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1999 Top 10 Prospects
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New York Yankees Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams

By David Rawnsley

1. Nick Johnson, 1B
Age: 21  B-T: L-L  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 195
Drafted: HS--Sacramento, Calif. (3rd round)  Signed by: Greg Orr

Top Prospects of the 90s

1990 Bernie Williams, of
1991 Bernie Williams, of
1992 Brien Taylor, lhp
1993 Brien Taylor, lhp
1994 Derek Jeter, ss
1995 Ruben Rivera, of
1996 Ruben Rivera, of
1997 Ruben Rivera, of
1998 Eric Milton, lhp
1999 Nick Johnson, 1b

Background: Johnson’s smooth progression up the Yankees’ development ladder and the steady improvement of his skills and performance make predictions of what he might accomplish in Triple-A in 2000 a bit scary. Johnson, whose uncle is former big leaguer Larry Bowa, led Double-A with a unique triple crown last year–batting average (.345), walks (123) and hit-by-pitches (37), resulting in a minor leaguebest .525 on-base percentage.

Strengths: Johnson’s offensive strengths are his approach and patience. He starts straight up in the middle of the batter’s box but steps and leans in as the pitch is delivered. His quick hands and trigger let him wait until the last instant to commit. When he moves down and into the pitch, most of his hits go up the middle and to the alley in left center. Pitchers’ attempts to bust him inside have only resulted in his being hit by 74 pitches the last three years. He has no problem with lefties, either, hitting .376 with seven home runs against southpaws in ’99. Defensively, Johnson is smooth and savvy, with soft hands and good balance. With the lack of quality American League first basemen, he could challenge for a Gold Glove as a rookie.

Weaknesses: Johnson’s home run totals for his three full seasons (16, 17 and 14) aren’t bad for a young hitter but are below expectations for a top first-base prospect. But the same technique that allows him to hit for average–moving down and into the pitch and waiting to commit–effectively locks him out of pulling most pitches, especially fastballs. His spike in power against lefthanders is a result of slow breaking balls he can time and jump on. Comparing Johnson to Mark Grace, as some have done, isn’t appropriate. If Johnson adjusted his approach against some pitchers, as Sean Casey did in 1999, the power would come at the cost of some of his other skills.

The Future: Tino Martinez’ contract runs out after 2000, when Johnson will have a full season of Triple-A experience. With Martinez noticeably slipping the past three years, there’s a perfect opportunity to prepare for the transition to Johnson. If Martinez rejuvenates his bat, he can move to DH, making way for Johnson’s better glove and agility.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Norwich (AA)       .345  420 114 145  33   5  14   87 123  88   8

2. Alfonso Soriano, SS
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 170
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1998/Japan  Signed by: Gordon Blakeley

Background: After a dominant Eastern League first half, Soriano was being called perhaps the best prospect in the minors. A minor injury and struggles against higher-level pitching hurt the buzz only slightly.

Strengths: Soriano’s combination of speed, quickness, bat speed and surprising strength is exciting. He also could develop above-average power as he recognizes pitches better. His athletic ability and quick release make the spectacular play at short look easy.

Weaknesses: Soriano’s consistency on defense doesn’t match his tools, causing routine-play errors. After the initial success, he often swung wildly at early-count pitches. Despite 4.1 speed to first, his baserunning needs work.

The Future: Because of Derek Jeter, Soriano could move to second, third or even left field. The Yankees dismiss the outfield but don’t mention another possibility–a trade for starting pitching.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
GCL Yankees (R)    .263   19   7   5   2   0   1    5   1   3   0
Norwich (AA)       .305  361  57 110  20   3  15   68  32  67  24
Columbus (AAA)     .183   82   8  15   5   1   2   11   5  18   1
New York           .125    8   2   1   0   0   1    1   0   3   0

3. Drew Henson, 3B
Age: 20  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-5  Wt: 220
Drafted: HS--Brighton, Mich., 1998 (3rd round)  Signed by: Dick Groch

Background: Despite never attending a spring training or instructional league and having only 36 Rookie-level at-bats, Henson easily handled the Florida State League during his 1999 summer vacation. It was more time, though, than he’s received at Michigan as a backup quarterback.

