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December 22, 2009

Future Shock

Yankees Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Five-Star Prospects
1. Jesus Montero, C
Four-Star Prospects
2. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
3. Manny Banuelos, LHP
4. Zach McAllister, RHP
5. Austin Romine, C
6. Gary Sanchez, C
7. Slade Heathcott, CF
8. Kelvin De Leon, RF
9. J.R. (John) Murphy, C
10. Mark Melancon, RHP
11. D.J. Mitchell, RHP

Four More:
12. Corban Joseph, INF: A gritty infielder with a good approach and a line-drive bat, Joseph still generates questions about his ability to stay at an up-the-middle position.
13. Eduardo Nunez, SS: Nunez was once a highly regarded prospect, and he had a bounce-back year at Double-A. However, his approach and defense remain sloppy.
14. Melky Mesa, RF: He has an exciting power/speed combination, but his bat lags well behind
15. Jeremy Bleich, LHP: The command-focused lefty needs to make adjustments after getting rocked at Double-A.

1. Jesus Montero, C
DOB: 11/28/89
Height/Weight: 6-4/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2006
2009 Stats: .356/.406/.583 at High-A (48 G); .317/.370/.539 at Double-A (44 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: Already the top prospect in the Yankees' system, Montero became one of the top prospects in the game by dominating High- and Double-A pitching as a teenager before his season was cut short by a broken finger.
The Good: Simply put, Montero is one of the best offensive prospects in the game, and possibly the best. He's a massive slugger with the contact skills of a batting champion, with one scout classifying his ability to put the middle of the barrel on the ball "almost supernatural." His raw power is at or near the top of the charts-and he's just starting to tap into it. He has the potential for 30-40 home runs annually. He's a hard worker who puts as much work into his defense as his hitting, and he's made great strides behind the plate.
The Bad: Montero remains a well below-average catcher, despite his improvements. His big, thick build doesn't provide much agility defensively, and he's only expected to get bigger, which will almost assuredly mean a move to first base. His approach is good for his age, but it could use some improvements, as he swings at a lot of bad pitches, making up for it by often crushing them.
Ephemera: Playing in Double-A games away from the offensive black hole that is Trenton, Montero hit .400/.457/.718 with 61 total bases in 22 games.
Perfect World Projection: Montero will be one of the best run producers in the game-a .300 hitter (or better) with plus-plus power.
Path to the Big Leagues: This is where things get complicated. The bat is well ahead of the glove, and to the point where waiting for the defense would be remarkably inefficient. It's highly similar to the development of Carlos Delgado, with the additional barrier of Mark Teixeira, who is signed through 2016, playing first.
Timetable: Montero will begin 2010 as one of the youngest players in the Triple-A International League, and while he should see the big leagues at some point during the season, his presence also gives the Yankees the ability to pull off a blockbuster deal this July if needed.

2. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
DOB: 11/13/90
Height/Weight: 6-0/189
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007
2009 Stats: 2.13 ERA (42.1-34-15-52) at Short-season (10 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: The high-ceiling Dominican dominated the much older hitters of the New York-Penn League.
The Good: Vizcaino's combination of stuff and refinement is rarely found in a teenager. His clean arm action leads to effortless 92-94 mph fastballs that get up to 97 when he reaches back for a bit more, while his smooth mechanics allow him to harness his pitches and pound the strike zone. His power curveball already grades out as big-league average with the projection of becoming a true wipeout offering.
The Bad: Vizcaino is a touch undersized, which limits his projection, although his leg drive helps convince most that he can remain a starter. He telegraphs his changeup, but it's a flaw often found in young power arms. More than anything, he just needs experience.
Ephemera: Playing for Staten Island, 18 of Vizcaino's 52 strikeouts came in the second inning, where he faced just 37 hitters.
Perfect World Projection: Vizcaino's ceiling tops that of any pitcher in the system, by a significant margin. It will take time, but the skills are there for him to become an All-Star starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: Vizcaino is at least three years away from the big leagues, but the Yankees have a recent history of struggling with the development of young pitchers once they reach the majors.
Timetable: Vizcaino will make his much-anticipated full-season debut at Low-A Charleston in 2010.

