Long Island Righty Vinas Wows Yankees At Tryout

NEW YORK—The Yankees insist that righthander Leonel Vinas wasn't signed simply because he starred for a youth summer team sponsored by Hank Steinbrenner.

They point to the 19-year-old former gang member from Long Island having a fastball that touches 91 mph, good offspeed stuff and a phenomenal 2010 season in his back pocket.

"This is real—he has talent," general manager Brian Cashman said of Vinas, who signed in late December for $1,500 after not drawing much attention as a senior at Freeport (N.Y.) High in 2009.

Given the choice by Steinbrenner of continuing the gang life or pitching for "Hank's Yanks," Vinas chose the latter. Now, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound righty finds himself among the longest of long shots to reach the big leagues.

Yet, when he reports to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League this summer, Vinas will work closely with another nondrafted New York City high school product.

New GCL hitting coach John Rodriguez, signed by the Yankees out of Brandeis High in 1996, defied the odds by reaching the big leagues for 158 games with the Cardinals in 2005-06. The lefty-hitting outfielder even has a World Series ring from '06.

"I will tell him it's never going to be easy, (that) there are going to be up and downs," said Rodriguez, who like Vinas was signed by scout Cesar Presbott. "He has to keep a straight head and never take no for an answer.

"There are a lot of distractions out there, but the main goal is to take care of your family. I will try my best to keep him in line."

Following a splendid summer in which he went 12-0, 1.12, Vinas worked out in Tampa for scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and vice president of player personnel Billy Connors.

Vinas called signing with the Yankees a "dream come true." "He throws 88 to 91 (mph), has a good changeup and pretty good curveball," Oppenheimer said. "We will see how he competes."


• The Yankees signed righthander Mark Prior, the former Cubs ace who because of injury has pitched 12 pro innings in the past four seasons. A 1998 Yankees supplemental first-rounder who did not sign, Prior notched 22 strikeouts in 11 innings in the independent Golden League last year.

• New York also signed lefty Steve Evarts, the 43rd overall pick by the Braves in 2006 who hasn't pitched since April '08. Evarts got arrested last April in Hollywood, Fla., for felony battery and marijuana possession. It was his fourth arrest since '06.