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When his family moved from California to New Jersey when he was in fifth grade, Duncan was on his way to becoming a Yankees fan. Duncan, whose father Hal idolized Mickey Mantle, grew up admiring the stars of the recent New York dynasty such as Derek Jeter and Paul O'Neill, his favorite player. Less than a year after being drafted 27th overall in 2003, he found himself working out next to Jeter at the club's indoor facility in New York. Duncan had committed to Louisiana State, where the coaches considered him the nation's top prep hitter likely to go to college. Once the Yankees selected him in the first round though, it was clear he wasn't going to school. Duncan improved his draft stock by hitting six balls out of the Great American Ball Park during a predraft workout for the Reds, who strongly considered him at No. 14. An advanced hitter for his age, Duncan has significant power. He doesn't have a perfect swing or one that's exceptionally short, but it's a simple stroke that he repeats easily, and he generates good bat speed. His lefthanded pull power should make him an ideal fit for Yankee Stadium, and he's not afraid to go the other way. He overpowers pitches left over the plate. Duncan impressed the Yankees by showing up to spring training in excellent shape, adding muscle and quickness during the offseason. Low Class A Battle Creek manager Bill Mosiello likened Duncan's work ethic and approach to that of a lefthanded slugger he coached at the University of Tennessee: Todd Helton. Duncan thrived after a promotion to high Class A Tampa, improving both his plate discipline and his defensive consistency at third base. Duncan's arm is average at best because he short-arms the ball and doesn't always follow through properly, a correctable flaw. His agility and first-step quickness also are a little below hot-corner standards. With repetition and experience, the Yankees say he'll be an average defender at third. He tends to get a little pull-happy as many young sluggers do, and he slumped late in his stint at Battle Creek when pitchers exploited that weakness. New York correctly deduced that Duncan was getting stale facing Midwest League pitching and playing for a mediocre team and challenged him with a promotion. He responded by making more consistent contact against tougher competition. Duncan was pushed aggressively in part because the Yankees needed to showcase their most talented minor leaguer as trade bait. Alex Rodriguez is entrenched as New York's third baseman and is signed for six more seasons. If the Yankees could somehow unload Jason Giambi, Duncan could give them a powerful, cheap option at first base. He probably needs two more years of minor league at-bats before that could happen. In the interim, he remains New York's most valuable bargaining chip.
Cano's name was tossed around in trade rumors when the Yankees unsuccessfully tried to acquire Randy Johnson at the July 31 deadline, but he was not part of the deal when New York finally got Johnson over the winter. A confident player, Cano plays as if he belongs in the majors. His father Jose pitched briefly in the big leagues. Cano's arm is his best tool and rates as a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. More important, he can hit. He has good bat speed and a fluid swing, allowing him to catch up to good fastballs. His improving plate discipline helped his power numbers increase; he set career highs in walks and slugging in 2004. Cano hasn't handled lefthanders well, with just seven extra base hits in 130 at-bats against southpaws above Class A. He's a below-average runner for an infielder, and his lower half figures to get thicker as he gets older. He has solid infield actions and the Yankees refute reports that he has below-average range. Cano could be a bench option in New York for 2005, but he'll likely head back to Columbus for a full season in Triple-A after the Yankees signed free agent Tony Womack.
The Yankees had Hughes ranked higher on their 2004 draft board than 23rd overall, but that's where they got him. After getting drafted, Hughes joked that he had been raised a Red Sox fan but was pleased to be with the Yankees. His stuff, size and control have the organization comparing Hughes with Roger Clemens. He has similar velocity, with a fastball that touches 95 mph and sits at 90-94, and he generates it with an easy, fluid motion. His fastball also has late life up in the strike zone. Hughes changes a hitter's sight-line with a slider that at times has good bite and depth. He's also shown good arm action on his changeup. Hughes was shut down more than a month after his pro debut with a sore elbow that turned out to be nothing more than tendinitis. He returned with two excellent outings in August before breaking his toe after kicking a door. He also threw well in the Yankees' fall minicamp, dampening concerns about his health. The Yankees consider Hughes a high school power arm with the polish of a college pitcher. So if he's healthy, he'll move quickly. He'll start 2005 at their new low Class A Charleston affiliate.
