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Henson was unhappy after the Yankees traded him to the Reds in a 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 for outfielder Wily Mo Pena and $1.9 million. 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. 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. He lost valuable experience by splitting his time between two sports, and it shows most in his pitch recognition and plate discipline. The Yankees rushed Henson to Triple-A last year, and he would have been better served by 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. Henson's .314-6-33 performance there spurred speculation he was ready for New York. 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.
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. Johnson retained his uncanny knack for getting on base in 2001. He's an ultrapatient 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. Griffin's understanding of the strike zone will help him make adjustments. His bat is ready for Double-A, though he'll head to high Class A Tampa first.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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 2001 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. 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. 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 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.
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. Like Juan Rivera, Thames worked with hitting coach Dan 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. 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. 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 Rondell White and John Vander Wal. Thames will spend the 2001 season in Triple-A or wait for a trade.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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 of college. 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. Arnold blew away hitters as a closer in college with pure arm strength and a mid-90s fastball. He worked comfortably between 90-97 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. 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 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.
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. 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. 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 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.
Martinez overmatched the low Class A South Atlantic League for the first two months of last season. He led the league in ERA and was coming off back-to-back shutouts when he was promoted to high Class A. Shortly after he was shut down for the remainder of the season with a sore shoulder, possibly a result of high pitch counts accrued with Greensboro. Martinez isn't physically imposing, but he can carve up hitters with a sneaky moving fastball that consistently sits around 89-92 mph, a sharp-breaking curveball that's clocked at 73 mph and a changeup he can throw for strikes. His curve is outstanding, though it suffered early in 2001 when he was dropping his elbow. Martinez eventually found a consistent arm slot and then began repeating his delivery. His shoulder required only arthroscopic surgery and no further setbacks are anticipated. Yet Martinez never has worked more than 81 innings in a season, so durability is a question. He'll return to Tampa and move one level at a time.
Graman's name often is bantered about in the trade rumors that constantly swirl around the Yankees. In 2000, he reportedly was to be included in a package for Sammy Sosa, and more recently was involved in talks for Darin Erstad. In 2001, Graman didn't find his groove until July. After going 6-6, 5.30 in his first 15 starts, he went 7-3, 2.12 over the final two months. His surge can be attributed to locating his fastball. Graman goes after hitters' weaknesses with a diverse four-pitch repertoire consisting of a 90-94 mph fastball, a tough splitter, a slider and a changeup. Graman enjoyed pitching in Norwich's spacious Dodd Memorial Stadium last year, where his ERA (2.73) was nearly two runs lower than on the road (4.58). Improving his changeup would help him against righthanders, who batted .276 against him in 2001. Graman will head to Triple-A and could be ready to help New York in a pinch. However, he'll require extra effort to stand out in a crowded group of lefthanders including Brandon Claussen, Randy Keisler and Ted Lilly at the upper levels of the system.
The Yankees signed Hernandez to a four-year, $4 million contract in 2000 after the Cuban defector sneaked on a flight to Costa Rica and trained for scouts in Guatemala. Two years into his career, El Duquecito has attracted more attention for his likeness to his mentor Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez (no relation), than for his performance. Adrian made his big league debut last year, but drew the ire of Roger Clemens when he missed a start due to illness. Like El Duque, Hernandez can be effective when his fastball is in the mid-80s or the low 90s because he alters his delivery and comes at hitters from all arm angles. All of his stuff has good movement and he throws a variety of breaking pitches, making it difficult for batters to get locked in. Hernandez needs to improve his changeup, especially to combat lefthanders, who hit .300 off him last year. He lacks a true out pitch, which might limit him to the bullpen or a swingman role. He could start 2002 in the big leagues or in Triple-A depending on how he performs in spring training.
The system is stocked with shortstops, but Mendez is nearly five years younger than Erick Almonte, and he's nine months younger than Ferdin Tejada, who will make his U.S. debut this year after finishing first and second in hitting in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in the last two years. Expectations were sky-high for Mendez after he hit .300 and ranked as the Gulf Coast League's No. 3 prospect in 2000. But a leap to a full-season league at age 18 proved to be unrealistic last year, as he struggled before a demotion to Staten Island in the second half. He pulled his hamstring in August and didn't return until the postseason. Though he didn't display it last season, Mendez can drive the ball into the gaps and his power should improve as he matures physically. He's blessed with a well above-average arm and natural shortstop actions in the field. He has good range up the middle and in the hole, but he runs a tick below average. The Yankees rushed Mendez last season and he should return to low Class A Greensboro for a full season.
