Yankees Latin American Field Coordinator Victor Mata sat down with PinstripesPlus.com in a two-part…
Top 50 Yankees Prospects
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1. Jesus Montero - The Venezuelan slugger didn't disappoint in his first full minor league season this year, hitting an organizational high .326 with 34 doubles and 17 home runs. He gets knocked for his lack of mobility behind the plate but he made great strides improving his athleticism and pitchers love throwing to him. Whether he remains a catcher at the big league level or not, his bat is for real and it will play anywhere.
2. Austin Jackson - Jackson followed up his breakout season in 2007 with a solid showing in Double-A this past season. He hit just .285 with nine home runs for the Trenton Thunder, but he avoided the prolonged slumps that plagued his earlier career and he made the first big step needed towards being a consistent player. That consistency was also quite evident in the field where he started showing more consistent Gold Glove caliber play.
3. Austin Romine - The first-year pro had a solid debut season with the Charleston Riverdogs, hitting an even .300 and clubbing ten home runs [all after the All Star break] on the strength of a tremendous second-half. It was his progress behind the scenes - improving his receiving skills, working with pitchers, and learning to make adjustments - that has many insiders believing he is one of the strongest candidates to reach his ceiling someday.
4. Dellin Betances - The 6-foot-9 hurler has some of the best raw stuff in professional baseball. He already boasts two plus pitches with his fastball-curveball combination, but he is also armed with a changeup that can be a plus pitch on any given day but just lacks overall consistency. He is also one of the hardest workers in the organization; he has put on nearly 50 pounds since he signed, he has become much better at fielding his position, and he went from having opposing base runners running wild on him to getting a lot better at limiting the running the game. His progress has been both impressive and steady.
5. Andrew Brackman - Like Betances, Brackman has a special combination of size [6-foot-11], power [95-97 MPH], and a great secondary pitch with a nasty plus curveball. He has just recently begun his road back from Tommy John surgery but his ability to shed nearly 40 pounds from his college days is just one sign of his tireless work ethic, giving many the indication he will be just fine when it's all said and done.
6. Mark Melancon - Melancon set the gold standard of how to make a successful return from Tommy John surgery in 2008, going a combined 8-1 with a 2.27 ERA over three minor league levels in his first full season of professional baseball and making it all the way to Triple-A. With makeup off the charts perfectly suited for the closer's role, despite the opinions of some, he has three plus pitches to pitch in that capacity as well.
7. Christian Garcia - Garcia has long been known for having some of the best stuff in the entire organization and he pitched well after a two-year layoff coming back from an abdominal strain, Tommy John surgery, and knee surgery. He is still looking for the same power he had pre-injuries, but his curveball is still one of the best offerings around and his changeup is now a bonafide big league plus pitch. He finally backed up his raw talent with numbers in 2008 and he will be on the short list of players able to help the big league club from the minor leagues in 2009.
8. Zach McAllister - With perhaps the exception of Phil Coke, nobody improved their stock in the Yankees organization more in 2008 than McAllister. Ending the 2007 season unable to locate his fastball or find any consistency with his secondary pitches, the 6-foot-6 hurler put his entire game together and had arguably the best season of any pitcher in the farm system. He went a combined 14-9 with a 2.08 ERA between low-A Charleston and high-A Tampa and just walked 21 batters in 151 innings, and the scary part is there is more room for improvement with his changeup and slider.
9. Manny Banuelos - The Mexican native went 4-1 with a 2.57 ERA and posted nearly a three to one strikeout-to-walk ratio with the Gulf Coast League Yankees as a 17-year old after just signing back in February. Numbers aside, however, it is his combination of stuff, command, poise, maturity, and pitch-ability at such a young age and from the left side that has many believing he could be a quick riser through the farm system. He'll be one to watch in the coming years.
10. Bradley Suttle - His numbers might not appear to be overwhelming, hitting just .271 with eleven home runs in his first full professional season. When digging a little deeper, however, considering he did it while making massive changes to his swing, enduring a couple of nagging groin injuries, all while playing with a torn labrum, his season can't be considered anything but a ringing success. He can really impact a baseball from both sides of the plate, especially from the left side, he has arguably the best combination of power and plate discipline in the organization, and he was one of the best defensive third baseman in the South Atlantic League.