White set a Baylor record with 28 career wins. As a senior, he led the Bears to within one victory of the College World Series. He didn't turn pro until April 2004, and tragedy struck during his holdout when he discovered the body of his mother Brenda, who had died at home. White's fastball, which had reached the mid-90s early in his college career, bounced back to touch 95-96 mph late in the 2004 season, though he pitched more at 92-93. He showed better control of the pitch the more he threw it. He showed more power and command with his curveball, which had been inconsistent at Baylor. He rarely gets rattled. White pitches off his fastball nearly 80 percent of the time, and he lost some of the feel for his changeup in the process. He needs to refine it to combat lefthanders at higher levels. White's development was an important step for the Yankees, who could use an innings-eater as soon as possible. He fits that profile, but he'll need at least a year to hone his secondary stuff. He'll start 2005 in Double-A.
The strong-armed Garcia committed to South Carolina as a catcher prior to his senior season at Gulliver Prep. Then his new high school coach, former University of Miami pitching coach Lazaro Collazo, put Garcia on the mound with electric results. Garcia helped Gulliver Prep win the Florida 3-A championship in a game played at the Yankees' Legends Field in Tampa, then signed for $390,000. His combination of size, projection and pure arm strength gives Garcia a high ceiling. He has easy velocity on his fastball, working at 93-94 mph and topping out at 96. With more experience and refinement, he should throw even harder. His curveball, at times a true power hammer, could be a better pitch. Garcia is still raw on the mound. His changeup needs work and he must learn how to set up hitters and hold runners. He sometimes falls in love with his curve and doesn't throw his live fastball enough. Garcia could start 2005 in extended spring training before a June assignment to short-season Staten Island. A good spring would land him in low Class A.
Vechionacci has grown four inches since signing out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old. He's so mature at the plate that the Yankees promoted him from extended spring camp to Tampa as an emergency fill-in in May. Later, he starred in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Vechionacci can hit. His advanced approach includes plate discipline, smooth swing mechanics and the ability to use the whole field. He shows developing power as well. His greatest improvement in 2004 was his willingness to stay back on breaking balls. Defensively, he has excellent tools with a plus arm, body control and natural infield actions. The Yankees need to determine Vechionacci's best position. He has played more at third base while also seeing time at shortstop and second base. How he fills out and whether he can maintain his average speed will determine if he can play at short. Vechionacci seems primed to move quickly through the system. He's likely to start 2005 in low Class A as a shortstop.
Cabrera signed for $175,000 in 2001 and has quickly developed into one of the organization's better hitters. He was slated to appear in the Midwest League's all-star game before getting a promotion to high Class A, where he showed the best power of his career. Cabrera's swing and hand-eye coordination make him the best hitter for average in the system. One club official compared his offensive game to Jose Vidro's. Cabrera has a quick stroke from both sides of the plate, with quick hands that allow him to catch up to quality fastballs. He punishes breaking balls and lashes line drives from gap to gap. He has an above-average throwing arm. An average runner, Cabrera projects as no more than an average defender in center field. There's some thought that as he matures physically and slows down, he'll have to move to an outfield corner. His approach and swing are geared more toward line drives and contact, so he doesn't profile as well on a corner. The Yankees have time to figure out where Cabrera fits. His advanced approach will enable him to begin 2005 in Double-A.
Sardinha is the youngest of three brothers in the minors (Dane plays for the Reds, Duke with the Rockies). He has yet to find a home defensively, having played shortstop as well as left and center field before trying third base in 2004. There, he ranked third in the minors with 43 errors. Sardinha is a polished offensive player who uses a textbook swing to handle both lefthanded and righthanded pitchers. He shows the ability to make adjustments within at-bats and isn't afraid to work deep counts. He's an efficient basestealer and average runner. The Yankees blame Sardinha's high error totals on lapses in concentration. With Eric Duncan behind him and Alex Rodriguez ahead of him at third base, Sardinha likely will return to the outfield in 2005. He has never shown much power at the plate, and he tries to cheat on good fastballs in an attempt to hit homers. Sardinha's development hit a speed bump in the Arizona Fall League when he broke a finger on his glove hand just before the season started. He'll return to Double-A in 2005.
Wang signed for $1.9 million out of Taiwan in 2000, and he's close to paying dividends after being deterred by shoulder surgery in 2001 and a shoulder strain in 2003. He shined for Taiwan in the 2004 Olympics, going 1-0, 1.98 in two starts. Wang has one of the best fastballs in the organization. His fastball velocity returned to its pre-injury level late in 2004, as he worked at 92-95 mph and touched 97. He showed durability by logging a career-high 149 innings. His splitter and slider are solid-average pitches. While Wang's fastball has excellent velocity, it tends to get straight. He needs to use his changeup and splitter better against lefthanders, who tattooed him for a .307 average in 2004. Wang's medical history isn't encouraging, and he pulled a hamstring in the Triple-A International League playoffs, knocking him out of the organization's fall minicamp. Wang was the Yankees' best option for a low-cost starter, but the addition of Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright means he'll only be in the big leagues in case of emergency in 2005.