Despite a disappointing junior season in 2000, Smith established Oklahoma State's career strikeout record and went in the fourth round based on the stuff he showcased throughout his freshman and sophomore season. His velocity faded from 90 mph to 85-87 as a junior, and he stayed at that plateau during his pro debut. The Yankees were pleasantly surprised when his fastball returned to the 88-92 mph range last season. He gets effective sink on his two-seamer, and uses a curve with slurvy action that rivals Brandon Claussen's breaking ball. Smith also has a developing changeup to keep hitters guessing. He throws strikes and doesn't beat himself. After a strong second half of 2001 in high Class A, Smith should be ready to handle a move to Norwich.
The Orioles selected Skaggs in the fourth round in 2001, but he elected to return to Rice to give the Owls a talented senior tandem along with Kenny Baugh, now a top prospect in the Tigers system. A ribcage injury last spring probably prevented Skaggs from joining Baugh as a true first-round pick--his maximum-effort delivery and sporadic command also were concerns--though the Yankees used their second supplemental first-rounder on him. Skaggs strained his elbow in his first pro start and didn't pitch again during the summer. When he's healthy, Skaggs' fastball sits between 88-94 mph and runs to the right when he keeps it down in the strike zone. His 80-mph curveball has tight downward rotation, and he shows the makings of a well above-average changeup with late fade. Skaggs should be healthy this spring and could jump on the fast track, probably starting in low Class A.
The Yankees have Panamanian righthanders Ramiro Mendoza and Mariano Rivera in their current bullpen, and Acosta gives them another in their pipeline. After spending three years in Rookie ball, he made the transition into full-season look easy in 2001 following a stint in extended spring training. Acosta's fastball already reaches 93-95 and projects to add even more when he fills out his classic projectable frame. Rather than just throwing his heat by batters, he shows pitchability. His 80-82 mph power curveball is a second weapon, while his changeup is still remedial. Acosta limited South Atlantic League hitters to a .166 average, with the only negative being two trips to the disabled list with a shoulder strain. Acosta pitched in the new Panama League in the winter, proving his arm was sound. He should return to high Class A, where he struggled to throw strikes last season.
A product of the Hiroshima Carp's baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, Reynoso signed with the Yankees for $900,000 last year. The Astros originally signed Reynoso as a 16- year-old in 1992 before releasing him in 1994. Out of baseball for three years, he signed with the Tigers and spent one season pitching in the Dominican Summer League before winding up in Japan for two years. Reynoso's fastball has been clocked as high as 98 mph, which spurred speculation he would blitz through the minors and help the Yankees bridge the gap between the starters and Mariano Rivera. But a 2001 season that began with visa problems and a groin injury in spring training also included a sore arm and a seriously sprained knee incurred while covering first base. Despite all the distractions, Reynoso displayed an electric arsenal featuring three potential big league pitches: a 94-98 mph fastball, a splitter and a slider. His knee problem will delay the start to his 2002 season, and he appears to be a long way from making an impact in the Yankees bullpen.
Signed for $260,000 out of Venezuela, Navarro made his pro debut at age 17 and earned all-star recognition in the Gulf Coast League. He also earned the nickname "Pudgito" for his defensive prowess and his physical resemblance to Ivan Rodriguez. Navarro used his plus arm strength, soft hands and quick feet to throw out 35 percent of basestealers. At the plate, the young switch-hitter appeared more comfortable from his natural right side but showed the ability to use the whole field from both sides. He's also a slightly above-average runner. Navarro needs to get stronger and drive the ball more, which should happen in time. He'll probably begin this year in extended spring training before going to Staten Island in June.
