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Top Ten Prospects: New York Yankees
Complete Index of Top 10s

By John Manuel
January 9, 2006


Chat Wrap: John Manuel took your Yankees questions
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.

Robinson Cano proved it can be done. So did Chien-Ming Wang. The Dominican second baseman and Taiwanese righthander showed that the Yankees can develop homegrown talent and give those players a chance to earn roles in the major leagues. That’s still true with a payroll that has soared past $200 million, and with a farm system that hasn’t produced in recent years as it once did.

The homegrown core of the club that has won eight consecutive American League East titles and made nine straight playoff appearances (including four World Series titles) is still effective but aging. Bernie Williams, 37, has declined significantly and will have to make room for Johnny Damon if he wants to stay in New York. Jorge Posada, 34, has shown signs of slipping. While Derek Jeter, 31, and Mariano Rivera, 36, remain star players of the first order, they need more homegrown help, or else the payroll will continue to soar.

The Yankees continue to have the game’s highest revenues—around $335 million in 2005—but their unquenchable thirst to spend appears to have abated. The New York Daily News reported the club lost between $50 million and $85 million, in part due to revenue-sharing and luxury-tax payments. Responding to reality and fan demand (New York drew an AL-record 4.09 million fans in 2005), the Yankees have raised ticket prices, with top seats fetching $110 a game.

General manager Brian Cashman was expected to leave New York when his contract ended after the 2005 season, but he and manager Joe Torre returned, extending a run of stability dating to 1997. Only Atlanta (John Schuerholz, Bobby Cox) and St. Louis (Walt Jocketty, Tony La Russa) have had greater continuity in the GM and manager roles.

Cashman and Torre will try to claim the Yankees’ 27th World Series crown while holding the line on payroll, relatively speaking of course. However, the graduation of Cano and Wang to New York left the system painfully thin at the upper levels, particularly in Triple-A. Eric Duncan, No. 1 on this list a year ago, was rushed to Double-A and struggled, hitting just .235, but he rebounded with a strong effort in the Arizona Fall League while moving from third base to first. Duncan may be a big leaguer soon, and third base, thanks to AL MVP Alex Rodriguez, is taken.

While Duncan remains a good prospect, he was passed by 2004 first-round pick Philip Hughes, who symbolizes the state of the system. In the last two years, New York has added high-end prospects at the lower levels with international signings and a more aggressive approach in the draft. The organization has potential impact bats such as outfielders Jose Tabata and Austin Jackson and infielders C.J. Henry and Eduardo Nunez, as well as intriging arms in Hughes, Christian Garcia and Jeff Marquez. Loaded Yankees affiliates won championships in the short-season New York-Penn and Rookie-level Gulf Coast leagues, but most of their best talent has yet to play above the Class A level.


1. PHILIP HUGHES, rhp      Born: June 24, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 220
Drafted: HS—Santa Ana., Calif., 2004 (1st round)   Signed by: Jeff Patterson

Background: Hughes is a California guy but grew up a Red Sox fan, as his father hails from New England and he had a grandmother who lived in Rhode Island. As a boy, Hughes took trips to visit her in the summer and went to games at Fenway Park regularly. Hughes was one of the nation’s top high school arms when the 2004 draft rolled around, but slipped to the Yankees with the 23rd overall pick as teams focused on college players. Signed for $1.4 million, Hughes worked just five innings in his pro debut before he stubbed his toe in his hotel room. Being ultra-cautious and fearing a fracture, New York shut him down. Hughes’ first full season also ended early because of a pair of stints on the disabled list, one with shoulder tendinitis and another with a tired arm.

Strengths: One Yankees official has called Hughes “Mark Prior light” since he joined the organization, and the similarities are striking. He has a sturdy, strong body and relatively effortless delivery, and the ball comes out of his hand easy. His fastball settled into the 92-94 mph range last season and he has more velocity when he needs it. As with Prior, the striking feature of Hughes’ fastball is his control and command of it. He throws it for strikes consistently and is honing his ability to put it in just the right spot. He has a hard, late-biting slider that the Yankees wouldn’t let him throw in last year, but he likes it better than his curveball and has the go-ahead to use it again in 2006. His curve progressed significantly and is now an above-average pitch. New York officials believe he has the poise and intangibles to go with his front-of-the-rotation stuff.

