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Contreras defected from the Cuban national team during the Americas Series tournament in Saltillo, Mexico, last October. He sought asylum in the United States, but to avoid becoming subject to the draft he then established residency in Nicaragua. Major League Baseball declared him a free agent in December. The Yankees, Red Sox, Mariners and Dodgers sent officials to Nicaragua to negotiate with Contreras and agent Jaime Torres. Boston had a four-year, $27 million offer on the table and was willing to go higher when New York vice president of international scouting Gordon Blakeley and Latin American scouting supervisor Carlos Rios closed a deal at owner George Steinbrenner's behest. The Yankees signed Contreras to a four-year, $32 million major league contract that included a $6 million bonus. He was considered the best amateur pitcher in the world, and Blakeley opined that he might be the best ever. Contreras earned his reputation by consistently dominating in international competition. At the last three major international tournaments--the 1999 Pan American Games, 2000 Olympics and 2001 World Cup--Contreras went 7-0, 0.59 with 66 strikeouts in 61 innings, facing mostly professional hitters. His most notable performance came against the Orioles in a 1999 exhibition in Havana. Contreras threw eight shutout innings in relief, striking out 10. In Cuban league play, Contreras had a career 127-50, 2.82 record, including a 13-4, 1.76 mark last season. Contreras regularly throws 94-96 mph with his fastball and tops out at 98. An impressive physical specimen with a rock-solid frame, he's able to maintain his velocity deep into games. His power arsenal is rounded out by two more plus pitches, a slider and a splitter, and he has the confidence and savvy to throw all three pitches in any count. He keeps lefties and righties alike off balance by varying the speed (81-89 mph) and shape (sweeping action on a short, biting cutter) of his slider, and he can throw his splitter for strikes or bury it in the dirt. His delivery is clean and powerful, and he creates deception with his lead arm. He also has toyed with a changeup, which has been effective. The only test for Contreras is to prove he can rise to the occasion in major league venues with the burden of his huge contract and huge expectations in New York. He hasn't sustained any known injuries, but he has shouldered a heavy workload in Cuba. While many Cubans face questions about their age, no one has challenged Contreras' birthdate. He has all the makings of a No. 1 starter and will be expected to pitch to that standard in New York right away.
A fan favorite in Japan, Matsui has been known more commonly as "Godzilla" since his days at Seiryo High in Japan's Ishikawa perfecture. He won the Central League MVP award for the third time last year, finishing seven points in batting average shy of a triple crown. After leading the Giants to their second Japan Series championship in three years, and the third of his career, he wasted little time in declaring his intentions to pursue a career in the U.S. The Yankees signed him to a three-year contract worth $21 million. Squarely built with a solid, muscular frame, Matsui employs a classic Japanese swing. He pulls off pitches with a slight spin but is able to generate plus-plus power. He should enjoy the short right-field porch in Yankee Stadium, and as one of the strongest players in Japan he displayed the raw power to drive the ball the other way as well. He has above-average bat speed and crushes mistakes over the plate. He's a patient hitter capable of working the count, and he's dangerous even with two strikes against him. For all of Matsui's home run prowess, he hit just .261 with four home runs in 119 at-bats in four years against touring U.S. major leaguers. Some scouts doubt his power will translate because of his unorthodox approach. Matsui feasted on the 361-foot alleys in Yomiuri's home park, the Tokyo Dome. He can be vulnerable to breaking balls in the dirt and there are questions whether he'll be able to catch up to the best major league fastballs. He won three Gold Gloves as a center fielder in Japan, though that was more for his popularity than for his defensive skills. His fringy arm and limited range will likely land him in left field in New York. Japanese scouts thought he might end up at first base, which is not a viable option, and Matsui couldn't handle third base when Yomiuri experimented with him there two years ago. The media circus that has followed Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hideo Nomo will be multiplied in New York, but Matsui has thrived under a microscope. His even-keeled approach should help him, and he'll also benefit from hitting behind Bernie Williams and Jason Giambi.