Originally a walk-on at Sacramento City College, Marquez emerged as the ace of the perennial juco power in 2004. He quickly graduated from relief to the rotation thanks to a leap in velocity. After throwing in the low 80s in 2003, Marquez jumped to the low 90s during the spring. A supplemental first-round pick who signed for $790,000, he peaked at 94 mph with the Yankees. He throws a heavy sinker with excellent movement that one club official compared to vintage Ramiro Mendoza. Marquez' hard curveball is just spotty--accounting in part for his relatively low strikeout totals in his debut--but he shows the ability to spin the ball. New York is confident he'll have at least an average breaking pitch to go with a changeup he has shown some feel for. At times his changeup is better than the curve, and he'll be able to make it as a starter once he gains more consistency with his secondary pitches and his fastball command. Marquez has limited experience as a starter, and his competitiveness and heavy sinker could tempt the Yankees to move him quickly as a middle reliever. He'll open 2005 in the rotation at low Class A.
Taken by the Diamondbacks in the 21st round of the 2001 draft coming out of high school, he became the highest-drafted player in UC Irvine history three years later and has the inside track to becoming the first Anteater to reach the major leagues since Brady Anderson. When the program was resuscitated for the 2002 season, Smith was one of the keys to the first recruiting class of then-coach John Savage. He took most of last summer before signing for $800,000 as the top pick in the second round. Smith has good size at 6-foot-4, and he uses it to keep his power repertoire down in the strike zone. In the spring, he worked consistently at 90-92 mph with his fastball. He was at his best when he threw his slider at 86-88 mph, and at times it has sharp, late bite. Smith also throws a curveball and changeup, though the change is in need of work. His delivery, which includes a mid-stride hesitation, could use refinement. When he's off, he gets mechanical and leaves his stuff up in the zone. He figures to join fellow 2004 draft picks Philip Hughes, Jeff Marquez, Christian Garcia, Jason Jones and Jesse Hoover on a prospect-laden low Class A staff.
The best news the Yankees got from Guillen in 2004 came in their fall minicamp, when he gave hints that his lost season was an aberration. He was coming off an impressive low Class A performance and appeared to be developing into a prototype right fielder, with power in his bat and arm. But in his encore, he missed nearly two months with a high ankle sprain and never showed the same pop or approach that had led one club official to compare him to Manny Ramirez. Guillen has great hands and kills offspeed pitches, but pitchers pound him inside with hard fastballs and he hasn't yet shown the ability to adjust. He has to learn how to pull the ball, rather than trying to serve most everything to the opposite field. Showing more patience at the plate also would help. The Yankees want Guillen to be less analytical and let his natural ability--which includes solid-average speed--take over. They may send him back to high Class A to open 2005 so he can get off to a good start.
The Yankees had a potentially impressive haul of arms from the 2004 draft, and none made an immediate impact like Hoover, who was a junior-varsity pitcher/outfielder as a freshman at Indiana Tech and worked just 57 innings in his first three seasons. He emerged as the team's ace in 2004, leading NAIA pitchers with 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings. His velocity increased from the high 80s to 93-95 mph during the spring, and he touched 96-97 out of the bullpen after signing for $90,000. He ranked second in the short-season New York-Penn League with 90 strikeouts in just 55 innings, relying mostly on his fastball and a hard curveball. Hoover's curve can be a plus pitch, but he needs better command of it. He has toyed with a changeup and a splitter, focusing more on the latter with some success late in the summer. The development of the splitter could be the key to whether Hoover is relegated to the bullpen or is given a chance to start. Some in the organization want to see him smooth out his delivery, which has some deception in the way he brings the ball out of his glove. He attended the organization's fall minicamp and impressed the Yankees with his work ethic. Ticketed for low Class A, he could advance quickly as a power reliever.
