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February 22, 2009

Future Shock

Yankees Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Five-Star Prospects
1. Jesus Montero, C
2. Austin Jackson, CF
Three-Star Prospects
3. Dellin Betances, RHP
4. Austin Romine, C
5. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
6. Andrew Brackman, RHP
7. Jeremy Bleich, LHP
8. Alfredo Aceves, RHP
9. Zach McAllister, RHP
10. Phil Coke, LHP
11. Mark Melancon, RHP

Just Missed: Brad Suttle, 3B; Kelvin De Leon, RF; Wilkins De La Rosa, LHP

Ranking Challenges: It's a very tough system to rank from top to bottom. Montero comes with positional questions, Brackman has a high ceiling combined with a plethora of negatives, and there are a lot of young, high-ceiling prospects and older, low-ceiling types.

1. Jesus Montero, C
DOB: 11/28/89
Height/Weight: 6-4/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2006
2008 Stats: .326/.376/.491, .261 EqA at Low-A (132 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 7

Year in Review: This well-regarded international signee nearly won the Sally League batting title as an 18-year-old in his full-season debut last year.
The Good: Montero's bat falls into a special category. He has plus-plus raw power that he's learning to unleash in games, but he's first and foremost a hitter with a quick bat, tremendous plate coverage, and no weaknesses in terms of any pitch type or location. His plate discipline improved throughout the year and he began to drive the ball more, leading to a .344/.407/.534 batting line after the All-Star break.
The Bad: Montero improved by leaps and bounds on defense in 2008, but as one scout put it, "that means he went from embarrassing to just plain bad behind the plate." He's big and sluggish, has problems blocking the ball, his arm is below average, and he has little carry on his throws.
Fun Fact: He's so young that night games may have kept him up past his bedtime, forcing him to play tired and dragging down his stat line; in 19 daytime contests last year, he hit .421/470/.711.
Perfect World Projection: He'll become a middle-of-the-order run producer, but it will be as a first baseman.
Glass Half Empty: There's little doubt that he's going to hit; the question is how much value will he have at the game's most demanding offensive position.
Path to the Big Leagues: If he could stick at catcher, it would be wide open, but the Mark Teixeira signing confuses things in the long term.
Timetable: Montero will remain a catcher for now in hopes that he'll figure it out, and also to keep his trade value maximized. He'll be one of the youngest regulars in the Florida State League in 2009 at High-A Tampa.

2. Austin Jackson, CF
DOB: 2/1/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 8th round, 2005, Ryan HS (TX)
2008 Stats: .285/.354/.419, .255 EqA at Double-A (131 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: He's an athletic center fielder who last year failed to build on the previous year's breakout.
The Good: Jackson's tools rate as average or better across the board. He works the count well, has enough power to hit 15-18 home runs annually, and the speed to play a solid center field while stealing 20-25 bases a year. He earns raves for his makeup, effort, and competitiveness.
The Bad: Jackson is one of those players who is greater than the sum of his parts, and he doesn't really have any one overwhelming tool. He's already lost some speed since signing and lacks the bat for a corner, so he can't afford to lose more.
Fun Fact: Jackson was one of the best point guards in the county at Ryan High, and he committed to Georgia Tech, where in his freshman year he would have competed against fellow Yankee prospect Andrew Brackman, who was a center at North Carolina State.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an above-average center fielder who fits best batting second in a big-league lineup.
Glass Half Empty: More of an average outfielder on a second-division team, or a very good fourth outfielder on a first-division team.
Path to the Big Leagues: Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner are just placeholders at best.
Timetable: Jackson will begin the year at Triple-A, but a combination of his performance and those of Cabrera and Gardner should get him into the big leagues at some point during 2009.

3. Dellin Betances, RHP
DOB: 3/23/88
Height/Weight: 6-8/245
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 8th round, 2006, HS for Enterprise, Business, and Technology (NY)
2008 Stats: 8.53 ERA at Rookie-level (6.1-13-3-6); 3.67 ERA at Low-A (115.1-87-59-135), 7.42 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 6

Year in Review: When he pitched, he was often dominating, but this high-ceiling pitcher had trouble staying healthy once again.
The Good: Betances combines youth, projection, and present power stuff. His fastball sits at 92-95 mph and touches 98, and his power curveball already ranks as a plus pitch. Yankees coaches made progress smoothing out his delivery, which led to improved command during the second half of the season.
The Bad: His mechanics remain complex, with a lot of arms and legs flying around which create deception, but also control issues due to a highly inconsistent release point. Some also point to his arm action leading to what have been constant injuries since turning pro, including shoulder, forearm, and elbow problems. His changeup is well below average.
Fun Fact: Betances had a strange reverse-righty split in 2008, as Sally League left-handers hit just .165/.297/.267 against him while striking out once every three at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: He's a future number two starter with ace potential.
Glass Half Empty: If he can't stay healthy, a move to the bullpen could be inevitable.
Path to the Big Leagues: Power arms always tend to find their way, but right now, he just needs to stay healthy for a full year.
Timetable: Betances' second half provided cause for optimism, and many think he could be poised for a breakout in 2009 at High-A Tampa.

