Sanchez tops MLB.com’s top 20 Yankees prospects lists

MLB.com recently rolled out their team top 20 prospects lists, and they have C Gary Sanchez claiming the top spot for the Yankees. OF Mason Williams and OF Tyler Austin round out the top three. Those are the names you’re going to see at the top of the club’s prospect lists all offseason, just not necessarily in that order. A healthy OF Slade Heathcott and an unhealthy LHP Manny Banuelos occupy the four and five slots, respectively.

The feature includes write-ups on all 20 players and in some cases, video as well. The MLB.com lists are always off the beaten path a bit — both UTIL Jose Pirela (#15) and RHP Zach Nuding (#19) cracked the top 20 over RHP Brett Marshall — which I enjoy just for the change of pace. Only two of the club’s top ten prospects are pitchers compared to three top ten position players from the 2010 draft alone. That’s a major difference compared to the last few seasons, when the top-end of the list was dominated by the guys on the mound.

Mailbag: Catcher, Dickerson, Nunez, Austin

We were running light on questions this week, so I opened the floor to the Twitter public yesterday afternoon and got a bunch of responses that way. Feel free to send us questions via Twitter in the future, but I can’t promise I’ll catch them all. You’re much better off using the Submit A Tip box for mailbag questions or anything else.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

From @DanFoolery: What’s the Near/Not-so-Near yet still-pretty-near plan for a MLB catcher for the Yanks? Romine? Sanchez? (Gulp) Martin?

This is the million dollar question right here and there’s no obvious answer. Austin Romine effectively lost a season due to his back injury, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a viable big league option next spring. It just means that he might not be ready for the job full-time. Gary Sanchez is still years away and is not a 2013 factor, and J.R. Murphy probably won’t enter his name into the race for another year as well. Frankie Cervelli is just a backup.

The free agent catching market boils down to Russell Martin, Mike Napoli (hasn’t started more than 70 games behind the plate since 2009), Kelly Shoppach (pretty good option on a one-year deal), and contract year A.J. Pierzynski (someone will overpay based on this season). Trade targets could include Nick Hundley (Yasmani Grandal took his job) and John Buck (no way). I want to think that Martin’s poor season has lowered his value to the point where the Yankees could bring him back on a one-year, $6-8M pact to serve as a stopgap, but I just don’t see it happening. Sanchez is the clear long-term solution here, but what happens between now and then is a total mystery to me. That’s not a good thing.

From @adakannayr: Small sample size, but could Dickerson be a suitable replacement assuming we aren’t bringing back Swisher?

I like Chris Dickerson probably more than anyone should, but I don’t see him as an everyday outfielder for a contending team. He’s always had a significant platoon split (this year in Triple-A notwithstanding) but the good news for him is that he’s the more often used left-handed half of the platoon. Dickerson can run well and play very good defense, so that’s not a problem. The Yankees would just need a platoon partner, and that means they’ll be using two roster spots to replace the production as one. If they don’t bring Nick Swisher back, I would hope they’d look for a legitimate everyday solution and use a Dickerson-based platoon as just a fall back. Not even Plan B, like Plan C or D.

From @TomHasOpinions: Wonder if Nunez could be a CF answer-Lower bar on offense, fast w/arm strength, bad accuracy could be masked in OF..thoughts?

Center field is interesting. I’ve always thought that if Eduardo Nunez was going to play one position on an everyday basis, the best bet is probably second thanks to the short throw, but center would make much better use of his speed. Now obviously the transition from the infield to center is not an easy one and something you want him to go through in Triple-A, but it’s definitely doable at his age. Nunez isn’t a great hitter but he makes a ton of contact, steals bases, and has just enough pop to be dangerous, so maybe there’s a chance he develops into a .280/.330/.390 guy who steals 25+ bases in center. That’s not a star but it is a pretty useful player if he can figure the defense thing out. Consider me intrigued.

From @rickhindle: If he continues to hit, will Tyler Austin be the Yankees everyday RF in 2014

I always tend to think conservatively when it comes to prospects having big league impact, but I do think that’s a very real possibility. Austin has done nothing but hit since the day he turned pro, and I mean hit for both average and power. His bat will have to carry him because he isn’t a great defender, but the kid can hit. Despite this late season call-up to Double-A Trenton, I think Austin will open next year back with High-A Tampa before earning a quick promotion back up to Trenton in May or June. If he continues to mash there and gets in a few Triple-A games late in the summer, he’d be right where he needs to be as far as being a big league option. Does that mean he’ll produce in the Bronx right away? No, he probably won’t, but I think there’s a good chance Austin will hit his way into consideration for a big league job by Spring Training 2014.

(Patrick McDermott/Getty)

From @HyShai: Is there another pitcher (in history, other than Mo) that had success only throwing FBs and cutters, with no off speed?

