New York Yankees Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

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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, 2011.

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With many franchises, the success of the Yankees farm system in 2010 would have been the story of the organization's year.

New York had breakthrough after breakthrough in the minors, with power-armed righthanders Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman having their best seasons and second-tier prospects such as third baseman Brandon Laird, righty Ivan Nova and infielder Eduardo Nunez turning in strong performances at upper levels. The top three affiliates reached the playoffs, with high Class A Tampa winning the Florida State League title.

But that's not what grabs headlines in New York. The Yankees won 95 games, led the planet in runs scored and once again dominated the Twins in the American League Division Series, but the season was viewed as a disappointment because they fell short of repeating as World Series champions. Not only did they lose to the Rangers in the AL Championships Series, but they were clearly the inferior team, getting outscored 31-6 in their four losses.

Counting the playoffs, New York split its last 68 games after July 31. For glass-half-empty Yankee fans, there were plenty of negatives, from the death of owner George Steinbrenner and former public-address announcer Bob Sheppard to empty seats at ALCS games to the impending free agency of franchise icon Derek Jeter.

Jeter is expected back for 2011, as are manager Joe Girardi and Mariano Rivera, also free agents. New York has done a nice job of mixing in productive homegrown youngsters to go with the veterans—Robinson Cano had an MVP-caliber season, Phil Hughes won 18 games in his first full season as a starter and Brett Gardner ranked in the AL top 10 in on-base percentages, stolen bases and assists—yet the club still needs changes.

A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez flopped badly and Andy Pettitte is contemplating retirement, making starting pitching an offseason priority. The Yankees' modest defense and lack of athleticism was exposed during the regular season by the Rays, who beat them out for the AL East division title, and in the playoffs by the Rangers.

The Yankees, who have had MLB's highest payroll in each of the last 12 seasons, have the resources to buy the solutions to their problems. They could pursue free agents Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, and no club can outspend New York for a player it truly wants.

In addition to using their wallet, the Yankees also could use their farm system to improve their big league club. They have the talent and depth to put together attractive trade packages, with three attractive catchers (Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine), plenty of up-the-middle talent (Nunez, outfielder Slade Heathcott and 2010 draftees Cito Culver and Mason Williams) and a bevy of righthanded pitchers (Betances, Brackman, Hector Noesi, Nova). The system's only significant shortages appear to be corner bats, where Laird stands out significantly, and lefthanded pitching, where Manny Banuelos is the lone legitimate prospect.

New York also appears inclined to try to build its bench from within, rather than with veteran washouts such as Austin Kearns and Randy Winn. Laird and Nunez could be multipositional reserves in 2011, which would let the Yankees stretch their $200 million budget, if such a thing can be said.

1.  Jesus Montero, c   Born: Nov. 28, 1989B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 230
 Signed: Venezuela, 2006Signed by: Carlos Rios/Ricardo Finol
Jesus MonteroBackground: The top international talent in the summer of 2006, Montero has lived up to the hype and his $1.65 million bonus. He played in the 2008 and 2009 Futures Games but didn't earn a spot in the 2010 contest because of a poor first half. In his first shot at Triple-A, he batted just .214 through June 6, but rallied to hit .351 with 14 homers in 44 second-half games and ranked in the top five in the International League in doubles (34), extra-base hits (58) and total bases (234). Montero nearly became a Mariner in July, when the Yankees thought they had worked out a deal in which he'd be the centerpiece of a package for Cliff Lee. But Seattle wound up opting for Justin Smoak and three prospects from the Rangers when New York wouldn't include infielder Eduardo Nunez or righthander Ivan Nova.

Scouting Report: Montero may be the best all-around hitter in the minors, capable of hitting .300 with 30-plus homers annually. He doesn't have typical hitting mechanics, as he doesn't always have a smooth swing and can be a bit of a front-foot hitter, but his strength and hand-eye coordination help him overcome that. He has well above-average power, particularly to the opposite field, making him well-suited for Yankee Stadium. Some club officials compare him to their greatest recent development success story, Robinson Cano, for his handsy swing and natural feel for hitting. Cano became an MVP-caliber hitter when he improved his game preparation and batting-practice routine, and Montero could use more discipline in those areas as well. He tinkers with his stance, sometimes during an at-bat, and could use a more professional approach to BP. Scouts rarely criticize his hitting tools, though, focusing more on his work as a catcher. Montero has worked hard to become a passable defender, improving his fitness and flexibility, but will have to keep working to remain behind the plate. He generally earns below-average grades for his catch-and-throw skills, and he led the IL with 15 passed balls while throwing out just 23 percent of basestealers. He has above-average arm strength but a slow transfer and inconsistent accuracy on his throws, which tend to sink. He's a well below-average runner and needs to keep up his conditioning to avoid being a baseclogger.

