2012 Pre-Draft Top 30 Prospects

(Matt Burton/MiLB.com)

The regular season is only two months old, but it’s already safe to say it’s been a pretty down year for the farm system. Injuries have wreaked havoc on some of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects and a few of the lower level position players have battled extended slumps. The number of disappointments is always greater than the number of surprises, but I feel like it’s been taken to the extreme in 2012.

The pre-draft list is unquestionably my least favorite of the three prospects lists I publish (preseason, pre-draft, post-draft) because not a much has changed this early in the season. There’s always injuries and extreme performances (both good and bad), but most prospects just maintain the status quo. Just three prospects have dropped off the Preseason Top 30 ListCesar Cabral, Graham Stoneburner, and David Adams — and that’s almost entirely due to injury. None of the preseason list guys have graduated to the big leagues yet, though David Phelps is getting awfully close.

The post-draft list is always a ton of fun though. Figuring out where the new guys fit in is always a challenge and frankly, it’s nice to have new players to write about. There’s only so long you can write about these guys before you start to get prospect fatigue (coughDellinBetancescough). Anyway, so here is an updated look at the 30 best aspiring big leaguers in the Yankees’ organization. Ages are as of today.

  1. LHP Manny Banuelos, 21 — currently on the DL with a sore elbow after missing time with a lat issue, we really haven’t gotten a chance to see the southpaw all that much this season (3.83 FIP in just 24.0 IP)
  2. OF Mason Williams, 20 — the most exciting player in the system got off a scorching hot start but has battling nagging injuries and perhaps relatedly, a prolonged slump over the last two or three weeks (.331 wOBA)
  3. Gary Sanchez, 19 — he’s pounding Low-A pitching (.383 wOBA) as he should be in his second tour of duty, and you have to figure a promotion is coming soon
  4. RHP Jose Campos, 19 — manhandled the competition (3.24 FIP in 24.2 IP) before elbow inflammation put him on the shelf indefinitely
  5. RHP Rafael DePaula, 21 — has yet to appear in a game after finally securing his visa, so this ranking is based on his substantial upside
  6. 3B Dante Bichette Jr., 19 — he got off to a slow start and didn’t hit his first homer until yesterday, but DBJ has come on strong of late (.324 wOBA) and is poised for a big second half
  7. OF Tyler Austin, 20 — the run-away favorite for farm system MVP through the first two months (.477 wOBA), Austin has continued to show his all-around offensive game while adapting well to right field
  8. RHP David Phelps, 25 — has pitched to a 4.49 FIP in 33.1 IP as a swingman for the big league team, and I doubt he’ll be eligible for the post-draft list in mid-July
  9. RHP Dellin Betances, 24 — his control issues have gone from bad to worse (7.69 BB/9 and 18.5 BB%) and his days as a starter appear to be numbered
  10. J.R. Murphy, 21 — having what might be the quietest bad year in Yankees’ prospect history (.297 wOBA), though his walk (9.5%) and strikeout (12.2%) rates remain very strong
  11. OF Ravel Santana, 20 — the ankle is all healed up and he’s slated to join Short Season Staten Island when their season begins later this month
  12. RHP D.J. Mitchell, 25 — got his first taste of the big leagues and is having another solid season with the traveling circus in Triple-A (3.40 FIP)
  13. Austin Romine, 23 — hasn’t played yet this season due to an inflamed disc in his back, but he’s been cleared to resume baseball activities and is expected to return until July
  14. OF Ramon Flores, 20 — he’s been pretty streaky so far (.313 wOBA) but continues to control the strike zone well (8.1 BB% and 16.5 K%)
  15. OF Slade Heathcott, 21 — has yet to play this season due to another left shoulder surgery, but he’s scheduled to debut with High-A Tampa next week
  16. RHP Adam Warren, 24 — hasn’t pitched all that well this year (4.74 FIP) and frankly, has been underwhelming in Triple-A since getting their last season (4.24 FIP in 207.2 IP)
  17. RHP Mark Montgomery, 21 — I’m not going to call him the next David Robertson, but Montgomery is the closest thing we’ve seen to the next D-Rob thanks to his knockout slider and pure dominance (1.21 FIP)
  18. RHP Brett Marshall, 22 — has turned into a steady and reliable workhorse, but he isn’t missing bats in Double-A (5.02 K/9 and 13.7 K%) and that’s a red flag
  19. 2B Angelo Gumbs, 19 — has been sneaky great so far (.355 wOBA) and has done his best work on the bases (19-for-22 in stolen base attempts)
  20. RHP Bryan Mitchell, 21 — the long-term project has been inconsistent from start-to-start but has some of the best stuff in the organization (3.20 FIP) and the strikeout rates to back it up (9.62 K/9 and 26.3 K%)
  21. SS Cito Culver, 19 — another slow starter (.310 wOBA), Culver gets a bit of a pass because his missed time following his grandfather’s death … he’s started to kick it into gear in May and has shown off a great batting eye (14.6 BB%)
  22. LHP Nik Turley, 22 — has battled on-and-off blister issues but has otherwise continued the progress he made last season (2.97 FIP)
  23. OF Zoilo Almonte, 22 — missed several weeks with a hamstring issue but has hit well when on the field (.342 wOBA)
  24. Greg Bird, 19 — power-hitting backstop will try to prove he can stick behind the plate when he joins one of the Short Season clubs later this month
  25. OF Ben Gamel, 20 — Mat’s little brother has been a consistent producer this season (.325 wOBA) but he needs to develop some pop down to road since he’s stuck in the corner outfield
  26. RHP Chase Whitley, 22 — three-pitch reliever has forced his way to Triple-A early this spring (3.61 FIP) and could be in line for a late-season call-up
  27. UTIL Ronnie Mustelier, 27 — is he the position player version of Al Aceves? I don’t know, but you can’t ignore the .412 wOBA he’s put up since signing
  28. UTIL Brandon Laird, 24 — hasn’t hit at all in Triple-A dating back to two years ago (.299 wOBA in 823 plate appearances), but he sneaks into the list because he’s versatile and does have power
  29. LHP Daniel Camarena, 19 — three-pitch command lefty is likely to debut with the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees following his stint in Extended Spring Training
  30. 2B Corban Joseph, 23 — returning to Double-A for a third straight season (.390 wOBA) after starting the year on the DL with a shoulder program is odd, but he was hanging onto the list by the skin of his teeth anyway
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2012 Preseason Top 30 Prospects