4. Austin Romine, C
DOB: 11/22/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2007, El Toro HS (CA)
2008 Stats: .300/.344/.437, .234 EqA at Low-A (104 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: The young catcher left a strong impression on scouts while sharing duties with Montero at Low-A last season.
The Good: Romine provides above-average potential both at the plate and behind it. He's an adept hitter with a knack for contact, and he hints at the potential to hit for average big-league power. He's athletic behind the plate and features a quick, accurate arm.
The Bad: He needs to refine his approach at the plate; he goes up looking to hit as opposed to looking for pitches to drive. He has all of the tools to be a very good defender, but still needs to improve his footwork behind the plate and the accuracy of his throws.
Fun Fact: His brother Andrew was being tabbed as the Angels' sleeper prospect when he was made a fifth-round pick in the same year that Austin was selected. Their father Kevin Romine can always hold up the fact that he was drafted higher than either of his sons, as he was the 29th overall pick when selected by Boston in 1982.
Perfect World Projection: Romine could become an above-average everyday catcher in the big leagues.
Glass Half Empty: He may be just a backup.
Path to the Big Leagues: Romine has a far better chance of sticking at catcher than Montero, and should be seen as the catcher of the future.
Timetable: He'll continue playing in the shadow of Montero at High-A Tampa, but his all-around skills could be part of what eventually pushes Montero off of the position.

5. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
DOB: 11/13/90
Height/Weight: 6-0/189
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007
2008 Stats: 3.68 ERA at Rookie-level (44-38-13-48)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: The Dominican pitcher wowed scouts in his pro debut in 2008 with a combination of polish and high-level stuff.
The Good: He has a smallish frame and two plus power pitches, and one scout couldn't help but compare Vizcaino to a right-handed version of Scott Kazmir. He features a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 96, and his command of the pitch is very impressive for a teenager. His hard, biting curveball also rates as plus, and he has the confidence to throw it at any point in the count.
The Bad: Vizcaino's changeup is rudimentary, which is common in young Latin American hurlers. He often works up in the zone, leading to fly-ball tendencies. His frame doesn't offer the kind of projection that many young arms provide, but his stuff is exceptional right now.
Fun Fact: Of the five home runs hit against Vizcaino in 2008, four came off the bats of Blue Jays prospects.
Perfect World Projection: He's going to be a very good starter.
Glass Half Empty: The body can't hold up to a 200-inning workload, and he moves to the pen.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's 18 years old and has only pitched in the complex leagues, so let's not worry about that yet.
Timetable: Vizcaino will have an opportunity this spring to prove that he's ready for a full-season assignment to Low-A Charleston.

6. Andrew Brackman, RHP
DOB: 12/4/85
Height/Weight: 6-10/270
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, North Carolina State University
2008 Stats: None
Last Year's Ranking: 8

Year in Review: This 2007 first-round pick missed all of 2008 recovering from Tommy John surgery before pitching in the Hawaii Winter League.
The Good: Brackman's ceiling is considerably high. His fastball sits at 92-95 mph, touches 98-99, and plays up because of his height and his arm length, which adds a significant downward plane to the pitch. His power curve features late, explosive break, and he's an excellent athlete for his size.
The Bad: Despite that considerable ceiling, Brackman comes with more red flags than a Chinese army parade. He's 23 years old and has yet to pitch a professional inning in the regular season, while the elbow surgery and a previous commitment to basketball have limited him to less than 200 total innings over the past four years. Despite his size and stuff, he has no track record of dominance since high school, and his control has always been a significant issue, one in which he showed little progress while walking 25 in 34 Hawaii Winter League innings.
Fun Fact: In high school, Brackman was a two-sport standout at historic Moeller High in Cincinnati, the same school that graduated Ken Griffey, Barry Larkin, and Buddy Bell.
Perfect World Projection: Brackman's ceiling is as high, if not higher, than that of anyone in the system. He truly has ace potential.
Glass Half Empty: He has so many things to overcome that his chances of reaching that ceiling are slight.
Path to the Big Leagues: Who knows? He's yet to pitch an inning that counts.
Timetable: Brackman will begin the year at High-A Tampa, where he can pitch in warm weather while under the watchful eyes of the team's player development staff, which works out of their spring training office. The hope is that he makes enough progress to reach Double-A at some point during the season.