Strengths: Henson’s basic tools bear a strong resemblance to those of ’99 No. 1 pick Josh Hamilton. Henson, the most decorated high school player of the decade, can hit the ball as far as any minor leaguer. The surprise is that he shows skills both at the plate and in the field. Strangely, his arm strength doesn’t stand out, but his lateral quickness and agility are excellent.

Weaknesses: Any weakness Henson has is due to lack of instruction time and repetitions. He’s avoided injury, and his weight program is designed more for baseball.

The Future: Not getting a chance to prove himself in football may further delay Henson’s decision-making process. After seeing more baseball potential, the Yankees could force his hand by offering him a September call-up this year.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Tampa (A)          .280  254  37  71  12   0  13   37  26  71   3

4. D'Angelo Jimenez, SS
Age: 22  B-T: B-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 160
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1994  Signed by: Vic Mata/Rudy Santin

Background: If Soriano’s status is highlighted by Jeter, then Jimenez has been largely obscured by both of them. It’s worth noting that it was Jimenez, not Soriano, who played more for the parent club in late September.

Strengths: Jimenez has solid tools across the board, as well as excellent instincts and skills. His combination of switch-hitting skills, line drive stroke, plate discipline and above-average speed make him an ideal No. 2 hole hitter. Defensively, Jimenez is steady at short. He has extremely sure hands and an accurate throwing arm, and he could easy adapt to second or third.

Weaknesses: Jimenez is primarily a contact hitter righthanded, with little power. Despite other good instincts, his baserunning isn’t particularly good.

The Future: Jimenez would project as the starting shortstop for eight to 10 major league teams, so the Yankees know they have a valuable commodity. However, his versatility and switch-hitting ability might land him a utility infield role with New York.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Columbus (AAA)     .327  526  97 172  32   5  15   88  59  75  26
New York           .400   20   3   8   2   0   0    4   3   4   0

5. Jackson Melian, OF
Age: 20  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-2  Wt: 190
Signed: Venezuela, 1996  Signed by: Gordon Blakeley

Background: Melian closed out his teenage years with a quiet, building season in 1999. He’s endured the pressures of being perhaps the most acclaimed Venezuelan prospect ever signed, as well as the tragedy of seeing his parents killed in a 1998 car accident while they were accompanying the Greensboro team bus.

Strengths: Melian has retained his superior physical tools as he has matured, and his skills improved greatly in ’99. His defense in center improved as he learned to use his speed (6.5 in the 60) and long arms and legs. Melian also used the entire field better, showing the ability to adjust his swing to different pitches.

Weaknesses: The next step for Melian is to learn to turn on inside pitches, a skill which will boost his home run totals. Like many of the Yankees’ top prospects, Melian hasn’t learned to translate his speed into stolen bases.

The Future: Melian’s step-by-step progression will take him to Double-A in 2000, with the long-term plan to move him into the Yankees outfield as a 22-year-old in 2002.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Tampa (A)          .283  467  65 132  17  13   6   61  49  98  11

6. Ed Yarnall, LHP
Age: 24  B-T: L-L  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 234
Drafted: Lousiana State, 1996 (3rd round)  Signed by: Bob Rossi (Mets)

Background: Even though quality lefthanded starters are golden, Yarnall has somehow been traded twice in the past 18 months. He was acquired, along with former first-rounders Mark Johnson and Todd Noel, from the Marlins in exchange Mike Lowell. He led the International League in ERA in 1999, leading to a September call-up.

Strengths: Yarnall’s money pitch is an extremely deceptive 89-92 mph fastball. He hides the ball well and has almost lethargic body action. But his arm stroke is smooth and quick, and the ball explodes with late life at the plate. He dominates lefties (only six home runs in 162 innings last year).

Weaknesses: Yarnall’s curve and changeup are good major league pitches, but he has to use them to set up his fastball.

The Future: Yarnall is perfectly situated to challenge for a position in the starting rotation. There are plenty of similarities between Yarnall and the equally burly Andy Pettitte, the last true Yankee rookie to move into the rotation.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Columbus (AAA)   13  4  3.47  23  23   1   0  145 136  57 146
New York          1  0  3.71   5   2   0   0   17  17  10  13

7. Wily Mo Pena
Age: 18  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 190
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1999  Signed by: Gordon Blakeley

Background: Pena signed a $3.7 million major league contract in April after a highly-publicized tour of big league spring training camps. Two general managers who came up short in the signing race said simply, "I wish we could have paid him that."