A few weeks after the Yankees made him a third-round pick in 2003, Battle felt weak. Doctors diagnosed a form of bone cancer in Battle, and he had to go through multiple chemotherapy treatments. New York owner George Steinbrenner paid Battle's medical bills and brought him to the 2003 World Series as a guest of the team. When Battle returned in 2004, he showed the best five-tool ability in the system. His speed rates an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and his light-tower power and arm are both well-above-average. He has had great difficulty in translating his physical gifts into production on the diamond, however. Battle struggles to recognize breaking balls and is a dead-pull hitter who is struggling to learn that he doesn't have to yank the ball to get it out of the park. Yankees hitting coaches have gone to extremes with him, ending batting-practice sessions whenever he pulls the ball. He's also raw on the basepaths and has done his best work on defense in center field. While he's still young and has plenty of time, the Yankees were displeased by Battle's constant tardiness and overall lack of professionalism last year. So hard as it may be to believe, the makeup of a player coming back from cancer was a problem. He showed better dedication during minicamp, but he still may not be ready for full-season ball.
In the first half of the season, DeSalvo treated the Florida State League as if it were the Ohio Athletic Conference, which he dominated for four seasons and part of a fifth. At Division III Marietta (Ohio), DeSalvo set NCAA all-division records for wins (53) and strikeouts (603). The Yankees signed him as a fifth-year senior before the 2003 draft, after his slight build and a knee injury kept him from being picked the previous year. He relies heavily on his 88-90 mph fastball and gets away with it because of his command and movement on the pitch. His quick arm and high, overhand arm angle give his fastball good life down in the zone. DeSalvo has fringy secondary pitches, with his changeup grading out a bit better than his loopy curveball. His best attribute is his competitiveness. His overall combination wasn't good enough in his first try at Double-A, and he missed much of the second half of the season with back pain. A healthy DeSalvo will get another shot at Double-A in 2005.
The Athletics have a history of giving up young, hard-throwing Dominicans in trades, such as Jesus Colome (to Tampa Bay) and Franklyn German (to Detroit in a three-team deal that netted them Ted Lilly and minor leaguers Jason Arnold and John-Ford Griffin from the Yankees). Neither has had the kind of success that makes Oakland regret the moves. Sierra will try to buck the trend after coming to New York for Chris Hammond following the 2003 season. He led the high Class A Florida State League in saves last year, showing a lively 95 mph fastball that's the best in the system. When he's on, he complements it with an upper-80s splitter and a hard slider that he added late in the year. However, Sierra doesn't throw strikes consistently enough with the fastball. He tends to fly open in his delivery, which leads him to leave his fastball up and out of the strike zone. He also gets too satisfied after he makes a great pitch, lacking the focus he needs. The Yankees will find out much more about Sierra and whether he can help their bullpen in the near future after his first foray into Double-A.
Kicked off his high school baseball team as a senior for drinking alcohol and driving under the influence, Clippard signed as ninth-round pick for $75,000. The Yankees watched him closely in low Class A last year to see how he'd respond to his first full pro season. He passed the test by taking the ball every turn and developing into Battle Creek's most consistent pitcher. Clippard has savvy and control but not overwhelming stuff. At times his curveball is an above-average pitch. He sets it up by spotting his 87-91 mph fastball, which he throws for strikes and works inside. He also throws a changeup and slider. The changeup potentially could be an average big league pitch as well, and it has allowed him to keep lefthanders in check. Clippard still has a gangly physique, and the best-case scenario is that he'll gain velocity on his fastball as he matures physically while retaining his control. He's ready for high Class A.
Phillips doesn't fit the profile of a typical Yankees prospect, and he'll be 28 when the 2005 season starts. But he has something many other New York farmhands lack: a proven ability to hit, which he has done throughout the minors. He wasn't fazed when he made his major league debut in September, homering off Terry Adams in his first at-bat. Phillips, who holds the Southeastern Conference record with a 36-game hitting streak, drilled 30 homers in 2004 to rank second in the system. His approach and performance draw comparisons to those of Kevin Millar, who didn't become a big league regular until he was 27. Like Millar, Phillips is limited defensively, and an ankle injury that essentially eliminated his 2003 season moved him off second base permanently. He'll have to prove he can play third base in addition to first to earn a spot with the Yankees, but he's on the 40-man roster and has enough bat to be an effective reserve or platoon player.
Gomez doesn't even weigh as much as his listed 170 pounds, but that doesn't keep him from having one of the organization's liveliest arms. He teamed with Tyler Clippard to form an effective one-two punch at Battle Creek in 2004, with a different approach. While Clippard controls four average pitches, Gomez brings heat, throwing his fastball consistently at 91-93 mph and touching 95. He remains immature physically, so he could throw even harder as he gets stronger. Gomez generates excellent arm speed with textbook actions. He doesn't have feel for commanding his fastball, though, and led the system in walks. While his fastball could be a plus-plus pitch in the future, he lacks a quality secondary offering. His curveball and changeup are fringy pitches but do have potential. Gomez might take awhile but he has significant upside, so the Yankees will be patient. He'll move up one step to high Class A this year.
