1. Joba Chamberlain, RHP
2. Ian Kennedy, RHP
3. Austin Jackson, OF
4. Jose Tabata, OF
5. Alan Horne, RHP
6. Dellin Betances, RHP
7. Jesus Montero, C
8. Andrew Brackman, RHP
9. Edwar Ramirez, RHP
10. Kelvin DeLeon, OF
11. Humberto Sanchez, RHP
Just Missing: Frank Cervelli, C; Jeff Marquez, RHP; Ross Ohlendorf, RHP; Brad Suttle, 3B
1. Joba Chamberlain, RHP
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, University of Nebraska
2007 Stats: 2.03 ERA at High-A (40-25-11-51); 3.35 ERA at Double-A (40.1-32-15-66); 0.00 ERA at Triple-A (8-5-1-18); 0.38 ERA at MLB (24-12-6-34)
Year In Review: The big right-hander proved that last year’s showing in Hawaii was no fluke, as he rolled through the Yankees minor league system and electrified the big league bullpen over the last six weeks of the season.
The Good: Chamberlain combines the stuff of a pure power pitcher with the command and control of a finesse specialist. He’s a big, intimidating presence on the mound who gets tremendous leg drive, firing mid-90s fastballs that touch 98-99. He backs them up with a plus-plus slider that features plenty of two-plane break despite the fact that he throws it extremely hard, in the upper 80s. While he rarely used them in the majors, he also has a curveball and changeup, both of which are decent offerings.
The Bad: As great as Chamberlain was in 2007, there are still some concerns about his injury history, as well as his conditioning. His changeup is the pitch that needs the most improvement, and he lost months of development on it during his relief stint. Some feel he might need to keep his emotions more in check as a starter.
Fun Fact: During the regular season, big league hitters facing Chamberlain with runners in scoring position went 0-for-16 with nine strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: A dominating frontline starter.
Timetable: While Chamberlain could easily close right now in the majors, the Yankees correctly see more value in him as a starter and have already penciled him into the rotation for 2008. He’ll be very good there immediately.
2. Ian Kennedy, RHP
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, University of Southern California
2007 Stats: 1.29 ERA at High-A (63-39-22-72); 2.59 at Double-A (48.2-27-17-57); 2.08 ERA at Triple-A (34.2-25-11-34); 1.89 ERA at MLB (19-13-9-15)
Year In Review: Followed the Joba development plan by opening the year in the Florida State League, dominating at every level, and finishing the season in pinstripes.
The Good: Kennedy’s best pitch is a plus-plus changeup that features arm-side deception and late, heavy drop. It worked as an out pitch at every level, including the majors. He sets it up with a fastball that has average velocity at 88-91 mph, but grades up a level because of Kennedy’s ability to locate it at will. His curveball is average and effective when he mixes it in.
The Bad: The only real knock against Kennedy is his ceiling. He doesn’t have front-end starter’s stuff, and projects as no more than a third starter, but the good news is that he’s already there. He’s a bit on the smallish side, and his fastball can get a bit straight at times.
Fun Fact: In the third inning of minor league games, Kennedy allowed just one run in 25 frames.
Perfect World Projection: Kennedy is what he is, but he’s a solid big league starter right now, giving the Yankees a return on their draft investment in barely more than a year.
Timetable: Kennedy has a shot at earning a rotation job in spring training, but any number of potential deals and/or free agent signings could force him to return to Triple-A to begin 2008.
3. Austin Jackson, OF
Drafted: 8th round, 2005, Ryan HS (TX)
2007 Stats: .260/.336/.374 at Low-A (60 G); .345/.398/.566 at High-A (67 G); .333/.600/.667 at Triple-A (1 G)
Year In Review: The athletic outfielder was struggling again at Low-A until some mechanical changes in his swing helped him suddenly take off.
The Good: Jackson is loaded with tools, possessing above-average speed and power. The Yankees rebuilt his swing, shortening his stride and trying to add more balance by reducing his exaggerated step. This led to a quicker bat and a much more level swing plane, while also allowing him to tap into his power. He’s an excellent baserunner who gets great jumps on steal attempts, while also showing good defensive instincts.
