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Usually it's the Yankees' money that wins out in the free-agent market, but their tradition and worldwide appeal often provides an extra boost, especially on the international front. Venezuelan scouts Carlos Rios, Ricardo Finol and Hector Rincones established a relationship with Navarro before he signed. When the Braves topped New York's $260,000 bid, Navarro still went with the Yankees because he had spent time around their staff and players in Tampa. Navarro quickly earned the nickname "Pudgito" for his defensive skills and physical resemblance to Pudge Rodriguez. Though he entered last season with a .252 career average, he has been an organization favorite since hitting .280 in his 2001 Rookie-level Gulf Coast League debut. The Yankees planned to keep him in high Class A Tampa all season in 2003, but he handled the bat so well they promoted him to Double-A Trenton by June. Nagging injuries--including an inner-thigh infection that led to a sty in his eye, and a hand injury from a home-plate collision--weren't enough to stop him from raking. His combined .321 average ranked fourth among minor league catchers. Navarro was a second and third baseman as an amateur, and his successful move behind the plate has conjured comparisons to another infielder turned catcher, Jorge Posada. While Navarro doesn't project to hit for the same power, he has separated himself from the pack by working counts and making hard contact to all fields. His set-up and smooth, natural stroke from both sides of the plate bring to mind Roberto Alomar. Navarro has a short, compact swing but manages to cover the plate, and he's tough to strike out. He stays back on breaking balls and has the bat speed to catch up to plus fastballs. He shows more power potential from the right side, though he can get a little pull-happy and could top out at 20 home runs. Navarro's cat-like quickness around the plate impresses scouts and he has above-average arm strength. Aside from not displaying big-time power, there aren't many flaws with Navarro's bat. There are mixed opinions on his defense. He needs to improve his game-calling skills, though that isn't uncommon for a young catcher. He threw out 33 percent of basestealers last year, and that number should improve with slight refinements to his mechanics. Navarro has gone from advancing a level a season to the fast track. He's slated to return to Double-A in 2004 but could find himself at Triple-A Columbus before the end of the season. A September callup isn't out of the question. Navarro should be ready to serve as Posada's backup at some point in 2005. He's in line to take the job in 2007, when Posada is due either a $12 million salary or $4 million buyout.
Duncan emerged as an early-round target for the Yankees at the 2002 Area Code Games, and he followed up with a strong spring. He collected three hits to earn the MVP award in a high school all-America game played near his New Jersey home before signing for $1.25 million. Managers rated him the No. 1 prospect in the Gulf Coast League. Duncan's approach reminds the Yankees of Nick Johnson, though Duncan can drive the ball to left field with more power. He has similarly solid plate discipline and a short, simple stroke. His even-keeled nature is ideal for New York and he embodies the Derek Jeter blueprint of ability, durability and character. Some teams compared Duncan's lefthanded power potential to Jim Thome's. As with Thome, Duncan's defense at third base may force him to move across the diamond to first. He can get pull-conscious, which should be corrected as he adjusts to wood bats. Duncan could move to high Class A with a good spring. He profiles as a middle-of-the-order run producer. His arrival in the Bronx could coincide with the end of Jason Giambi's contract.
After signing for $100,000, Guillen showed his power potential by leading the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League with 11 home runs in 2001. In 2003, he moved to center field, the position at which scout Victor Mata first spotted him, and made the jump to full-season ball. An exciting athlete, Guillen makes the game look easy with his graceful actions and projectable tools. He's an above-average runner with a strong arm and solid instincts for center field. He still shows more raw power than game power, but the ball jumps off his bat. Guillen is a bit of a wild swinger. An aggressive hitter early in the count, he too often falls behind and is susceptible to breaking balls. He worked on becoming more selective this offseason at the Yankees' complex in the Dominican. Last summer he drew 13 of his 32 walks in August, more than enough to win a dinner bet with Dodgers prospect Joel Guzman over who would draw more free passes. Guillen has as much upside as any player in the system. He'll spend 2004 in high Class A.