Six of the Yankees' first seven picks in the 2004 draft were pitchers. The lone exception was Poterson, a supplemental first-rounder taken with a pick they received as compensation for the loss of Andy Pettitte. Poterson, who grew up a Yankees fan and lived in New York until he was 10, won over the club during a predraft workout when he launched several balls into the upper deck in right field at Yankee Stadium. He signed for $925,000. A switch-hitter who's slightly better from the left side, he has light-tower raw power that ranks at the top of the system, which is curiously absent of sluggers, and was just one off the Gulf Coast League home run lead. He has a balanced approach and a knack for staying inside the ball. Poterson was a catcher in high school, but the Yankees moved him to the outfield after drafting him because of his below-average receiving skills. Poterson got off to a horrible start to his pro career, but came around in August and performed well in instructional league, offsetting any doubts the Yankees might have had. He's slated to begin 2005 in low Class A.
Henn has struggled to live up to the hype he garnered when New York signed him in 2001 for $1.701 million, then a record for a draft-and-follow. He consistently threw in the upper 90s in junior college, but he has settled into the 91-93 mph range as a pro since recovering from Tommy John surgery, which hit after just 42 professional innings and cost him the 2002 season. Henn led Yankees minor leaguers in innings last year, proving his durability, and he looked good in a fall minicamp, hitting 96 mph in shorter outings and showing a sharper power slider. Despite its power, the slider is just an average pitch at this point because he lacks feel for it. That and his relatively straight heater account for a power lefty missing so few bats. Henn also lacks a decent changeup, which hurts him against righthanders. The Yankees need lefthanded relief help, so they'll probably move Henn to the bullpen in spring training before sending him to Double-A or Triple-A.
The Yankees needed bullpen help during the 2004 regular season, and they were glad to have Proctor around after acquiring him from the Dodgers the previous summer. Proctor's velocity started to blossom before the trade, and he touched 100 mph after switching organizations. He pitched at 94-96 mph last year in the majors, but his performance wasn't good enough to merit a spot on the playoff roster. Though he throws hard, his fastball lacks deception and he didn't command it well enough to earn manager Joe Torre's trust. Proctor tends to elevate his fastball, and he can't get away with that against major league hitters. His slider and changeup are serviceable. However, that kind of velocity is hard to ignore, and New York protected Proctor on the 40-man roster after the season. Following the Yankees' trade for Felix Rodriguez, Proctor will have to compete with Jason Anderson, Colter Bean and Sam Marsonek (all also on the 40-man roster) for a big league job in spring training.
Ramirez' career has taken plenty of turns, and it appears ready to take another one--to the bullpen. A former Rangers minor league outfielder, he spent four years out of baseball before resurfacing as a pitcher in Japan in 2002. The Yankees outbid the Phillies for his rights, sending $350,000 to the Hiroshima Carp and signing him for $175,000. After initially struggling in 2003, his power stuff and adjusted mechanics helped him to a short-but-tantalizing stretch in the upper minors. He began 2004 in Triple-A but struggled and was demoted to Double-A. Ramirez pitched better than his misleading ERA would indicate. He goes right after hitters with a 92-94 mph fastball and a hard curveball, and he throws a splitter he picked up in Japan. His curve is his best pitch, but he throws it too much. As with many short righthanders, his fastball tends to stay up in the strike zone. He doesn't change speeds well and is susceptible to home runs. The Yankees have decided to try moving him into middle relief in Triple-A this year, a role that seems better suited to his repertoire.
Jones doesn't have the arm strength of the other pitcher the Yankees took early in the 2004 draft, but he's no soft-tosser. He missed the 2003 season at Liberty with a knee injury but rebounded to become the first player drafted out of the Big South Conference last year. He came back throwing 90-92 mph. He's a big guy who pounds the strike zone with his fastball, which has some sink. Jones also has a solid-average slider, and works in a curveball and changeup. Nothing in his repertoire induces swings and misses, but he can throw all four pitches for strikes. He walked just six batters in 79 innings during his debut. The Yankees also like his aptitude and intelligence, which could prompt them to let him begin his first full year in high Class A. His ceiling is limited to a back-of-the-rotation starter, however.