The Yankees obtained DePaula as the player to be named in the trade that sent reliever Craig Dingman to Colorado last spring. DePaula finished second in the South Atlantic League in strikeouts in 2000, and returned to dominate at that level during the first half last season. He rang up 10 or more strikeouts in a game four times before earning a promotion to high Class A in June. His delivery is deceptive and he has a fast arm that generates 90-95 mph fastballs. His plus changeup is among the best in the system and is a strikeout pitch, and he has shown the ability to spin his slider. DePaula works fast with an energetic demeanor bordering on arrogance. The Yankees believe he has his emotions under control because he doesn't lose his composure. DePaula's command wavered in Tampa, and becoming more consistent with his breaking ball will be the key for him handling Double-A. His fastball-changeup knockout punch gives him a chance to move rapidly, and at worst he should develop into an effective big league reliever.
The Red Sox released Roller in 2000 after he surfaced above Rookie ball for just one game in three pro seasons. He opened the 2001 season with 31 consecutive innings without permitting an earned run, and he only allowed an earned run in just three of his 51 appearances. Roller overpowered opponents to the tune of a stingy .174 average against and didn't allow a home run. His command was the main culprit behind his struggles in the lowest levels of the Boston chain, but he has drastically improved his control since joining the Yankees organization. Though he has a high-maintenance delivery that doesn't look very natural, it works for him and he unloads pure power. Roller's fastball is consistently clocked between 93-95 mph, complemented by a knee-buckling breaking ball. His changeup is below average. Roller followed up his coming-out party with a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He was exposed to the major league Rule 5 draft but no one took him from New York. He'll open 2002 as a Double-A closer and could reach Triple-A this season.
Borrell had more success as a first baseman/outfielder at Wake Forest, slugging 37 homers while compiling a 6.21 ERA as a starter, but his free and easy arm action on the mound was too enticing to pass up. The Yankees immediately made him a pitcher after signing him as a 2000 second-round pick, and he has been much more effective in the minors. He mixes up an average 87-91 mph fastball, a curveball and a changeup. He works from a balanced, clean delivery and exhibits advanced pitchability. He needs to sharpen his consistency with his curveball and is toying with a slider. Borrell was shut down in the second half last year with shoulder pain, but he returned for the Florida State League postseason. He'll pitch in Double-A in 2002.
Brazoban patterns his game after Vladimir Guerrero's. He shares the No. 27, doesn't wear batting gloves and tries to imitate the Expos superstar's actions at the plate and in the field. While Brazoban has rare five-tool potential and one of the highest ceilings in the system, he has a long way to go before approaching his countryman's MVP credentials. Like Guerrero, he has outstanding bat speed and a maximum-effort swing, but Brazoban doesn't have command of the strike zone and needs to tone down his furious hacks. Because he's a free swinger, his power has yet to blossom. He crushes fastballs in his zone. His most advanced tools--range and a cannon arm--are on display in right field. Brazoban faces a tough challenge developing his offense in the pitching-friendly Florida State League this year, where his main focus should be developing a patient eye.
Coveted for both his live arm and live bat, Wright was considered one of the top two-way Texas high school talents last spring. His velocity jumped from 86-87 mph to 90-93 in a workout following the draft. Physically, he reminds the Yankees of Eric Milton, their 1996 first-round pick. After Wright's pro debut, New York believes his stuff might not be far behind Milton's at the same stage of development. Wright maintained his increased velocity, sitting in the 90-91 range during his stay in the Gulf Coast League. His control plagued him in the GCL, though. Because he's an excellent athlete--he ran the 60-yard dash in 6.6 seconds in high school and had intriguing power potential--he should be able to repeat his delivery and throw more strikes in the future. The Yankees will be patient with him until he does.
The Yankees' big budget didn't have anything to do with landing Rodriguez. It was more a credit to Bronx area scout Cesar Presbott, who got a tip and signed the nondrafted free agent for $1,000 after a tryout at Yankee Stadium. Rodriguez attracted little attention outside the organization until last season, when he emerged as a legitimate power-hitting prospect. He has outstanding bat speed and hit 22 homers last year despite playing his home games at Norwich's cavernous Dodd Memorial Stadium. Rodriguez is an aggressive hitter who needs to gain a better understanding of the strike zone and learn to lay off bad pitches. He made progress on cutting down his swing last year and showed much improved defensive skills. With Juan Rivera and Marcus Thames ahead of him on the depth chart, plus the Yankees' preference for veterans, Rodriguez' future in the organization is uncertain. He'll spend 2002 in Triple-A and could serve as a lefthanded option off the bench in New York if needed.