The Future: The Yankees' willingness to trade Montero was more a reflection of their desire to obtain Lee and the catching depth in the system than any reflection on him. He doesn't have anything left to prove in the minors as a hitter, and his defense doesn't look so bad when coupled with his offense or when compared to that of 39-year-old Jorge Posada. GM Brian Cashman has said Montero will get the chance to earn a spot on New York's 2011 roster, and manager Joe Girardi has established a rapport with Montero, working individually with him on defense in spring training. Now that he has experienced failure and learned how to respond to it, he should be able to earn a job as at least a part-time starter as a catcher and DH in 2011. The best-case scenario is that he develops into the second coming of Mike Piazza, and Montero has enough bat for first base (where he'd be blocked by Mark Teixeira) or DH if he can't stick at catcher.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (AAA) .289 .353 .517 453 66 131 34 3 21 75 46 91 0
2.  Gary Sanchez, c   Born: Dec. 2, 1992B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 195
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2009Signed by: Raymon Sanchez/Victor Mata
Gary SanchezBackground: The Yankees gave Sanchez the largest bonus they've ever given to a teenager, $3 million at the start of international signing period in July 2009. He backed up his scouting reports in his 2010 pro debut, homering three times in his first seven games and ranking as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

Scouting Report: Sanchez has a higher ceiling than anyone in the organization, including Jesus Montero. Outside of his below-average speed, he has above-average tools across the board. He already has plus raw power and should add more as he adds mature strength to his youthful but solid frame. He has a good swing path and the bat speed to catch up to good fastballs, as well as a sound approach for a teenager. His offensive game requires polish that will come with at-bats, but he has no significant holes. He flashes the lateral movement, soft hands and strong arm to be a plus defender, though he's not consistent yet. He threw out 26 percent of basestealers in his debut.

The Future: Sanchez's biggest issue is maintaining his motivation in the midst of $3 million and plenty of accolades. He'll have to keep working hard to reach his potential, and he'll move up to low Class A Charleston in 2011.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Yankees (R) .353 .419 .597 119 25 42 11 0 6 36 11 28 1
Staten Island (SS) .278 .333 .426 54 8 15 2 0 2 7 3 16 1
3.  Dellin Betances, rhp   Born: March 23, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-8Wt: 245
 Drafted: HS—New York, 2006 (8th round)Signed by: Cesar Presbott/Brian Barber
Dellin BetancesBackground: The Yankees signed Betances, a New Yorker, away from Vanderbilt for a $1 million bonus in 2006. He developed slower than hoped, then had surgery to reinforce an elbow ligament in 2009. He returned to the mound last June, throwing 96-97 in his first start and wrapping up the season in the Double-A Eastern League playoffs.

Scouting Report: Betances' fastball usually sits at 92-96, and he uses his size to throw it downhill. He throws strikes with his heater, but fastball command remains his biggest issue to work on. His curveball is a sharp, power downer that some scouts rate as a 70 on the 20-80 scale, giving him two plus-plus pitches. His changeup draws mixed reviews but is at least fringe average, and some club officials predict it will become a plus pitch. Betances' delivery tends to get out of line to the plate, wasting energy and costing him command, but his stuff is good enough that he can thrive with just solid control. He's not a great athlete and doesn't excel at fielding his position or holding runners.

The Future: If Betances can build on the progress he made last season, he'll be a frontline starter for New York, possibly as soon as 2012. If he regresses a bit, he still could wind up in the mix to eventually replace Mariano Rivera as the Yankees' closer.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tampa (Hi A) 8 1 1.77 14 14 0 0 71 43 1 19 88 .169
Trenton (AA) 0 0 3.77 3 3 0 0 14 10 3 3 20 .200
4.  Manny Banuelos, lhp   Born: March 13, 1991B-T: L-LHt: 5-10Wt: 155
 Signed: Mexico, 2008Signed by: Lee Sigman
Manny BanuelosBackground: Part of a quartet of Mexican players the Yankees signed as a group for $450,000 in 2008, Banuelos excelled in Class A as an 18-year-old in 2009. His 2010 season was delayed when he needed an appendectomy during spring training, but he pitched well after returning in June and made up for lost time in the Arizona Fall League, where he was the circuit's youngest pitcher.