11. D.J. Mitchell - The fact he was drafted in the tenth round this year and signed too late to see any official minor league game action makes Mitchell one of the best kept secrets in the farm system. Very intelligent and extremely athletic, this college hurler has a ton of upside, a scary proposition considering he already boasts a 91-94 MPH fastball with great movement and a plus curveball. He has already made huge strides improving his changeup and his combination of work ethic, command, and loose arm action is among the best in the organization.
12. Jairo Heredia - Heredia had a solid season as an 18-year old in the South Atlantic League this season, posting a 3.25 ERA and nearly striking out a batter per inning pitched. He entered the season armed with one of the best curveballs around and made dramatic improvements to his changeup, turning it into a plus offering. He has uncanny command for such a young player and the kind of pitch-ability seldom found in pitchers much older than him. The only thing he is lacking is the power fastball, but considering how young and skinny [he's just 160 pounds] he is right now, there's still plenty of projection left in his game.
13. Jeremy Bleich - This year's supplemental first round pick out of Stanford University saw limited action with the Staten Island Yankees, but he quickly impressed the organization with his arsenal of three big league pitches, command, and pitch-ability. He has often been compared to a left-handed version of Ian Kennedy with his ability to spot pitches, and like Kennedy, he could move fast. Where he differs from Kennedy, however, is he has a big league strikeout pitch with his curveball.
14. Arodys Vizcaino - Of the Yankees big three Latin pitchers [including Banuelos and Heredia], Vizcaino has the highest upside simply because already throws the hardest. He lacks the command to be considered a Top Ten prospect just yet, but considering he turned an inconsistent curveball into a big league plus pitch and a non-existent changeup into a solid offering in just one short season, the signs are good he can get his command and consistency to come around.
15. Mike Dunn - Even though we were projecting him as a reliever coming off of his Charleston year in 2007 where he went 12-5 with a 3.42 ERA as a starter, keeping his ranking lower last season, the fact his velocity and stuff actually improved once he did move to the bullpen has him all but a lock to make the 40-man roster this offseason. He saw his fastball sitting in the 93-95 MPH by the time he got to Trenton and his slider got a harder bite to it. He still has the changeup in his back-pocket to keep hitters honest too. Dunn has the look of a solid big league setup type.
16. Eduardo Sosa - Seldom do players from the Dominican Summer League debut in rankings this high, but then again few players boast the kind of complete game Sosa already has at such a young age. He is already a plus defensive player, a plus base runner, an exceptional hitter with above average plate discipline, and he has very good power with a ton of room for improvement. Think a more powerful and aggressive hitting version of Brett Gardner, albeit with slightly less natural speed.
17. Brandon Laird - Laird led the entire farm system with 23 home runs in 2008, his first full minor league season, and he did it playing his home games in one of the more pronounced pitcher's parks in all of minor league baseball. He does get a little home run happy at times, however, causing him to pull the ball too much, but he does have the ability to be a much better hitter than his .273 average showed in '08. He also showed some agility over at first base, a good thing considering his future big league value is mostly tied to his bat.
18. Abraham Almonte - Almonte has arguably the best power-speed combination in the farm system, and he also has very good plate discipline and above average patience for such a young player. He is still a bit raw defensively in centerfield, often times taking bad routes on balls, but he does have an above average arm. He hit just .191 in the second-half of the season, however, limiting his ability to move up in the rankings. He does have Top Ten talent though and he could soar up the rankings with a better showing in 2009.
19. George Kontos - It was an interesting year for Kontos to say the least. One who had always shown plus velocity and a great slider in the past but who had struggled with his curveball and changeup, he became much more consistent with the latter two pitches in 2008 but saw his average velocity dip down even though his command improved. His showed a lot more pitch-ability than he had ever displayed in years prior, enough to now project as a big league starting option someday, and rediscovering his old velocity could make him quite the force.