When Victor Mata first saw Arias as a wiry, 140-pound 16-year-old, he almost didn't give him a chance to swing the bat at a workout. Once Mata heard the thump of the ball coming off his bat, he kept Arias at the Yankees' academy for nearly a year. Arias signed for $300,000 after growing up in a house with a dirt floor and no furniture. His brother Alberto pitches in the Rockies system. Nicknamed "Spiderman" because his arms and legs appear to be going in every direction at once, Arias displays good body control in the field. He's flashier than New York's other shortstop prospects, showing plus-plus range and speed to go with a plus arm. He has outstanding bat speed and raw power. Arias hits out of a slight crouch and tends to swing uphill, and the Yankees would like to see him level his stroke out. He's too aggressive at the plate, though he demonstrates a good feel for the bat head and makes consistent contact. Like Guillen, Arias has five-tool potential and will continue to move at an aggressive pace. He'll start in high Class A this season as a 19-year-old.
Released by the Rangers after one season as an outfielder in the Dominican Summer League, Ramirez signed with the Hiroshima Carp as a pitcher in 2002 but pitched just three innings in the Japanese majors. After he impressed Yankees scouts in winter ball, they outbid the Phillies by purchasing his rights from the Carp for $350,000. Ramirez signed for $175,000. He got better as the 2003 season went on, learning to mix his pitches and to work effectively behind in the count. His fastball maxes out at 95 mph and sits at 92-94, while his power curveball features hard downward bite and is his best pitch. Ramirez had Japanese-style mechanics with a hip-turn and hesitations, but pitching instructors Billy Connors and Greg Pavlick converted him to a more conventional over-the-top delivery. Ramirez led the Arizona Fall League with a 1.44 ERA, likely earning him a job in the Triple-A rotation. His stature and two power pitches might make him a candidate for short relief in the future.
The Yankees' willingness to move prospects quickly under former player personnel chief Gordon Blakeley is illustrated by Cano's progress in 2003. His father Jose reached the majors briefly in 1989. One of the most confident hitters in the system, Cano can sting hard line drives to right field with an easy, level swing. He's capable of producing more power than he did last year because he has plus bat speed and natural strength, but he needs to learn to lift the ball. As Cano has filled out, especially in his lower half, he has lost his quickness. He doesn't get down the line well and on defense, his range is lacking at second base, which could prompt a move to third. Cano has the arm strength and projects to hit for enough power to justify a move to the hot corner. For now he'll remain at second base and return to Double-A.
Signed for $35,000 in February 2000, Tejeda had his pro debut postponed for a year by an abdominal strain. He finished second in the Dominican Summer League with a .330 average in 2001. Last season, Tejeda was sidelined several times with hamstring injuries but recovered to hold his own in the Arizona Fall League. He's nicknamed Pescado because he eats only fish. A switch-hitter, Tejeda handles the bat well from both sides and uses quick hands and an efficient line-drive swing. He puts the ball in play, though not with the same authority as Joaquin Arias. Defense is Tejeda's true calling card. He has one of the best arms in the system, athletic actions and soft, quick hands. While he stays back on breaking balls, Tejeda tends to be too aggressive early in the count. He has to gain more control of the strike zone to handle a jump to Double-A in 2004. Tejeda brings a lot of positive energy to the game, but remains coachable and willing to address his weaknesses. His AFL stint should help prepare him for the Eastern League.
DePaula was among the Latin American players to have his identity and date of birth corrected in the visa crackdown after Sept. 11. Formerly known as Julio DePaula, he's eight months older than previously reported. After spending five years in the lower minors, he made an impressive big league debut in September. Yankees catcher Jorge Posada's father signed DePaula for the Rockies. As he has gained experience, DePaula has made strides with his ability to vary his pitches. He sets hitters up with a deceptive changeup and runs his fastball between 88-93 mph. He wasn't fazed at all by pitching in the majors, but he doesn't possess a true out pitch. His fastball can get straight and he has a tendency to leave pitches up, leading to a career-high 23 home runs allowed. He throws a slurvy slider with inconsistent break. DePaula will vie for the final spot in the New York bullpen during spring training. The Yankees hope he can emerge as a Ramiro Mendoza type.
