New York Yankees Top 10 Prospects Chat With John Manuel

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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.

John Manuel: sorry I'm a bit late! I'll stay late, I promise.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): What is Isaias Tejeda's upside, and how likely is he to reach it? Did he make your second ten?

John Manuel: Tejada got a scouting report but not the second 10. He has upside as a catcher who has shown some hitting ability and some catch-and-throw skills. I don't have any reports of him having loud tools; he has solid tools, and he's improved a great deal since signing. My impression of him was the Yankees were surprised he was as good as he was in the GCL, and he's going to have to keep proving himself.

    Harry (NY): Can Ben Gamel turn out to be as good as his brother? Top 30 prospect in your eyes?

John Manuel: Gamel didn't quite make the top 30. He's similar to his brother in that he's a good hitter who will really have to hit to make up for the fact that he doesn't bring a whole lot to the table defensively. He's not an error machine like Matt but he also isn't as physical, is essentially limited to an OF corner and has a long way to go to fulfill his power potential. His contact rate also was low considering his supposed polish. I like him, but he didn't make the top 30.

    Ben (Leland Grove): After Banuelos, would you consider Dan Camarena to be the next best lefty in their system? What's the skinny on him?

John Manuel: Nik Turley was the No. 2 LHP for me, with Camarena in that mix as well. I've been doing the Yankees list for I think eight years now and still can't believe how few LHPs they've developed in that time. Banuelos is far and away the best lefty they've had in that stretch; I'm hard pressed to think of the next-best guy. Jeremy Bleich for a very short time ... sleeper LHP is Matt Tracy, the senior they drafted out of Ole Miss this year. They like Tracy, and we've had good reports on him from his NY-Penn League stint.

    Grant (NYC): Thoughts on Melky Mesa's year? Still optimistic on his future?

John Manuel: Bad year, not optimistic. I asked about him as a Top 10 guy last year and every Yankee official was dubious of that, and that was coming off his good year. They never saw the contact ability and it still has yet to develop. His best-case career might be a Greg Golson kind of deal.

    Frank (Chicago): In retrospect, was Brackman one of the worst investments in Yankees' history?

John Manuel: Well, no, they've spent a lot more money on major leaguers who didn't produce. Brackman was a bad fit for the Yanks; I always liked the arm and athletic ability and never thought he was a good fit in terms of his makeup, that contract and the scrutiny it would bring, or the scrutiny of being a Yankees prospect. He was not cut out for that kind of pressure. He had some good months that made the Yankees (and me) think he was close to figuring it out. I continue to hear from scouts who saw him in Hawaii Winter Baseball when (a) his stuff was too hot for catchers to handle and (b) he threw 97 mph with his first pitch after a long layoff and impressed everybody. That might have been his peak.

    Kyle (St Louis): How many of your top 10 do you believe are worthy of making the top overall 100?

John Manuel: I'm thinking the top five players, from Montero to Mason Williams, all make it. I thought I had four in my personal top 50 but double-checked and realize I left Gary Sanchez out of the top 50 this year, after running him way up last year. Big bat, lots of maturing yet to do.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Why do you think the Yanks have been so conservative in the past couple of years when spending on the draft? Do you think the size of the Brackman contract had anything at all to do with it?

John Manuel: I've said for several years that I believe not just the Brackman contract but the entire 2007 draft has caused the Yankees to reassess their spending in the draft. They had a terrific '06 draft — Joba, Ian Kennedy, Betances, I think they've had 10 big leaguers out of that draft so far of all kinds of careers. They didn't go crazy over-slot in that draft other than Betances (Joba and Kennedy were over-slot but not outrageous whereas Betances was a record bonus for an 8th round pick). The next year they went over-slot basically for five picks in the first 10 rounds and none has worked out; Weems, Suttle, Grote and Angelini were busts in addition to Brackman. Since then I think the Yankees have decided to set a budget, to put an evaluation on players that includes an evaluation of how much they're going to pay a player, and they stick to it. They've drafted fairly conservatively since then but they still have a top 5 farm system for me. I just was going back over farm system rankings again this a.m. and I have them stuffed up in the top 5.

