Top 15 Prospects: New York Yankees

As a life-long Toronto Blue Jays fan it’s not easy to like the Yankees. As a prospect analyst, though, I can’t help but love the organization’s minor league system. Even when New York has “hiccups” with its draft philosophy, the system manages to churn out and develop all-star caliber players, which also says a lot about the organization’s scouts and minor league development staff. The talent well is not going to run dry any time soon in New York.

1. Manny Banuelos, LHP
BORN: March 13, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 3rd

With the trade of Jesus Montero to Seattle, Banuelos moves up the organizational ladder and into the No. 1 prospect hole. The southpaw is probably about a year away from joining the Yankees’ starting rotation, once he finds a little more consistency with both his fastball command and his overall control. He opened the year with 95.1 innings of work in double-A, where he posted a 4.01 FIP (3.59 ERA) and a walk rate of 4.91 BB/9. Moved up to triple-A for 34.1 more innings Banuelos managed a 3.90 FIP (4.19 ERA) and a walk rate of 4.98 BB/9. Another 100-120 innings in triple-A would definitely be of benefit to the lefty, who features an 89-94 mph fastball, a curveball and a changeup. All three pitches flash the potential to be above-average or plus, giving him a shot at developing into a No. 1 starter in the most dangerous league in Major League Baseball.

2. Jose Campos, RHP
BORN: July 27, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 non-drafted free agent (Seattle)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off (Mariners)

A shocking ranking for Campos, no doubt, but I love his arm and believe the Mariners will eventually rue the day they included him in the Michael Pineda/Jesus Montero trade. The right-hander fires his fastball up into the 97-98 mph range but sits 91-95 mph. He displays above-average command of his fastball given his young age. His secondary pitches both need significant work (curveball, changeup) but the foundation is there for a No. 1 or 2 starter if he develops properly. Campos struck out 85 batters in 81.2 innings in short-season ball in ’11. He walked just 11 and induced an above-average number of ground-ball outs. With a 6’4” 200 lbs frame, the Venezuela native has the potential to develop into a workhorse. Just 19, Campos has three years of pro experience under his belt (including two seasons in the Venezuelan Summer League) and he should receive his first taste of full-season ball in 2012.

3. Dellin Betances, RHP
BORN: March 23, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 6 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2006 8th round, New York high school
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 4th

Betances comes in at the No. 3 spot, knocked down by a less advanced power pitcher, because he currently projects as a reliever at the big league level. The right-hander has an above-average fastball sitting between 90-95 mph and it features lots of movement, which causes it to miss the strike zone a little too much. His changeup may have passed his breaking ball as his second-best pitch but the curve still shows potential. Like a lot of tall pitchers (6’8” 260 lbs), Betances fights his delivery and that leads to the inconsistent command and control. He spent the majority of 2011 in double-A where he posted a 3.70 FIP (3.42 ERA) in 105.1 innings of work. He also pitched 21 innings in triple-A and 2.2 innings during his debut in The Show. His walk rate increased with each promotion, helping to underscore the need for more seasoning. The soon-to-be 24-year-old pitcher will likely return to triple-A and await an opening in either the starting rotation or, more likely, the bullpen.

4. Mason Williams, OF
BORN: Aug. 21, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 4th round, Florida high school
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

It’s not easy to find an underrated Yankees prospect, but Williams might be just that. An athletic outfielder, he was stolen in the fourth round of the 2010 draft out of a Florida high school. The Yankees’ scouts did an excellent job of identifying a talent that most had written off as too raw for pro ball and expected him to follow through on his commitment to the University of South Carolina. On offense, Williams’ swing is currently having an identity crisis as he’s stuck in between hitting for power and hitting like a speedy singles hitter. He should develop into a solid hitter capable of hitting for both average and slightly-above-average gap power that could produce 35-40 doubles and 15-20 home runs in a full season. Williams is fleet-of-foot on the base paths and in the field but he needs more polish to reach his potential of 30-40 steals. In the field he has excellent range in center field but is still learning the intricacies of the position. Williams should move up to low-A in 2012 and I have a feeling that you’re going to hear a lot about him this season.

