The Yankees have long been notorious for hyping prospects and inflating value but this crop of prospects earns the merit of high rankings on their own. Led by one of the most potent offensive prospects in baseball this system boasts a wealth of tools and upside that many systems only dream of. Many of these prospects are years from the big leagues or may ultimately be blocked by big name players in the Bronx, value still exists in the form of trade chips if the always competitive Yankees need to flip a few for a big league need. The system is deep with tools and projection and there are exciting players that couldn’t squeeze onto the back of this list.
1. Jesus Montero (C)
Even though I listed him as a catcher, everyone needs to stop the charade! I might as well have just listed his position as batter’s box. Montero will not be a regular catcher at the big league level, and do you know what? That doesn’t kill his prospect status in any way. His bat is that good. Montero will hit for plus-plus average and power with a good approach. He’s a middle of the order force waiting to happen, even in a typically stacked Yankees lineup. He is one of the elite offensive prospects in all of baseball.
2. Manny Banuelos (LHP)
Banuelos was good but not the spectacular prospect some expected in 2011, but let’s remember he was just 20-years old splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A. The lefty starter is armed with a fastball that will reach the 94-95 mph range during starts and sits a tick below that. His change-up gives him another true plus pitch, offering fade and sink. He mixes in a curveball that remains inconsistent despite extensive work. His command and control slipped in 2011 and he became more hittable as a result. He lacks the size to generate good angle to the plate and therefore has a smaller margin for error than his raw stuff suggests. Some scouts believe he could be a number two starter if it all comes together while others believe he is more of a number three.
3. Mason Williams(OF)
Williams was an over slot signee of the Yankees in the 2010 draft, garnering a bonus approaching $1.5 million. Though the bonus may suggest otherwise, Williams has not truly elite tool outside of his borderline plus-plus speed. That said, he has few weaknesses and projects fringe-average or better across the board. He uses a refined approach at the plate to give himself above-average to plus hitting ability with fringe-average power that should manifest as more doubles than home runs. He gets good reads and jumps in the outfield and should play up the middle long term as a plus defender. Williams could move quickly through the system thanks to his excellent baseball acumen.
4. Dellin Betances (RHP)
Betances dominated at Double-A in 2011 and though he scuffled at Triple-A in four starts he still made his MLB debut in September. When everything is right, the massive 6-8 righty features an explosive 92-95 mph fastball that has steep plane and good tail. His big time curveball is an even better pitch, drawing 70s from scouts regularly. He can struggle to command his curveball at times but it is lethal when thrown where he wants. His change-up and command are both below-average. Most scouts I spoke with still believe he ends up in the bullpen long term but given the Yankees current rotation, he could get a chance to earn his stripes as a starter, where his ultimate ceiling is that of a number two or three.
5. Ravel Santana (OF)
Despite an injury shortened season (severe ankle injury) Santana’s raw tools earned tons of praise around GCL circles last year. He is an outstanding athlete with natural strength, plus-plus speed and a rocket arm. He has good natural hitting ability with good hands and a swing that generates easy power to all fields. His ceiling rests somewhere in the rarified are of a potentially elite defensive center fielder and the ability to hit 20+ home runs and rack up 25+ steals at his peak.
6. Dante Bichette, Jr. (3B)
The club’s top pick in 2011, as the name suggests he is the son of former long time big leaguer Dante Bichette. As would be expected for the son of a former big leaguer he offers an advanced batting approach for his age to go along with plus bat speed that gives him easy plus to plus-plus power projection. He uses all fields well already and should hit for average as he moves up the ladder. Though reports on his third base defense were generally positive, there is still a large cadre of evaluators that believe he will ultimately end up on an outfield corner. If he does move to the outfield he has enough offensive tools to carry the position switch.
7. Gary Sanchez (C)
Though Sanchez had some attitude problems at Charleston last year and his offense didn’t always hold up to the lofty expectations generated by a massive 2010 GCL campaign, he still remains a helluva prospect. He has the natural hitting instincts and raw power to easily garner comparisons to fellow Yankee catching prospect Jesus Montero. His offensive game has the potential to be truly explosive if he can refine his approach. Defensively he is well behind the curve but he has a strong arm and solid athleticism for a backstop. He has a better chance than Montero had to stick at catcher but is still a long shot to do so.