    Dara (Tampa, FL): Is Cito Culver still on your top 30 radar?

John Manuel: Sure. He was under consideration for the top 10 and I wrote him up thinking he might be in the top 10, but after reading the report, his offensive upside just didn't warrant it. He's still very young; we'll see how he hits when he gets his man strength. Dude will play his first full-season campaign as a teenager with 2 years of pro experience under him, I think he'll have a nice season for Charleston and graduate to the top 10 after 2012.

    Ben (Leland Grove): What did scouts have to say about OF Jake Cave?

John Manuel: Fast bat, right field profile, long way to go and still very wiry. I saw him this summer in the Coastal Plain League and liked his bat speed and athleticism. He's in the 30 but wasn't a real top 10 factor.

    Marcus (Endicott, NY): The Yankees have drafted a large number of interesting college relievers in the last few years. Who are the top prospects from that group?

John Manuel: Depends on which guys you consider a reliever. D.J. Mitchell is still viewed as more of a reliever long-term inside the organization, and he's the highest-ranked guy like that in the system. Mark Montgomery and Branden Pinder had splashy debuts and both made the top 30. Chase Whitley should close at Double-A Trenton this year, and I've liked Whitley since he was a 3B at Troy. Montgomery ranks highest of the relievers, Mitchell ranks highest of this group. Tommy Kahnle and Pat Venditte didn't make the 30 this year. Other interesting arms of note there are George Kontos and 2011 draftees Adam Smith and Rob Paullus, who has a nice breaking ball.

    Marcus (Endicott, NY): Matt Tracy got a lot of nice reviews for his Staten Island performance. Will it take a full season like that before he is a legitimate prospect?

John Manuel: No, he's a legit guy now, just missed the 30 but mostly because it's a deep system. I do have some skepticism about a guy who didn't pitch more in college considering Ole Miss wasn't exactly overflowing with arms the last few years (remember Aaron Barrett? remember David Goforth's 9 ERA in 2010? Yeah, I know you don't, but I do because I also help cover college baseball so I kept thinking about that with Tracy).

    Kelly (St Cloud, MN): In last year's scouting report of Betances, you mentioned the possibility of him becoming a RP. Is this still a good possibility, or are the Yanks set on him starting?

John Manuel: They seem to still want him to start. He'll never have refined command, and the bigger worry is that his 2010 season looks like the aberration. He had about 2.5 BB per 9 in '10 and was back around 5 per 9 in 2011, like he had been previously. I mentioned AJ Burnett in his writeup, not as a comp but as a similar type of pitcher who has big stuff and has had some success despite never really having average command, or even average control. Betances' stuff is front-of-the-rotation. He'll never throw enough quality strikes to be a true 1 or 2 starter, though. He's still a high-risk, high-reward guy even five years out from being drafted.

    Marcus (Endicott, NY): Do you see either of the Almontes (Zoilo and Abraham) racking up significant Major League service time in their careers?

John Manuel: Not as everyday players. Zoilo made the 30 for the first time this year; if Abe could play 2B I think he would have been a good Rule 5 pick but apparently no one thinks he can do that anymore. Both fit better as reserves, though Zoilo's power came on a bit this year. Both figure to play at Trenton in 2012.

    Ryan (White Plains, NY): Even though there are several names in common between last year's Yankees top 10 and this year's, which list do you believe has more potential overall?

John Manuel: Last year's system was deeper overall, but this year's seems better, at least in comparison to the rest of baseball. Not many teams can match the upside the Yankees have in their top 5 prospects, or the 4 catchers the Yanks have in their top 10. This year's list has fewer close-to-the-majors guys like Noesi and Nunez and Laird, who had less upside than guys like Santana and Bichette. So this year's has more upside, even without Brackman, who was coming off his big finish in the EL last year. Still hard to believe he had a 3.01 ERA and a 3.23 K-BB ratio for the 2010 season ... oh well.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Are the Yanks not nearly as willing to part with Montero now as they were a year ago?

