New York Yankees: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

New York Yankees: 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, 2009.

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
Yankees Chat
John Manuel
Pre-Order the 2010 Prospect Handbook
30 scouting reports on every team

Yankees' Team Page
Yankees Top 10 Prospects
Last Year's Yankees Top 10 Prospects
2009 Draft: Yankees (Basic Database)
2009 Draft: Yankees (Advanced Database)
2009 Draft Report Cards: New York Yankees
Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
Pre-Order the 2010 Prospect Handbook
New York Yankees

Every Yankees team is measured against the amazing, rich history of the franchise, the most championship-laden in American team sports.

The standard for success is clear. Anything less than a World Series title is a failure.

For the first time since 2000, New York had a season it could consider a success, beating the Phillies in six games for their 27th World Series championship. The Yankees started the year under the cloud of Alex Rodriguez's admitted steroid use, but he and the team put that behind him. The club got off to a 13-15 start before Rodriguez returned from hip surgery on May 8, then won at a .672 clip for the remainder of the regular season before going 11-4 in the playoffs.

Investing $423.5 million in free agents Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett paid huge dividends, while captain Derek Jeter had one of the best seasons of his storied career. Despite playing in just 124 games, Rodriguez reached 30 homers and 100 RBIs for the 12th straight season. Better yet, he erased memories of previous playoff failures by batting .365 with six homers in the postseason, earning his first championship ring.

While the Yankees continued to wield their financial muscle when putting together their big league club, they also got vital contributions from a number of young homegrown players as well. Brett Gardner shared time in center field and provided a jolt with his top-of-the-line speed. Joba Chamberlain failed to convince anyone that he's better suited as a starter than as a reliever, yet he still held down the fourth slot in the rotation. Phil Hughes shined as a setup man, and rookies Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke and David Robertson helped further shore up the bullpen. In the postseason, every New York reliever except for Brian Bruney was a product of the farm system.

Senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman, who has overseen scouting and player development in the organization for the better part of the last 13 years, says the Yankees aspire to more.

"We're not in this to develop relievers, but starters, starting pitchers and impact hitters," he says. To that end, both Chamberlain and Hughes are likely to be given another shot at the rotation in 2010, though scouts who once considered Chamberlain a future No. 1 starter now admit that he's a different animal out of the bullpen.

As for impact bats, New York points to Jesus Montero, the Venezuelan catcher they signed for $1.65 million bonus in 2006. Montero took a significant leap forward last season, dominating Double-A pitching at age 19. The Yankees had similar hopes for outfielder Austin Jackson, who ranked No. 1 on this list a year ago. But after he hit .300 with just four homers in Triple-A, they included him, as well as Coke and 2006 first-rounder Ian Kennedy, in a three-team trade that netted Curtis Granderson from the Tigers.

Several of the system's top pitching prospects had down years, with 2007 first-rounder Andrew Brackman having a truly awful season at low Class A Charleston and Dellin Betances and Jairo Heredia, among others, succumbing to injuries. But Newman said that on the whole, the Yankees' pitching injuries were down. And those setbacks were offset by the emergence of arms such as Arodys Vizcaino and Manny Baneulos, plus aggressive spending in the draft and internationally that landed prospects such as outfielder Slade Heathcott and catchers Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy.

1.  Jesus Montero, c   Born: Nov. 28, 1989B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 225
 Signed: Venezuela, 2006Signed by: Carlos Rios/Ricardo Finol
Jesus MonteroBackground: Montero ranked with corner infielders Balbino Fuenmayor and Angel Villalona, shortstops Esmailyn Gonzalez and Carlos Triunfel and catcher Francisco Pena as the top talents available on the international market in 2006. All signed big-money deals, and three years later, Montero is far and away the best prospect of the group. He got off to the roughest start. He initially signed for $2 million, but his bonus was renegotiated down to $1.65 million for reasons that never have been fully disclosed. He was overmatched in his first instructional league but has punished pitchers ever since. Montero broke out by finishing second in the low Class South Atlantic League batting race at .326 in 2008 and was even better last season. He hit .337/.389/.562 and reached Double-A Trenton at age 19. A fractured left middle finger cost him the last six weeks of the season, and his rust showed with a poor start to winter ball in Venezuela.