Rifkin was the fourth of eight college seniors drafted in the first 10 rounds by the Yankees last June. The Diamondbacks took him in the 54th round out of high school in 1997, but he opted for NCAA Division III Chapman (Calif.) before transferring to Cal State Fullerton. Rifkin went undrafted after hitting .322-8-27 in his junior season, and batted .300-16-60 as a senior. Many draft experts were surprised to see Rifkin go in the top 10 rounds last year, but he went on to win the MVP in the New York-Penn League. Rifkin has a picturesque swing, and he attracted the Yankees with his advanced hitting approach. He has good plate coverage, uses the whole field and attacks pitches in his zone. Despite his large frame, Rifkin is a polished defensive first baseman. At 23, Rifkin could afford to skip a level and jump to high Class A. The Yankees believe they may have uncovered a sleeper.
Grove broke the hamate bone in his right wrist during batting practice before his junior season at Washington State. After he returned, the wrist hampered his performance and knocked him out of the top two rounds. Upon signing, Grove broke a foot in a postdraft minicamp, which delayed his pro debut until 2001. After a slow start last season, the sweetswinging lefty hit .339 over the final three months. His didn't show enough patience at the plate in his debut, but Yankees brass raves about his makeup and aptitude. Grove strokes the ball to all fields and can drive the ball into the alleys with some authority. He's a below-average runner with a left-field arm. Grove improved his defense over the course of the season by spending extra time reading balls off the bat in batting practice. Grove's season should start in high Class A, where he ended 2001 in the Florida State League postseason.
Drafted out of high school in Puerto Rico, Corporan attended Lake City (Fla.) CC to hone his skills for a year before signing as a draft-and-follow. He was named after Elvis Presley. In each of the last two seasons, Corporan has struggled in low Class A. He has a long swing and is working on developing his plate discipline, which the Yankees stress. He grew up playing other sports in Puerto Rico and is still raw on a baseball field. He has power potential from both sides of the plate. Defensively, he's athletic with quick, smooth actions and a strong arm. Juan Camacho could push Corporan if he doesn't show improvement at the plate this year in high Class A.
As a junior in 2000, Anderson was named Big Ten Conference pitcher of the year and MVP of the league tournament. His 14 wins that year set Illinois' single-season record and boosted his career mark to 29-5. Still relatively unheralded, he began his pro career as a starter. Shifted to the bullpen in favor of David Martinez during the 2000 New York-Penn League postseason, Anderson caught everyone's attention with 96 mph gas. As a starter, he regularly sits in the 90-91 range and shows potential to have four slightly above-average pitches. He demonstrates a good feel for setting up hitters with his curveball. He uses a sweeping slider against righthanders and also has a deceptive changeup. With workhorse stamina and command of four pitches, Anderson will remain a starter. Though he got off to a promising start in low Class A last year, a rash of injuries in Staten Island's rotation forced him to take a step back. He could move faster in a short-relief role.
The Yankees always have loved football players and drafted several in 1995. They took a pair of college quarterbacks in Texas' Shea Morenz (first round) and Florida State's Danny Kanell (25th), as well as two Florida high school outfielders with football scholarships in Brown (second, Florida State) and Daunte Culpepper (26th, Central Florida). Brown was considered one of the best athletes in the draft but also a gamble because of his football prowess. Though he's been slow to develop, New York still thinks highly of him and resigned him to a minor league deal in December after removing him from the 40-man roster a month earlier. Injuries have hampered him throughout his career, yet his tools remain evident. A broken foot stalled him in 2000 and a torn rotator cuff limited him to 14 games last season. Brown's blazing speed grades out as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His bat speed gives him power potential. He still needs to learn the nuances of the game, and his throwing arm limits him to left field. The Yankees hope Brown's athleticism will take over when he returns to action in Double-A.