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.

The Yankees’ top five trade chips

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

We’re now just three full days from the trade deadline, so the rumor mill is going to pick up very soon. Unlike five or six years ago, the Yankees actually have some good young players to offer in a deal right now, players other teams in the league actually want. That used to not be the case, which is why Eric Duncan was promoted so aggressively back in the day; they were trying to boost his trade value. Thankfully don’t have that problem any more. There are waves of talent coming up through the system, so the Yanks could offer high probability players from the upper minors or high upside players a little further away.

GM Brian Cashman‘s stock line has been “No one is untouchable, but some are more touchable than others,” which is simple enough and right to the point. I’m sure the Yankees would move Robbie Cano or Phil Hughes in the right deal, but the odds that right deal comes along are very slim. As I put together this list of the players with the most trade value in the organization, I left those two off for that reason. It’s just incredibly unlikely that they’ll be traded.

I have to say, putting this together was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. Balancing big leaguers with guys still in the minors is never easy to do, especially when you’re trying to figure out how much those players appeal to other teams.

Remember, this list is extremely subjective, so make sure you leave your two cents in the comments.

1. Jesus Montero, C

Despite being one of the game’s best prospects, Montero has been no stranger to the trade rumor circuit. The Yanks offered him for Roy Halladay last year, and then again for Cliff Lee this year. Rumors have swirled about the team “dangling” him for Joakim Soria, though that sounds like a game of rumor telephone gone wrong. Either way, it’s clear other teams value the Yanks’ best prospect, enough to consider swapping a front-line player for him.

Still just 20-years-old, Montero rebounded from a poor start to the season in Triple-A and has hit .371/.481/.645 with more walks (13) than strikeouts (11) in July. Even though his future at catcher is uncertain, Montero has immense trade value as a well-above average bat with six years of team control ahead of him. Victor Wang’s research pegs his trade value at a staggering $36.5M.

2. Brett Gardner, OF

I don’t believe the Yanks would go out and actively shop Gardner, but I do believe they’d have no trouble parting with him in a trade if it came down to it. They could market him as a .380 OBP, 40 steal, Gold Glove caliber centerfielder with four more years of cost control left, which has big time value on the trade market. We know that the White Sox, Royals, and Cubs have had varying levels of interest in trading for Gardner over the last year or so.

The Yanks would have to bring in a replacement via free agency after the season, which would be expensive but not an issue of talent with players like Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth out there. I get a trade value of $53.3M using Sky Kalkman’s trade value calculator, though I suspect my WAR projections were a tad optimistic.

3. Joba Chamberlain, RHP

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Even though his 2010 season has been particularly horrific, other teams still have interest in Joba. The Diamondbacks asked for him in a Dan Haren deal, ditto the Blue Jays and Scott Downs. The Yankees would be selling low, very low, which is why I don’t expect them to move him, but they could present him as a guy that has flirted with the upper-90’s this year and shown a put-away slider and a good curveball.

Joba’s trade value isn’t as high as it was a few years ago not necessarily because he’s stunk this season, but because he’s about to enter his arbitration years. His league minimum salary is going to become a seven figure payout next year, which works against him. There are still plenty of teams out there that would be willing to move him back into the rotation, I’m sure of it. I have his trade value at $16.1M as a reliever and $21.9M as a starter.

4. Austin Romine, C

Depth behind the plate is a wonderful thing. Teams will often overpay for quality catchers in trades or free agency because of dearth of good backstops, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Romine is the team’s best minor league trade chip behind Montero. He doesn’t offer the same offensive potential, but he’s a virtual lock to stay behind the plate, boosting his trade value. As a projected league average hitter with above average defense and six full years of cost control left, Romine could be the centerpiece in any kind of deal short of one involving a superstar. Wang’s research has his value at $23.4M.

5. Ivan Nova, RHP

Nova was considered a key piece in a potential Haren deal, and his value comes from being a big league ready starting pitcher with six full seasons on team control left. No, he’s not going to be an ace and is likely to top out as a mid-rotation starter (if that), but getting a player like that for six figures through 2013 is kind of a big deal. He’s imminently movable, and easily the player most likely to be traded in this post. Wang’s research has his trade value at just $1.5M, though I suspect it’s a little higher in reality. Maybe that’s just my bias.