The SI Yanks won their fourth title in seven years in 2011. (Photo via The Staten Island Sun)

It was going to be next to impossible for the 2011 minor league season to feel like anything but a disappointment after all the success of 2010. Last year was more normal than anything else though, with a typical number of breakouts, steps back, and injuries. The Yankees still boast several high-end prospects and an absurd amount of depth, particularly on the mound. Not everyone is bound for stardom, but the Yankees have a plethora of useful players on the way to fill their roster and/or use in trades.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that ranking prospects is not a black-and-white exercise, there’s no right or wrong. It’s an inexact science, and everyone has their own personal philosophy. Some prefer pure upside while some place more value on probability, and everyone’s balancing act is different. I lean slightly towards probability, but I think you’re going to see clubs place a much greater emphasis on ceiling given the draft and international spending restrictions put in place by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Premium talent will be harder to come buy, especially for a perennial contender like the Yankees.

I won’t argue (much) if you think two prospects ranked consecutively should be flip-flopped, in most cases we’d just be splitting hairs. The gap between the number one and number four prospect this year is pretty small, as is the gap between number five and number 15 prospect or so. All the guys after that are pretty interchangeable. Once again, it all comes down to preference. Like everyone else, I use rookie status to determine prospect eligibility. That means anyone with more than 130 at-bats or 50 IP in the big leagues is not eligible for the list, though I ignore the service time cutoff because that stuff is too difficult to track. Two top 30 guys from last year — Ivan Nova and Eduardo Nunez — graduated to the big leagues in 2011 while three others — Jesus Montero, Andrew Brackman, and Hector Noesi — have since moved on to other clubs.

My past preseason lists can be found here: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Can’t believe this is the sixth list at RAB already. Anyway, the ages listed are as of April 1st. Enjoy.

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2011 Post-Draft Top 30 Prospects

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The draft signing deadline has come and gone, and depending on your point of view, the Yankees either landed some promising talent or had another underwhelming draft. I’m somewhere in the middle, loving the arms but a little iffy on the bats. It would have been nice if they had signed second rounder Sam Stafford, since power lefties are always in demand. Anyway, these guys are new members of the Yankees family, and now we have to figure out exactly where they fit in.