Strengths: Montero doesn't have a classic swing or textbook rhythm, but he's gifted with hand-eye coordination, keen pitch recognition, a knack for barreling balls and tremendous strength. He can be out front or off balance on a pitch and still crush it. He covers the plate well and makes excellent contact. Montero hasn't delivered completely on his raw power, but he's close to projecting as an 80 hitter with 80 power on the 20-80 scouting scale. One veteran scout called him the best young hitter he has seen in years. Montero has solid to plus arm strength and threw out 32 percent of basestealers in Double-A, success the Yankees ascribe to his improved transfer and pitchers doing a better job holding runners. He even showed some 1.9-second pop times, according to one club official.

Weaknesses: Montero has improved under the tutelage of catching coordinator Julio Mosquera, but he still grades out as a below-average defender. The Yankees no longer talk about him as an everyday major league catcher. His defense frequently is compared to Mike Piazza's, though he's a bit more athletic. Montero is somewhat stiff and lacks agility behind the plate, leading to 11 passed balls in 59 games last year. He also threw out just 13 percent of basestealers at high Class A Tampa, and they tested him 108 times overall—nearly two attempts per game. While he improved, he has a long arm stroke that slows his transfer and detracts from his arm strength. His modest athleticism and below-average speed probably preclude a move to the outfield or third base, a position he played prior to signing.

The Future: In a different organization, Montero probably would just move to first base and mash, like Paul Konerko did when he came up through the Dodgers system in the mid-1990s. However, Mark Teixeira just finished the first year of an eight-year contract and isn't going anywhere. With an older roster, the Yankees aren't likely to break Montero into the lineup as strictly a DH. He's expected to catch at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2010, mixing in time at DH and perhaps first base. He's prime trade bait but also could be a complement to the New York's veteran sluggers in short order—if the Yankees can find a lineup spot for him.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Tampa (Hi A) .356 .406 .583 180 26 64 15 1 8 37 14 26 0
Trenton (AA) .317 .370 .539 167 19 53 10 0 9 33 14 21 0
2.  Austin Romine, c   Born: Nov. 22, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 210
 Drafted: HS—Lake Forest, Calif., 2007 (2nd round)Signed by: David Keith
Austin RomineBackground: Romine's brother Andrew is an Angels shortstop prospect, while his father Kevin played seven seasons in the major leagues. Austin had his best pro season in 2009, winning MVP honors in the high Class A Florida State League and helping lead Tampa to the league title. A minor thumb injury forced him to leave the Arizona Fall League after just four games.

Strengths: Romine has the tools to be an average or plus defender behind the plate, especially with his above-average arm. He threw out 30 percent of basestealers even though the Yankees don't emphasize holding runners for their Class A pitchers. His best offensive tool is his plus raw power, and he's a good athlete and runner for a catcher.

Weaknesses: Romine must get stronger to maintain his skills, both offensive and defensive, over the course of an entire season. At times he struggles handling velocity, being a little late getting his glove to pitches on the corners. He still could add polish, and his arm strength sometimes gets him in trouble, as he led FSL catchers with 10 errors. He lacks patience at the plate and his swing tends to get long.

The Future: The Yankees view him as their eventual replacement for Jorge Posada, though Romine is at least two years away from the majors. With Jesus Montero moving up to Triple-A in 2010, Romine will open the season as the everyday catcher at Double-A.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Tampa (Hi A) .276 .322 .441 442 61 122 28 3 13 72 29 78 11
3.  Arodys Vizcaino, rhp   Born: Nov. 13, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 189
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007Signed by: Alfredo Dominguez
Arodys VizcainoBackground: When the Yankees spend big money during the international summer signing season, they usually give it to position players, such as Gary Sanchez, Wily Mo Pena and Jesus Montero. Vizcaino received the largest signing bonus the club has given a pitcher in that market, signing for $800,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2007. He dominated the short-season New York-Penn League  last summer before a muscle strain in his back ended his season in August.