* * *

Like Nova, Hector Noesi has six years of control left as a high probability back-end starter. His extreme control of the strike zone (232 K, 34 BB in his 233.2 IP over the last two seasons) is sure to appeal to other clubs, though the Yanks have were reluctant to include him a deal for Haren. Andrew Brackman has value because he has upside and is getting closer to the big leagues by the day, plus he’s pretty much answered any questions about his health. Dellin Betances is a notch behind him because he’s still in A-ball and has yet to pitch a full, healthy season. David Phelps, Adam Warren, Zach McAllister … those guys have limited ceilings and aren’t as much of a sure thing as either Nova or Noesi.

So what do you all think, am I missing someone? Is my order out of whack? I’m curious to see how the masses value the team’s players in trades.

Pinstripe Alley interviews Austin Romine

Travis G. at Pinstripe Alley recently sat down with Yankees’ prospect Austin Romine (part one, part two) for a quick and informative interview. They discussed a whole bunch of stuff, including the generic questions about what a typical day is like, what he does in the offseason, stuff like that, but I most enjoyed the questions about how he’s changed his approached his plate this year, and what he has to work on defensively. It’s a great a relatively quick lead despite being a two-parter, and I highly recommend it.

AA prospects: a status report – what Trenton makes

Last week I took a look at how some of the better AAA prospects were doing over the course of the season, but more importantly, how they’d performed over a 10 game sample, their long-term prospects of helping the big club and some things they need to work on. One important thing I learned: for some inexplicable reason, people just love Eduardo Nunez. He’s sort of like Michael Cera to me. Nice potential and has some good strengths but ultimately is overhyped and inconsistent.

Anyway, this week we head down to lovely Trenton, New Jersey to check in with Austin Romine, David Adams, David Phelps, Hector Noesi and D.J. Mitchell. We’re going to leave out Jeremy Bleich, who’s likely getting shoulder surgery, but I’ll simply note here that he’s been a huge disappointment this year. Feel better, Jeremy!

Austin Romine, C

Much has been written about Romine’s hot start. It’s easily one of the best developments of our higher-end players in the system. From what I’ve read, Romine’s defense has already been called “big league ready” and has improved in each of the past three seasons. He has a very strong arm and he’s improved his footwork and receiving skills. This isn’t very shocking – he already had a good defensive reputation, so enough of that. Let’s get to the offense. Romine was considered to be a good-contact hitter with a solid eye but more of a gap power hitter than someone expected to pop over 20 home runs a year. In 2010, he’s increased his contact skills, hitting .323, far above last year’s mark of .273 in Tampa. Unfortunately, his BABip this year is an Austin Jacksonian .392, or close to 90 points higher than last year’s mark. That won’t continue, but there are promising signs. Romine, not fleet of foot, is knocking in a line drive rate of 20% (up from 12.8 last year) and decreased his groundball rate to 38%.

But it would be nice to see Romine bring his walk rate up and his strike out rate further south. On the year he’s striking out 21% of appearances and walking 9% of the time, but overall, it’s hard to have much to complain about Romine’s season. His power is again looking pretty good (.512 slugging percentage) and he’s sprayed 6 doubles in his last 10 games. The Yankees can afford to take things slowly with Romine, and if he hits this well and continues to improve his defense at catcher, we could very well be watching the team’s future backstop sooner than we might expect, perhaps as early as 2012.

AA Season: .323/.386/.512

Last ten games: .308/.341/.462

David Adams.

David Adams, 2B

Aside from Austin Romine, Adams is easily my favorite player to keep tab on in Trenton. According to Mike’s Prospect Profile of Adams, the second baseman was rated as the top prospect in Virginia and the 102nd best overall in the 2008 draft (per Baseball America’s list), eventually signing with the Yankees as their 3rd round pick. He started 2009 off in Charleston, where he hit .290/.385/.393, displaying a good approach at bat but not showing much in the power department. A promotion to Hi-A Tampa quelled power issues – he knocked in 7 home runs in 67 games, posting a slugging percentage of .498.