The Bad: Jackson still lunges at some breaking balls, especially on the outside half. As a player who needs to hit at the top of the lineup, he needs to develop a more patient approach and improve his pitch recognition. He’s lost a bit of speed since his high school days, and some worry that if he continues to fill out, he’ll slow to the point where he has to move to a corner.
Fun Fact: Jackson was arguably better at basketball than baseball in high school. One of the top hoops prospects in the country, he’d committed to Georgia Tech, and possibly would have been the starting point guard as a freshman.
Perfect World Projection: A star-level outfielder who contributes 20/20 seasons annually.
Timetable: Jackson’s second-half surge was one of the more pleasant surprises in an organization full of them. With his previous struggles, he still has some doubters, and Double-A will be a test for him that everyone will be watching closely.
Year In Review: The top-notch hitting prospect more than held his own at High-A as an 18-year-old before his season ended prematurely due to hamate bone surgery.
The Good: Tabata is a gifted hitter with outstanding bat speed and hand-eye coordination, showing the ability to hit any pitch, anywhere, from both lefties and righties. He’s an average runner and a good right fielder with the arm strength for the position. He plays under control and with a confidence far beyond his years.
The Bad: While Tabata’s hand problems were a year-long issue and mitigating factor, scouts are beginning to question his power ceiling. He’s not especially big, and his swing is on a level plane–so while the ball flies off his bat, it’s not overly loaded with loft or backspin. If he doesn’t develop power, he doesn’t really match the profile normally associated with the position. He could also use a more patient approach.
Fun Fact: When playing right field, Tabata hit .335, but when playing designated hitter only, Tabata hit just .169 in 71 at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: Most are convinced that Tabata will hit .300+ in the majors. It’s the development of his secondary skills that will define whether or not he ends up as an impact player.
Timetable: Tabata is expected to be healthy for spring training, and once again, he’ll be extremely young for his level, playing in Double-A as a nineteen year old.
Year In Review: It’s been a long road since he went unsigned as a first-round pick by the Indians six years ago, but Horne finally put things together in 2007, leading the Eastern League in strikeouts and ERA.
The Good: Horne has a prototypical pitcher’s frame and good stuff to boot, relying primarily on a low-90s fastball than can dial up to 94-95 on occasion. His changeup is above-average and he throws both a curve and a slider, using the latter to keep left-handers off balance. When all of his pitches are working for him, he’s awfully hard to figure out.
The Bad: Horne still often loses feel on his secondary stuff, which forces him to rely too much on his fastball. His mechanics are still a little violent, and with one Tommy John surgery already in his past, there are concerns. He ran out of gas at the end of the season, losing a bit of velocity as he put up a 6.00 ERA in the final month of the season. He needs to develop a better pickoff move, as with his slow delivery he is very easy to run on.
Fun Fact: Horne was always an academic star as well, earning a National Science Merit Award in high school, and the John Millington Academic Excellence Scholarship while in college.
Perfect World Projection: With some refinements, Horne has everything it takes to be a solid third starter in a big league rotation.
Timetable: Horne is currently slated to begin 2008 in Triple-A, but with the Yankees current pitching situation, there is some talk of moving him to the bullpen in order to accelerate his arrival in the big leagues.
Year In Review: A high-ceiling right-hander, Betances was impressing people in the New York-Penn League before getting shut down with minor elbow pain.
The Good: While he’s all about projection, he’s also already pretty good. His fastball already sits at 92-95 mph, touches 97, and has room for more once he fills out. He throws a power curveball that seems to fall out of the sky because of his height, which one Yankees official insists is closer to 6’9″ than the listed 6’7″. He’s highly intelligent, responds well to coaching, and earns good reviews for his work ethic.
The Bad: Like many young, tall pitchers, Betances has trouble with his mechanics and his command. The Yankees shut him down as more of a precaution than anything else in order to work on straightening out his body and giving him a more balanced landing, believing that his natural mechanics, which had a significant lean in them, put too much strain on his arm. He needs to improve his secondary pitches, but it’s believed that improved mechanics will help with that as well.
Fun Fact: As a freshman in high school, Betances was 6-foot-3 and threw in the low 80s.
Perfect World Projection: A dominating power pitcher, but industry insiders are mixed as to whether he’s a starter or closer in the end.
