2004 New York Yankees Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

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.


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
Signed: Venezuela, 2000
Signed by: Ricardo Finol/Hector Rincones

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.


Baseball America

2. Eric Duncan, 3b

Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195.
Drafted: HS�Florham Park, N.J., 2003 (1st round).
Signed by: Cesar Presbott.

Background: Duncan emerged as an early-round target for the Yankees at the 2002 Area Code Games, and he followed up with a strong spring. He collected three hits to earn the MVP award in a high school all-America game played near his New Jersey home before signing for $1.25 million. Managers rated him the No. 1 prospect in the Gulf Coast League.

Strengths: Duncan�s approach reminds the Yankees of Nick Johnson, though Duncan can drive the ball to left field with more power. He has similarly solid plate discipline and a short, simple stroke. His even-keeled nature is ideal for New York and he embodies the Derek Jeter blueprint of ability, durability and character.

Weaknesses: Some teams compared Duncan�s lefthanded power potential to Jim Thome�s. As with Thome, Duncan�s defense at third base may force him to move across the diamond to first. He can get pull-conscious, which should be corrected as he adjusts to wood bats.

The Future: Duncan could move to high Class A with a good spring. He profiles as a middle-of-the-order run producer. His arrival in the Bronx could coincide with the end of Jason Giambi�s contract.

GCL Yankees (R) 47 180 24 50 12 2 2 28 18 33 0 .278 .348 .400
Staten Island (SS) 14 59 11 22 5 4 2 13 2 11 1 .373 .413 .695

3. Rudy Guillen, of

Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000.
Signed by: Victor Mata.

Background: After signing for $100,000, Guillen showed tremendous power potential by launching a Rookie-level Dominican Summer League-best 11 home runs in 2001, most coming at the spacious Jose Rijo complex. In 2003, he moved to center field, the position at which scout Victor Mata first spotted him, and made the jump to full-season ball.

Strengths: An exciting athlete, Guillen makes the game look easy with his graceful actions and projectable tools. He�s an above-average runner with a strong arm and solid instincts for center field. He still shows more raw power than game power, but the ball jumps off his bat.

Weaknesses: Guillen is a bit of a wild swinger. An aggressive hitter early in the count, he too often falls behind and is susceptible to breaking balls. He worked on becoming more selective this offseason at the Yankees� complex in the Dominican. Last summer he drew 13 of his 32 walks in August, more than enough to win a dinner bet with Dodgers prospect Joel Guzman over who would draw more free passes.

The Future: Guillen has as much upside as any player in the system. He�ll spend 2004 in high Class A.

Battle Creek (Lo A) 133 493 64 128 29 4 13 79 32 87 13 .260 .311 .414

4. Joaquin Arias, ss

Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 175.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001.
Signed by: Victor Mata/Carlos Rios/Freddy Tiburcio.

Background: When Victor Mata first saw Arias as a wiry, 140-pound 16-year-old, he almost didn�t give him a chance to swing the bat at a workout. Once Mata heard the thump of the ball coming off his bat, he kept Arias at the Yankees� academy for nearly a year. Arias signed for $300,000 after growing up in a house with a dirt floor and no furniture. His brother Alberto pitches in the Rockies system.

Strengths: Nicknamed �Spiderman� because his arms and legs appear to be going in every direction at once, Arias displays good body control in the field. He�s flashier than New York�s other shortstop prospects, showing plus-plus range and speed to go with a plus arm. He has outstanding bat speed and raw power.

Weaknesses: Arias hits out of a slight crouch and tends to swing uphill, and the Yankees would like to see him level his stroke out. He�s too aggressive at the plate, though he demonstrates a good feel for the bat head and makes consistent contact.

The Future: Like Guillen, Arias has five-tool potential and will continue to move at an aggressive pace. He�ll start in high Class A this season as a 19-year-old.

Battle Creek (Lo A) 130 481 60 128 12 8 3 48 26 44 12 .266 .306 .343

5. Ramon Ramirez, rhp

Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 185.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996.
Signed by: Cornelio Pena (Rangers).

Background: Released by the Rangers in 1998 after one season as an outfielder in the Dominican Summer League, Ramirez signed with the Hiroshima Carp as a pitcher in 2002 but pitched just three innings in the Japanese majors. After he impressed Yankees scouts in winter ball, they outbid the Phillies by purchasing his rights from the Carp for $350,000. Ramirez later signed for $175,000.

Strengths: Ramirez got better as the 2003 season went on, learning to mix his pitches better and to work effectively behind in the count. His fastball maxes out at 95 mph and sits at 92-94, while his power curveball features hard downward bite and is his best pitch.

Weaknesses: Ramirez had Japanese-style mechanics with a hip-turn and hesitations, but pitching instructors Billy Connors and Greg Pavlick converted him to a more conventional over-the-top delivery.

The Future: Ramirez led the Arizona Fall League with a 1.44 ERA, earning a job in the Triple-A rotation. His stature and two power pitches might make him a better candidate for short relief in the future.

Tampa (Hi A) 2-8 0 5.21 14 14 74.1 88 47 43 20 70 .291
Trenton (AA) 1-1 0 1.69 4 3 21.1 18 8 4 8 21 .231
Columbus (AAA) 0-1 0 4.50 2 1 6.0 5 5 3 1 5 .208

6. Robinson Cano, 2b

Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 170.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001.
Signed by: Carlos Rios.

Background: The Yankees� willingness to advance highly regarded prospects at a rapid pace under former player personnel chief Gordon Blakeley is well illustrated by Cano�s progress in 2003. After a hot start in Tampa, he collected just four extra-base hits in his last 142 at-bats before moving to Double-A. His father Jose reached the majors briefly in 1989.

