Top Ten Prospects: New York Yankees
Complete Index of Top 10s
By John Manuel
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, 2005.
Background: When his family moved from California to New Jersey when he was in fifth grade, Eric Duncan was on his way to becoming a Yankees fan. Duncan, whose father Hal idolized Mickey Mantle, grew up admiring the stars of the recent New York dynasty, such as Derek Jeter and Paul O’Neill, his favorite player. Less than a year after being drafted 27th overall in 2003, he found himself working out next to Jeter at the club’s winter facility in New York. Duncan had committed to Louisiana State, where the coaches considered him the nation's top prep hitter likely to go to college. Once the Yankees selected him in the first round though, it was clear he wasn't going to school. Duncan improved his draft stock by hitting six balls out of the Great American Ballpark during a predraft workout for the Reds, who strongly considered him at No. 14.
Strengths: An advanced hitter for his age, Duncan has significant power. He doesn't have a perfect swing or one that's exceptionally short, but it's a simple stroke that he repeats easily, and he generates good bat speed. His lefthanded pull power should make him an ideal fit for Yankee Stadium. He overpowers pitches left over the plate, ranking among the organization's leaders in extra-base hits as a teenager in his first full season. Duncan impressed the Yankees by showing up to spring training in excellent shape, adding muscle and quickness during the offseason. Low Class A Battle Creek manager Bill Mosiello likened Duncan's work ethic and approach to another lefthanded slugger Mosiello had coached at the University of Tennessee: Todd Helton. Duncan thrived after a promotion to high Class A Tampa, improving both his plate discipline and his defensive consistency at third base.
Weaknesses: While Duncan's error rate improved as the season wore on, he still gives scouts pause about whether or not third base is his best position. His arm is average at best because he short-arms the ball and doesn’t always follow through properly, a correctable flaw. His agility and first-step quickness also are a little below hot-corner standards. With repetition and experience, the Yankees believe he'll be an average defender at third. He tends to get a little pull-happy as many young sluggers do, and he slumped late in his stint at Battle Creek when pitchers exploited that weakness. New York correctly deduced that Duncan was getting stale against Midwest League pitching and with a mediocre team and challenged him with a promotion. He responded by making more consistent contact against tougher competition.
The Future: Duncan was pushed aggressively this year in part because the Yankees needed to showcase their most talented minor leaguer as trade bait. Rodriguez is entrenched as New York's third baseman and is signed for six more seasons. If the Yankees could somehow unload Jason Giambi, Duncan could give them a powerful, cheap option at first base. He probably needs two more years of minor league at-bats before that could happen. In the interim, he remains the New York's most valuable bargaining chip.
Background: Many fans became acquainted with Cano when his name was tossed around in trade rumors as the Yankees unsuccessfully tried to acquire Randy Johnson at the July 31 deadline. A confident player, Cano plays as if he belongs in the majors. His father Jose pitched briefly in the big leagues.
Strengths: Cano’s arm is his best tool and rates as a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. More important, he can hit. He has good bat speed and a fluid swing, allowing him to catch up to good fastballs. His improving plate discipline helped his power numbers increase, as he set career highs in walks and slugging percentage in 2004.
Weaknesses: Cano hasn’t handled lefthanders well, with just seven extra-base hits in 130 at-bats against southpaws above Class A. He's a below-average runner for an infielder, and his lower half figures to get thicker as he gets older. However, he has solid infield actions and the Yankees refute reports that he has below-average range.
The Future: If Miguel Cairo leaves via free agency, Cano could be a platoon option in New York for 2005. More likely, he'll head back to Columbus for a full season in Triple-A.
Background: New York had Hughes ranked higher on its 2004 draft board than 23rd overall, but that's where it got him. The Angels strongly considered him at No. 12 before deciding to take top-rated pitcher Jered Weaver. After being drafted, Hughes joked that he had been raised a Red Sox fan but was pleased to be with the Yankees nevertheless.