Rivera nearly won the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League triple crown with a .333-12-45 effort in 1998. He re-emerged at Double-A Norwich in 2001. On his way to his first game at Yankee Stadium last June, he got lost on the subway. Then he broke his right kneecap when he ran into a golf cart during pregame drills, which knocked him out for two months. He looked more like a veteran the second time around, finishing the season as a regular in left and right field and starting in all four games against the Angels in the American League Division Series. While Rivera doesn't employ a prototypical swing--his front foot bails a la Roberto Clemente--he crushes fastballs and covers the outer half of the plate when he keeps his hands back. He has above-average raw power, though his power production has been average at best. Rivera's defense may have been the deciding factor in his postseason starts. He has 65 arm strength on the 20-80 scouting scale. He makes good reads off the bat and takes good routes to the ball. Rivera could produce more power with improved selectivity, and he can be susceptible to offspeed stuff away. Rivera has a thick lower half and is an average runner. As he continues to fill out, his speed will diminish. In spite of his playoff experience, Rivera could be squeezed out of New York with the signing of Hideki Matsui and the team's inability to unload Raul Mondesi and Rondell White, and it's not clear whether the club considers him a long-term answer in the outfield.
Bronson was named for his mother's favorite actor, Charles Bronson. His brothers Dane (named after a Hawaiian surfer) and Duke (named for John Wayne) play in the minors for the Reds and Rockies. Sardinha signed with the Yankees for $1 million, turning down the chance to be the third Sardinha to play at Pepperdine. Sardinha has a quiet, professional approach at the plate. He's short to the ball and has learned to stay back and trust his hands. He uses the whole field and hit for surprising power in his first full pro season. He worked hard to make himself an above-average runner, and his arm strength is a plus. Scouts weren't sold on Sardinha's ability to stay at shortstop, so the Yankees sent him back to short-season Staten Island to learn to play left field. Now the question is whether he projects to hit for enough power to man a corner outfield spot. Quiet by nature, Sardinha is a baseball rat who showed tremendous progress in a short period of time. The Yankees are contemplating moving him to center field at high Class A Tampa in 2003.
Signed as a draft-and-follow in 1999, Claussen emerged as one of the game's top lefthanded pitching prospects by leading the minors with 220 strikeouts in 2001. He also topped the organization with 187 innings, and the workload took a toll on his arm in 2002, as he had Tommy John surgery in June. The Yankees say Claussen's bulldog mentality and work ethic will help him return on schedule and to his previous form. He's expected to regain his plus velocity and sharp breaking ball. His fastball was in the 88-94 mph range, and his slider, the best breaking pitch in the system, was effective against lefties and righties. He had made significant progress with his changeup. After breaking down, Claussen needs to build his stamina and avoid further injury. His pitch counts will be monitored closely when he returns. He throws four pitches, but his curveball is no more than a show-me pitch. Claussen should be back sometime in the second half of 2003.
As a quarterback at Michigan, Henson projected as a potential first-round pick in the NFL draft. The Yankees traded him to the Reds in July 2001 and reacquired him the following spring, giving him a six-year, $17 million contract to give up the gridiron. Few prospects can match Henson's size, strength and athleticism. He can mash fastballs down in the zone and hit mistakes a long way. He also has an above-average arm and good lateral agility. His take-charge mentality makes him a favorite of Yankees brass. Henson's bat speed is only fair, though, and he tends to muscle the bat through the zone. His swing is long and he struggles to recognize offspeed pitches. His September callup ended early when he was sent to Tampa to work on defense. Henson has been rushed to the majors, yet he didn't get 400 at-bats in a season until 2002 because of football and injuries. His struggles in the Arizona Fall League underscored he's not ready for New York. He's headed back to Triple-A Columbus.
Signed to a $1.9 million bonus, Wang came to the United States with high expectations. His 2000 pro debut was solid, but a shoulder injury knocked him out for all of the following year. He returned in 2002, tossing eight shutout innings to clinch the New York-Penn championship for Staten Island, then earned the MVP award for Taiwan at the Asian Games. Wang is polished in spite of his relative inexperience. He maintains 90-95 mph velocity on his fastball with a clean delivery and free arm action. His splitter and hard, late slider give him two more knockout pitches, and his changeup is a reliable option. He can command all four pitches in the strike zone. While Wang looked to be back to 100 percent, he hasn't pitched a full season yet. If Wang stays healthy, the Yankees are prepared to put him on the fast track. He could start 2003 in high Class A and reach Double-A Trenton before the end of the season.