John Manuel: I believe that is the case. The Yankees' lineup really has no reliable RH power aside from A-Rod. Russ Martin had two nice months, and Jeter slugged under .400. Obviously they realize this; hence Andruw Jones is back. I don't think Jones' return means they don't want Montero's bat in the lineup. He fits, he's ready, and I expect him to both DH and get some time at C in 2012 in the Bronx. I'm still interested to see if he plays any games at 1b; he's done nothing but C and DH as a pro.

    Zach (New York): On a scale from 1 to 10, how worried are you about Sanchez's makeup?

John Manuel: I'll say 5, because there are several red flags from this year but most of them are maturity-related. He's 19 and was handed $3 million as a 16-year-old. Most of us would not handle that particularly well. I give him more leeway because, you know, he can really, really hit. More worried about the receiving issues, but he has time to iron that out, and I found scouts who continue to believe he has the tools to be average as a receiver.

    Marcus (Endicott, NY): Can you see Corban Joseph playing second base every day in the big leagues?

John Manuel: Not at present. I like him but he doesn't impact the baseball on a consistent basis. He's going to have to be an offensive 2b, and it's hard to do that as a singles hitter. David Adams is the better prospect even after essentially missing 1.5 years.

    Grant (NYC): After Bichette, which 2011 draftee came closest to making your top 10 and why? thanks

John Manuel: Montgomery, because he's quite close to the majors and has a plus pitch now in his slider, the system's best slider.

    Laura (Queens NY): More raw power between Montero, Stanton and Harper?

John Manuel: I'd go Stanton & Harper both over Montero. I'm not sure whom I'd pick in Stanton vs. Harper, an informed guess would be Harper but that's almost moot. I will say I don't get 80 grades on Montero's power anymore, more 70s these days. He's been 70 hit and 70 power the last two Handbooks.

    Sammy (Great Neck, NY): Would you think Montero is still a top 10 overall prospect today?

John Manuel: Undoubtedly.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Did previous less-than-stellar international experiences lead to the Yanks deciding to bid so conservatively on Darvish? Had they won his rights and signed him, would you have ranked him above Montero for #1?

John Manuel: I don't think Kei Igawa helped their cause to get Darvish in any way. But I don't know what they bid for Darvish; I thought that was Rangers all the way. Very hard to say on Darvish vs. Montero; I might still go Montero over Darvish considering the hitter vs. pitcher and how safe I consider Montero to be as a prospect. He's going to be a very productive hitter, I think for a long time, who will catch enough for you to use him on your Strat team there, at least for the first few years. To me he's comparable to Paul Konerko, peak value Paulie.

    Bill (Conyers, GA): After missing essentially all of 2010 after being hit in the wrist during one of his first at-bats as a professional, Tyler Austin seemed to make a statement in 2011 between the GCL and NYP. Did he land in the Top 30 for this year?

John Manuel: Tyler Austin is in the top 30, and if he can play 3b the Yankees will have a nice problem on their hands with him and Bichette both at 3b. Austin sounds like a slightly more athletic version of Brandon Laird, but I think he has more power than Laird. He was one of the better stories of the system in 2011, and I see him at 1B and getting some 3B time on a prospect-laden Charleston team along with Culver, Gumbs, probably Bichette, Mason Williams ... man, that will be a fun team to watch.

    KEV (Tampa, FL): Where would you rank Ramon Flores? Can you give us a quick scouting report on him?

John Manuel: He's in the 11-20 range, and if it weren't for Jesus Montero, he might be the best pure hitter in the system; he's right up there with Murphy and Sanchez and Mason Williams for pure hitting ability. His other tools and profile are short compared to those guys but Flores went up from last year's Sleeper to being considered for the top 10 this year.

    Marcus (Endicott, NY): With Dante Bichette, Tyler Austin, Claudio Custodio, Jose Rosario, Cito Culver, and Angelo Gumbs all arguably ready for Charleston, who do you think should get the most full-season at-bats?

John Manuel: I believe Rosario and Custodio are headed for the NY-P, unless one of them just blows up in spring training.

    Erica (Hicksville, NY): Who would you say is the biggest sleeper prospect in the entire organization?

John Manuel: Tracy's one; CF Daniel Lopez is another, speedy CF. The other guy is Zach Nuding, who is physically one of the bigger Yankees. He's in the 30 this year, big dude with a big fastball.

