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February 21, 2012

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: New York Yankees

by Jason Parks

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Prospect #1: C Gary Sanchez
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources.
Who: Sanchez, who was signed out of the Dominican Republic for a cool $3 million, is one of the most promising offensive prospects in the minors. He has precocious in-game power, a projectable and playable hit tool, and a game plan at the plate that goes beyond “grip the bat and swing as hard as possible.” Sanchez was only 18 years old when he made his full-season debut in 2011, but he managed to slug .485 against much older competition in the prospect-heavy Sally League. His work behind the plate wasn’t as attractive, and there are already whispers of a future position switch. The arm is plenty strong and the necessary athleticism is present to handle the physical demands of the position, but his receiving ability is immature and will require years of additional development. The catch here is that Sanchez’s bat is setting an accelerated timetable that his glove development won’t be able to match strides with.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Sanchez is a hitter who seems to see the ball very well; he tracks and diagnoses pitches like a much more experienced player. In High-A, the young right-hander will no doubt face a more advanced secondary sequence, and despite the good pitch-recognition skills, the characteristics of his swing could limit his ability to make contact against such offerings. Like most power hitters, Sanchez has a leveraged swing with length and loft, making him susceptible to inner-half velocity and off-speed stuff that will require barrel manipulation to stay on. Sanchez has a good feel for hitting, but I don’t think the hit tool can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the power, which should end up as an easy 70 on the 20/80 scale, and possibly a legit 80 at the top of his developmental arc. The explosion that occurs on contact is loud and violent and sexy and people will pay money to see it and the skies will turn red with the blood of his enemies, but the hitchy trigger and the lengthy path to the ball make exploitation possible. However, it should be noted that Sanchez’s offensive game doesn’t have the glaring weaknesses that scar the faces of most prospects his age. This is a minor nitpick. Sanchez could be very special at the plate. I want to have a son and name him Gary.

Prospect #2: LHP Manny Banuelos
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources.
Who: Banuelos, a diminutive lefty with three major league-quality pitches and a fluid delivery that allows for command projection, has slowly climbed the prospect ladder and is now in the queue for a rotation spot in 2012. What the 20-year-old Mexican southpaw lacks in size he makes up for in stuff; he works his fastball in the low 90s with good arm-side fade and the power to push the offering into the mid-90s with relative comfort. His changeup is a monster pitch, brilliantly disguised as a fastball with a late reveal and good action. I don’t often feel comfortable or confident throwing a 70-grade on a secondary pitch, especially at the minor-league level, but Banuelos’ changeup is one of the best complementary pitches I’ve seen from a young arm. His curveball flashes above-average potential, with good deception out of the hand and some vertical depth, but he struggles to command the offering and the break can be a bit soft. It's a 50/55 pitch now, with the potential to be a 60 pitch if he can show better command of it. The curve is clearly envious of the beast that is the changeup.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Banuelos is unlikely to win a rotation spot out of camp, so he will head back to Triple-A to wait in the wings for an opportunity to take the big stage. His command needs refinement; he’s still very loose in the zone and hittable when he elevates and provides hitters with a flat-plane look at the ball. The southpaw’s path will be determined by command refinement; it’ll either keep him in the minors for another season, or propel him to Yankee Stadium. Another minor complaint about Banuelos—and one that might lead to exploitation at the highest level—is that the arsenal seems to play a little soft. That’s not to say the stuff isn’t good; it’s very good. The offerings are just a little round, a little dull. The overall intensity of his pitches seems to be muted (e.g., a softer break on the curve, a fastball that shows intimidating velocity on the radar gun but doesn’t seem to intimidate minor-league hitters, etc.).

As long as Banuelos can use the fastball to get ahead in the count, he can throw the changeup as an out pitch to both righties and lefties alike, mixing in the curve to keep hitters off-balance. That combo is going to work in Triple-A, and the young starter should continue to show solid on-field production. At the major-league level, the curve will need to play a larger role, the command will need to take a big step forward, and the overall intensity of the arsenal will need a few more volts. Banuelos has legit stuff and could develop into a number-two/-three starter, but his limited size shrinks his margin of error and puts more pressure on the development of his command for sustainable major-league success.