Unsurprisingly, not all that much has changed since my pre-draft list. There just hasn’t been enough time for anyone to change their stock all that much, one way or another. As you’ll see, the majority of the players that moved around did so due to injury. Let’s dive in, with the most familiar of prospect names up top…

  1. Jesus Montero, C, AAA – strong April (~.365 wOBA), subpar May and June (~.315), big July and August (~.375 wOBA) … stuck in Triple-A because the Yankees are unwilling to put the best team on the field
  2. Manny Banuelos, LHSP, AAA – uncharacteristically mediocre control this year, but he’s still a 20-year-old kid in the highest level of the minors
  3. Dellin Betances, RHSP, AAA – having a typical Betances year, but the key is that he’s been completely healthy aside from a little blister in April
  4. Austin Romine, C, AA – he needs to be in Triple-A and VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman admitted it … the lack of a Montero promotion has a trickle down effect
  5. Gary Sanchez, C, LoAattitude issues in the first half, then a broken finger derailed what had been a big second half (~.375 wOBA and a dozen homers in 38 games)
  6. Mason Williams, CF, SS – not just having a great year for SI, but apparently he has way more power potential than I realized
  7. J.R. Murphy, C, HiA – has been out with some kind of leg/foot injury for a month now, but impressed with improved defense and a measly strikeout rate (12.8%) in the first half
  8. Hector Noesi, RHRP, MLB – technically still a prospect, but that 50 IP cutoff isn’t far away (he’s at 42.2 IP) … I really wish he was starting in AAA
  9. Adam Warren, RHSP, AAA – has pitched his way into being the next guy in line should the Yankees need a starter
  10. David Phelps, RHSP, AAA – had a little shoulder scare, but he rejoined the AAA rotation last week
  11. Brett Marshall, RHSP, HiA – stuff came back after Tommy John surgery and he’s getting a ton of grounders … hopefully the whiffs will follow
  12. Slade Heathcott, CF, HiA – another year, another shoulder injury … that’s his third since his senior year of high school, including one surgery
  13. Bryan Mitchell, RHSP, SS – huge stuff but really raw … going to be a long-term project, but there’s significant upside here
  14. Graham Stoneburner, RHSP, AA – the neck strain from hell cost him a little more than two months, and he’s still just working his way back to full effectiveness
  15. Corban Joseph, 2B, AA – can definitely hit, but I have to wonder where he’ll wind up defensively because he isn’t unseating Robinson Cano … trade bait
  16. Ramon Flores, LF, LoA – showing off top notch plate discipline and gap power, which will hopefully develop into over the fence power as he grows into his 5-foot-10 frame
  17. Brandon Laird, 3B, AAA – not having a great year in Triple-A, but got his first taste of the bigs and serves a purpose
  18. Cito Culver, SS, SS – solid year with SI, not great but not terrible … going to have to keep proving the doubters wrong
  19. Rob Segedin, 3B, HiA – made quick work of the Sally League and has held his own in the Florida State League, though an injury cost him some time
  20. Greg Bird, C – we’ll see if he can catch, but either way it’s up to the lefty power bat to carry him
  21. George Kontos, RHRP, AAA – proving himself to be strikeout reliever at the minors’ highest level, he’s on the cusp right now
  22. D.J. Mitchell, RHSP, AAA – servicable arm still has some issues with lefties, but he’s as big league ready as it gets
  23. Chase Whitley, RHRP, AA – hasn’t missed a ton of bats in his first full year as a pro, but the Yankees are trying to teach him a slider in lieu of the his usual changeup
  24. Andrew Brackman, RHRP, AAA – it’s been an ugly year and time is starting to run out … has just one more minor league option for next year
  25. Dante Bichette Jr., 3B, Rk – what we do know: he can crush GCL pitching … what we don’t know: where’s he going to play down the road?
  26. David Adams, 2B, HiA – made it back for a few weeks before hitting the DL again, but he can definitely hit … can he ever manage to stay on the field?
  27. Ravel Santana, CF, Rkbrutal ankle injury ended what was exciting U.S. debut, with lots of power (.273 ISO) and lots of speed (10-for-13 in SB attempts)
  28. Jordan Cote, RHSP – big (6-foot-5, 205 lbs.), raw, and projectable, so he’s right up my alley
  29. Jose Ramirez, RHSP, LoA – just hasn’t progressed much since the start of last year (if at all), but the fastball-changeup combo is still very good
  30. Melky Mesa, CF, AA – still has an all-world tools package, but hasn’t been able to build on the progress he made last year