Bronx-based Yankees scout Cesar Presbott netted the club's top two choices in 2003, Eric Duncan and Harris. With two premium picks in the New York area, Yankees scouts were able to get extended looks at both. Scouting director Lin Garrett measured one of Harris' high school home runs at 470 feet. The Yankees went against the consensus to snag Harris in the second round, but they love his bat. A good athlete with a lightning- quick swing and plus power potential, Harris has drawn comparisons to a young Garret Anderson and could produce 30 home runs annually once he matures. He displays a natural feel for the barrel through the zone and has good pitch recognition. Harris has a funky throwing motion and a well-below-average arm that will limit him to left field. An inexperienced hitter, he'll need to become a more selective as he moves up. His pro debut was encouraging, as hitting six home runs in the Gulf Coast League isn't an easy feat, especially for a high school player. Harris will get his first full-season exposure at low Class A Battle Creek in 2004.
Sardinha's brothers Dane (Reds) and Duke (Rockies) are also developing prospects. After showing signs of progress in 2002, when he hit 16 homers in his first full season, Bronson took a step in the wrong direction last season but regrouped after a demotion to Battle Creek. He worked with hitting coach Ty Hawkins and went back to an old stance. Sardinha displays good rhythm at the plate with a nice, fluid stroke. He's a pure hitter with more of a line-drive approach, but there's natural loft in his swing. He projects to hit lots of doubles and have above-average power. He's a plus baserunner with an innate feel for game situations. Drafted as a shortstop, Sardinha moved to left field late in 2002 and then to center to start last year. His hands and arm are fine, but his range and lack of first-step quickness are best suited for third base, where he'll move in 2004. After working year-round in Tampa in the past, Sardinha was given a break this offseason. The 2004 season will be critical in his development, as it's time for him to move forward.
Five days after sending fireballer Yhency Brazoban to the Dodgers as part of the Kevin Brown trade, the Yankees acquired Sierra, another strong-armed righthander whom they believe has Brazoban's upside and better makeup. With a 95-mph fastball, Sierra has one of the best raw arms in the system. He pitches high in the zone with a power fastball. When his splitter is working and he can control his fastball, he can be virtually unhittable. However, command is the key to Sierra's success and it tends to waver. The Athletics moved him to the bullpen full-time last year and the Yankees plan on keeping him there. With two big weapons, he has closer potential as he matures and fills out his lanky frame. Likely to start 2004 in high Class A, he'll have an opportunity to advance to Double-A at midseason.
Less than a year after signing for $1.9 million out of Taiwan, Wang had reconstructive shoulder surgery and missed the entire 2001 season. He came back strong in 2002 and in the offseason was Taiwan's MVP at the Asian Games. Wang's successful return convinced the Yankees that he could go straight to Double-A in 2003. He proved to be up to the challenge early in the season but was inconsistent thereafter. His velocity fluctuated from 95 mph to just average. His health wasn't in question, other than one brief stint on the DL with a blister. Wang was trying to fool hitters instead of using his four-seam fastball and pitching to contact. His slider, forkball and changeup are all average pitches, but his command is his best asset. He has a good delivery with a long, easy arm action. Wang pitched for Taiwan again in the Asian Games, helping them earn a berth in the 2004 Olympics. He's ready to move up to Triple-A but still needs more refinement before contending for a big league job.