Prospect #3: RHP Dellin Betances
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources.
Who: Big right-hander Dellin Betances was selected in the eighth round in the 2006 draft and given a million dollars to forgo a commitment to Vanderbilt. Since signing, he has seen his prospect stock ebb and flow; it fell into oblivion after his elbow was caught hanging out with Tommy John, and ascended back to national prominence after a stellar 2010 campaign.

Built like an NBA power forward with the athleticism of a designated hitter, Betances is an imposing figure on the mound. He uses his 6-foot-8 frame to create a steep plane to the plate that few pitchers in the game can match. His fastball is lively and heavy, with low-90s velocity out of the rotation and easy plus-plus velocity in short bursts. The curveball can also look scary good; some in the industry suggest it could eventually be a 70-grade pitch. Like the fastball, the curve is thrown on a steep plane with a nasty vertical break, but Betances has a tendency to slip under the ball, losing the tight rotation and subsequent vertical depth. Betances struggles with his delivery because of his size and limited athleticism; he loses his release point and drops his slot, which negatively affects his changeup and his overall command.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: I don’t think Betances is ever going to be a consistent strike-thrower, and given the electricity of his short-burst arsenal, a move to the bullpen has to be in the cards at some point. For now, it seems Betances will continue to pitch out of the rotation, where he can attempt to refine his command and encourage secondary development. However, there is going to come a time when the Yankees have to use the weapon they have rather than fantasize about the weapon they don’t. As long as Betances remains 6-foot-8 and can pump that fastball on a steep plane, he’s going to miss bats at any professional level. But after multiple looks, the steep fastball will need a few accouterments to remain in fashion; add to the mix a command profile where below average is the reality and solid-average is the fantasy, and you have a pitcher that is going to struggle in a rotation. In 2012, what could go wrong is also what could go right, as failure out of the rotation could lead to success out of the ‘pen, where Betances can play to his strengths and send that waterslide fastball into the zone at intense velocity and use his demon curve to force awkward swings.

Prospect #4: CF Mason Williams
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources.
Who: Williams, a fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft, exploded onto the prospect scene in 2011, flashing all sorts of enticing tools in the New York-Penn League. Thanks to my geographic proximity, I was able to watch Williams on several occasions, and there aren’t many minor leaguers who can cover the real estate in center field that he can. On defense, Williams uses his legit 80-grade speed to roam pole to pole; he reads the ball well off the bat and uses clean routes and angles. The glove is solid at worst and above average at best, and the arm is also quite strong, making him a potential weapon in the middle of the diamond. At the plate, Williams has a very mature hit tool and instinct for contact; this was evident when the then 19-year-old hit .349 against much older competition in 2011. Power is the only tool that isn’t currently a part of Williams’ game and doesn’t project to play a major role in the future; his combination of swing and strength aren’t conducive for over-the-fence pop.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Williams has a body that makes Dee Gordon look bulky. A coordinated, fast-twitch athlete, Williams gets the most out of his 6-foot-0, 150-pound (when wet) body, but he lacks strength, and given his narrow frame, it’s unlikely that he’ll add substantial strength to his game. In 2012, he will move up to full-season ball, and with his combination of speed and bat control, he’s going to continue to hit for a high average. However, pitchers will eventually start to challenge Williams, daring the slender slugger to muscle up and drive velocity up in the zone. Without a physical presence to his offensive game, Williams becomes more of a one-dimensional hitter, capable of contact but lacking the type of punch that forces pitchers to adjust. Against arms bringing quality stuff and aggressive approaches, the biggest weakness in Williams’ game will be put to the test. In the long run, I think Williams emerges as a solid-average regular at the major-league level, with defense as his calling card and enough stick to justify his spot in the lineup. Despite the crazy-impressive offensive performance in 2011, I just don’t see anything special at the plate.

