Prospect Predictions For The 2009 Season

We're still believers in Abraham Almonte

With minor league Spring Training less than three weeks away, we take a stab at predicting which Yankees prospects will win which statistical categories in the 2009 season. Who will lead the farm system in home runs? Which pitcher will strike out the most batters? Which player will break into the Top Ten Yankees prospects by the end of the season? Find out all this and more.

For Starters:

Most Wins: Jairo Heredia - Zach McAllister led the system with 14 wins last season and he's certainly a candidate to lead the pack once again in 2009, but the strongest bet for the upcoming season is that the Tampa Yankees should have the most potent offense and that should allow their team's most consistent starting pitcher to pick up a ton of victories. McAllister projects to see some time in Double-A Trenton where the offense might not be quite as lethal, while Heredia should remain in Tampa for most of the season. With his blend of stuff, command, and ability to pitch deep into games, Heredia seems like the most logical choice in this category.

Most Strikeouts: Dellin Betances - We correctly predicted a year ago that George Kontos would lead the farm system in strikeouts last season, but part of that equation was banking on Betances not getting enough innings to take home the title. Smoothing out his mechanics has led to better command as of late and his entire defensive game has improved so much that he's no longer as much of a liability, and beefing up his innings no longer appears to be an issue. With his stuff, Betances should win this one easy.

Best Walks Per Nine Innings: Zach McAllister - We made a strong showing picking Ryan Pope in this category a year ago since he walked less than two batters per nine innings with the Tampa Yankees, and that was while struggling with his stuff in the second-half of the season. However, McAllister walked in mind-boggling 1.3 batters per nine innings, which is off the charts. While the likes of Eric Hacker, Jeremy Bleich, and Manny Banuelos are all strong bets, we'll take the safe route and pick McAllister to take home this crown once again in 2009.

Lowest ERA: Jeremy Bleich - McAllister won this category as well in 2008, posting just a combined 2.09 ERA in stops between Charleston and Tampa. His plus sinker gets him out of innings quickly and allows him to work deeper into games, so much so that it wouldn't be a surprise for him to lead the organization in ERA once again this coming season. But with three big league pitches and plus command of all three, we're banking on newcomer Jeremy Bleich barely edging 'Big Mac' in the ERA title. He should have the better run support in 2009 and that could be a difference-maker. Don't count out Banuelos either though.

For Relievers:

Most Saves: Jonathan Ortiz - We nailed this prediction a year ago by picking Ortiz to lead the organization in saves. He closed out 33 games for the Charleston Riverdogs, which was quite the feat considering his team often won by more than a few runs. Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte [23 saves in 2008] will give him a run for his money, but Ortiz should have the better team behind him in '09.

Lowest ERA: Pat Venditte - We got this one right a year ago as well, picking David Robertson to lead all relievers in ERA. But now that he should be in the big league mix in 2009, it's time for some fresh blood. Jonathan Ortiz and his plus-plus changeup are incredibly hard to score on, but we're thinking the South Atlantic League will be swinging wildly at Venditte's offspeed pitches.

Most Strikeouts Per Nine Innings: Jonathan Ortiz - We weren't wildly incorrect picking Kevin Whelan to lead the group of relievers in punchouts a year ago - he did finish striking out nearly twelve per nine innings for the Trenton Thunder. But we totally discounted Ortiz's changeup being the big strikeout weapon it proved to be and we won't make that mistake again. He could come close to his 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings last season.

For Position Players:

Highest Average: Jesus Montero - It seemed like a good idea a year ago, picking Jose Tabata and his [then] career .305 average to lead the farm system in hitting, but not many saw his struggles coming. No longer in the Yankees organization, it's time for some new blood and there's no better place to look than Montero. He led the farm system with a .326 average a year ago and playing in the spacious Florida State League ballparks - while it could hurt his home run production - it should allow him to find a few more holes in the defense. Garrison Lassiter and Eduardo Sosa are darkhorse candidates if they can find their way on to one of the long-season league teams.

Most Home Runs: Brandon Laird - You ride the horse until it bucks. We successfully picked Laird to lead the farm system in home runs last season. He smacked one more than veteran free agent sign Cody Ransom. And even though he is ticketed to play in the pitching-friendly Florida State League in 2009, he should still hit enough round-trippers to lead the farm once again. Obviously the likes of Montero and Romine are in the discussion, and both Carlos Urena and Kelvin De Leon are darkhorse candidates should either play in Charleston.