Scouting Report: Banuelos has a quick arm, natural arm strength and sound mechanics. The ball comes out of his hand easy and he has surprising velocity for a little lefthander, sitting at 90-94 mph with his fastball and touching 95-96. He has excellent fastball control, even with his improved velocity, and projects to have true big league command. His changeup and curveball can be plus pitches, though they often aren't working at the same time. His changeup is more consistent and has better action, with late fade and sink at its best.

The Future: Banuelos has the poise to move quickly, and now he has frontline stuff. He's the best lefthander in the system by a mile. He'll spend 2011 at Double-A Trenton and must prove he can hold up after never throwing more than seven innings in a game or 108 in a season.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
GCL Yankees (R) 0 0 1.80 2 2 0 0 5 1 0 3 6 .063
Tampa (Hi A) 0 3 2.23 10 10 0 0 44 38 1 14 62 .230
Trenton (AA) 0 1 3.52 3 3 0 0 15 15 2 8 17 .273
5.  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: A basketball and baseball player at North Carolina State, Brackman signed a stunning major league contract in 2007 that included a $3.35 million bonus, $4.55 million in guaranteed money and $13 million in potential total value. His development has been slowed by Tommy John surgery shortly after he signed, an appendectomy in 2008 and wildness in 2009. He got off to a poor start in 2010 as well before his delivery clicked after a promotion to Double-A.

Scouting Report: Brackman has good athleticism to go with his size, and he started to coordinate the moving parts of his delivery in 2010. When he did, he found the bottom of the strike zone more with his fastball, which jumped from 88-92 mph to 93-95 mph. His best pitch is a well above-average curveball with which he can vary the size, shape and velocity (72-81 mph). Brackman has added a nascent slider that shows potential and scrapes the upper 80s. He lacks confidence in his changeup and needs to pitch with more aggressiveness, considering his power stuff.

The Future: For some scouts, Brackman's whole is less than the sum of his parts, earning comparisons to A.J. Burnett and Kyle Farnsworth. He tantalized with his rapid improvement in 2010 and likely will get his first big league callup in 2011, probably as a reliever.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tampa (Hi A) 5 4 5.10 12 12 0 0 60 67 5 9 56 .278
Trenton (AA) 5 7 3.01 15 14 0 0 81 77 3 30 70 .252
6.  Austin Romine, c   Born: Nov. 22, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 185
 Drafted: HS—Lake Forest, Calif., 2007 (2nd round)Signed by: David Keith
Austin RomineBackground: Romine has two big leaguers in his family—father Kevin and brother Andrew, a shortstop who went 1-for-11 for the Angels in 2010—and more upside than either of them. Austin played in the Futures Game and caught a career-high 106 games (counting playoffs) last season, appearing to wear down in the second half.

Scouting Report: While Montero has more star potential with his bat, Romine is a more well-rounded player. He employs a high leg kick, and when he gets his timing right, he has solid power to the opposite field. He's still learning to pull the ball with more authority, but he should have average power to go with fringe-average hitting ability. He's a bit undisciplined at the plate. Romine has solid athleticism and runs well for a catcher. He still has some rough edges to polish up as a receiver but has good hands. He has plus arm strength but isn't consistently accurate, and threw out just 23 percent of basestealers in 2010. He needs to get stronger to handle the rigors of catching over a full season.

The Future: After showing something of a second wind in the Arizona Fall League, Romine is headed to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2011. He may become trade bait if Montero establishes himself as Jorge Posada's successor in New York.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Trenton (AA) .268 .324 .402 455 61 122 31 0 10 69 37 94 2
7.  Hector Noesi, rhp   Born: Jan. 26, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 174
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004Signed by: Victor Mata
Hector NoesiBackground: Noesi had a solid 2009 season, earning a spot on New York's 40-man roster after missing parts of the previous two years following Tommy John surgery. He was even better last season, appearing in the Futures Game and leading Yankees farmhands with 153 strikeouts while reaching Triple-A.

Scouting Report: Noesi has the best command in the system, with just 43 walks in 277 innings over the last two seasons. He has a fluid, easy delivery and gets good extension out front, repeating his release point. He pounds the zone with an 89-93 mph fastball, reaching as high as 96. His maintains his velocity deep into games, and his fastball has some run and tail. Noesi's No. 2 pitch is a changeup with similar action, though he doesn't quite command it like his fastball. His curveball and slider remain below-average offerings, but he flashes the ability to spin the ball. He's athletic and fields his position well.