20. Wilkins De La Rosa - It's quite difficult for a converted outfielder to have a better season in his first full year on the mound than De La Rosa had in 2008. He posted a 2.11 ERA between low-A Charleston and high-A Tampa, and struck out better than one batter per inning pitched. His signature trademark is his plus fastball, which can be as high as 95 MPH on occasion, but both his slider and changeup are still in the developmental phase. He projects as more of a reliever at this point but there's some upside here.
21. Ivan Nova - Like Marquez, Nova's stuff is considerably better than his statistics have shown. He is armed with three plus pitches, including a curveball that improved considerably in 2008. He also boasts very good command on the mound and he made great strides with his pitch-ability, including learning how to set up batters better and expanding the strike zone. Still though, he too is at the point where he needs better numbers to back up his stuff.
22. Brett Marshall - This year's sixth round pick has a first round type of arm. Throwing a fastball that can hit the mid-90's with regularity and a changeup that can be a plus pitch occasionally, he dominated high school batters on the strength of his slider. The Yankees are shelving his slider for now in favor of developing a curveball. He's a bit of a workout freak and he looks quite athletic on the mound. He has the type of big league arm to be a Top Ten prospect in future seasons, but his secondary pitches will have to improve to get to that point.
23. Kelvin De Leon - Like Marshall, De Leon is oozing raw talent that could help develop him into a special prospect down the road, but overall he's too raw to rank higher right now. He has some of the best power in the organization, good speed for a player his size, and a solid arm in the outfield. He's a bit of a project defensively, however, and good breaking pitches can baffle him at the plate. His quiet demeanor is both a positive and negative too, helping him remain calm in the batter's box but perhaps making him too complacent in his development.
24. Carmen Angelini - Statistically it wasn't a very good year for Angelini. He hit just .236 with four home runs and committed 42 errors in his first full minor league season. Most observers chalk it up as a learning lesson and the majority feel his season wasn't symbolic of his true abilities. He is a much better defender than his error totals suggest and getting stronger physically would go a long way towards helping him offensively. It would be a mistake to overlook Angelini based on his first season.
25. Corban Joseph - This year's fourth round pick had a solid debut season, hitting .277 with 15 doubles and nearly as many walks as strikeouts after starting off real slow. He has a beautiful swing and great discipline at the plate, leaving many scouts confident in his overall hitting potential. A few have even compared the left-handed hitter to a young Chase Utley. It remains to be seen if he'll come close to approaching such lofty heights, but there's no doubting the potential is there.
26. Kyle Higashioka - Like Joseph, Higashioka is a very advanced hitter for such a young ball player. He too has great knowledge of the strike zone and intriguing power potential, leading some to believe there isn't a huge dropoff in offensive potential from the likes of Austin Romine. He doesn't have nearly the same power in his swing or his arm, however, but he is quite sound behind the dish. While his arm strength isn't up to snuff with some of the other catchers in the organization, he has one of the quickest releases and he is already one of the better receivers.
27. Damon Sublett - Coming off of one of the more historic offensive seasons in Staten Island history a year ago, Sublett had a rough go of it in 2008. He hit just .263 with two home runs before tearing a pair of ligaments in his ankle and ending his year just 42 games into the season. The lost time stunted his development some and the injury could have some lingering effects on his running game, but he should not be forgotten. There is still significant upside to his game.
28. Anthony Claggett - While Humberto Sanchez and Whelan were the headliners in the Gary Sheffield trade with the Detroit Tigers, Claggett has quietly undergone an overhaul of sorts in the bullpen. He temporarily moved into the starting rotation a year ago to perfect his mechanics, changeup, and slider, and the dividends have paid off. A favorite to secure a spot on the 40-man roster, he should be on the short list of readily available relievers at the big league level next season.
29. Eric Hacker - A Top 50 prospect a few years ago, Hacker had both Tommy John surgery and shoulder surgery derail his progress. He bounced back with a healthy season last year and really made a huge leap with his stuff in 2008. He not only began throwing harder, seeing his velocity hit the 95 MPH mark at times, but his slider made marked improvements as did his curveball. His changeup is pretty good too when he throws it with confidence and, now a member of the 40-man roster, he offers the organization some versatility as both a starter and a reliever.