7. Jeremy Bleich, LHP
DOB: 6/18/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Stanford University
2008 Stats: 6.00 ERA at Short-season (3-2-0-4)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: He's a product of Stanford who was rocketing up the draft charts before a mid-season elbow injury dropped his stock.
The Good: Some West Coast scouts think that a healthy Bleich would have been one of the top 20 picks in last year's draft. He's a highly polished talent who pounds the strike zone with an average-velocity fastball that he uses to set up two quality secondary offerings, as his curveball and changeup both rate as plus. He has great poise and intelligence, knows how to mix his pitches well, and could move quickly.
The Bad: He's not exactly overpowering, and it remains to be seen how well his style of pitching will work at the upper levels. His value lies more in certainty than upside, as he doesn't project to become much better than he is now.
Fun Fact: Bleich graduated from The Isidore Newman School, a private high school in New Orleans, whose alumni include football's Manning brothers and Moneyball author Michael Lewis. On Bleich's Stanford bio, he lists Moneyball as his favorite book.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a solid third or fourth starter.
Glass Half Empty: He may be more of a back-end rotation piece, or possibly a reliever.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Yankees' rotation is loaded, but teams rarely stay set with the same five starters for very long.
Timetable: Bleich will likely join Brackman at High-A Tampa to begin the year.

8. Alfredo Aceves, RHP
DOB: 12/8/82
Height/Weight: 6-3/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Mexico, 2008
2008 Stats: 2.11 ERA at High-A (47-32-8-37), 4.40 DERA; 1.80 ERA at Double-A (50-37-6-35), 3.20 DERA; 4.12 ERA at Triple-A (43.2-42-13-42), 5.44 DERA; 2.40 ERA at MLB (30-25-10-16), 1.23 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Signed out of Mexico, this finesse right-hander was the system's most pleasant surprise, advancing from High-A all the way to the big leagues.
The Good: Aceves gives hitters fits by changing speeds, hitting his spots, and mixing in as many as six pitches. His fastball tops out at 92, but he varies his grip and arm action to add sink and run to the pitch while changing the batter's eye level. He throws a good curve and a solid slider, and uses all of his offering to set up a plus changeup with excellent depth and fade.
The Bad: Aceves is labeled by some as a bit of a trick pitcher, and his style offers little margin for error. He doesn't miss many bats, and as a 26-year-old, he's a finished product with no further projection.
Fun Fact: In Aceves' eight Triple-A starts, only one of 26 batters facing him in the first inning reached base.
Perfect World Projection: He'll find a place in the rotation as a back-end innings-eater.
Glass Half Empty: Unless he suddenly regresses for some unforeseen reason, that should be a safe projection.
Path to the Big Leagues: The signings of Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte cloud his future for now.
Timetable: Returning Aceves to Triple-A would do little for his development, but that could be his destination come April if he can't win a bullpen job.

9. Zach McAllister, RHP
DOB: 12/8/87
Height/Weight: 6-6/230
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2006, Illinois Valley Central HS (IL)
2008 Stats: 2.45 ERA at Low-A (62.1-59-8-53), 6.67 DERA; 1.83 ERA at High-A (88.2-74-13-62), 3.69 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: McAllister was a raw talent who brought it all together and dominated in his full-season debut, having little trouble keeping runs off of the board at both Low- and High-A.
The Good: Despite a massive frame, McAllister is a strike-throwing, ground-ball pitcher who lives off of a low-90s sinker that is the best in the system. He can run a four-seam fastball up to 93 mph, and he often flashes a nice changeup. His delivery is smooth, and his command is above average.
The Bad: He doesn't blow hitters away, and he needs a good defense behind him. His slider is inconsistent, and he has a tendency to get around on the pitch, which can cause it to sweep across the plate instead of diving.
Fun Fact: McAllister was born and raised in the small town of Chillicothe, Illinois, whose most famous resident might be Henry LeGault, better known as Colonel Decker from the A-Team.
Perfect World Projection: McAllister will be a fourth starter who keeps the ball on the ground, and possibly somewhat better than that...
Glass Half Empty: ...or somewhat worse.
Path to the Big Leagues: It's not a good time to be a young starter in the Yankees' system.
Timetable: McAllister might begin the year back at Tampa in order to take advantage of the weather, but he should move up to Double-A by mid-season or earlier.