Strengths: Vizcaino has the most electric arm in the system outside of Andrew Brackman, and he's much more polished. Vizcaino sits at 90-94 mph with his fastball and regularly runs it up to 96. His quick arm generates easy velocity, and the ball seems to explode out of his hand. His best pitch is a hammer curveball that he throws with solid command. Club officials say his curve is second only to A.J. Burnett's in the organization. He has a sturdy, durable body.

Weaknesses: Vizcaino's changeup has improved but still grades as below average. He's raw and has plenty of work to do on subtle skills such as setting up hitters, fielding his position and holding runners. He also could have a more mature mound presence.

The Future: Given Vizcaino's youth and ceiling, New York will handle him carefully. He figures to go to low Class A Charleston for 2010, starting in the first half and relieving in the second half to keep his innings from piling up.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Staten Island (SS) 2 4 2.13 10 10 0 0 42 34 2 15 52 .211
4.  Slade Heathcott, of   Born: Sept. 28, 1990B-T: L-LHt: 6-1Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS—Texarkana, Texas, 2009 (1st round)Signed by: Mark Batchko/Tim Kelly
Slade HeathcottBackground: Heathcott was one of the few true five-tool players available in the 2009 draft, but knee and shoulder injuries limited him last spring and makeup concerns scared some clubs off him completely. The Yankees pounced on him and signed him for $2.2 million, the largest bonus they've ever given to a hitter or a high schooler out of the draft.

Strengths: Heathcott has strength and fast-twitch athleticism. He offers big raw power from the left side of the plate and the bat speed to catch up to quality fastballs. He's a plus-plus runner with a strong arm that delived 94-mph fastballs during his prep pitching career, and New York believes he can play center field.

Weaknesses: Heathcott will need at-bats to translate his tools into consistent performance. His all-out playing style has made him injury-prone, leading to November 2008 surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and a jammed throwing shoulder that limited him to DH for most of his senior season. His home life was unsettled and his immaturity has kept him off the field at times.

The Future: The Yankees believe in Heathcott's talent and growing maturity, and he could become a superstar if he can stay on the field. He'll spend his first full pro season in low Class A.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Yankees (R) .100 .182 .100 10 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 2 0
5.  Zach McAllister, rhp   Born: Dec. 8, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-6Wt: 230
 Drafted: HS—Chillicothe, Ill., 2006 (3rd round)Signed by: Steve Lemke
Zach McAllisterBackground: McAllister has been a test case for an organization that favors power fastballs and curveballs. The Yankees tried to raise his arm slot and have him pitch more with a four-seamer and curve instead of his normal sinker/slider repertoire. Though he posted a 2.08 ERA at two Class A levels in 2008, the changes didn't suit him. He returned to his previous style last season and led the Double-A Eastern League with a 2.23 ERA. His father Steve is the Midwest crosschecker for the Diamondbacks.

Strengths: McAllister has the best command of any pitcher in the system. He throws his two-seamer with solid armside life, sitting at 89-91 mph and touching 93. He commands his sinker well enough to get inside on hitters effectively. His slider gives him another pitch that helps him get groundouts, and at times he can get swings and misses with it. He throws his curve and changeup for strikes.

Weaknesses: Only McAllister's slider grades as a plus pitch, and his fastball sometimes sits in the upper 80s. He must be precise with his fringy curveball and changeup. He missed time with a tired arm in 2009, but New York doesn't consider it a long-term concern.