The Yankees didn't expect an aging Robin Ventura to command much of a return on the trade market, so they were ecstatic to get Proctor and Bubba Crosby from the Dodgers. Proctor was a middling prospect for the Dodgers as a starter. He won 10 games in 2002, but his average fastball/slider/changeup mix was less than intimidating, even for Double-A hitters. After he moved to the bullpen last spring, his velocity spiked to the high 90s in Double-A and hit 100 mph after the trade. Though he needs to add deception to his delivery and work on keeping the ball down, Proctor also improved his slider and still uses a changeup to keep hitters honest. He tends to finish his delivery in an upright position, which leads to mistakes up in the strike zone. He'll have an opportunity to win the final spot in the big league bullpen, but likely will return to Triple-A until an opportunity arises in the Bronx.
Borrell has top 10 talent, but he tore a shoulder ligament early in 2003, casting doubt on his future. A two-way player at Wake Forest, he attracted more attention from scouts as a pitcher despite hitting 37 homers while posting a 6.21 ERA. He has made significant progress from a raw, strong-armed thrower to a pitcher who relies on command and changing speeds. Borrell's fastball has topped out at 94 mph, but he works effectively at 87-90 mph. He tends to pitch backward and has tremendous command of one of the best changeups in the organization. Borrell throws strikes and uses both sides of the plate. The Yankees were impressed with his work ethic during his rehab and expect him to be ready to go by the end of spring training. He was on the verge of competing for a big league job last spring before his velocity dropped to 83 mph. Given this setback, he'll spend most of 2004 getting back to where he was. He'll be 26 when he competes for a spot with the Yankees in 2005.
Despite recording a NCAA Division III record 205 strikeouts in 2001 and establishing NCAA all-division career marks for wins (53) and whiffs (603), DeSalvo went undrafted throughout his college career. He didn't go completely unnoticed by scouts. Yankees area scout Mike Gibbons signed him as a fifth-year senior before the 2003 draft. DeSalvo missed most of the 2002 season with a knee injury before coming back to win BA's Small College Player of the Year award with a 13-2, 1.31 record and 157 strikeouts in 96 innings. The injury, his size and herky-jerky delivery kept him from getting drafted. DeSalvo has legitimate stuff to support his gaudy numbers. His fastball ranges from 87-93 mph and maxed out at 94 in low Class A. He complements his heater with a good 12-to-6 curveball. His changeup is average, but he needs to incorporate it into his mix more often. His delivery includes a leg kick and his hip turn provides a deceptive look, as DeSalvo's pitches get on hitters in a hurry. He could jump all the way to Double-A to start his first full season.
The Yankees are excited about their up-and-coming shortstops. Made is a year behind Joaquin Arias and Ferdin Tejeda, and all three are being promoted aggressively. Made will make his full-season debut this year in low Class A as a teenager. He projects to have the best power of the threesome. Made has a unique approach at the plate. He swings out of a wide, spread-out stance and has a slight uppercut that he worked on making more level at the Yankees' Dominican academy during the offseason. He also needs to improve his plate coverage, which will help him use the whole field. He tends to be pull-oriented at this stage in his development. Another pure shortstop, he doesn't always play under control in the field. He has an above-average arm, and runs well with good range and flashy actions to make highlight-reel plays. While Made presents an intriguing package of plus tools, he is raw and will have to make a big leap from the Gulf Coast League to the Midwest League.
Signed to what was then a draft-and-follow record bonus of $1.701 million in 2001, Henn lasted just 42 innings before requiring Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire 2002 season and returned last year with lackluster results. His upper-90s velocity was the reason he got big money, but his velocity hasn't returned yet and he has been tagged as a one-pitch pitcher. The Yankees want him to raise his arm slot from a low three-quarters release to a traditional three-quarter slot. He primarily throws four-seam fastballs but wasn't able to overpower anyone at 91-92 mph. Henn's slider is better now than when he signed, but it's still inconsistent and not a reliable offering. His command and changeup are shaky. The Yankees were discouraged with Henn's work habits coming back from surgery. While some pitchers can race back, Henn's timetable will be slower. He will be more than two years post-op by spring training and should start to see his velocity increase. The development of his breaking ball likely won't be enough to save him from the bullpen, though.