Strengths: Pena’s immense power is already the best in organization except for the more mature Henson’s. When he fills out, Pena should resemble Juan Gonzalez or Vladimir Guerrero, with average speed and excellent arm strength. Scouts say Pena’s makeup is superior, and his demeanor is quiet and professional.

Weaknesses: Like many young power hitters, Pena needs to learn the strike zone and determine which pitches to drive and which to just take. His accelerated timetable will put him under more pressure.

The Future: Because he was added to the major league roster in his first year as a pro, Pena must stick in the big leagues by 2003 or he’ll be exposed to waivers. The Yankees don’t anticipate any problems.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
GCL Yankees (R)    .247  166  21  41  10   1   7   26  12  54   3

8. Todd Noel, RHP
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-5  Wt: 230
Signed: HS--Maurice, La., 1996 (1st round)  Signed by: Buzzy Keller (Cubs)

Background: The Cubs’ first-round pick in 1996, Noel’s inclusion in deals with the White Sox for Matt Karchner and the Marlins for Mike Lowell defies explanation. Noel’s fastball was voted the best in the Florida State League in 1999, but he missed the last two months with a strained finger ligament.

Strengths: Noel has grown an inch and put on 45 pounds as a pro. He throws an intimidating fastball steadily clocked at 95-96 mph and can touch 98 at times. His delivery is smooth and easy, and he has good command potential for a power pitcher. His slider, curve and changeup all flash big league potential.

Weaknesses: Noel came from a small high school and is still learning how to pitch. He needs to concentrate on how and when to throw offspeed pitches. To keep progressing, he must stay consistently healthy–something he has been unable to do thus far.

The Future: The Yankees will be as patient with Noel as with anyone. If he throws 160-plus innings in Double-A, he may force the Yankees’ hand by blossoming into a big league pitcher.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Tampa (A)         3  7  4.34  17  17   0   0   93 101  33  80

9. Randy Keisler, LHP
Age: 24  B-T: L-L  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 180
Drafted: Louisiana State, 1998 (2nd round)  Signed by: Joe Robison

Background: Keisler had Tommy John surgery while at Louisiana State, but recovered to become the Yankees’ second-round pick in 1998. He blew through two levels of Class A in 1999 en route to a 14-8 record.

Strengths: Keisler has the classic three-pitch arsenal of a big league starter. His fastball is already solid major league average in velocity and tops out around 93 mph. Keisler’s curve also grades out at average to slightly above, with good late biting action. Throughout last season, he developed his changeup into a quality pitch.

Weaknesses: Keisler’s stuff is where it needs to be to become a big league starter, but he needs to learn how to use his pitches effectively against better hitters and cut down on his walk total.

The Future: The Yankees aren’t hesitant to challenge pitchers Keisler’s age with rapid promotions, so a strong start could move him up to Triple-A–only one step away from the majors.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Tampa (A)        10  3  3.30  15  15   1   0   90  67  40  77
Norwich (AA)      3  4  4.57   8   8   0   0   43  45  17  33

10. Jake Westbrook, RHP
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 186
Drafted: HS--Danielsville, Ga., 1996 (1st round)  Signed by: Steve Payne (Rockies)

Background: Although it may sound trite by this point, Westbrook is with his third organization. A 1996 first-round pick of the Rockies, he went first to the Expos in the Mike Lansing deal, then to the Yankees for Hideki Irabu and two players to be named.

Strengths: Westbrook’s bread-and-butter pitch is a hard, sinking two-seam fastball he throws in the 89-92 mph range. When he’s down in the zone and busting hitters inside, he’s capable of getting 15-18 ground ball outs per game. As a fastball pitcher with excellent command, he’s durable, throwing 170-plus innings each of his three full pro seasons without missing a start.

Weaknesses: Westbrook’s low strikeout totals indicate a lack of an effective breaking ball. He throws both a slider and curveball, but they’re complimentary pitches. Both must improve before he can take the final step to New York.

The Future: Westbrook is likely a year away from challenging for a big league job, but he fits perfectly into the Yankees’ plans to supplement their aging starting rotation.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Harrisburg (AA)  11  5  3.92  27  27   2   0  175 180  63  90

Rest of the Best:

11. Ryan Bradley, rhp
12. Alex Graman, lhp
13. Luis de los Santos, rhp
14. Craig Dingman, rhp
15. David Walling, rhp

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