Weaknesses: Like Prior, Hughes has not been durable the last two years. He has pitched for three teams as a pro and has ended each stint on the disabled list. Besides the stubbed toe, he also had a mild case of elbow tendinitis in 2004. Hughes hasn’t needed surgery, and the Yankees insist the biggest hurdle he must overcome with regard to his health is getting to know his body better. All pitchers get sore, but Hughes has to learn what soreness is to be expected over the course of a season and what’s unusual. At times he throws his curve in the low 70s just to get it over, and he needs to throw it in the 78-80 mph range for it to be a plus pitch. He did that as the year progressed but will have to maintain that feel when he reintroduces his slider. His changeup is his fourth pitch, but he has the feel and arm speed for it to be at least average.

The Future: The wraps come off Hughes in 2006. The Yankees will start him at high Class A Tampa, and he shouldn’t be there long. As he reintroduces his slider, he should become a starter with well-above-average control and above-average command who throws three plus pitches for strikes. In a different organization, a healthy Hughes could reach the major leagues in 2006. Instead, he should be in the mix for a rotation spot in New York in 2007—as long as he stays off the disabled list.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Charleston (Lo A) 7 1 1.97 12 12 1 0 69 46 1 16 72 .192
Tampa (Hi A) 2 0 3.06 5 4 0 0 18 8 0 4 21 .140


2. ERIC DUNCAN, 3b/1b        Born: December 7, 1984 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 195
Drafted: West Orange, N.J., 2003 (1st round)   Signed by: Cesar Presbott

Background: One of the youngest players in the Double-A Eastern League last year, Duncan survived a poor start and trade rumors. Then he got beaned in the head by a pitch by Akron’s Victor Kleine on Aug. 14 and wasn’t right the rest of the season. He bounced back to win the Arizona Fall League’s MVP award.


Strengths:
Duncan has above-average lefthanded power with enough bat speed to turn on quality fastballs, and he has easy opposite-field power as well. A solid athlete, he also has excellent makeup. He’s coachable and willing to make adjustments.

  

Weaknesses:
Once EL pitchers realized Duncan had trouble with quality breaking balls, they fed him a steady diet of them and rarely gave him fastballs in the strike zone. He needs to trust his hands more on offspeed pitches. He led the EL with 27 errors at third base, mostly due to a fringy arm.

  

The Future:
With Alex Rodriguez in front of him at third base, Duncan should move to first base sooner than later and began the process in the AFL. The position switch and his modest 2005 season likely will prompt his return to Trenton in 2006.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Trenton (AA) .235 .326 .408 451 60 106 15 3 19 61 59 136 9 3


3. JOSE TABATA, of    Born: August 12, 1988 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 160
Signed: Venezuela, 2005  Signed by: Ricardo Finol

Background: Only Braves shortstop Elvis Andrus was younger than Tabata in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year. He signed for $550,000 and had an exciting debut performance that included a league-best 22 stolen bases.


Strengths:
Tabata has plus tools across the board and stands out from young peers such as C.J. Henry and Austin Jackson because of his advanced approach at the plate. He has exceptional hand-eye coordination (he was the second-hardest player to strike out in the GCL) and his swing already puts backspin on the ball to generate loft. That and his plus-plus bat speed have club officials projecting big power.

  

Weaknesses:
The Yankees are excited about Tabata’s total package and see the cultural adjustments of living in the United States and speaking English as his biggest obstacles. He’s a center fielder with plus speed now, but as he fills out he should lose a step or two and move to right field, where his arm will fit fine.

  

The Future:
Tabata’s bat is advanced enough to earn him a spot at low Class A Charleston for his full-season debut. His ceiling is as high as any Yankees minor leaguer since Alfonso Soriano.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
GCL Yankees (R) .314 .382 .417 156 30 49 5 1 3 25 15 14 22 6


4. C.J. HENRY, ss        Born: May 31, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205
Drafted: HS—Putnam City, Okla., 2005 (1st round)   Signed by: Mark Batchko

Background: The Yankees needed a $1.575 million bonus to convince Henry that baseball, not basketball, was his future. Though he never signed a hoops scholarship, he would have been a recruited walk-on at Kansas, where his father Carl played before a brief NBA career. His mother Barbara also played for the Jayhawks, and his younger brother Xavier is a top basketball prospect.


