New York Yankees Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Jim Callis
1. Nick Johnson, 1b
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 224. Drafted: HSSacramento, 1996 (3rd round). Signed by: Greg Orr.
Background: Johnsons extraordinary 1999 season in Double-A had the Yankees excited about what he might do in 2000. He led the Eastern League in 99 in hitting (.345) and topped the entire minors in walks (123), hit by pitches (37) and on-base percentage (.525). Johnson was ticketed for Triple-A to start 2000 though he had a chance to make the big league club at some point. And with Tino Martinez contract set to expire, Johnson was in position to take over the first-base job in 2001. But all that went awry in spring training, when Johnson felt something pop in his right hand when he checked a swing. Doctors struggled to diagnose the injury, which didnt heal until his hand was placed in a cast. As a result, he didnt play in a game all season.
Strengths: Johnson is a tremendously gifted all-around hitter. He obviously produces for average and his power is coming. He had 14 home runs in 1999, when he played his home games in a park (Norwichs Dodd Memorial Stadium) not conducive to power. Johnson was seen as a Mark Grace type when he signed, but since has put on 44 pounds and should be much more of a masher. The Grace comparisons were a tribute to Johnsons glove, and he was named the ELs best defensive first baseman in 1999. He also made a league-high 20 errors at first base that season, though the Yankees think he only needs to be more aggressive to avoid getting caught in between hops.
Weaknesses: The biggest negative surrounding Johnson is his lost year of development. To try to overcome that, hes currently in Tampa going through daily hitting drills. Hes not going to overwhelm anyone as a runner, but he doesnt need to. Defensively, he just has to charge more grounders.
The Future: The Yankees picked up Martinez option for 2001, so hell return while Johnson gets Triple-A at-bats. Martinez has been slumping since bashing 44 homers in 1997, and New York got the worst production out of its first basemen among all American League clubs in 2000. Theres no reason to assume Johnson wont regain his place among the most feared minor league hitters, which will put him in line to replace Martinez in 2002.
2. Alfonso Soriano, ss
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1998/Japan. Signed by: Gordon Blakeley.
Background: Soriano originally signed with Japans Hiroshima Toyo Carp in 1996, then "retired" in 1998 in order to become a free agent. He got a four-year major league contract worth $3.1 million from the Yankees, then wowed observers in the 1998 Arizona Fall League and at the 1999 Futures Game.
Strengths: Sorianos tools are beyond reproach. He has a lightning-quick bat and can hit for average power. He runs well and has the arm and quickness to be an above-average shortstop.
Weaknesses: Soriano needs to translate those tools into baseball skills. He presently lacks the discipline to be the offensive threat he can be, the instincts to be an effective basestealer and the consistency to be a steady defender. Some observers dont think hell be able to play shortstop in the big leagues.
The Future: In three stints with the Yankees in 2000, Soriano didnt impress offensively or defensively, so hell get more time in Triple-A. He wont take Derek Jeters job, so a move to second base, third base or the outfield is in Sorianos future.
3. D'Angelo Jimenez, ss
Age: 23. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 194. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1994. Signed by: Victor Mata/Rudy Santin.
Background: Jimenez led all minor league shortstops with a .327 batting average in 1999, putting him in line to serve in a big league utility role in 2000. Those plans were dashed in January when he broke his neck when his car hit a bus in the Dominican Republic. He was sidelined until July.
Strengths: All of Jimenez tools are average or better with the exception of his power, and he can sting the ball well for a shortstop. He draws walks and makes contact. Defensively, hes solid at short and also has shown an aptitude for playing second base.
Weaknesses: Unlike Soriano, whos still a work in progress, Jimenez is refined. Hes not an above-average runner and hes still working on turning the double play at second, but those are minor flaws.
The Future: Fully healthy again, Jimenez should claim that utility job. If the Yankees decide Chuck Knoblauch cant play second base, Jimenez would be the logical in-house candidate to replace him.
4. Adrian Hernandez, rhp
Age: 26. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Signed: Cuba, 2000. Signed by: Gordon Blakeley/Lin Garrett/Damon Oppenheimer.
Background: Though initial reports claimed Hernandez defected from Cuba disguised as a woman, he insists his escape was far less dramatic. What is certain is that he signed a four-year, $4 million major league contract in April. He reached Triple-A before a sprained ligament in his left knee ended his season.
Strengths: Hernandez delivery resembles that of fellow Cuban Orlando Hernandez (no relation), which is why he earned the nickname El Duquecito. He throws a variety of pitches (sinker, cutter, curveball, slider, changeup) from a variety of arm angles, and his delivery and the life on his pitches make him difficult to hit. He can reach 92-93 mph when needed.
Weaknesses: Like Orlando Hernandez before him, Adrian needs to refine his changeup to combat lefthanders. They hit .250 against him with a walk for every four at-bats, while righties batted .209 with a walk for every 14 ABs.
The Future: The Yankees will give Hernandez the opportunity to win the fifth spot in their rotation in spring training.
5. Alex Graman, lhp
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Indiana State, 1999 (3rd round). Signed by: Tim Kelly.
Background: The Yankees are deep in lefthanders, and Graman has the highest ceiling of any of them. As a result, both the Tigers and the Cubs tried to get him when New York explored trade possibilities for Juan Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa at midseason. He was rated the short-season New York-Penn Leagues top prospect last year.