Number 31 was Tyler Austin, who was very tough to leave off the list. He’s too good to be a sleeper, but I like some other guys just a little more. Stafford would have certainly cracked the top 30, likely between Mitchell and Whitley without putting a ton of thought into it. Four players dropped off the pre-draft list entirely: Ryan Pope, Eduardo Sosa, Zach Nuding, and Tim Norton. All four missed time with injury and had barely made the cut in the first place, so some healthy new draftees took their spots. I’ll be perfectly honest, I did not expect all three of Montero, Banuelos, and Betances to still be around after the trade deadline, but I’m happy to have them and I’m sure the team is too.

2011 Pre-Draft Top 30 Prospects

(Photo Credit: Flickr user paul hadsall via Creative Commons license)

With the draft scheduled to begin on Monday, it’s time to quickly take stock of the Yankees’ farm system and rank their prospects midway through the 2011 season. Of the three top 30 lists I do each year, this one is easily my least favorite, just because the minor league season is only 50 games old and that’s really not enough to change my opinion one way or the other.

Ivan Nova is the only player from my preseason list to have since graduated to the majors, however I’m also considering Eduardo Nunez graduated for practical reasons. He’s 31 at-bats shy of the rookie cutoff, so he’ll certainly get there this summer, barring injury. The ages listed are as of today, and the fun starts after the jump …

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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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2010 Post-Draft Top 30 Prospects

2010 1st round pick Cito Culver. (Photo Credit: Andy in Sunny Daytona)

With the August 16th signing deadline now a thing of the past, we can begin to assess how the most recent amateur draft has impacted the Yankees’ farm system. Although they didn’t land a consensus elite talent, they more than made up for it in volume, signing basically all of their mid-to-late round gambles while filling out with polished college players to strike a nice balance. The Yanks were in a position to gamble some on long-term projects, which is exactly with they did. They could end up with nothing, or they could end up with something really special.

In addition to the new influx of talent, the Yanks have also benefited from a staggering number of breakout performances and strong returns from injury this year, transforming the system from one short on the “wow factor” before the season to one with waves with talent right now. The talent on the mound is both plentiful and diverse, with a mix of high-upside arms and safer, higher probability pitchers starting in Triple-A Scranton and going all the way down to High-A Tampa. And yet the Yanks’ top three prospects (four of the top five) are position players, showing the depth of the system.

Here are my preseason and pre-draft lists, for comparison’s sake. The only player on the pre-draft list that is ineligible for this one is Mark Melancon, who was shipped to the Astros in the Lance Berkman deal. Everyone else is fair game, and several players have dropped out as you can see. Some didn’t perform, others just got leapfrogged by other players. It’s not a bad thing when a live arm like Dan Burawa, a MLB-ready reserve outfielder like Colin Curtis, and a tooled up teenager with supreme plate discipline like Ramon Flores don’t make your top 30. It’s definitely an upgrade over where they were just twelve months ago.

Anyway, on to the list. The level listed is where the player is currently playing, but the new draftees get a “none” because I’m not sure exactly where they’ve been assigned, although I do have a pretty good idea. Let’s start with a completely unsurprising name at the top…