Getting Phillips last spring when they traded Rondell White to the Padres for Bubba Trammell looked like a coup at the time for the Yankees. The ninth overall pick in the 2000 draft, Phillips was one of the Padres' top prospects in each of his first three seasons. He reported to spring training out of shape in 2001 and 2002, though he was nearly untouchable by the end of each of those seasons. Phillips was in good shape after the trade, but the Yankees never saw the same power stuff they had scouted. When he's right he can run his fastball up to 97 mph and sit in the low 90s. Yet in 2003, he couldn't consistently break 90 mph. His curveball drops out of sky and is the best breaking ball in the system. There's speculation that Phillips' arm isn't sound, and he ended the season on the disabled with a nagging leg injury. His arm action was different and not as fluid as it had been with the Padres, and his delivery was out of sync all season. His command was already an issue, and mechanical concerns further hinder his ability to throw strikes. After an offseason of rest and conditioning, Phillips will look to bounce back in high Class A this year.
The Yankees often get the equivalent of a No. 1 overall draft pick on the international market. This has worked in their favor (Jose Contreras, Orlando Hernandez, Hideki Matsui, Alfonso Soriano), as well as against them (Adrian Hernandez, Jackson Melian, Andy Morales, Wily Mo Pena). New York has the money to brush off mistakes, but hopes to prevent further big-money blunders. While the Yankees will continue to be players for top international free agents, they're concentrating on signing more players for less money. Dioner Navarro's $260,000 and Cabrera's $175,000 bonus represent significant signings, but they hardly dent New York's budget. Dominican scout/summer league hitting coach Freddy Tiburcio discovered Cabrera in 2001. His first three at-bats at the Dominican academy produced a line drive, a homer and a double. A gap hitter from both sides of the plate, Cabrera has a good foundation of plate discipline. He profiles as a No. 2 hitter, has a natural feel for the barrel of the bat and makes consistent contact to all fields. He shows occasional pop. A good athlete with 4.2-second speed down the first-base line, Cabrera is the system's best defensive outfielder and has a plus arm. He'll make his full-season debut in low Class A.
Garcia emerged from a group of inexperienced young starters in Battle Creek last year. He exceeded expectations and was successful after a late-season promotion to high Class A. While he can't match the arm strength of his former Battle Creek rotation mates, Garcia is far more advanced in terms of his approach to pitching. His fastball sits at 90 mph with arm-side life and good sink, and he has the makings of a plus changeup. His slider projects as major league average, while his curveball is a touch below. He has solid-average command of his four pitches, allowing him to locate to both sides of the plate. Garcia's arm works well and his delivery is fine, though he could stand to limit his head jerk at release. His velocity shouldn't increase much and he profiles as a No. 4 starter. He'll return to Tampa as the Opening Day starter in 2004.
There's no question the Yankees system is depleted. But if it not for their Latin American scouting department, they would have no depth to speak of. Their willingness to spend freely in the international market certainly aids their efforts, though that shouldn't take away from the foundation set up by Latin American coordinator Carlos Rios. While New York has landed several projectable athletes such as Rudy Guillen, Joaquin Arias and Ferdin Tejeda and Rudy Guillen, they have netted only a few power arms. The most promising is Valdez, though his full-season debut last year was just pedestrian. He didn't register as many 96s on the radar guns and generally was ineffective after the second inning, which ultimately may lead him to the bullpen. His fastball sat at 90-94 mph, and the Yankees believe he could pitch at 96-97 in shorter stints. Valdez has developed a good feel for a splitter but he hasn't developed his slider, allowing hitters to sit dead-red fastball when he falls behind in the count. He has trouble repeating a complicated delivery at times, another indication that his future may be in relief. For now, Valdez will remain in the rotation in high Class A, where he'll try to build stamina and arm strength.