5. Gary Sanchez, C
BORN: Dec. 2, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd

When you play for the New York Yankees the honor comes with increased scrutiny – even for those in the low minors. Such is the case with Sanchez who has been compared, perhaps unfairly, to fellow big-bodied catching prospect Jesus Montero. While Montero will undoubtedly move from behind the dish to first base or DH, Sanchez shows much better natural feel for his craft, although he remains raw. He has solid arm strength but needs considerable work on his receiving skills. There have also been concerns raised over his maturity level but the front office people I talk to tend to be less concerned with maturity issues from very young players than the average fan or media type. Sanchez did not turn 19 until this past December and he managed to perform at an above-average level (wRC+ of 121) in low-A ball in 2011. He hit just .256 but showed patience (10.5 BB%) and power (.229 ISO). The biggest need for him on offense right now is to improve his pitch recognition, which will help him chip away at his high strikeout totals (27.1 K%).

6. Dante Bichette Jr., 3B
BORN: Sept. 26, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2012 2nd round, Florida high school
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

As the 2011 draft approached I had Bichette ranked on my personal Top 20 list of players I would have selected in the first round of the draft if I were a scouting director. Despite strong pedigree and impressive showings in the video I watched, I was surprised by the number of negative scouting reports I read about the youngster, knocking both his defense and his offense. Bichette possessed unique swing mechanics as an amateur but the Yankees minor league staff helped him make some changes and it seemed to work wonders. He hit .342 with 17 doubles (.163 ISO) in 52 games in Rookie ball, earning himself a late promotion to the New York Penn League. In the field, he performed well enough at the hot corner to quiet the talk of relocating him to the outfield, at least for now. With such a strong showing in his debut, Bichette is likely headed to low-A ball in 2012 and he could move fairly quickly for a prep draftee.

7. Austin Romine, C
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 6th

Romine’s prospect status has taken a bit of a hit over the last year. Offensive projections have settled down, leading some to project him as more of a backup catcher now. His defense remains above-average – including strong leadership, game calling, receiving and arm strength – but more questions are being asked about his offensive ceiling. Romine repeated double-A in 2011 but made only minor improvements to his offensive game (wRC+ improved from 99 in ’10 to 103 in ’11). He didn’t hit for as much power but he added about 20 points to his batting average and trimmed his strikeout rate. Injuries could also be partially to blame for his numbers failing to improve dramatically (concussion, back). Still just 23, Romine should spend 2012 serving as the starting catcher in triple-A, one injury away from another promotion to the big league club. He should be ready to permanently join the 25-man roster in 2013. I still believe in him as a potential big league starter, but perhaps on a second-division club.

8. Slade Heathcott, OF
BORN: Sept. 28, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 1st round, Texas high school
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Heathcott got off to a quick start to the 2011 season but, as seems to be the case with this prospect, injuries and questionable decision making prevented him from playing a full season. Two surgeries on his throwing shoulder have raised some concerns regarding his long-term ability to stay healthy and he has yet to provide more than 300 at-bats in a full season. Heathcott displays above-average defense in center field thanks to outstanding range due to his above-average speed. His arm strength is no longer a plus due to the surgeries. At the plate he remains raw but he flashes above-average gap power; he’s too aggressive and needs better pitch selection and identification, which should come with time.

9. Ravel Santana, OF
BORN: May 1, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Santana is an intriguing raw athlete but there have been unconfirmed rumors that injury recovery could cost him significant playing time in 2012. Most reports, though, have him almost fully recovered from a broken ankle and ligament damage that he suffered in August 2011. Just 19, he had an outstanding offensive season in Rookie ball and posted a wRC+ of 160 (meaning he created 60% more runs than the average player at that level). Santana struck out a bit too much but he showed impressive power (.272 ISO) and hit for average (.296). He even showcased some patience with a walk rate of 9.2 BB%. Prior to his injury, Santana was a plus base runner and had outstanding range in center field so it will be interesting to see how well he rebounds. He also has a plus arm. He should open 2012 in extended spring training before moving up to the New York Penn League.

