Williams, Sanchez, Austin among BA’s Midseason Top 50 Prospects

Baseball America published their midseason Top 50 Prospects list today, led by RHP Dylan Bundy of the Orioles. The best pitching prospect in the game owns a 1.74 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 13 walks in 62.2 innings down in Single-A this year. SS Jurickson Profar (Rangers) and OF Wil Myers (Royals) round out the top three. The list is free for all but the write-ups are subscriber-only.

The Yankees placed three prospects in the top 50: OF Mason Williams (#28), C Gary Sanchez (#30), and OF Tyler Austin (#39). LHP Manny Banuelos ranked 29th on the preseason Top 100 but fell out of the midseason list due to his elbow injury, though he was one of three players in the “Also Receiving Votes” section. Both Banuelos and RHP Jose Campos made the All Disabled List Team, unfortunately (subs. req’d). Williams (#85) and Sanchez (#81) made significant jumps from the preseason list, as did Austin, who was unranked this spring. The Yankees don’t have that surefire top-five prospect like Jesus Montero anymore, but three top-40 guys makes for a really strong top of the system.

Thinking about minor league promotions

(Matt Burton/MiLB.com)

The minor league season is a little more than halfway complete, with the four full-season affiliates having already played at least 74 games out of their 144-game schedules. That means promotions should be upon us, and in fact this week’s Dellin Betances demotion might represent the start of a wave of player moves. Josh Norris recently spoke to someone who said to expect some movement in about a week, and last night the Yankees bumped righty reliever Nick Goody up from Short Season Staten Island to Low-A Charleston. He’ll be the first 2012 draftee to appear in a full-season league.

The Yankees have already made some very minor promotions, like Mikey O’Brien to Double-A Trenton and Chase Whitley to Triple-A Empire State, but the most notable moves should come very soon. Here’s a preview of what could be in store in the next week or two…

C Gary Sanchez to High-A Tampa
This one seems like a total no-brainer. Sanchez is repeating Low-A Charleston and doing so in a big way — .304/.357/.534 with 13 homers and 11 steals (!) in 277 plate appearances. He’s also played ten fewer games behind the plate than last year and has 16 fewer passed balls. A move up to Tampa would force Sanchez to split catcher and DH duties with J.R. Murphy, which they did for the first few weeks of last season. Murphy is having a great June — .316/.354/.494 with three homers — but his overall performance (.260/.324/.374) has been underwhelming. Splitting catching duties is not ideal, but Sanchez needs the promotion and it will help keep both guys from wearing down in August and September. As an added bonus, Francisco Arcia and his .305/.393/.495 batting line would get a chance as the full-time catcher for the River Dogs once Sanchez is promoted.

OF Tyler Austin to High-A Tampa, OF Rob Segedin to Double-A Trenton
Moving Austin up is another no-brainer. He’s been the best hitter in the farm system this year, with a .328/.408/.621 batting line to go with 14 homers and 17 steals in 292 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston. It’s pretty clear that he isn’t being challenged enough at the level, so move him on up. In a corresponding move to clear an outfield spot, Segedin can move up to Trenton. He’s hitting .291/.359/.446 in 312 plate appearances this year after finishing last season in Tampa. The Thunder outfield is pretty packed with the Almontes (Abe and Zoilo) and Melky Mesa, but Cody Johnson’s injury and Neil Medchill’s general non-prospectness free up the DH spot. Segedin can also play third on occasion.

RHRP Phil Wetherell to High-A Tampa, RHRP Mark Montgomery to Double-A Trenton
Wetherell’s numbers are not eye-popping — 5.05 ERA with 38 hits allowed in 35.2 innings — but he’s missing bats (9.3 K/9 and 23.3 K%), limiting walks (3.3 BB/9 and 8.2 BB%), and keeping the ball in the park (just one homer allowed). As a 22-year-old college reliever, there’s only so much to be gained from facing Low-A hitters. Montgomery, on the other hand, has the huge numbers — 1.54 ERA with 53 strikeouts (13.6 K/9 and 38.1 K%) and 12 walks (3.1 BB/9 and 8.6 BB%) in 35 innings — and the wipeout slider to back them up. A short reliever with a breaking ball that good should overwhelm Single-A competition like Montgomery has, and now it’s time to get him up to the next level.

(Beverly Schaefer/The Times of Trenton)

LHSP Vidal Nuno to Triple-A Empire State
The Betances demotion as well as the Adam Warren recall thinned out the Triple-A rotation in a hurry. They still have D.J. Mitchell, Ramon Ortiz, and John Maine in their regular spots and could pull Nelson Figueroa and Mike O’Connor out of the bullpen, but moving Nuno up should also be a serious consideration. He’s an older guy (25 next month) the Yankees plucked out of an independent league last season and he’s done nothing but dominate since joining the organization: 154 strikeouts (8.1 K/9 and 22.8 K%) and just 32 walks (1.7 BB/9 and 4.7 BB%) in 171 innings. Nuno has been stellar since moving into the Double-A rotation last month, allowing just four earned runs in 40.1 innings across seven starts. The Yankees lack left-handers in the system and moving Nuno up gives them a chance to evaluate him at the highest possible level.