Strengths: Graman is a legitimate four-pitch pitcher, with a great package for a lefthander, starting with a low-90s fastball that can touch 94 mph. With his frame, hes still projectable and could add more velocity. Hes fearless when it comes to throwing his changeup behind in the count, has good bite on his curveball and puts hitters away with his splitter.
Weaknesses: Graman needs to improve his command, mostly of his pitches but also a little of his emotions. That should come with experience.
The Future: Hell begin 2001 in Double-A. With his stuff, he might be ready should the Yankees need him toward the end of the season, though a 2002 ETA is more likely.
6. Randy Keisler, lhp
Age: 25. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Louisiana State, 1998 (2nd round). Signed by: Joe Robison.
Background: Keisler recovered from Tommy John surgery in college to reach New York barely two years after he was drafted. He beat the Red Sox with five solid innings of work in his major league debut in September. He was made available to the Indians in the David Justice trade, but they chose righthander Zach Day instead.
Strengths: Keisler has three major league pitches. He throws his fastball from 88-92 mph, his curveball is average to slightly above average and he has picked up a nice changeup.
Weaknesses: After defeating the Red Sox, Keisler got rocked by major league hitters, allowing 13 runs in six innings. He must improve the command of his fastball, which is solid but not overpowering.
The Future: Though Adrian Hernandez is the frontrunner, Keisler also will contend for the vacancy in New Yorks rotation during spring training. A few more Triple-A starts wont hurt if he gets sent to the minors.
7. Erick Almonte, ss
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Victor Mata.
Background: Baseball America ranked Almonte as the No. 4 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 1997, but his progress stalled over the next two years. He really came on in 2000, batting .297 during the final three months of the season and opening eyes in the Arizona Fall League, where he ranked among the leaders in all three triple-crown categories and batted .301-4-21.
Strengths: Built along the lines of Derek Jeter, Almonte is an impressive athlete. He can run, throw and hit for power. The Yankees always had faith in him, and he finally responded as he matured.
Weaknesses: Like many young shortstops, Almonte alternates between making spectacular defensive plays and botching routine ones. Hes also a free swinger who needs to gain better control of the strike zone.
The Future: Unfortunately for Almonte, hes in an organization loaded with quality shortstops, starting at the top with Jeter. Almonte is ready for Triple-A, where it might be time for him to try another position, especially if Soriano or Jimenez return there. He spent most of his time in the AFL playing second base.
8. Deivi Mendez, ss
Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 165. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1999. Signed by: Victor Mata.
Background: Mendez is the fourth shortstop among the Yankees top eight prospects, and he has the best defensive tools of the bunch. He was 16 when he made his pro debut this summer, though he had no trouble in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and finished up as the leagues No. 3 prospect.
Strengths: Unbelievably polished for a shortstop so young, Mendez hands, range and arm are all plus tools. Not only that, he also showed hitting ability, gap power and the willingness to take a walk. As he develops physically, his penchant for doubles may translate into decent over-the-fence power.
Weaknesses: Mendez will need to tone down his strikeouts, but his youth and knowledge of the strike zone bode well for his ability to do so. He also must improve his defensive consistency, but the main thing he needs is experience.
The Future: Mendez wont turn 18 until next June, so its unlikely the Yankees will send him to a full-season league in 2001. If he advances one level a year, he would reach New York in 2006, when hell be 22 and Jeter will be 31.
9. Wily Mo Pena, of
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 215. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1999. Signed by: Gordon Blakeley.
Background: Pena had previously signed with the Marlins and Mets before both contracts were ruled invalid and he accepted a four-year big league deal worth $3.7 million from the Yankees in April 1999. After batting .184 in the first two months of 2000, he hit .294 before straining a ligament in his right knee in an outfield collision.
Strengths: Pena is probably the most impressive five-tool prospect the Yankees have had since Ruben Rivera. Hes a pure athlete with awesome power, and he also can run, throw and play center field.
Weaknesses: Pena is as raw as he is gifted. He has a .234 average and a 168-32 strikeout-walk ratio in 132 professional games. Hell need time to develop into a productive hitter.
The Future: The Yankees knew sending Pena to a full-season club at age 18 was a stretch, and it may be again at the start of 2001. Because he signed a major league contract, he must stick in New York to open 2003 or be exposed to waivers. That timetable appears too ambitious for Pena at this point.
10. Todd Noel, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 225. Drafted: HSMaurice, La., 1996 (1st round). Signed by: Buzzy Keller (Cubs).
Background: The Cubs drafted Noel 17th overall in 1996, then traded him two years later to the Marlins in a deal for Felix Heredia. The following spring, Florida sent him to New York as part of a package for Mike Lowell. Noel missed the first six weeks of 2000, then made just four starts before needing arthroscopic surgery to clean up the labrum in his right shoulder.
Strengths: The Yankees say Noel has the best pure arm in the organization since 1991 No. 1 overall pick Brien Taylor. Noel pitches at 95-96 mph and can reach 98. He has a smooth delivery, which should lead to good control, and his secondary pitches (curveball, slider, changeup) are fine.
Weaknesses: Noel has elite stuff. He just needs innings and health. In five pro seasons, he has pitched just 293 innings and has yet to advance past Class A.
The Future: The Yankees consider Noels surgery a minor setback and expect him to be ready for spring training. Pitching a full season in 2001 would be a big step forward. Hell probably begin his third consecutive season in the Florida State League.
Rest of the Best:
11. Juan Rivera, of
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