3. Manny Banuelos, LHP
DOB: 3/13/91
Height/Weight: 5-10/155
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Mexico, 2008
2009 Stats: 2.67 ERA (108.0-88-28-104) at Low-A (25 G); 0.00 ERA (1.0-0-0-2) at High-A (1 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: This import from Mexico impressed scouts with both his stuff and maturity.
The Good: Banuelos has plus-plus command and control, but his stuff is far from pedestrian. His fastball sits at 89-92 mph, and he can dial it up to 94-95 at times, while he also has the ability to add and subtract from the pitch, add movement to it, and fill up the strike zone. His changeup is also advanced for his age, and he flashes a solid curveball.
The Bad: Banuelos is downright small and not much of an athlete, so there are a lot of questions about his projection. His stuff is very inconsistent; one scout noted when, seeing him twice in a week, Banuelos was around 87-90 mph in one start, and then never went below 90 the next. He has a tendency to flatten out his curveball.
Ephemera: Moved to the bullpen in August to preserve his innings count, Banuelos was especially dominant as a reliever, allowing just four hits over 12 innings while striking out 21.
Perfect World Projection: Scouts are split as to whether Banuelos will be a third starter or a late-inning reliever in the end.
Path to the Big Leagues: Banuelos has multiple paths to the big leagues based on his versatility and left-handedness.
Timetable: The Yankees have been busier than any team in baseball when it comes to scouting and signing talent from Mexico, and Banuelos is their biggest prize. He'll begin 2010 at High-A Tampa.

4. Zach McAllister, RHP
DOB: 12/8/87
Height/Weight: 6-6/230
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2006, Illinois Valley Central HS (IL)
2009 Stats: 2.23 ERA (121.0-98-33-96) at Double-A (22 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 9

Year in Review: McAllister is a gigantic righty who led the Double-A Eastern League in ERA (2.23), eclipsing the second place finishing by more than a full run.
The Good: McAllister is a finesse pitcher hiding in a power pitcher's frame. His 87-91 mph fastball features a bit of natural sink, while his size adds downward plane to the offering. He throws two quality breaking balls and a solid changeup, while mixing his arsenal well and keeping hitters on their toes. His big frame and clean mechanics give him outstanding stamina.
The Bad: McAllister doesn't have the kind of stuff to blow big=league hitters away, so his projection falls well short of star level. Some scouts had concerns about his body, worrying that conditioning could be an issue in the future.
Ephemera: In a pair of starts against Erie, McAllister recorded 17 strikeouts over just 8 2/3 innings. In his other 20 starts, he averaged 6.3 K/9.
Perfect World Projection: McAllister projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter who delivers 200 solid innings annually.
Path to the Big Leagues: For a team that rarely has room for back-end starters, McAllister's big-league career might begin in the bullpen.
Timetable:McAllister will start the 2010 season at Triple-A, but he should make his pinstripes debut by the end of the year.

5. Austin Romine, C
DOB: 11/22/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2007, El Toro HS (CA)
2009 Stats: .276/.322/.441 at High-A (118 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 4

Year in Review: An athletic catcher, Romine had a fine showing in the Florida State League, but he left many scouts frustrated over his lack of development.
The Good: Romine has impressive tools for a catcher. He's an adept hitter with a knack for hard contact, and his raw power rates as 55-60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He has a strong build with speed that rates only a tick below average, and his arm is strong.
The Bad: Multiple scouts noted that Romine was the same player in 2009 as 2008, with little to no advancement in the two areas of his game that need the most work. He's a free swinger who is prone to chasing breaking balls, and he expands his strike zone when behind in the count. Defensively, he has all the tools to succeed, but his receiving skills are quite raw.
Ephemera: While none of the 15 players drafted out of El Toro High have reached the big leagues, the school has produced a pair of NFL starting quarterbacks in Rob Johnson and Steve Stenstrom.
Perfect World Projection: Romine still has the ability to develop into an above-average everyday big-league catcher.
Path to the Big Leagues: It might be clearer than Montero's, as his ability to stay behind the plate makes him the heir apparent to Jorge Posada, unless the Yankees make a big trade or free-agent play.
Timetable: Romine will begin the 2010 season at Double-A Trenton, but scouts want to see the potential begin to transform into reality.