    Marcus (Endicott, NY): Who is the most promising of 2010 high school pitchers Taylor Morton, Gabe Encinas, and Evan Rutckyj?

John Manuel: None of them made the 30. Morton had the best season this year and I liked him the best last year, but there's not a lot of separation with those guys. Morton's Twitter, as I was told yesterday, is worth a laugh or two but it doesn't make me think anything more of him as a prospect. Maybe a bit less ...

    Paul (Louisville, KY): From Sanchez' scouting report: "some scouts believe he's a lost cause as a receiver". If catching doesn't work out for him, where else would he be best suited for?

John Manuel: I haven't asked that question, but it's a good one. He's got plenty of arm strength so maybe you could try an outfield corner but he's not much of a runner. 1B seems most likely.

    Joel (KCK): As with any pitcher Banuelo's size, durability seems to be a possible issue in the future. Do scouts seem concerned at all about his ability to remain a starter? Thanks!

John Manuel: Durability was his biggest question last year, and considering he'd never thrown more than 110 IP, I never thought he'd be in the majors in 2011, even in spring training. He answered some of those durability Q's this year by essentially staying healthy all year. His delivery raises no red flags. I don't think anyone sees him as anything other than a starter going forward.

    Marcus (Endicott, NY): Who will be the fastest mover out of 2011 high school draftees Rookie Davis, Jordan Cote, and Daniel Camarena?

John Manuel: Camarena, but moving quickly is not why any of them was drafted.

    Cy (Western Mass.): Thanks John for all the chats and podcasts. Manny Banuelos and Martin Perez are the same age and seem to have similar size and stuff. Who has more potential and who has a greater chance of fulfilling his potential?

John Manuel: I ranked Banuelos ahead on my personal top 50 but it's a coin flip on those two guys. Neither one has been terribly consistent in the last year or so. I probably ranked Banuelos higher because of greater familiarity, they are very similar.

    KEV (Tampa, FL): What are your thoughts on Bryan Mitchell? What does he do well? What does he need to improve on?

John Manuel: He has ranked as high as No. 11 for us previously, but he's moved slowly since signing. This will be his first year in full-season ball and he's going to have to be a bit more pitch-efficient to last a whole year. He has excellent hand speed, giving him a chance to have a plus breaking ball and good velocity on his fastball. He also had some real maturity issues that he's hopefully out-growing.

    Dean (Fortaleza, Brasil): Can Greg Bird stay at catcher, or at which position do you expect him to play in the future? Will he start in the NYPenn League or return to the Gulf Coast League?

John Manuel: The Yankees intend to find out if he can catch, by their standards, which are lower than, say, Mike Scioscia's. I haven't talked to a scout yet that thinks he can catch but never say never. I think he may be in the GCL with Isaias Tejeda moving up to the Isle of Staten.

    Dean (Fortaleza, Brasil): If Dante Bichette Jr. starts in Charleston, what position will Tyler Austin play?

John Manuel: 1B or DH with some 3B mixed in. I think he's a 1B long-term.

    Dean (Fortaleza, Brasil): If Mason Williams, Ravel Santana and Slade Heathcott all make it to the major with the Yankees which outfield position will each play? Who has the best tools and who is most likely to reach their potential?

John Manuel: Williams is a CF and has the best tools of the group by a hair over Santana, at least if you believe in Williams' power. He's a bit raw in applying his speed but he's a burner; Santana has more pop, bigger arm, more of an RF. I like Heathcott but his arm having required surgery twice already, it's easier to send him to LF in that scenario.

    Jonis (Philly): First pitcher promoted to the Bronx : Mitchell, Warren or Phelps?

John Manuel: Mitchell in a relief role. Warren and Phelps are more back-end starter types, though I could see either one in a relief role if needed. I think the Yankees see Mitchell still in a Ramiro Mendoza kind of swing role.

    @ProspectD2J (Toronto): RHP Preston Claiborne and RHP Dan Burawa were among the Yankees 2011 AFL contingent. Can you give a brief scouting report on those two pitchers?