Strengths: One of the most confident hitters in the system, Cano can sting hard line drives to right field with an easy, level swing. He�s capable of producing more power than he did last year because he has plus bat speed and natural strength, but he needs to learn to lift the ball.

Weaknesses: As Cano has filled out, especially in his lower half, he has lost his quickness. He doesn�t get down the line well and on defense, his range is lacking at second base, which could prompt a move to third.

The Future: Cano has the arm strength and projects to hit for enough power to justify a move to the hot corner. For now, though, he�ll remain at second base and return to Double-A.

Tampa (Hi A) 90 366 50 101 16 3 5 50 17 49 1 .276 .313 .377
Trenton (AA) 46 164 21 46 9 1 1 13 9 16 0 .280 .341 .366

7. Ferdin Tejeda, ss

Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 170.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000.
Signed by: Victor Mata.

Background: Signed for $35,000 in February 2000, Tejeda had his pro debut postponed for a year by an abdominal strain. He finished second in the Dominican Summer League with a .330 average in 2001. Last season, Tejeda was sidelined several times with hamstring injuries but recovered to hold his own in the Arizona Fall League. He�s nicknamed Pescado because he eats only fish.

Strengths: A switch-hitter, Tejeda handles the bat well from both sides and uses quick hands and an efficient line-drive swing. He puts the ball in play, though not with the same authority as Joaquin Arias. Defense is Tejeda�s true calling card. He has one of the best arms in the system, athletic actions and soft, quick hands.

Weaknesses: While he stays back on breaking balls, Tejeda tends to be too aggressive early in the count. He has to gain more control of the strike zone to handle a jump to Double-A in 2004.

The Future: Tejeda brings a lot of positive energy to the game, but remains coachable and willing to address his weaknesses. His AFL stint should help prepare him for the Eastern League.

Tampa (Hi A) 51 217 33 64 9 5 0 20 6 38 4 .295 .320 .382
GCL Yankees (R) 8 28 4 11 2 0 0 3 2 4 1 .393 .433 .464

8. Jorge DePaula, rhp

Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1997.
Signed by: Jorge de Posada (Rockies).

Background: DePaula was among the Latin American players to have his identity and date of birth corrected in the visa crackdown after Sept. 11. Formerly known as Julio DePaula, he�s eight months older than previously reported. After spending five years in the lower minors, he made an impressive big league debut in September. Yankees catcher Jorge Posada�s father signed DePaula for the Rockies.

Strengths: As he has gained experience, DePaula has made strides with his ability to vary his pitches. He sets hitters up with a deceptive changeup and runs his fastball between 88-93 mph. He wasn�t fazed at all by pitching in the majors.

Weaknesses: DePaula doesn�t possess a true out pitch. His fastball can get straight and he has a tendency to leave pitches up, leading to a career-high 23 home runs allowed. He throws a slurvy slider with inconsistent break, though he has become more effective working it in.

The Future: DePaula will vie for the final spot in the New York bullpen during spring training. The Yankees hope he can emerge as a Ramiro Mendoza type.

Columbus (AAA) 10-111 0 4.35 27 27 167.2 168 90 81 57 125 .262
New York 0-0 0 0.79 4 1 11.1 3 1 1 1 7 .083

9. Estee Harris, of

Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 170.
Drafted: HS�Central Islip, N.Y., 2003 (2nd round).
Signed by: Cesar Presbott.

Background: Bronx-based Yankees scout Cesar Presbott netted the club�s top two choices in 2003, Eric Duncan and Harris. With two premium picks in the New York area, Yankees scouts were able to get extended looks at both. Scouting director Lin Garrett measured one of Harris� high school home runs at 470 feet.

Strengths: The Yankees went against the consensus to snag Harris in the second round, but they love his bat. A good athlete with a lightning-quick swing and plus power potential, Harris has drawn comparisons to a young Garret Anderson and could produce 30 home runs annually once he matures. He displays a natural feel for the barrel through the zone and has good pitch recognition.

Weaknesses: Harris has a funky throwing motion and a well-below-average arm that will limit him to left field. An inexperienced hitter, he�ll need to become a more selective as he moves up.

The Future: Harris� pro debut was encouraging, as hitting six home runs in the Gulf Coast League isn�t an easy feat, especially for a high school player. Harris will get his first full-season exposure at low Class A Battle Creek in 2004.

GCL Yankees (R) 27 101 18 28 7 1 6 18 14 28 4 .277 .368 .545

10. Bronson Sardinha, 3b

Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195.
Drafted: HS�Honolulu, 2001 (1st round supplemental).
Signed by: Gus Quattlebaum.

Background: Sardinha�s brothers Dane (Reds) and Duke (Rockies) are also developing prospects. After showing signs of progress in 2002, when he hit 16 homers in his first full season, Bronson took a step in the wrong direction last season but regrouped after a demotion to Battle Creek. He worked with hitting coach Ty Hawkins and went back to an old stance.

Strengths: Sardinha displays good rhythm at the plate with a nice, fluid stroke. He�s a pure hitter with more of a line-drive approach, but there�s natural loft in his swing. He projects to hit lots of doubles and have above-average power. He�s a plus baserunner with an innate feel for game situations.

Weaknesses: Drafted as a shortstop, Sardinha moved to left field late in 2002 and then to center to start last year. His hands and arm are fine, but his range and lack of first-step quickness are best suited for third base, where he�ll move in 2004.

The Future: After working year-round in Tampa in the past, Sardinha was given a break this offseason. The 2004 season will be critical in his development, as it�s time for him to move forward.

Tampa (Hi A) 59 212 23 41 8 2 1 17 24 57 8 .193 .279 .264
Battle Creek (Low A) 71 269 54 74 16 0 8 41 40 40 5 .275 .374 .424