The Yankees have been patient with Thompson, who finally experienced his first success above Class A last season and was sent to the Arizona Fall League. He hit a grand slam in his first game in Arizona, and few players in the system can match his power-speed combination. Thompson has plenty of tools, with his 70 speed (on the 20-80 scouting scale) being his best. He also has a plus arm and average hitting ability and power. Most of his home runs come to the pull side and he doesn't generate much opposite-field pop. Thompson never seems to put everything together. He doesn't carry adjustments from batting practice to games, and he's not fundamentally sound. He has the tools to play center field, though he lacks the instincts and savvy to man the position full-time. He does show good baserunning instincts, and the Yankees believe he may be starting to get it. Offseason elbow surgery kept him out of the lineup until June, but when he returned, he hit much better in Double-A than he had in 2003. He profiles best an energetic, explosive fourth outfielder.
Since arriving from the Cardinals in a trade for lefthander Sterling Hitchcock, Julianel has emerged as the best in-house option the Yankees have for filling the lefty specialist role in the bullpen. He dominated lefthanders last year, holding them to a .184 average, one homer and 35 strikeouts in 96 plate appearances. And Julianel may have enough stuff to be more than a specialist. After previously using a three-quarters delivery, he raised his arm angle a bit in 2004 and his slider improved to where it's now a plus pitch. He also throws an 88-89 mph fastball and an average changeup. He has the makeup to pitch in crucial situations and has been compared with Steve Kline for his stuff and his guts. Julianel probably will return to Double-A to begin 2005 but could contribute in New York by the end of the season.
Holmann earned a promotion to the Florida State League after opening his first season in the United States in the Gulf Coast League, but that stint ended after four games because he broke his left thumb when he was hit by a pitch trying to bunt. Though he has just 63 games of pro experience, Holmann already has endeared himself to the Yankees with his tools, skills and intelligence. He's one of the fastest runners in the organization, covering 60 yards in 6.4 seconds. He has pure natural explosion and speed, giving him excellent range at second base and making him a good basestealer. At the plate, he lacks power but has good bat control and a sound swing that he repeats easily. Holmann doesn't quite have the arm strength for shortstop, so the Yankees have put his natural infield actions and soft hands to work at second base. He figures to team with Marcos Vechionacci to form Charleston's double-play combination in 2005.
The Yankees once had high hopes for a number of their Dominican shortstop prospects, but those hopes have dimmed significantly. They sent Joaquin Arias to the Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez trade and released Erick Almonte in the past year. They still have Made and Ferdin Tejada (who was lost to the Padres on waivers, then reclaimed), but neither profiles as a big league regular. Made played every day in low Class A at age 19, showing plus range and arm strength at shortstop, but he plays with too much flash. He led Midwest League shortstop with 32 errors, and New York wants him to make the routine play more frequently. He is nothing special offensively, flashing gap power but not displaying much discipline. He doesn't do anything exeptionally well, and his best value in the big leagues might be as a utility player. He'll try to show he's capable of more than that in high Class A.
While Dioner Navarro was struggling with his receiving and his hitting last year, Santos quietly established himself as the system's best defensive catcher. Santos, who often goes by the nickname Pito, also showed signs that he might hit enough to be at least a backup in the big leagues. His defense always has been his strong suit, and now it's better than ever. He's a quiet receiver with excellent footwork, which makes him a standout at blocking balls in the dirt. The quick glove-to-hand transfer on his throws and his slightly above-average arm allow him to consistently post 1.89-1.95 pop times to second base. Santos will have to keep hitting like he did in his second-half callup to high Class A to be a legitimate prospect. His swing is mechanical, though with more playing time he got into a groove and showed more offensive potential than the Yankees expected. They like how he leads a pitching staff, so if he hits enough he'll move up to Double-A. That also would give Navarro more motivation to avoid a repeat of 2004.
Known as Willy Pie when he signed, Nelson's age was revised 22 months upward after he was forced to use his proper visa prior to the 2003 season. Despite his jump in age, the Yankees have been patient with Nelson, keeping him in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League for three seasons before bringing him to the Gulf Coast League in 2004. He started and won the championship clincher against the Red Sox in the GCL playoffs. Tall and gangly, Nelson is starting to harness a power arm that pumps fastballs up to 96 mph. He could improve his fastball, which he relies on about 90 percent of the time, by staying tall in his delivery. He showed improvement with his nascent curveball, but it doesn't project as more than an average pitch at this point. Nelson won't be more than a reliever without better secondary stuff, but he has a live arm. He'll move up to low Class A in 2005.