I have no idea how to look this up for all of baseball history, but we can make this work for the PitchFX era (2008-present). Looking at the 111 starters who have thrown at least 500 IP since 2008, here are the ten most fastball-heavy pitchers…

  1. Kyle Kendrick — 77.8%
  2. Aaron Cook — 77.6%
  3. Justin Masterson — 76.6%
  4. Jon Niese — 76.4%
  5. Cliff Lee — 74.6%
  6. Jon Lester — 74.0%
  7. Matt Harrison — 73.3%
  8. David Price — 72.9%
  9. Mike Pelfrey — 72.5%
  10. Chad Billingsley — 72.0%

That includes four-seamers, two-seamers, cutters and sinkers, but not splitters, which are an offspeed pitch. Kendrick, Cook, Masterson, Harrison, and Pelfrey are all sinker-ballers while Niese, Lee, Lester, and Billingsley mix it up and throw four-seamers, two-seamers, and cutters regularly. Price is just a BAMF and pumps the heat all the time. Andy Pettitte is 12th on the list at 71.3% while CC Sabathia is way further down at 68th (59.9%). He’s actually right behind Hiroki Kuroda (60.1%).

Other than Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, the least used fastball(s) belongs to Bronson Arroyo (27.9%). The most used individual pitch by a starter since 2008 is Clayton Kershaw’s four-seamer at 67.7%. Seems like two out of every three pitches being a fastball is the closest we’ll get to a one-pitch starter. The most used offspeed pitch is Armando Galarraga’s slider (36.0%), but among MLB-caliber pitchers it’s the sliders of Ervin Santana and Bud Norris (both 35.6%). Here are the fastball-heavy relievers (min. 100 IP for 244 qualifiers)…

  1. Mariano Rivera — 99.4%
  2. Jason Motte — 90.6%
  3. Kenley Jansen — 89.7%
  4. Ronald Belisario — 86.7%
  5. Andrew Bailey — 85.2%
  6. Matt Thornton — 85.0%
  7. Octavio Dotel — 83.6%
  8. Neftali Feliz — 81.8%
  9. Danys Baez — 81.8%
  10. David Aardsma — 80.9%

That missing 0.6% for Mo are just pitches the system was unable to classify for whatever reason. PitchFX ain’t perfect. Aroldis Chapman (80.1%) is right behind Aardsma while David Robertson (74.6%), Rafael Soriano (70.2%), Joba Chamberlain (63.0%), and Boone Logan (55.3%) rank 34th, 61st, 140th, and 192nd, respectively. The most used pitch by a reliever since 2008 is Thornton’s four-seamer (82.6%) while the most used offspeed pitch is Luke Gregerson’s slider (57.8%). This shouldn’t be a surprise, but relievers have far more success relying on what amounts to one type of pitch than starters. Mo just takes it to the extreme.

Josh Norris’ Low-A Charleston scout notes

The great Josh Norris posted a collection of quotes from a scout on various members of this year’s Low-A Charleston roster this afternoon. The scout sung the praises of C Gary Sanchez and OF Mason Williams, but wasn’t a fan of either OF Tyler Austin or SS Cito Culver. It a short but fun read, so make sure you give it a click.

Austin, Sanchez highlight Baseball America’s Best Minor League Tools

Yesterday it was the big leaguers, today it’s the minor leaguers. Baseball America published their best tools survey today (subs. req’d), polling managers and other personnel about the game’s best aspiring Major Leaguers. OF Tyler Austin and C Gary Sanchez headline the crop of Yankees farmhands by being named the Best Hitting Prospect and Best Power Prospect in the Low-A South Atlantic League, respectively. The survey was conducted prior to their promotions to High-A Tampa.

Other Yankees prospects getting love include the Double-A Eastern League trio of OF/DH Cody Johnson (Best Power Prospect), OF Abe Almonte (Fastest Baserunner), and RHP Brett Marshall (Best Changeup). OF Mason Williams was dubbed the Best Defensive Outfielder in the Sally League as well. RHP Mark Montgomery got beat out for the High-A Florida State League Best Reliever crown by Futures Gamer RHP Bruce Rondon. For shame.

Tyler Austin: A scouting report and the future

(Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

This has been a down year for the farm system for the most part, though the most notable exception is the emergence of Tyler Austin from interesting guy to high-end prospect. The Yankees signed the 20-year-old for $135k as their 13th round pick back in 2010, and he’s rewarded them by hitting .322/.404/.583 with 15 homers and 18 steals (in 20 tries) across two levels of Single-A this year. Both Baseball America and Keith Law recently ranked him as one of the 50 best prospects in the game.

The numbers certainly pass the sniff test and at 6-foot-2 and 200 lbs., Austin passes the eye test as well. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, a former Yankees intern, scouted him during a recent High-A Tampa game and published the write-up yesterday. It’s an excellent and lengthy Insider-only read, so I can’t give away too much. Here are the most relevant points…

He’s a below-average runner with choppy steps and some thickness to a 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame. Austin’s arm is slightly above-average, so he can play right field, and he’s quick enough to stay there for now …  There is a risk for barring his lead arm and/or a loopy path in how he moves his hands, but Austin has good enough feel for his swing that this hasn’t been a problem in games I’ve seen … Austin’s strength, bat speed and hips combine to create above-average to plus raw power that is most natural to the opposite gap, an encouraging sign for power showing up in games and translating at higher levels … The separator for Austin is his advanced plan, feel and plate coverage that is fueled by his quick hands and allows him to tap into his raw power in games. Austin has a tough profile and little margin for error, but he’s got a good chance to reach his ceiling of .275-.280 average with 25 homers.