Strengths:
Henry is a premier athlete, already the best in the system. He has well-above-average raw power and is a plus runner. Despite his strong frame, he’s athletic enough to stay at shortstop and impressed the Yankees with his defense in his debut.

  

Weaknesses:
Henry’s swing can get long and mechanical, and he may never hit for a high average. He’ll need plenty of minor league at-bats to develop a better feel. If he moves off shortstop, it will be because of his fringe-average arm.

  

The Future:
Henry’s athleticism, competitiveness and presence were too much for the Yankees to pass on. He’ll head to low Class A for his first full season. New York is in no rush to find a new shortstop, so Henry will have to be patient.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
GCL Yankees (R) .249 .333 .381 181 32 45 9 3 3 17 17 39 17 4


5. AUSTIN JACKSON, of        Born: February 1, 1987 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 185
Drafted: HS—Denton, Texas, 2005 (8th round)  Signed by: Mark Batchko

Background: Jackson was set to go to Georgia Tech on a basketball scholarship. Jackson’s basketball jones threw off many area scouts, who doubted his desire to play baseball. But Mark Batchko realized Jackson wanted to be a Yankee, having written his first scouting report on him when Jackson was 12. New York signed him quickly in June for $800,000, a record for an eighth-round pick.


Strengths:
Jackson rivals C.J. Henry in his athletic ability and competitive nature. At the plate, he exhibits a knack for staying inside the ball and can drive the ball the other way, which along with his wiry frame has elicited some Derek Jeter comparisons. He’s an above-average runner and a solid defender.

  

Weaknesses:
The biggest question for Jackson is his power. He needs to add strength and will have to learn to pull the ball.

  

The Future:
The top player in his age group at ages 12 (1999) and 15 (2002) in our annual Baseball for the Ages rankings, Jackson has been a prospect since before he was a teenager. He’ll spend his first season as a full-time baseball player in low Class A and could move quickly thanks to his advanced offensive approach.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
GCL Yankees (R) .304 .374 .405 148 32 45 11 2 0 14 18 26 11 2


6. EDUARDO NUNEZ, ss     Born: June 15, 1987 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 155
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004   Signed by: Victor Mata

Background: Nunez hit just .233 in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2004, but his bat sizzled in the short-season New-York Penn League, even though he was the league’s third-youngest position player.


Strengths:
For a teenage middle infielder, not to mention an inexperienced Dominican, Nunez has an advanced feel for hitting that allowed him to skip the Gulf Coast League. He has a level, smooth swing from both sides of the plate and projects to hit for average power. Nunez had a 70 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale and good hands defensively. He’s also an above-average runner.

  

Weaknesses:
Nunez has shaky footwork at shortstop, and some question whether he’ll have the range or mobility to stay there. He might have to move to second base or the outfield down the line. To fulfill his power projections, he’ll have to get stronger.

  

The Future:
Nunez was so impressive at Staten Island and the organization is so bereft of shortstops that he’ll jump to high Class A in 2006. He may have to switch positions eventually, though, in deference to Derek Jeter ahead of him and C.J. Henry behind him.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Staten Island (SS) .313 .365 .427 281 37 88 11 6 3 46 20 43 6 3


7. MARCOS VECHIONACCI, 3b       Born: August 7, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 170
Signed: Venezuela, 2002  Signed by: Ricardo Finol

Background: Vechionacci was one of the youngest players in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2005 and batted third most of the season. He switched from shortstop to third base in late June in an attempt to take some of the pressure off him, and he responded with a better second half.


Strengths:
Vechionacci has a smooth swing and solid approach at the plate. While he was a solid defender at short, he’s a potential Gold Glove winner at third base with good range, soft hands and a well above-average arm.

  

Weaknesses:
The Yankees believe in profiles for positions, and third base is a power position. Expecting Vechionacci to hit for power in the majors involves a lot of projection. He must get stronger and improve both his pitch recognition and his plate discipline, learning what pitches to lay off, which to drive to the gaps and which he can pull for power.