  1. Jesus Montero, C, AAA: took some time to adjust to AAA (.293 wOBA on the day on my pre-draft list), but he’s been on an absolute tear for about two months now (.368 wOBA at the moment) that has reaffirmed his position as one of the very best hitters in all of minor league baseball
  2. Austin Romine, C, AA: he’s certainly slowed down after a hot start (wOBA by month: .395, .365, .318, .276, .199), but that’s not unsurprising for a guy in his first season as a full-time catcher
  3. Slade Heathcott, CF, A-: the power component of his power-speed combination isn’t there yet (.071 ISO), but he’s shown a tremendous eye at the plate (12.4 BB%) and the strikeouts should come down as he continues to refine his swing and make more contact
  4. Andrew Brackman, RHSP, AA: he’s cut his walk rate from 6.28 BB/9 last year to 2.61 this year while maintaining a strong strikeout rate (8.47 K/9) and better than a 50% ground ball rate, plus the scouting reports have been very good
  5. Gary Sanchez, C, Rk: the 17-year-old is annihilating rookie ball (.459 wOBA), but he’s got a long way to go defensively behind the plate, more than Montero did
  6. Manny Banuelos, LHSP, A+: an appendectomy delayed the start of his season, but he’s been simply fantastic since returning (1.79 FIP) and reports indicate a welcome uptick in velocity
  7. Hector Noesi, RHSP, AA: aggressive in the zone with four pitches that are good enough to get swings and misses … he won’t be a star, but he’ll be a very nice fill-in option by this time next year
  8. Dellin Betances, RHSP, A+: I don’t think anyone expected him to be this good (1.84 FIP), this fast after elbow surgery, and the even better news is that reports indicate his stuff is all the way back as well … now it’s just a matter of staying healthy (believe it or not, but his 67 IP this season are the second most he’s ever thrown in a single year)
  9. J.R. Murphy, C, A-: he’s gotten better as the season has gone on (wOBA by month: .253, .293, .323, .389) while showing power and he ability to make hard, consistent contact … seems somewhat underappreciated to me
  10. Ivan Nova, RHSP, AAA: it’s not the highest ceiling in the world, but there’s something to be said for MLB-ready back-end arms that can miss some bats and keep the ball in the park
  11. Graham Stoneburner, RHSP, A+: his .212 AVG against is one of the very best in the minors, and he’s demonstrated the ability to miss a ton of bats and limit walks … won’t be challenged until he gets to AA
  12. Jose Ramirez, RHSP, A-: almost a forgotten man with all the pitching talent ahead of him, but Ramirez has put up a very strong year (3.04 FIP) as a 20-year-old in his first taste of a full season league
  13. David Adams, 2B, injured: crushed AA with a .403 wOBA before a broken ankle ended his season in May … you’re looking at a rock solid everyday second baseman in the bigs
  14. Cito Culver, SS, Rk: holding his own after stepping out of his graduation ceremony and into the batter’s box against the best pitching he’s ever faced in his life … the power has started to come as the season has progressed (ISO by month: .050, .094, .106)
  15. Brandon Laird, 3B/1B, AAA: breakout performer of the year (.384 wOBA in AA) has enough power and just enough defense to fake it as an every day third baseman in the show, but it’s unlikely to be his long-term position
  16. David Phelps, RHSP, AAA: arguably the best pure performance among Yankee pitching farmhands this year, but his lack of a bonafide put-away pitch is what limits his ceiling … doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective big leaguer
  17. Corban Joseph, 2B, AA: hitting machine wOBA’d .352 as a 21-year-old in pitcher friendly Florida State League, now he’s just got to improve on the defensive side of the ball
  18. Zach McAllister, RHSP, AAA: advanced hitters have not been kind of Z-Mac, who has seemingly lost the ability to miss bats, generate ground balls, and avoid the long-ball … very disappointing year
  19. Rob Segedin, 3B/OF, Rk: big time on-base ability with a great swing and moderate power potential, just need to figure out his long-term position
  20. Angelo Gumbs, CF, none: true five tool potential here, but he’s extremely raw … going to be a project
  21. Adam Warren, RHSP, AA: cruised right through A-ball with 7.44 K/9, 1.89 BB/9, and 57% ground balls before moving up, and he’s got enough stuff and command to be a back-end starter or valuable middle reliever
  22. Bryan Mitchell, RHSP, Rk: arguably the best pure arm in the system with a knockout curveball, Mitchell has only been so-so in 33.1 IP this year, but the upside is exciting
  23. Mason Williams, CF, none: received more money than another other Yankee draftee this year despite being the fourth best prospect they drafted … exciting tools, but raw and with questionable long-term power potential
  24. Brett Marshall, RHSP, A-: electric arm just back from Tommy John surgery, his ranking is based on pure stuff and potential because the performance (understandably) hasn’t been there yet
  25. Gabe Encinas, RHSP, none: very diverse arsenal and a whole lot of pitching know-how, he should carve up the low minors thanks to his ability to setup hitters and mix pitches alone
  26. Taylor Morton, RHSP, none: inconsistent spring hurt his draft stock, but he’s been up to 96 in the past with both a changeup and a curve
  27. Melky Mesa, OF, A+: old for his level but he finally seems to be putting it together … the other Melky is a tool shed, with the only knock being his ability to make consistent contact, something he’s done this year
  28. Eduardo Sosa, CF, SS: big time defensive outfielder with great speed and surprisingly good plate discipline, he’s a pretty exciting player to watch live
  29. Kelvin DeLeon, RF, SS: the 2007 bonus baby has two standout tools in his power and throwing arm, but his utter lack of plate discipline will keep from being elite
  30. Evan Rutckyj, LHSP, none: a surprise signing, the big (6-foot-5, 210 lb.) lefty has flashed promising stuff with a surprising good feel for his craft … he’s a long-term project, but there’s a lot to work with here.