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Last month I wrote about the idea of promoting Mason Williams based mostly on his insane contact rates, though I could see it going either way. I would understand if they bumped him up to Tampa or kept him in Charleston, there are viable reasons to do both. Sanchez and Austin are the definite promotions though, ditto Montgomery. The four (really six) moves listed above seem like the most logical ones to make this July.

Tyler Austin to represent Yankees at Futures Game

Rosters for the 2012 Futures Game were released today (USA, World), and the only Yankees farmhand headed to Kansas City is OF Tyler Austin. The eligibility rules are quirky but I believe every club gets at least one representative but no more than two, except for the host team. That’s why three Royals were selected for the game. I thought C Gary Sanchez had a pretty strong chance of being selected, but alas.

Austin, 20, has been the farm system’s MVP this season and it’s not particularly close. He has a league-leading 14 homers with Low-A Charleston this year, and he also leads the South Atlantic League with a .475 wOBA (by 30 points), a 188 wRC+ (18 points), and a .319 ISO (52 (!) points). The actual game will be played the Sunday before the All-Star Game next month.

Scouting Tyler Austin

Outfielder Tyler Austin came into the season as my 15th ranked prospect in the organization and he currently owns a .451 wOBA in 40 games with Low-A Charleston. He’s also tied for fifth in homers (13) in all of minor league baseball. Mike Newman of FanGraphs recently got a chance to see Austin in person and called it “the best offensive display of any player [I’ve] seen in person at the minor league level.”

The 20-year-old former 13th round pick is not without his warts, however. Austin’s power all-fields power and ability to murder fastballs is very real, but Newman notes there is some concern about his swing — which is the same no matter where the pitch is located (high, low, belt-high, etc.) — and his strikeout rate, which sits at 23.1%. That’s not outrageous, but a little higher than you’d like to see at this point of his career. Newman still heaps a ton of praise on Austin, calling him a future above average regular. Make sure you check it out, it’s a quality read.

Minor Notes: Bichette, Austin, Ravel, Heathcott

The minor league season actually starts before the Major League season this year, though by just one day. Usually the bush leagues kick off like, two weeks after the big boys. Not sure what’s up with that. Anyway, here are some interesting minor league notes courtesy of Chad Jennings

  • VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed that Dante Bichette Jr. will start this season with Low-A Charleston. He’s skipping right over Short Season Staten Island. Tyler Austin will be there as well, and he’s going to play right field while Bichette gets the hot corner. I prefer that to having them share third and DH or something.
  • That Charleston team figures to be stacked, by the way. Bichette, Austin, Mason Williams, Cito Culver, Angelo Gumbs, Jose Campos, Bryan Mitchell, Ben Gamel, Evan DeLuca, and Matt Tracy should all be there. Gary Sanchez could be back for an encore as well.
  • “He’s going to be ready close to the start of the season … He came back unbelievably fast,” said Newman of Ravel Santana. The outfielder will head to SI once the season starts in June.
  • Remember when Slade Heathcott said his latest shoulder surgery will keep him out until May? He was being optimistic. Newman says he’ll be back in June. Sucks.
  • Jeremy Bleich is throwing bullpen sessions following the shoulder procedure that cost him most of 2010 and all of 2011. I have to think we’ll see him in a game at some point, assuming the surgically repaired wing holds up.

Austin, Gamel among Keith Law’s sleeper prospects

After posting his top 100 prospects list on Thursday, Keith Law followed up yesterday with a list of sleeper prospects for each team (Insider req’d). “Third baseman Tyler Austin has turned himself into a pretty good defender over there, defying earlier predictions he’d have to move to first,” said KLaw of his sleeper pick for the Yankees. “[He] has a whole-field approach to hitting with pull power right now, and runs well for his size with a perfect stolen-base record in the pros.” Austin hit a combined .354/.418/.579 between the two short season leagues last summer after being drafted as a catcher in 2010.

“Also watch right fielder Ben Gamel, younger brother of Mat,” added Law. “Ben shows a lot of promise with the bat, with good ability to square up the baseball and plenty of hip rotation for future power.” I’ve always been a bit of a Gamel homer, so I’m glad that’s been validated some.

MiLB Interviews: Davis, Cote, Bichette, Austin

Joe and I are skipping out on the podcast this week because frankly, there’s nothing to talk about. The big news of the week was Billy Eppler’s promotion, and I said everything that needed to be said about that in this post. Rather than waste 20 minutes talking about nothing, I’ll point you towards these minor league interviews that I’ve been hording over the last few days and weeks…