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January 29, 2007

Future Shock

New York Yankees Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
1. Philip Hughes, rhp
2. Jose Tabata, rf
Very Good Prospects
3. Joba Chamberlain, rhp
4. Humberto Sanchez, rhp
5. Dellin Betances, rhp
Good Prospects
6. Kevin Whelan, rhp
Average Prospects
7. Tyler Clippard, rhp
8. J. Brent Cox, rhp
9. Ian Kennedy, rhp
10. Alberto Gonzalez, ss

1. Philip Hughes, rhp
DOB: 4/24/86
Height/Weight: 6-5/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2004, California HS
What he did in 2006: 1.80 ERA at High A (30-19-2-30), 2.25 ERA at AA (116-73-32-138)
The Good: The total package, making him the best pitching prospect in the game. His 92-96 mph fastball has good movement to go along with outstanding location, and his hard curveball gives him a second major-league-quality out pitch. His change-up is at least average, and has nice fade and deception. His size is ideal and his mechanics are nearly flawless.
The Bad: 2006 was Hughes' first season with no health problems, and he was treated with kid gloves at the end of the season. He's yet to prove that he can hold up under a full-season workload, although he was as dominant as ever at the end of the year.
The Irrelevant: In the first inning of games, opposing hitters facing Hughes hit .125 (11-for-88) with 34 strikeouts.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An absolute ace--a legitimate No. 1 on any team.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - The Yankees insist that they want Hughes to begin the year in Triple-A, but if he's lights-out in spring training, it will be hard to send him down. No matter what happens in March, he should be up before the All-Star break.

2. Jose Tabata, rf
DOB: 8/12/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/160
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Venezuela, 2005
What he did in 2006: 298/377/420 at Low A (363 PA)
The Good: Plus hitting skills and a mature approach well beyond his years. With outstanding bat speed and excellent hand/eye coordination, Tabata projects through the roof offensively based on what he's already been able to do at such a young age. He's a tick-above-average runner and a solid outfielder with a good arm.
The Bad: While nobody questions Tabata's ability to hit for average down the road, his power projection is a matter of some debate. Some feel that his pure hitting skills are enough to project for plus power, with others are concerned that his smallish frame will limit him to no more than 15-20 home runs annually.
The Irrelevant: In 2006, Tabata hit .261 with the bases empty, and .331 with runners on base.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A star corner outfielder, but whether he competes for batting titles or slugging titles is still up in the air.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. Tabata will begin the season in the High-A Florida State League as an 18-year-old. There's no reason to rush him.

3. Joba Chamberlain, rhp
DOB: 9/23/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/230
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, University of Nebraska
What he did in 2006: Signed too late to make his debut.
The Good: Projected as a top pick early in the college season, injury issues dropped him to the supplemental first round. He's already looking like a draft-day steal. Chamberlain blew away scouts in the Hawaiian Winter League, pumping out mid-90s fastballs and plus sliders. He's a big-bodied power pitcher with the much-desired combination of plus stuff and plus command.
The Bad: Chamberlain at times borders between big-bodied and fat, and conditioning will always be an issue. He needs to improve the arm action on his change-up. He can be guilty at times of falling in love with his fastball, and needs to mix in his secondary pitches more often.
The Irrelevant: Chamberlain is a Native American and a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An above-average starting pitcher.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - After dealing with tendonitis during the college season, Chamberlain showed, in Hawaii, what he's capable of when fully healthy. He'll begin the year in Tampa and will be moved to Double-A once the weather warms up.

4. Humberto Sanchez, rhp
DOB: 5/28/83
Height/Weight: 6-6/230
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 31st round, 2001, Connors State (Oklahoma) JUCO - DNF
What he did in 2006: 1.76 ERA at AA (71.2-47-27-86), 3.86 ERA at AAA (51.1-50-20-43)
The Good: He's the best prospect the Yankees received in the Gary Sheffield trade. Scouts love Sanchez's arm and arm strength. His fastball sits at 92-95 mph and touches 97-98 when he dials it up, while his slider gives him a second plus pitch. He gets a nice downward plane on his pitches, so that batters find it hard to get any sort of lift on his offerings.
The Bad: Five years into his professional career, Sanchez has never thrown more than 123 innings in a season due to various injuries and conditioning issues. He's had problems staying in shape, and he loses velocity and break on his pitches as games get into the middle innings, leaving many to project him as a reliever.
The Irrelevant: In the first four innings of games, batters hit .172 off Sanchez, but .301 thereafter.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A power pitcher - role to be determined by need.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - The Yankees insist that Sanchez will remain a starter, which means he's beginning the year at Triple-A Scranton.

