The Yankees system isn’t as deep as it’s been in the past, but there are some high-ceiling talents at the top of the Top 15 list. The organization has some intriguing hard-throwers but the overall pitching depth is thin.
Williams was a steal as a fourth rounder from the 2010 amateur draft and he’s out-performed higher Yankees picks from that draft including Cito Culver (32nd overall) and Rob Segedin (third round). He’s moved somewhat slowly through the system to date but he looks ready to explode in 2012. Williams, 21, shows a solid approach at the plate with the ability to make a lot of contact, which should help him hit for a high average. He’s also doing a better job of driving the ball.
A contact I spoke with said Williams has shown flashes of developing into a high-caliber player. “He can really run and is a special defender in center field,” he said. He also has a strong, but inconsistent, arm. Along with his power potential that comes from above-average bat speed and strong forearms, the Florida native could eventually become a 20-20 hitter. Williams should return to high-A ball before potentially moving up to double-A in the second half of the year. He should be ready for the majors in late 2014 or 2015.
Sanchez receives comparisons to former Yankee catching prospect Jesus Montero because they were both given large contracts as young Latin prospects. However, Sanchez is a much better athlete and has better instincts behind the plate. A talent evaluator I spoke with said he has no doubt that Sanchez will be a good defender. “He has the tools and wants to be a quality defender. The last part is critical. [He’s an] innately-smart kid,” he said. The Dominican Republic native has a strong arm and good receiving skills but he needs to become a better leader and game-caller behind the dish.
Sanchez flashes plus power at the plate. The contact I spoke with, though, cautioned that Sanchez can become too home run oriented at times. He also gets too aggressive, and will need to wait on better pitches to hit as he moves up through the system. Still just 20, Sanchez will return to high-A ball but could see double-A in the latter half of the season. He could reach the majors before he turns 22, and has an all-star-caliber ceiling.
Beset by injuries, in part because of his all-out play, Heathcott has yet to compile more than 300 at-bats in any of his four seasons. His throwing shoulder has been particularly troublesome and has required two surgeries to date. I asked a contact if he was worried about Heathcott’s ability to stay healthy but he told me that the young outfielder looked good in the Arizona Fall League and early in spring training.
Heathcott, 22, has shown the ability to hit for both gap power, while also flashing plus speed. His hitting has been inconsistent because, as a contact told me, he needs to become more selective at the plate and learn what pitches to attack and what pitches to let go. Heathcott could use his strong AFL as a springboard to double-A despite appearing in just 60 games at the high-A level.
Like Mason Williams, Austin was a steal in the 2010 amateur draft as a 13th round pick as a prep catcher out of a Georgia high school. He spent 2011 split between first and third base but moved out of the infield in ’12. Now a right-fielder, Austin projects to develop into an average outfielder with respectable range and a strong arm.
Austin, 21, has a short, quick batting stroke and projects to hit for a high average at the big league level. A talent evaluator I spoke with feels Austin will develop into a very good hitter at the MLB level, saying that his “very short swing and excellent bat speed are big assets.” His power will likely be average at best and could top out in the 15-20 home-run range in his prime. After failing to hit below .320 in A-ball Austin will move up to double-A in 2013.
The Jesus Montero trade with the Seattle Mariners in early 2012 looked like a potential steal for the Yankees but injuries then struck both Michael Pineda and Campos, the two talented arms that came back to New York. The young Venezuelan made just five starts in low-A ball in ’12 before he suffered an elbow injury.
Campos, 20, has a mid-90s fastball with outstanding movement. His repertoire also includes a curveball and a changeup, both of which project to develop into above-average offerings. He also possesses above-average control and his command is solid, especially for his age and experience level. Although he was held back in the fall instructional league, I’m told that Campos entered spring with no restrictions. When he’s ready, possibly after a stint in extended spring training, he should return to low-A ball.
One of my favorite under-the-radar prospects, Gumbs is an offensive-minded second baseman. He has yet to fully realize his potential because of some mechanical issues and he lost some development time in the second half of 2012 due to an elbow injury. He needs to become a little more patient and selective at the plate.
Along with solid gap power, Gumbs possesses plus speed and could steal 40 bases in a full season. At second base, the California native shows flashes of becoming an above-average fielder with a strong arm and good range. He just needs to clean up his actions, and show better feet and hands. A contact I spoke with said the infielder has all the makings of a solid ball player. “He is an explosive athlete,” he said, “[with] big-time bat speed, and he can really run.” Gumbs will move up to high-A ball to being the 2013 season.
Marshall, 23, has his career back on track after missing parts of 2009 and ’10 due to Tommy John surgery. The right-hander has provided just shy of 300 innings combined over the past two seasons. He has a four-pitch repertoire with his two best offerings being am 88-93 mph fastball and a plus changeup. He also throws a curveball and a slider, both of which could become average offerings, although a contact I spoke with sees more current potential with the curve. “The slider has been behind the change as a secondary pitch but he is making progress with the slider,” he said.
The consolation prize from the 2008 amateur draft — in which New York failed to sign first-rounder Gerrit Cole, who is now one of the Top 10 prospects in all of baseball for Pittsburgh — Marshall doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he could develop into a solid No. 3 or 4 starter capable of providing a ton of innings. He’ll open 2013 in triple-A, just a phone call away from New York in the event of an injury.