Vento was drafted in the 10th round by the Reds out of a New Mexico high school, but opted for junior college instead. A draft-and-follow, he has had to prove himself at every level, battling injuries along the way. He even had a difficult time garnering attention after winning the high Class A Florida State League MVP award in 2001. Vento was limited to 64 games in 2002 after breaking his nose and suffering a second-degree concussion in a home-plate collision. In 2003, he took advantage of his first opportunity in Triple-A after Juan Rivera was promoted to New York. Vento continued to rake in the Arizona Fall League, though a shoulder injury relegated him to DH. Built along the lines of Shane Spencer, Vento makes consistent hard contact and shows above-average power. He has made strides to improve his plate coverage and is no longer as pull-happy, though he still doesn't draw many walks. Vento will spend a full season in Triple-A and be on call in case of emergency in New York. He's not a first-division corner outfielder, though he could fill a reserve role.
After embracing a utility role last year, Stotts impressed the Athletics with his versatility. The Yankees also were attracted to his plate discipline, which is why they sought him in the Chris Hammond trade. A well-rounded athlete who was a two-time league MVP as a 5-foot-10 point guard in high school, Stotts lacks natural middle-infield actions and is an average runner with an average arm. While he doesn't show enough range or footwork to play shortstop on a daily basis, his instincts are solid and he makes routine plays. After signing in 2001, he initially had trouble adjusting to wood bats. Now he profiles as a No. 2 hitter who can make consistent contact, advance runners and get on base. With the Yankees stacked at shortstop at the full-season level and Robinson Cano ticketed for second base in Trenton, Stotts will start at third base and hone his utilityman skills in Double-A this year.
The Yankees drafted Halsey in the 19th round as a junior college freshman in 2000 but didn't land him until two years later, after he won a College World Series at Texas. After a sparkling pro debut, he tied for the minor league lead with 17 victories in his first full season. Halsey has drawn comparisons to former Yankees pitching prospect Brandon Claussen because he primarily operates with a fastball and slider. He led the organization in strikeouts last year, but also surrendered 219 hits--the second-highest total in the minors--in 175 innings. Double-A hitters teed off to the tune of a .325 average. Halsey's fastball sits around 87-89 mph with cutting action, but he can touch 90-92. He tends to pitch backwards with his slider and changeup. Both are average offerings with plus potential, and they're enhanced by his ability to work the strike zone. He used a splitter in college but since has scrapped it. Halsey needs to learn how to exploit hitters' weaknesses more effectively with his movement to both sides of the plate. He'll return to Double-A and likely spend the year there before advancing. He projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
The Yankees proved they care little about the commissioner's office bonus recommendations when they lured Stephens away from his Georgia Tech commitment for $500,000 bonus. It was the largest in the sixth round by far, and nearly five times the average bonus for that round. Area scout Mike Gibbons was intrigued with Stephens' projection, and most clubs didn't spend much time scouting him because they knew they couldn't afford him. At 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, Stephens throws 87-90 mph with relative ease. The balls jumps out of his hand and he spins a solid curveball. While he was somewhat overwhelmed by the adjustment to pro ball, he displays a good feel for locating and mixing his pitches. In high school, he showed potential with a splitter, though the Yankees aren't likely to allow him to use that pitch in the early stages of his development. Stephens could make it to low Class A late this season, but likely will begin the year in extended spring training and head to Staten Island afterward.
Sprowl's father Bobby pitched briefly in the majors and coached Jon-Mark at Shelton State. Sprowl moved behind the plate as a freshman and originally signed with the Cubs as a draft-and-follow. Traded to the Diamondbacks for future considerations, he came to New York in a deal for Raul Mondesi. Sprowl is an example of the increased emphasis the Yankees' pro scouting department is placing on performance. Because of his advanced plate discipline, Sprowl was targeted on a list of "stat guys" compiled by special assistant in pro scouting John Coppolella. He hits for average and does an excellent job of controlling the strike zone, leading the Midwest League with a .425 on-base percentage last year, though he hasn't hit for much power. The Yankees hope he'll take to catching and will give him every opportunity to develop behind the plate in high Class A. As shown by his 13 errors and 18 passed balls in 93 games behind the plate in 2003, he has much room for improvement. Sprowl has an average arm but threw out just 22 percent of basestealers. He's a hard-nosed competitor with above-average instincts for the game. If the catching experiment fails, he'll move to third base, where he could develop into a pre-2003 version of Bill Mueller.