Cano's father Jose signed with the Yankees in 1980 and reached the big leagues with the Astros in 1989. Robinson played baseball and basketball at his Dominican high school, and from the first time he worked out for the Yankees has shown an advanced approach. Like Bronson Sardinha, he went to Staten Island after opening the 2002 season at Class A Greensboro. Cano's bat is his greatest strength. He generates plus bat speed and has a knack for making adjustments with his hands to put the barrel of the bat on balls in different zones. He covers the plate well with a good idea of the strike zone, makes consistent hard contact and projects to hit for power. Defensively, Cano offers versatility, though he'll likely end up at second or third base or even right field with Ferdin Tejada and Joaquin Arias in the system. Cano has the actions, above-average arm and quick hands to play shortstop, and most of his errors were due to inexperience. He's a below-average runner. Cano finished third in the system in RBIs and should make the jump to high Class A in 2003.
When they drafted Borrell, the Yankees envisioned another physical lefty in the mold of their 1996 first-rounder, Eric Milton. Unlike the polished Milton, who needed just one season in the minors, Borrell was raw after splitting his college career between hitting and pitching. Borrell mixes speeds and throws strikes. He's athletic, which allows him to repeat his delivery. He has an average fastball that sits at 87-91 mph but tops out at 94, so he can reach back when he needs a little extra. His changeup is among the best in the system and he shows good rotation on his curveball. Borrell can locate his stuff to either side of the plate, but without a plus pitch to put hitters away, he must be perfect. His curveball lags behind his other two pitches. His arm has low mileage, and Borrell could throw harder with more innings. After leading the Eastern League in ERA, Borrell should begin 2003 in Triple-A. The age of New York's rotation will make him an attractive option soon.
It wasn't that the Rockies didn't think highly of DePaula when they traded him to the Yankees for Dingman, a minor league reliever. They just expected more of Dingman, who pitched just seven games in Colorado before leaving as a free agent. Meanwhile, DePaula has gone 29- 12 and averaged nearly a strikeout an inning since the deal. The slight DePaula fools hitters with lightning-quick arm speed that generates 91-95 mph fastballs. He made strides last year in conserving pitches, which allowed him to work deeper into his starts. Never short on confidence, DePaula began throwing his low-80s slider and plus changeup when behind in the count. DePaula was able to channel his intensity to become more efficient on the mound. He must continue to keep his emotions in check to avoid losing control of the game. Though DePaula has been a durable strikeout artist, he might fit better as a dynamic short reliever in the majors. After being added to the 40-man roster for the first time, he'll attend his first big league camp and should open 2003 in Triple-A.
When baseball people talk about a Rookie-level prospect, they typically are reserved. While the Yankees try to temper their enthusiasm, Guillen's ability is too much to ignore. Signed for just over $100,000, Guillen led the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League with 11 home runs in 2001, and was the No. 2 prospect in the GCL in 2002. Guillen might have the highest ceiling in the organization. With a strong family background and education, he should continue to pick things up quickly. He projects as a power-hitting right fielder, though he plays center field now. Once timed as a 7.6-second runner in the 60-yard dash, he soon improved to 6.8--reminiscent of former Yankees farmhand Cristian Guzman at the same age. While Guillen has five-tool potential, his ability to hit for average will be tested against more advanced competition. He doesn't show the patience Yankees hitters are known for. Already blessed with a strong frame, Guillen is expected to fill out and develop into a prototype corner outfielder. He's at least four years away, but by that time he could be atop this list.
