground, so the Yankees eyed Albert Belle instead. But Boras fought. He brought up meetings with both the Diamondbacks and the much-hated Boston Red Sox, who had were rumored to offer our dear Bernie seven years and $90M. When Belle signed with the Orioles, Boras pounced, and before anyone knew it, Williams was a Yankee to the tune of seven years and $87.5M, way above what Steinbrenner originally wanted to pay. In the end, the contract was a pretty good one: Belle suffered hip issues that knocked him out of baseball just two years later, and Bernie hit .298/.386/.480 and signed on for one last year in 2006.

Exhibit B: Alex Rodriguez. People could write books about the Rodriguez-Boras relationship, to say the least. In another example of shrewd Boras negotiating, Alex Rodriguez snapped himself up a 10-year, $252M contract from the Rangers. The franchise seemed to have forgotten they actually had to have that money to pay it, and began searching for trade options. In 2003, there was an attempt to trade Rodriguez to the Red Sox, but the complicated negotiation would have involved losing $30M. Interestingly enough, the trade fell through not because of Boras (who was fine with Rodriguez losing the cash), but the MLBPA, who felt that losing guaranteed contract money set a bad precedent. As per usual though, Red Sox loss was Yankee gain, and the Yankees acquired Rodriguez in February of 2004. But where Boras really showed off his skills was when Rodriguez opted out of the remaining three years and $72M of his contract in 2007 in favor of renegotiation. This decision, as I’m sure you all remember, was leaked during the 2007 World Series and I bet the New York Post had some really, really good front covers discussing the matter in their, ah, unique way. To calm the storm of New York rage, Rodriguez tried to soothe things by contacting the Yankees office directly, at the advice of Warren Buffet. As Rodriguez attempted to repair his public image (never his strong front) Boras took advantage of the fluctuations of the Yankees front office to secure the absolutely insanely absurd 10 year/$275M contract Rodriguez plays under today. He had a bigger hand in the incentives: each time Rodriguez passes a person on the all-time home run list, it’s an additional $6M in his pocket. If Rodriguez becomes the all-time home run leader, his contract will exceed $300M, the first ever in professional sports. I’m sure I’m not the only one who grimaces and tries to ignore how much we’re paying A-Rod in favor of the numbers he puts up, but Boras will be Boras. Truly the best worst contract ever.

I’m glad to say that the story for Johnny Damon is much shorter and sweeter. It was December 2005 and the Boston Red Sox  refused to budge on their 3-year contract offer for their center fielder, the caveman-like Johnny Damon. Damon, who had already admitted that he doesn’t want to be a Yankee, was looking for more than three years, and the Sox would not negotiate down from Boras‘ five-year plan. Boras even tried to get in contact with the Sox’s owner, Larry Luchino, but to no avail, and soon enough, Damon was a Yankee to the tune of four years and $52M. He would go on to hit .285/.363/.458 in the pinstripes and looked significantly less like a yeti, both great things about his tenure in the Bronx. I’m pretty sure I’ll always remember his 2009 double steal against the Phillies. The story has a sad note for everyone who loved Damon as a Yankee, though, and for once Boras’ demand for cash came back to bite his client. Damon demanded no less than the $13M he was paid for any further deals, and the Yankees said no. When they refused to budge, Damon was forced to take a one year, $8M offer for the Tigers. He’s a free agent now, so we’ll have to see how that ends up.

The story continues. In 2008-09 offseason, the Yankees were coming off their first season without October baseball since the strike, and they were out for blood. What do you do when you’re the New York Yankees and you want to win? You use your biggest advantage: in a mindboggling display of financial might, the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and AJ Burnett. Teixeira, another Boras client, picked up the record for highest paid first baseman with an eight year, $180M contract of his own. While Teixeira’s 2009 numbers were strong (he lead the league in RBIs and home runs), his glacially slow start in 2010 contributed to a down season. Here’s hoping that he’ll be make himself close to worth the $22.5M he’ll be getting in 2011.

Soriano is only another chapter in the long story between Boras and the Yankees. “Like Williams and Rodriguez, he secured himself an exorbitant amount of money; his numbers from the previous year were stellar enough to pretend to justify both the years and the cost, at least for the Yankees. think it’s safe to say that Soriano and his three year, $35M contract won’t be the last time these two powerhouses meet. Andrew Brackman, for example, is a Boras client, and I’m interested to see how he develops as a pitcher and what Boras can do for him. While Boras clients almost never completely live up to their contracts, there is no doubt many of his clients have been incredibly important and still quite valuable to the current Yankees and those of the recent past. Let’s hope Soriano continues this trend.

