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New York Yankees
2001 Top 10 Prospects
Yankees Top 10 History

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New York Yankees Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams

By Josh Boyd

1. Drew Henson, 3b

Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 222. Drafted: HS–Brighton, Mich., 1998 (3rd round). Signed by:Dick Groch.

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Yankees Top Prospects
1992 Brien Taylor, lhp
1993 Brien Taylor, lhp
1994 Derek Jeter, ss
1995 Ruben Rivera, of
1996 Ruben Rivera, of
1997 Ruben Rivera, of
1998 Eric Milton, lhp
1999 Nick Johnson, 1b
2000 Nick Johnson, 1b
2001 Nick Johnson, 1b

Background:Henson was unhappy after the Yankees traded him to the Reds in a four-player package for Denny Neagle in July 2000, shortly after he wouldn’t commit full-time to baseball. He appeared to be leaning closer to football, where his future was just as bright as it is in baseball. After he passed for 2,146 yards and 18 touchdowns at Michigan in 2000, football experts projected him as No. 1 pick material for the 2002 NFL draft. Henson favored baseball but wanted to be a Yankee, so the Reds dealt him back to New York, along with outfielder Michael Coleman, for outfielder Wily Mo Pena and $1.9 million in March. Henson signed a six-year, $17 million major league contract and left the gridiron for good after the trade. Five games into last season, a pitch broke his left wrist and sidelined him for two months.

Strengths:Henson has special power potential. His raw power rates near 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, and he has launched mammoth, 500-foot blasts since he was a high school freshman. He established the national high school record for home runs. He’s a unique physical specimen, with unusual athleticism for his size. He’s not ready to play third base in the majors yet but has the tools to be an above-average defender. He has plus-plus arm strength and soft hands.

Weaknesses:Henson lost valuable experience by splitting his time between two sports, and it shows most in his pitch recognition and plate discipline. He should improve with a full season of at-bats. The Yankees rushed Henson to Triple-A last year, and he would have been better served spending a full year in Double-A. The holes in his swing were exposed as he struck out once every three at-bats during the regular season and in the Arizona Fall League.

The Future:Henson’s .314-6-33 performance in the AFL spurred speculation he was ready to take over for Scott Brosius. The Yankees put an end to that by trading for Robin Ventura, but Henson remains the third baseman of the future. Henson has a chance to be a franchise player because his work ethic and intelligence are as outstanding as his talent.

Tampa (A).14321220013271
Norwich (AA).36819271002140
Columbus (AAA).222270296060113810852

2. Nick Johnson, 1b

Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 224. Drafted: HS–Sacramento 1996 (3rd round). Signed by:Greg Orr.

Background:Johnson missed the entire 2000 season with a mysterious wrist injury that originated with a checked swing in spring training. Healthy again, he made his second trip to the Futures Game last summer. His game is reminiscent of Don Mattingly, whom Johnson has worked with in recent spring trainings. He is a nephew of Larry Bowa.

Strengths:Johnson retained his uncanny knack for getting on base. He’s an ultra-patient hitter who uses the whole field, waits for a pitch in his zone and isn’t afraid to hit deep in the count. He has been more conscious of turning on pitches and lifting balls. Johnson is a slick fielder with natural actions and good footwork around first base.

Weaknesses:Johnson doesn’t clog the bases, but he’s a below-average runner. He’ll have to adapt to DH after the Yankees invested $120 million in Jason Giambi, who prefers to play first base.

The Future:Johnson will have to break in as a DH until it’s apparent he’s a better defender than Giambi. He could see time in the outfield, and he’ll be a rookie of the year candidate if he gets enough at-bats.

Columbus (AAA).25635968922001849811059
New York.1946761320287150

3. Brandon Claussen, lhp

Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Howard (Texas) JC, D/F 1998 (34th round). Signed by:Mark Batchko.

Background:The Yankees have a strong track record with draft-and-follows out of Texas. They went back for more after signing Andy Pettitte out of San Jacinto Junior College in 1991. Area scout Mark Batchko tabbed Claussen in 1998 and Sean Henn last year. Claussen’s 220 strikeouts led the minors in 2001.

Strengths:Claussen has increased his velocity during his ascent through the minors. He works his 89-94 mph fastball to both sides of the plate, and he had more success locating it last year than in the past. His knockout pitch is a quality slider with excellent two-plane depth.