The Future: McAllister has a ceiling of an innings-eating No. 4 starter. If the Yankees move Phil Hughes back to the rotation, there's little chance of McAllister squeezing his way in anytime soon. He might just be trade bait as he anchors the Scranton rotation in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Trenton (AA) 7 5 2.23 22 22 0 0 121 98 4 33 96 .220
6.  Manny Banuelos, lhp   Born: March 13, 1991B-T: L-LHt: 5-10Wt: 155
 Signed: Mexico, 2008Signed by: Lee Sigman
Manny BanuelosBackground: Just a year after signing out of Mexico, Banuelos has become the system's top lefthanded pitching prospect. He jumped from Rookie ball to low Class A as an 18-year-old and was Charleston's best starter in the first half before moving into the bullpen down the stretch. He was so good in that role he was promoted to Tampa for its playoff run.

Strengths: Banuelos has two potential plus pitches and pitching savvy well beyond his years. His fastball sits at 88-92 mph when he's at his best as a starter, and reached 94 mph in relief late in the season. He uses his fastball inside well and throws strikes to all quadrants of the plate. His changeup already rates as solid average after making more progress than his other pitches in 2009. The Yankees laud his mound presence, poise and makeup.

Weaknesses: While his curveball is currently fringy, Banuelos has the hand speed to add power to it and make it an average pitch in time. Some scouts who saw him sit at 86-88 mph with his fastball consider him more of a fifth starter. He's just a fair athlete and needs to improve his ability to field his position and hold runners.

The Future: While other pitchers in the system have higher ceilings, Banuelos is on the fast track to becoming a No. 3 starter. He'll start 2010 in Tampa and could reach Double-A as a teenager by season's end.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Charleston (Lo A) 9 5 2.67 25 19 0 0 108 88 4 28 104 .219
Tampa (Hi A) 0 0 0.00 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 .000
7.  Gary Sanchez, c   Born: Dec. 2, 1992B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 190
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2009Signed by: Raymon Sanchez/Victor Mata
Gary SanchezBackground: Sanchez was one of the top  players available on the international market last summer, and the Yankees scouted him so extensively that they were widely believed to be the frontrunners to sign him. They landed him in July for $3 million, the fourth-largest bonus in franchise history. It's the third-largest for a Dominican teen after Michael Ynoa ($4.25 million from the Athletics in 2008) and Miguel Jean ($3.15 million from the Twins in 2009).

Strengths: Sanchez's raw power rates at least a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. New York is confident he'll realize that power potential because he uses the whole field and recognizes breaking balls, two indications that he'll make consistent contact. He has a plus-plus arm with the athletic ability to remain a catcher.

Weaknesses: Just 17, Sanchez has plenty of work to do to clean up his receiving skills and he'll need to get used to catching velocity. He was overmatched at the plate in instructional league by older pitchers, but that's to be expected. He didn't significantly alter his approach, an encouraging sign. He has average speed now but projects as a below-average runner once he fills out and catching takes a toll on him.

The Future: Sanchez has some similarities to Jesus Montero, with better defensive tools as a bonus. He also obviously has a long way to go. He'll likely start his career in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in June.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did Not Play—Signed Late
8.  J.R. Murphy, c   Born: May 13, 1991B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS—Bradenton, Fla. (2nd round)Signed by: Jeff Deardorff/Brian Barber
J.R. MurphyBackground: After missing his junior season in high school following knee surgery, Murphy moved to catcher as a prep senior and hit .627 with 11 home runs last spring. The Yankees bought him away from a Miami commitment with a $1.25 million bonus.

Strengths: The Yankees love Murphy's blend of hitting ability and athleticism, which is above-average for a catcher. He has a feel for hitting and knows his swing well. He generates good bat speed and pairs a low-maintenance, line-drive stroke with a polished offensive approach. He should hit for average and eventually should add solid power. He augments his plus arm with a quick transfer.

Weaknesses: Murphy is raw defensively and lacks experience handling velocity. The Yankees were encouraged with his rapid improvement after signing, but he'll have to polish his receiving and learn how to call games and handle a staff. He's a fringe-average runner who figures to slow down with the grind of catching.