Prospect #5: 2B Angelo Gumbs
Background with Player: My own eyes; industry sources.
Who: From my 12/23 article about my own documented prognostications:

On a short-season team that featured up-the-middle talent like Cito Culver and Mason Williams, second baseman Angelo Gumbs stood out as the athlete worth watching. I’ve been noisy about Gumbs’ athleticism and the projections he holds both on defense and at the plate. He flashed a bit of this promise in 2011, but his production won’t spark much prospect love. If you were lucky enough to see the former second-round pick in action, there is a good chance you witnessed Gumbs’ competitive fire take him out of games. Call it immaturity or give it another label, but when faced with a setback on the field, Gumbs’ own disappointment in the result was often visible, and on quiet nights, quite audible. Some industry sources I’ve spoken with question Gumbs’ makeup, but I’m not ready to call his competitive fire a flaw. It goes without saying that he needs to mature on the field. But Gumbs played the entire season as an 18-year-old, and at that age, I like to see a player who demands the best from himself.

From a BP report filed after a Staten Island Yankees game:

Based on the snapshot, Gumbs’ athleticism stands out, as I was able to see a few routine ground-ball executions, and one nice glove-side play where Gumbs was able to flash his first-step quickness and reactions. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that Gumbs wasn’t able to show off the full range of his physical abilities, as I was at the mercy of the balls in play, and Gumbs only touched the ball a handful of times. I would have paid extra to see him take flies in the outfield. His skill set belongs in the vast wilderness of center field.

At the plate, Gumbs looked more comfortable than [Cito] Culver, with a natural feel for his swing and natural contact ability; it just seemed easy for him to pull the trigger, jump into the zone, and control the bat and barrel the ball with authority. Even the balls he fouled off were quality swings, as he was locked in most of the night. The statistical results of the evening run counter to my claims of quality, but he was putting good wood on the ball; he just wasn’t getting any help from the holes on the field. He also has more power potential than I realized. The kid has juice in the bat.”

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Gumbs will no doubt be advancing to the Sally League as a 19-year-old. The jump to full-season ball can often trip up the most polished teenagers, and Gumbs is far from polished. He has a very quick trigger at the plate and his bat speed is evident, but the swing itself has some miss in it, and his aggressive approach could lead to high strikeout totals against more advanced pitching. Gumbs has a very long way to go, and it could take several years before the athlete transitions into the baseball player, but I’m still higher on Gumbs (long-term) than I am on Mason Williams, and I have Williams graded out as a solid-average regular. Gumbs has 6-grade potential if it all comes together, but it could get a little ugly before the clouds part. His prospect status could take a dip in 2012, but given his age and his collection of tools, the finished product will be worth the extra patience.

*Yes, I ranked Angelo Gumbs fifth in the Yankees system, ahead of several prospects with bigger profiles and better résumé. I offer no apology for this. I was fascinated with Gumbs in my first viewing, and I was fascinated with Gumbs in my last. My eyes told me Gumbs had star potential, a future you don’t often envision when watching short-season baseball. I’m probably a few years too early with this ranking, and I understand if people wish to question my sanity. The truth is I’d rather trust my own evaluation and be dead wrong than equivocate in order to say I was right. 

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

18 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

mwashuc06

I agree on Gumbs and I saw some Rickie Weeks in him when I saw him play. He hit the fastest HR out of the park of anyone I seen including Jesus Montero. Mason, he looked like he can get some more pop in his swing, as he has some loft to it. I've also heard some rumors out there that he is 6'2 175 now which in terms is a possible increase in his power ceiling.

Feb 21, 2012 02:50 AM
rating: 1
 
Benjamin Harris

Can you talk little hit about Culver? I know you had that article earlier this year, but I'm sure you've gathered more information since your one game look.

Feb 21, 2012 06:48 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Culver has some defensive tools, but they aren't the type of defensive tools that can carry a player to the majors on their own merits. He's talented, but he's not a wizard. The bat will need to take big steps forward to project Culver as a major league regular. I don't see it right now, but development isn't an overnight sensation. That said, I've never spoken to anyone who absolutely loves Culver and believes in the dream of a first-division talent.

Feb 21, 2012 06:59 AM
 
Mtn Jam

Great recap, as usual.

RE: Banuelos, you said, "a fastball that shows intimidating velocity on the radar gun but doesn’t seem to intimidate minor-league hitters..."

Could this be because he's on the shorter side? A shorter pitcher should, theoretically have less extension than a taller pitcher. Less extension means that hitters get an extra fraction of a second to look at the pitch which would, presumably, mean that his 95 mph heat looks a little more like 92-93 to the hitter. Do you think this plays a role?