30. Steven Jackson - The last remaining part of the Randy Johnson trade picked a great time to have his game peaking. Switched to the bullpen this year, the 6-foot-5 righty, once known primarily as a sinker-ball pitcher in the rotation, saw his velocity creep up into the 92-95 MPH range with his fastball, his slider become a more reliable pitch, and his splitter become a true out-pitch. He performed at the highest minor league level and he is close to being added to the 40-man roster.
31. Kevin Whelan - Like Claggett, Whelan came over in the Gary Sheffield trade and struggled a bit in his first season in the Yankees organization a year ago. He too was moved into the starting rotation to iron out his mechanics, improve his slider and changeup, and work on his command. Dealing with a sore forearm this past season, he continued to walk a few too many batters but the work he put in last year paid off with a reliable slider to complement his already stellar splitter-fastball combination. The stuff is there to be a big league difference-maker and improving his command will get him his shot.
32. Colin Curtis - Curtis doesn't flash too many great tools, but he is solid in every phase of the game. He is a great defensive outfielder who is versatile enough to play all three outfield positions and he has one of the prettiest swings around. The Yankees believe he has a lot more power than he has shown thus far, but until he shows it in the games a bit more, he safely projects as a quality fourth outfielder with some upside to be more should the power develop.
33. Jose Pirela - Pirela's Gulf Coast League numbers weren't impressive at all, hitting just .234 with no home runs in his first year in the United States, albeit an injury-shortened one. He was one of the more impressive hitters in Extended Spring Training, however, and he became more comfortable at the plate and in the field. His body got stronger as the year went on and he seems to be getting his footing about him. He has one of the higher upsides in the organization and he should not be overlooked.
34. Carlos Urena - Like Pirela, it wasn't a banner year for Urena statistically. He was sent down to the Dominican Summer League for a second year, reportedly to get in better shape, and lasted just six games before getting shot in an off-the-field altercation. He has recovered quickly and brings a renewed focus to his game. When healthy he is one of the more talented hitters in the organization with prodigious power potential, not to mention plus defensive abilities across the board in the outfield.
35. Garrison Lassiter - An AFLAC All-American in high school, Lassiter would have been an early round pick but signability concerns allowed him to slip to the Yankees in the 27th round. The left-handed hitter has a lot of offensive potential and a lot of scouts believe he will hit for power down the road. He doesn't have the prototypical range of a professional shortstop, but he is a gamer who gets the job done. It remains to be seen if he'll stick at that position, but he does have the type of bat that could hit nearly anywhere if he can't.
36. Ramiro Pena - The slick-fielding shortstop made some strides with the bat in 2008, showing a bit more gap power than he had in previous years. His plus-plus defensive abilities make him a near lock to reach the big leagues in some capacity, but whether or not his bat progresses more will be the ultimate deciding factor if it will be as a starter with the Yankees. He has gotten stronger over the years and his bat has progressed steadily, and he should have some big league impact in the near future.
37. Kevin Russo - Armed with a few potential utility types in the organization, Russo has seemingly stepped to the forefront on the depth charts after an All-Star season in Tampa a year ago and following it up with another solid campaign in Trenton this season. He can play second base, third base, and the outfield, and he's a good contact hitter with some speed. His assignment to the Arizona Fall League this offseason speaks of his value to the organization and he could be ready for the big leagues soon.
28. Eduardo Nunez - The Dominican native has all the tools to be an elite shortstop at the big league level, but is often times plagued with inconsistencies and a lack of focus. He has significant power potential, above average speed, incredible range defensively, and one of the strongest infield arms in the organization. This season was his first full year batting exclusively from the right side. As vast as his potential is, however, time is running out for him to put up the type of numbers he is capable of posting.
39. Reegie Corona - Like Russo, he offers the organization some versatility in the field as well as in a lineup. He can play shortstop, second base, and even a little third base, and he has a good eye at the plate and some speed on the base paths. He doesn't hit for enough power yet to profile as a starter in the big leagues and his value to the Yankees would be increased should he find some time in the outfield as well.