Mailbag: The Killer B’s vs. The Big Three

Viva la The Big Three. (Cataffo, NY Daily News)

Dan asks: How excited should we be about the Killer B’s (Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman) in comparison to how we were a few years ago with the Big Three (Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy)? Also, when can we expect an impact at the major league level?

The first thing we have to remember is that we’re talking about a group of very different pitchers here, so it’s not exactly an apples to apples comparison. Just speaking in general terms, Brackman, Betances, and Joba are all pure stuff guys. Hughes and Banuelos are a combination of stuff and polish, while Kennedy is all polish. The Killer B’s have a higher collective ceiling only because IPK drags down The Big Three, not that he’s a bad pitcher or anything.

Another difference is health. Both Brackman and Betances have had major elbow surgery in the not too distance past, but none of The Big Three have gone under the knife. Well, Kennedy did for his aneurysm in 2009, but that was a non-baseball thing, like Banuelos’ appendix. Then there’s performance. Hughes, Kennedy, and Joba completely smoked the minors, not a single one ran into any kind of rough patch where they struggled for a month or so. Brackman, as well know, sucked in 2009, and Betances had been pretty inconsistent prior to the elbow. The track records are on opposite ends of the spectrum as far as I’m concerned.

If I had to pick between the two group of pitchers at their respective prospect status peaks, I’d take Hughes-Joba-Kennedy eight days a week and twice on Sunday. Hughes and Joba we simply the two best prospects of the six, and at his peak Kennedy was a better prospect than either Brackman or Betances. In terms of hype, which is really what the question boils down to, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Big Three were more hyped and anticipated. Like I said, they all destroyed the minors, and that alone is enough to drum up some excitement. And remember, the Yankees were in a very different place a few years ago. The rotation was crap and here we had three young and exciting arms coming to save the day. That adds fuel to the fire as well.

As for when you can expect The Killer B’s to make an impact, I think Brackman’s the first one to debut, likely as a reliever in the second half of 2011. I suppose if he performs well enough and the Yankees have a need, he could come up as a starter, but there are a few guys ahead of him on the pecking order. Both Betances and Banuelos are 2012 guys at the absolute earliest. Neither has much experience at Double-A, so they still have to clear that hurdle and then deal with Triple-A. Banuelos will probably beat Betances just because he’s better and is more advanced as a pitcher, but Dellin has a 40-man roster spot to his name.

Best part of it all? The Yankees have five of these six guys, so no matter who you like best, we all still win. Developing not one, but two trios of pitching prospects like this within four years of each other is rather awesome if you ask me.

Yankees decline options for Wood, Berkman, and Johnson

The Yankees have declined their 2011 options for Kerry Wood ($11M), Lance Berkman ($15M), and Nick Johnson ($5.5M), the club announced today. Puma gets a $2 million buyout, Johnson $250,000. As far as I can tell, Wood gets nothing. None of these should come as surprises, and in fact one of the conditions of Berkman’s accepting the trade to New York was that the team had to decline his option. I guess he really didn’t want to stick around. The Yanks could try to bring Wood back, but that salary is far too rich for a setup man.

The Yanks did pick one option today: Andrew Brackman‘s. I have no idea what the money is on that, but it’s not substantial. Even if they would have declined it, he’s still under team control for five more years. They also hold options for 2012 and 2013 as part of the big league deal Brackman signed out of the draft in 2007.

The Killer B’s: Who is coming first?

Thankfully the Yankees have the Killer B's, not Killer Bees

Bobby (NY)

What is a realistic path for Banuelos to the majors? He is still young for AA right?

Klaw
Yes, but I’ve talked to multiple scouts about him (and I think he’ll be here next week) and it sounds like he’s not very far off.

Picked up this question in Klaw’s chat at ESPN on Thursday and thought it was pretty interesting.  I look forward to seeing Law do an actual prospect profile on Banuelos next year.  He hasn’t seen him yet, but noted on twitter that several scouts told him Banuelos was the best pitcher they had seen all year. Considering Law says he’s not far off, could Banuelos be the first of the Killer B’s to make an impact in the Bronx?

Banuelos is by far the youngest of the three, as Betances has 3 years on him and Brackman has more than 5.  At the same time, both Brackman and Betances have struggled with injuries and neither have much more minor league experience than Banuelos does.  Brackman and Betances also are expected to take longer to develop due to their big frames.  While their length should give them an advantage down the road it can lead to struggles with repeating their deliveries and being consistent.  Banuelos on the other hand checks in at just 5’10”, which while concerning (not many sub 6 feet starters out there), also is helpful in his development as he has less to worry about in his delivery.  Without the extra length, it’s easier for him to be consistent.