5. Dellin Betances, rhp
DOB: 5/23/88
Height/Weight: 6-8/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 8th round, 2006, New York HS
What he did in 2006: 1.16 ERA at Rookie level (23.1-14-7-27)
The Good: Million-dollar eighth-round pick surprised the Yankees by being much less raw than anticipated. As a six-foot-eight teenager with a mid-90s fastball that touches 99 mph, Betances' ceiling was already sky-high, Then both his curveball and change-up were much better than anticipated, projecting as at least average pitches with potential for more. His command is good for his size and age.
The Bad: The Yankees are still working on cleaning up Betances' mechanics, which still have a lot of moving parts and need to be smoothed out. While the secondary stuff is better than expected, there's still much work to be done. He needs to work more effectively in the lower half of the strike zone.
The Irrelevant: During his brief pro debut, batters facing Betances with runners on base and two outs went 1-for-13 with eight strikeouts.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An absolute monster.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very High - Betances has more upside than any pitcher in the system other than Hughes, but the gap between what he is now and what he can be rivals the Grand Canyon. The Yankees are comfortable with sending raw products to full-season leagues, and Betances will likely be in the Low-A Charleston rotation in 2007.

6. Kevin Whelan, rhp
DOB: 1/8/84
Height/Weight: 6-0/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 4th round, 2005, Texas A&M University
What he did in 2006: 2.67 ERA at High A (54-33-29-69)
The Good: Also picked up in the Sheffield trade, Whelan had an outstanding full-season debut, including a late-season streak of 19 straight scoreless appearances. Whelan is basically a fastball jukebox. His straight heater sits at 90-93 mph and touches 96; his best pitch is a 88-92 mph splitter that batters have trouble differentiating from his four-seamer out of the hand. He also throws a forkball with heavy downward break.
The Bad: Whelan doesn't have a traditional breaking ball or off-speed pitch to speak of, so the question remains as to his ability to succeed at the upper levels with an unconventional arsenal. He looks like the converted catcher that he is when he pitches, short-arming his deliveries, and is still very much more of a thrower than a pitcher.
The Irrelevant: Whelan came to Texas A&M as a position player, appearing in 26 games as a freshman and batting .239/.318/.337 while never getting on the mound. Two years later, he'd have a 2.90 ERA with four saves in 19 games for the Aggies without getting a single plate appearance.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A late-inning reliever, with an outside shot at closing.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - Whelan will start the year at Double-A Trenton, and should be in line for a big-league job by 2008 at the latest.

7. Tyler Clippard, rhp
DOB: 2/14/85
Height/Weight: 6-4/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 9th round, 2003, Florida HS
What he did in 2006: 3.35 ERA at AA (166.1-118-55-175)
The Good: Tall, finesse righthander continued to prove his doubters wrong by going 9-0, 1.91 in his last 12 starts while allowing 48 hits in 80 innings. He locates his 88-91 mph fastball extremely well, using it to set up his plus curve and solid changeup. He's aggressive and likes to pitch inside.
The Bad: Without a plus fastball, Clippard lacks a lot of projection. With the curve being his only plus offering, there is little margin for error, and he can be prone to surrendering the long ball.
The Irrelevant: Twenty-six high school righties were drafted ahead of Clippard in 2003, but only two--Chad Billingsley of the Dodgers and Adam Miller of the Indians--would be universally taken ahead of him now.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A middle-of-the-rotation workhorse.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Clippard is a finished product, but he's behind Hughes and Sanchez when it comes to opportunity. That means he'll begin the year in Triple-A and need to prove himself all over again.