Weaknesses:Claussen’s changeup came on last season but still needs improvement to become more than a show-me pitch. He issued a few too many walks once he reached Double-A.

The Future:Claussen was one of the few top pitching prospects in the organization to avoid injury last year, when he proved durable over 187 innings. Though they received several trade inquiries about him, the Yankees’ refusal to part with him speaks volumes. He’ll begin 2002 in Triple-A and is in line for a promotion later in the year.

Tampa (A)522.73880056471369
Norwich (AA)922.1321210013110155151

4. John-Ford Griffin, of

Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Florida State, 2001 (1st round). Signed by:Scott Pleis.

Background:Griffin finished fourth in NCAA Division I with a .450 average last year, wrapping up a career in which he hit better than .400 in each of his three seasons at Florida State. Seminoles coach Mike Martin called him the best hitter in the program’s history, which also includes all-time college greats such as J.D. Drew. Not surprisingly, Griffin was considered one of the best pure hitters in the draft.

Strengths:Griffin personifies the Yankees’ philosophy with his professional approach to hitting. He generates tremendous bat speed and sprays line drives all over the ballpark. He makes excellent adjustments from pitch to pitch and is a dangerous two-strike hitter.

Weaknesses:Griffin had shoulder surgery after his sophomore season, leaving him with a below-average arm that will relegate him to left field. Having average power prevented him from going higher in the draft, though he has the bat speed and leverage to hit more home runs.

The Future:Griffin’s understanding of the strike zone will help him make adjustments as he climbs the ladder. His bat is ready for Double-A, though he’ll head to high Class A Tampa first.

Staten Island (A).3112384674171543404110

5. Juan Rivera, of

Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 170. Signed: Venezuela, 1996. Signed by:Raul Ortega.

Background:Rivera’s ascent is similar to that of former Yankees prospect Ricky Ledee, who spent seven seasons in the minors before making his major league debut. Rivera made his debut after his best offensive season since he emerged as the top prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 1998.

Strengths:Rivera’s tools far surpass Ledee’s and he’s a better all-around athlete. Hard work with Norwich hitting coach Dan Radison paid off. Rivera got bigger and stronger before last season, and more important he did a better job staying back and recognizing breaking balls. He is a prototypical right fielder with an above-average arm.

Weaknesses:Rivera’s strength allows him to hammer mistakes on the inner half, but he has holes in his swing that experienced pitchers can exploit. His walk rate declined and he’ll have to be more patient.

The Future:Rivera continued to play well this winter in Venezuela. The acquisition of Rondell White and John Vander Wal clouds his immediate future, so he’ll likely return to Triple-A.

Norwich (AA).32031650101183145815505
Columbus (AAA).3271993965111144015314
New York.0004000000000

6. Sean Henn, lhp

Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 205. Drafted: McLennan (Texas) CC, D/F 2000 (26th round). Signed by:Mark Batchko.

Background:The Yankees took a significant chunk out of their draft budget by signing Henn to a draft-and-follow record $1.7 million bonus a week before the draft. They had coveted him since drafting him out of high school in 1999’s 30th round. But his pro debut came to a halt when elbow pain led to Tommy John surgery.

Strengths:Once word spread of Henn’s explosive velocity, it was clear the Yankees were going to have to give him first-round money. He touched 98-99 mph and dialed it up to 95-97 after signing. He sits at 91-95 mph and maintains quick arm action on his changeup, which should become a plus pitch. Henn has imposing size and works on a tough downward plane. He has made progress with his breaking ball.

Weaknesses:Henn needs to improve his location. He tends to break his hands too late in his delivery, causing his fastball to stay up. His four-seamer lacks movement and he’s learning to work it to both sides of the plate.

The Future:The surgery will set Henn back a year, and the rehabilitation will require a lot of dedication. The Yankees say he’ll return to full strength, and not many lefthanders can match his power arsenal.

Staten Island (A)313.00980142261549

7. Marcus Thames, of

Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205. Drafted: East Central (Miss.) CC, D/F 1996 (30th round). Signed by:Joe Robison/Leon Worth.

Background:Another draft-and-follow project, Thames has been highly regarded for his tools, but his breakthrough last season was a pleasant surprise. In his third season at Norwich, Thames made a run at the Eastern League triple crown. His 78 extra-base hits tied journeyman Phil Hiatt for most in the minors.