The Yankees drafted Henn twice, but it wasn't until his velocity jumped two grades that they signed him to a $1.701 million bonus, a record for a draft-and-follow. Henn went down with a sore elbow nine games into his pro debut and needed Tommy John surgery that wiped out his entire 2002 season. Henn threw 86-89 mph as a junior-college freshman, and didn't show the breaking ball or maturity to handle the daily grind of pro ball. He blossomed by his sophomore season and was touching 99 mph in the months leading up to the draft. His arm action is clean, and his changeup is an effective secondary pitch. Rehab allowed Henn to focus on refining his delivery. He worked out in Tampa with pitching coordinators Billy Connors and Steve Webber, focusing on his stride and release point. His breaking ball was a work in progress before the injury. Henn threw simulated batting-practice sessions in Tampa during the fall. His rehab has been encouraging and the Yankees expect him to be ready by spring training, 18 months after his surgery.
Instead of continuing to target big-ticket players such as Wily Mo Pena and Jackson Melian, the Yankees are trying to spread out their bonus money in Latin America by signing more players for smaller amounts. Tejada could turn out to be the best bargain of all, as he signed for just $35,000 in 2002. With improved diet, instruction and overall conditioning, he has progressed in all facets of the game over the last two years. Dominican scout Victor Mata, who signed Cristian Guzman in 1994, gives Tejada's tools the edge across the board, save Guzman's top-of-the-line hands. Tejada emerged in the Dominican Summer League in 2001 by finishing second in the circuit in hitting. Both his speed and arm are plus-plus tools, and he has quick, sure hands. He can handle the bat from both sides of the plate, with a more advanced approach from the left. Power will never be his forte, though increased extra-base ability should develop with physical maturity. Tejada knows his limitations, uses all fields and is an outstanding bunter. With a career .303 average, he'll likely head to low Class A Michigan in 2003 for his first taste of full-season action.
The Brewers drafted Manning in the 22nd round out of high school in 1997, but he headed to Polk (Fla.) CC and was drafted twice more before transferring to Tampa. The Mariners took a shot at signing him as a ninth-rounder following his junior season, but he returned to become the Sunshine State Conference pitcher of the year as a senior before finally signing with the Yankees. Manning finished second in the organization in strikeouts as he transformed himself into a prospect in 2002. He never will be overpowering, but the Yankees like his ability to fill the strike zone with four pitches. His repertoire consists of an 87-89 mph fastball, a late-breaking curveball, a slider and a changeup. His fastball peaks at 92. He's making his changeup a more effective weapon. Manning induces a lot of groundouts and allowed just five home runs by keeping the ball down in the zone. He already exceeded the organization's expectations, and other clubs were asking for him around the trade deadline in July. He should start 2003 in Double-A, where he finished his first full pro season.
Phillips entered the minors without fanfare despite a standout college career at Alabama. He rewrote the Crimson Tide record books, earned recognition as a third-team All American as a senior and had a Southeastern Conference-record 37-game hit streak snapped in the 1999 College World Series. Phillips continued to hit for average as a pro, but it wasn't until he showed the ability to hit for power in 2002 that his stock soared. After he led the Yankees system in homers, Phillips convinced scouts his power surge is legitimate. The ball jumps off his bat and he has the ability to drive the ball out to right-center, which is a graveyard at Norwich. Phillips draws high praise for his work ethic, and he spent last offseason on a strict conditioning program to build strength and increase his quickness and explosiveness. A shortstop in college, he moved to third base after signing and committed 48 errors in two years. That and Drew Henson's presence prompted Phillips to shift to second base in 2001. His hands and arm are suitable for the position, though he lacks the range of a middle infielder. Phillips projects as an offensive second baseman who will catch what he gets to.
When a bird-dog scout brought Arias to then-Latin American coordinator Victor Mata in 2000, Arias was a scrawny 140 pounds and Mata nearly walked away. Then he saw Arias swing the bat and it sounded like a 200-pounder was hitting the ball. The Yankees had him in their Dominican academy for nearly a year before signing him for $300,000. Alfonso Soriano is the new standard for middle-infield prospects, and as unfair as the comparisons might be, Arias has been compared to Soriano. Most were based on a physical resemblance. Arias has quick hands that trigger outstanding bat speed and surprising power, which projects as above-average as he matures. Since his first days at the academy, his arm strength has jumped a full grade to solid-average, his hands have improved and his 60-yard dash time has been cut to 6.5 seconds. Though he has all the tools for short, the Yankees moved him to second in the GCL because of shortstops Robinson Cano, Ferdin Tejada and Deivi Mendez in the lower levels. Arias started his career in the GCL instead of the Dominican Summer League. The Yankees will move him to the short-season New York-Penn League in 2003.