Interestingly, it seems Adams may have changed his hitting approach with the move up to Tampa (or simply went back to his old approach in Virgina – couldn’t find college splits to see GB/LD/FB numbers). His ground ball rate dropped from 46% to 38%, his line drive rate from 22% to 16% and he knocked fly balls at a 44% rate, which explains the uptick in home run. It looks like he went from a gap-to-gap hitter to a swing with a bit more loft, and it was largely effective. He also maintained a solid walk rate and lessened strikeouts.

In Trenton – a jump that usually weeds out guys who took advantage of less advanced pitchers – it’s been fun seeing Adams continue his success. His power has remained (.510 slugging percentage) and his on-base skills still look good (.395 OBP), though he’s benefited from a high BABip rate of .373 (his career rate is .339). I’m a bit concerned he isn’t hitting line drives at a percentage you’d like to see (it’s at 11% currently) and striking out 21% of his plate appearances against right-handers is a tad high. But it’s still early and these are knit-picky things. Adams is mauling lefties (.400/.489/.650) and might already be prepared for Scranton offensively. The question is if he’s progressed with his defense. Adams should have the defense to stick at 2B, and his contact and on-base skills certainly make him the best middle infielder in the high minors with a good chance to contribute to the (or a) big league club. I’d put him above Kevin Russo, whom he has a higher ceiling than, though less versatility. Adams was recently injured sliding into a base but assuming this is a minor thing, he should be back in no time. He’s struggled a bit of late, but he’s looking every bit the possible 1st round pick he was hyped to be after finishing his sophmore season at UVA.

AA Trenton this year: .311/.395/.510

Last 10 games: .212/.366/.333

David Phelps, SP

Not considered one of the team’s high-impact pitchers down the farm, Phelps has continued to throw up really impressive numbers. A groundball-inducing extraordinaire, Phelps isn’t afraid to throw any of his pitches in any count, keeping hitters off balance, according to a scouting report at Yanks Daily. He doesn’t give many walks, issuing only 11 in 42 innings, and has pretty good strikeout rates for a finesse pitcher with 37 in 41.2 innings. A 14th round pick out of Notre Dame in 2008, Phelps has been one of the best players of the class (a class that includes Jeremy Bleich, David Adams, Corban Joseph, Kyle Higashioka and Brett Marshall), and 2010 is no different.

Hitters have been stymied by an FIP of 2.80 (and a corresponding ERA of 1.73), a groundball rate of 46.5%, and as already mentioned, an improved K-rate. Unfortunately, Phelps is outpeforming some of his peripherals. Hitters are unlikely to continue hitting only 2.8% of flyballs for home runs and his .256 BABip is significantly lower than last year’s mark of .317, though there’s certainly a correlation with his grounball rate from a year ago being 52%, compared to this year’s 46.5%. Phelps will need to work on his off-speed pitches to compliment his low-90’s fastball and some of his peripherals seem unustainable, but he’s been a very good find and hasn’t had any problem with AA hitters.

AA Trenton this year:

41.2 IP, 1.73 ERA, 29 hits, 37 K, 11 BB, 1.34 GO/AA

Last two starts: 12 IP, 3.00 ERA, 9 hits, 9 K, 5 BB

[Update: Phelps pitched today and threw 7 innings while giving up 6 earned runs. He had 5 strikeouts and 2 walks.]

Hector Noesi (Photo Credit: Ashley Stephenson)

Hector Noesi, SP

After blowing through Hi-A Tampa in eight starts this year, the brass decided to jump Noesi to Trenton, where he’s received one start. Noesi definitely has the stuff to succeed; the question has always been about his health. He’s been sidelined by injury a few times but rebounded to slice up Sally League hitters with a SO/BB rate of 7.09. He then hit Tampa and worked in an eye-popping 10.00 SO/BB rate and an FIP of 2.69. Frankie Pilliere, scout for AOL Fanhouse thinks Noesi has the chance to be a #3 in the big leagues, noting that Noesi had an improved curveball that could develop as a true out pitch. He’ll still need to work on his changeup and stay healthy, but he’s an unheralded guy with good upside (although he’s a bit old even for AA at 23).