Timetable: Betances was already 100 percent for the beginning of instructional league, and he’ll make his full-season debut at Low-A in 2008.
Year In Review: The top-notch international signee impressed with the bat in his pro debut. Defensively, not so much.
The Good: Montero combines big-time power with solid hitting abilities and could turn into quite the offensive force. He’s tremendously strong and can drive a ball to any part of the field. Despite his power, he also has a good feel for contact and a surprisingly mature approach at the plate for such a young player.
The Bad: It’s hard to find anyone outside of Yankees officials who think that Montero has any shot at staying behind the plate. Already huge at just 17, he’s expected to get bigger, and already lacks agility behind the plate. While his pure arm strength is above-average, he takes a long time to get out of his crouch, has a slow release, and is far too easy to run on. At times he can get a little pull-happy, which he never needs to be considering his natural strength.
Fun Fact: From the seventh inning on, Montero went 12-for-25 (.480), with two doubles, a home run, and eight RBI.
Perfect World Projection: A classic cleanup hitter, but most likely as a first baseman or designated hitter.
Timetable: Montero will remain behind the plate until it’s absolutely necessary to move him, as once he goes to first base, he’s at the point of no return defensively. Despite his youth, a good showing in spring training could have him opening up the year in a full-season league.
Year In Review: Considered one of the top college pitchers in the draft entering the year, Brackman pitched like it early on, but fell off quickly by midseason before going MIA by the end of the year. The Yankees surprised some by taking him in the first round, and then he went under the knife for Tommy John surgery in late August.
The Good: On a pure scouting level, Brackman is a rare find. He takes advantage of his height by delivering 90-95 mph fastballs that have touched as high as 99 mph in the past, as well as a hard breaking curve, with both pitches seemingly dropping out of the sky due to his high release point. He showed some progress with his changeup this year, and while it lags behind his primary two offerings, it’s still a solid pitch.
The Bad: Brackman has absolutely no track record of long-term success anywhere. Because he was primarily focused on basketball earlier in his college career, he pitched fewer than 150 total innings in his three-year college career, and his ERA over that span is a pedestrian 3.80. His velocity has always varied from start to start, as has the quality of his curveball, as have his mechanics, which have never been especially clean.
Fun Fact: Brackman played his high school ball at Cincinnati’s historic Moeller’s High, which also produced Buddy Bell (and his two sons), Barry Larkin, and Ken Griffey Jr.
Perfect World Projection: Brackman certainly has the potential to be a number one guy in a rotation, but the chances of his achieving that are less than most others with the same ceiling.
Timetable: Brackman’s surgery will cost him all of the 2008 season, meaning he won’t make his first pro pitch until he’s 23 years old. He’s basically a $3 million dollar lottery ticket that the Yankees were one of the few teams with the ability to afford. The payoff could be enormous, but the odds of that happening are long.
9. Edwar Ramirez, RHP
Acquired: NDFA, 2006, Independent Leagues
2007 Stats: 0.54 ERA at Double-A (16.2-6-8-33); 0.90 ERA at Triple-A (40-20-14-69); 8.14 ERA at MLB (21-24-14-31)
Year In Review: Signed out of the independent leagues, Ramirez dominated at the upper levels of the Yankees minor league system before struggling in the big leagues, often because he was used so sparingly.
The Good: There are a handful of scouts who grade Ramirez’s changeup as a perfect 80. It’s beyond a plus-plus offering, with a ton of deception due to Ramirez’ arm speed, as well as a late break that seemingly defies the laws of physics. His fastball is at least average at 89-91 mph, and can touch 94 at times. He pitches with fearlessness bordering on recklessness, and knows how good his changeup is.
The Bad: If there is any knock against Ramirez, it’s that he’s a reliever without classic closer stuff, and his projection is as a seventh-inning bullpen arm. Being a trick pitcher turns off some scouts, but many of those same scouts were sold on him once they saw just how good the trick is. Ramirez tends to work high in the zone, and when he scuffled with his command in the big leagues, he got hammered for it.
Fun Fact: Originally signed by the Angels in 2001, Ramirez was cut during spring training in 2004 after giving up 107 hits in 91 2/3 innings during his two years in the system. That was before he developed the changeup.
Perfect World Projection: While there are some who think he could close in a pinch, he ceiling probably ends at set-up man.