6. Gary Sanchez, C
DOB: 12/2/92
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Domincan Republic, 2009
2009 Stats: Did not play
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: With all of the attention on Miguel Sano in the international market, the Yankees quickly scooped up Sanchez, who was generally seen as the second-best player available, for a $3 million bonus.
The Good: Like Montero and Romine, Sanchez has the hard-to-find and much-desired combination of contact skills and above-average power.
The Bad: The track record for Dominican catchers is exceptionally poor, as young players there focus far more on tools than games, so Sanchez's receiving skills and in-game instincts are quite poor. He's already thickly built, and some wonder how big he'll get as his body matures.
Ephemera: Want to feel old? Yankee captain Derek Jeter was drafted by the Yankees 184 days before Sanchez was born.
Perfect World Projection: Sanchez's ceiling is significantly higher than that of Romine, but obviously there is a lot more risk.
Path to the Big Leagues: Let's get him a professional at-bat first.
Timetable: Sanchez's name will show up in a box score for the first time this coming summer, when the Gulf Coast League begins its 2010 campaign.

7. Slade Heathcott, CF
DOB: 9/28/90
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2009, Texas HS (TX)
2009 Stats: .100/.182/.282 at Rookie-level (3 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: Attached to the Yankees all spring, it was not surprising to see New York select the toolsy outfielder with their first-round pick, signing him for an over-slot $2.2 million bonus.
The Good: Heathcott offers plenty to dream on. His speed and arm both rate as 70+ on the 20-80 scouting scale, and his raw power also projects as above-average, giving him a total tool package that eclipses anyone else's in the system. His swing is quick, simple, and repeatable-it will need little refinement. Scouts love the fact that even in high school, he never cruised on his natural talent and consistently gave maximum effort.
The Bad: Heathcott is quite raw. He needs to work on his outfield routes and base running to better take advantage of his speed, while his pitch recognition needs work as well. He has a history of behavior issues going back to high school, and he comes from a troubled background, but the Yankees think he's a good kid who just needs to escape from his environment.
Ephemera: Heathcott's given name is Zachary, but let's face it, Slade just sounds cooler.
Perfect World Projection: Heathcott has the tools to be a power/speed center fielder with star potential.
Path to the Big Leagues: Curtis Granderson is signed through 2013 with an option for 2014, and while Heathcott might take a while, it won't be that long.
Timetable: The Yankees hope that Heathcott shows enough this coming spring to earn the club's confidence for a full-season assignment to Low-A Charleston to begin the year.

8. Kelvin De Leon, RF
DOB: 10/29/90
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007
2009 Stats: .269/.330/.438 at Rookie-level (56 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Just missed

Year in Review: A seven-figure bonus baby, this Dominican outfielder shined in his stateside debut.
The Good: De Leon profiles as a prototypical right fielder. His compact swing generates plus power to all fields, with plenty of natural loft and backspin. He's a good athlete who plays a solid outfield, and his arm is a potential weapon.
The Bad: One scout characterized De Leon's approach as "completely unbridled," as there's a lot of swing-and-miss in his game due to a tendency to chase pitches. Much of his game is raw, but nothing glaringly so that won't be taken care of with experience. He's a tick above an average runner now, but that will likely no longer be the case once his frame fills out.
Ephemera: Of De Leon's seven Gulf Coast League home runs last summer, four came against the Pirates.
Perfect World Projection: De Leon looks to be an above-average everyday right fielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's still years away.
Timetable: De Leon will make his full-season debut in 2010 with Low-A Charleston.

9. J.R. (John) Murphy, C
DOB: 5/13/91
Height/Weight: 5-10/170
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd Round, 2009, The Pendleton School (FL)
2009 Stats: .333/,405/.485 at Rookie-level (9 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: The Yankees continued to spend big money in the draft, giving Murphy a $1.25 million bonus in the second round.
The Good: Murphy's bat was one of the more advanced in the draft among high school players. His swing is both quick and smooth, and the ball flies on his bat with power that is surprising for his size. He's a good athlete who runs well for a catcher, and his solid arm is augmented by a quick release.
The Bad: Murphy is still new to catching and quite messy behind the plate, needing to work on his lateral movement and receiving skills. Some scouts wonder if he has the frame to handle a season-long workload behind the plate, without seeing another positional possibility for him other than left field.
Ephemera: Murphy played on an IMG Academy team that included shortstop L.J. Mazzilli, the son of Lee, who will be a freshman next year at the University of Connecticut.
Perfect World Projection: If he develops, Murphy could be an above-average big-league catcher.
Path to the Big Leagues: No organization in baseball matches the Yankee collection of catching prospects, so it's not an easy road.
Timetable: Murphy will be the primary catcher at Low-A Charleston in 2010.