8. J. Brent Cox, rhp
DOB: 5/13/84
Height/Weight: 6-3/205
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2005, University of Texas
What he did in 2006: 1.75 ERA at AA (77-54-24-60)
The Good: Polished college reliever who overmatched Double-A hitters in his full-season debut. Cox is a groundball factory, with both his 88-92 mph sinker and hard-tilting slider getting consistently pounded into the ground. He works quickly, has good mechanics and throws a lot of strikes.
The Bad: Cox doesn't have a real swing-and-miss offering, and his stuff falls short of closer projection. He's had some off-the-field issues, with the latest being a broken hand suffered earlier this month in what is only being described as "an altercation."
The Irrelevant: Of the 121 left-handed batters to face Cox in 2006, 61 percent of them either struck out or hit into a groundball out.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A very-good setup man.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Cox's broken hand had the Yankees rescinding his invitation to big league spring training, but he's expected to be ready when the season begins. He'll begin the year at Triple-A.

9. Ian Kennedy, rhp
DOB: 12/19/84
Height/Weight: 6-0/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, University of Southern California
What he did in 2006: 0.00 ERA at Short-season (2.2-2-2-2)
The Good: The best control-and-command pitcher in last year's draft. Average fastball, curve and change-up all brought up a grade by his remarkable ability to throw them not only for strikes, but to paint the corners consistently with them. Outstanding makeup and feel for his craft.
The Bad: The complete opposite of a high-risk/high-upside pick. Kennedy lacks any projection, but at the same time, he should be ready to contribute to the majors in short order. His size prevents him from getting much downward plane on his fastball, and some scouts are wondering where the big league out pitch will come from.
The Irrelevant: Kennedy attended La Quinta High School in Westminster, California, a baseball factory that has also produced A's shortstop Bobby Crosby, Rangers catcher Gerald Laird and Rockies third base prospect Ian Stewart.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A solid-to-average big-league starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Kennedy will follow the Chamberlain path in 2007, beginning the year at Tampa and likely moving up to Double-A in quick fashion. He should get to the big leagues quicker than Joba, but not have the same long-term impact.

10. Alberto Gonzalez, ss
DOB: 4/18/83
Height/Weight: 5-11/160
Bats/Throws: R/R Signed: Venezuela, 2003
What he did in 2006: 290/356/392 at AA (494 PA), 200/294/200 at AAA (17 PA)
The Good: Acquired from Arizona in the Randy Johnson trade, Gonzalez is one of the slickest defenders in the minors. His outstanding instincts and quick first step give him very good range to both sides, and he has soft hand and a strong, accurate arm. Offensively, Gonzalez has an uncanny knack for contact, although he took a while to adjust to a two-level jump to Double-A, batting .221 in his first 50 game, then .330 thereafter.
The Bad: Gonzalez' total offensive package is limited. He has below-average power and needs to work the count better to increase his on-base percentage.
The Irrelevant: When batting second for the Double-A Smokies, Gonzalez hit .236 in 182 at-bats. In 252 at-bats out of the eight and nine holes, he hit .329.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A second-tier starter or outstanding utility player in the mold of Jose Vizcaino.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - The Yankees already have some guy named Jeter at shortstop, so Gonzalez isn't exactly stepping into an ideal situation. He'll begin the year at Triple-A, but could fill in competently at shortstop or second base should the need arise.

The Sleeper

Center fielder Brett Gardner is a water bug with plus-plus speed that makes him dangerous on the base paths and in the field. He could get there as a valuable fourth outfielder by 2008.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)

1. Philip Hughes, rhp
2. Jose Tabata, rf
3. Robinson Cano, 2b
4. Joba Chamberlain, rhp
5. Humberto Sanchez, rhp
6. Dellin Betances, rhp
7. Melky Cabrera, of
8. Kevin Whelan, rhp
9. Tyler Clippard, rhp
10. J. Brent Cox, rhp

Cano was a bit of a miss by prospect rankers as he came through the Yankees system, but PECOTA believes strongly that he's for real, projecting that he can hit .300+ annually for the long term to go with developing power. Cabrera did outstanding fill-in work for the Yankees in 2006, but that's really what he's best designed for, as he lacks the speed to play everyday in center field and the power to start in a corner.

Trading some veterans and a new philosophy that involves leveraging their financial strength in the draft as well as the free-agent market has the Yankees with a much-improved system, albeit an unbalanced one. On the mound, the future looks outstanding. On the hitting level, there's still much work to be done.

Next: 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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