Kevin Russo and Burawa were squeezed out last night when Williams and Rutckyj signed. One thing to keep in mind is that I (and we) don’t know nearly as much about this year’s draftees as we do about the guys who have been in the system for years, so it’s tough to pinpoint exactly where they belong. Don’t like having Culver below Adams? Fine, I could easily be convinced otherwise.

Also, remember the fudge factor. There’s so little difference between say, the fourth best prospect and the ninth best prospect, or the 22nd best prospect and the 30th best prospect that it’s a waste of time to get worked up over individual rankings. Think Betances should rank higher than Noesi? Fine, who cares. They’re basically on par with each other. Think of it as tiers. Jesus Montero is all by himself. Romine and Heathcott are behind him. Brackman through Betances is the next tier, and so on. The important thing is the cache of talent, which is the deepest it’s been in at least two years.

2010 Pre-Draft Top 30 Prospects

Tell me this isn't an awesome picture. (Photo Credit: Andy King, AP)

When the season started, the stock line said the Yankees’ farm system had thinned out considerably over the last year because of trades, graduation, and general attrition. It was certainly true, but I think it was still a shock to everyone to see just how weak the rosters of the four full season affiliates were once the season started and DotF returned. There’s certainly some good players on each of the teams, but there’s a lot more filler and a lot fewer gotta-see-how-they-did names.

That’s the price a team pays to not just put together a World Championship club, but to sustain one. Free agent signings prior to the 2009 season robbed the Yanks of three high draft picks, and trades this past winter took away several young and talented players. The good news is that the Yanks do still have some impact prospects, though most of them are further down the ladder. Of my top eight prospects, just two are above A-ball.

This pre-draft list is more of a status update than a re-ranking, just because the season is only seven or eight weeks old and not much can change in that time. Most of the movement at the top of the list is a result of players showing us exactly what we wanted to see coming into the year rather than guys disappointing and taking a step back. Only two players from my preseason top 30 list are ineligible for this one: Frankie Cervelli because he’s eclipsed the 130 at-bat rookie limit, and Jamie Hoffmann because he was returned to the Dodgers at the end of the Spring Training.

The Yanks simply don’t have the depth that they once did, so the bottom third of the list consists of some players coming back from injury and others who project to be little more than marginal big leaguers. Don’t get too caught up in the exact placement, many of these guys are interchangeable. If you think the #29 prospect is better than the #22 prospect, you won’t get much of an argument. There’s just not much of a difference.

The level listed is where the kid is currently playing, but everything else is self-explanatory.