His first start in Trenton wasn’t fantastic (he gave up 5 runs in 6 innings), but Noesi may move quickly if he resembles the guy we’ve seen in 2009 and 2010. There’s not a whole lot of data I can pore through that will really expose issues Noesi has had this year or last. His peripherals were all very encouraging, his BABip wasn’t freakishly low, his FIP and ERA were reasonable. He was just really good, though his HR/FB rate was low at 4.9%. So, instead, I’ll simply stress that the key to Noesi will be working on his off-speed pitches and not injuring himself. Otherwise, he could be a good edition to the team sometime in 2011 or 2012, probably the bullpen if he can’t develop a changeup that will keep big league hitters honest. His command and good-but-not-great stuff would be quite welcomed in such a role.

Hi-A Season: 43 IP, 2.72 ERA, 35 hits, 53 K, 6BB, 1.08 GA/AA

AA Season: 6 IP, 7.50, 7 hits, 4 K, 2 BB, .075 GA/AA

D.J. Mitchell, SP

Mitchell was one of the arms the Yankees took in the 2008 draft out of Clemson University. While Mitchell can certainly hold righties’ heads below the water, he gets decimated by left-handers. They hit .287/.381/.316 against Mitchell last year and took 20 walks in 58 innings. D.J. didn’t get enough strikeouts on lefties to limit the damage, either, knocking 5.59 per nine down on strikes. So here’s where it gets weird. Remember how I just said that Mitchell can’t get lefties out but he’s really good with righties? You should, it was mere lines ago. Here’s a fun one, guess which side Mitchell has thrown this line against: 19.1 IP, 2.79 ERA, 15 hits. Ok, how about this one: 22.0 IP, 7.36 ERA, 32 hits. The former is against left-handers, the latter against righties. I don’t understand. It’s just…what? Anyway, his numbers against lefties aren’t really that fantastic beyond the surface. He’s issued 11 walks to them with 9 strike outs and not a single fly ball has gone for a home run. So there’s no reason to get too optimistic – he won’t be a LOOGY out of the bullpen.

The utter collapse against right-handers is perhaps more interesting. He’s helped his strikeout rate against them a bit with 18 in 22 IP, but the walks are still persistent. He’s issued 11 to righties, and they’re hitting him for an average of .344. Good news is the BABip is .423 and that will almost assuredly go down, plus the stats are skewed a bit by one really poor outing (4.1 IP, 9 earned runs and five walks). He’s still getting guys to hit the ball on the ground at a very impressive rate (60%) and he’s limited the big fly. Armed with a fastball that sinks more than Derek Bell’s houseboat, a Nardi-fied curveball and a poor changeup, with only four years of total pitching experience, Mitchell has had a very strange season, full of great luck and terrible luck. How he does against left-handers with his changeup will be very interesting to watch as the season progresses.

AA Season: 41.1 IP, 5.23 ERA, 47 hits, 27 K, 22 BB, 2.07 GA/AA

Last two starts: 10.1 IP, 5.80 ERA, 17 hits, 8 K, 6 BB

Link Dump: Javy, Cano, Romine, Draft

We have links, and not the sucky kind either…

What’s wrong with Javy Vazquez?

It’s the question everyone’s trying to answer these days, though there’s only one guy who can truly answer it. That’s not going to stop us, though. Tommy Rancel at Bloomberg Sports looked at the numbers, and while there’s definitely some unsustainably high rate stats working against Vazquez (3.13 HR/9 (!!!)) so far, the root of the problem might be his fastball. Not so much that the lost velocity means he’s afraid to throw it, but that the lost velocity has closed the gap between his heater and changeup. Instead of one pitching losing effectiveness, it’s two pitches.

Also, make sure you check out this Baseball Prospectus piece by Jay Jaffe’s mustache on the same topic (subs. req’d). He notes that Javy’s strikeout rate drops with men on base, which is bad news for a fly ball pitcher. The Yanks are skipping their Opening Day fourth starter this turn through the rotation, so hopefully he can iron some things out during the break.