Keep up the great work.

Feb 21, 2012 06:59 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Of course. A little extra time to prepare for the ball, plus hitters aren't trying to negotiate velocity and movement served on a steep plane.

Feb 21, 2012 07:05 AM
 
Infrancoeurgible

"I want to have a son and name him Gary."

That's after you name your firstborn Jorge, I presume.

Feb 21, 2012 07:07 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

My firstborn son will be named #TheLegend Parks. He will be a free-swinger with massive raw power, a really strong arm, and a Colombian faux hawk.

Feb 21, 2012 07:16 AM
 
Behemoth

Poor child will be born into a deluge of #want. He better hope his father is prognosticating well that day, otherwise he'll have great difficulty explaining at school why his name is Jorge Gary Ronald Parks.

Feb 21, 2012 07:27 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Bethancourt Sanchez-Parks.

Feb 21, 2012 07:34 AM
 
Adam Hobson

Regarding Gary Sanchez, what is the future projection of his hit tool, 60? It's not as high as Montero's was/is, right?

If Sanchez is unable to hack it behind the plate, what's his likely defensive home? He has the athleticism to be more than a DH right? Could he handle an outfield corner, or will he likely be limited to first?

Feb 21, 2012 07:40 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I'm not so sure Sanchez's hit tool projects to 60, but others seem confident with that future. I think he's more of a ~.275 hitter, with lots of power.

Sanchez still has a chance to stick behind the plate, but the accelerated pace set by the bat isn't doing any favors for the development of the glove. Sanchez is athletic but not a crazy athlete, so I think a move off the position would force him to 1B/DH.

Feb 21, 2012 07:46 AM
 
Adam Hobson

Thanks! Nothing wrong with .275 if it comes with lots of power and what seems to be a decent amount of patience. Sounds like a prototypical #5 hitter. Pretty good ceiling even if he's limited to 1B.

Feb 21, 2012 08:44 AM
rating: 0
 
Shaun P.
(676)

Would it be fair to say that, in your opinion, Mason Williams with no increase in power is a slightly smaller Brett Gardner? That sounds pretty good to me.

Any thoughts on either David Adams or Corban Joseph? I wonder if either is good enough to have the Yankees move Cano off second base and to somewhere else they could use help in a couple of years (say third, leaving aside the issue of Cano Having to learn a new position, and being able to play it.

Feb 21, 2012 11:38 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I think Williams (without any additional power) could surpass Gardner as a player, based solely on his defensive skill-set. Williams will need to add strength to keep the bat in his hands against better pitching, but just because he doesn't project to have above-average power doesn't mean he's going to be a weakling at maturity. He's just not going to be a physical-type of player.

I don't think either one of those players will force Cano off second base. They might be able to contribute at some point, but it's not easy to break onto the Yankees 25-man roster with only fringy skills. It's a bad organization to be average in.

Feb 21, 2012 11:51 AM
 
jaymoff

Is it safe to assume that Sanchez's bat may move him off C in the same way Wil Myers' bat was too advanced to wait for the catching side of things to round into shape? Is that where the similarities end between those two? It actually sounds to be two of the same (or at least similar) stories.

Feb 21, 2012 11:55 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Myers is a more calculated hitter; almost passive at times. Sanchez lacks the same hit tool (in my opinion) but has just as much if not more power projection. Myers could have developed into a decent catcher, but as you said, the bat was developing at a faster rate and the position takes a lot of focus. Sanchez's bat will set a similar developmental pace, and given some of the makeup concerns that surfaced in 2011, the focus and dedication required to develop into a quality catcher might not be there in the first place. That said, players mature at different times for different reasons, so anything can happen with his developmental plan. It seems unlikely that he sticks at the position, but it's not a miracle if he does.

Feb 21, 2012 12:08 PM
 
amazin_mess

A suggestion: can the "background with player" section be removed? 95% of the time its the same thing. The fact that Jason has a BP byline probably indicates that he is qualified to opine on the prospects in question.

Feb 22, 2012 10:41 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

It's just to indicate if I've seen the player in person, or if I'm working off an industry opinion. That distinction matters to me.

Feb 22, 2012 10:52 AM
 
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