Anderson was drafted by the Royals in the sixth round out of high school in 1997, but the honor student opted for college instead. He joined Cardinals prospect Jimmy Journell to go a combined 16-3 for Illinois as a freshmen. Anderson was the Big 10 Conference pitcher of the year and tournament MVP in 2000, finishing his career with a 29-5 record. After spending his entire career as a starter, including his first 18 games as a pro, Anderson didn't jump on the fast track until the Yankees tried him in the bullpen in the 2000 New York-Penn League playoffs. His fastball jumped from 88-91 mph to the mid-90s. He topped out at 97 in 2002. His slider has above-average potential, and he'll mix in a changeup for strikes. Anderson needs to develop more confidence in his secondary pitches, especially his changeup and cutter, which both can be quality major league offerings. At his size, there's some effort to his delivery upon release, yet he still manages to repeat his mechanics and throw strikes. He was shut down with a sore arm in the Arizona Fall League, renewing concerns about his durability. Anderson took a step backward in 2001 when he finished the year in Staten Island, but he headed in the right direction in 2002 as he blitzed through the upper levels of the system. Provided he's healthy, Anderson will battle for a big league bullpen job.
In the first five years of his career, Ortiz didn't endear himself to the organization with his maturity level or his performance. He didn't get past Rookie ball until late in the 2001 season, after missing the majority of 2000-01 with back and knee strains. But in 2002, he became a leader for the system's young Latin American players. His fastball ranges from 89- 94 mph and averages 90-92 with occasional boring action from a high three-quarters release point. He has a good curveball, with 12-to-6 downward bite. His best pitch is a straight change with late fade. He still needs to solve lefthanders, who batted .286 against him in 2002. After all the injuries over the last couple of years, Ortiz was a workhorse in 2002, leading the organization with 177 innings. With command of three quality pitches, he should advance more rapidly now. He's ticketed for the Double-A rotation after finishing strong in high Class A. Some scouts project him as a middle reliever in the big leagues.
When the Yankees took Weeden with their first pick (albeit in the second round) in 2002, they broke from tradition. Not since 1998 had they started a draft with a high school player (Andy Brown), and it had been even longer since they had opened with a prep pitcher (Matt Drews, 1993). Scouting Weeden on the mound was a chore because he was his high school's starting shortstop and pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen. The Oklahoma State recruit saved nine games and struck out 68 in 40 innings while hitting .373-5-32. Just 5-foot-10 as a freshman, Weeden blossomed into a mature athlete who starred at quarterback in football and small forward in basketball. He has a prototypical pitcher's frame, with a quick, loose arm and a clean delivery. There's plenty of room for projection on his lively 88-93 mph fastball. His slider features tight three-quarters bite in the strike zone and grades out as a future plus pitch. With his limited pitching experience, Weeden will advance slowly after starting 2003 in extended spring training.
Valdez gave the Yankees plenty of reasons to get excited about his Rookie-level performance. When Carlos Rios and Victor Mata signed him for $100,000, he was throwing 87-88 mph and touching 90, showing potential but not distinguishing himself. But Valdez separated himself from the pack, increasing his velocity to 92-94, and he now touches 96-97 with regularity. He has added a nasty splitter to his fastball/slider/changeup combo. Pitching instructors Billy Connors and Steve Webber received a lot of credit for refining his mechanics, though Valdez' delivery is still a little funky and he has trouble repeating it. He dropped his arm slot from high three-quarters to a traditional three-quarters in 2002. His ceiling is the highest of any pitcher in the system, and he could catapult himself into the top 10 after 2003, when he could make his full-season debut.
