2013 Preseason Top 30 Prospects

Triple-A Scranton will have a renovated new stadium in 2013. (The Scranton Times-Tribune)
Triple-A Scranton will have a renovated new stadium in 2013. (The Scranton Times-Tribune)

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.

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2012 Post-Draft Top 30 Prospects

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

The amateur draft changed in a big way thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, as clubs sniffed out ways to maximize their draft pool money and accumulate as much talent as possible. The Yankees draft college seniors in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth rounds and paid them a combined $50k in bonuses. The savings went to overslot bonuses for high schoolers in other rounds.

For the most part this list is just my pre-draft list with some 2012 draftees squeezed in. The order of the guys who’ve been in the organization a while didn’t change all that much, though I did do some reshuffling. Nothing major though, and besides, the difference between two players ranked consecutively is usually too small to argue. It’s all about personal preference at that point; I don’t think there’s much different between the #16 and #30 prospects in this list.

Here are my preseason and pre-draft lists. No one has graduated to the big leagues — though David Phelps is a handful of innings away from losing prospect status — and no one fell off due to injury. The ages listed are as of today and I’ve included pre-draft rankings in parenthesis where applicable. Let’s dive in…

  1. Mason Williams, OF, 20 (2) — started slowly after the promotion from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa, but he’s gotten in a groove of late and figures to be a top-30 prospect in baseball after the season
  2. Gary Sanchez, C, 19 (3) — has shown the same power this year as last (.229 vs. .219 ISO) while cutting down on the strikeouts a bit (23.1 vs. 27.1 K%)
  3. Manny Banuelos, LHP, 21 (1) — it’s been a lost season for the team’s best pitching prospect due to an elbow injury, but he’s still way ahead of schedule as the youngest player in the Triple-A International League
  4. Tyler Austin, OF, 20 (7) — the MVP of the farm system so far has already been bumped to High-A Tampa and has a realistic chance of reaching Triple-A Scranton as a 21-year-old in the second half of next season
  5. Jose Campos, RHP, 19 (4) — another season lost due to an elbow injury, Campos still has plenty of time to catch up like Banuelos due to his age
  6. David Phelps, RHP, 25 (8) — he’s shown improved velocity this season and has progressively gotten better during the summer while pitching in the big leagues
  7. Ty Hensley, RHP, 18 (N/A) — his mid-90s fastball and power curveball is the best two-pitch mix in the system, and whatever shoulder abnormality they found during his pre-signing physical isn’t serious enough to keep him off the mound
  8. Dante Bichette Jr., 3B, 19 (6) — it’s been a disappointing season for last year’s first rounder, specifically his lack of power (.081 ISO) with Low-A Charleston
  9. J.R. Murphy, C, 21 (10) — he’s reached Double-A Trenton and has quietly shown big time improvement behind the plate, particularly with his throwing (thrown out 32 of 96 attempted base-stealers, 33%)
  10. Ravel Santana, CF, 20 (11) — the ankle injury is fully behind him and the bat has started to come around after a slow start with Short Season Staten Island
  11. Ramon Flores, OF, 20 (14) — it’s easy to forget he won’t turn 21 until next March because he’s been around for a while, but he’s having another strong year and could be with Triple-A Scranton at this time next year
  12. Austin Romine, C, 23 (13) — the back injury has effectively wiped out his season, but he has started to appear in some low-level rehab games over the last week or two
  13. Slade Heathcott, OF, 21 (15) — has played the field sparingly following his second left shoulder surgery but is already two walks shy of last year’s total in 121 fewer plate appearances
  14. Angelo Gumbs, 2B, 19 (19) — easy to overlook given the other star power at Low-A Charleston, Gumbs showed serious power (.162 ISO) and speed (26-for-29 in stolen base attempts, 90%) before hurting his elbow on a swing