8. Austin Romine (C)
Though Romine’s overall potential does not match up to the likes of Montero and Sanchez that is hardly a slight against him. He still possesses the potential for average power, average hitting ability, and even fringe-average speed at present. He has improved his defense and has a better glove than either of the catchers ahead of him on this list, though he is still a fringe-average defender on his best days. Romine could be an average or better big league catcher if his bat translates to the highest level.
9. Adam Warren (RHP)
Warren won’t blow anyone away with raw stuff but he does have the pitches and pitchability to work at the big league level. His heavy fastball sits at 90-92 mph and touches 95 at times. He keeps it low in the zone and generates a ton of ground balls. He throws both a slider and a curveball with both having their moments as an average or slightly better pitch. His change-up is below-average but he will throw it on occasion. Without a true plus pitch Warren profiles as more of a back of the rotation inning eater though some scouts believe he could excel in a seventh inning role.
10. David Adams (2B)
Injuries have managed to shove Adams off of most prospect lists but he still possesses a good bat and the ability to play both second base and third base. He has a knack for contact and a sound approach at the plate that lets him hit for average and keep his strikeouts to a minimum. He has showed plenty of gap power in the past and could hit 20+ doubles and 10-12 home runs. There are still some scouts that believe he can be an everyday second baseman at the big league level while others fear he is falling into more of a 4A category. Having seen him at his best over the years, I still believe he can work as a big league regular if he can remain healthy.
11. Angelo Gumbs (2B)
Speaking of boom or bust, Gumbs fits that mold perfectly. He is an incredible athlete with a motor that never stops. He has the fast twitch muscles to generate tremendous bat speed and he can sting the ball to the opposite field already. He has yet to learn to pull the ball and he will have to find better pitches to swing at to tap into his power potential. A former shortstop and outfielder Gumbs needs work defensively but his athleticism gives him a chance to be better than average at second base. The Grand Canyon exists between Gumbs present skills and his ceiling but that ceiling is enough to excite nearly any onlooker.
12. Slade Heathcott (OF)
Tools impress when you see Heathcott play but there are still some major developmental needs to make him a viable big league prospect. He is a plus runner with good center field defense and a big time arm. He has good bat speed but the mechanics of his swing are “funky at best” as one scout put it and he doesn’t generate much power despite his natural strength. He is an aggressive free swinger that has to learn pitch recognition to tap into his offensive game at higher levels. Heathcott is a bit of a boom or bust type as he could be an everyday center fielder if the bat comes together or he could never make it out of Double-A.
13. Cito Culver (SS)
Culver is a glove-first shortstop prospect that has the ability to pick it with the best of them at the position. He moves well to both sides, shows good footwork in all phases of his defensive game and has a plus arm at the position. All of his defensive tools play up because of his outstanding instincts. A switch-hitter, Culver is far better from the right side and some scouts believe he would benefit from sticking to that side only. He has a good approach at the plate but his bat control lags behind and he must get stronger to drive the ball more against advanced pitchers. There is a slim chance he develops an average offensive game – both hitting and power – but even if he only develops part of that he could be a big leaguer on the back of his defense.
14. Miguel Andujar (3B)
Signed for a reported $750,000 as a Dominican amateur last summer, Andujar was one of the more polished players in the 2011 July 2 class. He has a smooth, consistent swing with plus bat speed for his age. He controls the barrel well and shows an innate feel for contact. Some scouts believe he should hit for power and average down the line. He is not overly physical but he has a strong body that should allow him to remain at third base. He moves well at the position and has a strong arm. There is little chance that Andujar moves quickly through the Yankees system but he does have a chance to be a quality third baseman both offensively and defensively.
15. Jordan Cote (RHP)
The Yankees bought Cote out of a Coastal Carolina commitment with a $725,000 bonus in the third round of last year’s draft. He is an extremely physical right-hander with a massive 6-foot-5, 205 pound frame that just oozes projection. His fastball sat at 89-91 mph this past spring in the starts I scouted and he has reportedly touched as high as 93 mph in workouts. He has a quick arm that gives scouts an easy opportunity to project him to add a couple ticks of velocity if he can iron out his mechanics and add strength. He has shown an ability to spin both a slider and curveball with the curveball showing more promise last spring. The Yankees began working with him on a change-up after signing. It is likely to be a long road to any sort of payoff with Cote but that payoff could be considerable if he develops.