The Yankees’ 2012 first round draft pick, Hensley continues the run on snake-bitten first round selections for the organization. His signing bonus was renegotiated after his physical turned up concerns with his throwing shoulder. The Oklahoma prep product has tantalizing stuff with a 91-95 mph fastball and plus curveball. His changeup remains a work-in-progress. At 6’4” 220 lbs, Henlsey has the body of a durable workhorse, if his shoulder holds up.
He’ll likely open 2013 in full-season A-ball where his main focuses will be on developing his off-speed pitch and improving his command. I asked a talent evaluator what has impressed him most about Hensley to date and he highlighted the prospect’s work ethic and pitching know-how. ” [He’s] a great kid who comes from a pitching background. His father is an excellent pitching coach so [Hensley] is advanced in his pitching knowledge at this point.”
Signed in 2007, Ramirez has taken a slow path through the lower levels of the Yankees system but his game really took off at the high-A level in 2012. The right-hander showed above-average control and improved command while striking out 94 batters in 98.2 innings. Ramirez, 23, has a 92-96 mph fastball that touches the upper 90s and a plus changeup. He’s working hard to develop his slider into an average offering.
When I asked a talent evaluator what he liked most about Ramirez, he mentioned the pitching prospect’s power arm and plus changeup. “He throws strikes and has mound presence and poise,” he said. The right-hander has all the ingredients necessary to develop into a No. 3 starter — except the reliable breaking ball. If it fails to develop, he could end up as a high-leverage reliever. The Dominican Republic native will face a significant bump up in competition when he opens 2013 in double-A.
One of the best relievers in the minors, Montgomery has dominated at every level he’s pitched at, and reached double-A in just his first full pro season. A great value pick from the 11th round of the 2011 amateur draft, he’s close to being MLB ready and could help out in New York in the second half of 2013. With a strong spring, Montgomery could open the year in triple-A. The right-hander has the ceiling of a high-leverage reliever and could be the heir apparent to the ageless wonder Mariano Rivera.
Montgomery utilizes one of the best breaking balls in the Yankees system and his wipeout slider helped him strike out 99 batters over a combined 64.1 innings between high-A and double-A last year. Improved command of his 90-94 mph fastball could help him dominate even more. When I watched Montgomery pitch, I noticed that he has a short but quick arm action from a low-three-quarter arm slot. His slider was downright nasty and he used the same arm slot for both his breaking ball and fastball. His offerings exploded on the hitters, who flailed helplessly.
Banuelos was the top pitching prospect in the Yankees system until inconsistencies and injuries diminished his value considerably. He made just five appearances at the triple-A level in 2012 before being shut down with elbow problems. The organization tried to work him through the issue without surgery but he finally succumbed to Tommy John surgery in October, meaning he’ll essentially lose two years (2012, ’13) to the injury.
When healthy, Banuelos shows good velocity for a southpaw in the 89-94 mph range. He also has two very promising secondary pitches in a curveball and changeup. As mentioned, the southpaw will likely sit out the entire 2013 season while rehabbing after surgery. If all goes well, he should return to triple-A in 2014 and will look to reach the majors before the ’15 season. Still just 22, youth is on his side
Pried away from a commitment to the University of North Carolina in 2009, Mitchell has developed a little slower than hoped and did not reach full-season ball until 2012. The right-hander has outstanding stuff with two potentially-plus pitches in a fastball and slider. His changeup is still in the development stages.
There is no denying that Mitchell has enticing potential, however there have been numerous concerns raised over his maturity level. Once he gets his head on straight, he could truly take off. He also needs to become more consistent with his delivery. Mitchell will move up to high-A ball to begin the 2013 season and, if he shows improvements, he could speed up his development a bit and reach double-A in the second half of the year.
Romine hasn’t developed quite as hoped and it’s too bad given the Yankees’ needs behind the plate in recent years. The catching prospect has battled through a collection of injuries, including a back injury that has been tough to shake. At the plate, he shows some pop and could hit 10-12 home runs in a full season but he’s more of a gap hitter. Romine struggles at times to consistently barrel the ball.
After managing just over 100 at-bats in 2012, he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League but struggled. He’ll head back to triple-A and try to stay in the lineup, in hopes of being available when the big league club comes calling. With some of the shine worn off, Romine’ ceiling might top out as a platoon backstop.
A personal favorite of mine, Adams could end being a valuable bench bat — or platoon player for the Yankees, as the club looks for ways to compile a talented club while being fiscally responsible. Like too many Yankees prospects in recent years, Adams has battled injuries and has struggled to stay in the lineup. He has an impressive swing that should allow him to hit for average, although power will never be a big part of his game.
He has shown the ability to play both second and third base. After playing mostly second base prior to 2012, a severe ankle injury has robbed him of the necessary skills to play regularly at second base. Unfortunately, his offensive profile does not suit the hot corner so projecting a full-time gig is a stretch. Adams, though, could be a valuable part-time player for a championship-caliber club.
Prior to 2012, Murphy bounced around from third base to catcher and back again. He permanently moved behind the plate last year and started to show some real improvements, especially in his ability to control the running game. He still has a lot of work to do with his receiving, blocking and game calling — but the potential is there. At worst, Murphy has enough skill behind the dish to be a third-string catcher at the big league level.
His offensive abilities are a different story. He makes solid contact but could stand to be a little more patient so he can get in better hitter’s counts. The Florida native does a nice job of using the whole field but the organization is actually trying to help him pull the ball with authority on a more consistent basis. He’ll likely return to double-A to begin 2013, and could reach the majors at some point in 2014.