The Yankees have compared Almonte to Derek Jeter, and his frustration at being stuck behind the perennial all-star has been evident. In 2002, Almonte demanded a trade after being demoted to Double-A. His big opportunity came last year on Opening Day when Jeter separated his shoulder. Almonte held his own as Jeter's replacement, homering in his first game, but his shortcomings were exposed. He struggles to recognize and lay off breaking stuff, and he swings and misses too often. His raw power never quite has translated to games. Defensively, Almonte's best attribute is a plus arm. But he has gotten thicker in his lower half and isn't the athlete he once was. He needs to get in better shape and is now a below-average runner. A knee injury in May kept Almonte on the shelf for more than a month, and he was sidelined briefly in September with a calf strain. He recovered in time to earn a spot on the League Championship Series roster, though he garnered no playing time. Designated for assignment after the Yankees' winter spending spree, he could be traded before spring training. He can't play shortstop every day, but his versatility and offensive potential as a utility infielder could help a team.
Clippard became the first athlete in Mitchell High history to receive a NCAA Division I scholarship when he committed to South Florida. But Clippard, who was also a standout prep golfer, was kicked off the baseball team. The Yankees drafted him in the ninth round and signed him for $75,000. Senior vice president for baseball operations Mark Newman calls Clippard one of the more impressive high school pitchers the Yankees have had since Zach Day. Clippard's fastball touches 92 mph and he pitches around 89-90 mph with good life. A sharp 76-78 mph curveball is his best and most advanced pitch. His changeup needs improvement, as does his stamina. He repeats his delivery and fills the strike zone with quality pitches. His eye-catching 56-5 strikeout-walk ratio in his pro debut speaks to his feel for pitching. The Yankees are more apt to take it easy with their young arms, which probably means Clippard will have to begin 2004 in extended spring training. He's more polished than Jason Stephens and another live-armed righthander, Mike Knox, and the three should rise slowly together.
While unloading the contracts of overpriced veterans in 2003, the Yankees were able to acquire some promising second- and third-tier prospects. They got Jon-Mark Sprowl in the Raul Mondesi trade, Scott Proctor and Bubba Crosby for Robin Ventura, and Julianel and Justin Pope for Sterling Hitchcock. A solid athlete, Julianel was an all-league performer in football (quarterback) and basketball (shooting guard) in high school. His nasty slider makes him a prototypical situational lefthander. Lefties batted just .232 with no homers in 82 at bats against him last season. He operates with a deceptive delivery from a tough low-three quarters slot, making his slider and 85-89 mph fastball tough to recognize. Julianel will open 2004 in high Class A.
The Yankees have had a lot of success with the draft-and-follow rule. Texas-based area scout Mark Batchko has contributed mightily, identifying pitching prospects such as Brandon Claussen (traded for Aaron Boone last summer) and Sean Henn. Knox, Batchko's latest find, was drafted out of Dallas' Jesuit College Prep High in the 27th round in 2002 and signed after a season at Navarro (Texas) Junior College. Knox' father John hit .274 over parts of four seasons as a second baseman for the Tigers in 1972-75. At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Mike towers over his father, who played at 6 feet and 170 pounds. The ball jumps out of Knox' hand and he has topped out at 96 mph while sitting at 91-93. He has an ideal pitcher's frame and his loose, easy arm action provides plenty of room for projection on his fastball. His curveball shows the makings of a quality major league pitch, though it tends to get slurvy at times, and he's working on a changeup. Though Knox received a promotion to high Class A within months of signing, he's scheduled to begin 2004 in extended spring training with a chance to jump into the low Class A rotation at some point.