Signed by scouts Carlos Rios, Ricardo Finol and Hector Rincones in Venezuela for $260,000, Navarro impressed Yankees officials in his 2001 debut as a 17-year-old. Built like a young Ivan Rodriguez, who was 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds when he signed out of Puerto Rico in 1988, Navarro is known as "Pudgito." Unlike Rodriguez, Navarro isn't likely to blitz through the minors in 21⁄2 seasons. The similarities are more evident behind the plate, where Navarro used a quick release and above-average arm to erase 35 percent of basestealers for the second consecutive season. The Yankees moved him aggressively to low Class A in 2002, and the teenager ran out of gas in the second half. Navarro has a compact, direct stroke and has a solid idea of the strike zone. He uses the whole field and projects to hit for gap power, but needs to improve his approach from the left side. Navarro should climb the ladder one level at a time.
Just a couple of years ago, Graman was regarded as the leader of an impressive crop of up-and-coming Yankees southpaws that also included Randy Keisler, Brandon Claussen, David Martinez, Danny Borrell and Ted Lilly. Keisler, Claussen and Martinez missed the majority of 2002 with injuries, Borrell has made progress and Lilly was traded to the Athletics. Graman hasn't shown the improvement scouts expected. He has been the subject of trade requests because of his four-pitch mix and command. His fastball is average at 87-91 mph and he'll occasionally reach back for a little more. He'll also vary speeds and movement between his two-seamer and four-seamer. His splitter is a potential out pitch, and he keeps hitters guessing with a slider and changeup. Graman must take a step forward in the Triple-A rotation if he's going to figure into New York's plans.
Reese helped lead Mission Bay High to a championship as a senior and was a two-way player at the University of San Diego before he focused on hitting and set several Toreros offensive records. He tore a ligament in his thumb during his senior season, though, knocking him down in the draft. The Yankees acquired Reese from the Padres following the 2001 season. He exercises a solid understanding of the strike zone, yet still has an aggressive approach. Reese skipped a level to Double-A in 2002 and still had the third-best average in the system. He's a pure hitter who sprays line drives to all fields with a compact stroke. He shows occasional pull power but can be beaten inside by good fastballs. His baseball instincts and above-average speed make him a threat to steal or take an extra base. Reese played center for Norwich and probably could handle all three outfield spots in the major leagues. His arm is average and accurate and he shows playable range. There aren't many holes in Reese's game, but his lack of power might relegate him to a future as a reserve.
Almonte's brother Hector reached the majors with the Marlins in 1999 and has spent the last two years in Japan. Erick has drawn comparisons to Derek Jeter with the raw tools to boot, but he might have to settle for a role as Jeter's backup. Almonte took a step backward after a dismal start in Triple-A. One of the best pure athletes in the system, he has frustrated the Yankees with his lack of progress. Columbus manager Stump Merrill got fed up with Almonte, who reportedly demanded a trade before he was demoted to Norwich. What's more aggravating about Almonte's season was that he had a tremendous showing in spring training. He did manage to hit a career-high 17 home runs, but he hasn't adjusted to the Yankees' plate-discipline philosophies, and pitch recognition is an issue with his long swing. Almonte, who also had a poor performance in the Dominican League in the offseason, might need a change of scenery. With his athleticism and strength, someone will give him a shot, possibly as a utilityman in the mold of Hiram Bocachica.
Marcus Thames hammered a 95 mph Randy Johnson fastball into the monuments at Yankee Stadium in his first at-bat in the big leagues. Overall, though, he took a step back from a monster 2001 campaign. Thames hit .275 with three home runs during spring training, but the signing of free agent Rondell White and trades for Raul Mondesi and John Vander Wal limited his opportunities. He displayed his strength and bat speed by homering against Johnson, but Thames is probably closer to a .229 hitter (his composite average in 1999-2000 and 2002) than the one who smacked 78 extra-base hits in his third year in Double-A in 2001. Thames, who joined the National Guard as an 18-year-old to help support his family, has the work ethic the Yankees covet. He could develop into a serviceable reserve outfielder.