10. Mark Melancon
DOB: 3/28/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 9th round, 2006, Arizona
2009 Stats: 2.89 ERA (53-37-11-54) at Triple-A (32 G); 3.86 ERA (16.1-13-10-10) at MLB (13 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: The top pure relief prospect in the system, Melancon limited Triple-A hitters to a .196 average, but he struggled in his big-league debut.
The Good: Melancon pitches primarily off his fastball, which sits at 92-94 mph and can touch 96, also featuring plenty of sink. His power curve is another plus pitch that generated plenty of swings and misses during his brief big-league stint. He even mixes in a useable changeup at times, and he earns high praise for his makeup.
The Bad: Melancon's plus command abandoned him in the big leagues, as he had a tendency to overthrow, costing him both location and movement. His delivery has effort, and he's already had a Tommy John surgery in his past. He's a finished product, and his stuff is a bit short of closer-worthy.
Ephemera: Melancon pitched in just seven day games for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but he gave up just four hits over 10 2/3 innings in those appearances, striking out 17.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an excellent set-up man.
Path to the Big Leagues: Melancon needs no more development in the minors, but the Yankee bullpen is already crowded.
Timetable: Melancon will compete for a Yankee relief job this spring, but he'll need to blow hitters away to avoid a return engagement to Triple-A.

11. D.J. Mitchell, RHP
DOB: 5/13/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 10th round, 2008, Clemson University
2009 Stats: 1.95 ERA (37.0-31-6-42) at Low-A (6 G); 2.87 ERA (103.1-93-38-83) at High-A (19 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: An over-slot player from the 2008 draft, Mitchell succeeded at both levels of full-season A-ball in his full-season debut.
The Good: Mitchell is a ground-ball machine, registering a ratio of more than 3-to-1 in 19 games for High-A Tampa. His 89-92 mph sinker is nearly impossible to get lift on, and he gave up just two home runs in 515 at-bats in 2009. He throws a curve and a changeup, both of which showed marked improvement as the season went on. He's a fantastic athlete for a pitcher, and his smooth, repeatable delivery produces above-average command and control.
The Bad: Mitchell has yet to develop a second pitch to rate as major-league average, as his curveball merely flashes at times, and his changeup lags well behind. Those issues, as well as his slight frame, have some projecting him as a reliever in the end, where his stuff would only fit in the middle innings.
Ephemera: Mitchell starred in both baseball and basketball at North Forsyth High in North Carolina, the same school that produced Seattle top prospect Dustin Ackley.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a back-end rotation starter or a middle reliever, but he'll be a clutch ground-ball generator either way.
Path to the Big Leagues: It's hard being a prospect who projects as a non-impact big leaguer with the Yankees, who rarely have room for anything but stars.
Timetable: Mitchell will begin 2010 at Double-A Trenton, after which we'll have a much better idea of what role his future lies in.

The Sleeper: Short and squat outfielder Abraham Almonte hit .377 in his last 30 games for Low-A Charleston and packs some intriguing tools into his roundish frame.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (Born 4/1/84 or later)

1. Jesus Montero, C
2. Joba Chamberlain, RHP
3. Philip Hughes, RHP
4. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
5. Melky Cabrera, OF
6. David Robertson, RHP
7. Manny Banuelos, LHP
8. Zach McAllister, RHP
9. Austin Romine, C
10. Gary Sanchez, C

Chamberlain's 2007 showing was an aberration by any measure, but the Yankees have done no favors to his development with either iteration of the silly "Joba Rules," and he should still make an impact once the team shows more confidence him. Hughes seems to have had a breakthrough before breaking down towards the end of the year; we'll see which one is real in 2010. Cabrera has always been a bit of a tweener who doesn't have the bat for a corner. If the Yankees sign a big bat this winter, he'll move to the role he's best suited for: a valuable fourth outfielder. Robertson has recorded 12 strikeouts per nine so far as a pro, but he can be hittable at times, and his control is average at best.

Summary: The Yankees' system lacks much in the way of elite-level prospects, but their depth matches nearly any system in baseball, with a three-star list that could get them into the late teens. They also have the best collection of catching talent in the game.

Next up: the Oakland Athletics.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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