Strengths: His stuff, size and control have the Yankees comparing Hughes to Roger Clemens. He has similar velocity with a fastball that touches 95 and sits at 90-94 mph, and he generates it with an easy, fluid motion. His fastball also has late life up in the strike zone. Hughes changes a hitter’s sightline with a slider that at times has good bite and depth. He’s also shown good arm action on his changeup, and both his secondary offerings project as at least average pitches.
Weaknesses: Hughes was shut down more than a month after his pro debut with a sore elbow that turned out to be nothing more than tendinitis. He returned with two excellent outings in August before breaking his toe after kicking a door. He also threw well in the Yankees’ fall minicamp, dampening concerns about his health. Otherwise, he just needs innings and experience to refine his stuff.
The Future: The Yankees consider Hughes a high school power arm with the polish of a college pitcher. So if he’s healthy, he’ll move quickly. He’ll start 2005 at their new low Class A Charleston affiliate and could reach New York by 2007.
Background: White set a Baylor record with 28 career wins. A poor junior season and the selection of Scott Boras as his adviser caused him to drop to the 18th round in 2002. As a senior, he led the Bears to within one victory of the College World Series. He didn't turn pro until March 2004, and tragedy struck during his holdout when he discovered the body of his mother Brenda, who had died at home.
Strengths: White reported to the Yankees with a fresh arm. His fastball, which had reached the mid-90s early in his college career, bounced back to touch 95-96 late in the 2004 season, though he pitched more at 90-94 mph. He showed better control of the pitch the more he threw it. He showed more power and command with his curveball, which always had been inconsistent at Baylor. He rarely gets rattled.
Weaknesses: White pitches off his fastball nearly 80 percent of the time, and he lost some of the feel for his changeup in the process. He needs to refine it to combat lefthanders at higher levels. Unless his curveball develops into a consistent strikeout pitch, he's more of a middle-of-the-rotation starter rather than an ace.
The Future: White's development was an important step for the Yankees, who could use an innings-eater as soon as possible. He fits that profile, but needs at least a year to hone his secondary stuff. He'll start 2005 in Double-A.
Background: Like Robinson Cano, Navarro was widely discussed in trade talks in 2004. He entered the year as the organization's top prospect but struggled early, then recovered to earn promotions to Triple-A and New York. He singled off Toronto's David Bush for his first big league hit.
Strengths: Navarro has a compact swing that helps him make consistent hard contact from both sides of the plate. He's a gap-to-gap, line-drive hitter and isn't afraid to take a walk or work deep counts. A converted infielder, he has a strong throwing arm that helped him nab 33 percent of basestealers in 2004. His receiving skills are average.
Weaknesses: Navarro showed up at Double-A Trenton overconfident after his 58-game trial there in 2003, and his play suffered. An attempt to get stronger in the offseason backfired, as he came in overweight and lost some bat speed. He never has hit for much power, and his lack of conditioning made matters worse.
The Future: A strong finish helped Navarro salvage an otherwise uninspiring season, but he's clearly not ready for New York yet. He'll need at least another year and must re-establish himself as the heir to Jorge Posada.
Background: The strong-armed Garcia committed to South Carolina as a catcher prior to his senior season at Gulliver Prep. Then his new high school coach, former University of Miami pitching coach Lazaro Collazo, put Garcia on the mound with electric results. Garcia helped Gulliver Prep win the state 3-A championship in a game played at the Yankees’ Legends Field in Tampa, then signed for $390,000 as a third-round pick.
Strengths: His combination of size, projection and pure arm strength gives Garcia a high ceiling. He has easy velocity on his fastball, working at 93-94 mph and topping out at 96. With more experience and refinement, he should throw even harder. His curveball, at times a true power hammer, could be a better pitch.
Weaknesses: Garcia is still raw on the mound. His changeup needs work and he must learn how to set up hitters and hold runners. He sometimes falls in love with his curve and doesn’t throw his live fastball enough.