A cousin of Darryl Kile, Bicondoa signed as a fifth-year senior before the 2002 draft. He went 11-2, 2.55 with a Western Kentucky-record 150 strikeouts and just 23 walks in 124 innings to earn Sun Belt Conference pitcher of the year honors. His success translated immediately to the pro ranks as he led the New York-Penn League in strikeouts and complete games. One of the system's sleepers, Bicondoa generates plus-plus life on an 86-92 mph sinker from a true three-quarters release. He keeps the ball down in the zone and can paint the corners as well as anyone in the system. While he's not overpowering, he uses an outstanding changeup to keep hitters off-balance. Bicondoa's curveball has slurvy action and is occasionally average, but it's a work in progress and needs to be tightened up. The curve could be the difference between a future in the rotation or the bullpen. He could enjoy a similar ascent to Charlie Manning and reach Double-A in his first full pro season.
He earned the nickname "El Duquecito" for similarities to countryman Orlando Hernandez (no relation), but Adrian needs to develop a style of his own. While he's provided glimpses of a pitcher worthy of the four-year, $4 million contract he signed in 2000, his 5.39 ERA in Triple-A illustrates his inconsistency. He tries to get too fancy at times, varying his arm angle and speed, but he tends to nibble when he does that. When he employs a more traditional delivery and stays at a three-quarters release, Hernandez challenges hitters with a 90-93 mph fastball with arm-side movement. He has yet to come up with an effective weapon against lefties, who have hit .303 against him at Columbus. His curveball, slider and changeup are average pitches, and he lacks a true out pitch. The revelation that he was more than four years older than previously believed didn't help his prospect status. Hernandez was outrighted from the 40-man roster and will have to battle for a bullpen spot in 2003.
A holdup at the U.S. consulate in the Dominican Republic couldn't have come at a worse time for Mendez. An influx of middle-infield talent including Robinson Cano, Ferdin Tejada and Joaquin Arias pushed him down the Yankees' depth chart as he missed all of spring training and showed up out of shape. Nagging injuries hampered his progress throughout 2002, and he never really got untracked. The good news is that Mendez' date of birth didn't change, which means he's still younger than Cano and Tejada. After the season, the Yankees put him in a special conditioning program at their Dominican academy. He has a chance to develop into a plus defender with a strong arm. Offensively, the ball jumps off his bat to the alleys. He'll need to regroup and make up for lost time in 2003.
As an outfielder, Brazoban idolized Vladimir Guerrero. After switching to pitching in the middle of his fifth pro season, he'll need to find a new player to emulate. The Yankees grew tired of waiting for his bat to develop, so Brazoban, who had 80 arm strength on the 20-80 scouting scale, moved to the mound in mid-July. He hit 97 mph the first time he stepped on the mound and flashed a darting 87 mph slider. He produced encouraging results in his short Gulf Coast League stint before getting shut down with a sore arm. He continued to make progress by pitching in the Dominican instructional league after the season. His fastball sat between 91-97 and he threw his slider for strikes at 83 mph. Brazoban has surprisingly good mechanics with a fast, loose arm, though he was working on repeating his release point and getting extension out front. Brazoban could move fast because he has two plus pitches and good command. The Yankees will monitor his workload and move him slowly, hoping he can develop into into a dynamic reliever at the back of the bullpen.
Another draft-and-follow project signed by Texas area scout Mark Batchko, who also landed Brandon Claussen and Sean Henn, Thompson was a shortstop/second baseman in junior college. He played on Grayson County's back-to-back Junior College World Series championship teams with the Angels' John Lackey. Thompson played seven games at second base in his 2000 pro debut before moving to center field, where he has emerged as one of the best defensive outfielders in the system along with Marcus Thames and Matt Carson. A plus runner (65 on the 20-80 scouting scale), Thompson led the organization in steals while getting caught just seven times in 2002. He makes consistent contact with a direct stroke and solid bat control, and shows an advanced understanding of strike-zone judgment. He should fare much better in his second attempt at high Class A and profiles as a versatile fourth outfielder.
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