Highest On-Base Percentage: Abraham Almonte - The Yankees have a few candidates to sport some high on-base percentages - Justin Snyder, Damon Sublett, and Jesus Montero are just a few. But we're going to go out a limb and pick Almonte even though he posted a .303 on-base percentage in 2008. He couldn't buy a hit in the second-half of the season even though he was stinging the ball and still piling up walks. We're expecting a huge bounce-back season in 2009, especially if he repeats the South Atlantic League, and it wouldn't come as a shock to see him lead this category.

Most Stolen Bases: Abraham Almonte - For a couple of years this category was the easiest to pick with Brett Gardner [who we picked last year and who also won this category] around. Now projecting to see significant time in the big leagues, we'll go with the runner-up in 2008 - Almonte. If he can get on-base as frequently as we believe he can, with his speed, this one should also be a no-brainer.

The Superlatives:

First Player To Be Called Up To The Major Leagues: Mark Melancon - While we got several predictions correct last season, this is one one we completely botched by picking Steven White who was released by mid-season. Picking from a pool of just prospects without any big league service time to date, we're going with stud reliever Mark Melancon. With his three-pitch arsenal, plus command, and great makeup, he has little to prove in the minor leagues.

Best Comeback From Injury: Alan Horne - It's safe to say we couldn't have been more right picking Mark Melancon in this category a year ago, especially after he posted a combined 2.27 ERA over three minor league levels and advanced all the way to Triple-A in his first full professional season, which also happened to be his first year back from Tommy John surgery. This year we're expecting Horne to bounce back from shoulder surgery and reclaim his spot as one of the Yankees top pitching prospects. Marcos Vechionacci, Garrett Patterson, and Tim Norton are strong candidates in this category as well.

Best Bounce-Back Season: Mitch Hilligoss - There are a few candidates primed to take this title - Ryan Pope and J. Brent Cox are two who have the ability to bounce-back in a big way in 2009, but few have more room to go up than Hilligoss after his disastrous performance last season. His natural hitting ability and coach-ability are too strong to not turn his career around. We think he'll be closer to his 2007 form than his '08 showing

Breakout Player: Abraham Almonte - Perhaps we jumped the gun a year ago by picking Almonte in this category considering he hit just .228 in his first taste of the long-season leagues. But with power, speed, patience, and good overall hitting ability, Almonte is a top five talent waiting to break out. He's not nearly as raw as his numbers last season suggest and we believe he will quickly make people forget about his showing a year ago. Eduardo Sosa is also a strong candidate if he can break into the long-season leagues.

DSL or 'July 2nd' Sign Import That Will Shoot Up The Rankings: Kelvin Duran - With guys like Manny Banuelos, Eduardo Sosa, Kelvin De Leon, and Arodys Vizcaino [who we chose for this category a year ago] already firmly entrenched in the Top 50, the pickings are pretty much relegated to the most recent signs. While Jackson Valera could be one to watch, we believe Duran's overall game is too enticing to pass up in this category. He should be one of the better Top 50 talents this time next year.

Current Minor Leaguer That Will Break Into The Top 10: Abraham Almonte - Ranked 18th each of the past two seasons, it's time for Almonte to finally break into the Top Ten. Brett Marshall, Corban Joseph, Kyle Higashioka, Eduardo Sosa, and Jose Pirela are just a few other names who have the talent to crack the top ten as well.

Current Non-Top 50's To Break Into The Top 50 Next Season - We couldn't narrow it down to just one name a year ago and as a result we chose three - Taylor Grote, Chase Weems, and Jimmy Paredes. Well two wound up making it [with just Grote on the outside looking in]. And once again we think there will be more than one to crack the Top 50 next season. Jonathan Ortiz and Matt Richardson are poised to be first-timers in the Top 50, as well as the aforementioned Kelvin Duran. The trio of Garrett Patterson, Tim Norton, and Angel Reyes could join them with healthy seasons in 2009, and Alan Horne just needs to show no ill-effects from his shoulder surgery. A free agent next offseason, Marcos Vechionacci could also find his way back in if he remains with the Yankees.

Top Yankee Prospect For 2008: Jesus Montero - Even without knowing Jose Tabata would be dealt way, we still picked Montero a year ago and barring a trade or a near career-ending injury, he should retain the top spot a year from now.

Players To Skip A Level To Start 2008 - We picked three in this category a year ago - Mark Melancon, Ryan Pope and Damon Sublett - and all three skipped a level. With the lower levels getting deeper with each passing season, however, the days of numerous players skipping levels are getting slimmer. Only Staten Island's Addison Maruszak appears to be a strong candidate to bypass a level to start the year, but Jeremy Bleich and to a lesser extent Ray Kruml also have decent shots.

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