Timetable: Ramirez seems to have an inside track at a job in the Yankees bullpen, but he’ll have to earn it with a strong spring training showing.
10. Kelvin DeLeon, OF
Acquired: NDFA, 2007, Dominican Republic
2007 Stats: None
Year In Review: Universally considered one of the top position players available in the international signing period, DeLeon inked with the Yankees for a seven-figure deal.
The Good: DeLeon’s tools had scouts drooling leading up to the signing period. He has plus-plus power potential, and already showed the ability to tap into that power in game situations during the Yankee’s Dominican instructional league. He also projects to hit for a high average thanks to excellent plate coverage. He’s an above-average athlete and average runner, and projects as a solid right fielder defensively with an above-average arm.
The Bad: DeLeon still has a number of refinements to make offensively. He’s rarely seen good pitching, and needs to work on identifying which pitches to lay off and which he can drive. He still reaches for breaking balls, and his swing can get a bit long at times when he tries too hard to showcase his power.
Fun Fact: In his first semi-official at-bat for the Yankees in the Domincan instructional league opener, DeLeon launched a home run that one in attendance estimated as traveling 425 feet.
Perfect World Projection: DeLeon’s ceiling is tremendous, as is the gap between reality and what you can dream on.
Timetable: DeLeon will likely follow the same path that Jesus Montero did last year, beginning the year in extended spring training before making his official pro debut in the Gulf Coast League.
11. Humberto Sanchez, RHP
Drafted: 31st round, 2001, Rockland CC (NY)
2007 Stats: None–injured
Year In Review: The best prospect received in last year’s Gary Sheffield deal has yet to pitch for the Yankees, as Sanchez finally succumbed to persistent elbow troubles, undergoing Tommy John surgery before the season began.
The Good: Prior to the surgery, Sanchez was a power arm with two major league plus offerings–a low- to mid-90s fastball than could touch 97 mph, as well as a hard, biting slider. His changeup is average at times, though he likely won’t use it much as a reliever.
The Bad: Sanchez has a long and continuous problem staying healthy, having never topped 125 innings in any of his six professional seasons. While the Yankees hope that the surgery is the end of his long-standing problems, his mechanics are violent and his conditioning has often been a problem.
Fun Fact: In his minor league career, Sanchez has gone 0-for-15 as a hitter, but surprisingly has struck out just once.
Perfect World Projection: Due to his surgery and his past problems, Sanchez profiles better as a reliever at this point, where he has late-inning potential.
Timetable: Sanchez will likely be used in short stints in 2008, probably beginning the year at High-A Tampa where the organization can keep a close eye on him, with the goal of getting him to Triple-A in short order. His ability to stay healthy and his performance on the field will dictate things from there.
The Sleeper: A converted outfielder who hit just .160 as a pro, left-hander Michael Dunn shined in his full-season debut as a pitcher, finishing the year with a 3.42 ERA at Low-A Charleston while striking out 138 in 144 2/3 innings. His heat sits in the low 90s, and he throws a slider that flashes as plus at times; he projects as a big league reliever.
The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)
1. Philip Hughes, RHP
2. Joba Chamberlain, RHP
3. Ian Kennedy, RHP
4. Austin Jackson, OF
5. Jose Tabata, OF
6. Alan Horne, RHP
7. Dellin Betances, RHP
8. Jesus Montero, C
9. Melky Cabrera, OF
10. Andrew Brackman, RHP
I’m confused as to how Philip Hughes went from the best pitching prospect in the game, to a guy who almost threw a no-hitter, to a guy people wanted to start throwing under the bus as he tried to re-find his groove after a pair of severe injuries. Don’t believe the anti-hype–he’s still a stud. On the other hand, there is Cabrera, who hopefully by now has proven to the Yankees that he’s a really nice fourth outfielder, but a liability offensively when you play him every day.
The Yankees get plenty of credit for their minor league system of late, and with good reason. After years of sitting near the bottom of the organizational rankings due to some drafts that border on reprehensible, the Yankees have begun to place more focus and priority on the draft, and the results have come quickly. Their bounty of young pitching is the envy of baseball, but at the same time, this is an unbalanced system that is light on hitters.
Next: The Oakland Athletics.