  1. Jesus Montero, C, AAA: no, the numbers are not where we’d like them to be (.293 wOBA), but I’m not going to dock him for struggling during his first two months in Triple-A as a 20-year-old
  2. Austin Romine, C, AA: he just keeps on getting better and better each day … like most Thunder players, he’s performed much better on the road (.380-.418-.576) than at Waterfront Park (.247-.326-.351)
  3. Slade Heathcott, CF, A-: finally promoted to a full season league this past Wednesday, he’s the system’s best combination of athleticism and baseball ability
  4. Jose Ramirez, RHSP, A-: handling his first assignment to a full season league with aplomb … 55-13 K/BB ratio and 47 hits allowed in 56 IP, but the biggest number of all is the zero homers allowed
  5. Manny Banuelos, LHSP, injured: has yet to pitch this year because of an appendectomy
  6. Andrew Brackman, RHSP, A+: he’s gotten better as he’s gotten further away from Tommy John surgery … after 6.4 BB/9 last season, he’s cut that down to 1.3 this year
  7. J.R. Murphy, C, A-: like Heathcott, he was a late add to a full season league, but there’s a case to be made that he’s the best pure hitter in the system after Montero
  8. Graham Stoneburner, RHSP, A+: dominated Low-A hitters just like he was supposed to … I was high on him out of the draft last year, and so far he’s making me look smart
  9. Zach McAllister, RHSP, AAA: solid but unspectacular during his first taste of Triple-A … the strikeouts are down (just 5.8 K/9), ditto the groundballs (40.7%, down about 10% from his career mark)
  10. Hector Noesi, RHSP, AA: seems to get better each time out … you gotta love the 61-9 K/BB ratio in 55 IP
  11. David Adams, 2B, injured: completely destroyed the Eastern League (.392 wOBA) before suffering an ankle injury trying to break up a double play
  12. Mark Melancon, RHRP, AAA: we’ve pretty much said everything that needs to be said over the last few years, just needs a chance
  13. Adam Warren, RHSP, A+: rock solid but I’m kinda surprised he’s still in Tampa … the 6.7 K/9 is low, but the 58.7 GB% is through the roof
  14. Corban Joseph, 2B, A+: we know he can hit, but we’re still not sure what else he has to offer
  15. Kelvin DeLeon, OF, ExST: will report to one of the short season leagues later this month
  16. Bryan Mitchell, RHSP, ExST: ditto DeLeon’s comment
  17. Ivan Nova, RHSP, AAA: got his first taste of the big leagues last month … nice piece of inventory to have stashed away at Triple-A
  18. Brandon Laird, 3B/1B, AA: simply annihilating the Eastern League (.381 wOBA), but he’s going to have to learn to play an outfield corner to be anything more than trade bait for the Yanks
  19. Bradley Suttle, 3B, A+: his bat has been disappointing (.291 wOBA) after missing all of 2009 with a pair of shoulder surgeries, but let’s give him the rest of the season before passing judgment
  20. David Phelps, RHSP, AA: the 440th overall pick in the 2008 continues to surprise … just 59 baserunners allowed in 63.1 IP this year
  21. Jeremy Bleich, LHSP, injured: going to be down for a while after having surgery to repair a torn labrum … has a 86-62 K/BB ratio in 106.1 IP at Double-A over the last two seasons
  22. Kevin Russo, UTIL, MLB: I’m sure he’s much happier riding the bench in the big leagues than he was playing every day in Triple-A
  23. Romulo Sanchez, RHRP, AAA: the walks are definitely too high at 5.0 BB/9, but he can miss bats and provide length out of the bullpen, and there’s value in that
  24. D.J. Mitchell, RHSP, AA: Double-A hasn’t been kind to him, but he still has time to improve the 6.4 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, and 10.5 H/9
  25. Caleb Cotham, RHSP, injured: dealing with yet another knee injury, so you have to start worrying about it becoming a chronic problem for the power pitcher
  26. Greg Golson, OF, AAA: fast, great defense, can’t hit to save his life … an outfield version of Ramiro Pena
  27. Dan Brewer, OF, AA: he’s not hitting for average (.239) or getting on base (.312) like we’ve come to expect, but he’s on pace for 46 steals, more than double his career high of 22
  28. Dellin Betances, RHSP, injured: supposedly he’ll be back with one of the affiliated teams any day now
  29. Chad Huffman, 1B/OF, AAA: his track record suggests on-base skills (career .382 OBP) and decent power (career .182 ISO), so he has value off the bench or as the righty half of a platoon
  30. Wilkin DeLaRosa, LHRP, AA: his progress has stalled since his breakout 2008 season, but he’s still a guy to watch because he’s lefthanded and throws pretty hard

Bleich is the big fall-off because of his very serious injury, but overall the top three is very good. The next tier is solid but not particularly deep, and after that you have a lot of up-and-down pieces that are probably more valuable to the Yankees as trade bait than on the field.  I’ll revisit this list soon after the August 16th signing deadline (the 15th is on a Sunday, so they pushed it back a day) to incorporate all the “new hires,” if you will.