John Manuel: Burawa throws harder and is the better prospect; we've gotten some 96-97 velo readings on him and he has a good slider but a cringe-inducing delivery with a slinger's arm stroke. Claiborne is just a guy with decent velo and a decent slider. Phelps and Whitley are the only members of the Yanks' AFL contingent who made the top 30.

    @ProspectD2J (Toronto): How do you think the new draft bugets will affect the way the Yankees acquire amateur talent?

John Manuel: The international changes impact the Yankees more than the draft rules. They've been more active and bigger spenders internationally, and those changes could shackle the organization, which has been extremely aggressive internationally in terms of big-money signings but also quantity of six-figure signings. All the "competitive balance" rules, both in the recent CBA and in terms of revenue sharing, are intended to "shackle" the Yankees. It is what it is.

    @ProspectD2J (Toronto): Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain didn't exactly pan out the way everyone expected when they were on the cusp of the big leagues (a lot of that could be contributed to the hype machine). Have the Yankees learned anything from that, and are they more cautious now in promoting young pitchers like Betances and Banuelos until they truly are ready? Thanks for your time.

John Manuel: I actually think the Yankees are too cautious with their pitchers. But I don't want to bore everybody with another long pitching rant.

    @ProspectD2J (Toronto): What's the latest on the saga with Triple-A SWB playing their games at various stadiums in 2012? Will their lack of a permanent home affect the way the Yankees assign their players to different minor league levels this season? Have there been any concerns/objections from players who might be on the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster this year?

John Manuel: It's a real shame that the Mets put the kibosh on the Yankees having Triple-A Newark for a year. The fact that the SWB team will have no real home park this year already has affected the Yankees; they have signed very few minor league FAs. (You can see for yourself on the BA minor league FA tracker: As for affecting assignments, I don't think the Yanks will put a guy in Double-A who should be in Triple-A just because of Scranton's travel situation. But it is certain to affect that team's chemistry; maybe a player who in other years might have been promoted out of Trenton will stay in Trenton all year instead of being moved up to Scranton. I could see that happening.

    Dean (Fortaleza, Brasil): What is the status on Rafael De Paula getting a US visa? With the long delay, how does that affect his pitching progress? If he can play in the US this year, where will he start and will the Yanks be very aggressive in promoting him? What is his overall potential?

John Manuel: DePaula is fascinating; Ben Badler has covered him in the prospects blog. Honestly, I didn't ask the Yankees about him but he was in their 2011 media guide; they clearly expected him to be cleared by now. All our reports are bullish on his size, stuff, etc. But how old is he? What's his actual name? When will he play in the U.S.? I don't think we know all those answers.

    Jim (Canada): Does Brett Marshall project as a potential front-of-the-rotation starter sometime down the road ?

John Manuel: I think he's not quite that guy, hence he didn't make the top 10. He's a sinker-slider guy with a good changeup who had a strong year in terms of durability. Look for him in Trenton in 2012, he might be the best prospect on that team.

    yankees421 (Trenton, NJ): If Jose Ramirez has a developed a slider, why is he seemingly targeted for the pen? He already has a plus FB and plus changeup.

John Manuel: I think we might be responsible for this but it's a bit much to throw around the adjective "plus." He has a good fastball and a good changeup; he flashes plus. But he's not pitching with two plus pitches and getting his rear end handed to him in A-ball, you know? That generally doesn't happen. He also has minus command. He fell out of the top 30, and if he gets sent to the bullpen, it's because he failed as a starter.

    John W. (washington, DC): If he can recover from his injuries and avoid them in the future, does Heathcott have the potential to overtake Williams with more tools and a higher ceiling?

John Manuel: I don't think he has more tools, so I would say no. Williams has shown more power; they both run and defend well. Heathcott's a better defender, but Williams' hitting ability is the big advantage for me. That and the fact he hasn't had two arm surgeries.

    Avi (New Jersey): Dante Bichette Jr was ranked at #108 in Baseball America's pre draft rankings. Did the Yankees just know more than the "concensus", or is this a case of "reach pick" exceeding his expectations?

