New York Yankees Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By David Rawnsley
1. Nick Johnson, 1B
Background: Johnsons 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 yearbatting average (.345), walks (123) and hit-by-pitches (37), resulting in a minor leaguebest .525 on-base percentage.
Strengths: Johnsons offensive strengths are his approach and patience. He starts straight up in the middle of the batters 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: Johnsons home run totals for his three full seasons (16, 17 and 14) arent 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 averagemoving down and into the pitch and waiting to commiteffectively 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, isnt 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, theres a perfect opportunity to prepare for the transition to Johnson. If Martinez rejuvenates his bat, he can move to DH, making way for Johnsons 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: Sorianos 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: Sorianos consistency on defense doesnt 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 dont mention another possibilitya 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 hes received at Michigan as a backup quarterback.
Strengths: Hensons 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 doesnt stand out, but his lateral quickness and agility are excellent.
Weaknesses: Any weakness Henson has is due to lack of instruction time and repetitions. Hes 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 Hensons 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 Sorianos status is highlighted by Jeter, then Jimenez has been largely obscured by both of them. Its 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 isnt 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. Hes 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 hasnt learned to translate his speed into stolen bases.
The Future: Melians 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: Yarnalls 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: Yarnalls 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: Penas immense power is already the best in organization except for the more mature Hensons. When he fills out, Pena should resemble Juan Gonzalez or Vladimir Guerrero, with average speed and excellent arm strength. Scouts say Penas 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 hell be exposed to waivers. The Yankees dont 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, Noels inclusion in deals with the White Sox for Matt Karchner and the Marlins for Mike Lowell defies explanation. Noels 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 healthysomething 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. Keislers 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: Keislers 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 arent hesitant to challenge pitchers Keislers age with rapid promotions, so a strong start could move him up to Triple-Aonly 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: Westbrooks bread-and-butter pitch is a hard, sinking two-seam fastball he throws in the 89-92 mph range. When hes down in the zone and busting hitters inside, hes capable of getting 15-18 ground ball outs per game. As a fastball pitcher with excellent command, hes durable, throwing 170-plus innings each of his three full pro seasons without missing a start.
Weaknesses: Westbrooks low strikeout totals indicate a lack of an effective breaking ball. He throws both a slider and curveball, but theyre 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
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