The Future: Noesi lacks the breaking ball to pitch near the front of a rotation, but his fastball command should allow him to be a No. 4 or 5 starter for the Yankees if needed. He might help New York more as trade bait. If he's still a Yankee in 2011, he'll return to Scranton.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tampa (Hi A) 5 2 2.72 8 8 0 0 43 35 3 6 53 .212
Trenton (AA) 8 4 3.10 17 16 2 0 99 90 7 18 86 .243
Scranton/W-B (AAA) 1 1 4.82 3 3 1 0 19 23 1 4 14 .311
8.  Eduardo Nunez, ss/3b   Born: June 15, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 155
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004Signed by: Victor Mata
Eduardo NunezBackground: Nunez went five years between appearances on our Yankees Top 10, ranking No. 6 after his first season in the United States in 2005 before struggling for the next three years. When he began maturing and working harder late in the 2008 season, his tools started to play on the diamond. He got his first big league callup in 2010, including a spot on the postseason roster after Mark Teixeira went down with a hamstring injury.

Scouting Report: Nunez profiles well at shortstop. His best tool remains his plus-plus arm that allows him to make highlight plays from the hole, though he tends to rely on it too much, which can lead to passivity and errors. He has improved his footwork and plays with more confidence at short, where he's an above-average defender. Nunez's plus speed is his next-best tool, and he should steal 20 bases annually. His speed and ability to make contact should allow him to hit for a solid average, though he lacks selectivity and has fringy power.

The Future: Nunez also saw time at second and third base in 2010, and he worked out in the outfield in instructional league. The Yankees see him in the Chone Figgins mold as a utility player, unless the unthinkable happens and he has to replace free agent Derek Jeter as their starting shortstop.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Scranton/W-B (AAA) .289 .340 .381 464 55 134 25 3 4 50 32 60 23
New York (AL) .280 .321 .360 50 12 14 1 0 1 7 3 2 5
9.  Slade Heathcott, of   Born: Sept. 28, 1990B-T: L-LHt: 6-1Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS—Texarkanas, Texas, 2009 (1st round).Signed by: Mark Batchko/Tim Kelly
Slade HeathcottBackground: While some clubs had concerns about Heathcott's health and makeup, the Yankees drafted him 29th overall in 2009 and signed him for $2.2 million. He started 2010 in extended spring training before heading in June to Charleston, where he impressed scouts and managers with his high-energy approach.

Scouting Report: He physically resembles Brett Gardner and has some similarities to New York's left fielder, but Heathcott should develop more power and has a stronger arm. He generates bat speed and has improved his swing path, but he doesn't have a lot of loft in his stroke. Some in the organization believe he injured his left shoulder trying too hard to adjust his swing to hit for power, and he required postseason surgery on the labrum in his left (throwing) shoulder, which the club considers minor. Like many young hitters, he needs to be more selective at the plate. Heathcott has plus speed and excellent range in center field, where he shows off a plus-plus arm. He's an aggressive fielder and runner who has decent instincts that should improve with experience.

The Future: Thanks to his surgery, Heathcott may get a late start in 2011, but it's not a long-term concern. He should push his way to high Class A Tampa at some point during the year.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Charleston (Lo A) .258 .359 .352 298 48 77 16 3 2 30 42 101 15
10.  Brandon Laird, 3b   Born: Sept. 11, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-1Wt: 190
 Drafted: Cypress (Calif.) JC, 2007 (27th round)Signed by: Dave Keith
Brandon LairdBackground: The younger brother of Tigers catcher Gerald Laird, Brandon signed for $120,000 as a 27th-round pick out of Cypress (Calif.) JC in 2007. He broke into pro ball as a third baseman, then played primarily at first base in 2008 before returning to the hot corner the last two years. He won Eastern League MVP honors in 2010 despite spending August in Triple-A.

Scouting Report: Laird has good pitch recognition and feel for the barrel, which should enable him to produce for average as well as power. He has strong hands, solid bat speed and nice leverage in his swing. His aggressiveness got the best of him at Triple-A, where he went 0-for-15 in the playoffs, and he needs to prove he can adjust against better pitching. Scouts used to question his glove and athletic ability, but Laird keeps answering their doubts. He has become an average defender at third, with subpar range but good hands and a strong arm. He's a below-average runner.

The Future: The Yankees worked Laird on the outfield corners in the Arizona Fall League, and increased versatility would help his chances of eventually sticking in New York. He profiles as a third baseman in the Kevin Kouzmanoff mold, and with Alex Rodriguez ahead of him, Laird could become trade fodder. He'll return to Scranton in 2011.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Trenton (AA) .291 .355 .523 409 73 119 22 2 23 90 38 84 2
Scranton/W-B (AAA) .246 .268 .344 122 13 30 6 0 2 12 4 27 0

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Photo Credits:
Mike Janes (Montero)
David Schofield (Romine)