Is Cano’s hot start for real?

Well, it’s hard to imagine Robbie Cano maintaining his current production over the remaining 137 games, he is on a 58 homer pace after all. Dougbies at Beyond The Box Score went deeper into Cano’s start, and while the Yanks’ second baseman has certainly enjoyed some good luck early on, none of it is out of world insane like Austin Jackson’s BABIP (up to .532!). Long story short, Cano is legitimately having the best season of his already very good career, which really isn’t all that uncommon for a player in his age-27 season.

Love for Austin Romine

While Jesus Montero has scuffled a bit in his first 100 Triple-A plate appearances or so, the Yanks’ other elite catching prospect has been hitting the snot out of the ball in Double-A. Romine is up to .351-.429-.554 (.418 wOBA) following last night’s 2-for-5 effort. In his Daily Futures piece at ESPN (Insider req’d), Kevin Goldstein mentions that Romine is probably the Yanks’ catcher of the future, because “his overall tools are well above-average for a backstop and scouts project him as an above-average defender down the line.”

It’s great to see him off to such a fast start, but the key is for Romine to maintain it all season. Catching is a grueling job, and this is the first time in his career he’ll be a full-time starting catcher from wire-to-wire.

Top draft picks by round

In the latest Ask BA, Jim Callis digs through the first 25 rounds of every draft over the last five years to find which player was the best pick in that round. Unsurprisingly, Tim Lincecum took the 1st round honors, but three Yankees’ picks joined him on the list: Joba Chamberlain (sandwich round), Austin Jackson (8th round), and Graham Stoneburner (14th round). The Yanks have done a nice job of turning late round picks into useful players, even if they’re just relievers like David Robertson (17th), Phil Coke (26th), and Mike Dunn (33rd). Those guys developed into far more than what their round usually produces.

Minor Notes: Montero, Prospect Lists, Draft

Got some minor league notes to pass along…

  • As I’m sure you’ve already heard, farm director Mark Newman confirmed that Jesus Montero and Austin Romine will start the year in Triple-A and Double-A, respectively. Montero’s bat is definitely ready for the jump, though his glove isn’t, so that will be a big challenge for him. Romine’s ready for Trenton, he probably was in August.
  • Kevin Goldstein ran down his top eleven Yankee prospects, with Montero topping the list as the team’s only five star prospect. Since departed Arodys Vizcaino was the team’s only four star prospect, and they’re followed by a slew of three star guys. Trust me, trading Arodys stings, but remember that he’s a 19-year old that has yet to play in a full season league. He’s just a lotto ticket.
  • Coincidentally, Marc Hulet at FanGraphs posted his list of the Yanks top ten Yankee prospects, and had Vizcaino fourth behind Montero, Romine, and Zach McAllister. He also had Mike Dunn rated 6th, which is about as high as you’ll see him on any list. I like Mike Dunn, but sheesh, not that much.
  • Meanwhile, Hulet is also running through his annual review of each team’s recent drafts, and hit the Yankees yesterday. If you’re looking for the quick recap of the last four drafts, then I highly recommend it, Marc does a great job. Five members of the Yanks’ 2006 draft class have already reached the big leagues, and three others are legitimately on the door step. Quite a haul.
  • The Yanks signed outfielder Javier Herrera to a minor league deal. Baseball America rated him the sixth best prospect in Oakland’s system as recently as 2007, though he had Tommy John surgery and never quite figured it out. He’s a career .282-.358-.468 hitter in the minors, though he has just 15 plate appearances above Double-A. Decent little gamble.

Montero, Romine ranked the two best catchers in the FSL

Continuing on with their league top 20’s, Baseball America named Jesus Montero and Austin Romine the second and tenth best prospects, respectively, in the High-A Florida State League. Montero was behind only Mike Stanton of the Marlins, and the pair were the only two catchers to appear on the list. In the subscriber only scouting report, Montero was called “the toughest out in the league,” while Romine was noted as having very few weaknesses in his game.

The Eastern League comes out on Friday, so Montero might be making an encore appearance.