Strengths:Like Rivera, Thames worked with Radison and his game took off. It was just a matter of translating his tools into baseball skills. He was able to do so by improving his plan from at-bat to at-bat. Thames has above-average power to all parts of the park. He’s an instinctive outfielder with the range for center and an above-average arm for right.

Weaknesses:After hitting .236 in his first 656 at-bats in Norwich, Thames will have to prove his season wasn’t a fluke. He’s a borderline five-tool prospect and needs to avoid falling back into the bad habits that plagued him prior to 2001.

The Future:Thames continued to rake in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .346-4-20, and would have challenged for a job in New York if the club hadn’t acquired White and Vander Wal. Thames will spend the year in Triple-A or wait for a trade.

Norwich (AA).32152011416743431977310110

8. Erick Almonte, ss

Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by:Victor Mata.

Background:Almonte is a chiseled athlete who has added 20 pounds of muscle since signing as a wiry third baseman in 1996. After breaking in as the Gulf Coast League’s No. 4 prospect in 1998, he stalled until blossoming in the Arizona Fall League in 2000. He made his major league debut last September and singled in his first at-bat.

Strengths:The Yankees rave about Almonte’s combination of size and tools, which are similar to Derek Jeter’s. He hits for power, and his bat speed and strength suggest more could be on the way. He displays deft actions at shortstop and gets good carry from a cannon arm and quick release.

Weaknesses:Almonte struggles with breaking stuff and gets off-balance by lunging at pitches. He has toned down his swing, however. He has the tools to be a solid defender but makes careless errors.

The Future:Shortstop could be a dead end, but the athleticism and versatility of Almonte and Alfonso Soriano give the Yankees options. Almonte could handle a move to second base or the outfield.

Norwich (AA).32512230000161
Columbus (AAA).2873455599193125544904
New York.5004021000012

9. Jason Arnold, rhp

Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Central Florida, 2001 (2nd round). Signed by:Scott Pleis.

Background:The Reds drafted Arnold in the 16th round in 2000 but wouldn’t give him the $60,000 he wanted to forgo his senior season. After three all-TransAmerica Athletic Conference seasons as a reliever, he went 14-3, 1.97 as a starter last spring and earned second-team All-America honors. He signed for $400,000, then threw a no-hitter and finished third in the short-season New York-Penn League in ERA.

Strengths:Arnold blew away hitters as a closer in college with pure arm strength and a mid-90s fastball. He worked comfortably between 90-96 mph at Staten Island, but had more tailing action when he threw 90-91. His slider and changeup have improved markedly and both are potential out pitches.

Weaknesses:Arnold was shut down during the summer with elbow tendinitis. While he’s expected to be fine, he did have a heavy workload in his first year as a starter. He throws across his body with a bit of a herky-jerky delivery, another cause for concern.

The Future:The Yankees have put Arnold on the fast track following his inspiring pro debut. He should jump to high Class A this year, with a promotion to Double-A not out of the question.

Staten Island (A)721.5010102066351574

10. Bronson Sardinha, ss

Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS–Kahuku, Hawaii 2001 (1st round supplemental). Signed by:Gus Quattlebaum.

Background:Named after actor Charles Bronson, Sardinha comes from excellent Hawaiian bloodlines. His brother Dane is the Reds’ No. 9 prospect after an All-America career at Pepperdine, where brother Duke currently plays. Managers rated Bronson the No. 3 prospect in the Gulf Coast League and he was regarded as the league’s best pure hitter.

Strengths:Sardinha owns a sweet lefthanded stroke and sprays the ball to all fields. He can mash fastballs and projects to hit for slightly above-average power as he fills out. Though he likes to hit early in the count, he doesn’t chase bad pitches and he does draw his fair share of walks. His instincts are excellent, and he has a plus arm and soft hands.

Weaknesses:It’s not clear Sardinha will maintain the quickness to stay at shortstop as he adds muscle. He has correctable flaws in his swing, such as committing too early.

The Future:The system is loaded with bright young shortstops, but the Yankees will keep Sardinha there for now. Though his advanced approach should help him make the adjustments to full-season ball, he’s several years away from New York.

GCL Yankees (R).3031884257143427285111

Rest of the Best:

11. David Martinez, lhp
12. Alex Graman, lhp
13. Adrian Hernandez, rhp
14. Deivi Mendez, ss
15. Matt Smith, lhp

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