  15. Dellin Betances, RHP, 24 (9) — his control deteriorated to the point where basic strike-throwing had become a challenge, resulting in a demotion to Double-A Trenton
  16. Mark Montgomery, RHP, 21 (17) — the strikeout extraordinaire (14.7 K/9 and 39.4 K% as a pro) has reached Double-A Trenton and should be big league ready at this time next year
  17. D.J. Mitchell, RHP, 25 (12) — has been used sparingly in several big league stints, but he’s very quietly put up his best strikeout (7.6 K/9 and 19.7 K%) and walk (3.0 BB/9 and 7.9 BB%) rates with Triple-A Empire State since his first pro season in 2009
  18. Nik Turley, LHP, 22 (22) — blister problems have been a speed bump this year, but the big southpaw just continues to get better and better each year and with each start
  19. Austin Aune, SS, 18 (N/A) — a left-handed hitter with pop who was drafted as an outfielder, this year’s second rounder will stay at shortstop until he shows he can’t handle it
  20. Adam Warren, RHP, 24 (16) — forget about his disastrous (and only) big league start, his performance in the minor leagues has gone backwards for the second straight year
  21. Brett Marshall, RHP, 22 (18) — hasn’t missed a start since having Tommy John surgery in late-2009, but the lack of strikeouts (5.7 K/9 and 15.4 K%) at Double-A Trenton is a concern
  22. Peter O’Brien, C, 22 (N/A)– whether he can remain behind the plate long-term remains to be seen, but O’Brien offers some pop from the right side and catchers who can hit are very hard to find
  23. Bryan Mitchell, RHP, 21 (20) — he flashes pure dominance at times thanks to be the best curveball in the organization, but he still has a long way to go before harnessing it all
  24. Zoilo Almonte, OF, 23 (23) — he’s mashed since returning from a hamstring injury but is going to have to do a lot more to force his way into the outfield picture at some point in the next year or two
  25. Cito Culver, SS, 19 (21) — it’s been a real struggle offensively for the team’s first rounder of two years ago, but he’s shown nice plate discipline (13.1 BB%) and can play the hell out of the shortstop position
  26. Ben Gamel, OF, 20 (25) — missed some time with a minor injury but has shown contact skills and more recently some power potential in the form of doubles
  27. Greg Bird, C, 19 (24) — played in just four games for the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees before a back strain sidelined him, and the unconfirmed rumor is that his days as a catcher are over and he’ll return as a first baseman
  28. Nick Goody, RHP, 21 (N/A) — this year’s sixth round is a potential quick moving power reliever capable of missing bats within the strike zone with his fastball-slider combo
  29. Corban Joseph, 2B, 23 (30) — a shoulder injury delayed the start of his season, but CoJo has moved up to Triple-A Empire State and has started to answer some of those power questions by hitting hit two more homers than last year in 261 fewer plate appearances
  30. Jordan Cote, RHP, 19 (NR) — the big and raw right-hander has made great strides with his delivery and command since signing and is poised to zoom up these rankings within the next few months

I jumped the gun big time with RHP Rafael DePaula, who I ranked fifth (!) in the pre-draft list even though he hadn’t even appeared in a game yet. My usual policy to leave international free agents unranked until they make their U.S. debut, which DePaula has yet to do because he’s spending the season in the Dominican Summer League. That’s why I left him out this time, I was just uncomfortable ranking him without an assignment to one of the six domestic affiliates.

RHP Chase Whitely (26), UTIL Ronnie Mustelier (27), LHP Daniel Camarena (29) were squeezed out in the numbers crunch. Camarena’s shoulder issue didn’t help his cause either, though I remain a big fan. 3B/OF Rob Segedin and 2B David Adams were both right on the bubble as well, the latter because of continued injury concerns. He’s hitting though, let’s just hope he can stay on the field going forward. I also really like RHP Gio Gallegos and it’s hard to ignore LHP Vidal Nuno, but I need more info on both guys before I can start ranking them somewhere. You can’t scout a box score.

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

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.