10. J.R. Murphy, C
BORN: May 13, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 2nd round, Florida HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

I considered a few names for the No. 10 spot but Murphy won out thanks to a solid 2011 season that saw him reassert himself as a viable catching prospect after almost moving to third base on a permanent basis. Murphy split time behind the plate with Gary Sanchez in 2011 but actually looked better the younger, more highly-touted prospect on defense despite his previous struggles. Murphy has made improvements with his throwing, receiving and game calling – although they all still have a ways to go. At the plate he hit .297 and showed some pop with an isolated power rate of .160 in low-A. He kept his strikeout rate low at an impressive 13.7 K%. Murphy received 85 at-bats in high-A ball before a broken foot knocked him out for the remainder of the season. He should return there to begin 2012. An interesting side note, Murphy attended the same high school in Florida as Atlanta Braves’ shortstop prospect Tyler Pastornicky, who could be the club’s opening day shortstop in 2012.

The Next Five

11. Tyler Austin, 3B/1B: The 2010 draft began inauspiciously for the New York Yankees with some eyebrow raising selections at the top of the draft. However, picks like Mason Williams, Austin, as well as Ben Gamel, are starting to pay dividends. Austin was drafted as a high school catcher but he’s seen time at both first and third base as a pro. If he can handle the hot corner, then his value will jump significantly, since his strong arm would be wasted at first. At the plate he shows good raw power and hit .354 in 40 short-season games in ’11.

12. David Phelps, RHP: Phelps gets the nod over Adam Warren because the former is more likely to stick in the starting rotation than the latter even if his fastball is not quite as powerful. Phelps has a four-pitch mix that includes a low-90s fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. He’ll probably never be more than a fill-in starter or long reliever for the Yankees so he really needs a trade, as he’s already 25 years old and will be returning to triple-A in 2012 for the third time. He suffered some shoulder problems in ’11 but he pitched in the Arizona Fall League and made eight starts.

13. Greg Bird, C/1B: A 2011 draft pick who signed for an above-slot $1.1 million as a fifth rounder, Bird was heavily scouted by clubs as a first baseman. He has much more value, though, as a left-handed hitting catcher and New York was happy to hand him the tools of ignorance, at least for now. He should have plenty of bat for the position – less so as a first baseman – but his defensive game remains very raw behind the plate.

14. Adam Warren, RHP: Warren has a solid fastball that rangers between 89-94 mph but he lacks consistency with his secondary pitchers, which include a curveball and cutter. An extreme ground-ball pitcher in the low minors, Warren completely flipped around to a fly-ball pitcher in 2011 at triple-A. He’ll likely top out as a middle reliever in the Majors where he’ll be able to focus on two pitches. Warren pitched 152 innings as a starter this past season so he has proven to be durable; it’s possible he could carve out a career in the starting rotation as a No. 4 or 5 starter on a second division club.

15. Ben Gamel, OF: The left-handed hitting Gamel had a solid season in the New York Penn League in 2011, posting a wRC+ of 134. He provides a patient approach but needs work on pitch recognition. He has some power but has yet to tap into it in game situations, and it might be a little too short for an everyday left fielder, causing him to fall into the ‘tweener’ category. He should move up to low-A in 2012 and is a sleeper who bears watching. Gamel’s brother Mat Gamel plays for the Brewers.

SLEEPER ALERT: Isaias Tejeda, C: As if the organization doesn’t have enough catching depth already. Tejeda is yet another offensive-oriented backstop in the system who is very raw behind the plate. The 20-year-old posted a wRC+ of 172 in Rookie ball, along with an ISO rate of .236 and a strikeout rate of just 12%. He deserves a challenge assignment to low-A ball for 2012 to see if he’s a prospect – or a suspect. Tejeda might end up having value as a third string catcher who can come off the bench and also play the corner infield positions.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Barry Bonds
10 years ago

Not sure how Campos is number 2? Yes he has great potential but he is very raw and is a long way off joining the show.