The Future: The Yankees have spent $7.35 million on six highly touted amateur catchers since 2006, including four in the Top 10. Murphy has as much athletic ability as any of them, which may prompt him to switch positions down the road. For now, New York will develop him as a catcher and could send him to low Class A in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Yankees (R) .333 .405 .485 33 4 11 2 0 1 7 3 8 0
9.  Jeremy Bleich, lhp   Born: June 18, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-2Wt: 195
 Drafted: Stanford, 2008 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Mike Thurman
Jeremy BleichBackground: An elbow injury sidelined Bleich for much of the 2008 college season, but he returned in May to help Stanford reach the College World Series. The Yankees were impressed enough to make him a supplemental first-round pick and signed him for $700,000. He became their top signee from the 2008 draft when first-rounder Gerrit Cole opted to attend UCLA. In his first full pro season, Bleich stayed healthy and reached Double-A.

Strengths: Bleich sat at 90-92 mph and touched 94 with his four-seam fastball last season His curveball and changeup are solid-average, with his curve grading as a plus pitch at times. He added a two-seam fastball and started to control it better as the year progressed.

Weaknesses: Bleich's four-seamer is true and his changeup tends to straighten out, though he's learning to add some sink to it. He lost some feel for the strike zone last year, in part because he threw harder. He doesn't  have the weapons to pitch from behind in count and paid for it at Trenton. He needs better control of his two-seamer and change to combat righthanders.

The Future: New York thought it was getting a pitchability guy in Bleich and hopes he regains some of his feel while retaining his added velocity. He'll have to fix what ailed him in Double-A when he returns there for 2010.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tampa (Hi A) 6 4 3.40 14 14 0 0 79 79 4 22 56 .257
Trenton (AA) 3 6 6.65 13 13 0 0 65 84 6 34 60 .318
10.  Andrew Brackman, rhp   Born: Dec. 4, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-10Wt: 240
 Drafted: North Carolina State, 2007 (1st round).Signed by: Steve Swail.
Andrew BrackmanBackground: Brackman juggled basketball and baseball for two seasons at North Carolina State before giving up hoops to focus on the 2007 MLB draft. Though he injured his elbow that May, his huge frame and ceiling enticed the Yankees to draft him 30th overall. He had Tommy John surgery shortly after signing at the Aug. 15 deadline for the largest draft bonus ($3.35 million) in franchise history, part of a major league contract worth a guaranteed $4.55 million and as much as $13 million with incentives. The elbow reconstruction, coupled with an appendectomy the following spring, pushed back his pro debut to Hawaii Winter Baseball in October 2008. The results from his first pro season to 2009. The results were less than encouraging, as he ranked second in the minors in wild pitches (26) and 13th in walks (76) during a 2-12, 5.91 campaign.

Strengths: Brackman's combination of arm strength, size and athleticism can translate into premium stuff. His fastball, which touched 99 mph when he was an amateur, peaked at 95 when he started in 2009 and sat at 92-96 at times in shorter relief stints. His curveball also shows flashes of being a plus-plus pitch. He stayed off the disabled list all season and closed with 10 scoreless, walkless relief innings, then continued to throw strikes in instructional league.

Weaknesses: In his first fully healthy year since Tommy John surgery, Brackman had little control and no command. He showed barely any feel for his delivery, or for using his curveball or rudimentary changeup. His late hot streak happened when the Yankees shelved his knuckle-curve, having him focus on a conventional grip, and his changeup. He'll need the changeup back to remain a starter. His velocity was unpredictable, at times sitting in the upper 80s.

The Future: Brackman is a unique prospect in terms of his size, contract and lack of experience for his age. He could be an expensive bust, or suddenly figure it all out and move rapidly through the system. New York hasn't given up on him as a starter and will promote him to high Class A for 2010.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Charleston (Lo A) 2 12 5.91 29 19 0 0 107 106 8 76 103 .266

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
Pre-Order the 2010 Prospect Handbook
30 scouting reports on every team

Photo Credits: Jerry Hale (Montero)
Rodger Wood (Vizcaino)
David Schofield (McAllister)
Cliff Welch (Sanchez, Murphy)