Mike Newman passed along a similar report when he caught Austin a few weeks ago, saying the stolen base totals — 36-for-38 in steal attempts for his career — are not indicative of his actual speed and athleticism, and that the swing can get a little flat. Both guys agree that the (hard to find) right-handed pop and opposite field stroke are for real though, ditto the advanced approach that allows Austin to wait for his pitch and take ball four (11.3% walk rate) if he doesn’t get anything to hit.

The long-term concern here is position. Austin was drafted as a catcher and moved to third base almost immediately. He shifted to right field this season in part due to a lack of hot corner quickness, but also because of the presence of Dante Bichette Jr., last year’s first rounder. McDaniel notes that Austin may have to move to first base long-term, though hopefully he can stave off that fate for a few years ago. Either way, Austin’s carrying tool is his bat and if ever reaches the big leagues, it’ll be because he hit his way there. Don’t count on defensive value.

Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has a bit of a spotty track record when it comes to first round/top picks, but he and his scouting staff just kill it in the late rounds, particularly on the mound. They consistently find power arms to feed the bullpen pipeline and dangle in trades, but Austin at least has the potential to be their best late-round find yet as an impact hitter from the right side of the plate. The Yankees are going to need to add some cheap bats to the lineup in the coming years, and Austin could have himself on the big league radar by 2014 if he stays healthy and progresses as hoped.

Just FYI, McDaniel also commented on outfielders Slade Heathcott (“shows big tools with above-average left-handed power and above-average speed that makes for a potentially enticing center-field package”) and Ramon Flores (“the tools are short for big league impact”). Last week he covered Mason Williams and some of those bullpen arms.

Kiley McDaniel scouts High-A Tampa

Over at ESPN in an Insider-only blog post, former Yankees intern Kiley McDaniel penned a piece with scouting notes on several players with High-A Tampa. He wrote at length about OF Mason Williams — who he compared to Jacoby Ellsbury — and C Gary Sanchez, but also chimed in on OF Tyler Austin, RHP Jose Ramirez, RHP Mark Montgomery, and some other power arms on the staff. Pretty much the only negative thing he had to say was that Sanchez tends to struggle with fastballs in on his hands.

McDaniel praised scouting director Damon Oppenheimer for landing such quality prospects (Austin and the pitchers, specifically) with low-round draft picks, which is pretty neat. “Opposing clubs’ scouts covering this Tampa squad were simultaneously commending the Yankees for their deep staff and wondering why their teams didn’t draft these talents,” he wrote. Anyway, like I said go check it out. It gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation.

Williams, Sanchez, and Austin crack Keith Law’s midseason top 50 prospects list

From left to right: Williams, Austin, Sanchez. (MiLB.com)

In an Insider-only piece, Keith Law published his midseason top 50 prospects list today. SS Jurickson Profar of the Rangers, who put on a show in the Futures Game by homering from the left side of the plate and singling from the right side, claimed the top spot to what should be no one’s surprise. RHP Dylan Bundy and SS Manny Machado, both of the Orioles, round out the top three. Some big things are happening in Baltimore.

The Yankees placed three players on the list, led by OF Mason Williams at #21. “He was recently promoted to High Class A after posting an .848 OPS in a half-season at Charleston,” wrote KLaw. “Williams earns a lot of raves from scouts between the tools and his general feel for the game, especially on defense.” Mason ranked 34th on Law’s preseason list, so he made a modest jump into the top 25. I’m not sure how much higher he can rank unless he taps into some hidden power at some point.

C Gary Sanchez wasn’t too far behind Williams at #28, and Law says he’s “improved markedly on defense to the point where you can picture him remaining behind the plate long term, and the bat should make him an MVP candidate if he does stay there.” Now that sure is good to hear, the defense has always been the long-term question with Sanchez. He doesn’t need to be a Gold Glover, just adequate. Law notes that Sanchez is primed for yet another jump up the rankings after making the leap from #55 in his preseason list.

The third Yankees farmhand to crack the top 50 is OF Tyler Austin at #45. “[He can] really hit, with a balanced swing and some pull power already, although when I caught him early this season, he was struggling a little to make adjustments to changing speeds, something that has improved in the last two-plus months,” said Law in his write-up. Austin was unranked in the preseason list and obviously made a huge jump thanks to his big full season league debut.

For comparison’s sake, Baseball America ranked Williams, Sanchez, and Austin as the 28th, 30th, and 39th best prospects in baseball in their recent midseason top 50 list, respectively. Good to see we have a bit of a consensus on where these three rank in terms of the bigger picture. LHP Manny Banuelos and several other injured pitchers were ineligible for Law’s list, but I confirmed with him that Manny would have cracked the top 50 if healthy. RHP Dellin Betances is healthy but obviously wasn’t close to the top 50, especially after ranking just 83rd before the season. Either way, three and potentially four top 50 guys is pretty darn good.