The Future: Garcia could start 2005 in extended spring training before a June assignment to short-season Staten Island. A good spring would land him in low Class A.
Background: Vechionacci has grown four inches since signing out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old. He's so mature at the plate that the Yankees promoted him from extended spring camp to Tampa as an emergency fill-in in May. Afterward, he starred in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Strengths: Vechionacci can hit. His advanced approach includes plate discipline, smooth swing mechanics and the ability to use the whole field. He shows developing power as well. His greatest improvement in 2004 was his willingness to stay back on breaking balls. Defensively, he has excellent tools with a plus arm, body control and natural infield actions.
Weaknesses: The Yankees need to determine where Vechionacci fits best on defense. He has played more at third base while also seeing time at shortstop and second base. How he fills out and whether he can maintain his average speed will determine if he can play at short.
The Future: A polished bat, good athletic ability and savvy could put Vechionacci on the fast track. He's likely to start 2005 in low Class A as a shortstop.
Background: Cabrera signed for $175,000 in 2001 and has quickly developed into one of the organization's better hitters. He was slated to appear in the Midwest League’s midseason all-star game before getting a promotion to high Class A, where he showed the best power of his career.
Strengths: Cabrera’s swing and hand-eye coordination make him the best hitter for average in the system. One club official compared his offensive game to Jose Vidro's. Cabrera has a quick stroke from both sides of the plate, with quick hands that allow him to catch up to quality fastballs. He also punishes breaking balls and lashes line drives from gap to gap. He has an above-average throwing arm.
Weaknesses: An average runner, Cabrera projects as no more than an average defender in center field. There's some thought that as he matures physically and slows down, he'll have to move to an outfield corner. His approach and swing are geared more toward line drives and contact, so he doesn't profile as well on a corner.
The Future: The Yankees have time to figure out where Cabrera fits. His advanced approach will enable him to begin 2005 in Double-A at age 20.
Background: Sardinha is the youngest of three brothers in the minors (Dane plays for the Reds, Duke with the Rockies). Unlike Dane, an accomplished defensive catcher, Bronson has yet to find a home defensively. He has played shortstop as well as left and center field before trying third base in 2004. The results weren't encouraging, as he ranked third in the minors with 43 errors.
Strengths: Sardinha is a polished offensive player who uses a textbook swing to handle both lefthanded and righthanded pitchers. He shows the ability to make adjustments within at-bats and isn't afraid to work deep counts. He's an efficient basestealer and solid average runner.
Weaknesses: The Yankees blame Sardinha's high error totals on lapses in concentration, troubling for a player in his fourth year of pro ball. With Eric Duncan behind him and Alex Rodriguez ahead of him at third base, Sardinha likely will return to the outfield in 2005. He never has shown much power at the plate, and he tries to cheat on good fastballs in an attempt to hit homers.
The Future: Sardinha’s development hit a small speed bump in the Arizona Fall League when he broke a finger on his glove hand during fielding drills just before the season started. He'll return to Double-A in 2005.
Background: Wang signed for $1.9 million out of Taiwan in 2000, and he's close to paying dividends after being deterred by shoulder surgery in 2001 and a shoulder strain in 2003. He shined for Taiwan in the 2004 Olympics, going 1-0, 1.98 in two starts.
Strengths: Wang has one of the best fastballs in the organization. His fastball velocity returned to its pre-injury level late in 2004, as he worked at 92-95 mph and touched 97. He proved he's healthy by logging a career-high 149 innings. His splitter and slider are solid-average pitches.
Weaknesses: While Wang's fastball has excellent velocity, it tends to get straight. He needs to use his changeup and splitter better against lefthanders, who tattooed him for a .307 average in 2004. Wang’s medical history isn’t encouraging, and he pulled a hamstring in the Triple-A International League playoffs, knocking him out of the organization’s fall minicamp.
The Future: Wang will get a chance to break into the big league rotation in 2005. He’s the Yankees' best option for a low-cost, young starter.