10. Phil Coke, LHP
DOB: 7/19/82
Height/Weight: 6-1/210
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 26th round, 2002, San Joaquin Delta College
2008 Stats: 2.51 ERA at Double-A (118.1-105-39-115), 4.54 DERA; 4.67 ERA at Triple-A (17.1-19-5-22), 7.16 DERA; 0.61 ERA at MLB (14.2-8-2-14), 0.00 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: Seen as little more than an organizational arm entering the year, this power lefty got into the best shape of his career, saw the quality of his stuff take a sudden and massive leap forward, and was among the Yankees' best relievers down the stretch.
The Good: Coke's power stuff became all the more valuable because of his left-handedness. Out of the bullpen, he unleashes 92-94 mph fastballs that can touch 96, and features a hard slider that can be a true wipeout offering. Scouts and coaches rave about his makeup, and he wants that ball in clutch situations.
The Bad: His performance was so completely unexpected that there are still some who don't trust it. His stuff works far better in a bullpen role where he can just let it go, and his changeup is below average. He can overthrow and flatten his slider at times, and when he misses with his fastball, he misses up.
Fun Fact: On September 1, 2008, Coke became the first player ever drafted 786th overall to reach the major leagues.
Perfect World Projection: A power bullpen arm who can pitch as late as the eighth inning.
Glass Half Empty: He'll be more of a middle-relief type if the breaking ball doesn't become more consistent.
Path to the Big Leagues: For now, it's solely as a relief pitcher, but that's where he pitches best.
Timetable: Coke will compete for a bullpen role this spring, but he could end up back at Triple-A with the ability to fill in at the big-league level in whatever role is required.

11. Mark Melancon, RHP
DOB: 3/28/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 9th round, 2006, University of Arizona
2008 Stats: 2.84 ERA at High-A (25.1-26-6-20), 4.56 DERA; 1.81 ERA at Double-A (49.2-32-12-47), 4.05 DERA; 2.70 ERA at Triple-A (20-11-4-22), 4.26 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: After missing nearly all of 2007 recovering from Tommy John surgery, the relief prospect made an impressive return, improved as the season wore on, and put himself on the cusp of the big leagues.
The Good: Melancon has a plus fastball that sits at 92-94 mph with excellent movement, while his somewhat awkward delivery creates deception. His hard curveball grades out as a 60-65 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale and can make batters look foolish when it's working. He has a closer's mentality, and shows no fear on the mound.
The Bad: Melancon is a reliever only, though his stuff falls short of being closer-worthy. The Tommy John surgery in his past is still cause for concern, as there is still considerable effort in his violent delivery.
Fun Fact: Melancon retired all 17 batters he faced in the seventh inning for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Perfect World Projection: He should be a good set-up man.
Glass Half Empty: He could end up as a middle reliever hampered by arm troubles.
Path to the Big Leagues: The back of the Yankees' bullpen isn't exactly awe-inspiring.
Timetable: Like Coke, Melancon will get a long look this spring, but he could begin the year back in Triple-A to make sure he'll get in consistent innings until he's needed.

The Sleeper: An 18-year-old center fielder signed out of Venezuela, Eduardo Sosa is an absolute burner with a refined approach and gap power whose stateside debut this year is worth keeping an eye on.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Joba Chamberlain, RHP
2. Phil Hughes, RHP
3. Jesus Montero, C
4. Austin Jackson, CF
5. Ian Kennedy, RHP
6. Dellin Betances, RHP
7. Austin Romine, C
8. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
9. Andrew Brackman, RHP
10. Melky Cabrera, CF

Joba's a stud, but let's not pretend that the health isn't a concern. I'm no longer sure what to make of Phil Hughes; one day he dominates and the scouts rave, the next outing his velocity and command disappear and he looks like a shell of his former self. Kennedy dominated in Puerto Rico this past winter, and while that created some optimism, he's already proven that he can get the job done everywhere except the big leagues. I'm not a great believer in Cabrera or Brett Gardner, but Cabrera's bat gives him the edge for the final spot.

Summary: The Yankees' system is trending downward, though they do have a significant number of young, high-ceiling talents that could soon make this list look strong again. They don't have much in the way of coming position players and near-ready prospects, but can't the Yankees just buy those?


Up next: the Oakland Athletics.

---

Last year, Will Carroll got to know Phil Coke in an unusual way. Coke has since gone from obscurity to the Yankees' #10 prospect. Hear what changed and more on today's BPR as we check in on the latest Top 11 Prospect List.


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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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