40. David Adams - This year's third round pick from the University of Virginia had a less than stellar final year in college but a solid professional debut with the Staten Island Yankees. He has very good gap power and a good idea of the strike zone, but his swing can run a little long at times and he is prone to losing some rhythm at the plate. He offers a bit more projection than most college players, but he'll need to show a bit more consistency to fight his way into what has become a bit of an overloaded position in the organization, especially since he doesn't offer much in the way of defensive versatility.
41. Chase Weems - Last year's sixth round pick is one of the more intriguing two-way players at the catcher's position for the Yankees. He has some pop in his bat and he has proven to be pesky out in the batter's box, consistently finding ways to get on base. He also has a strong arm behind the plate, good athleticism in blocking balls, and he has a tireless work ethic. Weems has good potential but his game is still a little raw at the current time.
42. Nik Turley - This year's 50th round pick offers a ton of upside with some polish mixed in as well. Standing 6-foot-6, he already sits in the low-90's with his fastball and can showcase a plus curveball and a plus changeup at times. He is very coachable and the command has been impressive for a kid straight out of high school. For him it will be all about finding consistency with his secondary pitches. Once that happens, he has the skills to shoot up the rankings.
43. Mikey O'Brien - Another draftee from the high school ranks this year, O'Brien offers a similar arsenal of pitches to Turley, but stands several inches shorter. He has quickly learned to throw more downhill, even for a shorter pitcher, and his command can be quite sharp at times. His shorter stature doesn't offer the same type of future projection, but his stuff and array of pitches make him quite intriguing.
44. Austin Krum - If there was a ranking of competitors, Krum might rank atop that list. He is easily one of the more intense players in the organization and he offers an impressive set of tools. He can hit for some power, he has good speed, a good idea of the strike zone, versatility in the defensive outfield, and he knows only one speed when it comes to the game - all out. He projects best as a fourth outfielder type but he is also the type of person who loves to prove people wrong.
45. Jose Mojica - One of the Yankees' top International signings a year ago, his career was interrupted even before it really got started. He tore his ACL back in April, ending his debut season. He has one of the highest ceilings at the shortstop position. He boasts tremendous range, great hands, a strong arm, and he has good power potential for a wiry-built player. Right now he is all about the upside.
46. Jimmy Paredes - Like Mojica, Paredes' potential is quite vast. The 6-foot-3 third baseman is extremely athletic. He has very good speed for a corner infielder, excellent power potential, and he is already a good contact hitter. A switch-hitter to boot, his biggest weakness is his propensity to swing at nearly everything, a facet of the game that improved this past season. Surgery to repair a torn labrum could zap him of some of his plus arm strength, but that remains to be seen.
47. Addison Maruszak - Throw him into the Krum category of ultimate gamers. This year's 17th round pick played like anything but that, hitting .317 with six home runs for the Staten Island Yankees. He has a superb throwing arm and good athleticism, giving the organization some possibilities should he play himself off of the shortstop position or if they decide to go the utility route. Extremely coachable, one who was taught by former Yankee first baseman Tino Martinez in college, Maruszak already has a great idea of what it takes to be a professional.
48. Kyle Anson - Another gamer, this former third baseman has found a home at the catcher's position. He has tremendous big league plate discipline, arguably the best in the farm system, and one of the best arms around. He made good strides improving his blocking abilities, but he still needs to work with pitchers a bit better. He has the look of a quality big league backup catcher at minimum, the problem is, however, he finds himself playing a loaded position in an organization with limited opportunities ahead of him on the depth chart.
49. J. Brent Cox - Cox was in the midst of a fantastic return from Tommy John surgery this year, going from high-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton without missing a beat until he finally felt the physical demands of rehabbing all winter and struggled down the stretch. A reliable reliever who attacks batters with a good sinker-slider combination, his slip in the rankings is more of a product of the Yankees ever-increasing depth in the farm system. He still projects as a solid big league middle reliever.
50. Justin Snyder - A super-utility man with Staten Island a year ago when he hit .335 with more walks than strikeouts, Snyder moved to second base full-time in 2008. He had a very solid year with the Charleston Riverdogs, hitting .288, but he did tire down the stretch. His plate discipline alone makes him a strong candidate to reach the big leagues, but with second base prospects with more power and speed in the system, his best chance still remains as a utility man. He is in the unique position of having his long-term stock increase with each position he plays.
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