The Yankees are often criticized by fans for having an over-hyped system with prospects that never reach their full potential. That may be the case from some seats in the house, but from my seat, they have some very legitimate prospects at the top of this list and improving depth of both MLB contributors and high risk, high ceiling talents. Steps forward by players like Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin and Slade Heathcott help offset the regression seen with players like Manny Banuelos and Delin Betances.
1. Gary Sanchez – C (Last Year’s Rank: 7)
After a tumultuous 2011 season, Sanchez got everything on track in 2012 and looked the part of a top prospect. He has solid hitting ability with the potential to hit .270-.280 with relative ease, and that should allow him to tap into his 70-grade raw power. He has the potential to pick up 25+ doubles and 20-25 home runs a year if he reaches his offensive peak. Sanchez improved defensively in 2012 and while he’s still not a lock to stick behind the plate, he has a solid chance to do as at least a fringy defender. With his current defensive profile and the potential for an impact bat, Sanchez is a monster prospect.
2. Mason Williams – OF (3)
Williams has garnered a lot of attention over the last two years and deservedly so. That said, the hype may be getting a little out of hand as expectations swell. Williams is a premium athlete with plus-plus speed. His speed plays down a tick in game action, particularly on the bases as he continues to develop better instincts. He has a chance to be a plus defender in center field. Offensively, Williams should hit for average at a plus level with 15 home runs per year and plenty of doubles as well. His approach at the plate is aggressive, largely because he makes such easy contact, and he will have to demonstrate that he is willing to stay in the strike zone against more advanced pitchers that can exploit his eagerness.
3. Slade Heathcott – OF (12)
Heathcott gives the Yankees another excellent athlete. He plays the game with a reckless abandon that helps him get the most out of his tools. He is a quality defender with an average arm and while he may not play center field long term for reasons out of his control, he has the ability to stay there. Heathcott has some pop in his bat with the potential for solid power if he can improve his hit tool utility and stop swinging through pitches he can drive. Heathcott’s projection has more risk than Williams but he could team with Williams to provide a dynamic outfield combo down the line.
4. Jose Campos – RHP (NR)
There are lingering questions about Campos’ health and those won’t go away until he spends a considerable amount of time on the mound in 2013. When he’s right, Campos has huge upside with a mid-90s fastball that naturally moves, a curveball that can be a true hammer and a change-up that flashes average as well. He throws strikes at a high rate, particularly for his age. There is still a long developmental path in front of Campos but his raw ceiling is undeniable and earns him a lofty spot in these rankings.
5. Tyler Austin – OF (NR)
Austin was one of the breakout prospects in all of baseball in 2012, posting a .320/.405/.598 line at Low-A and a .321/.385/.478 line at High-A before a late-season trial in Double-A. He has the potential to hit for a good average with gap power and the potential for 10-15 home runs at his physical peak. He works counts well and routinely enter good hitter’s counts. He fits well in right field and should be an average defender with an arm that can be an in-game asset. He lacks the flash and raw upside of Williams and Heathcott, but Austin has the potential to be a solid everyday guy in the big leagues.
6. Ty Hensley – RHP (NR)
Hensley was the Yankees first-round pick last June, signing him for $1.2 million and sending him to the GCL to make his professional debut. A big, durable right-hander, Hensley can pump fastballs in the 92-93 mph range with ease, touching 95-96 when he reaches back for more. His best pitch is a hard curveball with overhand break, and the pitch could be a dominating offering with additional polish and consistency. His change-up remains in its infancy, but he showed early feel for the pitch late last year.
7. Angelo Gumbs – 2B (11)
Gumbs is yet another explosive athlete in this top ten. He has taken well to second base and while growth is still required, he looks solid at the position and should be able to handle it full time over the long haul. He has good bat speed with the ability to drive the ball but he lacks consistent swing mechanics and frequent contact has been an issue. If he can iron that out, he has the potential to develop into an average hitter with 20+ doubles, 10 home runs and 20-25 stolen bases a year.
8. Rafael De Paula – RHP (NR)
De Paula’s path to becoming a Yankee has been a lengthy one, originally agreeing to terms with the club in late 2010, but not officially signing until last spring. De Paula debuted in the DSL with a 1.46 ERA in 14 starts. He has easy mid-90s velocity and the ball can jump to 97-98 on occasion with the ability to blow it by hitters. He mixes in a curveball and change-up that both show promise but need consistency due to his lack of game experience. Already 22-years old by the time Opening Day rolls around, De Paula is expected to be pushed aggressively by the Yankees. He has the talent to leap up this list next year and could become a top-flight pitching prospect.
9. Jose Ramirez – RHP (NR)
This is an aggressive ranking for Ramirez, but the scouts I spoke with in 2012 were very impressed with him and view him as a potential late-inning stopper. He showed a fastball that sat at 96-97 mph in short bursts, while also showing explosive life that keeps the ball away from the fat part of the bat. His change-up is a very good pitch that he sells well with good arm speed and the same arm angle as his fastball. Ramirez needs to refine his breaking ball but could get by with a fastball-change combination in the bullpen.
10. Manny Banuelos – LHP (2)
Banuelos had a rough year in 2012, going under the knife for Tommy John surgery in October after his control continued to regress from mid-2011. At his best, Banuelos can sit at 91-92 mph with his fastball and touch higher in bursts. His curveball and change-up are both quality pitches that he can throw in any count. A lot of questions remain about where Banuelos goes when he comes back from injury, but if he pieces things back together and improves his command, he could be a number three starter.
11. Brett Marshall – RHP (NR)
Marshall doesn’t have a sexy profile as a pitching prospect, sitting in the 89-91 range and touching 93 at times. His fastball and change-up are both solid-average pitches with good sink and deception. Neither his curveball or slider overly impressed scouts but they are useable pitches that he can mix in throughout his starts. Marshall throws strikes but struggles to consistently move the ball to both sides of the plate. His long term profile sits in the number four or five starter realm and he could be ready to fulfill that role in 2014.
12. Greg Bird – 1B (NR)
It’s a difficult path through the minor leagues as a first baseman but Bird has the potential to navigate that track thanks to his impressive offensive potential. He has a fluid swing with a consistent plane and the barrel of the bat stays in the zone a very long time. His potential to hit for average is very good and with that, he should have the hit tool utility to allow his plus power to play in games. Bird has to maximize everything he has with the bat but his raw ingredients give him a chance to do just that.
13. Mark Montgomery – RHP (NR)
Montgomery cruised through the minor leagues in 2012 and could be on his way to the big leagues at some point in 2013. He relies on a solid-average fastball that sits at 90-92 and touches 94 at times. He moves his fastball around the zone and his delivery adds deception to the heater. His calling card is a wipeout slider that several scouts called one of the best in the minor leagues. He profiles as more of a 7th/8th inning reliever but one that can miss bats.
14. Luis Torrens – C (NR)
Torrens isn’t on par with former Yankees signings like Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez, but he has a chance to become a very, very strong prospect. He is lauded for an excellent hitting approach for his age, good natural strength and bat speed and the ability to drive the ball to the gaps already. He could hit for a strong average, draw walks and have at least average power down the line. Whether he is a catcher long term remains to be seen, but Torrens bat will make him a prospect.
15. Jordan Cote – RHP (15)
I’m still a big fan of Cote’s future, in part because of my extensive personal history scouting him. He showed improved consistency with his low-90s velocity in 2012, even bumping 94-95 mph on occasion. He generates good angle to the plate with his 6-foot-5 frame. His curveball is coming along and he showed some feel for his new change-up. Cote has tremendous potential but is a long way from realizing that potential on the field, making him an extremely high risk prospect.