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Top Ten Prospects: New York Yankees
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Josh Boyd
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, 2004.
For Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, just reaching the World Series is unacceptable. In the midst of a three-year championship drought, Steinbrenner has taken full control of the team’s day-to-day operations—as if he wasn’t already calling the shots.
Following New York’s World Series loss to the Marlins, who had a payroll less than one-third of the Yankees’ $180 million, Steinbrenner targeted nearly every major free agent in sight, spending wildly as the 2004 payroll approached $200 million. As second-time offenders of major league baseball’s luxury tax, the Yankees will have to pay a 30 percent penalty on every dollar they spend over $120.5 million.
With the team already aging rapidly, Steinbrenner brought 35-year-olds Gary Sheffield and Paul Quantrill, 36-year-old Tom Gordon and 39-year-old Kevin Brown on board with multiyear contracts. New York fans were outraged to see Andy Pettitte accept less money to go to Houston, ending his 13-year tenure in the organization. The way the Yankees handled Pettitte exemplified Steinbrenner’s impersonal corporate mentality. Tensions could escalate further if Pettitte coaxes Roger Clemens to come out of retirement and join the Astros.
Compared to Steinbrenner’s antics in the late 1970s and 1980s, highlighted by a managerial carousel, the stability has been shocking since Joe Torre took over in 1996. General manager Brian Cashman has held his title since 1998. But even the Yankees brass has been in an uproar this offseason. Chief major league scout Gene Michael, who deserves a lot of credit for constructing the dynasty, voiced his displeasure about not being consulted before the Brown deal was made with the Dodgers. Days after Cashman announced plans to leave after his contract ended in 2004, Steinbrenner invoked a club option for 2005, clearly out of spite.
A year after Mark Newman was pushed out of the Tampa offices in favor of Gordon Blakeley, Newman returned to head up the baseball-operations department, overseeing scouting and player development. Blakeley, who was denied permission to interview for the Mariners’ GM vacancy, reportedly upset The Boss by standing up to him on various matters, including the way employees are treated. Farm director Rob Thomson was reassigned to special-assignment scout.
While Steinbrenner’s empire has more than enough capital to absorb mistakes, especially with amateur talent, the farm system has suffered in recent years. Drew Henson’s failure to live up to expectations is underscored by his $17 million major league contract. In three years at Triple-A Columbus, Henson has hit .234 with 358 strikeouts in 1,224 at-bats—a far cry from Mike Schmidt comparisons. What’s more troubling is that Yankees officials believe they could have eased his development had they not been forced to rush him to the upper minors after he gave up football. Rumors have been circulating about Henson’s potential return to the gridiron since the Houston Texans took him in the NFL draft last April.
Top Prospect: Dioner Navarro, c
Age: 20 Ht.: 5-10 Wt.: 190 Bats: B Throws: R
Background: Usually it’s the Yankees’ money that wins out in the free-agent market, but their tradition and worldwide appeal often provides an extra boost, especially on the international front. Venezuelan scouts Carlos Rios, Ricardo Finol and Hector Rincones established a relationship with Navarro before he signed. When the Braves topped New York’s $260,000 bid, Navarro still went with the Yankees because he had spent time around their staff and players in Tampa. Navarro quickly earned the nickname “Pudgito” for his defensive skills and physical resemblance to Pudge Rodriguez. Though he entered last season with a .252 career average, he has been an organization favorite since hitting .280 in his 2001 Rookie-level Gulf Coast League debut. The Yankees planned to keep him in high Class A Tampa all season in 2003, but he handled the bat so well they promoted him to Double-A Trenton by June. Nagging injuries—including an inner-thigh infection that led to a sty in his eye, and a hand injury from a home-plate collision—weren’t enough to stop him from raking. His combined .321 average ranked fourth among minor league catchers.
Strengths: Navarro was a second and third baseman as an amateur, and his successful move behind the plate has conjured comparisons to another infielder turned catcher, Jorge Posada. While Navarro doesn’t project to hit for the same power, he has separated himself from the pack by working counts and making hard contact to all fields. His set-up and smooth, natural stroke from both sides of the plate bring to mind Roberto Alomar. Navarro has a short, compact swing but manages to cover the plate, and he’s tough to strike out. He stays back on breaking balls and has the bat speed to catch up to plus fastballs. He shows more power potential from the right side, though he can get a little pull-happy and could top out at 20 home runs. Navarro’s cat-like quickness around the plate impresses scouts and he has above-average arm strength.
Weaknesses: Aside from not displaying big-time power, there aren’t many flaws with Navarro’s bat. There are mixed opinions on his defense. He needs to improve his game-calling skills, though that isn’t uncommon for a young catcher. He threw out 33 percent of basestealers last year, and that number should improve with slight refinements to his mechanics.
The Future: Navarro has gone from advancing a level a season to the fast track. He’s slated to return to Double-A in 2004 but could find himself at Triple-A Columbus before the end of the season. A September callup isn’t out of the question. Navarro should be ready to serve as Posada’s backup at some point in 2005. He’s in line to take the job in 2007, when Posada is due either a $12 million salary or $4 million buyout.