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September 15, 2010

Future Shock

Org Watch: Yankees

by Kevin Goldstein

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The minor league season is over, so it's time to step back and measure talent. Every organization fell somewhere on the arc from good farm systems to bad, but one clearly stands out when it comes to organizational pitching talent: the Yankees.

Nine guys clearly distinguished themselves this summer in the minors for the Bombers, and they can be divided into three categories: those coming back from injury, international prospects and traditional draft finds.

Back from injury

The Yankees' 2007 first-round pick, Andrew Brackman—who had Tommy John surgery two years ago—recovered from a slow start to prove many of his doubters wrong. The key to his breakout was more consistent mechanics, which led to more consistent velocity, as the 92-96 mph heat (seen at times last year) suddenly showed up every time out. His breaking ball also earned raves from scouts. It was once a flat, sweeping offering, but is now a big power breaker that gives him a second plus pitch. Turning 25 in December, he's still a bit behind the age/level curve, but he's always been a unique prospect that the industry felt would take time to put it all together.

More impressive than Brackman was 22-year-old Dellin Betances, another returnee from Tommy John surgery (after four years and 49 mostly average performances). At 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, he strikes nearly as imposing figure on the mound as the 6-foot-10 Brackman, and his stuff is even better, with 1-2 mph more on his fastball, an equally solid curveball and even better command. In the span of three months, Betances has gone from all but off the radar to arguably the highest-ceiling pitcher in the system.

Right-hander Brett Marshall, compared to the two above, is overshadowed. He was a sixth-rounder in 2008, eventually had reconstructive elbow surgery and returned this July. He already has three good offerings in his 88-92 mph sinking fastball, low 80s power slider and a changeup that is highly advanced for his age. The 20-year-old will begin next year at High-A Tampa, and is likely still two or three years away; he projects as a back-end starter because neither his stuff nor his size is truly overpowering.

International intrigue

Consistently one of the busiest teams in the Latin American market, the Yankees had several international arms move into the spotlight, but none has a brighter future than left-hander Manny Banuelos. He's 19, and at Double-A this year, he had a 2.51 ERA and struck out 85 in 64 2/3 innings. Every pitch in Banuelos' already-impressive arsenal improved this summer, as his velocity went from the low 90s to consistently sitting at 92-95 mph, while his curveball became a more consistent offering with sharp break and his changeup remained the plus pitch it always has been. Among undersized lefties with power stuff, some scouts think Banuelos is now every bit as good as, if not better than coveted Texas Rangers prospect Martin Perez.

Nowhere near Banuelos on a stuff level, but closer to the big leagues, is 23-year-old Dominican Hector Noesi. After dominating the Low-A South Atlantic League last year, he got all the way to Triple-A while striking out 153 batters in 160 1/3 innings and walking just 28. His ceiling is still that of a back-end starter, but he should be ready for the big leagues at some point in 2011.

The biggest surprise among international arms is Ivan Nova, although his late-2009 showing gave some indication that a breakout was possible. Yet another Yankees pitcher who added velocity, Nova's once tick-above-average fastball turned into a true plus offering at 92-95 mph, and another second-half surge landed him in a big league rotation beset by injuries. He's at least pitched well enough to earn a chance at staying there, although many higher-ceiling arms are in his rearview mirror.

Traditional draft finds

Right-hander Graham Stoneburner represents the spending ways of the Yankees. Signed for $675,000 as a 14th-round pick last year, Stoneburner struggled through injuries as an amateur, but stayed healthy all year while dominating at both Class A affiliates, finishing the year with a 2.41 ERA and 137 strikeouts in 142 innings. While he turns 23 later this month and is a bit old for the level, he's young on an experience level, and already has plus command of an explosive low-to-mid 90s fastball with a bit of natural sink, as well as an improving slider/changeup combination that have more scouts convinced he can remain a starter long-term.

More of a pure scouting find is fellow righty David Phelps, who fell to the 14th-round of the 2008 draft after a tough year but signed for $150,000. While Phelps doesn't have remarkable stuff, he did put up a 2.50 ERA across Double- and Triple-A this year with an impressive 141-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 158 2/3 innings, Phelps is ready for a big league audition, but he also falls into that category of prospects that are good, but maybe not good enough for the Yankees.

The most pleasant surprise in the system this year was Adam Warren, a consistently successful college pitcher at North Carolina who went in the fourth round of the 2009 draft while seen as a low-ceiling/polished type. Throwing a tick harder than he did in college by sitting at 91-92 mph and consistently touching 94, Warren has plus command and control while finding greater success by adding an upper-80s cutter to his mix. He reached Double-A this year while putting up a 2.59 ERA in 25 starts and striking out just under a batter per inning. He projects as a No. 4 starter in the bigs.

For a team that consistently has built the top of their rotation through free agency, the Yankees suddenly have considerably flexibility in terms of both their own rotation, and with making other improvements via trade. What they'll do with all this mound talent is yet to be determined, but it's the nicest of problems to have.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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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