  

The Future:
Now that he’s at third base, he’ll hop off the fast track because Alex Rodriguez is in New York. Vechionacci’s confidence faltered in Charleston last season, and a successful return there would put a talented player back on the right track.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Charleston (Lo A) .252 .314 .348 503 83 127 26 8 2 62 43 83 16 2


8. CHRISTIAN GARCIA, rhp      Born: August 24, 1985 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 175
Drafted: HS—Miami, 2004 (3rd round)   Signed by: Dan Radison

Background: Garcia had signed to play catcher at South Carolina. While he played in the Palmetto State in 2005, it was in Charleston as a pitcher for the Yankees, as he signed for $390,000 as a third-round pick after moving to the mound as a high school senior. He missed a month with a right elbow strain but returned to finish his first full season strong.


Strengths:
Garcia has the perfect pitcher’s frame with wide shoulders, big hands and long limbs. He has a clean arm action that he repeats well. His fastball sits at 92-93 mph and touches 95, and he keeps it down in the strike zone. His curveball is a true hammer, a 12-to-6 pitch with power at 74-78 mph.

  

Weaknesses:
Inexperience dogs Garcia on the field and off it, as some in the organization question his desire to be great. He relies too heavily on his curve for someone who has such a good fastball. His changeup is rudimentary at this point. Nuances such as setting hitters up and holding runners will have to come with experience.

  

The Future:
Garcia’s upside is tremendous, but he’s going to need time and has a lot to learn. He’s expected to repeat low Class A in 2006.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Charleston (Lo A) 5 6 3.91 21 20 0 0 106 102 3 53 103 .249
GCL Yankees (R) 0 0 4.50 2 1 0 0 6 4 0 5 7 .200


9. JEFF MARQUEZ, rhp       Born: August 10, 1984 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 175
Drafted: Sacramento CC, 2004 (1st round supplemental)   Signed by: Jeff Patterson

Background: The Yankees sent the top four pitchers they drafted in 2004 to low Class A in 2005, and Marquez won the most games and pitched the most innings of that group. He saw his velocity take off in his freshman year at Sacramento City College in 2004, and the Yankees signed him for $790,000 after making him a supplemental first-round pick.


Strengths:
Marquez shows three pitches that could be 55 or 60 offerings on the 20-80 scouting scale. His 89-94 mph two-seam fastball has excellent sink and tails in to righthanders. He holds his velocity well. His downer curveball doesn’t quite have true 12-to-6 break but is a swing-and-miss pitch. His firm changeup sinks like his two-seamer.

  

Weaknesses:
Marquez is still honing his four-seam fastball so he can get inside consistently on lefthanders and to be more consistent with his change. He has some issues with his extension and finishing off pitches, which leads to high walk totals and inconsistent control.

  

The Future:
If his control and command improve to be major league average, Marquez could top out as a No. 2 or 3 starter. He’s slated to move up to high Class A this year.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Charleston (Lo A) 9 13 3.42 27 27 1 0 140 138 4 61 107 .257


10. TYLER CLIPPARD, rhp       Born: February 14, 1985 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 170
Drafted: HS—Trinity, Fla., 2003 (9th round)    Signed by: Scott Pleis

Background: Clippard pitched near home in 2005 and had a breakthrough season in high Class A. His 181 strikeouts ranked fifth overall in the minors, and he placed seventh with an average of 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings.


Strengths:
Clippard always has pounded the strike zone and shown a willingness to pitch inside. He worked with roving pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras to clean up his delivery, which became more consistent. Subsequently all his pitches got better. He now has an 89-92 mph fastball with some life that touches 94, a plus curveball, a slider and a changeup. He has excellent control with improving command.

  

Weaknesses:
A fly ball pitcher, Clippard is going to give up homers when he misses his spot while trying to work inside. He must maintain and repeat his delivery as he continues to add weight to his lanky frame.

  

The Future:
Clippard combines a knack for pitching with solid-average stuff and a strikeout pitch. He profiles as a No. 3 starter and could move quickly if he gets off to a strong start in Double-A this season.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tampa (Hi A) 10 9 3.18 26 25 0 0 147 118 12 34 169 .219
Charleston (Lo A) 0 1 7.50 1 1 0 0 6 9 1 2 10 .333
Columbus (AAA) 0 0 0.00 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 .000


Photo Credits:
Henry: Rick Battle
Duncan, Marquez, Vechionacci: Steve Moore
Tabata: Pinstripes Plus
Garcia: David Schofield
Hughes: Sports on Film
Nunez: Mickey Weinstein
Jackson: Cliff Welch

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