Obviously Brackman has the biggest advantage in already being on the 40 man roster.  If he’s healthy and continues to progress, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see him in the bigs in 2011, even if he comes up in the pen (to be moved back the rotation, right?).  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Banuelos before Betances though.  Because the Yankees are always competing for the World Series, they often aren’t in a hurry to get young pitchers in the major leagues, and Banuelos will still be barely 20 on Opening Day next year.  If he dominates at AA (no sure thing) and Betances struggles or gets hurt, why wouldn’t Banuelos get the first crack at the majors, other than his age?  The biggest X factor in this is that they are all trade bait and there’s no guarantee any or all of them will ever throw a pitch for the Yankees, but I think it’s interesting that in the scouting community, Banuelos is closer than I would have expected.

Baseball America’s Eastern League Top 20 Prospects

Baseball America posted their list of the top 20 prospects in the Double-A Eastern League today, and four Yankee farmhands made the list: Andrew Brackman at #5, Brandon Laird at #11, Hector Noesi at #16, and Austin Romine at #20. Brackman trailed only Domonic Brown (Phillies), Zach Britton (Orioles), Kyle Drabek (Blue Jays), and Brandon Belt (Giants). Manny Banuelos didn’t have enough innings to qualify, and David Adams‘ injury took him out of contention.

In the subscriber only scouting reports, they note that Brackman got better as the season went along, with his fastball going “from 89-92 mph to 93-95 in the middle innings of August starts.” They also say he can drop his curve in for strikes or bury it in the dirt for swings-and-misses, but the changeup needs work. Laird is said to have a knack for getting the fat part of the bat on the ball, an aggressive approach, and good power. He’s “adequate at third, with enough arm and solid hands but below-average range and speed,” and could end up at first.

Noesi’s best pitch is the old number one, a fastball that he manipulates by “adding and subtracting velocity from it, putting it where he wants despite its solid life and showing the ability to pitch to both sides of the plate.” They have his two-seamer at 88-92, and the four seamer up to 96. His changeup is a fringe pitch, but he also throws a slider and curve, with the latter showing more promise. As for Romine, whose stock took a hit after a rough second half, “he still has four average or better tools and the chance to succeed Jorge Posada as the Yankees’ catcher.” He has a strong but slightly inaccurate arm and overall profiles as a strong defender. Offensively, they say his “swing gets long and he’s not selective to fully tap into his plus raw power, but scouts project him as an average home run hitter.” They do note his ability to use the entire field.

The last list Yankee fans have to worry about is the Triple-A International League, which comes out on Tuesday. Jesus Montero is a lock for a top three or four spot, and chances are Ivan Nova will make the cut as well. Personal fave Eduardo Nunez will likely make an appearance as well.

Baseball America’s Florida State League Top 20 Prospects

Baseball America posted their list of the top 20 prospects in the High-A Florida State League today, and four Yankees made the cut: Dellin Betances at #4, Adam Warren at #13, Melky Mesa at #19, and Andrew Brackman at #20. Matt Moore (Rays), Chris Archer (Cubs), and Jacob Turner (Tigers) were the only players ahead of Betances. Manny Banuelos didn’t have enough innings to qualify.

In the subscriber only scouting reports they noted that Betances’ delivery is improved but there are still some concerns because of a head jerk and a stiff landing. The latter is pretty easy correct and is not uncommon at all. As for his stuff, they call it a “93-95 mph fastball and a power curveball” and a work-in-progress changeup. BA lauded Warren’s deep repertoire, which features “heavy 90-93 mph fastball”, a slow curveball, and a cutter/slider kind of breaking pitch. They also mention that his 6-foot-1, 200 lb. frame is maxed out, and there’s a chance he’ll end up as more of a setup man than a starter.

Mesa was said to have the best set of tools in the league behind Phillie turned Astros turned Blue Jay Anthony Gose. He “showed true four-tool ability” because he has “excellent raw power that already makes its presence felt in games, runs well, covers a lot of ground in center field and owns a strong, accurate arm.” His ability to make consistent contact and handle breaking balls is, as it always was, a concern. Brackman “showed an 89-94 mph fastball and a power curveball … giving him a pair of plus pitches on his best days.” They note that he uses his height to his advantage and that his changeup is improved, but his command can still waver from time to time.

The Double-A Eastern League list comes out on Friday, and the Yankees should be well represented once again. Brackman is again eligible for that list, and you’ve also got Hector Noesi, Austin Romine, and even Brandon Laird. David Adams is a long shot given his injury, and if Banuelos didn’t have enough innings to qualify for the FSL list, he definitely won’t have enough for the EL. For shame.