John Manuel: Good question. He exceeded our expectations; that's for sure. I don't think he exceeded New York's expectations offensively but he did defensively. He ranked 108 for us because of the profile as a right-right OF. The fact that he played well at 3B is a game-changer; he's got much more value if he can stay at 3b, and the Yankees are confident that he can. That said, the area guys in Florida we had spoken with over the years were not as high on him staying in the infield. That's where the Yankees bucked the consensus and so far they look good for it.

    Thomas Bona (Rockford, IL): Is the Yankees' tendency to develop bat-first, glove-second catchers an issue of how they identify draft/signing targets, or a matter of how they're developed? Are they unusual in that regard?

John Manuel: I think they are unusual in that regard, and I think it's a function of their history. They've won championships with great offensive catchers — Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, Posada ... those guys all could hit. They didn't win titles with the likes of Butch Wynegar back there.

    Bernie (Warwick, RI): Are you surprised they didn't give Brackman the chance to work out of the bullpen for a full season before letting him go ?

John Manuel: I'm not considering they would have had to give him, what, $2.2 million if they hung onto him? His contract was great for his bank account but a millstone for his career—too much attention for it and not enough development time. Not a smart contract for the club or for the player, only smart for the agent.

    Avi (New Jersey): Is Graham Stoneburnner still top 30 material for the Yankees?

John Manuel: Not for me — short righthander with a long history of durability issues. I look for him to move to the bullpen sooner than later.

    Jason (Salem, OR): No Angelo Gumbs in your Top 10? That surprises me as I thought he might be sneaky number 10 given the upside. What are your thoughts on him?

John Manuel: Gumbs certainly has upside and athleticism. His upside is offensive 2B or perhaps a CF. Williams' upside is as an offensive, dynamic CF, he's got more speed, more 'now' tools and hitting ability, so I thought Williams was an easy call for ranking ahead of Gumbs. I went with Culver over Gumbs because of the defensive ability; he's more likely to make the majors and has fewer demands on his bat. Gumbs is more raw and has less defensive value but a higher upside.

    Jerry (NYC): Happy New Year John: Hector Noesi, does he have the ceiling and stuff to be a mid-rotation starter for AL East Competition? Who is the better long-term prospect and has better stuff and command, Phelps or Warren? Does the Yankees have one of the top 10 Farm System in Baseball? Does Yankees have another Robertson like Pitcher in their system that can be a contributor in 2012? Thanks,

John Manuel: I was bullish on Noesi last year but even then saw his as more of a 4th starter than a guy you want starting twice in a playoff series. Long-term, I prefer Warren to Phelps. Yes, the Yankees system is more than top 10, I have it in my top 5; and David Robertsons are hard to find. I like Montgomery as a reliever who'll move quickly but I'm not sure I'm putting David Robertson on him. that guy is a stud.

    Vic31 (San Diego): What do you make of Kelvin DeLeon at this point?

John Manuel: Not much. Big raw power but not a great feel to hit. He's not in the 30 but then he wasn't in there last year either.

    Matt (New York): Thoughts on Claudio Custodio? Part of that toolsy GCL team. What's the report on him?

John Manuel: Custodio made the Handbook, he's in the top 30. The shorthand is he was compared to Robert Andino and that was meant as a flattering comparison. Andino did have a nice year with the Orioles this year once he got the chance to play; Custodio might be more of a shortstop than Andino has turned out to be. I see Custodio at Staten Island along with most of that GCL club — Calderon, Rosario, Tejeda, Danny Lopez, Fu-Lin Kuo, and several 2011 draft picks like Greg Bird, Jake Cave and maybe Matt Duran. That will be an interesting roster.

    Dean (Fortaleza, Brasil): Everyone loves the store about Pat Venditte. Will we see him in AAA this year? Any chance he ever makes it to the majors?

John Manuel: Always a good way to end the chat ... I would guess Venditte, if he has a good minor league season, will get a big league cup of coffee with somebody. I'm not sure if will be the Yankees, unless they have the 40-man roster room. But I don't see him as a long-term big leaguer. I do love the story and wish there were more guys doing that in college like he did as an All-American at Creighton.

John Manuel: Well, that's it for me, hope you enjoyed the last two hours. I'm sure every single one of you will be back Friday for the Red Sox chat with Jim Callis. Thanks again and Happy New Year.